Apr 112012
 
Todd Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings and Shea Weber of Nashville Predators do battle

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

Season Series: Vancouver (2-1-1)

It was an anti-climactic season for the Canucks, who despite injuries to Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin and an up-and-down season from the blueline still found a way to win the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team. A big reason for the success was in net, as Vancouver’s tandem of Roberto Luongo (2.41 goals against) and Cory Schneider (.937 save percentage) put the Canucks near the top of the NHL’s goaltending ranks. In fact, after the All-Star Game only Phoenix and St. Louis had a better save percentage than Vancouver’s .930. Ironically, this Canucks team enters this post-season with many of the same questions it had last post-season. Is there enough secondary scoring on the team? (Not if David Booth and Mason Raymond remain MIA.) Is the defense deep enough? (Probably if Dan Hamhuis can continue his terrific campaign.) Can Luongo “win the big one”? (Probably, but if not Vancouver has the best back-up in the league.) It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out this time around.

This is not how the Los Angeles Kings season was supposed to go. Armed with Mike Richards, the Kings looked like a team that would vie for home-ice advantage and not scrape into the playoffs. Low scoring teams are usually cannon fodder once the post-season begins, and the Kings look primed to fulfill that destiny. Offense has been the sore point all season – only Minnesota scored fewer in the regular season, and a coaching change (from Terry Murray to Darryl Sutter) didn’t really help much. Drew Doughty, Richards, Dustin “Pancake” Penner, Simon Gagne and Jarrett Stoll all struggled to score. Jeff Carter, added at the deadline, offered hope scoring at a 30-goal pace before hurting his foot. Now he’s a question mark as the post-season starts. Nonetheless, there were some bright spots for the Kings. Goalie Jonathan Quick’s 1.95 goals against average, .929 save percentage and 10 shutouts effectively saved L.A.’s season. Anze Kopitar took another step towards becoming the best player in the Western Conference, scoring 76 points and playing a strong two-way game. No team gave up fewer shots-per-game after the All-Star Game than the Kings (24.8).

Key Player, Vancouver: Daniel Sedin

Daniel Sedin is one of the best snipers in the game, and together with brother Henrik gives the Canucks an elite first line. The longer he sits in the first round waiting to recover from his concussion, the better it is for the Kings, who desperately need to win a few 1-0, 2-1 games to pull off a series upset.

Key Player, Los Angeles: Drew Doughty

Doughty’s performance this season has been arguably worse than his disappointing 2010-11 season. Talent-wise though he remains one of the few defencemen in the league capable of dominating play at both ends of the ice. With Daniel Sedin out, it’s one less offensive Canuck player the Kings have to keep in check. If Doughty can keep Henrik Sedin at bay and jump-start L.A.’s powerplay, he could turn a short series on paper into a long one.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Even. Both coaches have their critics but they tend to get maximum effort out of their roster.

Goaltending: Even. Jonathan Quick has had a Vezina-esque season playing behind a stifling defense, but the 1-2 punch of Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider has been elite as well.

Defense: Kings. Both of these teams are loaded with two-way talent and feature strong bluelines, but the Kings under Darryl Sutter have become a suffocating group to play against.

Offense: Kings. The biggest edge in any category as long as Daniel Sedin is healthy. Otherwise it’s much closer, especially if some of the underperforming Kings find life.

Special Teams: Canucks. Los Angeles’ 17th ranked powerplay hurts them against a Canucks team that’s likely to take penalties.

Prediction: Canucks in 5

*****

St. Louis Blues (2) vs San Jose Sharks (7)

Season Series: St. Louis (4-0)

How successful was the Blues regular season? With 109 points, St. Louis had their best record in 12 years (1999-2000). This maturing team was 43-15-11 under coach Ken Hitchcock, who implemented a physical defensive system upon his arrival that pressures puck-carriers and forces turnovers. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott split the workload like an old-school tandem, resulting in a league best 1.78 goals against average and .932 save percentage. The 2011-12 season was also a coming out party for a couple of young Blues. Alex Pieterangelo was the team’s best offensive and defensive defenseman, earning Norris Trophy buzz and leading the blueline with 51 points. T.J. Oshie had a career-high 54-points, while David Backes led the team with 24 goals and vaulted himself into Selke Trophy consideration. Quietly, Andy McDonald returned from injury and played at almost a point-a-game pace, giving the Blues three potential scoring lines. Potential scoring lines is the key word there, as defensive responsibility remains the priority on a Hitchcock hockey team. The Blues will go as far as their offense can take them.

It seems like the San Jose Sharks have been destined to win a Stanley Cup forever. Instead, this year’s 7th place finish likely serves notice that the championship window for this group of players is closing fast. San Jose earned 41 points in its last 41 games, worst among all playoff teams. Goaltending was a big factor in the team’s poor play, as the Sharks goals against rose more than a half-goal-per-game (0.52) after the All-Star Game. San Jose’s attack was 10th in the league, but it too has suffered from some inconsistency, with key scorers Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau scoring just 4 goals each since March. Ironically, it’s the much-maligned Joe Thornton (39 points in 35 games since the All-Star break) who’s been the team’s best offensive player down the stretch. On the blueline, Dan Boyle remains the team’s biggest offensive threat, while Brent Burns has been a bit of a disappointment as the team’s #2 defenseman. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the team’s best shutdown d-man and the only one who can skate (apologies to Douglas Murray and Colin White). This is probably it for the Sharks – their last run at a Cup before the core is altered.

Key player, St. Louis: David Backes

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Backes matched up against San Jose’s top line. His success against Joe Thornton will dictate the length of this series.

Key player, San Jose: Antti Niemi

San Jose only wins this series if Niemi can equal or surpass the goaltending performance of the Blues. The Sharks need him to get hot, fast.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Blues. Big advantage here for the Blues. Not only does he have a Stanley Cup ring, but Ken Hitchcock has modified his approach to communicate better with today’s modern player.

Goaltending: Blues. Not only did the Blues lead the league in all goaltending statistics, their goals against actually dropped as the season went along. Let’s not forget the last time Jaroslav Halak was in the playoffs he looked like Patrick Roy.

Defense: Blues. Both teams have solid bluelines, but St. Louis top players are committed defensively in a way San Jose’s aren’t.

Offense: Sharks. The Sharks offense was dormant most of the year but they ramped it up after Martin Havlat returned (3.1 goals per game over their last 10 games). San Jose’s top-end talent has a higher ceiling than that of the Blues.

