Apr 042012
 

With 98% of the NHL season behind us, it’s time to fill in an imaginary awards ballot.

But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to consider two more dead teams:

Calgary Flames

What went wrong: No team had an easier stretch drive schedule among teams fighting for the last Western Conference playoff spots than the Flames did. They failed to reach the post season because they couldn’t score. The Flames as a team are currently 25th in shots on goal per game. They’re 3-9 in shootouts, rivalling Montreal (5-11) and Carolina (0-6) for the league’s worst record in the skills competition. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross will finish the year as the team’s lone 20-goal scorers. None of them are consistent (Iginla’s slow starts have become legendary). Calgary sits last in the league in faceoff performance.

What went right: Mikka Kiprusoff carried the team all season with stellar play between the pipes. When finally healthy for the second-half Mark Giordano played well. He has 16 points after the All-Star break and has helped Calgary reach 11th in the NHL on the powerplay. Mike Cammalleri has struggled to stay healthy with the Flames but when dressed has scored at a 30-goal pace.

Off-Season Gameplan: It’s been said in this space more than once, but this aging Calgary team desperately needs a rebuild. After three years of missing the playoffs there’s clearly not enough talent in the lineup to reach the post-season. There isn’t enough organizational depth right now either to create hope for better days in the future. This may the last chance Calgary gets to shop Jarome Iginla before seeing his value depreciate completely on the marketplace.

Winnipeg Jets

What went wrong: There was lots of talk pre-season about what the travel schedule would do to not only the Jets, but other teams in the Southeast Division. Clearly it was a factor for the Manitoba team, as Winnipeg has put together a terrible road record (13-21-5). The penalty kill is below 80%, which hurts a team that’s short-handed a lot (25th worst). As well as Ondrej Pavelec has been at times this season, he tired down the stretch (3.13 goals against in March) and currently ranks 57th in the league in save percentage (.906). Alex Burmistrov was improved this season, but his offensive progression has been slow (just 28 points in year two). Eric Fehr (3 points, 35 games) was a bust, while Tanner Glass (-12) was asked to do too much.

What went right: Blake Wheeler (61 points) and Evander Kane (29 goals) have taken steps forward as top-six, even top-line players. Dustin Byfuglien has had a strong second-half. Off the scrap-heap, Kyle Wellwood has been an effective offensive player (47 points despite just 14:57 per game in ice-time). The MTS Centre has proven to be one of the few home-ice advantages left in the NHL.

Off-Season Gameplan: Continue to build around a very solid core. Veteran depth, particularly the type that could improve the defensive side of Winnipeg’s game, would be helpful. Mark Scheifele will get the Burmistrov treatment next year. If Scheifele’s ready, he could supply enough offense to bring the playoffs back to Manitoba.

***

Now with that little bit of ugly business out of the way, let’s take a quick look at who deserves award recognition for the 2011-2012 NHL season.

Hart Trophy – Evgeni Malkin

Runners-up: Jason Spezza; Henrik Lundqvist

Malkin has been arguably the league’s best player this year. Lundqvist is probably the most valuable, but goalies rarely win this award. A Hart nomination is the feather-in-the-cap to a marvellous season from Jason Spezza.

Norris Trophy – Zdeno Chara

Runners-up: Alex Pieterangelo; Erik Karlsson

Chara wins because he’s put forth his strongest offensive season while retaining defensive dominance (+33 leads all d-men). Karlsson’s had a magical season but his defensive play remains average. Under Ken Hitchcock, Alex Pieterangelo has arrived, breaking the 50-point barrier but more importantly playing extremely well defensively night in, night out.

Vezina Trophy – Henrik Lundqvist

Runners-up: Jonathan Quick; Mike Smith

The Rangers success gives Lundqvist the nod over Quick, whose Los Angeles Kings team have been in a playoff dogfight all season. Mike Smith’s career rejuvenation in Phoenix gives him a slight edge over the two St. Louis Blues goalies (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) who’ve split too much playing time to be considered.

Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron

Runners-up: David Backes; Anze Kopitar

Bergeron wins almost 60% of his draws and is one of the league’s premiere penalty killers. Backes has flourished under Ken Hitchcock, leading Blues forwards in goals, points, hits and blocked shots. Kopitar deserves greater recognition, is leading the Kings in points once again but, more importantly to this category, has been Los Angeles best defensive player as well.

Calder Trophy – Gabriel Landeskog

Runners-up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Matt Read

Not only is Landeskog tied for the rookie points lead, but he’s an incredible +23 and has played in all situations for the Avs down the stretch. He’s a future captain. Nugent-Hopkins is the most offensively-gifted rookie, but injuries have prevented him from running away with the freshman scoring crown. Matt Read leads all rookies in goals and has become an important player in the Flyers lineup.

Adams Trophy – Ken Hitchcock

Runners-up: Paul Maclean; John Tortorella

Hitchcock’s turned a middle-of-the-pack team into arguably the best team in the Western Conference. Paul Maclean has done wonders in Ottawa, taking a Sens team destined for a lottery pick into the playoffs. Tortorella’s nomination is a reward for guiding a team that’s out-performed its roster’s talent level all season.

 THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Another take on possible NHL awards, this one from ESPN.
  • Let’s just get this out of the way: Mike Milbury was a joke as a general manager and he’s a joke as a commentator. His take on league affairs is almost always neanderthal and ultra-traditionalist. Attacking Sidney Crosby gets your name in the paper though.
  • This definitely should be on any list of craziest goals of the year. It also epitomizes the difference in heart between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • At this point, wouldn’t it be for the best for everyone if the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and re-built their approach around Ovechkin’s offense than see the gutsy Sabres (one of the best teams in the NHL since the All-Star Game) come up short?
  • Quietly, Willie Mitchell’s having one of the best defensive defenseman seasons in the NHL this year. Granted, the ultra-conservative Kings gameplay helps in that regard.
  • Still without a contract, you have to expect the Edmonton Oilers are ready to walk away from Tom Renney. The talk is Todd Nelson, coach of Edmonton’s AHL farm team, will get a long look. Hard to believe he’s the guy who can take this young team to the next level.
  • It’s a small sample size, but the Nashville Predators are 4-3 in Alex Radulov’s seven games. The big Russian has 3 goals, 6 points in that span and has fit extremely well into the lineup.
  • For all of those people ready to anoint the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh, let’s acknowledge the fact that the Penguins are actually 25th in the NHL in team save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury, not Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, will have the biggest say in how far the Penguins go in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of which, the Chicago Blackhawks, for what it’s worth, are 27th in the NHL in team save percentage. Numbers-wise, Chicago’s entering the post-season with the worst goaltending amongst remaining teams.
  • Some other interesting Pre/Post-All-Star Game numbers: Winnipeg was 22nd in league scoring during the first half; 3rd so far in the second half. Buffalo was 25th in the first-half; 5th in the second half. Going the other way, Vancouver was 3rd in the first half scoring-wise; 15th in the second half. Washington was 9th in the first half; 26th in the second half.
  • Defensively, the Bruins have gone from 4th in the first half to 22nd in the second half. Minnesota from 8th in the first half to 25th and Pittsburgh from 10th to 23rd. Improving their defensive play in the second half were teams like Buffalo (26th to 7th), Anaheim (23rd to 8th), Colorado (21st to 5th) and Ottawa (27th to 13th).
Apr 022012
 

There’s nothing like a week in Toronto to gain some perspective on the Vancouver Canucks’ goaltending tandem.

