yankee hockey

MINE GOES TO ELEVEN

Posted in New Jersey, Retired Jerseys, Washington, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 31, 2008

The Capital’s retired Mike Gartner’s number eleven this week. He had a wonderful career, putting up over 1300 points, and many of his best years came in Washington. No one would ever say that Gartner doesn’t deserve accolades. In fact, I think he deserved a ton of accolades during his career, but he was often overlooked, even in seasons where he was scoring 50+ goals. He never once won an NHL award, never once a Stanley Cup, he was never even on a conference winning team. One of the tragedies of expansion is that many talented, deserving players, never went on to post season success thanks to the large number of teams they now had to contend against. It’s hard to see a player  who could score a hundred points in a season not even playing in a Stanley Cup game during the Original Six era, but with more teams comes more challenges.

Anyway, like I said, I would never say that Gartner doesn’t deserve accolades, but this seems to me to be yet another of the pointless retirements that we’ve seen this year. It used to be that you didn’t retire a number unless the player who wore it was not just (or even) exceptional, but a cornerstone of your team. Number retirements should be reserved for players who didn’t just shined in your arena, but defined an era. Gartner was probably the best player on the Capitals teams he played for, but there was nothing about his stay there that was especially significant.

You have to ask yourself: Was Mike Gartner a different player on the Caps then he was for the Rangers, or the Leafs? He was a role player, granted a very talented one with a knack for scoring a lot of points, but he never even captained a team!

Speaking of retired numbers, I was watching a game in St Louis today and there were six numbers in the rafters. What’s that about? Have they really had that many great players in there somewhat short history? I really feel that the only numbers retired this year that really deserve it are Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson in Chicago, and Trevor Linden in Vancouver. Those numbers represent players who weren’t always the best, even on their own teams, but who were leaders, definers, and monuments to their teams and their cities.

Or maybe I’m just really pissed off because the banner Washington lifted into the rafters is the ugliest creation in sports history!

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

The Brodeur-less Devils keep on a-winning without their all world goalie. It’s a testament to a team that competes every year. Maybe now people will stop giving as much credit to Brodeur. Just think about when he gets back how good this team will really be. They may well win the Atlantic. The Rangers are struggling, they’re already ahead of the Penguins, and Philly might give them some trouble, but with Brodeur in net who gives a damn about Philly. In fact, with Brodeur in net they have to be mentioned in any discussion about who will be playing for the Stanley Cup.

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THE LOWER DEPTHS

Posted in echl, stockton thunder, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 29, 2008

I went to my second ECHL game on Saturday (Stockton Thunder remember?), and it was as uneventful as ever. These are games to go to because they cost less then $25 for good seats. Don’t get me wrong, I do cheer for the home team, but watching them constantly lose, and they do constantly lose, doesn’t have the same emotionally draining aspect that I get from paying attention to the NHL. The friend who went with me asked at one point if we had a team in Sacramento if I’d start buying tickets for those games and leave the Thunder behind… uh, yeah. The Thunder lost to the Victoria Salmon Kings 4-1 in a completely listless game. The worst part is that I think, because of his blank white mask, that the Victoria goaltender must have just been called up from some even more minor league.  These guys never fail to remind you that they aren’t good enough for the NHL. If you’re lucky you get a few guys who are good enough for AHL, but unfortunately they quickly get called up. Still, it’s fun to watch, and it’s not like I spent half of my savings to get seats.

The only significant event Satuday was it was the first time I heard that the Fresno Falcons (another Central Valley ECHL team) had folded. It officially happened on the 22nd, but since I rarely spent my time listening to ECHL news I hadn’t been aware of it.

I was very surprised… not that an ECHL has folded because that happens all the time, but because it had happened in the middle of the season to one of the most tenured team in the league. The Fresno Falcons have been playing hockey since 1947! They’ve been in a lot of different leagues, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some years in between there where they may not have played for any leagues, but they’ve still existed for 61 years. That any hockey team, let alone a minor league one, has lasted that long in a city as hot and, well, awful as Fresno is as big as of a surprise as they sudden folding.

This must be causing league officials a little bit of panic. Upon checking the tickets I have for games later in the year I found one against the Falcons. They aren’t even half way through the season, so there’s going to be a lot of shuffling they’ll have to do, and quickly. With organizations like the NHL there are sure to be safe guards against this type of thing, perhaps insurance to make sure that a team could at least make it through the rest of the season, and they’re likely to be able to take over management for a team until an owner can be found. But in a place like the ECHL there is very little room for error. The owner of the Falcons, who also owns the minor league baseball and soccer teams in Fresno, anticipated a $500,0o0 loss if the team played out the season, not much for a pro team, but quite a bit when that represents a quarter of the teams worth.

There are more important issues at hand then those faced by the league, there are the issues faced by the players. There is no severance package when your team folds. More significantly, many of the players are foreign born and here on work visas, which means no unemployment, and not a lot of rights. These guys were here to play hockey, and they figured they’d at least be playing hockey until April. They have bills, they have debt, and they have families to feed. They don’t have a lot of opportunity to make money, they’re hockey players, it’s probably not so easy for them to go to the Walmart for work. The league has said that they are now considered free agents, but the teams in the ECHL are already full. Sure, there are some players who may be exceptional enough to get a contract, but there are more then just a few guys on a team, and many of these guys will not have the chance to get another playing job.

This whole situation is another reason why the NHL puts out a better product; you can trust that it will be there. There was that year when the strike destroyed the entire season, and it was awful, but you knew it would be back. The NHL is just too important, and too loved, to be gone forever. I was just thinking the other day about players like Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, and Mike Modano have all spent time playing on teams that don’t exist anymore, but they didn’t disappear from the league entirely. But now the Fresno Falcons are gone, possibly forever, and that makes it harder to believe in any minor league team. The Thunder do ok, the arena only holds like 9,000 people and they probably average about 5,000 tickets sold per game this year. The thing is, they always are losers, and their home record is dismal. Eventually, the curiosity of hockey in Stockton California will wear off and I might lose my minor league team. Well, maybe I’ll be lucky and they’ll move to Sacramento. I’d say that I might be lucky and the Falcons would move here, but we don’t have an arena for them to play in, so until that happens (read: never) I have to hope that the only hockey I don’t have to drive two hours to see stays put.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Will Mats Sundin’s arrival in Vancouver this week inspire the Canucks to win some games? Who will finally beat Chicago? Who will finally beat the Caps at home? Is Ovechkin poised to take over the lead in goals? With Brassard out, who’s the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year? Who’s going to leave Ottawa with the IIHF World Junior crown?

AROUND THE NHL IN 369 DAYS

Posted in predictions by yankhockey on December 26, 2008

Well folks, the end of the year is upon us, so I’d like to take a moment to look ahead and see what hockey events I’ll be looking forward to in 2009.

I’m looking forward to the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. These outdoor games are so awesome, and it’s my new goal in life to attend one before I die. There’s something about seeing hockey players in the open air, their breath misting, snow falling, 30,000 people watching the game under blankets. It’s a sight to behold and possibly the greatest idea the NHL has had in some time. I hope they can manage to play at least one game in every climate that will permit it.

I’m looking forward to the announcement of the 2010 Olympic rosters, both US and Canadian. For the US I’m interested in seeing if they’ll fill the team up with vets or young players. I hope it’s young players because there is such a good crop of good US-born players under 30 right now I’d rather see them get the spots then the same older players who continue to disappoint every Olympics. As for Canada’s team, there are so many to choose from it’s always fun to see what direction they will take the team each year. Sweden is likely to still be the powerhouse, though Finland and the Czech Republic always loom large. Who knows, 2010 could be the year Russia gets its gold back.

I’m looking forward to the trading deadline. Not so much because I’m a fan of trades, but I like all the buzz from hockey fans as the deadline comes closer. Will your team manage to trade their fluff for an all-star? Will there be a lot of prospects moved, or draft picks? Is there a difference maker to be had? The big names this year are Marian Gaborik and Jay Bouwmeister. It’s possible neither of them will be traded. It’s also possible that some big name star will be the surprise pick-up from some team. I wonder if Sean Avery will be picked up by then?

I’m looking forward to the All-Star game. Nah, just kidding. Well, NHL All-Star games are ok, certainly better then the NFL version, but the game has no drama and I love hockey drama. Maybe if there was a pugilism event during the superskills competition.