Special Teams: Even. San Jose’s powerplay was second overall for the year and they were the only team to score at a rate higher than 10% after the All-Star Game. However, their penalty kill is a major weakness (29th in the league; 30th after the break). The Blues have a strong penalty kill (7th overall); average powerplay (17th).

Prediction: Blues in 7

*****

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)

Season Series: Phoenix (3-1)

There’s some cruel irony in the Phoenix Coyotes winning their first division title as a franchise in what is likely their last season in the desert. Much of the credit belongs to two people: coach Dave Tippett and goalie Mike Smith. Tippett’s defensive system allows the Coyotes to give up shots (only Ottawa and Carolina gave up more per game) but keep scoring chances in the middle of the ice to a minimum. It’s an approach that helped make a name for Ilya Bryzgalov and, this season, helped Mike Smith become a Vezina Trophy candidate. Not only did Smith resurrect his career, but he was practically unbeatable after the All-Star Game (.941 save percentage). It should be noted though that Tippett’s system (and, in turn, Coyotes goaltending) has failed in recent post-seasons as gifted offensive teams (namely the Detroit Red Wings) have found ways to get the puck into key scoring areas. And while this is a Phoenix team that can skate, hit and defend, scoring doesn’t come naturally (18th overall). Terrific seasons by Ray Whitney (77 points) and Radim Vrbata (35 goals) were offset by an absence of offensive flair at the centre ice position. Phoenix enters the playoffs without a single pivot having scored more than Martin Hanzel’s 34 points.

The Chicago Blackhawks overcame much on their way to a 101-point season. For starters, team goaltending has been mired in the bottom-third of the league all year. Chicago’s .899 save percentage since the All-Star Game tied with Boston for worst among playoff-bound teams. That the Blackhawks were solid defensively (9th in shots against) all year only amplifies their challenge between the pipes. The absence of Jonathan Toews also threw the team’s attack into a flux. The captain had 57 points in 59 games prior to a concussion, but taking Toews out of the lineup contributed to a 0.57 goals-per-game decrease in Chicago’s offense after the break. Viktor Stalberg has emerged (22 goals) in a supporting role, but Brendan Morrison (0 points in 11 games), Michael Frolik (5 goals in 63 games) and Andrew Brunette (12 goals) have disappointed. As a result, Chicago features a talented but extremely top-heavy attack that doesn’t go beyond its first two lines.

Key Player, Phoenix: Mike Smith

Without a dominant Mike Smith performance it’s hard to see how the Coyotes can muster enough counter-attack against Chicago’s deep blueline to win the series. The “Desert Dogs” need Smith to steal a couple of games.

Key Player, Chicago: Jonathan Toews

The captain is questionable for Game 1, and without him, Chicago is missing their leader, best two-way player and best faceoff man. Patrick Kane is a creative player but out-of-position and a defensive liability at centre (winning just 42% of his draws). With Toews in the lineup, the Blackhawks also become a much harder team to defensively match-up against. If he’s healthy, this is probably a short series.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Even. Quenneville has won a Cup but there’s been whispers of a lethargic season behind the bench. Meanwhile, Dave Tippett might just be the best NHL coach to not have a Stanley Cup ring.

Goaltending: Coyotes. Mike Smith had a regular season for the ages, but Corey Crawford has had playoff success before. He could surprise here.

Defense: Blackhawks. Phoenix’s forwards play a better defensive system and Oliver Ekman-Larsson has emerged as a legitimate top-line defenseman. But Chicago gets the edge given its deep blueline. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya and Nik Hjalmarsson are among the best top-5s in the league.

Scoring: Blackhawks. This is a mismatch if Toews is healthy; if Toews isn’t healthy this is closer than you may expect. Phoenix’s goals per game in the second-half: 2.56. Chicago’s in the second-half without Toews? 2.59.

Special Teams: Coyotes. Chicago’s special teams are arguably the worst in the playoffs. While the Coyotes powerplay is anything but powerful, they’re a top-10 penalty-killing team.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

*****

Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)

Season Series: Tied (3-3)

It’s an exciting time to be a “Smashville” hockey fan, as the Nashville Predators had their best regular season in five years. This year’s edition retained the qualities the franchise has been known for – stellar goaltending (Pekka Renne had 43 wins and 5 shutouts) and a strong blueline led by Shea Weber (19 goals) and Ryan Suter (46 points). Where this team differed from there history was on offense. This aggressive, bulldog Predators team was the highest scoring Western Conference squad after the All-Star Game, and finished 8th overall in league scoring. It was a balanced attack featuring seven players with 40-or-more points and the league’s best powerplay. The acquisition of Alex Radulov (7 points in 9 games) also gave Nashville its first legitimate top-line centre since Peter Forsberg donned the mustard orange in 2006-07. The team went 6-3 with the Russian sniper in the lineup, including an impressive 4-1 win over Detroit on March 30th. Tough, fast, and now capable at both ends of the ice, this could very well be the most talented Nashville Predators team of all-time. Their time is now.

While it may have been another 100+ point season in Detroit, the Red Wings actually had their worst regular season points-wise since 1998-99. And while the team was its usual strong self in a variety of categories (7th in goals for and goals against; 5th in shots for, 3rd in shots against), there were some cracks in the team’s foundation. Their road record was 25th in the league and is the worst among Western Conference playoff teams. Their special teams finished in the bottom-half of the league. Niklas Lidstrom had his worst point-totals since 1994-95, while Pavel Datsyuk failed to score 20-goals for the first time since his sophomore season. Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi failed to combine for 10 goals after the All-Star break. Still, there is a lot of talent on the roster, as demonstrated by the team’s 23-game home-winning streak. Niklas Kronwall and Ian White had strong seasons on the blueline, while Valtteri Filppula (66 points), Jiri Hudler (25 goals) and Johan Franzen (team-best 29 goals) kept the Red Wings attack potent. When healthy, Jimmy Howard proved he could carry the Red Wings if needed. 

Key Player, Nashville: Alex Radulov

The Predators would have beaten the Canucks last year if they had a single gamebreaker in their lineup. Now they have that gamebreaker and are going up against a Red Wings team that is similar to the Canucks in style of play. A successful series on the scoreboard from Radulov probably means the Predators win the series.