On Tuesday, I saw Jonas Gustavsson start for the Leafs and allow 3 goals on 12 shots – all 3 goals by the 37-second mark of the second period – before getting replaced by Jussi Rynas. This would be Rynas’ first NHL game after splitting the season between the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and ECHL’s Reading Royals.

Two nights later, Rynas would make his first NHL start against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers welcomed Rynas by putting 7 goals past him in a 7-1 shellacking of the Leafs.

Back here on the West Coast, the Canucks are on a nice, little roll with 6 straight wins and having earned points in their last 7 games. And despite being among the lower scoring teams in the league in the latter half of this season, they’re back on top of the Western Conference.

Needless to say, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider have both been a big part of the Canucks’ success, but you can’t tell based on some of the reaction to every goal they allow.

On Saturday night against the Flames, Luongo was beaten by Olli Jokinen’s off-speed shot during a Flames powerplay; predictably, the Luongo haters came out of the woodwork calling for his head. It didn’t get any better when Mike Cammalleri beat him early in the third period with a howitzer from the point, a shot which even former players say wouldn’t have been stopped by any goaltender.

Never mind that Luo had stopped 70 consecutive shots before Jokinen’s goal. Never mind that he had gone almost 120 minutes – the equivalent of almost two complete games – of shutting out the opposition. Never mind that he has a .964 save percentage in his last 3 wins.

Facts be damned.

This isn’t to say that Schneider hasn’t been good; he has. Rightfully, Team Schneider likes to point out that his GAA and save percentage are better than Luongo’s – this is a fair point.

But it’s equally noteworthy that, with his win on Saturday, Luongo has hit the 30-win plateau for the seventh consecutive season. And for all the grief Luongo takes for “not being able to win the big one”, remember it was Luongo in net for all of the Canucks’ 15 playoff wins last season and that since the lockout, only one goaltender – Marc-Andre Fleury – has more playoff wins than Luo.

We could go back and forth on this for a long time so here are some other, simpler numbers for you: with both Luo and Schneider in net, the Canucks have 49 wins and 107 points. They’re tied with the New York Rangers for most points in the entire NHL.

With the playoffs just a little over a week away, I’m finding the Team Luongo vs. Team Schneider schtick getting old. Can we just appreciate the fact that our team has TWO bonafide, NHL goaltenders? Instead of cheering for Team Luongo or Team Schneider, can’t we simply cheer for Team Canucks?

It’s a novel concept, I know. But think of it this way… It could be worse. We could be cheering for the Leafs.

*****

From the same creator of “The Ironing is Delicious” comes this two-part sequel:

Poke the Bear, part 1:

Poke the Bear, part 2:

Hilarious as usual.

Mar 142012
 

Yes, this is the week of returns in the NHL, with Sidney Crosby playing against the Rangers on Thursday and all signs pointing to Alex Radulov returning to the Predators in the near future.

And yet if you take a step back, what you’ve really got in the NHL right now is an epic race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

As of Wednesday morning, there were five teams separated by a single point in the standings for the final two playoff spots in the West.

Which of these teams will make the playoffs? Which of these teams is most likely to face Vancouver in the first round? Let’s take a closer look at each team:

7th place: Phoenix Coyotes (70 games: 34-25-11)

  • Last 20 games: 12-4-4 (.700)
  • Goals per game in their last 20: 2.45
  • Goals against per game in their last 20: 2.05
  • Home record: 18-12-6 (5 games left)
  • Road record: 16-13-5 (7 games left)
  • Shootout record: 5-8
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .555 (2nd easiest)
  • Record against teams in remaining scheduled: 17-13-4 (.558)
  • Games against teams in race: 4 (Calgary; Colorado; San Jose, San Jose)

Notes: Phoenix has won three of four games against San Jose this year and plays them twice more. However, they also play St. Louis twice more, who they’re winless against. The Coyotes were excellent in February but have cooled slightly since. How they do on this next road trip (at Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Dallas) could go a long way to sealing their playoff fate.

Prediction: 6-3-3 in their final 12 games, to finish with 94 points.

8th place: San Jose Sharks (69 games: 34-25-10)

  • Last 20 games: 5-11-4 (.350)
  • Goals per game in their last 20: 2.35
  • Goals against per game in their last 20: 3.20
  • Home record: 19-11-3 (8 games left)
  • Road record: 15-14-7 (5 games left)
  • Shootout record: 6-5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .570 (2nd hardest)
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 13-9-3 (.580)
  • Games against teams in race: 6 (Los Angeles; Phoenix; Colorado; Phoenix; Los Angeles; Los Angeles)

Notes: Of all the teams in the race, it’s the Sharks who have their fate in their own hands. They have six games against teams also fighting for the final two spots, including three against the rival Kings. Only one of San Jose or Los Angeles is making the playoffs, and it’s quite possible neither will make it. The Sharks have had a brutal 2012 thanks to some sour goaltending (although the team’s not scoring either). Can their much maligned core (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau in particular) save the season? The betting here is no, leading to an off-season of change.

Prediction: 6-6-1 in their last 13 games, to finish with 91 points.

9th place: Calgary Flames (70 games: 33-25-12)

  • Last 20 games: 10-4-6 (.650)
  • Goals per game in last 20 games: 2.75
  • Goals against per game in last 20 games: 2.55
  • Home record: 19-10-5 (7 more)
  • Road record: 14-15-7 (5 more)
  • Shootout record: 3-7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .543 (easiest)
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 19-7-6 (.689)
  • Games against teams in race: 4 (Phoenix, Colorado, Colorado, LA)

Notes: Not only does Calgary have the easiest remaining schedule, but they have dominated the teams they will play against. The Flames have been scoring more goals per game over their last 20 games than any other team in the race, which bodes well. However, that awful shootout record could shoot them in the foot.

Prediction: 6-4-2 in their last 12 games, to finish with 92 points.

