Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Team Canada World Hockey Championships 2008 - Looking ahead to the 2010 Olympics

I know I've pounded on this point quite a bit lately, but this tournament is truly an audition of sorts for the 2010 games, this year more than others; it's in Canada, it's an Olympic qualifier, etc. We know that players understand the significance because we're seeing a lot more 'A' guys attend the tournament (although the numbers are growing every year).

To me, this presents an interesting philosophical problem which is going to crop up when naming the Canadian Olympic team:

Does Hockey Canada
a) Go with the formula that has brought a lot of success in the World Championships (and Juniors), defined by 'limited' talent and lines that have roles, with set 1-4 lines.

b) Go with the formula that worked in Salt Lake 2002 and 2004, that is, tremendous players with clearly defined roles

b) Go with the formula that failed miserably in Turin 2006, as defined by essentially putting together an all star team and rolling all four lines fairly evenly.

In 2002, with Gretzky on board, the philosophy was 'go with the best players at the time, regardless of role.' The idea was that 'the best' players can play any role. Lemieux was the undisputed leader, but the Kariya/Lemieux/Yzerman line didn't get significantly more ice time than the Gagne/Sakic/Iginla line. Niewendyk/Peca/Fleury was the closest thing Canada had to an energy line, and Smyth/Lindros/Nolan were the checking line. Notice the two centers per line on the Lindros and Peca lines. Also notice in 2006 though, Canada at least partitioned skill players, placing the Lemieuxs with Yzermans and the Pecas with Niewendyk. As much as I love Niewendyk, there is a clear pure skill distinction between him and Yzerman.

(Similar setups were generated in 2004, with Lemieux playing the lead and everyone else given at least an outline of what was expected, for instance, the DDT (Draper, Doan, Thornton) line was Canada's shutdown line).

In 2006 Canada put together a pure all-star team, but at least partially abandoned the 'best players at the time' philosophy. Despite having average at best seasons, guys like Todd Bertuzzi, Kris Draper, Bryan McCabe were named to the team. Each had a separate subtext; Todd Bertuzzi had/has undeniable talent, but got suspended, sat through a lockout without playing, and then was having an average year. Draper was named partially because of success with Team Canada both in the World Championships (2003, gold) and the World Cup (2004). But Draper simply wasn't having a good year (by comparison he had 24 goals in 67 games in 03-04 but only 10 in 82 games in 05-06). Bryan McCabe, as we all know, was scoring goals like a madman that year, but if anyone cared to watch him play they would've realized he was a PP specialist AT BEST and his defensive coverage and decision making was extremely poor most of the time. Chaos defenceman wouldn't even begin to describe what McCabe brought to the table, yet the Toronto media was simply clamoring for him to be included on the team.

Without a clear skill leader though, Canada seemed to have a lot of trouble identifying it's top line. Sure, Joe Sakic was the captain, and he's obviously a truly great player who's destined for the hall, and one of a very select group. But he's not supernatural the way Lemieux or Gretzky was. He didn't change the pace of the game by stepping on the ice. So this creates an undisputed number 1 line vacuum.

Here are the lines as best I remember them, I believe them to be pretty accurate though:

Iginla - Sakic - Draper
Nash - Thornton - Bertuzzi/Doan
Smyth - Lecavalier - St. Louis
Gagne - Richards - Heatley

Doan/Nash rotated variously on lines.

Can someone tell me who the number one line is? The checking line? What is the logic of these lines? Why is Draper grouped with Sakic etc? When Canada needed an emotional boost, who was sent on? (The answer is that it was usually Doan on the Lecavalier line or something like that). It's not hard to see why Canada had trouble with flow. Most of these guys were switched from playing 20+ minutes a night, to everyone playing about 15, give or take some special team time. There wasn't a whole lot of intensity generated, and nobody really got the ice time to step up and take control.

In the Worlds (both World Juniors and Men's) Canada has truly made an art of defining roles. I explain it in more detail here, but in general the formula tends to be pretty static.

Judging from HF, fans still tend to take the 'All-Star Team' approach, one I believe was a spectacular failure.

Judging by this Men's World roster, team Canada still tends to take the 'All-Star Team' approach, at least, as much as is possible in the World Championships.

Of course we still have Chimera and Meyers, (and as of the exhibition games Patrick Sharp is on that line), but we also have Staal, Spezza, and Gagner, Toews, and Roy and Kunitz. Staal and Spezza play a nearly identical game, Gagner and Toews are both skilled guys, and although Toews is superior defensively, he's not good enough to be a shutdown guy and he's not good enough to be in the top two lines. Roy could play on any line, while Kunitz is probably going to be limited to a 3rd or 4th line role.

Who is the number 1 center? Who is the shutdown?

With that in mind, here is my proposed (2 years out) Canadian Olympic team, along with my explanations of inclusions and exclusions.

Iginla - Crosby - Nash

This is my first line, and they will get 20+ minutes a night. Back in 1987, Canada had a very well defined role team in the Canada Cup, but even the lesser players were stars in their own right. Keenan took the team aside and got out a board, setting out the total number of icetime minutes that could be given out in a single game. Gretzky will get the most playing time Keenan declared, 20+ minutes. That means that everyone else will get less. And he went down the list of players, Lemieux, Messier. Gartner, Hawerchuk. Everyone understood who would be the horses.

This is my number one scoring line, all three possess above average individual skill in every facet of the game (board work, outside speed, incredible vision, ace level shot etc.), and each has played key roles and succeeded for Canada before.

Getzlaf - Lecavalier - St. Louis

This is my second scoring line. Lecavalier is arguably Canada's best center at the moment, and he's paired with a two way scoring threat in St. Louis (great on the PK or PP as well), in addition to the supremely skilled and also physical Ryan Getzlaf. Lecavalier was MVP for Canada in the World Cup, Getzlaf scored a huge one for Canada in the 2004 World Juniors. All three were huge for their team during their respective cup runs, and Lecavalier and St. Louis combined for 2/3 of Canada's most effective line in Turin 06 (the 3rd player was Ryan Smyth). According to Desjardins, Lecavalier and St. Louis play the highest quality of competition of all the forwards in this group.

Richards - Horcoff - Toews

This line is the two way specialty. Sean Horcoff is arguably the best two way player in the NHL, he's a master 5-5 and he is also pretty special on the PK. His shot has turned particularly devastating to goalies and his speed is brilliant. Jonathan Toews is already playing a very high level of competition (2nd highest forward with >40 games on his team behind Patrick Sharp) and I suspect after his rookie season that will increase. He's been asked to play a two way role for Canada before and his success with Canada and experience will serve him well on the biggest international stage. Brad Richards is probably the biggest question mark on this line, and it was between him and Eric Staal. I went with Richards due to his experience on the international level, but both players would be suitable for this role.