Key Player, Detroit: Jimmy Howard

This is a greying Red Wings team that may find themselves at times physically dominated by the younger, potentially hungrier, Predators. For a long time Detroit has iced teams that haven’t had to rely on goaltending to succeed. This could be the year, and the series, where that dependence is reversed.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Red Wings. A slight edge as both Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz are terrific coaches.

Goaltending: Predators. Pekka Renne is an elite netminder; Jimmy Howard is improving.

Defense: Predators. Both teams play well defensively, with Detroit arguably underrated in this area. It’s on the blueline where Nashville has a slight edge. Weber and Suter are the best one-two punch in the league.

Offense: Red Wings. Slight edge here as the Red Wings have greater depth among their forwards. But this is the best attack the Predators have had in quite some time.

Special Teams: Predators. The Predators have the best powerplay in the league and a top-10 penalty kill. The Red Wings have struggled in both areas.

Prediction: Predators in 5

Feb 242012
 

[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.]

After a brief one-week hiatus, I’m back to ponder a few things relating to our favourite hockey team.  On the heels of Vancouver’s thrilling 4-3 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings, here are a few Things That Make You Go Hmmm:

1.  I’ll take seven more games please. Last night’s tilt between the Canucks and Red Wings was the most highly-anticipated Canucks game since they took on Boston in early January.  And why not? It was a match-up between the two top teams in the Western Conference (and arguably the league) and perhaps a preview of the Western Conference Finals.  After fighting from behind all game, Vancouver ultimately ended Detroit’s amazing streak of 23 consecutive home victories.  You’d think the Canucks would have a decent shot as the team with the league’s best road record.  With the Red Wings earning a single point, they are still one point up on the Canucks having played one more game.  Supposedly, the Canucks had been looking forward to last night’s game for a few weeks.  I’m looking forward to the Canucks and Red Wings meeting in the Western Conference Finals.  Granted, there’s a lot of hockey to be played before the, and certainly, anything can happen in the playoffs.  But just think of the awesome hockey that would be played – their matches always seem to be competitive, highly-skilled and fast-paced.

2.  Surprise surprise:  the Canucks are “overrated”. In the NHLPA Player Poll recently-released by Hockey Night in Canada, the disdain towards the Canucks was very apparent as Vancouver was named as the most overrated team in the league.  I went to Twitter to ask hockey fans why they thought the Canucks topped this category, and here are some (unedited) responses:

@SharkCircle:  Because they dont like them. Because its a flawed poll. Unliked Leafs got the same type of thing. Unliked canadian teams is all

@FlyingVHockey:  Envy, “soft” tag, envy, Sedins unique play and European background, most hated easily translates to over-rated.

@Lucmeister:  because of last year, lost in game 7 of the SCF at home + media adding fuel to the fire + people think Sedins are “pansies.”

@geoff_heith:  my opinion is they think we’ve got no grit…aka fighters and hitters. I think we’ve built a team of skill and self control

@oljacko:  Big eastern population who don’t see Canucks regularly and influence polls the most. They vote on negative hearsay.

@SFUteachlearn:  Because we haven’t won a cup yet! :( ^mm

I think it’s ridiculous to call a team overrated when it’s two points out of first place overall and came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup.  This argument would make sense if the Canucks were floundering near the middle of the league, as the definition of overrated implies that the team isn’t as good as some people think they are.   But they are a top three team.  I like what @FlyingVHockey said above:  hated translates to overrated.  I tackled this topic in my latest Clay’s Canucks Commentary…it’s another musical endeavour for your listening enjoyment.

3.  How active will the Canucks be at the trade deadline? After a few minor deals, the NHL had its first major trade Thursday when the Columbus Blue Jackets sent Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick.  The deal reunites Carter with ex-Philly teammate Mike Richards exactly eight months after they were first split up when Richard was traded to the Kings on June 23, 2011.

There has been much speculation as to how active Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis will be in the next few days.  The three most common desires from fans are a top-six forward, a bottom-six forward, and a depth defenseman.  Those advocating for changes in the forwards cite Mason Raymond’s ineffectiveness along with the unreliability of both Byron Bitz and Dale Weise to provide some muscle.  As for the blueline, many fans have been clamoring for another top-4 defenseman given the attrition that happens in the playoffs.  The recent injury to Keith Ballard adds even more uncertainty, although it has resulted in some timely ice-time for Chris Tanev.

Feb 222012
 

One game does not represent an entire NHL season.  

But Washington’s 5-0 loss to Carolina Monday night was another of the growing number of nails being hammered into the coffin laying rest to the Washington Capitals – 2011-12 edition.

Make no mistake, this Washington team is taking after Monty Python’s dead parrot – it’s bereft of life, destined to rest in peace.

And to think just 24 months ago this was a team destined to transform and dominate the NHL landscape.

There are two reasons why the juggernaut Washington Capitals of 2009-10 have transformed into a Cinderella-sized pumpkin.  

The Little Reason: Injuries to their core players

Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games in the 2009-10 season. In the two seasons since, Green has played just 61 regular season games total. He is the straw that stirs the Washington attack, and he’s been MIA for most of the last two seasons.

This year, the team’s number #1 centre – Nicklas Backstrom – has missed significant time due to a concussion. The drop-off in talent from Backstrom to Marcus Johansson is the equivalent of leaving Charlize Theron to date Mayim Bialik.

Other than Alex Ovechkin, these are the team’s two best, most dynamic players. Without them it’s a no brainer the Capitals have struggled more.

The Big Reason: GM George McPhee abandoned his plan

The 2009-10 Capitals were having fun tearing up the league on their way to a 121-point season. They were the “go-go” Capitals, featuring seven 20+ goal scorers.

Flash forward to today, and the Capitals will be lucky to have four 20-goal scorers.

2009-10 Capitals 20-goal scorers:

Ovechkin 50
Semin 40
Backstrom 33
Knuble 29
Laich 25
Fleischmann 23
Fehr 21

2011-12 Capitals 20-goal scorers (on pace):

Ovechkin 34
Semin 22
Brouwer 21
Chimera 21

Where did the offense go?

It was left in Montreal during the Spring of 2010.

That seven game loss to the Canadiens was devastating to the Capitals front office, who expected nothing less than a championship run that year.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how the Capitals lost the series after being up three-games-to-one:

1) They were a young team (younger than the team that lost to Pittsburgh the year before). Inexperienced playoff teams are extremely suspect to the whims of momentum (both positive and negative).