10th place: Los Angeles Kings (70 games: 33-25-12)

  • Last 20 games: 10-9-1 (.550)
  • Goals per game in last 20 games: 2.30
  • Goals against per game in last 20 games: 2.15
  • Home record: 18-13-4 (6 games)
  • Road record: 15-12-8 (6 games)
  • Shootout record: 5-7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .558
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 13-9-3 (.580)
  • Games against teams in the race: 4 (San Jose; Calgary; San Jose; San Jose)

Notes: Not only will their games against San Jose go a long way to defining how the Kings finish, but their road record will as well. The Kings and Coyotes are the two strongest teams in this race on the road. The concern – as it has been all year – for Los Angeles has to be whether they will score enough to win games down the stretch. They’ve had a pedestrian last 20 games record-wise, scoring fewer goals during that stretch than any of their playoff race opponents.

Prediction: 4-4-4 in their last 12 games, finishing with 90 points.

11th place: Colorado Avalanche (71 games: 37-30-4)

  • Last 20 games: 11-7-2 (.600)
  • Goals per game in last 20 games: 2.70
  • Goals against per game in last 20 games: 2.20
  • Home record: 21-15-1 (4 more)
  • Road record: 16-15-3 (7 more)
  • Shootout record: 8-1
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .583 (hardest)
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 5-14-2 (.286)
  • Games against teams in race: 4 (Calgary, Phoenix, San Jose, Calgary)

Notes: The Avalanche clearly have the toughest schedule down the stretch, and have a terrible record against the teams they are to play. Having said that, they are one of the hottest teams in the NHL over their last 20 games, and their goals for and goals against have greatly improved in 2012. Like Los Angeles, Colorado’s destiny could be decided on the road, with seven more road games to play. Unfortunately for Avs fans, Colorado’s road record is only average.

Prediction: 4-5-2 over their last 11 games, finishing with 88 points.

My final predicted order of standings:

  • 7th place: Phoenix Coyotes (94 points) – They’d likely play Vancouver in the first round.
  • 8th place: Calgary Flames (92 points) – Momemtum + schedule = Feaster miracle.
  • 9th place: San Jose Sharks (91 points) – And not a few weeks ago, I called them a contender.
  • 10th place: Los Angeles Kings (90 points) – A lack of scoring probably costs Lombardi his job.
  • 11th place: Colorado Avalanche (88 points) – A great stretch run brings optimism for 2012-13.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Kudos to the Penguins for managing Sidney Crosby’s minutes and deciding to play him on the point on the powerplay. It will be fascinating to see how long this protection lasts, especially once the team gets to playoff time. Hard to see the Bruins or Rangers not trying to knock Crosby off the ice.
  • Let’s not get ahead of ourselves regarding Alex Radulov. If KHL production is roughly 62% the equivalent of NHL production, then his Russian stats this season translate as follows: 26 goals, 39 assists over 82 NHL games. That’s not bad, but it’s not necessarily superstar worthy. You have to expect a learning curve as well going from the KHL to NHL stretch-drive/playoff action.
  • Nonetheless, kudos to David Poile for pulling the wool over the eyes of other general managers. Make no mistake – the Predators are gunning for the Stanley Cup.
  • Biggest reason why the Leafs are still in a freefall: It’s training camp all over again in Toronto. The team is learning to play Randy Carlyle’s structured style, which in many ways is the opposite to how they’ve played all year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Leafs finish with a lottery pick.
  • Speaking of the Leafs, Damien Cox’s tweet earlier in the week suggested that Toronto will try and target Jaroslav Halak in the off-season. Naturally, the question begs – why would St. Louis want to make that trade?
  • How good has Steven Stamkos been? He’s the NHL’s leading goal-scorer currently by 12 goals. The biggest goal differential between the league’s top-two goal-scorers since the lockout was 13 goals in 2007-08 when Alex Ovechkin scored 65 and Ilya Kovalchuk had 52. Before that, it was a 14-goal differential in 1999-00 when Pavel Bure had 58 and Owen Nolan had 44. And prior to that, it was a 16-goal differential in 1991-92 between Brett Hull’s 70 goals and Kevin Stevens’ 54.
  • Marty Turco has looked awful in two appearences with Boston. Their divisional lead over the Ottawa Senators is in serious jeopardy if Tim Thomas doesn’t play the bulk of Bruins games down the stretch.
Feb 282012
 

Let’s get this out of the way first.

I’m still not convinced Columbus’ interest in dealing Rick Nash wasn’t a creation of TSN and Sportsnet. The two networks needed a big name to speculate about to drive up ratings for their annual Trade Deadline TV marathons.

Sadly for those networks, Nash remains a Blue Jacket at least until the draft, where the hype will be built up all over again. I am giddy with anticipation (and by giddy I mean hitting my head with a shoe to make the idea of 24 hour coverage of “The Rick Nash Trade – Part Two” go away).

Nonetheless, the trade deadline did produce some moves – 15 trades involving 31 players, according to TSN. As per usual, the moves quickly revealed who’s serious about the Stanley Cup.

Based on team performance and moves they made, here now are the REAL contenders for the Stanley Cup.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Vancouver

The Canucks enter the final portion of the NHL season with the strongest group of forwards they’ve had in a long time, if not ever. The 2012 version of Sammy Pahlsson is a step-slower, slightly less-effective than the one who helped the Anaheim Ducks with the Cup in 2007. However he remains a strong shutdown centreman who can win faceoffs (he led the Blue Jackets in faceoffs prior to the trade, winning 51.1%).

In Zack Kassian, Vancouver effectively replaced Raffi Torres from last year’s playoff run with someone younger and with 20-30 goal potential. Kassian could even develop into the big, scoring winger the team hasn’t had since Todd Bertuzzi left town. Kassian models his game after Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic, which is probably music to the ears of most Canuck fans.

Marc-Andre Gragnani is an underrated puck-moving defenseman who is about to have the spotlight shine on him. There are folks who think he could flourish into a 40-50 point player, and there are certainly similarities between his game and ex-Canuck Christian Ehrhoff. Those similarities include some puzzling play in the defensive zone.

Bottom Line: This Canuck team looks primed for another long post-season run. Cody Hodgson is a big chip to play, but when you consider the team’s time is now (and Vancouver already has Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler in the top two centre positions), Gillis has made the team stronger than it was yesterday.

Potential weakness: The blueline.

2. San Jose

While there will be folks who scoff, let’s remember that the Sharks have made the Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons, and they will enter these playoffs with likely their deepest team ever. Like the Canucks, the Sharks have had some concerns regarding secondary scoring and forward depth, and the acquisitions of Daniel Winnik, T.J. Galiardi (and previously Dominic Moore) address this area.

Winnik was one of Colorado’s most important forwards, playing tough minutes and leading team forwards in ice time for much of the year. The improved play of Gabriel Landeskog and Winnik’s status as an impending UFA made him expendable. He’ll look very good alongside Michael Handzus on San Jose’s third line.

