yankee hockey

NEXT YEAR IN ZION

As of tonight the playoffs are pretty much set (with the seven and eight spots in the West coming down to the final two games). Some teams deserved a spot but couldn’t find one, some teams couldn’t fight through the rough patches, and some teams apparently were brought into the league from the ECHL without any of our knowledge. The year is over for 14 teams, but that doesn’t mean those teams should be out of our minds. Let’s see what non-playoff teams have in store for the off-season leading into next season.

NY Islanders:

The Islanders are a team mired in mediocrity. It’s sad that a team that dominated the late seventies/early eighties is now the laughing stock of the league. What with a 15 year contract for DiPietro (how’s that going Mr. Wang?), along with years of teams consisting of youngsters without mentors, there’s not much to look forward to. If GM Garth Snow is smart he’ll forego the siren song of Tavares and go for big defensemen Hedman who they need more. With Kyle Okposo, Bill Guerin, and Mark Streit leading the scoring department, Richard Park leading the heart department, and Viktor Hedman leading the defense they sure to finish better then last next year.

Tampa Bay:

They had a hickup this year. This team is much better then it’s record. What they really need is defense. They may be better off trading their early pick for a load of big NHL ready defensemen. If they can shore up their back end then they’ll be back in the playoffs next year.

Colorado:

Everything in Colorado depends on what Sakic decides to do this off-season. It’s my belief that he wants one more full year and won’t let this year be his last. Still, a year lost to injury could convince an older player that it’s time to hang ’em up. Even with Sakic back, there’s not much Colorado can do to make it back to the post-season next year, unless there’s a cave in the Rockies where a goalie and a defense is hiding.

Atlanta:

Like Colorado, there’s not much they can do in Atlanta to make it to the post-season next year. This is a team that requires a couple of years of building before it gets back into the playoffs. It all starts at the draft where they need to be smart, not popular. They need a Rick Nash or Shea Webber like player, not another Kovalchyuk.

Los Angeles:

This    team    is    so   good. Too bad there are at least seven teams in the West who will still be better next year, so it will still be a battle for them to make it into the playoffs. Still, you gotta think they’ll fight for Anaheim for that spot all year with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jonathan Quick.

Phoenix:

Like LA, Phoenix is a very good team. They have a very strong defense, they’ll have an older Kyle Turris, and hopefully they’ll still have Shane Doan. I’m not sure what happened to Bryzgalov this year, but he could get it back next year. I think they’ll be fighting for the eighth spot.

Toronto:

It’s another rebuilding year in TO. Unfortunately they have nothing to build with., especially since they traded almost all of their tradeable players before the deadline this year and really only managed to replace their second round pick. We’ll see if Brian Burke can prove he didn’t just inherit a champion team in Anaheim.

Dallas:

Things are looking old in Dallas. They need to get young and they need to get young fast. I expect them to be amongst the busiest traders come draft day. Will Modano stay another year? Will Turco flop again next year? They’ll need to improve a lot to make it back to the post-season, I expect a couple of years of rebuilding.

Ottawa:

Ottawa is a weird one cause they can score a metric butt-load of goals, but somehow they couldn’t score more then the opposition. They need goaltending and a puck moving defensemen. They can probably get both through trades alone. With those two things in place they should be able to squeeze into one of the bottom three spots in the East.

Edmonton:

For years now Edmonton has been the whipping boy of the Northwest Division, and that’s not likely to change. Their number one goaltender ends this season at 39 years of age, their young players aren’t playing well enough, and their defense is error prone. What they really need in the off-season is a Michael Peca-type leader, the kind you used to have in Ryan Smyth. If they can address that need (instead of trying to poach some untested RFA again) then they have a good chance to improve in the standings.

Minnesota:

One of the teams that may still make it into the post-season, Minny doesn’t stand a chance. In the off-season they will lose their most gifted offensive talent in Marian Gaborik, not that he ever could reach his potential because of injuries. That leaves them with talented, but not nearly talented enough Mikko Koivu. The Wild do not have the firepower to get back into the post-season, nor will they be able to find it in one off-season. I see in their future, the NY Islanders.

Buffalo:

They really shouldn’t be on this list, but they are going to be playing golf this Spring instead of hockey so here they are. All they need is a full season from Tomas Vanek and Ryan Miller and they are good to go.

Florida:

Like Buffalo, they didn’t necessarily belong on this list. They will, however, next season if they can’t replace Jeremy Bouwmeester. This was their year and they just couldn’t pull it off. They’re going to need to get some tough defenders and some flashy forwards in the off-season.