2) Confidence is a major factor in the success of special teams, and the Capitals just didn’t have it in their powerplay (1-for-33 in the series). This meant the Habs could take penalties without punishment.

3) Montreal employed a passive trap when they had the lead, which confounded coach Bruce Boudreau.

4) Montreal paid extra-special attention to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom defensively, challenging the rest of the Capitals to create offense.

5) Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak put on the greatest playoff goaltending performance since Patrick Roy in 1992-93, if not longer.

Given the above, the steps that had to be taken to get the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final were clear:

1) Find some playoff experience to add to the dressing room.

2) Count on better luck (Halak-esque performances don’t happen every year).

3) Support coach Boudreau in figuring out how to beat the trap.

4) Find an impact second-line centre to take the pressure off of Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Instead, General Manager George McPhee went in the opposite direction, abandoning the style of play he’d built the team on for one that put a priority on defensive accountability.  

It’s been downhill ever since.

The 2010-11 Capitals racked up 107 points but their goals per game rate fell more than a full goal (-1.09). A distance emerged between the team’s run-and-gun – and best – player (Ovechkin) and its coach. Talented Tomas Fleischmann was shipped out for the blueline carcass known as Scott Hannan.  

Come playoff time, Washington was swept by another trapping team, this time the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. But unlike during the Montreal series (where Washington generated scoring chances to no avail), the Capitals went meekly into the off-season, and with little offensive push back.

This past summer, GM George McPhee doubled-down on his defensive bet. He added Tomas Vokoun to play goal, and brought in Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik to bring size and grit to the team. 

What none of these players do is create offense on their own.

And, for the first part of the 2011-12 season, they couldn’t stop a puck either. Vokoun got off to a poor start, and despite his team out-shooting and out-chancing the opposition, Bruce Boudreau was fired.

The hiring of Dale Hunter was the last bit of “defensive desperation” to come out of the Washington front office. As discussed last week, Hunter’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach has stifled what creativity has remained in the Capitals attack.

The transformation of this team from “go-go” to “no-go” is now complete.

Today the Washington Capitals are in a desperate fight for their playoff lives. It didn’t have to be this way.

If Capitals fans should blame anyone, it’s GM George McPhee.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • No big surprise – this interview suggests the man behind the Seattle arena bid could care less about the NHL.
  • Meanwhile, it looks like the NHL would like to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to the bid that includes Jeremy Roenick.
  • Speaking of the Coyotes, it’s been quite the season for Radim Vrbata. He’s cracked 30 goals for the first time, and at least one person thinks he should be a Hart candidate.
  • Don’t look now but Tyler Myers has found his game in Buffalo. He’s got 2 goals, 7 points and is a +7 in his last 10 games.
  • Here’s a Detroit reaction to acquiring Kyle Quincey. Here’s more analysis from Colorado’s Mile High Hockey blog. From here it looks like a trade that helps out all three teams.
  • A great Maclean’s piece on the rise of hockey in the United States. Maybe moving into the sunbelt regions wasn’t such a bad idea for the game after all.
  • As much as there is to like about David Booth on the second line for the Canucks, they still need one more offensive piece and a defenseman, if they plan on making another Cup run this year. Mason Raymond hasn’t looked like a top-six player all year, and the blueline remains inconsistent.
  • Since the free advice is flowing, here’s some for Nashville GM David Poile – there might not be a better year to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Who knows if you’ll ever have Ryan Suter and Shea Weber under contract again, you’ve got the young assets to move, and you’re one of the toughest teams to play against in the league. Ales Hemsky, Ray Whitney, Derek Roy, etc. etc. – go get some deadline offense and push your chips into the middle of the table.
  • In case you missed it, Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts.
  • I know Antoine Vermette is struggling, but this return for him certainly doesn’t give anyone confidence Scott Howson is the type of GM who can maximize the return in any Rick Nash or Jeff Carter trade. It also doesn’t address their goaltending issues either.
Feb 202012
 

[Every week, Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead.  You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@cayking).]

Despite playing some inconsistent hockey over the last month or so, the Canucks have managed to keep pace with the NHL-leading, Detroit Red Wings. Now, things seem to be turning around as the Canucks won all four games this past week, including a 6-2 spanking of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday and a 5-2 beating of the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton on Sunday. The Canucks haven’t lost in regulation in 9 games this month, boasting an impressive 7-0-2 record.

Yup, totally overrated.

Canucks Record

59 GP, 38-15-6, 82 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Before the weekend, talk around town was how the Sedins were in a slump and how neither had produced much since the Bruins game in early January. That all changed this past weekend as they combined for 12 points against the Leafs and Oilers.

On Saturday night against the Leafs, Daniel had a goal and 3 assists, while Captain Hank potted 4 assists. Then on Sunday, both potted a goal and an assist each against the Oilers as they continue their domination against Edmonton.

Their production isn’t as high as when they each won the Art Ross Trophy in back-to-back years, but they’re hanging in with the league leaders. As of this morning, Hank is 4th in the NHL in scoring (64 points) and Danny is in 7th (61 points). Hank leads the Canucks in points and assists (51); Danny is right behind him in points (61) while also leading the team with 26 goals.

Who’s Next

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 vs. Nashville Predators (5:00 PM start, away)

Alex Edler got the shootout winner two weeks ago as the Canucks took 2 points in Nashville. Since then, the Preds have gone 2-2-1 and are sitting in 5th place in the Western Conference.

This will be the last meeting between the two teams in the regular season. Vancouver has won 2 of the 3 games, with Roberto Luongo backstopping in all 3 games. Colin Wilson leads the Predators with 5 points (2G-3A) in the season series; Daniel Sedin leads the Canucks with 6 points (3G-3A).

Mike “Mr. Underwood” Fisher is having a commendable season with 17 goals, 17 assists and a plus-4 rating so far this season. He is 5th in team scoring and tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in goals (17). Fisher has 11 points (9G-2A) in his last 12 games.

Thursday, February 23, 2012 vs. Detroit Red Wings (4:30 PM start, away)

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Detroit Red Wings are taking home ice advantage to a whole new level. The Canucks head into Motown in an attempt to try and end Detroit’s amazing 23-game winning streak on home ice. The Red Wings have a fantastic record of 26-2-1 at Joe Louis Arena and are currently in first place in the NHL with 84 points through 60 games.