Morrow - Richards - Doan

This is my second utility line that can take on a variety of roles - need a emotional boost from physical play? Need a line to go out there, get it deep and grind? Want some crash and bang goals? Want some pretty goals? Want leadership? Want to shut down the other team's top line? This line can and will do it all. This is not Canada's most skilled line, but there is plenty of skill to be had, two of the players are captains of their respective teams (and Richards is on his way IMO), and the talent level is still exceptional.

13th forward: Joe Sakic/Ryan Smyth

Joe Sakic has expressed interest in attending this competition, and even if his best years have passed him by I would still support his inclusion on the team as long as he's playing hockey. 2002 proved to me the importance of great veterans on the team, because even if 2002 Lemieux wasn't as good as 1987 Lemieux, he still provided invaluable support to the younger players (and I'm sure some of the vets). He's been there before and won, which is more than can be said for the rest of this lineup (save Iginla).

If Joe Sakic isn't available I would fully support Ryan Smyth's inclusion. He is not the most talented available by any extent, but he is a very well respected veteran and maybe Canada's most experienced player on the international stage. His years and years of winning on team Canada have given him a credibility that most players can only dream of.

Neither of these 13th forwards needs to take a regular shift but can be slotted in any of the lines when needed.

Notable exclusions:
Jason Spezza - Spezza, in my opinion, has proven himself useful in only one role, that's as a setup man on a scoring line, and even then his playoff record the last two years has been less than stellar. I don't think there's enough ice time available for Spezza to be effective.

Dany Heatley - Everything said about Spezza, ditto for Heatley. He's also been pretty ineffective in best on best tournaments (2004, 2006).
Eric Staal - Staal is a great hockey player, but I think there are better players available for a scoring role. Brad Richards edged him out, but just barely, and I think if he can prove his defensive abilities he has a strong chance of making the team.

Daniel Briere - Briere is great and has been great for Canada, and I have a lot of hesitation about not finding a place for him, but there you go, simply too much depth for Briere's inclusion.

Joe Thornton - I considered Thornton's inclusion for a very long time, and keeping him off this team was more a matter of taste than anything. I think his playoffs this year has been at times great and at times very mediocre; he certainly doesn't look like Morrow, Richards/Richards, Iginla etc out there, he doesn't control the flow the same way those guys do. If he does make the team I would slot him in there as a third or fourth line guy with a very simply role: own the boards. Calgary fans saw his boardwork in the first round, and it was very effective. If he makes the team, reduce his role, simplify his game and he could be a real weapon.

Patrick Marleau - He's having a much better playoff than I ever expected him to and he went goal less for what, 4 straight games? As I've mentioned before, he's never been great for Canada. Simply too much depth to include him on the team.

Derek Roy - As much as I like him, I think he needs to carve out a niche to be placed on a team with as much skill as this team.

So there you have it, 2 years in advance I've thrown down the gauntlet. This tournament will be an interesting first step (test) for Vancouver 2010.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Team Canada World Hockey Championships: The Dream Team

Some more roster announcements today (some last night) from Hockey Canada; Edmonton Oilers' players Mathieu Garon and Sam Gagner were both announced as extras (Garon as the 3rd goalie and Sam Gagner as the 14th forward), a surprise to myself as I initially had them on the team, and when they weren't announced with Staios' addition I assumed they missed their chance. Nice to see both guys go, especially as an Oiler fan.

Now, also named were a couple of guys I hoped would stay home (damn their patriotism!) Both Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza were named to the team, and despite their embarrassing playoff performances, I truly hope they make me look like a fool for counting them out. Heatley has been very disappointing in recent team Canada outings (World Cup 2004, Turin 2006) but he has been absolutely terrific for Team Canada in the World Championships. His 2004 World Championship performance was particularly dominating, leading the tournament in goals and points, and winning tournament MVP en route to a gold medal.

Right now a concern of mine is ice time distribution. Who is the top line? This roster bosts Nash, Doan, St. Louis, Staal, Spezza, Heatley, Roy, and Getzlaf. Oh, and Jonathan Toews. Who is the 3rd line? What is everyone's role? I still feel the mentality of rolling 4 lines without any real roles was a massive issue in 2006 because all those players are used to 20+ minutes a game. This could become a real issue as the tournament roles on. A nice problem to have I guess, but a potential problem nonetheless. Is this a playoff roster, or an all star game roster?

As expected, Brett Burns and Dan Hamhuis were named to the team, as well as surprise addition Ed Jovanovski. Jovanovski is a guy who when he is on, he is ON. I feel that he's represented Canada very well and that he was missed in 2006, good on him for going. Flames fans should be very excited to see familiar face Mark Giordano was added as the 'extra' defenceman, (boy, glad we got rid of that loser!)

This makes for 6 defenceman, so I would expect one more will be named. I still would not be surprised to see Robyn Regehr, and his naming could be delayed as he undergoes physicals or mulls over the decision. Dion Phaneuf has turned the team down and that's ok because he's probably distracted with other things. I would be too.

Rounding out the group being named are Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Kunitz. I expect Kunitz will center Chimera and Meyers while Getlzaf will play on one of the top two lnes.

One thing I'll say about this team; It's probably the deepest and most talented group I've ever seen go over, that includes the 2005 edition with all the locked out NHLers. The defence is a bit unknown and a bit young, but on paper this is a hell of a team.

Doan - Staal - Nash
St. Louis - Spezza - Heatley
Chimera - Kunitz - Meyers
Toews - Roy - Whitney

Bouwmeester - Jovanovski
Hamhuis - Keith
Staios - Burns


(mini update: There are some reports going around that Whitney has an ankle injury, so that might sort out the 13th forward issue we're seeing right now).

update #2 Friday 25 8:40am: Robyn Regehr will not be attending the IIHF World Championships. I'm 90% sure he wasn't even asked, which IMO is a massive oversight by team Canada. For shame.

update #3: Mike Green from the Washington Capitals has been added. I think a good choice, more than anything Green will be there for the PP and occasional even strength spot duty. He lead all defenceman in scoring this year with 18 goals.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Calgary Flames vs. San Jose Sharks - The Post Mortem

I think Game 7 was the perfect microcosm of this Flames season; the Flames were over matched, they had a few steamboats (Iginla, Regehr, Nolan, Lombardi) a lot of inconsistency (Kipprusoff, Phaneuf) and a lot of anchors (Tanguay, Conroy, Eriksson).

While San Jose has had their share of problems this post season, they had a lot of guys step up that weren't expected to. Turns out that you can't stop Ryane Clowe, you can only contain him... and Jeremy Roenick, he's still alive? The reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated apparently.

To think that the Flames actually had a lead at one point of this game 7 is pretty unbelievable, especially considering the shot differential. Matt at BoA has been talking a lot about how odds eventually come into play into hockey games, players who get a lot of shots eventually tend to get a lot of goals, and teams that get a lot of shots do the same. San Jose's PP, which had been stagnant at times, came alive and buried the Flames. 2 PPGs plus one scored 25 seconds or so after the PK with Robyn Regehr out on forward. Game-set-match.

