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Friday, October 30, 2009

Ovechkin: Can Alexander the Gr8 surpass The Great One?

It's early in the 2009-10 season but two headlines seem to keep repeating: "(Insert star player name here) Out for x to x weeks." and "Ovechkin scores 2 in Caps Victory."

Malkin, Gonchar, Kovalchuk, Booth, Franzen, etc... missing time with various ailments, we have seen an alarming amount of big names go down. Meanwhile Alex Ovechkin has scored 13 goals in the first 12 games... which has inspired more than a few writers talking about Ovechkin breaking Gretzky's all-time goal mark. The pile of injuries and goals by the Great 8 made us ponder...

Does he have the ability to eclipse Gretzky's 894 goals scored over the course of 20 seasons?  Ovi's 232 goals through 336 career games suggest that he does have the ability to top 99's career mark.

However, what does stand in the, is the way he plays the game. Gretzky was Baryshnikov on ice. At 5'10" and 180 lbs., he danced and weaved through traffic and slipped by heavy contact.  When did we ever see Gretzky take a crushing body check? By stark contrast, Ovechkin, 6'2" and 232 lbs plays like a NFL special teams wedge buster. He consistently seeks out contact and will even put a big hit on himself. Ask Evgeni Malkin, he's seen it.

When you compare some modern day power forwards that are roughly his size, a disturbing trend stands out: (Cam Neely, 6'1", 218 lbs; Kevin Stevens, 6'3" 230 lbs; Keith Tkachuk, 6'2", 232 lbs) after 5-7 seasons these raging bulls started to wear out.  Playing a physical game takes a toll. These players were still productive (in Tkuchuk's case he still is, and is nearing the 550 goal mark) later in their careers, but they were not the same after the injuries began to pile up.

Ovechkin is in his 5th season and has yet to suffer an injury that has kept him from playing. But is it only a matter of time?  Will he need to alter his approach in order to stay healthy enough to honor his near-lifetime contract with Washington?  Let's hope not. He is too fun to watch as is. Mario Lemieux is not going to have another unretirement, so someone needs to take a run at number 99's records.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Coyotes To Be Sold To the NHL?

The Canadian Press reports that Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes has agreed to sell the franchise to the NHL.

The deal still must be approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Redfield T. Baum. It is also reported that Wayne Gretzky, who has a US$22.5 million claim in the case, has not agreed to the deal.

"NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says that once the deal closes, the league will immediately look to sell the team, preferably to an owner who will keep the club in Arizona.

The agreement would provide the nearly $80 million that is owed SOF Investment, the largest secured creditor, and the NHL would get the $37 million it is owed for funding the team since last fall.

Between $9 million and $11 million would be available to be divided between Moyes and Gretzky." [CP]

Honestly, who knows what will happen.  This case has been anything but predictable.  What seems like merely formality now may prove to be only step one in a new battle.

"...the league will immediately look to sell the team, preferably to an owner who will keep the club in Arizona."  At this point, the question must be asked, is it even possible to make it work in there?

Between the arena lease, the massive concessions needed by the city of Glendale, the financial loss  set by Moyes' precedent and the abundant ill will that surrounds the franchise by jaded fans, the Arizona Cardinals ownership, etc... what investor wants that kind of challenge in this economy?

We hate to see all the people who did support this team through it all get the shaft... the good people of Winnipeg feel their pain, but how can the team stay long term?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

DirecTV vs...Versus vs... Hockey Fan

By now I'm sure that all of you are aware of the Versus battle with DirecTV.  Both sides have publicly called out the other during the dispute, but the NHL has officially backed the Versus Network's position on more than one occasion.

Adam Kimelman - Staff Writer

"Versus president Jamie Davis appeared on the NHL Live radio show Friday and discussed the cable network's dispute with DirecTV.

'What [DirecTV officials] wanted to do and what they're insisting on and what they have also not told the public is that they were insisting on a clause that would give them the ability to take Versus away from 6 million existing subscribers by re-tiering it, putting on a different tier and going back and saying 'now if you want to continue getting Versus, which you used to get for free, now you have to pay X dollars more a month,' Davis said. 'That's something we wouldn't accept and that's what this is about.' "

The Versus Network is owned by Comcast... and wasn't it Comcast that just ended an ugly and very public feud with the NFL Network? Does anyone remember what the issue was during that fight? You guessed it!