Detroit has won 2 of the 3 meetings so far between the two teams. Danny Cleary has 3 points (1G-2A) while Jimmy Howard has played in all 3 games and stopped 68 of 75 shots. It’s still unknown whether or not Howard will play as he is still out with a broken finger that he suffered in the last meeting against Vancouver.

Johan Franzen leads the Red Wings in goals (23) and is currently second in team scoring (47 points). Franzen has 4 goals and 2 assists in his last 8 games.

Friday, February 24, 2012 vs. New Jersey Devils (4:00 PM start, away)

The Devils are having a great month of February going 7-1-1 and are currently sitting in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. That said, they haven’t had much success against Northwest Division opponents going 1-3-0 so far this season. This is the first and only meeting between the two teams. Last season, Roberto Luongo shutout the Devils in their only meeting, a 3-0 Canucks win.

Ilya Kovalchuk is having another great campaign leading the Devils with 58 points (25G-33A); he is also 12th in NHL scoring. Kovy has been hot recently – he last 18 points (6G-12A) in his last 10 games.

Sunday, February 26, 2012 vs. Dallas Stars (12:00 PM, away)

Sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars are currently on the outside looking into the playoff race. They haven’t had much luck lately, going 1-3-2 in their last 6 games – all close games.

It’s hard to believe, but the Stars and Canucks haven’t played each other yet this season; this will be the first of 4 meetings in the next 5 weeks.

Michael Ryder is having a great season in Dallas. He leads the Stars in goals (23) and is also 3rd on the team in points (42), both of which surpasses his season totals in the last 2 seasons. He is currently riding a 6-game point streak with 4 goals and 2 assists.

Feb 082012
 

James Mirtle in the Globe and Mail asked an interesting question Monday – which rebuild is better, the Leafs approach or the Oilers approach?

Ultimately, the answer to this question can only come years from now, when the young promise on each roster has been fulfilled (or not fulfilled, for that matter).

However, as the continued success of the Detroit Red Wings (and continued failure of the Columbus Blue Jackets) suggests, there are franchise factors that can have a major impact on the development of a successful team.

Good ownership is one of these factors. Every fan wishes their team had an owner not only with deep pockets but an ego that demands on-ice success.

A strong front office is another factor. Management that can create an organizational culture that breeds success, dedication and trust. One that can analyze the on-ice product, adapt to new innovations around the league and make difficult decisions when the time comes. A strong front office includes a talented scouting staff that can find NHL-level talent beyond the first round on a consistent basis.

An excellent coaching and training staff is another factor. Staff who can execute management’s vision, communicate with the modern player, know their hockey Xs and Os and can make sure each player is ready to compete on a nightly basis.

Given these factors, the more relevant question to ask right now is which franchise, Toronto or Edmonton, has the people in place to execute its rebuild most effectively?

Ownership

Toronto’s ownership, even with Rogers Communications and Bell Canada taking over controlling interest, seems like it will be entirely focused on the bottom line for the conceivable future.

Meanwhile, in Oilers owner Daryl Katz, Edmonton has a passionate, deep pocketed owner who cares about the success of the hockey club. His communication skills leave something to be desired, but most fans will take an engaged owner over a faceless board of governors any day.

Ownership Edge: Oilers

Front Office

Say what you will about Brian Burke, but he’s won a Cup; helped build the Canucks on- and off-ice into the juggernaut they are today; and has a league reputation as an honest, straight-shooter who takes care of his players.

Sure, speeding-up the Leaf rebuild process by targeting young, established NHL players didn’t exactly pan out. However it did bring the Leafs Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, two B+ level talents.

What Burke has done well though is surround himself with the deepest (and most expensive) front office in the league, and used what draft picks and money (for college players) he’s had to rebuild the Leafs prospect pool (currently ranked 8th by Hockey’s Future).

Meanwhile, Steve Tambellini has had a puzzling start to his career as an NHL General Manager. Hiring Pat Quinn and Tom Renney to serve as co-coaches was the first head-scratcher. Giving Corey Potter a 2-year contract extension after less than a season’s worth of experience is another. The Oilers front office has been slow to address team weaknesses of size and defense as well.

The Colin Fraser trade dispute was a reputational hit, and something that will add to the Oilers’ struggles to attract free agents. At least Hockey’s Future ranks their organization 4th in terms of prospects, so it looks like the team is drafting well. That seems about the only edge it has on Toronto though.

Front Office Edge: Leafs

Coaching

Neither Toronto’s Ron Wilson nor Edmonton’s Tom Renney should be considered an elite coach. Both have had limited success doing what their respective GMs have asked of them. Wilson’s implemented an up-tempo style, even when his roster was littered with players who couldn’t play that style very well. Renney is teaching the young Oilers how to become better professionals, but the team has been among the league’s worst for three years running.

There are things to like about both team’s assistant coaches. Toronto’s Scott Gordon has had the powerplay among the league’s best all year, while Greg Cronin seems to have fixed the penalty kill (no goals against in 15 games). Edmonton’s Associate Coach Ralph Krueger is an international coaching legend, with strong communication and motivational skills.

The biggest difference between the two teams in this area is the training staff. The Oilers have been cursed in recent seasons by the injury bug, punishing a team with little-to-no depth. Injuries haven’t had the same impact on Toronto’s improving roster.

Coaching Edge: Leafs
  
Any discussion of which rebuild is better has to take into consideration who is executing that rebuild.