I’m looking forward to PLAY-OFFS! Nothing, and I mean nothing is as exciting as NHL play-offs. The skill, the effort, the do-or-die mentality that all the best teams have. I remember one year someone, Brendan Shanahan I think, played on a broken leg! In the Stanley Cup play-offs! I love the beards, and try to grow my own. I love the determination that I just never see in other sports. If you’re an NHL player in the Stanley Cup play-offs and you haven’t been injured, then you’ve been sitting in the press box.

I’m looking forward to draft day. This should be a good crop of prospects if what I’ve heard is correct. NHL draft day is much more fun then other sports’ drafts. There’s an air of mystery because so many players are either a)from some podunk Canadian town that’s only accessible for three months in summer, or b) from some podunk European town that only a select few teams are even aware exists. There’s always some surprise on draft day, but the most fun is the surprises after draft day. A lot of great NHL players have been taken very late in the draft. 209 players were taken before Henrik Zetterberg, and 170 before Luc Robitaille, who would only go on to become the highest scoring left winger ever. Who’s gonna be the diamond in the rough this year?

And, of course, I’m looking forward to next season. Which team will be up? Which team will be down? Which team will surprise the pundits? Will the defending Stanley Cup champions start out strong? Mostly, what will I be doing all summer without hockey? Probably what I always do… think about hockey.

And so ends 2008, a year we’ll look back on and remember fondly, for she has given us some wonderful hockey, wonderful stories, and memorable moments.

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THE ICE STORM

Posted in san jose, Vancouver, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 24, 2008

I went to my first (and likely only, these games are expensive) NHL game last night in San Jose. Got home really late so I didn’t have time to gather all my thoughts for a post, so another late post today. The Sharks were playing the Canucks, and like practically every Sharks/Canucks game I go to, the Canucks were embarrassed on the ice. Last night, 5-0 Sharks, the last pair of goals coming within the first minute of the second period.

Going to games always brings my entire hockey history into mind. In 1996, while I was still in high school, I had a teacher whose name was Dave Beauvais. I loved having him as a teacher, there was something very honest about him. He taught history, but he didn’t teach history from books, he taught the kind of un-PC history that’s all the rage these days. He was from Detroit, and he was a huge Red Wings fan. No matter where he went he always carried around a full Paul Coffey mug (serious). Since I found myself wanting to emulate the man I began to pay attention to hockey.

Even though he influenced me to give it a try, falling in love with hockey was all me. Before I found hockey I was a fan of baseball and that was about it. I would watch football, but I never really liked it much, and I’ve never liked basketball. I did like soccer, but we live in the States and finding soccer on television outside of the World Cup is nearly impossible.

Hockey instantly drew me in. It’s the only game where you have to be tough and nimble at the same time. It’s the only game where intangibles could actually be measured in things like speed, grit, ability to fight, ability to pester. It’s the only game where a penalty is equally exciting regardless of which team you are rooting for. Hockey is an amazing game that too many people miss out on because they “can’t see the puck”, which is really sad because within a few games following the puck becomes natural, especially now with HD games where the puck is big enough to eat a Denny’s Grand Slam off of. Hockey is power and finesse, and that dichotomy kept me coming back for more.

The very first NHL game I went to was also a Sharks/Canucks game. I don’t think there was any reason for it, I think it just happened to be a weekend my father was able to take me to a game. It was 1997, both teams were pretty sad that year. The Sharks were fielding a team consisting of a talented Jeff Friesen, big Owen Nolan coming off a decent first year with the team, and a  young Patrick Marleau, not yet the leader he would become, they had some decent defense in the guise of Marcus Ragnarsson, Mike Rathje, and Al Iafrate. The Canucks had the makings of a powerhouse, but not the finish. They had just picked up Mark Messier, Pavel Bure was absolutely lighting it up, they had Alexander Mogilny, Markus Naslund, Jyrkki Lumme, a high scoring rookie defenseman Mattias Ohlund, Todd Bertuzzi, Trevor Linden was still on the team, that’s a line-up that should have scared the pants off of everyone, but going into their 19th game of the season they had only won three games.

I believe the goaltenders were Mike Vernon for the Sharks, and Garth Snow for the Canucks, not exactly a pair of Vezina winners. The game ended 5-2 Canucks (they weren’t shut-out? Amazing!). I don’t remember many details of the game, but I do remember Pavel Bure playing like nothing I’d ever seen. I hadn’t yet picked a team to root for because I didn’t have any roots with a team, but watching Bure skate made me want to root for him, so I started cheering for the Canucks despite their dismal play for the next few years. Then, when he was gone, it was too late and I stuck with them.

The first hockey game I ever went to was in Salt Lake City. I went with my father when I was about seven to see the Golden Eagles, who were an IHL team at the time. I don’t remember much about the game, but I do remember enjoying the experience much more then the times we went to see the Jazz play. I’m sure I was too young to really appreciate the game, but I have no doubt that I was fascinated with the men flying up and down the ice at high speeds, the thunder of the boards when there is a big hit, the sound of puck hitting the crossbar. It’s the sounds that strike me the most when I go see a game live. I remember once my father and I sat near the glass. The sounds there were so intense it was incredible. I felt really drawn into the game, like I was a part of it. Maybe that is true in basketball too, but it certainly never happens in football or baseball. They need to find a way to pick up those sounds better for television. Nothing says hockey like a blade on ice, or the strike of a slapshot. When you are up close and you can hear the grunt of players hitting each other, and calls for passes, well that’s even better.

Hockey is a special kind of game whose exclusivity makes it so much more fun to be a fan. Whenever I meet someone from a city that has a hockey team I always ask them if they follow their team. If they say yes then I know we’ll be fast friends. Being a hockey fan is like being part of a cult, fans of other sports don’t trust us, no one wants to talk to us, we all gather in a big meeting place and practice rituals no one else understands, and we’ve always got each other’s backs (unless you’re an Edmonton fan in Calgary).

As for the game last night, well, as a Canucks fan I don’t have much to say about it other then I really need to stop attending those games. Maybe if I attend some Minnesota games the Sharks can start shutting out a division rival.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

It’s holiday time so I’d like to wish a Happy Channukah (or as I like to call it, Jewish Memorial Day) to my Jewish readers. Merry Christmas to my Christian readers, along with all you non-Christians celebrating the season. A Happy Kwanza to my readers looking to connect with the traditions of Africa. And a late Joyful Eid al-Adha to my Muslim readers (thought I’d forget about you huh?). So many merries, happies, and goodies to you all.

NOT-SO-HARDY BOYS

Posted in Chicago, Minnesota, Players, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 22, 2008

Don’t worry readers, I haven’t forgotten about you. Sorry about today’s entry being late in coming, but events conspired last night to prevent me from getting this article up until now. I hope you still enjoy it, and expect an extra long one on Wednesday.

The oft-injured star is a common theme in hockey. Whether it’s greats of years past like Bobby Orr, not quite so past like Eric Lindros, or very present like the subjects of today’s entry.

There are a number of NHL players who make a huge difference on the ice… if they could be healthy enough to actually play. None are more enigmatic then Marian Gaborik who finally came back from injury this like week and immediately started racking up points. Gaborik is a very special player this year because he has gigantic scoring potential, and he’s going to be a free agent at the end of this year. Though he hasn’t said anything publicly, it’s pretty well known that Gaborik wants out of Minnesota. That really shouldn’t be a problem since there’s not a team in the league that wouldn’t love to add a forward with the scoring touch of Gaborik, except that he’s never been able to stay healthy. The price Minnesota asks in return for Gaborik is likely to be steep. They really don’t care whether he stays or goes this year. They’ll more then likely be in the playoffs, and they know he doesn’t dare play anything but his A-game in fear of not getting a large contract next year. Either way he’ll be helping Minnesota make it deep into the playoffs (they hope). But what team will be willing to fork over a large chunk of players, prospects, and probably draft picks, for a player that hasn’t shown any ability to stay on the ice for an extended period of time? Well, there’s no doubt in my mind that someone will try.

Gaborik is a very good player, and will probably get a long term deal from some team willing to ignore the past. He’s an enticing player much like Peter Forsberg continues to be. The difference is that Forsberg had many very productive healthy years before his foot fell off and had to be put back on with a hot glue gun. Gaborik has been injured annually pretty much since he came into the league, and certainly every year since he’s become a star. If there was any one player I expected to have a career shortened because of injury it would be Gaborik.

Meanwhile on the other side of the ice in Vancouver, defenseman Sami Salo is injured for the fourth time this year! This guy is snake bitten… literally. While still playing for Ottawa, he was bitten by the poisonous snake in Finland and had to miss a bunch of games. It’s crazy how many times this guy gets injured. In fact, this latest injury came during the first game back from his previous injury. Salo used to be one of the best defensemen in the league. His shot was so powerful the called him the “Finnish MacInnis” after Al MacInnis whose shot routinely was over 100MPH. Now he struggles to be an effective blueliner on a team that really needs him to be a productive blueliner. The long string of injuries he’s suffered has really put a kabosh on a what was a very fine career. Like Gaborik, I expect the end of his career to be injury driven.

In other news injury-ridden forward Martin Havlat, who the phrase “missed most of the season due to injury” was coined for has so far… played the entire season! That’s great news for a forward who hasn’t been described as 100% once in his career. If he can actually stay healthy we might be able to finally see him at his best. He’s got the potential to be one of the top scorers in the league, if he could only get a good number of games under his belt. So we here at Yankee Hockey wish him best of luck with that.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Was two losses last week the beginning of the Sharks’ downfall? Will Phoenix or Los Angeles sneak into a play-off spot? Will the Rangers make a horrible deal to over-compensate for losing Mats Sundin? Is Chicago poised to take over top spot in the Central Division?

WEEKEND UPDATE

Posted in NY Rangers, Vancouver, Weekend Update by yankhockey on December 22, 2008

This week there was one thing that nearly every hockey personality on the planet got wrong: Sundin going to New York. Hell, even hockey analysts in Toronto thought so. But not a bunch of stalwart ‘Nucks fans. Vancouver knew what was what, even while the rest of us were sure he was one his way to Broadway.

There is a bit of a bias in the United States. We think everyone would rather be in New York, given the chance. The Yankees and Knicks play a part in that bias with their ability to sign nearly anyone for nearly any price. The Rangers have also been that team in the past, and are again to a small extant this year. It’s nice to see the West Coast getting some respect, and it’s nice to see New York miss out for once.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Posted in Detroit, Players, san jose, Surprise of the Week, Vancouver by yankhockey on December 19, 2008

The Sundin saga ended yesterday with a bit of a twist… Vancouver. I found myself a little surprised he didn’t end up back Toronto, especially after Brian Burke became their GM. But once he limited his choices to Vancouver and New York I was sure he’d be playing home games at Madison Square Gardens in no time. And I wasn’t the only one either, many analysts – paid analysts – thought so too.

The thing is that the contract that Sundin signed in Vancouver is very similar to the one offered him in the pre-season. $10 million, pro-rated to almost 7 for the remainder of the season. The only difference is the length, one year instead of the original two. He could have signed that contract months ago. Even if he didn’t want play until late December, as is currently the plan, he still could have negotiated a similar deal before the season started, it certainly didn’t merit months and months of speculation.

That’s really the key to all of this; the time all of us hockey fans and writers have spent thinking about Sundin. Why was that all necessary? What, exactly was Mats waiting for. You have to speculate that Mats really didn’t want to end up in Vancouver, he wanted to play in New York or probably Toronto. If he had wanted to play for Vancouver he’d have signed a contract before today. New York couldn’t give him the contract he wanted, Toronto may not have even tendered him one. In the end, and despite his best efforts, the money ended up being his preference.

So what does this mean for the Canucks? Well, the team is currently sitting in a tie for first with Calgary with the line-up they have. Even without Luongo they are playing decently. This means that they have to make room on their team for a guy who hasn’t played in like 9 months. It means they have to take one of their players off the roster so that a man who couldn’t sign their contract until yesterday can maybe make some sort of difference in their season. Don’t get me wrong, Sundin is a great player, one of the best of his generation, but is that enough of an excuse to start moving players around on a successful team? That’s the same question being asked in New York, who would have to move a player of consequence to make room for Sundin.

So who’s going to be moved? Will it be Taylor Pyatt who has been unable to have the type of season he shared with the Sedin Twins during his first year on the team? Will it be team hopping Steve Bernier who has yet to become the goal scorer everyone thought he would be? Will it be young forwards Jannick Hansen or Mason Raymond who are talented and exciting, not to mention near the top in team scoring, but can still be moved down to the AHL without much problem? Knowing coach Alain Vigneault, it could go any way. Likely Sundin will begin playing with his old linemate from Toronto Kyle Wellwood and one of either Raymond or Bernier. But Vigneault loves to line juggle and Sundin may see time with the Twins, Demitra, maybe even Ryan Kesler.

Sundin can still score, and he’s still a leader. Vancouver will still get some production from him. The bigger question is will the fans forgive him for what he’s put them through. Well, they will if he leads them deep into the post season. But if he gets off to a slow start, or ruins the team chemistry, then he’ll be the next Messier in Vancouver.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

So the Sharks get off to the best start in the history of the league and then proceed to lose two straight. Their loss in Columbus isn’t that surprising. Columbus is a better team then people give them credit for, and they ended up losing in overtime during a well played game on both sides. But HOLY SHIT did they get destroyed by Detroit. If any game was ever a “message” game, it was this one. The defending champions and second best team in the league based on record meeting the young upstarts. Detroit came out and said “Not in my house!” 6-0. It wasn’t even close. The Sharks got utterly destroyed. This may have been a preview of the post-season, and Detroit showed they can beat anyone.

CAPTAIN BLOOD

Posted in Retired Jerseys, Vancouver, Veterans, Washington, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 17, 2008

I would really like to delay this post, maybe skip today and do a special Thursday post, or wait until Friday’s, but with the Mats Sundin soap opera supposedly ending on Thursday there is just too much about to happen to delay today’s post.

I want to delay today’s post because the topic hasn’t occurred yet. Unless you’re reading it after seven on Wednesday the 16th of December in which case it’s certainly already happened, but not for me now in the present… Ok, temporal mechanics make everything more complicated so I’ll just stick with it hasn’t happened yet.

Tonight, before the Canucks take on the Oilers in Vancouver, the most worthwhile event to take place so far this year in the NHL will occur; the retirement of Trevor Linden’s number 16. For those of you unfamiliar with Trevor Linden he is possibly the most significant player in Canucks’ history. Yes, I’m aware of Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny, Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Kirk McLean. They even had Mark Messier for a moment. But none of those players can hold a candle to Trevor Linden in Vancouver.

Trevor Linden was the second overall pick (after Mike Modano) in the 1988 draft. He quickly won the hearts of the fans with his skill, but more importantly, his heart and spirit for the game. At age 21 he was made their captain. In 1994, thanks in large part to his stellar post-season play and leadership, he brought the Canucks to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the NY Rangers 3-2 (both goals being Linden’s). He gained the nickname “Captain Canuck”.

A few years down the road there were problems for Linden in Vancouver. New coach Mike Keenan didn’t take to his presence and made things difficult for Linden. Then they brought in Mark Messier, who only a few years earlier had been instrumental in beating the Canucks for the Cup. Linden was forced to give up his ‘C’ to Messier, an act many fans saw as sacrilege. Then came what is still known in Vancouver as “The Trade”.

In 1998 Linden was sent to the Islanders for Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe. This was a different Canucks team now. Bure wanted out, Linden and McClean were gone, and the shuffle would cost the Canucks in the short run. After a bunch of disappointing seasons finishing out of the playoff race, Keenan was out, Marc Crawford was in, and Markus Naslund was captain. Meanwhile Linden found himself captain again in Long Island, where he once again was a fan favorite. Still, his heart belonged to Vancouver, a city he adopted as his own. The charities he began there he continued to run, he continued to visit hospitals there, make appearances where he was needed like a super-hero. To Vancouver fans he was still a member of their family, still Captain Canuck.

The Canucks were doing well again, with Naslund-Bertuzzi-Brendan Morrison making up the highest scoring front line in the league, the West Coast Express. In 2001 Linden was playing for the Washington Capitals after coming over from the Montreal Canadiens, four teams in only four years. Having trouble finding his scoring touch in Washington, the Capitals were happy to trade Linden, something the Canucks took advantage of. Canucks GM Brian Burke sent a first round pick toward Washington, and in exchange got Linden back in Vancouver. To say Canucks fans were excited would have been an understatement, Captain Canuck was back in town!

Back in Vancouver his scoring touch returned as he began to light the lamp with more regularity then he had in years. You could tell he was playing the game where he was meant to be. He played five more seasons with the Canucks, setting records for goals scored, assists, games played, and playoff points. The highlight of his return may have been game seven of the 2006-2007 playoffs against Dallas. In a hard fought and stingy series (Turco shut out the Canucks three times) Linden came out skating in that seventh game, scoring two goals, including the series clincher. He was the hero of the Canucks, as if the fans needed to be reminded.

After a 2007-2008 season where he put up small numbers, and which everyone agrees he was under-utilized, Linden retired, announcing it in the dignified and humble manner he had always held himself during all the years he was playing.

Linden was more then just Captain Canuck, he was respected league wide. He was made president of the NHLPA, a title he held for nine years which still hasn’t been refilled. He has gotten accolades not just in Vancouver but around the league for his charitable work. There isn’t a player or coach in the league (well, maybe Mike Keenan) who wouldn’t praise him on his leadership abilities, not to mention his hockey skills.

Linden loved the game. That’s what he brought more then anything. Every team he played for he got outscored by other players. While Bure was scoring 60 goals, he was scoring 30, while he was struggling in Washington, Peter Bondra was scoring 81 points. Still, regardless of where he played people loved and respected him. The reason is he played with heart. You hear that a lot, especially from hockey fans. You want a guy who plays with heart. You wanna know why Boston traded Joe Thornton? He didn’t play with heart. You wanna know why gritty guys who are missing teeth and can’t score a goal to save their lives get played over talented AHL scorers? They play with heart. Heart is a good commodity to have in the NHL and Linden had it in bunches.

Vancouver isn’t a team with a lot of history. If you don’t count their very sad 7th Man promotion (which has already been discontinued for reasons of stupidity), they only have one number retired; Stan “The Steamer” Smyl. Of all the players that have played for them, other then Linden, only two other names come to mind for possible future  honors; The Russian Rocket Pavel Bure, and former scapegoat and holder of all their points records Markus Naslund. Linden deserves the honor more then either of them. More even then Stan Smyl, though Smyl certainly should be up there. Linden was the very spirit of Vancouver hockey, even when he was no longer playing in Vancouver. And don’t think that just because he is retired that that has changed at all. Vancouver fans still hold a torch for this guy, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I’d go so far as to say that Linden is to Vancouver what Gordie Howe is to Detroit, or Bobby Orr is to Chicago. Linden is that guy in Vancouver, the guy you tell your kids you saw play, the guy whose jersey you still wear long after they are gone, the guy who you think of when you think of hockey. This jersey retirement isn’t a promotion, it isn’t a gimmick, it’s exactly what the entire process of retiring numbers was created for, honoring those who have done what no other player could ever do again. So congratulations Trevor Linden, and Vancouver fans everywhere.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

I’m sorry all your loyal Canadian (not Canadiens) fans out there. This argument has to stop, and I know you won’t like the result. Alexander Ovechkin is better then Sydney Crosby. I mean, like, WAY better. Crosby is a phenomenal player, he’s incredible. He reminds me very much of the man he used to play with, Mario Lemiuex, who is certainly in the top ten all time. But Ovechkin is just incredible. He’s more exciting, he’s more dynamic, he’s a bloody powder keg that can skate like Bobby Orr, shoot like Joe Sakic, hit like Scott Stevens, and stun you like a modern day Maurice Richard. I watched his team play the Islanders last night. He scored a gimme goal earlier in the game which looked like it would be the game winner until the Islanders tied it up late. Then in overtime he pushed his way just below the face-off dot and let loose a powerful and sneaky backhand that just went off the post and out. “Wow,” I thought, “What a play.” Then, less then a minute later he was back in. He slid into the middle and snapped a shot into the upper part of the net I just couldn’t believe. And the scary part is… he does that kind of stuff all the time! It’s not lucky or a fluke, he’s good. He’s really good. I’m willing to put forth that he is the best. Sorry Crosby, you’re just not that good.

GONE WITH THE WIND

Posted in Dallas, Players, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 15, 2008

UPDATE: Ok, I apparently misunderstood or misread something along the line because Dallas is not in fact cutting Avery, but rather paying him to sit on his ass until they can trade him. This may be more economical in the end since they will not be required to pay for a large contract buy-out, but they will probably still have to pay a large chunk of his salary to whomever they trade him to. This also means that his timetable for returning is much shorter then I anticipated. It’s unlikely Dallas will want to pay him for a month or more, so likely there is already some team out there who has expressed interest in Avery already. Now back to your originally scheduled entry.

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There’s really not much to talk about in Dallas where Sean Avery will be doing the Texas Two-Step to the nearest border state. Anyone who has payed any attention to the story at all has been well aware the Dallas would relieve themselves of Avery the first chance they got regardless of money owed. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention to the story, even if you had only been exposed to it on that first day when he was suspended, to hear the Stars owner speak of Avery, you got the feeling the locker room door in Dallas would be closed to him from then on.

At that point the question on everyone’s mind was not would Avery play for Dallas again, it was would Avery play for anyone again? Avery has been a good player, a productive player, and even a fan favorite in the past. But the reason we call it the past is that it has past, and Avery today, and probably tomorrow, has become a pariah. It wasn’t hard to see it coming. Avery’s personality combined with his on and off the ice antics led this amateur analyst to believe, even when he was doing really well, that Avery was one unproductive season away from being out of the league.

With that in mind Avery, and the Stars, could not have found themselves in a worse position this year. Dallas has done little right this year. They have fallen apart all over the place. They can’t score goals, they can’t stop goals from being scored, they can’t stay out of the penalty box, their leaders are mouthing off about teammates to the media, and oh yeah, they’re fighting for second-to-last place in the division. Not to mention their third jersey might be the ugliest thing in Texas (and it’s up against some serious contenders… I’m looking at you EL Paso). If Avery had kept himself to a large market like New York or Los Angeles it could easily get lost amongst all the other gossipy stories floating around. Or if he was playing in a place like San Jose their winning ways would give him a behavior allowance, but neither of these things is true in Dallas.

The Dallas organization is lucky in a way, Avery has been ruining this team. I said in my pre-season predictions that Avery would cost more goals then he would create, and that really held to be true. Not only that, he was ruining the chemistry on this team. Modano hated the man, and Modano is Dallas hockey. The word is the co-GM Brett Hull fought to get this guy on the team, but was quick to shun Avery in the light of his comments. One wonders what his future with the Stars might be?

But, I’ve gotten off track. Will Avery be playing in the NHL again this year? Yeah, probably. He’ll spend a little time in the AHL perhaps, or maybe just hang around Hollywood trying to get people to pay attention to how large his sunglasses are. The point is that eventually some team will need a veteran, and someone who has proved in the past to be able to score timely goals, and they’ll come calling. There are still markets and teams that can handle a Sean Avery type character. Teams like New Jersey which has faltered without Brodeur, or Carolina which seems to need just a bit of a spark to really take off, or even Montreal which needs to add a bit of vitreol to their game (and no one will be able to understand what he says anyway). I don’t expect it will take long either, by the end of January he should be playing again. But don’t expect anyone in Dallas to take his side on this issue, as far as the fans there are concerned, he’s to blame for everything from Turco’s struggles to the flailing economy. Expect him to be booed, regardless of the colours he’s wearing, when he next enters the Arena in Dallas.

THIS WEEKS QUESTIONS:

Could someone please remind San Jose that this league is supposed to be competitive please? Which team will take their turn at the top of the Northwest this week? Bonus Question: Will the unimaginable occur and Minnesota will be at the bottom of the division by week’s end? Will Jeff Carter or Tomas Vanek end up with 30 goals before the end of the week? And finally: How come my cable company cut off my NHL Network? I loved that station.

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WEEKEND UPDATE

Posted in Weekend Update by yankhockey on December 14, 2008

Gee, you set it up so you are doing weekly weekend updates about mistakes in the US media… and then in just the second week you can’t find any mistakes to point out! I’ve been on the lookout all week and I haven’t seen a thing so… you get a pass this week US media! But don’t get comfortable because you’ll make a mistake sooner or later and then BAM! I’m there to point it out and laugh.