T.J. Galiardi has been an offensive tease so far in his career but he’s got the talent to be a fringe top-six player. Ray Fererro mentioned during Trade Deadline coverage today that Galiardi came to training camp having put on too much muscle, which hampered the player’s speed. Galiardi is an adequate replacement for Martin Havlat, allowing the injury-prone star to take his time to get back into the lineup.

Bottom Line: The Sharks improved their defense in the off-season, and now have improved their foward group. If Martin Havlat comes back healthy, and they get any kind of goaltending, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Sharks three-peat as Conference Finalists, perhaps even graduating to the Cup Final. A re-match with the Canucks would not surprise.

Potential weakness: Goaltending

3. Nashville

Why the Predators and not the Red Wings? Detroit only tinkered with their team (adding Kyle Quincey), and now enter the playoffs with pretty much the same group that’s been knocked out of the playoffs early the last two years.

Meanwhile, the Predators are showing Ryan Suter the money and  pushing their chips to the middle of the table. They were rumoured to have made a big push for Rick Nash, and when that didn’t materialize, they quickly added Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal. He’s an enigmatic scorer, but he is a scorer, and a legitimate top-6 one at that. Playing with his brother Sergei could be problematic (one friend commented beer sales are about to go up in bars around Nashville), but it’s unlikely coach Barry Trotz will let any off-ice shenanigans impact the team on-ice.

Paul Gaustad is another effective grinder on a team full of them, and acquiring Hal Gill earlier in the week gives the Predators a premiere shutdown defenseman, perhaps one destined to matchup with Ryan Kesler this season.

Bottom Line: The Predators are one of the toughest teams to play against in the NHL, and they were a sniper-away from beating the Canucks in last year’s playoffs. Andrei Kostitsyn might not be Paul Kariya or Peter Forsberg, but he is someone who can create offense on his own. With a deep defense, strong goaltending and an upgraded forward group, Nashville has become the dark horse team to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup.

Potential weakness: Scoring

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Boston

Remember, these are the defending Stanley Cup champions, who have retained much of the team from last year. The addition of Brian Rolston effectively replaces the departed Mark Recchi, although the emergence of Tyler Seguin means less is expected of Rolston in an offensive role. He might become a key part of the second powerplay unit, shooting darts from the point. Otherwise he’ll play a bottom-six role.

Meanwhile, there is a common belief today that you need 8 NHL-ready defenseman to go far in the playoffs. Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau fit that bill, the former one of the better shot blockers in the league, while the latter is a good skater and marginal puck-mover.

Bottom Line: Boston looks like a team ready to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Potential weakness: Nathan Horton’s health

2. New York Rangers

Why the Rangers, when they didn’t make a single move of significance (apologies to John Scott) at the Trade Deadline? Sometimes, the best move a team can make is no move. The 2012 New York Rangers are greater than the sum of their parts, and messing with that chemistry in a significant way could upset everything the team has been building towards.

Rick Nash would have been sexy, but there’s no telling how his arrival would have worked in the locker room. GM Glen Sather was smart to let this team prove what it can do in the playoffs, and then tinker as necessary in the off-season.

Bottom Line: Thanks to Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, the Rangers are Nashville-East with more scoring. That makes them a Cup contender.

Potential weakness: Scoring

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Couldn’t put Pittsburgh on the list for one reason – there’s no guarantee Sidney Crosby is coming back. If he does, and he’s healthy, they’re added to the contender mix. The thing is, with how aggressive play is in the playoffs, does anyone think Sidney Crosby would survive a long playoff run without another injury?
  • The Flyers aren’t a contender, and really, haven’t been one all season. They’re fun to watch but there are too many holes on defense or in goal to be considered among the elite. Could be a different story in a few years though.
  • Puzzling move #1: The Toronto Maple Leafs trading Keith Aulie, who remains a legit defensive prospect - one who could become Hal Gill 2.0. Yes Toronto has depth on the blueline, but acquiring Carter Ashton for Aulie seems like acquiring 50 cents on the dollar. Ashton projects as a 3rd line guy at best. Burke is living and dying by his current roster in Toronto. It’s likely not enough to get the team into the playoffs.
  • Puzzling move #2: The Edmonton Oilers trading Tom Gilbert to their division rivals the Minnesota Wild for Nick Schultz. I think this sums it up nicely. Perhaps all this really means is that Edmonton intends to draft an offensive defenseman in the first round this year, and pair him with Schultz immediately.
  • Talked a lot about the Vancouver – Buffalo trade above, but one more thing: there’s no question Cody Hodgson is the most talented player in the deal, but from a Canucks standpoint they’re looking to win now. Long-term, it could be a trade the Canucks regret, although it does seem the franchise never warmed to the guy. Biggest immediate concern - what happens if one of Kesler or Sedin gets hurt?
  • Johnny Oduya is a nice complimentary pickup by the Blackhawks, but they needed more (another d-man, another scoring forward) for their playoff chances to truly improve. Right now, the ‘Hawks look like a second round team at best.
  • It’s rare you see the Flames apologize to the Oilers.
  • It would not surprise me if Ben Bishop eventually forced Craig Anderson out of town in Ottawa. Bishop is a very good goalie prospect, and the team already has Robin Lehner on the farm. It could be Anderson becomes the known asset the Senators eventually move for needed pieces.
Feb 092012
 

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]

Heading into tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the Vancouver Canucks have gone to extra-time in their last 5 games (winning 4 of them) and in 8 of their last 10 (7-1-2 record).  Through it all, they’ve amassed 16 out of a possible 20 points, making them the hottest team in the Western Conference despite winning just one game in regulation over that span.  That alone is something to make you go hmmm!  Alas, I’ve also found a few more:

1.  What happened to the forward depth? For those who argue that this year’s Canucks team is better than last year’s, they point to the depth at the forward position as the primary reason.  David Booth and Cody Hodgson have bolstered the top 9, giving the Canucks four decent lines when everyone is going (paging Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen).  However, the Canucks will be facing a formidable challenge if captain Henrik Sedin is out for any considerable length of time (his status was undetermined at the time of this writing).   Add to that the recurring staph infection-related issues of Chris Higgins, and suddenly the Canucks are without two of their top six forwards.

This means a couple of things.  Firstly, coach Alain Vigneault will once again have to use his line juggling blender to concoct some new combinations.  It likely means more ice-team for rookie Cody Hodgson, which will be music to many people’s ears.  And the recently-maligned and aforementioned Raymond and Hansen will have a golden opportunity to dig themselves out of their respective funks.