Both the Leafs and Oilers are flawed organizations with young, talented rosters. But while Edmonton may have higher-end talent on-ice, right now Toronto has stronger people off-ice. As a result, the Leafs seem like the better bet to realize their potential.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Does it really matter that Sam Gagner may have only had 7-points last week? I know I don’t care if the referees are extra generous with their assists.
  • One last Oilers thought – Jordan Eberle, at the time of his draft, projected favourably as another Dany Heatley. Just two years later, Eberle looks to have already eclipsed Heatley as a player. If he can get to 78-points (he has 54 now), he’ll become the highest scoring Oiler since Doug Weight in 2000-01.
  • The Red Wings can deny it all they want, but they desperately need one of Joey MacDonald or Ty Conklin to be solid in goal until Jimmy Howard gets back. The Central Division is a beast, and any prolonged slump could mean St. Louis, Nashville or Chicago leap past them in the standings. It’s hard to get four teams from the same division into the playoffs. The Red Wings can’t afford a set back.
  • If I’m an Eastern Conference team that thinks it can make a post-season run, I am calling Montreal about Hal Gill. Skating-aside, Gill remains one of the top defensive defensemen in the NHL. He would look great in a Rangers uniform.
  • Other trade matches “made in heaven”: Marek Zidlicky to Detroit (a great skating, puck-moving defenseman on a team that plays a puck possession game); Ales Hemsky to Nashville (Hemsky would immediately become the most offensively talented player the Predators have had since Peter Forsberg); Evgeni Nabokov to Tampa Bay (if the Lightning decide to go for the Division crown in a weak Southeast Division); Tuomo Ruutu to Chicago (Blackhawks are incredibly weak on the left-side); Vinny Prospal to Los Angeles (a nice complimentary scorer on a team that needs to find some quickly).
  • Naturally, none of the pairings above have any chance of actually happening, but it’s fun to speculate.
  • Former NHL owner Howard Baldwin talks NHL expansion and hockey in Hartford.
  • Speaking of expansion,more about Seattle as a possible destination for the Coyotes.
  • Here’s former Orca Bay President and CEO Stan McCammon on a possible NHL team in Seattle.
  • This is kind of neat – a breakdown of who sits where in the Avalanche locker room.
  • A nice piece on what Ilya Kovalchuk has become for the Devils.
  • Here’s Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts.
Feb 022012
 

[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.]

The Vancouver Canucks came out of the All-Star break the same way they headed in: with a 3-2 victory.  They beat the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout in the last game before the break.  On Tuesday, they beat the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime. I was at Rogers Arena to watch the game and upon reflecting on it and the rivalry between the two teams, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  Craziness in overtime. You might remember the last time the Canucks and Blackhawks went to overtime.  Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 26, 2011 is considered one of the most exciting games in Canucks history.

Tuesday night, the stakes were nowhere near as high, yet the entire extra frame had the crowd buzzing, screaming, jeering and ultimately cheering.  And sandwiched between a mesmerizing Sedin shift and their game-winning goal came 30 seconds of madness.

The craziness started when all-star Jonathan Toews put a sweet outside-inside move on all-star Alex Edler, leaving the big Swede on the ice.  The play started innocently enough, with the crafty Toews luring Edler to the outside boards before darting between Edler and a barely-backchecking Kevin Bieksa.  Thankfully for the Canucks, Cory Schneider made a good save.

Just 15 seconds later, after a brief foray in the Blackhawks zone, Viktor Stalberg used the EXACT SAME outside-inside move, this time on Dan Hamhuis, albeit with way more speed than Toews.  Again, it was Bieksa who was slow getting back to help, and again Schneider was forced to make a big save. Perhaps Stalberg would have scored if he wasn’t impeded by a Bieksa hook and a Hamhuis slash.  Both went uncalled.

The lesson learned:  dart down the right wing before cutting inside on Canuck defenders.  And make sure Bieksa is the other d-man.

Then, after another 15 seconds had elapsed, Brent Seabrook absolutely plastered Ryan Kesler from behind into the boards, leaving the crowd grasping for its collective breath for the third time in 30 seconds.

The Sedins’ skillful give-and-go play to win the game just 30 seconds later seemed anti-climactic by contrast.

2.  Comparing rivalries. Soon after the conclusion of Tuesday night’s game, I saw a few tweets from people favourably comparing the Vancouver-Chicago rivalry to the Vancouver-Boston rivalry.  The latter is obviously a more recent one that is still fresh in our memories, while the former goes back three consecutive playoffs.  The two are tough to compare.  The Canucks-Bruins game in early January was a complete gong show with penalties and shenanigans galore.  I remember the actual game was just okay but the atmosphere was unbelievable.  Contrast that to Tuesday night’s tilt:  the Canucks-Blackhawks game wasn’t particularly intense (until the third period and overtime) but it was actually better hockey.  Thus, both games were very entertaining in their own right.  And in the end…who really cares about which is the more heated rivalry…it’s just good to know that we have at least one strong rival in each Conference.

On the topic of good hockey…the best game I’ve seen this season start-to-finish was the Canucks’ 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings back on December 21, 2011.  The game was memorable not only because of the CHB get-together prior and the fact that I missed my daughter’s 4th birthday for the game, but because of its frenetic pace for the entire 60 minutes.  There were only four penalties the entire game (all to the Canucks) and the Red Wings outshot Vancouver 40 – 25.  For my money, Vancouver-Detroit may not be the best rivalry per se, but it produces the best hockey.

3.  Navigating through Rogers Arena. One other thing I noticed Tuesday night was just how hard it is to get from point A to point B, especially during a 17-minute intermission.  I had grand plans to meet Bruce (@transcendwebs) for the very first time after a few months of friendly Twitter exchanges.  My first mistake was suggesting we meet outside of section 104 (which I didn’t know was in the River Rock Club Section and thus inaccessible).  My second mistake was using the stairwell at gate 8 (by section 329) instead of the stairwell outside of section 304.  By the time I met Bruce outside of section 101 (after a quick change of plans over the phone), we had a grand total of 3 minutes to meet, chat, affirm each other’s good looks and blogging skills, and find a solution for world peace before we headed back to our respective seats (his in section 110, mine in section 303). I made it back to my seat just as they were dropping the puck to start the second period…and that was without a bathroom or concession stop.

So I ask you, loyal CHB readers:  what are some of your tips for quick and easy navigation through the Rogers Arena concourses?

Jan 172012
 

At the end of the 20-game mark, I took a look at the “real” NHL standings in the East and West.

Now that every team has played their 40th game, it’s time to even the playing field once again and see what’s really been going on in the NHL.

Last time, I made special mention of a team’s special teams, goals for and goals against performance for the season.

This time, 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;
  • Goals against (GA) and shots-against (SHA) 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 then ranked and 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 12th, once all teams had played their 40th game.)

The Western Conference After 40 Games:

1. San Jose Sharks (53 points)
Games 21-40: 3rd in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 1st in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Above Average / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great

Notes: One of the most complete teams in the NHL and one of the toughest teams at 5-on-5 (tied with St. Louis for 3rd overall). Surprisingly, Michal Handzus (1 goal, 10 assists) had almost as many points as Joe Thornton (3 goals, 11 assists) in the second quarter. Martin Havlat, who found a way to hurt himself hopping the boards onto the ice, has been a bust.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (52 points)
Games 21-40: 5th in Conference (25 points)
Games 1-20: 3rd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good

Notes: This is a team getting it done with offense, as the penalty kill and goaltending have been inconsistent all season. Marian Hossa (20 pts in the second quarter) looks like he’s five-years younger. Secondary scoring was absent in games 21-40. Dave Bolland (3 goals), Viktor Stalberg (4 goals) and Michael Frolik (2 goals) struggled.