I know that I predicted the Flames to do even worse, and I was pleasantly surprised by their competitiveness, but this team should've had higher expectations. No first round victories in 3 years is simply not acceptable for this team. The Flames went 15 or so years in between 1st round victories: 1989 (beating Vancouver) to 2004 (beating Vancouver again). Flames fans have no desire to wait that long again.

Calgary now has a laundry list of off-season questions:

Mike Keenan: Stay or go?
There were a lot of things I liked about Mike Keenan - he appreciated the significance of line matching very well, he seemed to be surprisingly calm under fire, he definitely seemed to get good performances out of Iginla who had arguably his best season ever, and Dion Phaneuf who in my opinion made leaps and bounds of improvements this year.

On the other hand he made a lot of questionable roster moves, (Godard, Eriksson, Hale), made some very strange decisions in at least game 7 (why was Nystrom on right after that PK? was pulling Kiprusoff the best move in a 2 goal game?) and worst of all, he seemed to alienate some of the most useful players on the team. Miikka Kiprusoff had his worst season ever, and I find it hard to believe the correlation of Keenan and the path of destroyed goaltender confidence that follows him around is just a coincidence. Kiprusoff is the $8 million dollar man, Keenan has a one year contract, you do the math.

I firmly believe Kristian Huselius has the skill set to be a very useful hockey player - despite all the criticism he's taken, the benchings, etc. he still finished second on team scoring. Did Keenan rightfully expect more out of Huselius? Probably. But one sign of a good coach is selecting the right tool for the right job. Juice is a precision screwdriver, not a hammer. If you need a hammer, grab a hammer, don't use a screwdriver. I thought he was pretty effective playing on a line with Nolan and he showed us some of his best. He made some important plays in this series, and if I had the choice between Juice or Keenan, I would choose Juice.

What is the point of Conroy, Tanguay, Eriksson or Aucoin?
Poor Craig Conroy, I appreciate what he's done for this franchise, I really do, but this series was a very clear example of how far his usefulness as a player has dipped. He took a lot of penalties, many of them good ones to take, but I noticed the reason he took most of his penalties is he was simply out of position. Whether he's not thinking the game right or he just isn't quick enough doesn't matter. He just gets beat far too often and he doesn't contribute anything offensively.

Can somebody explain to me exactly what Tanguay's role is? He doesn't score, he can barely set up his teammates, he can't play physical, he isn't good defensively...what else is there? Tanguay is great at skating fast with the puck and giving it away. He got severely outplayed by a lot of players on the Flames and even more Sharks.

Eriksson is quite simply one of the worst defenceman in the National Hockey League. He's unpredictable defensively, he contributes nothing offensively. What is the point?

Adrian Aucoin gets eaten up by halfway decent competition, he's completely immobile, he's not a great decision maker, and that $4 million dollar shot wasn't exactly a revelation.

Oh, and special mention to Rhett Warrener; please man, just retire. You're too injured to even hit the ice, let alone play effectively. I wish you all the best.

Who get's resigned?
Calgary has 10 UFA's according to Of that group I would like to see back:
Owen Nolan - proved his value more so than ever in the playoffs.
Daymond Langkow - be smart with an offer to Langkow, don't go too high, but he is a good player.
Kristian Huselius - I don't think he'll garner a huge number on the open market and I believe he's a very strong 2nd liner. Provides depth.
David Hale - I think he's a very strong 3rd pairing defenceman. No offensive capabilities but you know what you're gonna get from him every night.
Curtis Joseph - a very good backup if he's offered the right price
Stephane Yelle - I think he's still got some game left in him. He can play a great 4th line role and his PK abilities are still respectable.

The rest of the UFAs can be let go as far as I'm concerned.
Craig Conroy Mark Smith Eric Godard Jim Vandermeer

That's all I've got for now, now leave me in my grief.

update: linky to MG's near mirror image thoughts at FHF

Monday, April 21, 2008

Team Canada World Hockey Championships 2008 - First Round All But Done

Milan Lucic, Team Canada Captain, Super Series 2007

Now that the first round is virtually over there are a couple of standout players that I believe will get invites to the World Championships.

Its now a fact that Martin Brodeur has been invited to join the team, but it's yet to be seen whether he'll go. I think this is a win-win for Canada. Brodeur goes and the team gets a Hall of Fame goalie out for vengeance after his post-season blues, a man who will almost certainly backstop the Olympic team in 2010. If they don't get Brodeur they get two goalies who have had decent seasons, and one (Ward) who is in the running to have a big role in 2010 and therefore has something to prove.

There haven't been a lot of players named to the energy line, and I think Boston has a player that would fit the bill very nicely: Milan Lucic. Was Canada's captain in the Super Series with the intent of 'sending the Russians a message.' He plays a freaking mean game, and he can put the puck in the net on occasion. I think he'll get a long look.

Matt Cooke in Washington could help fill out that line as well. It depends on the outcome of game 7 but he's been to this tournament before, and he is a classic pest.

The Predators could really help Team Canada on defence by donating the services of Dan Hamhuis and Shea Weber. Hamhuis and Weber played in the tournament last year and are both very good defenceman. I think Brent Burns will get an invite from the team because of his strong play this year.

I would bet the Anaheim crew (Pronger, Neidermeyer, possibly Beauchemin), but I would bet they all turn the team down. Beauchemin didn't look that good and Pronger doesn't seem like the type of guy to play in a 'lesser tournament.'

If those three go that'll leave one more defenceman, and it's really anyone's guess as to who it could be. Chris Phillips is a guy that has been called a 'potential' Team Canada blueliner for years, Mike Green or Braydon Coburn could go depending on which team loses, and one of Brian Campbell or Dion Phaneuf could be a huge boon for Team Canada. Robyn Regehr has been simply outstanding and could probably step in as Canada's best defensive defenceman.

The Sharks/Flames outcome could have a profound effect on Team Canada. Jarome Iginla has probably been the best player in the entire ice surface these playoffs, and he might be willing to travel to Quebec to play, especially if Martin Brodeur goes. Iginla has traditionally shyed off this tournament in recent years, but I think this particular year has special meaning and greater convenience. Thornton is the guy to ask on the Sharks. Right now I don't think he's good enough to make the Olympic team on the top two scoring lines, and he might have to settle for a grinding role much like he had in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. This could be a chance for him to prove his usefulness.

We're only a week and half away from the Tournament opener, and this team will take shape sooner rather than later.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Calgary Flames vs. San Jose Sharks: Anything Can Happen

Well, we just saw the Flames put in their best 60 minute effort of the series and perhaps we've finally seen a glimpse of the type of hockey this team can play. IMO there were a couple key things tonight that precipitated the win.

1. Keenan played a terrific matchup game. He used the Regehr/Sarich pairing to perfection against the Thornton line, he made sure the Nystrom/Primeau/Moss line was up against the soft opposition.

2. Guys stepping up. Anders Eriksson played maybe the best game I've seen him play, David Moss played his role to perfection (except that forgettable 3-1 which he overcomplicated), I think Kristian Huselius played a very good game, and lastly, Miikka Kiprusoff with the shutout.

