NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

Okay, now that the first few days of free agency are over and done with for another year, we can sit back and start to look objectively at some of the deals that were signed over the past few days. The free agent cupboard is now bare, and all that is left is some serviceable and semi-serviceable players who will probably be waiting all summer for a call to join a new team.

Some thoughts on the signings…

  • Paul Stasny to St. Louis: I like this one. Yes, $7M is too much for a player that is not even a #1 center, but he was the best free agent out there, so he got paid like it. The four years is nice, as it gives the Blues a chance to re-evaluate where they are fairly quickly, and not getting saddled with 7 years of someone who will probably end up being their second line center.
  • Brooks Orpik to Washington: Everybody has been piling on this signing as the worst one of the day. Five years for a 33-year-old is too much. The money is ridiculous. So, will I disagree, and take the other side? Nope. This is a bad deal, and quickly will be one that the Capitals regret.
  • Ryan Miller to Vancouver: Don’t like this one at all. Miller is showing his age, and demonstrated in St. Louis that he doesn’t really have the ability to help a team out over the hump anymore. Sure, he put up good numbers in Buffalo last year, but that means very little when the team was so bad. How does he help Vancouver? He is nearing the end of his career, and the Canucks are on a downward spiral. They are maybe the 8th or 9th best team in the conference, and I don’t see Miller making them any better to push them into the playoffs. Eddie Lack has similar numbers, and by bringing in Miller, they are pushing Jakob Markstrom out of the organization, which is a mistake, since he has plenty of untapped potential.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Edmonton Oilers

  • Spezza and Hemsky to Dallas: Sure, Spezza arrived to the Stars via trade, but I’ll still count it. This is a good add for Dallas, even if they only get one year of Spezza before I could see him bolting for the West coast. But it definitely makes that team dangerous looking on paper, doesn’t it? This pair could have a really nice year since most teams will have to focus on shutting down Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin first. Although it doesn’t help their defensive liabilities at all, the Stars just got a whole lot scarier.
  • Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton: People are praising this as a win for people who love advanced statistics. And maybe it is a step in the right direction for the sad sack Oilers, who have done little aside from make poor decisions over the past few years. But my question revolves around Pouliot being able to put points on the board. Sure, his possession numbers are nice, but does that translate to success on the ice? He could be a decent addition to the third line, however. And yes, that is a lot of money to give a third liner.
  • Martin Brodeur to Nobody: I like this move. He is done. Wanting to move on from New Jersey is a huge mistake, and he should just put in one more year as a backup to Cory Schneider if he wants to keep playing. Yes, he is a legend, but the longer he plays, and if he switches teams, that legend will continue to be tarnished. Ask Mike Modano how his time in Detroit went to end his career? Or if he wishes that he just hung it up as a member of the Stars.
  • Christian Erhoff to Pittsburgh: Maybe the signing of the day, getting him for only $4M. I would have looked at signing him to a three-year deal, but this is a good chance at having him show the league what he still has left, and that was not completely sucked out of him from being in Buffalo for a couple of years.
  • Matt Niskanen to Washington: The only question that needs to be asked is if Niskanen can continue to put up points without guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Neal on the power play with him? Too many years given for one good season.

There were a lot of signings to get the whole thing started, which makes the negotiating window prior to free agency a nice idea. It makes for more interesting television when there are actually things to report, and the deals came in fast and furious over the first few hours of coverage. TSN must have been thanking their lucky stars, after a run of uneventful trade deadline days, and draft days.

Some teams made themselves a little bit better, and some of the signings were definite head scratchers, as they are every year. Of course, only time will tell if any difference will be made once the league resumes play in the fall.

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Why Not Nashville?

Why Not Nashville?

Jason Spezza has demanded a trade from the Ottawa Senators, and with his limited no-trade clause, he was able to submit a list of 10 teams that he would not be willing to be traded to.

