Dec 152013
 

As far as rivalry matches go, you couldn’t ask for much more. Roberto Luongo was great. Tuukka Rask wasn’t. Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins and Mike Santorelli were in beast mode. Milan Lucic wasn’t. The Sedins didn’t back down. Brad Marchand was being a dick. As usual. David Booth scored on a helluva snipe of a shot. Chris Tanev scored. Shorthanded, no less. But most importantly, in the Boston Bruins’ first visit to Rogers Arena since Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, the Canucks won. And won in convincing fashion.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

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).
Feb 062011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Martin Brodeur and Jarome Iginla

If Canada was really serious about hockey – if Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the hockey fan he says he is – then NHL Trade Deadline Day would be a national holiday.

Other than the opening night of the season, no other day on the hockey calendar offers hockey fans as much hope.

What about July 1st, the first day of free agency? Only if your team is a buyer.

Draft day? Only if your team has a first-round pick.

The beauty of NHL Trade Deadline Day is that it serves fans of all teams. Every move can be painted as a step toward a better tomorrow.

The only question is if that better tomorrow is this year, next year, or a few years from now.

Between today and what will be the busiest day in Canadian sports broadcasting (February 28th), thousands upon thousands of words will be said, tweeted and written about who will be dealt, and for what, on Trade Deadline Day.

Except for this column.

Here is a list of players with “tradeability” (aka trade value, brought to you by the same naming folks who brought you “drinkability,” “dunkability,” and “Sham-wow”), who won’t move at the deadline.

Martin Brodeur

Brodeur is 38-years old on a team that’s not only facing a long rebuilding process, but suddenly is losing ownership investors. What is there left for him to do in the Garden State? He’s got one year left on his contract at a cap-hit of $5.2 million. Colorado and Tampa Bay are two teams in particular who are looking to make a playoff push and have the cap space this year and next. Nonetheless, there is every indication that Brodeur is happy playing out the string in New Jersey.

What’s that saying: better to flame out than fade away? Patrick Roy wouldn’t fade away like it seems Martin Brodeur will.

Jarome Iginla

Without a membership to the Great Water Buffalo Society of General Managers, there’s no way of knowing for sure. However, it seems the goal of trading in the NHL is to move an asset when it is as close to its peak value as possible, hopefully before it stops returning on your investment entirely.

Jarome Iginla has done everything and more for the Flames. He won’t be more valuable two-years from now (power forwards rarely age well). The Los Angeles Kings are desperate for an impact forward. They have some interesting young talent, including Braydon Schenn and 57 goalie prospects (ok, a slight exaggeration). It seems logical to make a deal.

Nevertheless, Jay Feaster has told everyone who’ll listen that his veteran stars (Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff in particular) are safe, because his blueprint is to find a few core players and build a winning franchise around that core.

How this is a different approach from 29 other teams in the league is a head-scratcher. Perhaps someone should check that Feaster is talking about the same core group that has failed Calgary every year since a Stanley Cup run six years ago.

Tomas Kaberle

Pausing a moment while Leaf fans finish screaming in frustration… Looking back at the history books, practically every Stanley Cup winner has had a quality puck-moving defenceman anchoring its powerplay. The market for Kaberle should be big, with any of Tampa Bay, Colorado, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Phoenix, Carolina and the New York Rangers having cap space and playoff aspirations.

The problem is the Maple Leafs can’t afford to be a lottery pick again, and no other defenceman on the roster (including “Neon” Dion Phaneuf) has shown any aptitude with the puck. Seriously, it’s like watching the film 2001 before the obelisk showed the prehistoric apes how to use tools, some nights.

Adding to the situation is that Kaberle (depending on which source you trust) has never used his no-trade clause previously wielded his no-trade clause like Thor wields his hammer.

The last remaining member of the infamous Muskoka 5, there’s no reason for Kaberle to agree to be traded somewhere for a few extra months of hockey (inconveniencing him and his family).

Watch for him to simply wait out the year, go play in the World Championships, and choose his destination (probably featuring lots of sunshine) on July 1st.

Hey, it’s kinda the same choice former captain Mats Sundin made, isn’t it?

