Mar 192014
 

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Nashville Predators

Nothing to Lose
Nashville is pretty solidly out of the playoffs. I find this to possibly be their biggest advantage in tonight. Teams with nothing to lose tend to play much better than teams with something to lose. Also I think this game will be scrappy because the Preds are probably bitter and angry that they’ll be missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year (and only the second time since 2003) and the Canucks will be panicky and feisty because they’re desperate. I predict a Sestito fight or two. But Canucks will need to keep their heads (I’m looking at you Kassian and Sestito…) and control the penalties or they’ll lose and lose big.

Death By Slap Shot
Shea Weber is a man I love for 2 weeks every 4 years. Because that’s when his ability to kill a man with a slap shot works in my favor because he’s doing it for his/my Country. Tonight he’s my enemy and so is Torts’ blocking shots strategy because it’s the worst possible thing to do when Weber’s the one taking them. The last thing we need is another broken foot or jaw to deal with. So the strategy should be just to keep them from getting the shots.  Own the puck and keep them out of our zone. This should help Lack who has been struggling and letting in softies.

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Goalie Scorned
Pekka Rinne was pulled in his last game against Edmonton, where Preds lost 5-1. This could be seen as a something that will squelch his confidence tonight however, Rinne isn’t a rookie. More than likely that embarrassing loss will spark a fire in him and he’ll have something to prove against us. Plus, let’s be honest, we’re not a goalie’s worst nightmare anymore. Even if Rinne wasn’t angry and looking to avenge his last performance, he’d still be a challenge to our struggling offense.

The Bright Side
Burrows is back – you know that guy who scores a lot? Thank the Hockey Gods for that. If he can stay hot we’ve got a good chance. Edler’s been playing better and Bieksa’s been solid. Add to that Jensen’s solid play and goal-scoring efforts -he’s had 2 goals and one assist in his last 3 games –and we have a glimmer of hope.

Feb 132014
 
Getty Images

Getty Images

We came, we conquered! Well… maybe that’s an overstatement. ‘We came, we won’ is more fitting.

  • We had a rough first period. Canada had 7 off-side calls. Clearly the boys hadn’t gelled yet. More concerning was the abysmal first powerplay. It was so bad I thought I was watching the Canucks for a second. You had to be a bit concerned, even if it was almost expected. After all these guys haven’t had a lot of time together yet. Babcock’s furrowed brow on the bench wasn’t helping my nerves either. That said, although we beat Norway in 2010 by a score of 8-0, Canada did not score in that first period either.
  • There was some good in the first period. Jeff Carter kept Norway from their best scoring chance with some awesome stick work. I have to make note of this because so many people didn’t want him on Team Canada. I like to rub noses in stuff, sue me.
  • The second period felt a little more cohesive. And we got to see the deadly weapon we forgot we had – Shea Weber’s slapshot. No, it didn’t rip through the net this time but it wasn’t from lack of effort. Weber’s shot is so fast you can’t even see the puck.
  • Not only did we get on the board in the second, but we had one of those HOW DID THAT NOT GO IN moments in front of Norway’s net and the much hated post shot. There’s something comforting in seeing that kind of effort from Team Canada even if it didn’t result in more goals. They were getting their legs and starting to gel. Always a good thing.
  • Jamie Benn’s goal, putting Team Canada up 2-0, felt like the flood gates opening, but yet they never fully opened.
  • And there were Norway chances, their best coming with 27 seconds left in the period. Luckily, it also resulted in Carey Price’s best save of the game. The score remained at 2-0 as the second period ended.
  • The third period had a shaky start with Price misplaying the puck and resulting in a Norway goal. The Olympics like to create new and different hockey rules, like the one where if your helmet comes off you have to go directly to the bench or take a penalty. They should implement the rule where the goalie can’t play to puck. Why? Because Canadian goalies are horrible at playing the puck. Price and Luongo both suck at it. But it’s not just about us, I’ve watched Quick (as an LA King) cost himself a goal too. So come on IOC, if you won’t do it for us, do it for America.
  • It was a little weird but mostly sad to see the Norway player get injured and then, while trying to leave the ice, get slammed by the referee. What an NHL thing to do, Ref. After the player literally crawled to the bench, the ref did go over and apologize to the team. What an un-NHL thing to do, Ref.
  • Doughty’s goal, the final nail in Norway’s proverbial coffin, was, in my opinion, a much owed apology goal because Doughty had made some mistakes throughout this game.
  • Is it just me or was the game a little rougher than anticipated? Sidney Crosby got shoved around and Chris Kuntiz got into it. For such a match-up with a non-traditional rival, it seemed a bit much.
  • In the end, although I think the game should have been easier, it was still a win and I’ll take that any way I can get it. Also I have to remind myself that maybe not repeating the ride and road we took to the 2010 Gold isnt a bad thing. Yeah it ended with the right color medal but the path was rocky in huge, over-dramatic ways that cause Ativan addictions. Kind of slow, mostly steady and relatively drama-free wouldn’t a bad way to win Gold either.
  • Looking ahead, I’m glad Roberto Luongo is going to get a chance in net. Price’s performance wasn’t strong enough (like Quick’s for the US earlier) to make trying another goalie a crazy idea. Also, I think Weber needs as much ice time as possible and so does Carter. I wouldn’t mind seeing Kunitz sit a little more. So who stood out for you on Team Canada? Who should get more ice time and who should get less? Let us hear it!
Dec 032013
 