Most of the teams on the list make sense. He no longer wants to play under the microscope of a Canadian market, so there are six teams that make up the list. And that is fair. Not just because he wants out of Canada, but because all of the Canadian teams are in pretty terrible shape on the ice, and he would not be able to challenge for a championship with any of them in the foreseeable future.

spezzaThe one team that I was surprised to see on his list was the Nashville Predators. With the stories coming out that there was a deal in place to send him there, and that he refused to waive his no-trade to go there, Spezza is being made out to be the bad guy in the situation, handcuffing his GM by not allowing him to get the best deal out there for the Sens. Well, that is neither here nor there, as Spezza is just exercising the rights afforded to him in the contract that his GM created for him. If he doesn’t want to go somewhere, that’s fine. Then it is up to the GM to not trade him to the very place he said he wouldn’t go, and then try to throw him under the bus to the media.

But I wonder why he wouldn’t want to go to Nashville? Sure, the team has always struggled offensively, which is exactly why they would want to trade for the proven scoring center. But they have a strong foundation down there, with some good young players and a tremendous defensive corps, starting in net with Pekka Rinne and on D with Shea Weber and Seth Jones. With some punch on the offensive side, they are a team that is not far off from competing. And they showed that they are willing to make some changes in order to get better, as demonstrated by their acquisition of James Neal from the Penguins on Friday.

Spezza could have been a star in Nashville, the leader of the offense. But, perhaps, this is not what he wants. He has been in the spotlight for so long in Ottawa, I could see him wanting to end up on a team where he isn’t “the man.” Where he can be a secondary piece, on the second line, and not have to deal with the constant scrutiny that has followed him for his whole career.

Nashville seems like a fun place to play, to be honest. For being a non-traditional hockey market, they have a ferocious fan base, a great building, and from everything I have heard, it is a really fun place to live. Nashville has a great nightlife, and a great music scene, and could definitely appeal to the young millionaire as a place to settle for a few years. I don’t think that Spezza didn’t want to go there because of the city, but because of the situation.

Now, we are forced to wonder who is left for him to be traded to? The only team that really makes sense is the St. Louis Blues, who were rumoured to be involved in trade talks about him from the moment he said he wanted a trade. What other team could afford him, have the pieces to trade for him, and offer him the protection of better talent and a diminished on-ice role? If he wasn’t so expensive, I could see Chicago being involved. Maybe even Minnesota. What about the Red Wings or the Rangers?

The options are definitely limited for him now, which brings me back to the question of why he wouldn’t want to go to Nashville. If anything, it could have helped him out, because there may not be anywhere else to go.

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

Since we will have quite some time before the first round of the playoffs is complete, as there are some close series that will probably go the distance, I might as well take a look at the first series of the second round.

The one that all hockey fans were hoping for.

Round 2 will feature the ancient, Original Six rivals, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Both teams polished off their opening series pretty quickly. While I didn’t think the Habs would be able to take down the Tampa Bay Lightning, they proved me wrong by sweeping them in four games. From my predictions, I actually got one right in the Bruins beating the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games, so I will hang my hat on probably the only one I will have guessed right by the time the playoffs are over.

Habs-Bruins is a fantastic rivalry in the NHL, and there is no doubt that series will be hard fought and live up to some of their previous battles. Over the course of the regular season, the Canadiens surprisingly took three of the four games from the President’s Trophy winning Bruins. One would not imagine that the Habs would pose a serious threat to the mighty B’s, but they do.

habs2bruinsMontreal is a very well balanced team. They can roll four solid lines out there, and even without a superstar in their forward lineup, they have guys who can produce. They are a team of solid and specific roles, and all the players play their roles perfectly. On the back end, they of course have the reigning Norris trophy winning defenseman, in PK Subban. The kid is a wild card, and he can produce offense almost at will. He is a force to be reckoned with, and someone that the Bruins will need to shut down, especially on the power play.

In net, Carey Price is trying to continue his great season, where he probably just narrowly missed being a Vezina Trophy finalist, and has already won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the dominant Team Canada in Sochi. Price is a goalie that has ice in his veins, and is difficult to rattle with any kind of pressure. He should be able to at least steal a game for Montreal in this series. He has that ability, to truly dominate, even though he is just typically solid. If I were the Bruins, my goal would be to throw everything at him, and create anarchy in front of the net.

On the Bruins side, they are a tough team. Full of hard-working, hard-hitting players, they all seem to play their roles perfectly as well. They have speed, skill, defensive ability, strong special teams, outstanding goaltending, size. It is tough to find a weakness on this team, which is why they were the best during the regular season. Then proceeded to shut down the Wings after a surprising Game 1 loss. This team will be tough to beat.