Ales Hemsky

Since most of the NHL Trade Deadline Day media originate from Toronto, you can expect future stories about how the Edmonton Oilers, in the midst of a scorched-earth rebuild, are looking for prospects and draft picks for their best players.

Make no mistake, despite the day-to-day improvements of Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky is Edmonton’s best player. Granted he’s injury prone, but he is also a magician with the puck – Glenn Anderson-like skills with a playmaker’s heart and vision. There is greatness in him, and for the Oilers to be great once again, they need to hold onto all the elite talent they can.

The great Terry Jones seems to agree.

Brad Richards

Another impending UFA. However, the Dallas Stars need a playoff run not only to help sell the team, but to add some much needed money to the team’s bottom line.

As the Jamie Langenbrunner trade demonstrated, this is a team adding, not subtracting, talent from the roster. Richards isn’t going anywhere (yet).

Alex Kovalev

Detroit General Manager Ken Holland has a theory that teams that score more than three goals a game usually coast into playoff spots. Somewhere lurking inside Alex Kovalev is Hall-of-Fame talent. With the right motivation, in the right situation, Kovalev could easily help a team get to that three goals-a-game level.

Sadly though it seems the mystery-wrapped-in-an-enigma that is Alex Kovalev will finish his career without one last, great flourish. His latest knee injury, when added to his reputation, probably scares off any team that might be interested.

The Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings make some trade-sense, as they might be the last two teams that would be able to motivate Kovalev. However, it appears neither team can afford his contract.

Sergei Gonchar

Some will argue that getting Gonchar out of Ottawa would be a coup, since few defencemen in the past decade have seen the offensive side of the game better. As previously discussed, the best teams in the league always have a good puck-moving defenceman at their disposal.

The problem for the Senators is that the best teams in the league don’t want to pay a 36-year old with beer-league defensive skills $11 million over the next two years.

It’s shocking that, despite the Kovalev and Gonchar contracts, Eugene Melnyk is still looking to keep Bryan Murray inside the organization in some capacity after this season is over.

Maxime Talbot

Yet another UFA, Talbot might just be the most recognizable “other guy” amongst Penguin forwards not named Crosby, Malkin or Staal. He’s earned this recognition with his speed, grit and determination – all the characteristics a Cup team needs in abundance. Some team will overpay for his services in the off-season (probably Toronto).

Earning just over $1 million, Talbot would be a classic Trade Deadline Day acquisition for a young team on the rise, or a team on the cusp of something special. The thing is, this Penguins team is one of the latter.

They have no real reason to move Talbot.

Kevin Bieksa

Vancouver’s favourite whipping boy, salary cap issues looked like they would finally force the Canucks to move Bieksa at the start of the year. Instead, injuries have allowed the maligned blueliner to not only stay in the lineup, but reward the team with maybe the best play of his career.

His poor decision-making will forever keep him from being a true top-pairing defender, but every team in the league wants depth on defence for the post-season.

Bieksa, as a second-pairing, second-powerplay defenceman, would be an attractive option to a few teams, including the New York Rangers.

In keeping Bieksa, the Canucks already have what other teams will be looking for on NHL Trade Deadline Day.

Dec 312010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Jay Feaster, Calgary Flames

Photo credit: Calgary Herald

So just how big a project is rebuilding the Calgary Flames?

Countless articles and endless minutes of media coverage in Canada over the holidays talked about how Darryl Sutter left this team without the young or tradeable assets necessary to build hope for a better future.

The bar is being set incredibly low for Jay Feaster. Basically, if he makes a couple of trades for draft picks at the deadline, columnists will award him a Bronze Star for valour.

The thing is, the Flames situation is desperate only if you believe they should be competitive right now. In short, if you drank from the Sutter kool-aid, you’re a very unhappy person right now.

Yet most Flames fans stopped drinking this Kool-Aid long ago. Similar to up the road in Edmonton, Flames fans are just hungry for a period of sustained success. They are tired of mediocrity. And mediocrity is all that Darryl Sutter has been able to muster since the lockout.