162397699_slide
(source: nhl.com)

Vancouver Canucks (14-10-5)
Nashville Predators (13-11-3)

The Vancouver Canucks wrap-up their 4-game road trip tonight against the Nashville Predators. This is the first of 3 meetings between the two teams. Last season, the Canucks won all 3 games against the Predators.

With their Sunday morning win against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Canucks have won 2 of the 3 games on the road trip so far, and it would be good to head home for their 5-game homestand on a winning note. On the other hand, the Predators have lost their last 2 games; they were shutout by the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout on Saturday.

Who’s Hot

After ending his 24-game point drought on November 23rd against the Chicago Blackhawks, Canucks defensemen Jason Garrison has been on fire. He has 6 points (1 goal and 5 assists) in his last 5 games.

For the Predators, Mr. Carrie Underwood, Mike Fisher, has 3 goals in his last 4 games. Fisher also opened the scoring for the Predators on Saturday against the Flyers.

Who’s Out

Once again, the Canucks will be without forward Alexandre Burrows who is out indefinitely with a broken jaw. Forward Jordan Schroeder is still out with a sprained ankle, though he is expected to return in mid-to-late December.

The Predators will be without the bearded one, Shea Weber (eye), and Kevin Klein (lower body). Forward Filip Forsberg (upper body) has been placed on injured reserve.

Jul 192012
 

You can’t blame Canucks fans for obsessing over the possibility of Shea Weber coming to Vancouver. Besides being from BC and still holding strong ties here, he’s a legitimate no. 1 defenseman and a Norris Trophy candidate – basically, a defenseman the kind of which the Canucks have never had.

As an RFA this season and a UFA next season, Nashville’s options were limited. Presumably, the Predators had been trying to re-sign him, but from the looks of things, Weber didn’t seem too interested. He was free to sign an offer sheet with a team he liked, and if the Predators didn’t match, they would receive draft picks as compensation, hardly a suitable return for a player of his ilk. And if the offer sheet were for a one-year term, and if the Predators did match, they couldn’t trade him for the next year and Weber could walk away for nothing at the end of it. Like Dan Hamhuis did a couple of years ago and Ryan Suter did this year.