As of this writing, the Canucks had not called anyone up from the Chicago Wolves.  But if they do, don’t expect it to be veteran Steven Reinprecht as he’ll likely get claimed through re-entry waivers.  I think the Canucks should give 2009 first-round pick Jordan Schroeder a look.   He is third on the Wolves in scoring and he would slot into a top-9 role with his nifty skating.  He also had a decent preseason and didn’t look out of place in scoring 3 points.  But then again, so did Marco Sturm.

2.  Get Booth out for the shootout. With 5 of the last 7 games ending in a shootout (including the last 3) and 7 shootout games already in 2012, it’s obvious how important these points are in the ultra-tight Western Conference.  Surprisingly, the Canucks have done well in the 2012 shootouts, winning four of those seven contests.  Recently, Roberto Luongo has looked better in the shootout, trading in his belly-flop for a calmer, deeper-in-the-crease approach.

It’s a good thing, because he’s certainly not getting a lot of help from the Vancouver shooters.  In the 2012 shootouts, the Canucks have gone 7-for-23 for a percentage of 30%.  That’s not particularly good, but it’s not surprising given the career shootout stats of the Canucks.  As Daniel Wagner of Pass it to Bulis pointed out earlier this week, Vancouver doesn’t have anyone close to 50% (except for Andrew Ebbett but he’s taken a total of 2 shootout attempts, scoring on one of them).  Alex Burrows is at 43.8%, Maxim Lapierre is 42.9% and the rest of the players are 33% or below.  In the 2012 shootouts, the 7 Canucks goals have come from Alex Edler (2-for-3), Burrows (2-for-4), Raymond (2-for-6) and Hodgson (1-for-4).

Why not try David Booth in the shootout?  His career stats aren’t great (2-for-10) but he hasn’t had a chance yet this season.  He’s a very quick skater and thus has the ability to at least have the goalie guessing.  He’s put up seasons of 31 goals, 23 goals, and 22 goals in the past proving that he can score.  And he’s played well since coming back from his injury.  Plus, he can do this:

3.  Tim Thomas doesn’t like Barack Obama. The Boston Bruins have won only 2 of the 6 games they’ve played since visiting the White House without goaltender Tim Thomas back on January 23rd.  Granted, it’s not the largest sample size, but it certainly qualifies as a mini-slump.  At the time, the Bruins tried to downplay the incident but it set off a firestorm in hockey circles.  Now, Tim Thomas is at it again, this time posting on his Facebook page, “I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom” in response to Obama’s move to have all health insurance plans provide birth control to women (a plan that has Catholic hospitals, charities and schools up in arms).

This isn’t the time and place to get into the specifics of Obama’s proposal for health-care reform.   However, as both a Catholic and a Canucks fan I find this whole situation quite fascinating.  I’ve been a fan of Thomas for a few years now (for his playing style and not necessarily for his personal and political views), even if he was the main obstacle to the Canucks winning the Stanley Cup last June.  It will be interesting to see how much his latest statement serves as a distraction to his team at a time where they need to turn their game around.

Jan 192012
 

  • If a picture is worth a thousand words, the above video must be worth, well, a lot more than that.
  • With no less than 8 defensemen already on the roster, was Chris Tanev’s call-up yesterday a signal that the Canucks are ready to trade a defenseman? Or does it simply mean that Sami Salo will be out for a longer period of time? Regardless of the reason, I’m sure coaches AV and Bones are happy to have another right-side defenseman in their lineup, rather than having to play every other defenseman other than Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa on their wrong side.
  • I won’t go as far as calling Salo a Norris Trophy candidate, but there’s certainly no doubting his value and importance to this team now. Without Salo in the lineup, the Canucks are 3-5-1, but more importantly, the Canucks’ defense look out of synch and overwhelmed.
  • Unless Tanev proves he can handle top-4 minutes, I have to think that acquiring another top-4 defenseman would be on top of GM Mike Gillis’ shopping list before the trade deadline. At the start of the season, there was hope that Keith Ballard would be that guy, but between the healthy scratches and high-risk plays, that’s looking less and less likely to happen.
  • Don’t look now, but Cody Hodgson has 12 points (5G-7A) in his last 15 games. Quietly, he’s climbed up to 4th in overall rookie scoring (27 points in 47 games), behind just Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (35 points in 38 games), Adam Henrique (34 points in 40 games) and Matt Read (29 points in 41 games). Yes, he’s played more games than those guys, but he also averages about 5-6 minutes of ice-time per game less than them.
Jan 182012
 

Yesterday we took at look at the “real” Western Conference standings after 40 games.

Here now is a look at the East.

Remember, to learn a bit more about an individual team’s strengths and weaknesses, each squad was ranked in six categories*:

  • Goals for (GF) and shots-for (SHF) were chosen to evaluate a team’s offense;
  • Shots-against (SHA) and goals against (GA) were chosen to evaluate a team’s defensive play;
  • Five-on-five (5-on-5) was chosen to evaluate a team’s even-strength/system play;
  • Save percentage (SVPCT) was chosen to evaluate the team’s goaltending performance.

Teams were ranked and then put into groups of five, with those ranking 1-5 in each category designated “great,” 6-10 “good,” 11-15 “above average,” 16-20 “below average,” 21-25 “poor,” 26-30 “awful.”

(* – Stats were taken as of Thursday January 12, once all teams had played at least 40 games.)

The Eastern Conference Standings After 40 Games

1. New York Rangers (58 points)
Games 21-40: 1st in Conference (31 points)
Games 1-20: 1st in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Above Average / GF: Good / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Awful

Notes: The Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 circus certainly didn’t phase the Rangers, who went 15-4-1 in the second quarter to once again stay atop the “real” NHL standings. Marian Gaborik scored at a 50-goal pace during games 21-40, while hard-working captain Ryan Callahan chipped in with 6 goals and 17 points. Meanwhile, Michael Del Zotto was Mike Green-esque, with 3 goals and 16 points from the blueline.

2. Boston Bruins (57 points)
Games 21-40: 2nd in Conference (31 points)
Games 1-20: 2nd in Conference (26 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Poor / GF: Great / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great

Notes: Probably the deepest team in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire NHL. Their 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio was at 2.06 after 40 games, the best in the entire league and more than double the league average. Tuukka Rask (1.07 goals against, .964 save percentage) and Tim Thomas (2.17 goals against, .941 save percentage) are practically unbeatable. Making the Bruins even more dangerous: David Krejci has woken up (7 goals, 23 points during games 21-40).

3. Florida Panthers (48 points)
Games 21-40: 6th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 6th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Below Average / GF: Poor / GA: Above Average 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Above Average

Notes: They’re in third by virtue of leading the Southeast Division after 40 games. Like the Minnesota Wild, the Panthers are starting to fall back to earth. Goal scoring was way down, from 2.95 goals per game in the first quarter to 2.2 goals per game in the second. Somehow Tomas Kopecky was -11 in games 21-40.

4. Philadelphia Flyers (52 points)
Games 21-40: 3rd in Conference (27 points)
Games 1-20: 5th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Good / GF: Great / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Great

Notes: Sergei Bobrovsky (1.75 goals against, .941 save percentage) was much, much, much better than Ilya Bryzgalov (3.52, .876) in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Kimmo Timonen (1 goal, 13 points. +6) capably replaced Chris Pronger at least in the short-term as the team’s go-to defenseman. Jaromir Jagr slowed down a bit in games 21-40 (6 goals, 14 points vs 18 points in the first quarter), but some of that was due to injury. James Van Riemsdyk has disappointed (3 goals in the second quarter).

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (46 points)
Games 21-40: 9th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 4th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Great / GF: Good / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Great

Notes: For the second straight year, the Penguins are battling through injuries to keep a playoff spot, only this time Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t played as well (.902 save percentage in the second quarter). Evgeni Malkin entered beast mode (30 points in games 21-40), and depending on how Pittsburgh finishes could be a Hart Trophy candidate.

6. New Jersey Devils (46 points)
Games 21-40: 7th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 9th in Conference (23 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Great / GF: Below Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Poor

Notes: The Devils cannot make the playoffs with Martin Brodeur as their number one goalie. His save percentage was just .878 in the second quarter. This despite the fact the Devils only gave up 30-or-more shots in three of his 14 starts, and two of the three being overtime games. Zach Parise (8 goals, 22 points) and Ilya Kovalchuk (10 goals, 21 points) awoke in games 21-40, and the Devils have two solid scoring lines for the first time in ages.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (45 points)
Games 21-40: 10th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 7th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Good / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Poor

Notes: Leaf struggles in the second quarter are well documented already (thanks Toronto-centric hockey media!). The penalty kill was roughly 4% worse (down to 72.3%) and was the difference between a win and a loss most nights. Meanwhile, James Reimer wasn’t very good (3-4-3, 3.23 goals against, .893 save percentage since returning in December from injury).

8. Ottawa Senators (45 points)
Games 21-40: 4th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 10th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Awful / GF: Good / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Good

Notes: Ottawa has improved their five-on-five play and with that are rising up the standings. Eight times in the second quarter they played into overtime, garnering 13 of a possible 16 points in those games. Daniel Alfreddsson hit the rejuvenation machine (17 points in 15 December games, versus 10 points in his first 18 games of the year).

9. Washington Capitals (44 points)
Games 21-40: 11th in Conference (19 points)
Games 1-20: 3rd in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Above Average / GF: Good / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Poor

Notes: One of the great “what could have beens” in NHL history is what the Capitals could have been if Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens hadn’t gotten into GM George McPhee’s head after one playoff series. Washington’s loss to Montreal effectively ended the “all offense, all the time” experiment that defined the Capitals and could have redefined how elite NHL teams are built. Nowadays, the Capitals are as ho-hum a franchise as can be. On the bright side, Alex Ovechkin (10 goals, 17 points) and Nik Backstrom (6 goals, 19 points) were decent in the second quarter. However, Mike Knuble entered retirement during games 21-40 (1 goal, 2 points), while other core players Brooks Laich (4 goals, 8 points), Alex Semin (5 goals, 11 points), Marcus Johansson (1 goal) struggled. Tomas Vokoun did find his old self (2.45 goals against, .919 save percentage).

10. Winnipeg Jets (43 points)
Games 21-40: 5th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 13th in Conference (19 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Below Average / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Above Average

Notes: As you can probably guess from the number of times it appears above, the Jets are an average hockey club. Still, they’ve ridden a hot home record (10-3-1 during the second quarter) to position themselves for a run at a playoff spot. Evander Kane (10 goals), Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little (both with 7 goals) had nice second quarters. A Teemu Selanne deadline trade to Winnipeg would be magical.

11. Buffalo Sabres (40 points)
Games 21-40: 14th in Conference (16 points)
Games 1-20: 8th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Awful / GF: Poor / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average

Notes: A lot has been made of Ryan Miller’s performance this season, and his second quarter numbers certainly support the criticism (3.21 goals against, .894 save percentage). However, a greater factor in the Sabres decline has been the errors the team made prior to the season. Robyn Regehr (-10 in the second quarter) and Christian Ehrhoff (2 goals, 7 points, -7 in games 21-40) were supposed to improve the defense and haven’t. Ville Leino was supposed to augment the offense, and he clearly hasn’t worked out (1 goal, 5 points in the second quarter). Look for Derek Roy (2 goals, 10 points in games 21-40) to be possibly moved at the trade deadline.

12. Montreal Canadiens (37 Points)
Games 21-40: 15th in Conference (16 points)
Games 1-20: 11th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Good / GF: Below Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average

Notes: It’s clear the Habs are going in the wrong direction. A notoriously strong defensive team under former coach Jacques Martin, this part of Montreal’s game regressed in the second quarter, with the team giving up more shots and more goals per game. The recent acquisition of Tomas Kaberle did help the powerplay (18.1% with Kaberle in the lineup during the second quarter; 10.4% before his arrival).

13. Tampa Bay Lightning (37 points)
Games 21-40: 12th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 12th in Conference (20 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Below Average / GF: Above Average / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Poor

Notes: There’s nothing wrong in Tampa Bay a decent goaltender couldn’t cure. Dwayne Roloson has become the worst goalie in the league (4.63 goals against, .866 save percentage in the second quarter) while Mathieu Garon has been below average (2.84 goals against, .901 save percentage during games 21-40). Could Martin St. Louis be dealt for a young goalie? Or do they go to the well one more time for a veteran Islanders goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov)? Marc-Andre Bergeron has cooled off since his hot start (1 goal, 6 points in the second quarter).

14. New York Islanders (36 points)
Games 21-40: 8th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 15th in the Conference (14 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Above Average / GF: Poor / GA: Poor / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Below Average

Notes: The Islanders turned it around in the second quarter, particularly on the attack. They went from 1.90 goals per game in the first quarter to 2.55 during games 21-40. The powerplay was a big part of this increase, scoring at a 25.8% clip, almost an 11% improvement over the first 20 games of the year. John Tavares has arrived (6 goals, 23 points in the second quarter).

15. Carolina Hurricanes (32 points)
Games 21-40: 13th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 14th in the Conference (15 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Awful / GF: Below Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average

Notes: If you can believe it, Cam Ward’s play has gotten worse statistically as the season has gone along. His save percentage was .890 in November, .878 in December. The ‘Canes scored more in the second quarter, while reducing their shots against slightly under new coach Kirk Muller. Muller also gave the young talent on the team a chance (Drayson Bowman from around 7 minutes of ice-time to 15+; Zac Dalpe from around 5 minutes of ice time to 13+). Quietly, Eric Staal’s game returned (13 points in 14 December games).

Jan 102012
 

Hey Boston? What’s the name of the longest river in the world?

(If you’re not that smart, the joke is usually “da Nile”).

Seriously, has your city lost its mind? Because it sure as hell has lost a lot of its credibility across the NHL after the Marchand-Salo affair.

For Boston players, coaches, GMs, media and fans to almost unanimously agree that there was nothing wrong with Marchand’s hit on Salo makes the city look completely ridiculous, immature and unprofessional.

I understand this maybe from the fans and even the players at times, because they’re passionate about the game, but to come from the mouths and writing of the media (who are supposed to try to be objective on such matters) is absolutely disgusting.

What happened to professionalism and integrity in journalism?

The denial and outcry regarding the dirtiness of Marchand’s hit and subsequent discipline from the NHL is nothing short of absurd, to the point where the Bruins, its media and many of its fans are, for the moment, the laughingstock of the NHL.

Even PJ Stock, who used to play for the Bruins, was showing his black and gold colours on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. He was the only panellist stating it was a clean hit, while the others were doing what they could to stop him from speaking any longer.

It’s become rather comical.

You’d think following his suspension that Marchand would keep things to himself and stay out of the spotlight for a bit, but no, he had to go and write his ESPN blog on the subject and say this:

OK, the play with Sami Salo. It technically wasn’t a clip. Clipping is when you hit someone at the knees and I did not hit him at the knees. Anyone that has seen the video will see that I hit him in the upper thigh under the buttocks. They can call it a clipping, but they obviously don’t know the rules of hockey. I felt like I was trying to protect myself and get low and he went over me.

So what are you saying, Brad? That Shanahan and every other hockey expert are wrong, and you’re right?  Isn’t that completely disrespecting Shanahan’s credibility and capability to do his job? If I were him, I’d slap an extra fine on you, just for that.

After all, if Tortorella can be fined for publicly denouncing the NHL’s officiating, you should sure as hell be fined for denouncing the NHL’s ability to make disciplinary decisions, with, “They obviously don’t know the rules of hockey.”

That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard from a player. Not to mention, cocky as hell.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli also stand by their belief that Marchand was simply “protecting himself” from that big brute Salo, who suddenly has grown three or four inches and likes to eat small children for breakfast.

Not only that, but suddenly Boston’s feeling bad about itself being “targeted” and made an example of. Julien told the media, “I guess we’re stupid,” and “Somehow the Bruins happen to be the team that people prefer picking on and think we’re the bruisers and the example of the league.”

First of all, you ARE the bruisers of the league, and second, it’s about time you got called on it.

Also, wasn’t it only last year that you guys were shredding the Canucks for having this “we’re the most hated team/woe is me” mentality, and telling them to stop whining and suck it up?

Now the tables turn on Boston and you’re the victims… Right…

The hypocrisy going on is mind-blowing.

And the Boston media? Probably the absolute worst in terms of bias and plain-old ridiculous garbage they’ve been producing during the Marchand incident, even better than some of their gems from the Finals last spring. I was linking to ugly articles faster than I could type for the past two days!

Fans and sportswriters from around North America were tweeting their amused disbelief at the Boston media’s lack of professionalism following Saturday’s game. Really, it did get to the point that it was quite laughable.

The complete and utter denial of Marchand’s “predatory” behaviour (Thank you, Mr. Shanahan) is so unbelievable that I don’t know how that city isn’t embarrassed by it.

I guess poor little Marchand should be handled with kid gloves and moved around in bubble wrap at this rate, or something. He must be protected!

Seriously, Boston?

Give it a rest! Marchand clipped Salo to the T. If you don’t see it in the video replay, you should probably remove your gold-and-black tinted glasses and try again. Marchand’s a repeat offender, and there was no way in HELL that he was protecting himself. Why is this so hard to admit and move on?

Boston’s acting like the spoiled child whose parents finally decided to start disciplining it, and are having a bit of a tantrum because it’s not getting its way for once. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Thankfully, there have been glimmers of reason among the Bruins’ media and fan base, like bright stars in a dark sky, but unfortunately these few are being drowned out by the obnoxious, hopeless dribble escaping their less-intelligent brethren. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see there’s some hope for Boston out there. A couple good examples:

Boston Globe columnist Fluto Shinzawa tweeted:

No prob w/Thornton pig pile. If reversed, #Bruins would be like wolves on steak. Like BUF should have done w/Lucic.

(I’d like to point out that last year the Canucks were “pussies” for not sticking up for each other; and now that they defend Burrows, they’re a bunch of goons. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right?)

Bruins fan Dan (@danwelch73):

Sorry, don’t understand the ill-logic of fellow #Bruins fans (some, not all) saying Marchand’s hit on Salo wasn’t dirty. Susp is deserving.

I tried to find more examples from Boston fans/media, but sadly couldn’t. But, I did find this:

Pittsburgh resident @emptynetters:

The next time Bruins fans want to rip any team for having someone like Matt Cooke, make you question why Peter Chiarelli has Brad Marchand.

Good point.

Jan 102012
 

After a phone hearing yesterday afternoon, Brendan Shanahan gave Brad Marchand a 5-game suspension for attempting to take out Sami Salo’s knees in Saturday night’s game. Here is his explanation:

Credit to Shanahan: he sent a strong message that these kinds of hits, ones that are predatory in nature and seriously injures another player, have no place in the NHL.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. While almost everyone associated with the game of hockey applauded the suspension, people in Boston are still insistent that it was legal and that Marchand was protecting himself from big, bad Sami.

On the Bruins’ official website, GM Peter Chiarelli posted a statement:

While we respect the process that the Department of Player Safety took to reach their decision regarding Brad’s hit on Sami Salo, we are very disappointed by their ruling.

“While we understand that the Department of Safety is an evolving entity, it is frustrating that there are clear comparable situations that have not been penalized or sanctioned in the past.

“It is equally disappointing that Brad sought the counsel of the Department this past Fall for an explanation and clarification regarding this type of scenario so as to adjust his game if necessary. He was advised that such an incident was not sanctionable if he was protecting his own safety. Given our feeling that Brad was indeed protecting himself and certainly did not clip the player as he contacted the player nowhere near the knee or quadricep, today’s ruling is not consistent with what the Department of Player Safety communicated to Brad.”

But also, Marchand himself voiced his displeasure, writing on ESPN what he thinks of the officials and their ruling:

OK, the play with Sami Salo. It technically wasn’t a clip. Clipping is when you hit someone at the knees and I did not hit him at the knees. Anyone that has seen the video will see that I hit him in the upper thigh under the buttocks. They can call it a clipping, but they obviously don’t know the rules of hockey. (Emphasis mine.)