3. Vancouver Canucks (51 points)
Games 21-40: 1st in Conference (30 points)
Games 1-20: 11th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good

Notes: A dominant second quarter revealed the Canucks look ready again for a long playoff run. Ryan Kesler was almost a point-per-game player in December (14 points in 15 games). For all the fan criticism, Keith Ballard was +10 in the second quarter.

4. Detroit Red Wings (51 points)
Games 21-40: 4th in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 5th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great

Notes: Those of us waiting for the Red Wings to collapse into a rebuild will probably wait forever, as it looks like Valtteri Filppula (9 goals, 18 points in the second quarter) and Jiri Hudler (9 goals, 16 points) have finally established themselves as scoring threats. Meanwhile, Pavel Datsyuk (24 points) and Henrik Zetterberg (just 4 goals but 20 points) keep rolling. Interestingly, Nicklas Lidstrom had a pedestrian games 21-40 (2 goals, 7 points).

5. St. Louis Blues (51 points)
Games 21-40: 2nd in Conference (29 points)
Games 1-20: 9th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Great / GF: Below Average / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Good

Notes: It didn’t take long for the Blues to play Hitchcock hockey did it? Sure, St. Louis still has trouble scoring, but the powerplay’s improving (9.2% in the first quarter, 18% during the second quarter). Meanwhile, the Blues goalie tandem was dynamite in games 21-40. Both Brian Elliott (7-4, 1.91 goals against, .931 save percentage) and Jaroslav Halak (6-0-3, 1.95 goals against, .929 save percentage) played like all-stars.

6. Minnesota Wild (48 points)
Games 21-40: 11th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 2nd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Awful / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful

Notes: It seems pretty clear that amazing start to the season was built on a house of cards – there’s a lot not working in Minnesota. After a hot start, Niklas Backstrom has been average lately (.908 save percentage in December), while the team’s goals against in the second quarter was almost a full goal higher than the first quarter (from 1.98 to 2.75).

7. Dallas Stars (47 points)
Games 21-40: 8th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 7th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Awful / GF: Above Average / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Below Average

Notes: The Stars will be one of the teams in the Western Conference fighting tooth-and-nail for a final playoff spot. After a great start, Sheldon Souray was cooling off in the second quarter prior to his injury (3 assists, -1 in 14 games). Meanwhile, Stephane Robidas was a -6 during games 21-40. In Kari Lehtonen’s absence, Richard Bachman was solid (2.56 goals against, .917 save percentage) while Andrew Raycroft was not (3.49 goals against since November 23rd).

8. Nashville Predators (46 points)
Games 21-40: 10th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 6th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful

Notes: Another team trending downward thanks to disappointing goaltending play. Pekke Renne was rather human for games 21-40 (2.95 goals against, .904 save percentage). Rookie Craig Smith had just 1 goal in the second quarter, while Patric Hornqvist had 2.

9. Los Angeles Kings (45 points)
Games 21-40: 9th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 8th in Conference (23 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Good

Notes: During the second quarter, the Kings only scored three or more goals four times. Stats like that are why coaches get fired. Simon Gagne went goalless for December (2 assist in 12 games), while Jack Johnson was -6 during games 21-40. The team desperately needs a sniper – do they have enough to put into a package for Zach Parise? Goaltender Jonathan Bernier would have to be in the mix.

10. Colorado Avalanche (43 points)
Games 21-40:6th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 12th in Conference (19 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Good / GF: Poor / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average

Notes: For being a young, skating team, the Avalanche sure have a tough time scoring. Youngsters Matt Duchene (3 goals, 8 points), Paul Stastny (5 goals, 8 points) and David Jones (2 assists) all struggled in the second quarter.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (42 points)
Games 21-40: 12th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 4th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Poor / GF: Poor / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average

Notes: Pretty easy to see why they fell so far in the second quarter – Mike Smith returned back to earth (13 games, 5 wins, 3.38 goals against, .894 save percentage). Key forwards Shane Doan (3 goals, -7) and Martin Hanzel (2 goals) were MIA during games 21-40.

12. Calgary Flames (41 points)
Games 21-40: 7th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 13th in Conference (17 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Awful / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Poor

Notes: It hasn’t been a great season in Calgary, but the Flames were a playoff team during the second quarter. One of the reasons was an improved powerplay, which helped the team score enough to win games. Naturally, Jarome Iginla was at the centre of this improvement (9 goals, 21 points, +7 in 20 games), although Olli Jokinen was right behind (7 goals, 19 points, +2). In the absence of Mark Giordano, Derek Smith stepped up (9 points), leading all Flames defensemen in scoring in the second quarter.

13. Edmonton Oilers (35 points)
Games 21-40: 15th in Conference (13 points)
Games 1-20: 10th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Awful

Notes: Introducing the worst team in the Western Conference during the second quarter. Yes, their defense is AHL-caliber, but some blame on the Oilers’ collapse should fall on the shoulders of the team’s veterans. Shawn Horcoff (4 goals, -8) and Ales Hemsky (2 goals, -4) underperformed, while Ryan Smyth (4 goals, 12 points, +2) was only marginally better.

14. Anaheim Ducks (30 points)
Games 21-40: 14th in Conference (14 points)
Games 1-20: 14th in Conference (16 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Below Average / GF: Poor / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Awful

Notes: The fabulous core of the Ducks got rolling in the second quarter. Teemu Selanne (7 goals, 20 points), Corey Perry (11 goals, 21 points), Bobby Ryan (10 goals, 16 points) and Ryan Getzlaf (3 goals, 15 points) sparked the offense. However, a lack of depth and poor goaltending (Jonas Hiller had a 3.32 goals against and .892 save percentage in games 21-40) has kept Anaheim near the bottom of the Western Conference.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (27 points)
Games 21-40: 13th in Conference (15 points)
Games 1-20: 15th in Conference (12 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average

Notes: At the time of this study, Columbus was one of only six teams with a team save percentage under .900 (they were at .894). For what it’s worth, league average at the time was .912. Players playing their way out of town: Antoine Vermette (3 goals, 2 assists in the second quarter); Derick Brassard (2 goals, 5 assists); and Vinny Prospel (2 goals, 10 points). Could someone explain how keeping Ryan Johansen in the NHL (2 goals, 4 assists during games 21-40) is helping him develop into a top-six NHL forward?