3. Matthew Lombardi continues his defensive effectiveness. He CANNOT seem to convert his chances but he's just doing everything else so well. Another couple blocked shots tonight, making a lot of good decisions out there in general. I feel very comfortable with his play.

4. Owen Nolan has been about as clutch a player as the Flames have had this postseason. We've seen by far his best efforts this season and he now has 2 game winners this series, a pretty impressive feat. MG has validly questioned Nolan's 2nd line presence, but there's no doubt right now Nolan's earning it.

A valid question on the fan 960 after the game; Are the Flames this good or did the Sharks play this bad?

Is this not the closest series you've ever seen? Every game a 1 goal difference except for each team's 2-0 shutout victory.

Might not get a chance to comment on G7 with my current schedule, so I'll just say this. It's game 7, anything can happen.

Go Flames!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Team Canada World Championships 2008 - Nash May Miss Some Games

Just a news link here to keep everyone posted, Nash had some throat surgery, may miss a few games, may not.

Also a couple of roster notes just watching the 1st round winding down:

-I don't see Spezza or Heatley being invited. They're either injured or just ineffective, either way I don't know why Team Canada would want them.

-Martin Brodeur may be available. New Jersey looks done and the tournament is in Quebec city. He's not playing great right now, but he's still Martin Brodeur.

- The Philly/Washington series could be a real boone for Team Canada. On one hand Canada could have quite the offensive defenceman in Mike Green, on the other hand they get an amazing two way center in Mike Richards, a true competitor for a spot on the 2010 team (I think the frontrunners are Horcoff, Richards and Brind'Amour). He'll be game to go if Philly loses.

- Matt Stajan has been told to be prepared to go, his participation will depend on how the first round turns out

- If Boston loses this series, can Canada afford to NOT ask Marc Savard? He's not your typical Team Canada guy and his attitude has been questioned often, but he keeps looking better and better and his playoff performance has been impressive.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

A lot of thoughts keep running through my head after last night's game, they're scattered but I'll do my best.


RudyKelly was pretty prophetic with his tirade against Thornton bashers. I partially agree with him; for some reason 'showing emotion' usually means losing composure, and that's not really a great leadership quality. Some guys lead by yelling and breaking teeth, some lead by playing smart hockey. I don't think there's one right way. Joe Thornton's play at the end of the game, domination along the boards leading to good puck possession and movement lead directly to the goal which he tipped in. He did it all. He can't be that good all the time, and it's unreasonable to have that expectation. IMO his linemates aren't that great and sometimes it's hard to soar with the eagles when you fly with turkeys.


Calgary did just about everything right in the first period - scored a goal, kept the opposition chances to a minimum, played with speed. The 2nd and third period were different stories, despite tying San Jose in the 2nd, the Flames were starting to get overwhelmed. Craig Conroy takes yet another stupid penalty, the Sharks tie it up. The third was even worse - it was white knuckle hockey at it's best, or worst. The Shark's 2nd goal was a bit lucky, but one hell of a shot by Cheechoo.


I commented to a co-worker today that the Flames 'almost won.' He said to me, the Flames didn't almost win, they almost didn't lose. Couldn't have said it better myself - on Sunday night after the Sharks started to see the Flames come back, they played to not lose. Same with the Flames last night.


The little things played a big part in this game, here's a few plays that I couldn't help but notice.

1) Craig Conroy, offensive zone hook. That penalty lead to the Sharks first goal. I know the Flames pulled ahead soon after, but a goal is a goal. Some penalties are legit to take, some are just stupid. This was just stupid.

2) In the third period the puck slides through the Flames crease; Miikka Kipprusoff puts his glove on it and slides his glove across the crease as he is poked and prodded. Eventually he realizes the referees are not going to blow the whistle (who knows why) so he plays it behind the net. The Flames cannot regain control and are forced to take a penalty. The Sharks don't score, but that's an extra 2 minutes down a man that the Flames could have pressured San Jose and maybe created some chances.

3) Kristian Huselius goes in on a 3-1 with Iginla and Langkow. He messes up the pass to Iginla, but recovers behind the net and centers a pass to Langkow who proceeds to hit th post. Both Huselius and Langkow believed it was in (it wasn't) and stopped playing. That could have put the dagger in San Jose's heart. Score that and the Flames more than likely win the series. Miss and you give the Sharks a chance to get back into it. Flames missed, the Sharks get back into it.

4) With about a minute to go in the game Huselius ices the puck; Iginla almost beats it out but apparently does not. Keenan knows the players out on the ice are tired but decides not to call a time out. It's easy to say it was the right call now, but it really was the right call, especially the way the Flames were panicking. Another subtle mistake by Keenan, having Huselius out there with just over a minute to go. I can forgive the Phaneuf /Hale pairing becausee Keenan was probably hoping that they could come off and Sarich/Regehr (the appropriate last minute pairing) would come on; I mean, you do need to put SOMEONE on the ice, and Phaneuf and Hale are probably the second best defensively (I would certainly put them both ahead of Aucoin and Vandermeer) but it really was the difference. Phaneuf obviously couldn't handle Thornton, possibly because of fatigue, possibly due to lack of ability, but quite simply put, he couldn't get the job done.


This was the second time the Sharks scored a last minute goal this series because of poor bench management.


Still, I remain pleasantly suprised by the Flames overall competitiveness. Excuse me for predicting a couple losses in a row to finish off the season, but in general it hasn't been as excrutiating as last year.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Three Words

Cory - FUCKING - Sarich.

Enough said.

Calgary Flames vs. San Jose Sharks - Game 3 Preview

Having not seen the final two periods of Thursday night's game I have to say I am pleasantly suprised by the way things are going. Miikka Kipprusoff is clearly on his game, as are Iginla and Phaneuf, and the Flames have been competitive for the first three periods of the first game, and at least the first period of the second game, and the Flames end up with a split.

Forget the massive shot differential - MG did a nice job of explaining at least some of it in game 1, and game 2 was a special teams nightmare. The only real concern of the massive shot totals is that it is possible it could eventually fatigue Kipprusoff, (something I am sure the Sharks coaching staff is counting on), but if Kipper was going to fatigue I would have thought it would have been in the first group of 76 games he played during the season, many of which the team hung him out to dry. The fact is, if Kipper plays the way he's playing, the Flames will be competitive in every game this series.

The thing I like most about this series so far is that it has no resemblance whatsoever to last year's first round ass pounding by Detroit. Simply put, the Flames were totally outmatched in the first two games, and although they won game 3 and 4, they probably shouldn't have.

That said, the Sharks are currently licking their chops waiting to face Calgary at the Saddledome. While their home record finished a respectable 22-13-6, their away record is 27-10-4. Only 10 regulation losses all season, that's pretty impressive. Calgary is better at home with a 21-11-9 home record and 21-19-1 away record. Calgary better be hoping they finish it off in regulation though, holy sweet jesus , 9 OT/SO losses at home.