Which is why it was most alarming to hear Jay Feaster say in his first press conference how the playoffs were a goal for the team.

Perhaps it was an empty promise. However, the post-lockout NHL has proven itself to be an incredibly difficult place to remain competitive and rebuild at the same time.

These days, the best talent is locked in contract-wise, which means there aren’t the same rebuilding options as there used to be on the UFA market each summer. Similarily, good young talent is also the cheapest, and therefore greatest, asset a team can have in the NHL. So you see less of it on the trade market. Finally, with the league’s salary cap structure, and most teams either maxed out or at their own internal budget, you just don’t see big contracts moved very often.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one team that have tried to have it both ways – rebuild and remain competitive. And while they’ve been successful acquiring a few strong young pieces (Phaneuf, Kessel in particular), their efforts have neither been good enough to turn the franchise into a playoff team, nor bad enough to give the team a collection of top-end draft picks. It’s a tweener franchise, and looks like it could be that way for years to come.

No, if you have a strong front office (and let’s not forget Jay Feaster’s won a Cup already), the best way to build a Cup contender in the post-lockout NHL is to, basically, tank it for a couple of years. It let’s you accumulate assets, cap space and build hope amongst the fan base.

The best thing Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames can do is copy a move from Toronto Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos – communicate that 2013-14 is the year you plan to be ready for a Cup run, and build everything the organization does towards that goal.

Anything else is short-sighted.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • For whatever reason, whether it’s Gord Miller going crazy over goals against Norway, or Pierre Maguire’s usual blind homerism, or the fact that Canada has dominated the tournament for so long, the TSN broadcast of the World Juniors this year seems rather smug and self-congratulatory. Then again, there are a lot of folks who’d say that’s TSN’s approach in a nutshell.
  • One wish for the Flames rebuild: bring back the puck pursuit, offensive hockey the team was known for in its glory years.
  • One team that’s always pointed to as a team that’s “rebuilt” and stayed competitive is the Detroit Red Wings. Well, no team has scouted Europe better, particularly from 1989-2000. Remember, even in the early 1990s there were NHL teams that weren’t interested in drafting Europeans. However, since the hey-day of drafting players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen, it’s been a long time since the Red Wings hit the bulls-eye at the draft. Jonathan Ericsson was supposed to be that player, and he just hasn’t performed up to expectations. The Red Wings are the oldest team in the NHL this season, and have been one of the older teams for years now. It’s hard to believe sure, but the sun has started to set on this dynasty.
  • Remember Jason Smith, the former Oilers captain? If you look closely enough, there’s a lot of Jason Smith in Theo Peckham’s evolving game.
  • Daniel Winnick and Ian Laperriere look like twins.
  • One more Calgary note, it would make sense for Pierre Gauthier to at least kick the tires on bringing Jarome Iginla to Montreal. He’s exactly what that team is missing in a lot of ways, and has played enough defensive-first hockey to fit well into Jacques Martin’s system.
  • Puzzling way to treat Nazem Kadri by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ron Wilson. Bench him for three games. Tell him he added too much muscle in the off-season and has lost a step. Then, send him down to the AHL and, while the door hits him on the way out, hold a media scrum where you mention he needs to get stronger. The best place for Kadri is definitely in the AHL – at least it gets him away from the mixed-messages of Ron Wilson.
  • So Bryan Murray this week complains that there are two-tiers of justice in the NHL. How is this news to an NHL GM?
  • Since Derek Roy’s injury effectively kills the Sabres chances this year of making the playoffs, does this mean we’re watching Lindy Ruff coach out the string? Or does the injury buy him another season?
  • Speaking of injuries, the Oilers’ loss of Ryan Whitney assures that team of a top-5 draft pick at the very least. He was enjoying a breakout, All-Star calibre season before his ankle injury.
  • The development of Logan Couture probably means another disappointing playoff performance could make one of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton or Joe Pavelski available.
  • Michael Farber has five theories on what’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin. Here’s another – that OV has always played on instinct – from the heart, not the head. When other teams figured out how to defend against him, it’s forced him to think and analyze – to go against his instincts – which has slowed his explosiveness right down.
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