"The battle was between a powerful league aggrieved by Comcast’s relegating its channel to a digital sports tier that cost subscribers extra, and a huge cable operator whose customer base is crucial to a network’s exposure."

Therefore, what Versus president Jamie Davis DID NOT mention in today's interview is that it is ok for Comcast to re-teir and charge customers more for a sports package, but not ok for their competitor DirecTV to do it.

So you ask, why does the NHL support the Versus/Comcast argument?  Well, it just might be speculation but, the Chairman of Comcast/Spectacor is Edward M. Snider.  It is the very same Ed Snider that "owns" the Philadelphia Flyers  and is a leading member of the NHL Board of Governors. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how the NHL arrived at their decision to back the network.

Again, it is the sports fan that loses out when Comcast and their competition clash.  The League would like you to call DirecTV to voice your opinion.  Instead, call Ed Snider and tell him to stop obsessing about what the competition is doing.  Isn't it pathetic enough that we have to listen to him whine about the Penguins and the NHL Draft every season after they eliminate his Flyers? Now he wants to interfere with our television programming?

Thanks Ed!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

If an Islander Falls in the Woods...

The Islanders finally notched their first win of the season last night.  Superstar in waiting, John Tavares, won the shootout with some nifty moves before whipping the puck past Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.

"Coach Scott Gordon chose John Tavares to go third in the shootout to see how the No. 1 pick approached the pressure situation.

Tavares helped the Islanders avoid the worst start in franchise history, scoring the clinching shootout goal in the Islanders' 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.

'I think he's had an opportunity to watch and see some of the things that go in front of him,' Gordon said. 'That was one of the reasons why I put him third; to see his approach in the net.' " [CP]

The coach wanted to see but the Islanders' fans... did they? An announced attendance of 9,122 was on hand to "witness" the victory. 

Sure it has been a rough start, but the top pick of the 2009 Draft is on the ice every night.  Yes, it took a while to get a win, but the Isles have been competitive nearly every game, as witnessed by the 3 overtime/shootout losses. 

Additionally, the Isles have other young talent worth watching. The very likable Matt Moulson comes to play and continues to produce. Kyle Okposo is creative and exciting to watch. Josh Bailey, Mark Streit, etc...

The Isles are improving and are worth watching.  There were plenty of you at the Draft Day Party.  Where are you Islanders fan?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rookie Watch: Del Zotto

The top selections of the 2009 draft were expected to make their teams' rosters and contribute this season.  Tavares, Duchesne and Kane have stuck at the major league level and have impressed.  However, the standout rookie thus far has been 2008 draft pick, defenseman Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers.

Larry Brooks, NY Post via Blueshirt Banter:
With tonight's Garden match against San Jose the Rangers' ninth of the year and thus the final game that Michael Del Zotto can play before this season kicks in against his Entry Level contract, The Post has learned that the 19-year-old defenseman will be moving.

No, not back to the OHL — Hello? — but out of the hotel in which he has been staying and into a more permanent place of residence, for Rangers management has given that green light to Del Zotto and to fellow rookies Matt Gilroy and Artem Anisimov as well as to Brian Boyle.

Del Zotto, a plus-three, is tied with Philadelphia's Matt Carle for the NHL lead in scoring by defensemen with eight points (3-5). He leads the rookie-scoring race by one point over the Islanders' John Tavares. He has been on the ice for all eight of the Rangers' five-on-four power play goals.

"He has a nice strut to him," head coach John Tortorella said. "But he hasn't crossed the line."
Del Zotto has been instrumental in the Rangers surprisingly fast start. His 4 goals is second on the team to only the red hot, Marian Gaborik. He has spent significant time on the power play, logged an average ice time of over fifteen minutes and has a game winner.  Del Zotto's early season would have been considered a great start by his idol Scott Niedermayer.  In fact if you asked Niedermayer today, he might say Del Zotto is his idol!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fast Starts; Little Mystery

More than a few teams have come screaming out of the gates.  The Penguins, Flames and Blackhawks were expected to start strong. The Rangers, Coyotes, Avalanche, Senators, Blue Jackets, Thrashers and Sabres are surprises to varying degrees. Yet, to no one's surprise, they all possess a common thread in two areas:
  1. Balanced Scoring
  2. Goaltending
All of the aforementioned teams have had at least 10 different goal contributors and a consistent effort in net. No great revelation, we know.

To further illustrate the point the teams that are struggling: The Leafs, Islanders, Wild and Predators in particular, have 9 or less different contributors and have had inconsistent to atrocious performances in goal.

Hockey is a simple game: score more than the other guys and you win.  The teams that have more players chipping in (even the Plumbers!!) will continue to thrive.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Georges Laraque Ad Lands Him in the Penalty Box

Georges Laraque of the Montreal Canadiens  apologized for appearing in an internet only advertisement for alcoholic beverage Octane 7.0 shown below.

The NHL and women's groups and have expressed their displeasure with the ad.

League officials sent The Canadian Press a copy of Article 25.1 of its collective bargaining agreement with the players' union that states no player can sponsor or endorse an alcoholic beverage. Asked whether Laraque might be punished, the league said there would be no further comment.
"This is one more example of sexist advertising," said Alexa Conradi, of the Federation des femmes du Quebec, the province's most prominent women's group. "Why is it that when we're trying to market a campaign toward men aged 20 to 35, we always use this kind of ad? What does that say about our concept of masculinity? [AP]
Laraque said he did not know what he was advertising when he arrived for the television shoot and that he only agreed to do it because it offered a lucrative payday for charity.
In his apology Georges vowed to to help a women's rights group to make up for his appearance in the ad.
In all sincerity, is there a better guy than Georges Laraque?
I can understand that women's rights groups would not approve of the overall message, but it's not the first time the objectification of women has been used in advertising is it?
Instead of defending himself, or denying that he had anything to be sorry about, Laraque apologized and then went the extra mile to make it up to anyone he offended.
As far as the CBA though, next time Georges will be a little more thorough! If he didn't know what he was advertising, would it not be reasonable to expect him to tell the organizers, that he can do most any ad unless its for alcohol?
Laraque should pay a price for violating the CBA, and he will learn a lesson from it.  However, we all could learn from Georges Laraques' example of how to handle controversy with sincerity and class!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scott Hartnell: Like School on Saturday...

The Penguins-Flyers enmity has grown into not only one of the most heated rivalries in the NHL, but in all of sports. It seems that nearly every contest grows into its own tiny planet of hate. Like any competition, ill will can only make victory that much sweeter, and solidify bitterness all the more in defeat. It is a great thing for sport.

Thursday night’s game between the aforementioned teams offered all of the tantalizing entertainment value that hockey fans could ask for. Lots of goals, passionate celebrations, big hits, long stares, dumb penalties and consistent jabbering at one another.

Then in the waning moments of the contest, Flyers captain Mike Richards took a run at Marc-Andre Fluery, the Penguins goaltender. With the net dislodged as a result of the incident, Fleury seemed unfazed, but his teammates were not going to put up with the shenanigans.

Kris Letang and Scott Hartnell twisted around one another like a pair confused contestants on "Dancing with the Stars". After they were separated, Letang skated to the bench clutching his hand. The television cameras followed him into the walkway behind the bench, where he was examined by a trainer. Shortly thereafter, Penguins coach, Dan Bylsma, summoned the referee to take a look at the damage inflicted upon one of his top defensemen.

After the game when Letang was asked about the altercation, showing off a newly bandaged hand, he replied: "He knows what he did. Go ask Hartnell."..."It's a first for me. I want to be certain that you ask him and make sure you get the right answer."

When asked, Hartnell denied biting Letang, yet he did say: "a lot of stuff happens on the bottom of the pile. He had his hands in my face doing the facewash and we're rolling around. I can't say what happened."

Hartnell took part in a conference call with NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell on Friday morning but will face no suspension or fine. Sources say the referees and linesmen did not see the alleged incident and as such, there was insufficient evidence to further penalize Hartnell.

The NHL did the only thing they could do in this case... nothing.

However, in the court of public opinion, Hartnell is not afforded the same luxury.

It's quite clear that Hartnell acted with the sole intent to injure Letang and succeeded. Whether he bit him, or deeply scratched him with some fierce 5'oclock shadow scruff, doesn't matter. Hartnell did little to deny that he did something mysterious while the two were locked in a not-so-loving embrace.

The Flyers are a talented group, yet they have a well-earned reputation of a team known for cheap shots and suspensions. This is not a swipe at Philadelphia or their fans. In fact, the majority of Flyers fan reactions to the incident have been very condemning of Hartnell.