There will be one more team to miss the playoffs, but at this point there are three tied at 88. Each of those teams has what it takes, for the most part, to make it. And all of those teams, for the most part, are primed to improve next season. Nashville found a great starting goaltender in Pekka Rinne. St Louis has an incredibly potent offense. And Anaheim… well if Niedermayer doesn’t retire and they keep Pronger there’s no reason to doubt they won’t be right back in the thick of things come 2010. The biggest question is who is in this year that will get left behind next year. Look out Montreal, at the end of the season all but ten of your contracts run out, and you barely squeezed in this year.

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LOOKING BACKWARDS

This weekend a illness floored your friendly neighborhood Yankee Hockey. It wasn’t too bad to keep me from watching the games, but my brains ability to function has been severely hampered. So today is going to be an easy one, I’m going to take a look at my early season predictions and see just how well I did (cause there is nothing like patting yourself on the back). With the season not exactly finished, some of the results may change, but I think I got it covered.

Western Conference

(preseason):

1. Detroit

2. San Jose

3. Calgary

4. Anaheim

5. Vancouver

6. St. Louis

7. Chicago

8. Edmonton

9. Los Angeles

10. Dallas

11. Columbus

12. Minnesota

13. Phoenix

14. Colorado

15. Nashville

(actual)

1. San Jose

2. Detroit

This particular battle has been going on all season long with Detroit and San Jose jockeying for position. I’m going to call this a win because, really, they’re like 1A/1B.

3. Calgary

This looks like it’s gonna stick, even though Vancouver made it super interesting (including beating them 4-1 last night to remain in the running for the third spot), but with two games left Calgary would have to lose more then Vancouver won and I’m not sure they will blow their last two games.

4. Chicago

I underestimated the goaltenders here. I knew the team was good, but I didn’t think Christobel Huet would play as good as he has, and I certainly never believed Khabibulin would return to form. They even threatened Detroit for a moment before falling back to earth.

5. Vancouver

Spot on!

6. Columbus

Good for Columbus. I’m glad they proved me wrong here. They can thank Steve Mason for that one, I think if they had stuck with Denis they may not have made it.

7. Anaheim

I’m actually a little surprised they’re even this high up after the season they have had. I guess when you have two Niedermayers, a Pronger, and a Selanne you can kind of tip-toe your way into the playoffs.

8. St Louis

Well, I was wrong about their position, and the play of Manny Legace, but I was right about their powerful offense.

9. Nashville

Look, I’d never heard of Pekka Rinne. Give me a break please.

10. Minnesota

You heard it here first folks. I’m the one who jumped off the Minnesota bandwagon this year while others put them as high as third in the conference. Of course Gaborik is going to get hurt, of course they aren’t going to score goals, so of course they are outta here!

11. Edmonton

Edmonton almost proved me right as the season wore down, but then they had to go and self destruct as they always do. They’re like the Mets of the NHL.

12. Dallas

You heard it here first again! Some “experts” even picked Dallas to win the cup this year. Thanks in part to Sean Avery, and in second part to Turco’s off year, Dallas will be playing golf this Spring.

13. Los Angeles

I really thought LA would be fighting for a spot at this time of the season. Still, they showed a lot of spunk and I look forward to putting them at number nine again next year. (Actually, this Jonathan Quick guy may move them up to eight).

14. Phoenix

15. Colorado

Phoenix almost made things interesting just after the All-Star break, but returned spiritual balance to the NHL again by falling down the standings like a comet. Colorado probably would have done much better had Stastny and Sakic not been out almost the entire year, but Budaij would have made sure they weren’t higher then 11 I’m sure.

All in all i’m rather proud of myself. Got about 30% right on, and the rest (except for a couple) were pretty close. What more could you expect from preseason predictions…. ok, expect for preseason predictions that are not paid for by a sports organization. Get off my back.

Eastern Conference

(preseason):

1. Pittsburgh

2. Montreal

3. Washington

4. NY Rangers

5. New Jersey

6. Ottawa

7. Philadelphia

8. Carolina

9. Boston

10. Tampa Bay

11. Buffalo

12. Florida

13. Toronto

14. NY Islanders

15. Atlanta

(actual)

1. Boston

Way to go Boston. Man I screwed up the East so bad.

2. Washington

I was close! You gotta give me this one at least.

3. New Jersey

I don’t know why I ever doubted New Jersey. Even with Brodeur out most of the season they still kicked everyone’s butt. Actually… now that I think about it, it was after Brodeur went down that the butt-kicking really began.

4. Philadelphia

A very well played season from Philly. They really won me over with their defensive work this year.

5. Carolina

Well, I knew they’d make it to the post season at least. Man they’ve been hot lately.

6. Pittsburgh

Damnit Pittsburgh! If you won’t be kind enough to win the conference like I thought you would, at least be decent enough to miss the playoffs. I hate these guys.

7. Montreal

So what was last year? Some kind of tease? I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys were out of the playoffs by the end of the week.

8. NY Rangers

How is it that two of my top five are struggling to even make the playoffs. The Rangers, especially backstopped by Lundqvist are just too good to be barely holding on to eighth spot.

9. Florida

I knew Florida was going to be better then people expected… but this good? They deserve a playoff spot, if only to justify not trading Bouwmeester.

10. Buffalo

Losing Miller really hurt. They were better then their record presents. Next year boys, nest year.

11. Ottawa

You know, it’s teams like Ottawa that screwed up my predictions this year. They’re getting an angry letter.

12. Toronto

One off, dang! Well, with Burke as their GM they’ll be back here again next year.

13.  Atlanta

Atlanta really benefited from the absolutely horrible play of Tampa Bay and the Islanders. Otherwise they’d be right where I put them.

14. Tampa Bay

See what happens when you fire Barry Melrose?

15. NY Islanders

They’re only here cause they are desperate for Tavares.

So my Eastern Conference predictions were a little of, but hey, my Western Conference predictions were pretty good right? It’s nice to get a little West Coast bias for once.

Come back because in the coming weeks we’ll have a ton of playoff discussion, including who I think will win it all.

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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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.

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.

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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THE HAT IS WHERE IT’S AT

Posted in Dallas, Players, third jersey, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 8, 2008

I noticed something the other day that in all my years of hockey I have never noticed before: The players are all wearing different helmets. I don’t know if this is new or if this has always gone on, but it’s certainly new to me. I had figured at this point they would all be wearing Reebok helmets, and had previously all worn CCM helmets. I was shocked when, while watching a Detroit game, I noticed that some of the helmets were designed differently then others, and sure enough, upon closer inspection, there were many different brands being worn on the bench. So, with that in mind I’ve decided to go over the helmets being worn in the NHL and consider the players who wear them.

BAUER: Now Nike Bauer (though recently sold and it will be returning solely to the Bauer name), Bauer is one of the oldest companies making NHL gear having been founded in 1927. Currently, I believe the helmet being worn in the pros is the 4500, though I think I’ve seen some 5500s as well. You don’t get more classic hockey then you do with Bauer. They may not look cutting edge, they may not be the sleekest, or the coolest, but they just may be the hockiest. Something about wearing something with the name Bauer on it just screams hockey, more-so once the Nike name gets taken off. This is the brand of a shut-down forward, a gritty defensemen, or a cagey veteran. This is especially a brand for a player who’s proud to be a Canadian (Bauer is still located in Ontario). Good solid style for a good solid player.

CCM: CCM puts out a lot of helmet styles, more then any other brand. I believe the one used in the pros is the Vector 8, though it may also be the Vector 10, or maybe even the 492. It’s surprisingly hard to tell without someone’s head inside of it.  CCM offers some classic hockey styling with their helmets, along with good protection as well. They’ve been doing this even longer then Bauer, and have always been a bit of a sleeker company. This is the brand you want to wear if you want classic hockey with a bit of flash. This is the helmet of a kid from the boonies who becomes a sleek scorer in the NHL. This is also the brand of a European star who’s been playing in North America for many years, or an American who understands the soul of the game.

EASTON: One of the new kids on the block, Easton only offers two helmets, and I believe the one being worn in the pros is the Stealth S9. They are much more popular for their sticks then they are for their helmets, though I do see a lot of Easton pads around the league. I hardly see any helmets though, so I’d say they are the helmet for the maverick. The guy who likes to play a little differently, the pest, the agitator, the guy who’s as likely to give you a face wash as a hello.

MISSION: Mission knows their business. Not their hockey mind you, but their business. These guys began as an inline skating company, but got themselves into ice hockey a few years ago and really bought into it… literally. For a company not named Nike or Reebok, these guys are surprisingly good at sponsoring players. The company claims that the players are wearing their Intake helmets, but I think I see more of their M95s. Actually, now that I take a closer look, I think the on-ice officials are definitely wearing the Intakes, maybe they should start making those claims. Mission is the helmet for people like Sean Avery (I wonder what he wears? Reebok is my guess). People who like to be paid by fancy companies. It’s not about hockey style, it’s about business. Also, I just found a picture of Avery on the ice… he’s a Mission guy!