Jan 042012
 

In the spirit of the New Year, here are five resolutions the NHL should make for 2012:

1. Abandon the “game is too fast” narrative

As the NHL concussion issue has grown, so too has the argument that the game is currently too fast. According to Ex-NHL’ers (most recently Eric Lindros) and several general managers (Carolina’s Jim Rutherford is the most vocal at the moment), putting the red line back in would slow the game down and reduce the number of concussions taking place on ice.

This, naturally, is complete poppycock and a classic case of conservative, backward NHL thinking.

If someone were to study this issue (and you have to assume someone with the NHL and NHLPA is studying this), the numbers would prove the majority of concussions occur away from the middle of the ice, along the boards, whether the puck is part of the play or not. The numbers would also suggest fighting contributes a significant number of concussions to the league’s totals.

The flow of NHL hockey – the quickness with which teams’ transition from offense to defense and back again – has never been greater. As a result the games, even with scoring trending downward, remain exciting.

Putting the red line back in would reduce this flow and give us an NHL product not unlike the dead puck era of the late 1990s early 2000s.  

No thank you.

2. Change overtime

Are shootouts exciting? Yes. Have we exhausted the premise? Absolutely. Shootouts are a nightly occurrence. Also, when was the last time you talked about a shootout goal around the water cooler the next day?(Probably after this one?)

Let’s presume the NHL’s reasons behind the current 4-on-4 overtime and shootout format were a) to guarantee a game result and eliminate ties; b) to keep teams in playoff races longer by offering up extra points; c) to give games a consistent length of play for easier television network scheduling.  

These issues would all still be addressed if the NHL adopted the 3-on-3 overtime proposition they’ve been studying.

Think about it. Everyone loves 4-on-4 overtime hockey and 3-on-3 would bring even more offense and drama to the sport. There would be more mistakes, more scoring chances and naturally more goals because it’s tougher to defend 3-on-3 than 4-on-4. 

 The NHL should adopt 3-on-3 overtime. It can keep the shootouts if it wants to, but they’ll rightfully be the rarity rather than the norm they’ve become.

3. Put the Winter Classic in Detroit

This one feels like it might actually happen, and the arguments are nicely summarized here. Besides, Detroit didn’t insist on moving to the Eastern Conference in realignment after all, so the NHL may owe the team a favour. The Red Wings have been the NHL’s marquee U.S. team – not to mention the league’s elite franchise – for almost two decades. They deserve a chance to host the Winter Classic, preferably against the rival Chicago Blackhawks. What an alumni game that would be.

4. Move the Phoenix Coyotes

Let’s put everyone out of their misery, shall we? The most logical place to move the team is Quebec City, but they’ve still got arena and ownership issues to address. Besides, as Elliotte Friedman points out, the NHL might want to leverage interest in Quebec City and Metro Toronto to reap an expansion fee windfall down the road. If this means the Coyotes have to therefore move to Kansas City, Seattle or (god forbid) Las Vegas, at least there’s hope those markets could one day love hockey. None of that hope exists in Phoenix anymore.

Sadly, the NHL probably can’t sell the team until after a new collective bargaining agreement offers a new ownership group some cost-certainty. This means 2012-13 could feature another year of lame-duck, desert dog hockey.

5. Negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for September 1st, 2012

Forget the details of potential negotiations for a second – here’s why the NHL and NHLPA should only come to an agreement in September 2012.

Other than the NHL draft and the start of free agency on July 1st, the NHL off-season is a snooze fest, confined to the margins of the sporting landscape. Many fans are okay with this, having been exhausted from an NHL post-season that drags on until June. In general, fans are happy to forget about hockey until training camp in September.

Both the NFL and NBA generated huge buzz and sent their fans into frenzy by forcing their off-seasons into a compressed amount of time. The NHL could also benefit from this, using the first two weeks of September as the off-season, and the last two weeks as a compressed training camp schedule. Then they can drop the puck as planned, without having lost a single game to a work stoppage but having created a month-long extravaganza for fans.

No one wants to miss a game of NHL hockey due to collective bargaining. But it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the NHL and NHLPA waited until August to start serious talks.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • In case you missed it, here’s the story that says the six Canadian teams account for 33% of the league’s profits.
  • One more Toronto Star link – this time about the hometown team’s terrible December. That’s what happens when you’ve got some historically bad penalty killing by the Maple Leafs.
  • Hard to believe, but the Montreal Canadiens have lost 15 games in which they’ve held a lead so far this year.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. He had already started to come back to earth performance-wise. His December numbers: 2 goals, 6 assists in 12 games.
  • Having said that, Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle started this morning 8th overall in the league scoring race (16 goals, 25 assists, 41 points).
  • The Colorado Avalanche are 18-1 in their past 19 shootouts. They’re still not the best shootout team of all-time though. That’s the New Jersey Devils (50 wins, 26 losses). The Devils are 8-1 in the shootout this season.
  • Four favourite things about this year’s 24/7 Flyers vs. Rangers: New York’s Christmas Sweater party; the Broadway fedora Rangers players give to their player of the game; Brad Richards telling Tom Sestito “One day in the NHL for you. It’s fantasy camp for you”; everything involving John Tortorella. Hard to watch the series and not think there’s something special brewing in The Big Apple this season.
  • Loved the Winter Classic alumni game, and hope it continues to grow in prominence. It was nice to see John LeClair and Eric Lindros combine for the game’s first goal. Lindros was by far the most dominating junior player I’ve ever seen play.
  • Also interesting to see how, even in retirement, Mark Messier can’t stand losing. His interviews during the game were surprisingly intense.
  • Disappointing to see this year’s Winter Classic was the lowest-rated of all-time. That’s what happens when you a) move it to January 2nd, a workday for many people and b) move the start time around.
  • The actual Winter Classic game was a lot of fun, but I wish the audio was mixed differently. Everyone keeps talking about the incredible atmosphere at the ballpark, but the ambient/crowd noise is mixed to a minimum for broadcast.
%d bloggers like this: