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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turning Over New Leafs...Again

Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs shook up the team's roster by trading six players for big name defenseman Dion Phaneuf, winger Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect defenseman Keith Aulie from Calgary and netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Anaheim.

To acquire Phaneuf and company, Toronto sent defenseman Ian White and forwards Matt Stajan, Nick Hagman and Jamal Mayers to the Flames. For Giguere, goalie Vesa Toskala and winger Jason Blake we packaged to the Ducks.

In the Phaneuf deal Toronto takes on more than $8 million in salary ($6.5 million which is owed to Phaneuf through the '13-'14 season), and sends just shy of $7 million in salary to Calgary. From a cap standpoint, it works for everyone.

Who wins in this deal.? 

The Flames receive Ian White who's offensive production is nearly on par with Phaneuf's and at a fraction of the cost.  White becomes a RFA at season's end.  In Hagman, the Flames get a player that has experience playing with Olli Jokinen, whom Calgary has had problems finding linemates to mesh with.  Stajan and Mayers can play the uptempo game the Flames need.

Toronto essentially did not have to give up much to land a "star" player, but with Phaneuf's recent reported rift in the locker room in Calgary, coupled with his sub standard play the last two seasons, make him just seem more like an over-hyped player with an albatross contract than the "future Norris Trophy winner" he was once thought to be.

Winner: Calgary

To acquire Giguere Toronto had to accept his $6 million cap hit, but sent Toskala and Blake's $4 million each to Anaheim.

Who wins?

Blake seems to finally have run out of gas and Toskala is as inconsistent as they come in net.  Giguere lost his starting job in the playoffs last season and had not been able to wrestle it back from Jonas Hiller.  However, Giguere has a Stanley Cup ring on his resume and there are more egregious contracts for goaltenders in this league.

Winner: Toronto

We still see Brian Burke's plan in place to shape the Leafs in to a tough team to play against... but is anybody sold on them being any better?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lockout Did Much More To Save Than Enslave: There Is Little Excuse For Failure

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has been known to "stir the pot" with his penchant for taking on controversial topics.  However, in his latest incarnation of "Campbell's Cuts", where he cites Atlanta's troubles concerning Ilya Kovalchuk's potential trade which leads him to a conclusion that the NHL lockout was "a farce" and the CBA "a sham", may be one of the most ill conceived works from any hockey writer that I have ever read!
"If the Atlanta Thrashers do end up trading Ilya Kovalchuk over the course of the next month or so – and with every passing day it looks as though they will – it will set this franchise further back than ever.

It will also go a long way toward proving the collective bargaining agreement was a sham and that we missed a year of hockey for a whole lot of bupkis.

Think about it. Wasn’t the season-long lockout and subsequent CBA supposed to prevent this very thing from happening? Didn’t the league sit out the 2004-05 season so struggling non-traditional hockey markets wouldn’t be forced to trade their superstar players at the primes of their careers? Wasn’t the mere presence of a salary cap supposed to even the playing field for everyone?

Yes and yes. Has it turned out that way? No and no. The reality is there remains a huge division between the have and have-not teams in the NHL, which is a major reason why the Thrashers will almost certainly be forced to deal Kovalchuk prior to the March 3 trade deadline."
Is this a joke? Why not blame the lockout and the current CBA for cancer, WWII and all natural disasters as well?

Consider that prior to the lockout, seven teams had a payroll of $60 million or more, led by Detroit's whopping $77.8 million expenditure.  Conversely, five teams had payrolls of less than $30 million, bottomed out by Nashville's $23.2 million.

Of the high spending teams, all but the Rangers were made the playoffs.  Of the low spending teams, only Nashville made it.  The Predators actually had to play the "money is no object" Red Wings in round one and lost.  Do you think that Nashville felt like they were in a fair fight being on the short end of a near $55 million payroll deficit?

The concept of the NHL's cap was to move the financial structure of the game away from the Yankees-Pirates model of MLB and move it towards the supremely profitable and viable example of the NFL. Was this successful? Without a doubt,YES! 

Ask yourself this: Did anyone believe that the Oakland Raiders had the same chance to get to the Super Bowl as the Colts? No way!  Did they have the same opportunities to become contenders? Yes they did! Can the same be said of teams in Major League Baseball? Negative.  But is is the case in the post-lockout NHL! What would have been an impossibility in 2003/04, came to fruition the last two seasons: A Pittsburgh/Detroit Final.

The Atlanta Thrashers problem is exactly what Campbell does state, but completely ignores the rest of the way through the article:
"...there isn’t a financial system or enforced curbs on spending that can overcome incompetent management and ownership... Who knew? It turns out there’s no CBA in the world that can protect a team from bad drafting and developing, poor player personnel decisions and ownership wars that seem to keep the franchise in a constant state of chaos."
With that statement, he invalidates the entire complaint!

The Thrashers problem, is their ownership, The Spirit Group. They also control Philips Arena and the Atlanta Hawks.  The group wants to own a NBA franchise, and cares little for their NHL entity... and it shows.  One needs to look no further than the recent Forbes Magazine's "The NHL's Best (And Worst) Fans" study.  Based on Atlanta's NHL worst attendance, next to worst local TV ratings and lackluster merchandise sales, they "earned" 29th place of 30 teams!

Honestly, this study is less an indictment of the teams' fans than it is of their management. This club has done little to create a bond with their market. With a new arena, a history that has included megastars like Kovalchuk, Heatley and Hossa, in a town of more than 5 million residents, there has to be a way of interesting 18,000 people in your team, and THAT has been an abject failure.

The lockout and CBA gave them a fair playing field and they have squandered their opportunities.
With all apologies Ken, the lockout and new CBA saved the game. The NHL can't force all teams to be successful at their endeavours, just simply provide them with an environment to be successful.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Power Rankings

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The previous week ranking may seem a little off because we missed a few weeks, but we are back on track! Clearly, the West is best!  San Jose rises to the top. Anaheim, Vancouver and the Isles move up, while the Flames, Bruins and Stars free fall.

1. (7) San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are running on all cylinders and revving their engine, blowing out opponents regularly.  San Jose has won four straight and have not allowed an opponent to score more than twice in a game for the last two weeks.

2. (4) Chicago Blackhawks

Winners in four of their last five, Chicago finds a way to win, even on an “off night.” This team has star and fire power galore.  Rumor has it that they may pursue Kovalchuk, which would heat up an already hot offensive attack.  Yet, the Hawks will go only as far as their goaltending will take them in the post season.

3. (2) Washington Capitals
Washington, now led by “Captain” Ovechkin, have won five in a row, and eight of their last nine and now control the Eastern Conference. Like the Sharks and Hawks, their offense is overpowering.  If their opponent is held to less than four goals…it’s a near automatic win for the Caps.

4. (10) Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres win with defense, but it hasn’t been there for them as of late.  Their recent lapses cost them the top spot in the East, but Buffalo still ranks with the elite.

5. (3) New Jersey Devils
The Devils’ scorers took some time off the past couple of weeks.  In between a pair of shutouts, they even made Martin Brodeur look (gasp) human with three straight defeats!

6. (8) Phoenix Coyotes
After some early struggles in January, Phoenix looks like they are back to form.  The Coyotes continue to thrive despite all the off ice drama that had surrounded the franchise.  Whenever the new ownership situation gets settled, they will have a fantastic on ice product to sell.

7. (11) Colorado Avalanche
The Avs also continue their surprising season.  Many had picked them to finish last in the West, but their rebuilding year has been an instantaneous success.  Colorado has won four in a row even with one of their leaders, Hejduk missing time.  No one is going to want to play this young, energetic crew in the playoffs.

8. (13) Vancouver Canucks
Now that both Sedins are healthy, the Canucks have been playing a revitalized game and it shows in the standings.  Maybe it’s the excitement surrounding the Olympics, maybe they are just finding out how good they can be, but Vancouver certainly looks the part of Canada’s best team.

9. (1) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins ability to play well defensively has seemingly disappeared with the new year, and so has their top ranking.  Even if Crosby and now, Malkin continue to tear it up, the blueliners must figure it out in their own end.  Goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury’s broken finger is not going to help the matter either.

10. (5) Nashville Predators
The Predators have a wealth of talent in net and on the blueline.  They have encountered a mini-slump recently and may be active in dealing some of their riches for some more consistent scoring.

11. (6) Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have been operating in a feast or famine mode since January rolled around.  Part of that centers around Kopitar failure to continue his Oveckin impression, but L.A. is still a dangerous team with a lot of weapons and could be very active at the trade deadline this season.

12. (14) Detroit Red Wings
Despite numerous injuries to key players, the Wings have found ways to stay in the thick of things.  The emergence of Jimmy Howard may signify the end for the on again, off again love affair the city has had with goaltender Chris Osgood.  Even when fully healthy Detroit may no longer be favorites in the West, but they sure could ruin a great regular season for the Sharks or Hawks awfully quick in a first round matchup.

13. (17) Ottawa Senators
After not being able to buy a goal and losing five straight, Ottawa has caught fire and has now won five in a row.  The Sens have been streakier than an Alex Kovalev goal scoring stick, but have been in the mix all season long.