It is impossible to ignore the regular season matchup numbers between these two teams, but I feel that in a seven game series, the Bruins will simply wear down the Canadiens with their physical play. They won’t stop coming, and this will grind down the smaller Montreal team.

Plus, as good as Carey Price is, and has been, Tuuka Rask has been better. Right now, he is the best goalie in the league, will easily win the Vezina (in my opinion), and dominated in the first round series. The Bruins have an advantage in every aspect of the game.

I think Montreal puts up a big fight in this series, and it has moments that will remind us of all those battles over the years between these two teams. But my early prediction for this series will be for the Bruins to win it in 6, advancing them to the Eastern Conference finals.

But, based on my predictions so far, it could end up being the complete opposite. I look forward to seeing some of this series. It should be a barn burner.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

Here are some vague guesses for round 1 of this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. I am really liking the new playoff format, as there are some really, really good matchups in the first round. A couple of them could end up being blood baths, and that is all that NHL fans can ask for. There is nothing better than the first round, in my mind, where upsets happen, and teams who move on get beat up. It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan.

crystallWestern Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

  • This has quickly become the trendy upset pick, with a lot of people choosing the Stars to take down the hot-starting Ducks, who traditionally fade over the course of the season.
  • Ducks are top heavy. Not much beyond the Getzlaf-Perry line.
  • Anaheim seems to have endless stud goalies, so whether they end up with Andersson, Hiller, or Gibson, they are in good shape.
  • Love, love, love the combo of Benn and Seguin in Dallas. They will be good together for a long time.
  • Surprising depth on the Stars. They are pretty underrated across the board.

Prediction: Stars in 7. I’m going with the trends here.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

wild

  • Hugely surprising year for the Avs. Are they ready to make the next step?
  • Biggest question in Colorado is that unknown D corps. Can they stop a consistent Wild team?
  • Huge disadvantage for the Wild in net. Bryzgalov is the ultimate wild card here. He could be great. He could be awful.
  • Big bonus for the Wild: their D is very strong, led by Ryan Suter. He will be a difference maker.
  • I’m smelling upset here.

Prediction: Wild in 6. Avalanche not ready to be great just yet.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

kings

  • This would be a worthy Western Conference Final matchup.
  • It’s too bad one of these teams has to go home, they are both Cup contenders. But that’s the beauty of the new playoff format.
  • Great rivalry. This is one of those series that will be an all out war. It’s going to go 7, no matter who wins. Winning team will be battered and bruised by the time they get to the 2nd round.
  • Biggest advantage is for the Kings in net, with Quick over the under-appreciated, but inconsistent Antti Niemi.

Prediction: Kings in 7. Too deep. Too relentless. Sharks love to choke. 

St.Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

st-louis-blues-logo

  • Ugly 6-game losing streak for the Blues leading into the playoffs.
  • Ryan Miller has come back to earth after hot start after his trade to St. Louis.
  • Battle of injured teams. A lot of banged-up guys on both teams. Hawks are getting Kane and Toews back, the Blues should get Backes and Oshie back. Big difference if they are fully healthy.
  • Another bruising series. The Blues play mean, and I wonder if the Hawks have enough to fight back with.
  • It’s so hard to repeat as champs in this league.

Prediction: Blues in 7. I think they can turn it around. They are just infinitely deep and tough to play against. 

 

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

bruins

  • 23rd straight year the Wings are in the dance. Incredible.
  • Important injuries on the Red Wings, including Zetterberg, who won’t be back. Datsyuk always seems to be banged up now.
  • Bruins are a monstrous team. They can score, defend, and beat you up. Wings can’t match them in any department.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

pens

  • Maybe the most unappealing first round matchup?
  • Constant worry over Fleury in the Pens net. Bobrovsky is an advantage for Columbus.
  • Columbus has only been to the playoffs once before, and they were swept. Going against a team that can explode offensively.
  • Will Malkin be back?
  • Crosby has had an incredible season, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue it in the playoffs.

Prediction: Penguins in 7. I really want to take the Jackets in an upset, but they just aren’t there yet. If Malkin is back, they take it. 

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

  • The biggest coin flip of the first round. Both teams are evenly matched.
  • Biggest impact is Ben Bishop’s injury. Huge downgrade to have Anders Lindback in net.
  • Carey Price has had a good year. He can/will be a difference maker.
  • Love the young guns of the Bolts. Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Callahan.
  • Big year from Victor Hedman, largely not discussed over the course of the year. Big breakout for him.

Prediction: Lightning in 6. I feel the Habs will disappoint, and not give Price enough support. 

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

rangers

  • Another great rivalry, both teams are real contenders coming off a terrible start to the season.
  • Huge plus having Lundqvist over Mason in net.
  • Will be a tough series, both teams can hit and mix it up. Will be a bruiser of a series.
  • Not terribly sold on the Flyers D. Not that the Rangers set the world on fire on offense, but there is enough depth to do some damage.

Prediction: Rangers in 6. 

 

There we have it. Now we can sit back and enjoy the games, as they start tomorrow night. NHL playoffs are the best time of year, after the long, grueling season. Time to get to the real games!

 

 

End of Season NHL Thoughts

End of Season NHL Thoughts

With the year coming to an end in the National Hockey League tomorrow, I figured I would jot down a few thoughts I’ve had on the season that is wrapping up. It has had a ton of interesting stories, none being bigger than the Olympics (which really isn’t about the NHL, but at the same time, really is).

Hahah, not exactly a new map. Let's pretend it doesn't have the Thrashers on there.
Hahah, not exactly a new map. Let’s pretend it doesn’t have the Thrashers on there.
  • Congrats to the Bruins on winning the President’s Trophy. They are definitely the class of the East, and have been all season. It is really tough to pick anyone but them to make it out of the East to the Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Could the team to challenge the Bruins be the Flyers? This season was a pretty incredible comeback from what was a terrible beginning to the year, for a team that always seems to be involved in some turmoil.
  • About the Flyers, I am shocked that Steve Mason has led them to the playoffs and regained some of his form.
  • Interesting that the two teams who really wanted to move East, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings, both made the playoffs in their new conference. The team moving the other way, the Winnipeg Jets, did not.
  • Strange, but not surprising, that there will only be one Canadian team in the playoffs.
  • The Edmonton Oilers have to be the worst team in the league this year. The other miserable franchises, the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers, were not expected to be anywhere close to good, and their expectations were to be bottom feeders. The Oilers often showed no effort or care, and this is why they are below teams like the Calgary Flames.
  • Great to see Sidney Crosby healthy and playing a full season. He has of course, shown what he can do, leading the league in points by a mile and probably on his way to the Hart Trophy as well.
  • Tough call to choose a Norris (best defenceman) Award. Weber, Chara, Keith, Pietrangelo, Vlasic, Doughty, Karlsson, are all worthy candidates.
  • I picked the Blues and Rangers to make the Finals at the start of the year. They are both in the dance, so I guess there is a shot that I’m right?
  • Should we be worried about the Blues, and their end of the season slump? It is poor timing on their part, but it just seems like they are too deep a team to have another early exit.
  • It seems impossible to decide who will come out of the West. Seems like every team who is in the playoffs has a legitimate shot.
  • Do the Oilers need to look at the Avalanche as a model of how to rebuild quickly and successfully? Part of the Avs getting to where they are was from making big trades. Something that doesn’t happen in Edmonton.
  • I have to give it to the Flames. They over-achieved purely based on heart.
  • Breakout season from Mark Giordano. An excellent defender in Calgary. And worthy of being their captain. Exploded offensively, unfortunately he missed some time with injuries, or he would be in the Norris conversation.
  • I have been ranting for years to friends about Alex Ovechkin being overrated and generally terrible when it comes to everything hockey that is not scoring goals. His league worst plus/minus and obviously giving up on plays is making him look really bad. He will never be a defensive specialist, but he is a poor leader, and the ways in which he coasts when not in the attacking zone is pretty embarrassing. Sure, the guy can score, but would anyone choose him to build their team around? When there are so many quality, all-around players out there? I doubt it anymore.
  • Countdown to the Penguins falling flat in the playoffs begins very soon.
  • Thank god the Islanders are up for sale. They need a change, and it begins with the owner. It is sad to watch so many bad things happen to one franchise. Poor choices mixed with bad luck equals another pathetic year on Long Island. Sad.
  • How crazy good were the rookies this year? MacKinnon, Palat, Johnson, Maata. Impressive.
  • What happened to Martin St. Louis in New York? Wonder if he regrets wanting out of Tampa, and not getting to play with Steven Stamkos anymore. Stamkos is one of the best, and makes everyone around him better.
  • The Lightning had better hope that Ben Bishop can play in the playoffs. He has been a revelation. And they are done without him, I think. Although the Canadiens aren’t the toughest first round match up.
  • Love Ryan Callahan in Tampa. Hope they get to keep him. Good all around player, solid leader.
  • Tuuka Rask for Vezina.
  • Enough with the outdoor games. If you want to keep doing it, make it one per year. It seemed like they kept coming, and like nobody cared. The Heritage Classic in Vancouver was a sham, being indoors. Feel bad for the fans who thought they were getting something special.
  • Incredible that the Red Wings have now made the playoffs for 23 straight years. Seems impossible.
  • I’m bored of shootouts. I’m sure the New Jersey Devils are as well, being the worst ever at them.
  • How many more career points would Jaromir Jagr have if he hadn’t gone to the KHL for those three years? You could probably pencil him in for an extra 160-200 points. Amazing career.
  • Goodbye, Teemu Selanne. You were always fun.
  • Is it fair that the Anaheim Ducks have 3 quality starting goalies? And they traded another of them, so they had 4 at one point. That is smart drafting.

Enough of this regular season business, let’s get the playoffs going! It’s always an exciting time of year, in what is the most gruelling tournament to win a championship in any of the major sports.

The Home Team

Ok, first post on a shiny new blog.

The first thing I want to write about is the home team. Most cities have one. Regardless of sport, there are a bunch of people in your town who put on a jersey and play a game just for your entertainment (and in the case of the pro athletes, they also play for their multi-millions of dollars that they are paid each year). I have an infinite respect for people who bleed the colours of their home team. That love them, no matter what. They will shell out a lot of money for their latest uniform update or tweak. They will spend thousands on seasons tickets, or shell out hundreds to see one game to sit in cramped seats, and enjoy the watered down flavour spectacle that a $9 beer has to offer, and watch the team lose. Again.

I have never been this person. I do not, and never have, cheered for the home team.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to watch one of the greatest collection of hockey talent ever assembled win numerous Stanley Cups. It was hockey in the 80’s, and nobody was doing it better than the Edmonton Oilers. A laundry list of Hall of Fame players, and the most exciting brand of hockey that perhaps has ever been seen.

And I hated them.

I didn’t like seeing them win. I didn’t like the players. I thought Gretzky was overrated because he never had to take a hit in his career. I always thought those orange and blue uniforms were grotesque to the eye, with an outdated team crest (I thought it was outdated even then, let alone twenty-some years later).

I became a fan of the Visiting Team.

This has left me without a true team when it comes to hockey. For the longest time, I loved the Detroit Red Wings, because they had my two all-time favorite players, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. But once those two eventually retired after their dazzling careers, I no longer felt a firm association to that team. So I tend to jump around every couple of years. I will cheer for the Islanders. And the Blues. I am an NHL nomad, all because I could never get on board with the Home Team.

I watch in glee as the Oilers suffer through a miserable season. I enjoy hearing the hate spewed from fans on sports talk radio after the games. And before the games. And during the games. Everybody has a solution to the Oilers’ problems, as do I. But deep down, I don’t want the problem to be fixed, because I want them to continue being awful. While there are few things that can unify a city (especially a Canadian city when it comes to hockey and the Stanley Cup), like a team that is a threat to hoist sports greatest trophy each year, I feel that we Edmontonians have become unified in our derision to our Home Team. They are terrible, and we hate them for it. With our actions during the Cup run of 2006, we have demonstrated that we aren’t able to control ourselves when the team is doing well, so this is pretty much the best thing. Let’s hate them together. It gives us something to talk about while waiting for the elevator, in line at the store, or other times when mindless chatter is needed.

The weather? Sure, it’s terrible. But how about those Oilers? They need to be fixed. And here is how.