Hands up, anyone who foresaw the Vancouver Canucks going 5-1-1 on this 7-game, 11-night road trip.
Written off by everyone – and seriously, if you had gone on Twitter and the message boards, or listened to the talking heads on TEAM 1040 yesterday, you would’ve thought the Canucks already had their bags packed for YVR even before last night’s game against the St. Louis Blues.
The Canucks weren’t great, but they were good enough. Eddie Lack, in only his 3rd NHL start, made some terrific saves, especially in the third period when the Blues tried to get their game to another gear. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler were in #beastmodo, and Kesler eventually potted the game-winning goal in overtime, his 2nd goal of the night and his 6th on this road trip.
In honour of the season, we got together and thought we’d give you a lump of coal …err, a festive edition of our Fantasy Hockey Pool update.
How did our rankings shape up as of Wednesday morning? Read on:
Goose is my Wingman (Chris) – 89.5 points (current rank: 1st)
If there is one thing that I’ve learned during my meteoric climb to the top of the standings, it’s definitely humility. I’ve been called a drunken boater by Lizz, had my strategic draft process mocked by Ed, seen my definition of an A-list actor trashed by Tom, and pretty much been knocked at every corner by all the writers here at CHB. So you probably would forgive me if I were to take pot-shots from the high ground, but I won’t sink to that level. Instead, I’ll just bask in the warmth and glow that first place provides to a select few.
And seeing as it’s the holiday season, I want to share with you two holiday videos that not only share the warmth I’m enjoying but correlate to my journey in the pool so far.
Yes, good ol’ Billy Mack (as played by Bill Nighy – definitive A-list actor). Just like Billy, I was disrespected early on but eventually found my way to the top of the charts. And seriously, is there any better movie to watch at Christmas?
And while my super strategic draft mechanism has me in the position I am today, I have been accused of drinking a bit too much of the Egg Nog this holiday season. But who might have spiked it? Yes… who exactly spiked the Egg Nog? My guess is Lizz. I mean… she called me a drunken boater and I sense that she’s bitter I’m on the top of the pool standings.
But I’m beyond all that. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Auto Draft… err… New Year!
Just like another famous second-place finisher (George W. Bush), I’m demanding a recount. Losing to Chris in this pool would be like like losing a tennis match to a blindfolded Reba McEntire – shocking, yet strangely arousing. Hmm. Perhaps I’ve said too much.
For those have you who’ve been away, here’s a summary of all the NHL-related headlines through the first 2+ months of the season: concussions; concussions; concussions; concussions; concussions; Sidney Crosby; concussions; concussions; concussions; concussions; coach fired; concussions; coach fired; concussions; coach fired; concussions; coaches fired; concussions; concussions; concussions. There, now you’re up-to-date.
One final note – as a true gift to you: The perfect Rum and Egg Nog recipe (must be over legal drinking age to continue reading):
1. Get one clean glass (you’d be surprised at how many people get this wrong by going with a dirty glass or, in some cases, an old boot).
2. Inside the glass, toss in three ice cubes (they should clink in the glass. If they don’t, start over).
3. Put in the glass – 1 part rum (eyeball it. If you go over one part, might as well continue to two parts).
4. Two and a half parts egg nogg (eyeball it. Basically, if you pour egg nogg to the point your cup runneth over, well, first you’ve been watching too many episodes of The Borgias - who says “cup runneth over” anymore? Secondly, you’ve clearly been drinking too much. Call a cab. Even if you’re in your own house. Call a cab).
5. Nutmeg shavings (no, contrary to what your hairy roommate might tell you, shaver shavings are not a suitable substitute).
Welcome to flavour country.
Mr. Haiku (Clay) – 82 points (current rank: 3rd)
The recent rash of concussions has hit this team hard as both Jeff Skinner and Kris Letang have been out for quite a while now. However, I’ve managed stay in the top 3 thanks to the stellar play of Daniel Sedin, Marian Hossa, and Tim Thomas.
In the spirit of Christmas, I give full props to Chris “I Don’t Need to Show Up at the Draft” Golden who has taken over first place. I wonder how the other poolsters feel that his auto-drafted team is way ahead of theirs. And thanks and congrats to Tom, who is comfortably in second place and for putting these recaps together. And to the other 5 poolies who continue to make me look good.
And Merry Christmas to all of you loyal CHB readers. You must be loyal indeed if you’re even reading this hockey pool post!
I’ve got the Washington Capitals of the CHB hockey pool. Wildly inconsistent with subpar goaltending. While my boys might be terrible one week, they could put up 15 points in a day and shoot up 7 points in the standings but one way or another, they’re not living up to expectations.
…I guess it was no coincidence I started the year with three actual Washington Capitals on my roster.
But then maybe we’re all just doing this wrong. I mean, Chris doesn’t even have a 4th defenseman and he’s in top spot. Auto-draft to victory!
The Hamhuis Ballards (J.J.) – 73 points (current rank: 5th)
Just like Batman has The Joker and Jenn has Angelina, Santa has the Grinch.
And on my CHBWFHP team, I have a couple of grinches.
Henrik Zetterberg has 23 points in 33 games, which puts him on pace to finish with 57 points – or roughly the same pace Kyle Wellwood is on.
After 34 games, Christian Ehrhoff has 16 points and one less goal than Aaron Rome. He’s also a minus-11 – only seven defensemen in the entire league have a worse plus/minus rating.
Looks like I’m still second to last, which is keeping with my “just finish not last” mantra.
I think part of my problem is that I really need to pay better attention to injuries. When my players get hurt I seem to clue in about a week later that maybe I should bench them, so I should work on that. I also made some changes to my line up for the first time, dropping Brandon Sutter and Michael Grabner, while picking up Alex Steen and Ilya Kovalchuk.
I think my team’s leading in penalty minutes, which means they’re either dirty or scrappy, but I’ll take it either way, since it’s also the only stat I’m leading in. By the way guys, I’m still not sure I understand how scoring works. I’m fairly certain I’d have been better off letting a computer make my picks like Chris did.
As the NHL All-Star Game approaches (yawn), so too does the trade deadline and the final stretch towards the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While there is some significant separation between playoff and non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference is a dogfight.
With this in mind, here now are five GMs facing important decisions at this stage of the season.
Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
The Challenge: Some questionable moves and a weakened backend has turned the perennially contending San Jose Sharks into a team that might miss the playoffs.
His Choice: Does he make a move now to save the season, or does he ride it out and make major changes in the off-season?
One Opinion: Ride it out. Outside of Danny Boyle, it’s obvious the Sharks defence struggles moving the puck. Granted, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been miserable, but together they take up so much salary cap room that it is impossible to make significant roster changes during the year. Expect the Sharks to try and upgrade their defence in a minor way, while hoping their “Big 3” can turn it on in time to make the post-season.
Crazy Thought: If this was the NBA, where sign-and-trades are common, you could almost rationalize a Tomas Kaberle for Patrick Marleau type of move. The Leafs need more top-end forward talent, consider themselves deep on defence, and have some salary cap room. Alas, this isn’t the NBA, and Kaberle is a pending UFA after this year.
Bryan Murray, Ottawa Senators
The Challenge: Starting to rebuild the Ottawa Senators franchise before he is fired.
His Choice: There are a ton of choices, but perhaps the most interesting is to trade Daniel Alfredsson for prospects and draft picks.
One Opinion: Trade Alfie. If he’s open to being dealt, Alfredsson would be a very attractive piece around the NHL. In addition to his on-ice contributions (currently leading the Sens team in points), Alfredsson is a bit of a bargain. During the last two years of his contract, his cap hit is $4.875 per year. However, he’ll be paid just $5.5 million ($4.5 million + $1 million) over the same period. That’s intriguing math to a budget-conscious contending team that could use an experienced, top-six forward. At the same time, dealing Alfredsson to a contender would be a symbolic “turning of the page” for the Senators franchise.
Crazy Thought: It’s not really that crazy. Everyone knows the Los Angeles Kings have cap space and are looking for a top-6 scoring forward. They’re a natural fit. It’d be more fun to see Alfie in Colorado though – a young team that loves to run-and-gun and has some cap space as well.
Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers
The Challenge: Tallon was very adamant his plan was to rebuild the Florida Panthers using the same scorched earth approach he used to rebuild the Chicago Blackhawks. And yet there have been enough on-ice positives this year that the playoffs are still a possibility.
His Choice: Stick to the long-term plan or make a post-season run.
One Opinion: Stick to the plan. Under Peter DeBoer and back-stopped by Tomas Vokun, the Panthers have been one of the elite defensive teams in the NHL this year. If they were able to generate any kind of offense, they’d be even closer to the playoffs than they are now (nine points back). However, trading for offense is usually costly, and young offense is rarely dealt around the NHL. Let’s not forget, this is one of the older teams in the NHL. While they’ve kept things interesting, it’s in the team’s best interest to move some pieces at the trade deadline and keep getting younger.
Crazy Thought: Trades between teams in the same division are rarely made. It’s too bad, since Niclas Bergfors is young, can score and is lodged in the Atlanta Thrashers doghouse. It would be interesting to see what he could add to the Panthers offense down the stretch.
Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Challenge: The Toronto Maple Leafs were supposed to be better than 25th in the NHL by this stage of team’s rebuilding plan.
His Choice: Fire Ron Wilson or keep him for another year.
One Opinion: Keep Wilson. Wilson is a decent, detail-oriented coach that insists on having his team play a puck-pursuit, aggressive style of hockey. Sadly, there just isn’t enough talent on the team to execute this style effectively. It’s not his fault either that the team hasn’t had a good goaltender during his entire Leafs coaching career.
Crazy Thought: One rumour out of Toronto is that Brian Burke is set to replace Rich Peddie as President of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. If that’s the case, Dave Nonis would become the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. General Manager’s usually want their “own guy” behind the bench, meaning that if Burke moves “up,” Wilson’s probably “out.”
Don Maloney, Phoenix Coyotes
The Challenge: The Phoenix Coyotes are proving last year’s playoff appearance wasn’t a fluke, and impending free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov remains the biggest reason for the team’s success.
His Choice: Sign Bryzgalov or lose him to free agency in the off-season.
One Opinion: Sign him. Like all things with the Coyotes, this one’s complicated by their dicey ownership situation. There is no question that the team would like to re-sign Bryzgalov, but first they want an owner in place to sign the cheques. That’s a fine argument, except when you consider that Bryzgalov may be one of, if not the, most valuable player in the NHL. Without him this Coyotes team goes back to looking like a lottery-pick, bottom-dwelling mess. As the current owners of the franchise, the NHL should do what’s necessary to solidify the franchise’s existence, while protecting the team as an investment, and get Bryzgalov signed.
Crazy Thought: Damien Cox already mentioned it, but the Toronto Maple Leafs would have a big interest if Ilya Bryzgalov became a free agent. Remember, Brian Burke is Bryzgalov’s former GM and did him a favour by placing him on waivers three years ago. That being said, there would be a number of teams eager to bid on an elite NHL goalie. Bryzgalov’s return to Phoenix would be doubtful if he became a UFA.
THOUGHTS ON THE FLY
While they’re struggling of late, the Los Angeles Kings are still a +16 in the goals for/goals against department. That’s fourth in the Conference, behind Chicago, Detroit and Vancouver.
James Mirtle looks at the NHL’s best defensive forwards and defensive defencemen at the half-way mark. While not the most foolproof analysis, it serves as another reminder that Tomas Plekanec has become quite the player for Montreal.
Statistically, the worst team 5-on-5 but in the playoffs? The Tampa Bay Lightning. Those numbers should really improve if Dwayne Roloson can keep up his play in goal.
Statistically, the best team 5-on-5 but outside the playoff picture? Florida. They’re knocking on the door of being a top-10 team in this area.
With the success of the Winter Classic, both financially, critically and schmooze-festly, there’s no need for an All-Star Game anymore. NHL should just name a mid-season All-Star team and be done with it.
Remember when Simon Gagne was considered the defensive presence on an Olympic line with Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla? Well he’s a -20 in 26 games this year.
NHL ice-time leaders amongst forwards: 1. Ilya Kovalchuk 2. Eric Staal 3. Sidney Crosby 4. Corey Perry 5. Brad Richards. 6. Alex Ovechkin. The most interesting name appears at #25: former Leafs castaway Alex Steen is playing 20 minutes a night in St. Louis.