Pretty strong words. But wait, there’s more. In the same entry, he tells us what he thinks of Canucks coach Alain Vigneault:

Their coach [Alain Vigneault] came out and said I play to hurt players. He obviously wanted to take a shot at me and stir the pot for the hearing [Monday]. It just shows the class he has or lack thereof.

Because, you know, going after and criticizing the league and another team’s coach shows nothing but pure class.

Listen, I know Marchand is entitled to his own opinion, but in this case, I think it’s probably best he keeps them to himself. One, practically everyone in the hockey world agrees with the suspension and he just keeps looking like an ass by defending it. Two, remember that John Tortorella got fined just a couple of weeks ago for criticizing the officials after the Winter Classic. The CBA between the NHL and NHLPA also has a section dedicated to this sort of thing. The suspension is already going to cost Marchand more than $150,000 in forfeited salary; he should probably just choose to learn from this incident and save himself the fine – and some face – too.

Jan 092012
 

If you want to know where the lack of respect that’s infiltrating the NHL is coming from, look no further than Boston’s frothing-at-the-mouth reaction to Brad Marchand’s submarining of Sami Salo, a dirty, cheap, low hit that knocked Salo out of the lineup with a concussion.

It started with Marchand’s excuse:

The puck was going around the boards and I went to pick it up,” said Marchand. “I was looking over my shoulder and saw Salo coming. I just kind of went down. When you see a guy 6-foot-(3) coming in on you, your instincts are to protect yourself. It was very unfortunate that he was hurt on the play.

And punctuated with his coach, Claude Julien, defending him and then some:

We all have our opinions with what is going on with the game and the hits and everything else,” said Julien. “All I’m gonna tell you is that, I have always told my players that they need to protect themselves. The last thing I want my players to do is to get hit and then end up with a concussion, and they have to protect themselves.

“Whether it’s the right way or the wrong way, it’ll depend on how the league looks at it. But I’d rather have a guy take a two-minute penalty than turn his back to the play, stand up straight, and then get his face knocked into the glass, and be out for the rest of the year with a concussion, or maybe end a career, like Savard.

“In my opinion, if guys start protecting themselves the way Marchand did, maybe guys will stop taking runs at other guys.”

On the one hand, it’s admirable that the Bruins take matter into their own hands. There are many reasons they are the best team in the league and the physical intimidation they bring is just one of them. Julien pretty much admitted in his statement that his team will continue to play the way they do and force the officials to call the penalties if they commit them – nothing wrong with that. (You’ll recall the league chose not to do so in the Finals and it worked beautifully in their favor.)

On the other hand, I shudder at the implication that they think the best way for their players to protect themselves is by taking out another’s knees. There’s a difference between playing hard and hitting dirty. (If you’re not sure, Canucks Army and Pass It To Bulis have excellent articles on this very subject.) To anyone who follows hockey, what Marchand did was indefensible. It’s even more ridiculous – irresponsible even – that someone in Julien’s position would: a) defend such a dangerous hit, and b) even seemingly encourage it.

And you wonder where the lack of respect in the game is coming from.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis correctly calls it “a dirty hit by a dirty player“. Coach Alain Vigneault goes a bit further and calls Julien’s comments “stupid”.

“That’s a stupid comment,” said the Canucks coach. “What Marchand did there, you could end a player’s career doing that and I’ve never seen Sami Salo take a run at any player in the NHL. All I’ve seen Sami Salo do is play with integrity and play the right way.

“Marchand — this is just my feeling on this — some day he’s going to get it. Somebody is going to say enough is enough and they’re going to hurt the kid, because he plays to hurt players and in my mind if the league doesn’t take care of it, somebody else will.

“Sometimes it takes the league time to figure things out and there’s a difference between a good hip check when the player is coming down on you one-on-one with the puck and what we saw Marchand do with his definite attempt to injure. Something needs to happen.”

It was announced yesterday that Marchand has a phone hearing with NHL disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan. A phone hearing means that if Marchand can face up a suspension of anywhere from 0 to 5 games. How serious – or how dangerous – of an infraction do they believe is it for a player to do something that could have potentially ended another player’s career?

*****

It looks like I’m not the only one who have had just about enough of the over-the-top homerism by the Boston media. If there’s something we’ve learned in the last few months, it’s that perhaps some of them have spent too much time on their knees lapping every word coming from the Bruins’ mouths.

Before the game, Ben Kuzma called out Joe Haggarty for Haggarty’s piece on Roberto Luongo.

Heard Haggarty called Luongo a “coward”. Really? And the #Canucks are arrogant? #giveyourheadashake

Without mentioning names, Ray Ferraro pretty much did the same.

Back in Van after WJC-i see goalies still the talking point. Also see the absurdity that Luongo asked out of Bos gm floated in Bos papers

After the game, Global TV’s Jay Janower was equally incensed.

Was truly embarrassing as a professional to see Boston “media” in action. Cheerleaders with mic’s and note pads. Bring on the suspension..

If you’re wondering where all this is coming from, here are a couple of articles on the game by Boston’s *ahem* professional media.

First is Haggarty’s on Luongo:

Maybe Roberto Luongo should stop wondering why nobody else ever wants to pump his perpetually saggy tires?

The Vancouver Canucks goaltender has once again created a firestorm of criticism by simply doing what everybody predicted “Bobby Lou” would choose in the first place: taking the easy way out.

No matter what the Vancouver coaching staff posited publicly as the reasoning behind it, Luongo opted out of the difficult challenge facing down his demons against the Bruins at TD Garden.

It’s the perfect example of “Bobby Lou just being Bobby Lou.”

With all due respect to Joe, he has absolutely nothing – nada, zilch, zero – to back up his claims in this article. Was it entertaining? Sure, if you consider reading the National Enquirer entertaining. Is it full of stuff that came out of his own ass? Yes.

Next up is this gem by the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaugnessy.

Playing the Vancouver Canucks is like playing a collection of A-Rods or a full squad of Bill Laimbeers. The defending NHL Western Conference champions are a virtual conga line of Claude Lemieuxes and Ulf Samuelssons.

They are posers and floppers, arrogant and cowardly. It’s hard to believe Cam Neely ever wore their sweater. Beating them up is just so much fun, and flipping one of them butt-over-tea kettle sweetens the day.

Never mind the guy they flipped butt-over-tea kettle – incidentally one of the classiest guys in the league – suffered a concussion out of it, and the flip was as illegal and dirty and dangerous as a hit could possibly be, this poor excuse for a writer also thought this was, well, fun and sweet.

Listen, I understand this shit sells. I know we live in a world where Snooki is a celebrity and Toddlers and Tiaras is prominent on The Learning Channel. But, I do expect more of the professional media – for starters, I expect them to be able to look at facts and spew something more intelligent than your regular Internet troll – though, in Boston, maybe that’s expecting too much.

%d bloggers like this: