yankee hockey

GIVING IT THE OLD COLLEGE TRY

Posted in column, Prospects by yankhockey on March 31, 2009

There was a little something you may have noticed going on for the past couple weeks, the NCAA playoffs. No, I’m not talking about basketball, but rather the college hockey tournament which pits the best 16 college teams against each other in single elimination MADNESS!. No really, it’s pretty fun.

This year was kind of an odd one. Many of the teams normally associated with the tournament, the U of Minnesota, Boston College, and Michigan State didn’t make the cut this year, while Air Force, New Hampshire, Miami (Ohio) and lowly Bemidji State not only appeared in the tourney, but managed to upset some tournament stalwarts.

This year Boston University was the number one seeded team, and it seems well founded since they haven’t had much competition so far. They will be playing Vermont, who has a very decent team, in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, in the upset bracket, Bemidji State, who beat surprisingly second seeded Notre Dame and college hockey powerhouse Cornell will be facing the out of no where Miami (Ohio) who had to beat Colorado and Minnesota Duluth, so either team coming out of the lower bracket this year will be a surprising one.

There are two problems with the Frozen Four that make it much less significant then the Final Four. One, they really don’t get the word out enough on the hockey tournament. I realize that hockey doesn’t have the across the board market that basketball does, but there still needs to be more talk, more advertising, and better television deals to really pique the interests of people out there. The second reason is that the best players of college age just aren’t in the NCAA college tournament.

The NBA has a rule that does not allow players to be join the league right out of high school, or even be drafted for that matter. The NHL does not have that restraint. The most significant 18 and 19 year old players often head straight into professional leagues right out of junior. A lot of this has to do with the nature of hockey in Canada, where many of the best players come from. Junior hockey in Canada is as close to professional as you can get without a paycheck. Children are recruited onto teams, often having to leave their homes and schools and live with a surrogate family in another city, they are traded like commodities, and most of all they are taught to see professional hockey as their only goal. In the States junior and high school hockey is not nearly taken to that level. Though some US players do go straight to the pros, many take the college route. Other countries are more like Canada, at least when it comes to college age players drafted into the NHL. Very few European born players come from the college ranks, yet many of the best young stars in the NHL are European born.

Because of all this, the best college age hockey takes place during the world juniors, when the best players under 21 meet in a winner take all tournament. The Frozen Four, by comparison, is little league.

Of course, this is all due to the incredibly international nature of hockey. Though there are a great many good basketball players arriving into the NBA from countries other then the US, the best players are still coming from the college ranks. In the NHL the vast majority of players coming out of college are US players, with Canadians coming from major junior, and European either coming from their own junior leagues, or occasionally the WHL or ECHL where they’ve come to try to prove they can play the North American game. Still, that doesn’t make the Frozen Four insignificant, just less notable, amongst the other college championships. Believe me, NHL teams are watching for that diamond in the rough, and you should watch too. Not because you’re seeing the future of hockey, but because these guys have worked hard all year to be amongst the elite of college hockey and they may not have another moment like this again as they leave with diplomas and enter into the non-sporting workforce, and they’ve earned your attention.

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WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?

Well folks, the best time of the year is nearly upon: playoffs! For those of you who have never experienced the wonder that is playoff hockey (and if you are one of those people… why are you reading a hockey blog?), playoff hockey is the greatest sporting event on the planet. Better than any Olympic event, better then any other pro-sporting event, better even then the World Cup of soccer. Playoff hockey is the pinnacle of sports, the Platonic ideal, the Paradise of Dante, only more exciting.

While I won’t say who I believe will win it all yet, I will make one prediction; there will be upsets. Oh yes folks, unlike the NCAA basketball tourney, upsets are the name of the game in hockey. Give any team seven games and they can pull off an upset. The thing about hockey is that hard work can sometimes trump skill, and you’ll never see harder work then in the playoffs. Why, just a few years ago the Edmonton Oilers went into the playoffs as the eighth seed and managed to fight their way all the way to the finals, and there’s a chance they could do it again this year (as in, there’s a chance that ever other team in the powerhouse Western Conference will resign from the playoffs giving Edmonton an automatic birth in the finals).

If you take a look at the top of the Western Conference you can already see it happening. San Jose has gotten injury prone at the worst possible time and has been showing how weak they are in defensive depth. Detroit, while obviously skilled in the forward and defensive positions, has been getting shoddy goaltending all year. Calgary probably won’t even be the third seed by the time you are reading this! And even if they are Kiprusoff has been so unpredictable this year I wouldn’t bet on them going to far into the post-season.

In the East the only real solid top three team is New Jersey, and only because with Brodeur back they are pretty much unstoppable. Boston has had a great year but has become susceptible to rough play recently and has shown just how undisciplined their young players are. It’s hard to count out any team icing Alexander Ovechkin, but after him Washington’s line-up reads more like a seventh or eighth rather then a division winner.

Yes sir, upsets are the name of the game. You wanna know the two teams that no one wants to play in the post-season? Columbus and Pittsburgh, currently both sitting in the six spot in their respective conferences. In Columbus you have rookie of the year (and probable Vezina candidate) Steve Mason in goal, and nothing beats a brick wall in front of the net in the playoffs. In Pittsburgh you have a couple of guys named Crosby and Malkin to contend with. Even though Fleury has hardly proved himself to be a great goaltender, with two hundred regular season points standing in front of him, who cares.

As for the four/five spots, everyone knows there is no such thing as an upset there. In the West it’ll be Chicago versus either Vancouver or Calgary, and in the East it will probably be Philly, maybe playing Pitt, or maybe Carolina or the Rangers. Both of those series should be fun to watch.

And the 7/8 spots? Well, there are a lot of teams vying for those spots. In the West I think it will be Nashville and St Louis, or Nashville and Anaheim, or St Louis and Anaheim… some combination there-in. Edmonton is close but I just don’t think they have enough talent to pull it out. Dallas and Minnesota just aren’t good enough this year for a final run. In the East I hate to take Montreal out of the post-season, but they just can’t compete this year. In the end I think they will back their way in, unless Buffalo goes on a major tear with Miller back in net. Florida has a good chance too, Montreal has control of their destiny this year. As of this writing the Rangers hold the seventh spot, and unless they completely implode they will probably keep it. They are a good team, better then they’ve been playing lately, and have a lot of post-season experience to help them out.

With less then ten games left in the season, some teams are already planning their strategies against their likely opponent, some are frantically trying to put together wins, and some are making reservations at the golf course. As for us fans, we’re trying to keep our blood pressure down as we anticipate the best time of the year.

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CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES C’MON!

Posted in Players, stats, Washington by yankhockey on March 26, 2009

We’re back! After a week off Yankee Hockey is rested, rejuvenated, renewed, and ready for action. And what kind of action? I’ve spent the entire week, a week leading up to the post season with lots of great story lines hearing only one repeated over and over and over again. That story is the fierce criticism, or defense, of Alexander Ovechkin’s celebration upon scoring his 50th goal.

For those of you fortunate enough to have escaped this story, here’s what happened: After scoring his 50th goal Ovechkin dropped his stick and mimed that it was too hot to pick up. It was something a teammate (Green or Semin I don’t remember) suggested to him. Since then the question on everyone’s minds is “How will my team do in the playoffs?” while the question being posed by media everywhere is “Was Ovechkin’s celebration over the top?”

Let’s end that debate right now, hell yes it was. Of course it was over the top, he used his stick as a prop to celebrate a goal which in the conservative world of hockey is very over the top. It’s over the top even in the liberal, me-first world of the NFL, enough that they charge a penalty for that kind of behavior. It’s also, however, totally innocent. The man scored 50 goals, he’s the first one in the league to do so (maybe only?) and he’s done it three times now which is an incredible feat. He’s the best player in the league. Proof? This is like the fourth or fifth article I’ve written about him already. Sidney Crosby maybe has two or three, along with Broduer and Luongo.

Ovechkin has never once in his entire career done anything out of selfishness. This is a guy who’d likely take a teammate’s stick and drop it like it was burning him if a teammate scored fifty. He loves the game, he loves to score, and his much maligned celebrations are simply a product of that. I wish every player in the league loved to play the game as much as Alex. Alex is the type of guy that, if he wasn’t good enough in the NHL, he’d spend his entire career in the ECHL making barely enough to live on and having to work fast food in the off season just so he could play the game.

The thing about hockey is that it has a long history of stone-faced stars. You can bet Maurice Richard didn’t even smile when he scored his 50th goal… of course the fact that hockey players have no teeth may be one of the reasons. A lot of the old school guys, and by old school guys I mean specifically Don Cherry, think that celebrating goals is childish and  selfish. They are dead wrong. Celbrating goals means that you are proud of what you have accomplished, excited to have done it for you team and fans, and enjoying your the time you are spending on the ice which is exactly how grown men being payed to play games should act.

Having said all that there is a time and a place. No one needs to celebrate a goal when they are done by three+ goals. No one needs to celebrate a goal when they are up three+ goals. Those kinds of actions certainly scream a “me first” sort of attitude. Ovechkin’s goal was neither of these things. That doesn’t mean it’s totally innocent, however. If I was the Tampa Bay Lightening watching Ovechkin drop it like it’s hot I’d certainly want to pop him one. Oh hey! Guess what? That’s perfectly within the rules of the game. Wanna know why they didn’t? Cause he would kick their collective asses. You see, he’s not just a goal scorer, no sir. He’s a big guy who plays a complete game, and that includes dropping someone to the ice if need be.