14. (22) New York Islanders

Wonder boy goaltender DiPietro has sparkled in his return from injury.  The Isles now have a glut of talent in net.  Garth Snow’s evil plan seems to have worked. They are getting contributions from everyone.  They have won five of their last six, losing only to Pittsburgh in their current streak, which includes impressive wins over the likes of Detroit, New Jersey and Buffalo.

15. (9) Calgary Flames
As their captain goes, so go the Flames.  Iginla is mired in a goal scoring draught and Calgary has sunk like a stone.  Losers in six straight and in eight of their last nine, the Sutters have been searching through all of Jarome’s old sticks to find the one with all the goals in it.

16. (24) New York Rangers

The Rangers seemed to figure things out early in the new year, but recent inconsistencies have pushed the Blueshirts down a bit.  Sandwiched around a pair of high output offensive games against Montreal and Tampa, the Rangers scored exactly one goal over a four game stretch, which obviously resulted in three shutout losses. Queue the Lone Ranger theme, and let us see if Gaborik can ride to the rescue.

17. (28) Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have to love 2010.  Someone must have told them that they actually are a good team, because they sure have played like it again.  Ray Emery is back, and so is their confidence.  Winners in six of eight, Laviolette and Co. hope to keep things rolling.

18. (27) Anaheim Ducks
Who turned the lights on in Anaheim? After a horrid start, and despite recent injuries to Finnish stars Koivu and Selanne, the Duck have put on a show in January.  Winners in seven of their last nine games, Anaheim has made significant progress in capturing a playoff bid.

19. (12) Boston Bruins
The Bruins won a dramatic contest in the season’s Winter Classic, but it has been all downhill since for Boston.  The team has won just three games this month including the aforementioned made for TV special. The B’s offense has let them down again.  Injuries and the ghost of Phil Kessel loom large.

20. (15) Minnesota Wild
If Minnesota could just clone Guillaume Latendresse they would rarely lose.  However, after a four game win streak, the Wild have suffered through a losing streak to match. After heating up, teams in the West seem to dial it up a notch when playing the boys in the Christmas outfits.

21. (16) Atlanta Thrashers
The Thrashers were mired in a serious slump to close out December, but have been playing win one; lose one for most of January.  The fate of the franchise’s lone superstar seems to overshadow anything that the team does on the ice.  Will he stay or will he go? Everyone wants to know.

22. (21) St. Louis Blues
The Blues have been streaky and don’t seem to have the magic of last year’s squad.  Paul Kariya has re-emerged and has become the subject of trade talk once again, but what will he fetch in return?

23. (19) Florida Panthers
Vokoun has continued his masterful season, but the Panther’s pop gun offense has let him down far too often this season.  They show signs of breaking out now and then, but seem to fall short when it seems they could make an extended run.

24. (26) Montreal Canadiens
Montreal has won only two games in the month of January, but lucky for them a few other teams have been even worse. This is not the season Bob Gainey had hoped for.

25. (18) Dallas Stars

The Stars have played abysmally in the defensive zone and have nearly dropped off the map in the West.  The team looks like they have had it with Marty Turco and will probably look to move him at the deadline.

26. (29) Tampa Bay Lightning
No longer mired in a long losing streak Tampa seems to get excited to play the elite teams, beating New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Washington this month, but then they fall asleep again when non-marquee clubs roll in and blow them out.

27. (25) Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus had a modest win streak give theirs a little hope, but their leaky D just is too much for Rick Nash and friends to overcome on a nightly basis.

28. (23) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs fooled us all, making many think that they finally put it all together.  January has exposed them once again for the up and down bunch that they are.

29. (30) Carolina Hurricanes
The Canes named Eric Staal captain and his offensive game has resurfaced.  After a nightmarish first half, Carolina has begun their climb which will eventually lead them out of the basement.

30. (20) Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton’s fire sale will begin after the Olympic break.  Some untimely injuries have sucked the life out of this club and right now, the Oilers flat out stink.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Malkin, Not Jagr, Back on Track?

A little more than a week ago, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ron Cook, stirred up a little controversy when he suggested that Malkin's slump and corresponding self-blame and body language earned Malkin more than a bit of criticism and a comparison to the last days of Jaromir Jagr's tenure in Pittsburgh.

After scoring a hat trick against the Islanders, and notching his fourth goal in two games, it seems Mr. Cook, that Evgeni Malkin's "sulking" is over.  Even though Cook suggested that Malkin could learn a thing or two from Sidney Crosby regarding dealing with adversity. it was Crosby, who figured in on all six Penguins' goals last night that was talking about Malkins' abilities after the game.
"Those two goals are great examples of his shot," Crosby said of Malkin. "He was ready to let it go. Those are tough for goalies to stop when he sets up like that. When he got his chances to let it rip, he buried it." -

When asked about his own performance, Malkin spoke about his team:
"But I'm not thinking about my goals," Malkin said. "I'm just want to play my game and help my linemates."