The rivalry was already hot. This kind of incident just dumps another gallon of lighter fluid on the fire. Great for hockey fans. Bad for Letang's finger. Shame on Hartnell's "stuff" that "happens". Sufficient disciplinary evidence or not, it's difficult to escape defining Hartnell's actions as anything other than classless.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Abundant NHL Injury Bug: Causing Problems for Some; Solving Others

While Canadiens coach Jacques Martin was audibly cursing on the bench last night, he must have been silently wondering if injured, star blueliner Andrei Markov could have made any difference in Vancouver's 7-1 drubbing of Montreal.

In another Province, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson found a blessing in disguise.  He no longer has to practice his "I  don't make goaltending decisions to please the fans" speech, as "The Monster" Jonas Gustavsson was placed on IR.  Wilson gets at least a one week  reprieve from the oh-too-early goalie controversy brewing in Toronto.

Gustavsson's injury is just the latest in an alarming amount of boo boos that have claimed a myriad of players this season. Before the pre-season was underway, we knew that stars Marian Hossa and Phil Kessel were going to miss time... even Game 7 "Superstar" Max Talbot was expected to be out after surgery.

Yet, since then we have seen the likes of  Markov, Erik Cole, Adam Burish, Mike Commodore, Andreas Lilja, Derek Boogaard, Ryan O'Byrne, Colin Wilson, Sean Avery, Joe Pavelski, Pavol Demitra, etc, etc, etc... miss chunks of time.

Some injuries take a long time to manifest. Consider Atlanta defenseman Boris Valabik who is expected to miss four to six weeks after having surgery to repair a high ankle sprain. Thrashers fans will remember back to last season when Pittsburgh Penguins megastar Sidney Crosby attacked Boris by attempting to punch him in the "high ankle" area! (47 second mark) These injuries worsen over time...

Of course that wasn't what really caused the injury, but seriously, is it me, or are the Boys of Winter surprisingly fragile thusfar?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

NHL Poster Boy Scores Again: Crosby Quietly Hits 400

Outside of Pittsburgh, not much has even been mentioned of Penguins' Captain, Sidney Crosby's latest achievement.  On Saturday, Crosby became the sixth fastest player in NHL history to talley 400 points, reaching the milestone in his 292nd game.

Granted it was 400, not 500 or 1,000 points, but it is an impressive acheivement nonetheless, and particularly doing so in the era of the over-stuffed goalie.

Considering Gretzky scored point 400 against netminders dressed like this:

... and Sid did it against against goalies like this... makes it all the more noteworthy.

Love him or hate him (that is another post in waiting), "the Kid", with all eyes on him, continues to live up to all the hype.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Alex Ovechkin "Unleashed" Early

The Washington Capitals marketing slogan reads: "Prepare to unleash the Red".  Caps fans are reminded to wear red on Opening Night in D.C. this coming Saturday.  However, Alex the Gr8 was ready to release his fury on the NHL's opening night in Boston last night.

One game in the books, two goals on the fly from the slot.  Ovechkin in now on pace for 164 goals this season. "Ha, ha" you say, but there has to be at least a little nudge inside you that makes you wonder if he could keep that pace.

During a pregame interview with Versus, Ovechkin was asked about the changes to the team and if they, in his opinion were now a better team.  His response was that he didn't know if they had to be a better team, just that "we need to play better." By "we" he must have meant "me", then Number 8 went out and punched a couple in for a win.

Ovi has become the Barry Bonds (from a few years ago) of hockey, minus the aversion to the media and juicing allegations. If a pitcher gave Bonds a pitch to hit, he might as well kiss it goodbye.  If a team gives Ovechkin any room to shoot, the goal judge  might as well unleash the red...light!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Brendan Shanahaaaa-NO!

As TSN reported,  Brendan Shanahan has decided that he will not play for the New Jersey Devils this season.

Shanny, re-signed with the Devil this off-season has reconsidered.  A thanks, but no thanks kinda deal?
"When I signed this past summer, Lou Lamoriello, Jacques Lemaire, and I agreed that if we were unable to find a suitable fit in which I would be able to compete and contribute at the level I expect from myself, then I would simply step aside," said Shanahan in the statement. "I have great respect for Lou, Jacques, and the entire Devils' organization. This decision is both mutual and amicable."

Shanahan's statement is a bit curious, as he has not retired, but reconsidered this season. Was it the "suitable fit" with Lemaire's style of play, or his own ability "to compete and contribute" that impacted this decision?

For Brendan Shanahan, whether this the first conversation of, like, three conversations that leads to him telling us he's... retired, or not...

Either way, he is a sure fire HOFer with 600+ career goals and half-a-hand's worth of Stanley Cup rings (if he were a six-fingered man).