If goal celebrations like that become an epidemic then the league will certainly do something about it. The league might support players being excited that they scored, but they are uninterested in showy theatrics like that. They allow Ovechkin to do it because he is the most charismatic man ever to play the game, but if he does it again or other players take his lead expect penalties to be called.

Oh, and in case you didn’t get a chance to hear his response to the criticism, it’s timeless Alex Ovechkin:

“It’s a big number, I think for everybody. If I get it, why [can’t I] celebrate? If you win the lottery — a million dollars — you go to the bar and drink a lot. I scored 50 goals, I just celebrated.”

yes you did Alex, yes you did. And your stellar play, charming personality, and endless wit make you just about everyone’s (Crosby and Cherry excluded) favourite player.

COAT TAILS

Posted in Boston, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Players, predictions, Washington by yankhockey on March 17, 2009

Martin Brodeur’s recent record breaking performance has led me to think about the records sitting on the other side of the puck. The list of all-time points leaders is topped by two significant names; Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Gretzky tops the list by nearly 1000 points with 2857 points in just 1487 games. For those of you counting that’s nearly two points a game for an entire career. Messier comes in a distant second with 1887 points in 1756 games. The current player closest to that number is Joe Sakic with 1641, and he’s a year at most till retirement.

So who can give Gretzky a scare? Which player playing today is going to supplant the Great One on the point throne? The answer, or course, is no one. Gretzky scored over 200 points four times, only one other person (Mario Lemiuex) has even come within one point of getting there. But someone could certainly take a run at Messier’s coveted number two. So let’s check the line-up.

Sidney Crosby:

He’s 21 and he has 384 points. If the Penguins can keep him surrounded with players who can turn his passes into goals, or give him the feeds he needs to score, then it’s unlikely that the torrent pace of points will stop. The one thing Crosby needs to worry about is his health. He’s had some injury problems, and if those problems turn into an annual occurrence it will severely stunt his numbers. However, modern medicine being what it is, it’s likely that even with injuries he is capable of a long career, so don’t expect 200 points in a year, but do expect him to be knocking at the 2000 point door at the end of his career.

Evgeni Malkin:

22 years old and he is knocking on Crosby’s door with 288 points. This is his best season however and he is handily beating “The Kid” in the points department, and I’m thinking that’s going to be the way of things as long as these two are playing together. Two reasons: 1) he stays healthier, and 2) he’s a better goal scorer. Both of these players seem to feed best off each other, whether it’s on the same line, or competing within the team. If the Penguins can’t hang on to them both (and I see no way they can) it may mean a significant drop-off in points. The other thing I see in Malkin’s future is a trip home. Europeans tend to have shorter North American careers, and with Russian money being almost as good as American money these days there’s nothing much to stop him from playing at home for the same wage.

Paul Stastny:

This wunderkind was having an awesome career until injuries dragged him and point partner Joe Sakic through the mud. Still, with genes like this (his father Peter ended his career with 1239 of his own points), he’ll certainly make a run at the points record. He’s 23 and his career is poised for the upswing, making his 185 current points a small percentage of his eventual total.

Marian Gaborik:

Ha ha, just kidding. If he even manages 800 games in this league I’ll be surprised.

Alexander Ovechkin:

He’s a little older then Crosby, and his point totals are barely more at 399, but Ovechkin seems to me to be the biggest challenger to Messier’s numbers for three reasons: 1)He stays healthy, 2) he keeps getting better every year, and 3) he’s done it with absolutely no supporting staff. Crosby at various points has had Mario Lemieux, Ryan Malone, Marian Hossa, and Evgeni Malkin to raise his game. Ovechkin has had Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and Sergei Federov who are all good to great to used to be great players, but not nearly on the level of talent Crosby has had to work with. The other thing about Ovechkin is he loves playing in the NHL. He loves American media, he loves American culture, and he would love nothing more then to win the American championship. He’ll be in the league for a long time, and if at any time Washington manages to get another star for him to play with he may even skirt the 200 point mark (not really, but he’s certainly capable of 70+ goals which hasn’t happened in far too long).

Of course, the real threat to Messier’s numbers, maybe even Gretzky’s numbers, was Bobby Orr. Orr had 915 points in only 650 games. That is almost a thousand less games then Gretzky played, and a lot of those games were being played while he suffered from horrendous knee injuries.  His knees kicked him out of the game at the young age of 30, and in those final three years he scored only 45 points in only 36 games. That means that from the age of 18 to the age of 26 he scored 871 points in 624 games, or 1.4 points per game. Messier’s was 1.07, Gretzky’s was 1.92. However, Orr’s best years were ahead of him. If not for his knee we may be talking about Orr’s record tonight instead of Gretzky’s. Also, he was +124 one year… that’s the most insane number I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

GOALIE GODS

Posted in Buffalo, Calgary, Columbus, Dallas, Montreal, New Jersey, NY Rangers, Players, predictions, Prospects, Vancouver by yankhockey on March 16, 2009

Martin Brodeur tied Patrick Roy’s all-time wins record over the weekend. Add to that the fact that he is only a few shutouts behind the current record and there is little you can say against him being named the greatest goaltender of to play the game. Some people might say that he is a few Stanley Cups away from being the greatest, but consider the era he plays in. There are thirty teams in the league now, and all of them are competitive. In years past, when the league  expanded, the new teams suffered from a lack of available talent, but with the arrival of European players, as well as better youth programs in the US and Canada, the talent pool is so big that many players of an NHL level of play are playing in the AHL or European leagues.

But I’m not here to argue Broduers case, he’s argued that enough with his play, I’m here to argue whether any goaltender we’re watching now will ever beat his wins total. So let’s look at the usual suspects.

Roberto Luongo:

The heir apparent of Brodeurs goaltending kingdom certainly has made a case for himself for the last four years. The problem is, unlike Broduer, Luongo spent a lot of time backstopping a horrible team; the Panthers. He just racked up too many losses in his early career to catch up. Ever after winning more then thirty (more then forty even) games in the last four seasons he still has a losing record.

Brodeur’s first four full seasons looked thusly:

27-11-8, 19-11-8, 34-30-12, and 37-14-13

Luongo’s:

12-24-7, 16-33-4, 20-34-7, and 25-33-14

Miikka Kiprusoff:

He leads the league in wins this year, but don’t let that fool you. He’s fallen off his game since he backstopped the Flames to the finals. As of the writing of this column, in the last four games he has let in well over twenty goals. He was doing the same thing at the start of the year, giving up twelve goals in his first two games alone. He’s done people, his fifteen minutes are up.

Marty Turco:

An interesting case could be made for Turco. He’s been a solid starter since he started his career, and has played in front of a winning team that entire time. However, this year he has proved with his play that he benefited from Dallas being one of the most defensively responsible teams in front of him. With their defense older and depleted this year he has struggled to win games at times and has given up far too many goals. He just doesn’t have enough years left to pull out the 300+ wins he needs.

Ryan Miller:

In the last couple of years Ryan Miller has really shown himself to be an elite goaltender. The only problem is he’s already 28 and this is only his third year as a starter. Miller is good, really good, especially because he can make a bad team good. But it looks like it will be too little too late for Miller.

Henrik Lundqvuist:

Now things are getting interesting. Lundqvuist is a great goaltender backstopping the only team in the league who can both attract and afford star players. Even though the Rangers don’t appear to be poised to compete for the Cup anytime soon, let alone a division title, Lundqvuist can win 30+ games a season through talent alone. He’s young, he’s good, and if he can stay healthy he may be able to compete for the wins title.

Carey Price:

If he starts playing like he did last year and shows that this year is just a sophomore slump Price could made a go at the wins title. However, if he was simply playing above his level last year and we’ll be seeing the Price of this year continue into the years to come the he won’t even be close.

Steve Mason:

The young phenom that is Mason is the best chance, in my mind, to make a go at this record. He is only twenty and will end up winning thirty this year. Not only that, if his numbers continue to improve, he may even make a go at the shutouts record. If he wins 35 every year for the next sixteen years, bringing him to Brodeurs current age, he’ll have 560, beating what Brodeur has now.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE

Posted in column by yankhockey on March 12, 2009

I was at the grocery store today where I bought orange juice, cranberry/grape juice, and milk all at the same time and thought to myself, “Isn’t it nice to live in a place where we can make all these different choices.” Soon football fans will discover a new choice, the United Football League, aka the UFL, an offshoot league with all of four teams that will be playing what they advertise as professional football in the summer. Frankly, neither I, nor anyone else who’s heard of the league, believes that for a moment.

Most other sports give you a number of choices. Some of them, like baseball, offer competitive teams all through the minor leagues where they play in attractive parks, some with a great deal of history. Some, like basketball, put on sad games in high school gymnasiums. Football is somewhat like basketball except that what amounts for the minor leagues in football, the Arena League and Canadian League, offer up a little variety, if not the same level of competition. Luckily for football and basketball there’s the college teams.

Hockey is much more like baseball, especially in Canada, in that it has a very good and complex minor league system. There’s the WHL, the ECHL, the AHL, not to mention the SEL, KHL, MJHL… the list goes on and on. I’ve seen my share of NHL games, and there is nothing like it in th world. But I have also seen AHL, ECHL, and now defunct IHL games and I have to say, though the talent is noticeably lacking in the minors, the games don’t suffer for it.

Many of these guys will never make it to the big ice and bright lights of the NHL, and they know it too. But that doesn’t mean they don’t play with all the heart of a champion. There’s something about a sport that is a tradition. In the US it’s baseball, our national pastime. Kids in this country fantasize about becoming a ball player. I always imagined myself at third base, or pitching. In Canada, and in the Northern Midwest (and maybe upstate New York) kids dream of being hockey players. See, it doesn’t matter at what level you are playing, when you’re living the dream you’re happy.

I don’t know that kids dream about playing football. Basketball I can see, but there’s a certain selfishness present in the modern game that leads me to believe if you aren’t playing for the NBA then you probably don’t want to play. All those guys on the minor league ice play with pride and respect, and the cities they play for tend to echo that towards their players. The minor league arenas I’ve been too haven’t been run down garbage rinks, no sir. In fact, they’ve been some of the nicest rinks I’ve been too.

Some of the things I notice when I go to an NHL game are the enormous crowds, the schmucks wearing jerseys for teams that aren’t even playing, and mostly people yelling at each other about not being able to see the action. And why not yell, you spent $80-$200, maybe more on those tickets, you won’t tolerate some guy leaning over in his seat blocking your view of the ice. When I go see my local ECHL team there is a much more relaxed atmosphere. The people are there to have some fun. Some want to see a game they never thought they’d be into, other’s are big hockey fans who are happy to see the game played wherever they might be.

My point is, it’s nice to have choice and not have to suffer from a inferior product. You’ll never be fooled into thinking you’re at an NHL game when you’re watching a team called the Bakersfield Condors taking on the Florida Everblades (whomever came up with that name needs to be removed from the country immediately), but you won’t suffer through it either. It’s an enjoyably experience that I highly recommend to anyone who has the chance.

As for the UFL? I suggest football fans just be patient until the next season starts, college or pro. Something tells me that this new league and it’s four teams just won’t cut it, especially not if the XFL couldn’t make it.

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FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS

Posted in rulebook by yankhockey on March 10, 2009

The GMs are meeting in beautiful Florida right now discussing the state of the game. A lot has been made, both from the media and the GMs themselves, about the state of fighting in the game today. However, every time I read anything written by the non-hockey media it seems that the GMs and the reporters are speaking entirely different languages.

Anyone who says that there is a fighting problem in the NHL hasn’t been watching it for very long. In the Seventies a game wouldn’t go by without a couple fights breaking out. At the time teams were more goon then goal, and the difference between winning and losing was often determined with fisticuffs. The Eighties were better, but not by much. The difference in the Eighties, that spilled over into the Nineties, was the arrival of the European. Suddenly guys were more interested in scoring goals then breaking noses, and the nature of the game changed. But the turn of the century many teams were without a natural fighter and fans, both lifelong and casual, were treated to hockey where brains were preferred over brawn. However, the most successful teams were the ones who had a little bite in their game, and everyone took notice. The result is that the last three or four seasons has seen a rise in fighting. This might of been a surprise to someone who hadn’t been watching the game for long, but a pleasant return to the correct way of things to the die hard fan.

There have been a couple of incidents recently that have coloured fighting in a negative way. There have been a couple deaths due to fighting, and that’s always a sad, horrible thing. Those deaths have been exactly what proponents of removing it from the game have been waiting for. People have been warning for years that someone would get seriously injured, or killed. The thing is, fighting has been a part of hockey since nearly the beginning. It began because people were using sticks and skates as weapons on the ice. In fact, a trip in the way-back machine reveals that people were often killed in the first days of hockey because of those sticks. Fighting was introduced to make sure people had an outlet to release that agression in a safer way.

Now that people are less likely to kill each other on the ice many people believe that fighting can be removed. They think that if you take away fighting then you can attract some more fans. They are probably right, I’ve known many people who have expressed the violence in the game as the reason they won’t follow it. The thing is, the current fans love fighting. When there is a fight everyone in the arena is on their feet cheering. People love the fighters on the team, they are lauded for their endurance and passion.

The GMs are smart people with college degrees, they don’t want to take away any aspect of the game that the people who pay their salaries love. This is why I always have to laugh when some reporter outside the sport says that the GMs are talking about removing fighting from the game. Not if they value their jobs they won’t! They are talking about fighting, certainly. They want their players to be safe, and they don’t want it to get out of control, but they certainly want it in the game.

The NHLPA wants it to. For one, about a third of their members make their living off being fighters, if not all the time then enough to be considered tough guys. For two, another third of the members are finesse guys who don’t want to be a moving target on the ice to be hit, slashed, and poked at will. Knowing that you can get punched is a great deterrent to being a pest on the ice. No one likes getting punched, even fighters.

I’m not stupid enough to believe that fighting is still necessary in the game, but fighting is as much a part of hockey as the inside pitch is in baseball. It’s so integral that even non-fighters get involved. Markus Naslund, a Swedish sniper, dropped the gloves the other day. What the GMs do in regards to fighting is try to make sure it’s done responsibly, and with the least chance of injury possible. Of course it can be done, if it couldn’t then boxing, wrestling, and that mixed martial arts garbage would all be outlawed. Making fighting safer is something we can all support.

Toronto GM Brian Burke said it best as he talked about requiring helmets to stay on.

“We can fix a broken hand,” he said, “But we can’t necessarily fix a brain injury.”

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UNITED NATIONS OF HOCKEY

Posted in international by yankhockey on March 6, 2009

So I’m watching the World Baseball Classic right now, and that combined with my earlier comment that hockey is the true international sport has gotten me thinking about how to make that statement unquestionably true. Ok, soccer is the true international sport, but I was really only comparing hockey to the NBA.

You see, the WBC has teams from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The World Cup of Hockey only has teams from Europe and North America… and Asia too I guess since the majority of Russia does lie on that continent. Hockey has to be able to do better then that.

I understand that there aren’t hockey traditions all over the world. It’s tough, soccer was around before European colonization introduced it to other parts of the world, and baseball exists where it does thanks to US influence in our hemisphere as well as occupation from wars. Hockey was invented in the 19th century in Canada, and Canada barely influences Canadians. Still, hockey has taken hold of Northern, Central, and Eastern European states. But it might surprise you to know that there are hockey teams in Britain, France, and Italy. Better then that, there is a hockey league in Australia, China has been playing internationally since 1972, and Israel recently won their way bracket II group B into bracket I in international play (only to then lose every game the next tournament and get booted back down). My point is, there are plenty of countries out there to play against, and maybe some of them aren’t great, but neither is Italy in baseball but here they are playing in the WBC.

I understand that many many countries are represented in the World Championships, including Mexico, Turkey, and even Mongolia. But those teams are relegated so far down the ladder that not only casual fans are unable to follow them, even die hard fans have no idea they exist. It also means those countries don’t get much money to improve their teams. The foundation of sports is youth programs. Without youth programs who is supposed to enter the leagues? How great would it be to see Mongolia no only play, but compete with such teams as Finland, or even the United States. The only way that’s going to happen is to encourage those countries that wish to play hockey to play good hockey, and the only way to do that is to bring them together with elite teams.

So here’s my idea for the World Cup of Hockey: Open it up to more continents. Do it like they do for the World Cup of Soccer and have regional tournaments. Take two teams from North America, two teams from South America, six teams from Europe, and six teams from Asia and Oceania (counting Russia and the Middle East as part of Asia). That gives you the sixteen teams that the tournament currently holds so it can follow the same path to the championship it currently does. You’d have to make sure that the teams from countries without elite hockey squads play each other so at least one moves on to the second round.

My mission is not to flood the hockey market with poor, unqualified teams. I’m trying to inspire those countries to improve their teams. I’m no fool, I realize that when you put South Korea on the ice against Canada they are certainly going to lose, but can you imagine the excitement from their country if they scored a goal? What if the goalie stops 40 shots and only lets in three goals? Those guys would be national heroes. Kids would want to be like them. Eventually that South Korea team will become real competition for Canada. That’s what I want to see.

Don’t think that these countries can’t field a good team. Places like China, North and South Korea, and even countries not currently playing like Argentina or Peru could definitely put a good team together. If places like Australia and Israel that only see ice in the freezer can play hockey well enough to be internationally recognized, then places that may not have much experience but a lot of opportunity could definitely put a good team together.

And for those of you who really dislike the idea of putting poor teams into an elite hockey pool, let me say this; does anyone really think France, Hungary, or Latvia is going to be a real challenge for the elite teams? They say the cream rises to the top, it doesn’t matter who the bad teams are, the teams who meet at the end of the tournament are always going to be the same. So what if France is replaced by Australia, and Hungary by Peru, in the end you’re going to see the same talent and competitiveness you would have seen anyway.

As the tournament sits right now, it’s the two North American powerhouses and then about a billion Europeans. Sure, there’s a possibility that one of the other countries I’ve talked about could play their way up the ladder and make it to the elite group, but does anyone really believe that’s going to happen? As long as teams believe they will never be anything more then tier II, they’ll never work harder to play better, and worse, they’ll never win over fans in their home country and so never inspire children to take up the game. That’s what I really want to see, young kids in places like Mongolia pretending to score goals, stop shots, and check bodies like their heroes on the national team.

DEADLINE SPECIAL

Welcome to the Yankee Hockey Trade Deadline Special! It was, as I expected, a not so crazy day where only a few teams managed to get everything on their shopping list, and many teams moved horizontally rather then vertically. So let’s get to it.

The Big  Winners:

Calgary: The Flames are the big winners not because of their biggest trade, Olli Jokinen for  Lombardi, Prust, and a 1st, but because of the trade they made earlier for Jordan Leopold for two fringe defensemen and a 2nd round pick. Calgary’s offense didn’t need any sort of boost. Sure, Jokinen’s big body is helpful, just hardly necessary.  Their one weakness this year (other then Kipprusoff being sketchy at times) has been a shaky defense. Leopold is a great defenseman with a high offensive upside, he immediately makes Calgary tougher to play against. Jokinen is a good player, but he doesn’t make Calgary intimidating like Leopold does.

Phoenix: So they lost Jokinen, so what? He was hardly a force to be reckoned with in the desert anyway. What they did do was get a first, second, and fourth round pick, a bunch of good forwards in Scottie Upshall, Peter Prucha, Brandon Prust, Matthew Lombardi, and Nigel Dawes, as well as a decent defenseman in Dmitri Kalinin. They may be out of the playoff race this year, but next year they will be retooled and better then ever.

Boston Bruins: Mark Recchi was a pretty good pick up. He’ll help them more in the post season then he will now, but they didn’t give up much for him and somehow managed to get a second round pick in 2010 to boot. The addition that makes them big winners is getting Steve Montador in exchange for the currently injured Petteri Nokelainen, who isn’t even that good when he’s not injured. Montador is a great defensemen and immediately makes the toughest team in the East even tough. With Recchi and Montador on their squad they should go very deep into the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets: They got rid of a goaltender they didn’t need, and in return got an experienced center they desperately need. This is a young team with almost not playoff experience, adding Antoinne Vermette, who went to the Stanley Cup finals two seasons ago, immediately makes this team a dark horse pick in the post-season.

Moving  Sideways:

New York Rangers:  Sure they got Derek Morris and Nik Antropov, and those two should shore up a bit of the holes in the Rangers’ ship, but what they really needed was a scoring winger. Antropov is both big and talented, but he’s a center who isn’t very good on the wing. They can’t put him with Gomez, and that’s really where they needed to add a player. Not only that they gave up young and talented Peter Prucha for Morris and that may end up hurting them in seasons to come.

Philadelphia Flyers: Already a scrappy team, I’m not sure why the Flyers felt they needed to pick up  gritty players like Jeff Carcillo and Kyle McLaren. With the most assets of any team in the league available for a big trade the Flyers fell surprisingly flat. Well, they didn’t need much, they didn’t get much, they are the definition of moving sideways.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sorry if I don’t think that addition of Bill Guerin for next to nothing is a winning move. The Penguins needed someone to add some life into their line-up. Guerin will add some goals, but he definitely won’t add any inspiration. What they have right now is Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke trying to breathe some life into this team, and that’s just not enough. Rumour was they were looking to bring back Jarkko Ruutu, and that would have helped big time. Guerin just won’t put them over the top of anything.

San Jose Sharks: Here was a team that didn’t need to make any trade at all, and then they went and made two. They got rid of Kyle McLaren who is a good every day defensemen, and then picked up a poor replacement in Kent Huskins. And where exactly do they expect Travis Moen to play?

Anaheim Ducks: I really probably could have put them into the losing category because they didn’t pick up anything good, unless your idea of good is untested prospects. But they didn’t lose anything good either. Maybe… maybe Travis Moen, but he’s only pretty good. Now, they very well could have traded Pronger or Niedermayer and gotten a pretty penny back. That they didn’t means they must believe they can make it to at least the second round this year, but because they will probably be facing either the Sharks or the Wings if they do make it, I highly doubt that.

Big Losers:

Toronto Maple Leafs: They got rid of everything and got almost nothing in return. I know that Brian Burke loves picks, but he hasn’t often shown an ability to use them well. Vancouver still suffers from his drafting years, in Anaheim he benefited from the previous GM’s picks. If he thinks that Toronto fans will be patient as he tries to rebuild this team entirely from scratch he hasn’t been paying attention. Further, the two goaltenders they got, Olaf Kolzig and Martin Gerber, haven’t done anything to merit a starting job in a few years. What’s the plan there?

Florida Panthers: I appreciate that they want to keep Bouwmeester around for the playoffs. Getting to the post-season is a super big deal in Florida this year. I think they’re getting in with or without the guy, and they would have certainly gotten both players and picks for him. I’m sure they could have convinced either Philly or Vancouver who were both rumoured to be frothing at the bit for him to give up one of their roster defensemen in return. Bouwmeester is not going to mean the difference between the first and second round for Florida, they will be beat early on and then they will lose him in the off-season

Vancouver Canucks: So you see your divisional rival Calgary Flames make two excellent deals and you can’t do anything? Not a god damn thing? Look, I completely understand that if there are no good deals to make then you don’t make a deal, but you need a center and the Rangers pick up Nik Antropov for a second round pick. At this point GM Mike Gillis better re-sign the Sedin twins and Mattias Ohlund quick before fans start to think he is incapable of any action whatsoever.

Chicago Blackhawks: If this team wants to be considered one of the elite of the league then they needed to make a move. What move did they make? Sami Pahlsson? Really guys? Is that the best you can do? They have two starting goaltenders eating away at their cap space and they couldn’t rid themselves of either of them? This will come back to haunt them in the post-season.

Trading Day Oddities:

Dallas Stars pick up Brendan Morrison on the waiver wire: This is an oddity because Brendan Morrison is a Stars killer! He scored an awesome overtime goal a couple years ago against Turco in the playoffs that really killed the Stars. But, I guess keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.

Three-way deal of nothing: The Kings, ‘Canes, and Oilers made what the most frustrating deal of the day with O’Sullivan going to the Oil, Cole going to the ‘Canes, and Williams going to LA. All three players aren’t exactly having banner years, emphasis on Williams and Cole there. O’Sullivan is the best of the bunch, and he’s going to the team least likely to make the playoffs. What an excercise in futility this trade was.

BUY OR SELL?

Posted in Players by yankhockey on March 3, 2009

As of the writing of this articles there is… 15 hours, 43 minutes, and 8 seconds until the trade deadline, and nothing of note has occurred. Well, unless you consider about 12000 man hours of coverage in the last week something of note.

This year the trading deadline is looking a lot like the world economy, fears of big money commitments and getting rid of an under appreciated commodity immaturely. With the deadline less then a day away there have been more players put on waivers then traded, many of them good players. Certainly you’d think that a player like Miroslav Satan or Brendan Morrison, both people who in deadlines past have garnered a lot of attention, could elicit at least a third round pick from a team looking for a proven point producer, but instead their respective teams have put them on waivers… and it doesn’t appear that anyone is willing to take them on.

The reason is the same reason why we may not see any big deals going down this year. Though Satan and Morrison’s contracts would hardly have been considered big money in years past, with a salary cap set to decrease in the coming year teams have to be much more aware of what exactly they are adding to their roster. Now, I expect at least Morrison to be picked up seeing as how his contract is finished at the end of the season, but picking up any player these days is risky.

If there is one big deal that is going to go down it will involve Jay Bouwmeester. Not only is he the best upcoming unrestricted free agent, he is the best unrestricted free agent by far. Not only that there is very little chance he will re-sign in Florida meaning the team had best move him because he is going to bring to them a lot of prospects. The big problem comes in the nature of prospects in today’s NHL. Many teams have used prospects to great effect instead of costly stars. It turns out you can pay a really good prospect 850k to score as many points as a veteran being payed 3.5 million. Not only that, their leadership skills are being utilized as well. Jonathan Toews is captaining Chicago in his second year. Mike Richards is captaining Philly and he’s only 25. And what about Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, they’ve been leading their teams since they came into the league. The league is looking younger and younger every year, except for Detroit which is looking older but keeps winning. Prospects may have once been something you could trade like hockey cards, but no longer. Now a prospect is a potential cheap point producer, and GMs are less willing to give one up, especially for a rental player.

In years past you would have seen many rental players like Bouwmeester being traded at the deadline, but now the only way it’s going to happen is if the team taking on the rental contract believes that that player is the difference between an early playoff exit and the Stanley Cup, or at least the division championship. Bouwmeester could make that difference to a couple teams, Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim could make that difference, but no other potential UFAs this year really have that kind of make or break presence. No, this year you’ll be seeing many players with contracts extending past this year being traded. No GM worth his salt is going to trade good prospects and young players for a rental, and that’s what teams are going to want back. The team paying the prospects will want at least another year of a reasonable contract or no deal.

In the end there will be some deals being made. Toronto will be broken up into little tiny pieces so Brian Burke can remake it in his image. Bouwmeester will find himself wearing different colors by the end of the day. And some team will stupidly give up a fine young player that hasn’t reached his potential yet for an over-appreciated veteran with the full support of the fans, until they realized what they’ve done. (I’m looking at you Vancouver). That’s the trade deadline for you.

So far the only thing of note was the Ray Whitney to Anaheim for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi to Pittsburgh which everyone immediately called a win for Anaheim. I disagree. Whitney is a fine offensive defenseman, but anyone who has really watched him play will tell you his defense has more holes than my sock once the dog’s gotten through with it, while Kunitz is a good young forward who easily has thirty goal potential. Oh, and guess what? Tangradi is going to be one awesome defenseman in the future.

Other then that, Montreal did great picking up Schneider. Comrie and Campoli  for McAmmond was a horrible move for Ottawa since they managed to give away their first round pick for Mike Comrie. And picking up Havelid just shores New Jersey up that much more.

Check in Thursday for a special “After Trading Day” Yankee Hockey.

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