Yes Malkin was in a slump and yes, he probably took it too hard, but he is far from Jagr-esque in his demeanor and attitude.  His head is in the right place. Although it is not yet clear that Malkin has indeed returned to form, what is clear is that Malkin places more pressure on himself than anyone else could.

It's easy to assume that a player is sulking by attempting to interpret body language and read the "signs" of frustration during games, particularly when that player cannot yet fully convey their thoughts due to a still remaining language barrier.  Yet, we all know what happens when one assumes...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If Kovalchuk Must Be Traded: Thoughts for Don Waddell

The closer we get to the NHL trade deadline, the more we hear about the many aspects of the impact a trade of one of the leagues impact stars, Ilya Kovalchuk.

Various outlets have speculated on, if he is traded: 1.) What teams would be interested/have the resources to do so? 2.) What the return to the Thrashers may involve. 3.) What will have to the already struggling franchise when their lone superstar is gone?

However, rather than try to breakdown all the unknown variables, let us take a look at a few parts to the equation.

Although Kovalchuk has expressed a desire to stay, and the Thrashers' Don Waddell will, no doubt, work feverishly to keep him, there is no way that Atlanta will pay him the "max salary" that his agent is reportedly seeking. Yet, I find it unlikely that any team will pay him what amount to Ovechkin-type money because, let's face it, as good as Kovalchuk is, he isn't Ovechkin.

Which leads us to this: If a deal cannot be reached with Atlanta, no team has ever received market value for a "rental player." Atlanta with their 29th ranked attendance, non-existent local television ratings and nose-diving merchandise sales, simple could not survive receiving less than market value.

We may be wrong, but it is believed that it would not violate the current CBA for Atlanta to allow teams to negotiate with Kovalchuk's agent regarding an extension prior to trading for him.  If a team could reach an agreement in principle with Kovachuk, he would no longer be a rental player and the Thrasher then could ask for full market value in return. 

In this scenario, everyone wins including the Thrashers, as the organization could then look to their future centered around the impressive Evander Kane and the bounty collected in the Kovalchuk trade.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

World Junior Championship Success To Boost Olympic Hopes?

The U.S. won a New Years Day battle with Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship.

As USA Today's Kevin Allen put it:
Years ago after a U.S. team was humbled by a lesser light at the World Junior Championships, the late American hockey legend Bob Johnson said to me, frustration dripping from his voice, "You would think that in a country of 280 million people we could find one kid who could play some goal for us."

When Washington Capitals prospect John Carlson scored the overtime game-winner to beat Canada 6-5 to win the gold medal Tuesday in Saskatoon I thought about how much Badger Bob would have loved watching this American team perform...

Johnson always believed that America could be a hockey country, with the ability to develop players who would arrive at international tournaments with the same swagger and confidence that Canadian players have always displayed.
The 2010 Olympic Games are in Vancouver, but will the US' WJHC gold medal increase the swagger of the US Olympic team?

Consider the similarities.  The WJHC team was ranked no better than fourth behind Canada, Russia and Sweden.  The Olympic squad will be expected to finish no better than fourth behind those same countries.  Like the Junior team, the Olympians will have a roster bolstered by foreign-born, former NHL player's offspring with US citizenship.

Nevertheless, don't expect too much from this youthful American Olympic team.  There is talent, grit and depth such that has rarely been seen in prior Olympic squads, but the US is up against some extremely talented competition in 2010.

USA Hockey fans, congratulate the Junior team and cheer on your Olympians, but temper your hopes for Miracle on Ice II this Olympiad.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome Back Hockey Plumber!

Well, we have been on Holiday hiatus long enough.  The Hockey Plumber was in attendance at the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic, and the event was spectacular.

I am sure that most of you either were there, or watched on NBC and will agree that the game was exciting enough on its own merit.  The Bruins fans were rallied by Denis Leary and friends just in the nick of time as the home team scored to tie it up and then won in overtime.

Having never attended an organized outdoor game before, like myself, I think that most of the people in attendance were surprised at the quiet of the game.  In the open air you could hardly hear a whistle, or even the clanking of sticks on a face-off, let alone the rattle of a pass off a stick blade or a shot being fired on net. 

Therefore, the 36,000 plus witnesses enjoyed the contest in silence with only the roar of the crowd, or the interruption of the festivities to guide us!  It was a grand event in a historic venue that I will not soon forget.

Sorry for the delay, but we are back!!!