Of course, the Flames number 1 goal for the game will be to avoid taking penalties. They did a great job in game one, but obviously game 2 got out of hand. The Iginla call was bullshit, but that's NO REASON for a team like the Flames, composed mostly of veterans, to totally lose their composure. This is supposed to be where Calgary has an advantage; bad calls are part of the game, they're going to happen, but you can't let it change the gameplan.

The fact that Calgary wasn't blown out is very encouraging, the fact that they had several quality chances to put themselves back into the game was even more encouraging. Nabokov obviously played very well in game 2, but I am sure having an approximately 10 minute break helped keep the offensive chances down for the Flames.

Something to keep an eye on tonight is the matchups; The Flames have two ES goals while the Sharks have three ES goals. Not exactly a clear indication of who was winning the matchup war, however I will say a +1 advantage over two games isn't exactly convincing.

Game 3 starts tonight at the Saddledome, 8:00MST.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Few Final Ramblings Before the Series Begins

You know, I really wanted to go through and evaluate a few things in depth before this series began, but I've really been beaten to the punch. Nevertheless, I had a few things I wanted to get off my chest that haven't really been covered by others, and I've still got 2 or so hours before gametime, so why the hell not?

Despite the fact I believe the Flames will lose this series, I think it certainly has the potential to be a lot closer than a skimming of the statistics would indicate. I think Matt did a terrific job of coming up with reasons to pick the Flames (link above), but I have a couple more (continuing his list of 7).
8. Miikka Kiprusoff - You can show Evgeni Nabokov's stats from this year until your head explodes, but one outstanding season from Nabokov and one 'off' season from Kipprusoff does not make them equal goalies. As Matt mentioned, San Jose were the 'team to beat' in 2004, 2006, etc. but Nabokov got outplayed in 2004, and he was totally pulled in 2006. For my money I'll take Kiprusoff any day of the week. He'll need to be at his best, but in my opinion he's the better goaltender, and goaltending IS the playoffs.

9. Patrick Marleau - In my opinion, as long as this guy is the Sharks captain, they will not win. That's not to say Marleau isn't a good player, but some guys are simply not meant to be captains. Theoren Fleury wasn't a captain, Mike Modano wasn't a captain, and judging by Marleau's big game disappearing act, he isn't a captain either. He was given multiple opportunities to play for Team Canada and always brought forth his worst effort, in last year's playoffs against Detroit he completely disappeared. Leadership matters, and it could be the difference.


Another thing I haven't seen anyone talk about is coaching, which to me sort of matters. Who has the edge? Well Mike Keenan hasn't coached a playoff game since 1995- 1996 season (St. Louis Blues) but he does have a Stanley Cup (Rangers, 93-94) under his belt (and multiple appearances in the finals, Flyers 84-85, 86-87, Chicago 91-92) with a 92-79 record.

Ron Wilson made it to the finals once (Washington, 97-98), and the conference finals once (San Jose 03-04...well we all know that one).

One interesting thing about both these coaches is that both of them have highly significant victories for their respective countries in the international stage.

Keenan of course won the 1987 Canada Cup, considered by some to be the greatest hockey ever played. Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Coffey, Fuhr, Larionov, Makarov, Fetisov all in their prime. By today's standards the hockey is a bit unsophisticated, but the talent involved is indisputable.

Ron Wilson won the re-organized Canada Cup, renamed the World Cup, for Team USA in 1996, probably a more significant victory in USA Hockey history than the miracle on ice, if only for the fact it was a best on best tournament and it was a best of three. Any team can beat any team once, but to Team USA to beat Team Canada in a best of three in dramatic fashion certainly speaks to Wilson's credibility.

Based on record alone Keenan probably has the edge, but his last playoff victory came over 10 years ago. That could play in as an edge in desire, or disadvantage in terms of modern day experience.

The other thing is, and I don't know how relevant this is, I was told today by someone who is a San Jose Sharks locker room regular that he has never seen this team so calm and loose. He told me the whole team as of yesterday is cracking jokes, keeping it light, they don't seem pressured at all. He told me Anaheim looked the same way last year.

Anyway, I guess the gist of this post is that while the Flames will most likely lose, the definately have a chance. Sometimes that's all you can ask for.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

2008 World Hockey Championships - Coaching/Roster Announcements

Hockey Canada has made a couple big announcements over the last 24 hours (or so) regarding coaching and roster decisions for the 2008 World Hockey Championships.

Yesterday they named the teams assistant coaches; Craig MacTavish, Pat Burns and Mike Johnston.

A couple of notes;

I love the MacT 'hiring' (in quotations because I don't think there's any money exchanging hands). I've never made any secret of my admiration for MacTavish and I think he'll be a nice presence on the bench.

Pat Burns is a bit out of left field but nice to see as Burns' health wasn't looking so hot not long ago. As far as I know this is his first foray into coaching since his cancer diagnosis a few years ago, AND it's his first foray into a Team Canada coaching role since 1987 when he assitant coached the World Junior team. I mean, to say I didn't see this coming would be an understatement, I think I would have predicted Mike Keenan ahead of this fellow. That said, Burns is a 3 time Jack Adams winner, a Stanley Cup winner. Given his coaching record, how will he feel taking a backseat to Hitchcock?

Now Mike Johnston has certainly become an interesting case to me. He's an assistant coach to Marc Crawford in Los Angeles and last year he was also named as an assistant. Given the prevalance of NHL assistant coaches named to help out Team Canada I can only assume Hockey Canada has a lot of respect for this guy (although they also loved Marc Habscheid so make of it what you will). In addition to his Gold medal last year's World Championships, Johnston also:

"... led Canada to a fourth-place finish as head coach and general manager at the 1999 IIHF World Championship, and was an assistant coach at the IIHF World Championship from 1994-98, winning a gold medal in 1997. Johnston is also a two-time gold medal winner with the National Junior Team, winning as an assistant coach in 1994 and 1995." (Hockey Canada)


Now, the roster announcements are VERY exciting and very encouraging for Team Canada. A couple of suprises and some very big coups.

First up, the goaltenders: Cam Ward and Pascal Leclaire. Now, neither of these guys are big suprises, but I would argue they are both Hockey Canada's top choices. Officials knew there was no chance of getting Roberto Luongo, and I would argue they didn't even want him in his current mental state. In post season interviews he sounds absolutely mentally exhausted, and the timing couldn't be worse for him in terms of his private life. I'd say the guy has earned some time off with his family.

Cam Ward won the gold in last year's Worlds, he's won a Stanley Cup, and he's won a Conn Smythe. Still, there is no question Canada's current top two goaltenders are Martin Broduer and Roberto Luongo, and if Cam Ward wants to go to the Olympics two straight World Championship golds would go a long way to convince Hockey Canada.

Pascal Leclaire has just had a stellar year. He finished 24-14-6 on a team that won 34 games total. 9 of those wins were shutouts. If Leclaire had been healthy, the Bluejackets may have actually made the postseason, but his injury list reads like a triage: Hamstring injury, viral infection, neck injury, head injury. Obviously Hockey Canada has made this guy go through a physical, but you have to question his durability.

I belive Garon was a near lock for a place on the roster before his injury, but obviously he is not ready to go. I also thought Dwayne Roloson might take part after last year's success, perhaps he is hurt or perhaps he declined, either way I am a bit disappointed.

On defence we had three players named, one of which I think might be suprise to some people based on my naming criteria, but nonetheless made my shortlist of guys I believed would make the team.

Steve Staios was nothing but an absolute warrior for Edmonton this year, especially over the last three months. Was it in Calgary a couple weekends ago where Staios blocked two high shots in one shift? Every Oiler fan knows what Staios brings to the table but suffice to say he'll be a true leader for this team, he'll play tough and as importantly he brings a wealth of international experince. You heard it right, as Staios played on two gold medal World Championship teams, in 2003 and 2004, (along with a very young Shawn Horcoff, Cory Cross, Anson Carter, Mike Comrie, and last but not least, Ryan Smyth). I felt it was a huge oversight when Staios was not named to the 2005 team, and I felt he would have been a good addition last year. He's an older guy, but what a competitor.

Jay Bouwmeester is another guy who has a chance to star for Canada in 2010. Many of the early predictions of the team (including one by Bob Mckenzie) didn't have Bouwmeester on the team, but the fact is that this smooth skating eagle wingspanned defenceman is an absolute force, and I would suspect he wants to solidify his 2010 position. I remarked many times last year that he should be named to the team, and perhaps the fact that he was skipped over for a single year means he was hurt. He brings an absolute wealth of experince for Team Canada; 3 World Junior tournaments (two bronzes and a silver), two World Hockey Championships (two golds) a World Cup of Hockey 1st place, and the Turin Olympics.

Duncan Keith is a bit of a suprise to me. If asked about Chicago defenceman I would have said Brent Seabrooke. Keith hasn't served Team Canada in any former capacity that I know of, but his roster selection has an obvious reason: look at that ungodly plus minus!! Keith finished the season with 12 goals and 20 assists but he had a +30!! Nick Lidstrom beats him out with a +40, but to put it in perspective, Chicago has a +4 goal differential on the year, while Detroit has a +73 goal differential. Do the math.

Certainly at this point I think there's one obvious disappointment; Where is Eric Brewer? Since the World Junior Championship he has done nothing but win for team Canada. 2002, Olympic gold, 2003, 2004 World Championship Gold, 2004, World Cup 1st place, 2007, World Championship Gold. What am I missing here? He's a guy with a bit of an up and down career but he's always brought his 'A' game to the international stage. Here's hoping he is just undergoing a physical or something like that and is only yet to be named.

Now Hockey Canada also named a smattering of forwards; Nash, Doan, Toews, Roy, and Staal are all explained in my previous Team Canada column, so is St. Louis, a fantastic suprise. Chimera and Meyers are holdovers from last year, and given the job they did I can certainly understand their inclusion. The fact that McClement was not named to the team says to me he's hurt, as he shared an instrumental role on that team as well, however, with his not being named there's one spot left open on the third 'shutdown' line.

I peersonally felt that probably only two of the three of last year's guys would be named, but I thought the third member would be Fernando Pisani. He's had a short year so I felt he would still have some energy, and he's played so well I thought he earned the inclusion. Whether he wasn't asked, is hurt, or declined I don't know, but I think he would have made a great addition to the team.

I also missed the target on a couple of other Oilers. I felt Penner as well as Cogliano and Gagner would be named to the team in some capacity. It seems as if I've missed on all three. I think Ray Whitney is a suprise; not a lot of team Canada experience etc. His 25 goals and Stanley Cup obviously made him an attractive inclusion but I think he perhaps took Penner's spot. Given the inclusion of both Staal, Roy and Toews, Gagner has lost his energy line position, and Cogliano really doesn't fit anywhere either. As I mentioned before though, this could be a side effect of the tournament being held in Canada this year; more veterans are willing to participate so the really young guys lose a spot.

I also missed the mark with Boyes and McDonald. If they haven't been named yet, they probably won't be. A Team Canada edition with no recent Stanley Cup winner suprises me, but that looks like what we have, barring an early exit by the Ducks.

Patrick Sharp is another suprise to me, simply because of his lack of international experience, but like Duncan Keith he has an impressive plus minus. 20 goals with a +20, no question Sharp can play a line on at least two and probably three of the forward lines.

We're still 3 weeks away from the opening game (May 2nd) but now we're starting to see the team take shape.

Doan- Staal- Nash
Whitney - Roy - ???
Meyers - ??? - McClement
Sharp - Toews - ???

Bouwmeester - ???
Keith - ???
Staios - ???


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Calgary Flames vs. San Jose Sharks Playoff Preview; Deep Blue Sea

I think most of my fellow Flames bloggers will agree that this has been a very long season...unfortunately it isn't looking like it will be a very long playoffs. To say they limped in would be a let up of how bad or at least average the Flames have really been in the last month and a half. Matt has a very cool piece of data up at BoA that I think says it all about the Flames: one respectable quarter and a lot of mediocrity. Of course the last quarter goal differential just got blown out of proportion thanks to that Vancouver drubbing on Saturday night, but I think in general it seems the Flames haven't been good for quite some time.

That is good news for the SJS, who are on a tear in the 4th quarter of the season. Check out Matt's data for them;

"I've been tracking quarterly results since the lockout, and the best any team has previously done in one of these 20-game segments is 35 points. For San Jose -- you know, the Flames' presumptive 1st-round playoff opponent -- to earn 38/40 points is a spectacular achievement."(BoA)

In 2004 I was adamant the Flames ideal matchup was the San Jose Sharks - It was Sutter's old team, and by god I didn't believe there was any way he was going to let them beat him. Back then it seemed like the sky was the limit for Captain Patrick Marleau, while Vincent Damphousse was the man leading the offensive charge and Mike Ricci was still gracing NHL fans with his grit, determination and yes, that beautiful flowing hair. Alyn McCauly was acquired in a trade with the Maple Leafs and had a really nice season for the Sharks, earning a Selke nomination when the season was over. Marco Sturm (I believe) broke his leg and missed the post season. Jonathan Cheechoo was emerging as a talented young player and was a constant threat in the playoffs.

Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan patrolled the blueline with Mike Rathje and Kyle McLaren, all of them hard hitting stay at home defenceman.

A lot has changed since then.

Gone is Damphousse, Ricci, McCauly, Sturm, Stuart, Hannan, and Rathje.

Instead the San Jose Sharks are littered with speed, youth and talent.

Consider the upgraded defensive group:
Brian Campbell
Craig Rivet
Christian Ehrhoff
Marc-Edourd Vlasic
Matt Carle
Kyle McLaren
Doug Murray

It's obviously younger, it's definatley faster, there's going to be better puck movement, and with Campbell, McLaren and sometimes even Craig Rivet, it's still going to be menacing.