So I’m sure David Poile wasn’t pleased with last night’s bombshell the Philadelphia Flyers had signed him to a 14-year/$110 million offer sheet:


From Kyper, here’s the complete breakdown of the deal:

YearSalarySigning BonusTotal $Cap Hit
Year 1$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 2$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 3$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 4$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 5$4 mil$8 mil$12 mil$7.857 mil
Year 6$4 mil$8 mil$12 mil$7.857 mil
Year 7$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 8$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 9$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 10$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 11$3 mil$0$3 mil$7.857 mil
Year 12$1 mil$0$1 mil$7.857 mil
Year 13$1 mil$0$1 mil$7.857 mil
Year 14$1 mil$0$1 mil$7.857 mil
Total $$42 mil$68 mil$110 mil

To be frank, very few probably foresaw an offer sheet for big term and big bucks, if only because negotiating with Weber and getting him to sign on such terms would be akin to doing David Poile’s job for him. With the right to match, the 14-year term could guarantee Weber stays in Nashville for the rest of his career; with a reasonable cap hit, the only impediment would be whether or not they could come up with enough cash flow – $80 million in the first 6 years of the deal – to afford it. Really, if I’m David Poile, I don’t see any reason not to match the Flyers’ offer, except maybe if I could work out a trade with the Flyers in the next 7 days for several top-level players or prospects.

For those criticizing Mike Gillis or the Canucks for not being aggressive enough, consider these:

1) I doubt this is a money issue. Aquilini has shown time and again that he’s willing to buck up. Look at the big-money, long-term commitments he’s made to Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Hamhius, Bieksa, Ballard, Booth, Garrison, Schneider… the list goes on. Look at how much he’s willing to spend on depth NHL players while they’re playing in the AHL.

2) The Canucks could have thrown Weber a one-year offer sheet, but given the state of CBA negotiations, why would he sign on for one year and then have to negotiate a new contract under the new – and presumably more stringent – CBA next year?

3) The Canucks could have thrown Weber a multi-year offer sheet, but unlike the Flyers, the Canucks probably weren’t willing to risk that Nashville would simply match, and thus remove Weber from the market.

4) if the Predators were indeed shopping Weber’s rights, it’s hard to believe the Canucks would have been able to offer anywhere near the kind of return the Flyers, Rangers, Sharks (the other rumored suitors for Weber) are able to. The Canucks’ biggest trading chip would’ve been one of their goaltenders, which the Predators don’t need. After that, it’s probably Alex Edler, who is, like Weber would’ve been, a UFA next year. In comparison, the other teams could offer a package that potentially includes the likes of Taylor Hall, Sean Couturier, Braydon Coburn, Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, Patrick Marleau or Joe Pavelski.

For the most optimistic of us, I suppose, given the Predators’ general financial environment and the Flyers’ willingness to trade even long-term deals, we could hope that Weber would someday be available via the trade market. In the meantime, the Canucks’ 42-year quest for a true no. 1 defenseman continues.

Apr 132012
 

For his hit on Kyle Clifford, Byron Bitz was suspended by Brendan Shanahan for the next 2 playoff games. No issues here. Like I said yesterday, it wasn’t necessarily malicious, but it was still a dangerous hit on a player in a vulnerable position.

Now compare that to Shea Weber’s *ahem* play on Henrik Zetterberg:

For grabbing Zetterberg’s head and slamming it into the glass a la Blake Griffin, Weber was issued a $2,500 fine.

I have three words to describe this: What. A. Joke.

Late last season, the NHL swore to take steps to eliminate head shots. To underscore the point, they suspended Aaron Rome for an unprecedented 4 Stanley Cup Finals games – the equivalent of 48 regular season by Sheriff Shanny’s own calculations. In the preseason, they suspended players for 5, 7, 8 games.

All those seem like faded memories now.

Watch the video again.

Weber makes no play on the puck. He doesn’t throw a check. He doesn’t even to pretend to. He goes straight for Zetterberg’s head, grabs it and smashes it against the glass hard enough that Z’s helmet cracked.

In this era of supposed heightened awareness on concussions and player safety, this merited a mere $2,500 fine, which Weber will pay off by about the 2 minute mark of tonight’s game.

What. A. Joke.

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.
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