Joe Thornton joined the team after the lockout and made Cheechoo into a 50 goal scorer. Mike Grier replaces McCauly as the defensive presence up front. Milan Michalek, not even on the radar in 2004 is now a first line guy for the Sharks. Jeremy Roenick replaces Vincent Damphousse as the veteran on a mission.

The 2007-2008 Sharks are a new advanced team of Sharks, like that movie with LL. Cool J .

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

2008 World Championships - The Scoring Lines

Last year I started with trying to predict the goalies and then the defenceman and I never got a chance to look at the forward groups, so this year I'll probably go in reverse order just so I mix up my speculation a little.

Now aside from Canada/World Cups and Olympics since 2002, Canada seems to favour an international team that is filled with 'roles.' What I mean by role player is that Canada doesn't just look at the top 25 scorers and throw them together on the team; partly it's by necessity, most of the time (especially in the World Championships) the top 25 scorers aren't available. In this case they're in the playoffs, or hurt, and in the World Juniors they're often playing in the bigs and the teams don't make them available.

The other way we can predict the makeup of this team is age: The World Championships are a young man's tournament. Most grizzled vets are too tired or lack the will to continue playing, not to mention there's a big incentive for younger players; Canada treats this competition as a proving ground for higher profile tournaments such AS the Olympics. Basically, put in your time representing Canada and you'll get a higher consideration for the Olympics.

Now, I must make one caveat on this team, and it could throw my system for a loop. This is the first World Hockey Championship to be held on Canadian soil, and there might be a greater likelihood that established veterans and superstars will accept invites, knowing it's not going to be a big deal to bring the family along for a couple weeks. It's a wildcard and I'll be sure to include wildcard picks on my shortlist.

Typically Canada goes with 4 lines, each having a specific role:

A first line scoring group: It usually consists of the highest profile players who have a good point total for their NHL teams, along with maybe one grittier guy. In the past I've seen Dany Heatly and Brendan Morrow centered by Daniel Briere, Brad Boyes and Patrice Bergeron centered by Crosby, and most recently it was Rick Nash and Shane Doan, centered in the end by Matthew Lombardi.

A second line scoring group: Tends to consist of guys that are high end 2nd line players and maybe 1 marquee player. This is the line a Mike Comrie type of guy would usually be on. Last year it consisted of Eric Staal, Justin Williams/Jordan Staal, and Mike Cammalleri.

A third line shutdown unit: This is where Canada puts the defensive players/shutdown guys who love to put it deep and cycle. Oftentimes it's Canada's most consistent line because their task is very straightforward, and it seems like most European teams don't know what to think when they see a good cycle, let alone what to do. Last year it consisted of Jay McClement, Jamal Meyers and Jason Chimera.

A fourth line energy unit: This line tends to be a bit of a defensive liability at times, but they're often the biggest momentum shifters for Team Canada. A lot of times it's made up of defensive NHLers but a it's also guys that haven't been able to fulfill a scoring role, or finally, made up of really young guys that are attending mostly for experience. Last year it consisted of Jonathan Toews, Colby Armstrong and Justin Williams or more often, Jordan Staal.

Here's a shortlist of guys I think would be a good fit for the top two scoring lines.

Rick Nash - His coach in the NHL is the coach of the team, he's one of the most skilled forwards in the league and he has absolutely dominated this tournament on multiple occasions. There is every reason to expect he will be asked, and every reason to think he will go.

Shane Doan - Last year's Captain Canada, has consistently played for Canada (and played well), plays for Wayne Gretzky who I expect will be part of the coaching staff...he's got all the credentials and he's put in his time, but Doan is as old school as it gets and I suspect when asked he'll accept. And he will be asked.

Brad Boyes - I didn't even realize this until last weekend but Boyes has quietly racked up 41 goals, which is a hell of an accomplishment, especially on a team like St. Louis. Has played in two World Junior Championships and played on a line with Bergeron and Crosby back in the 2006 World Championships so I would bet he'll be invited to play.

Derek Roy - The Buffalo Sabres forward has a dynamic mix of skill and grit, and I think you could put him in on any of the four lines with confidence. If it were up to me though, I'd put him on the second line as a support player. Won a silver medal with Team Canada in the 2003 World Junior Championship.

Andy McDonald - I think one of two recent Cup winners that will receive an invite. Has not had a great statistical year by any means, but also represented Canada in the Worlds in 2002, where he lead the team in goals and points. (Wikipedia). His two way reputation could make him very attractive to Ken Hitchcock.

Dustin Penner - Canada loves inviting recent Stanley Cup winners, so while his ex-teammates like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf continue on in the playoffs this year, Penner will benefit by bringing his experience, his size and yes, his touch around the net. The Oilers love their players going to this tournament, so I suspect if asked Penner will go and fill a 2nd line scoring role.

Eric Staal - If Carolina is eliminated he'll be asked. One day I believe we'll see the Staals as mainstays of team Canada but right now I don't think he's done enough to warrant a free pass. He was a bit inconsistent last year at times, going from average to a difference maker from game to game. If Carolina misses the playoffs, I believe Staal will be a top choice, whether he'll go is hard to tell.

Jonathan Toews - He played a very minor role last year, but Toews' place on Team Canada continues to grow. Starting as a 16 year old in the World Juniors winning a gold, to scoring several dramatic shootout goals as a 17 year old and winning the gold again in the World Juniors, to winning another gold medal at the World Championships. No one questions his skills, although a top line role might be a little too much for this young player. I do believe though he'll be on this team in some capacity.

Mike Cammalleri - Mike has been around team Canada many a times, and despite my consternation that he is invisible, he gets the job done. A bronze and a silver in the 2001 and 2002 World Junior Championships respectively, as well as a gold in the 2007 World Hockey Championships. Has had a poor season which will hurt his chances of selection, also someone I would not consider defensively solid.

Mike Comrie - think what you will of the diminutive Comrie, whenever called by Team Canada, he has answered. Won gold in 2003 when Anson Carter scored the OT winner against Sweden.

Martin St. Louis - he's a guy who has a legitimate shot at the 2010 Olympics, but is not a lock by any means. He might need to put in some extra team for Team Canada, and play well, to convince Team Canada officials (Steve Yzerman in particular) that he deserves to be on the team. The fact that the tournament is mostly taking place in Quebec city could be an incentive for this Laval QC. native.

Vincent Lecavalier - Despite having some sort of wrist surgery, apparently Lecavalier hasn't actually said he won't play...yet. There's every reason to think he won't play (hasn't played in the Worlds since 2001, has clearly turned down offers to play overseas the last couple of years), there's always the chance he'll decide to perform in his home province in Quebec. Has played for Team Canada at the World Juniors in 1998, World Championships in 2001, World Cup of Hockey (winning MVP) in 2004, and 2006 Olympics.

Now none of this speculation even includes guys on teams who are garaunteed to make the playoffs, and as the first round comes to a close, it's anyone's guess who gets named to the team. Looking at this list I feel that if Eric Staal doesn't go then the team does not have a true number 1 center, and in that case, I don't think one will be named until the first round ends.

If the Senators falter early I would expect Jason Spezza to get a call. He's played for Team Canada a number of times but this could be a great opportunity for him to step up and take a larger role and create a larger presence for himself on the national team game. This is a good chance for him to learn a lesson about playing defence as well.

If Colorado gets eliminated early, does anyone think Ryan Smyth won't get a call?

If the Penguins are the victims of an upset by some upstart team with a guy named Alex Ovechkin playing for them, there's a centerman there who will most likely get a call.

I predict 3-5 of six spots on the top two lines will be filled by the players I've outlined here. If I were to guess I would say:

Nash -???- Doan
Boyes - Toews - Penner

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

2008 World Championships - Ken Hitchcock Named Head Coach

With the beginning of the NHL playoffs fast approaching, another lower profile tournament is also beginning, and for the first time since its inception, it’s being hosted by Canada.

Yes, it’s time once again to begin prepare for Team Canada’s chance to defend the Gold Medal at the upcoming World Hockey Championships, being jointly hosted by Quebec City and Halifax.

Being a short tournament, the coaching key is getting players to buy into a system and run it efficiently in only a handful of games, a task that is suited to some coaches more than others. He also has to be a coach that is used to mentoring young players, as veterans tend to avoid this tournament. I think getting a veteran coach that has had past success (whether in the NHL or internationally) allows for instant credibility in the dressing room and therefore the best chance of success.

I think a good predictor for coach for Team Canada is ‘don’t mess with success.’ When Pat Quinn won in 2002, they brought him back for 2004. When he won in 2004, they brought him back in 2006 where he lost. He will not be back for 2010 Olympics, although he has served a number of less significant roles for Team Canada, coaching Canada’s Spengler Cup effort a year and a half ago and is now coaching Team Canada U-18.

The fact that Andy Murray was not named head coach says to me that he turned the role down. In my opinon he was Team Canada’s first option due to his past success, and I think he has to at least be considered for a position in 2010; make no mistake, Canada is taking the roles in these World Championships as auditions for that 2010 team.

That said, I think Hitchcock has a pretty impressive resume himself. Taken from Team Canada’s official website:

The Edmonton, AB native served as an associate coach at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, and in the same role at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, winning the championship, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, winning the gold medal, and the 2002 IIHF World Championship. He was also an assistant coach with Canada’s gold medal-winning National Junior Team at the 1988 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Maybe one thing that Hitchcock has over Murray is his Stanley Cup win with the Dallas Stars in 1999.

My one concern about Hitchcock is whether he’ll be able to work with a really young team, as historically he seems to be a coach that favours older more experienced players. The other question surrounding Hitchcock revolves around offence generation. It’s hard enough to score goals without having to deal with a short time to develop chemistry and a coach that doesn’t focus on scoring. One famous from Andy Strickland at

One day during the 1999-00 season when Hull, Jere Lehtinen and Modano were playing on a line together. The coach at the time, Ken Hitchcock, kept saying at practice how scoring wasn't important. During the next drill, a two-on-one drill, Brett dumped the puck in the corner and skated out of the zone. Hitch went crazy and asked him what his problem was. Modano remembered Brett saying, "I thought you said scoring goals isn't important." Hitch proceeded to kick the entire line off the ice. Brett and Modano were getting showered and dressed and were ready to leave when the rest of the team came off the ice. Meanwhile, Jere was still sitting in his stall in full gear, skates laced, not knowing what to do because he had never been kicked out of practice before. (Hockeybuzz)

That said, Hull has also remarked that Hitchcock was one of his favorite coaches. (from Wikipedia) Winning always makes forgiving a lot easier.

Now, I believe most years Team Canada selects a couple NHL head coaches to help with Team Canada. Last year it was Andy Murray and Gerald Gallant, in 2004 Joel Quennville was head coach but has hospitalized just before the tournament began. Associate coach Mike Babcock stepped up (while Tom Renney remained the assistant) and won the Gold. So I think we can safely guess that at least one more NHL head coach will be named to help guide this team.

Here are the candidates as I see it:

Wayne Gretzky

Why he’s likely to be named: Gretzky has found a way to be involved with Team Canada so much in his career it’s hard to believe he’s not going to try be involved in a coach at any point in time. MacT remarked about the Oilers 06’ run that having a great goalie will make you look like a great coach, and since the Coyotes acquired Bryzgalov the Coyotes have been very respectable. He doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of defence either, so I think competing for a playoff spot with this young team will give him at least some credibility. His name should provide the rest. Plus I have a conspiracy theory that Gretzky is being groomed by Team Canada to have a coaching position in 2010.

Why he’s unlikely to be named: Well, his record, despite his improvements this year, Gretz doesn’t have a stellar history as a coach. Plus he has absolutely no experience coaching on the international level, even if he has lots of experience playing at the international level.

Denis Savard

Why he’s likely to be named: Savard is only in his second season as an NHL coach, he hasn’t seen a lot of success, but he’s in a position similar to Gretzky: a lot of young players, and not bad mileage.

Why he’s unlikely to be named: Savard isn’t exactly what I would call a team Canada golden boy like Gretzky or Murray. His inexperience will hurt his chances, and he’s probably the least likely of my shortlist to get a call.

Ted Nolan

Why he’s likely to be named: Ted isn’t exactly known for being a systems coach but I think he’s been successful at the junior level and at the NHL level on a number of levels. I think given his junior history he’s shown he’s good with younger players and I think he’d get really good mileage out of what he’s given in a tournament like this.

Why he’s unlikely to be named: Another guy with not a lot of experience in the international game, and generally hasn’t been called upon by team Canada in any capacity.

Craig MacTavish

Why he’s likely to be named: MacT kind of reminds me of Hitchcock in that he doesn’t strike me as an offence first type of guy. He has had a few roles for Team Canada, most recently at the 2005 Worlds where he associate coached the lockout dream team to a silver medal (with Tom Renney and Marc Habscheid). I’ve always felt that MacT is a good mentoring coach and his attention to details (such as faceoffs and shot blocking) make me feel as if he’d be a good fit.

Why he’s unlikely to be named: First and foremost I think his biggest issue will be his lack of high end success. I think he’s done pretty well given the players he usually has, and the one year he got a great team he took it very very far, but without a Stanley Cup or a Gold medal he’ll be in tough.

Alain Vigneault

Why he’s likely to be named: Another defensive first coach, although it’s potentially more out of necessity than choice. Either way, I believe he’d be a sober second thought guy for Hitchcock, and stylistically I think they mesh. It’s also hard to ignore a two time nominee and one time winner of the Jack Adams trophy. According to the Canucks official website, he was assistant in the World Juniors in 1989 and 1991, winning the Gold in 1991.

Why he’s unlikely to be named: I think lack of true NHL success will hurt him; he hasn’t won a cup, if he’s asked to go it means he won’t have made the playoffs this year. He’s got a great goalie, is his strength his coaching or his goaltending?