REEBOK: When Reebok designed the new jerseys (which haven’t turned out at all like they were supposed to) it’s no surprise they came out with some helmets as well. The pros appear to be wearing RBK 6Ks, though there’s very little different between those and the 8Ks beyond price. They’ve actually designed a very hockey helmet, which is surprising to me because I always expect companies to screw up when they try to update things. I like the Reebok helmets, I think they manage to be a classic look with a modern shell. Reebok is the brand of youth, the brand of the AHL call-up, or the promising new rookie. Reebok is the brand of someone who has been playing hockey since they were 5, but want to look cutting edge.

And those are the helmets being worn in the NHL. I still find it fascinating that players can wear different helmets. when you look at the bench it’s a surprising mix of all of these brands all down the row. For those of you really interested in this kind of thing, football players also get to choose their helmet brand, but the differences aren’t as marked as they are in hockey.

QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK:

Who will end the week atop the Northwest Division. Will Paul Maurice elicit positive change in Carolina? Will Joe Sakic ever be able to play injury free this year? Will the rumours that Mats Sundin will finally be signing a contract in the next two weeks turn out to be true?

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TAKING OUT THE TRASH

Posted in Dallas, Players, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 3, 2008

The NHL made a bold move yesterday, suspending Sean Avery indefinitely for comments he made about the personal lives of other hockey players, specifically those dating his ex-girlfriends. Because I know you’re dying to hear the story behind the story (unless you’ve read it somewhere else first), here it is: Avery approached a group of reporters in Calgary where his Dallas Stars were to be playing the Calgary Flames, and after making sure there were cameras present said probably the stupidest thing of his career:

Specifically Avery was talking about Dion Phaneuf and Elisha Cuthbert, though Avery has also been romantically involved with Rachel Hunter who is currently seeing Jared Stoll of Los Angeles. Before the game could even start Commisioner Gary Bettman had already handed down the suspension.

First, let’s start with the suspension. Indefinite sounds like a long time, but in this case the term is only used because the NHL has never handed down a suspension for public idiocy before, so they’re not entirely sure how long it should be for. I doubt it will be longer then three games, even Sean Avery couldn’t get more then that for a public comment short of encouraging violence or racism.

I applaud Bettman for acting so quickly on this one. The NHL is not a trash-talking league, and when it is, it’s done with a modicum of respect. Comments like Avery’s are not just inflammatory, they are insulting, a little disgusting, and of a very very personal nature. These kinds of tactics don’t belong in any sport. We forget in this day and age that athletes are supposed to be role models and live to higher moral standards then the rest of us. They need to be this way because they are some of the most public figures around. They should be held to the same standards as politicians, because like politicians, they can end up as heroes to the nation. Movie and music stars can be scum all they want, it improves their careers and for some reason Americans love to imagine their favorite stars in some sort of Caligula like fashion. As hockey fans we are lucky because hockey players are some of the nicest, most honest, most down to earth people around. While football and basketball players get arrested, and baseball players act selfish and aloof, I’ve always found hockey players to not just be approachable, but most agreeable as well. Well, except maybe Mr. Avery.

As for Avery, the man’s a dick. You want to know the medium with which to gauge the level of dickdom in the sports world? If you have a rule named after you because of your antics, you’re a dick. I realize Avery was trying to get under Phaneuf’s skin, but what a deplorable way to do so. He’s not only insulting Phaneuf, which may be acceptable, but also Cuthbert. Elisha Cuthbert is a big hockey fan and one of it’s better advocates. What she saw in Avery besides the fact that he’s probably very much like many of the Hollywood people she spends her time with, is beyond me. You want to describe her as sloppy seconds in the locker room, fine. You want to tell Dion Phaneuf he’s dating your sloppy seconds on the ice where it’s just between the two of you, not great but acceptable. But to seek out reporters so that you can tell the entire viewing audience, not to mention all the people you know who will see it on the internet, you’re a dick.

Dallas gave Avery a four year deal this offseason. Already this season Mike Modano, the most venerable man in Dallas, has expressed his distaste for him. Already the Dallas fans have expressed distaste for him. And now, with this, even Stars owner Tom Hicks says he agrees with the suspension, and says he would have suspended the man himself had the league done nothing.And Brett Hull, who lobbied long and hard to get this guy on his team, said that he had let his teammates down.

In the end the real victim is Elisha Cuthbert who doesn’t deserve to be chastised by an ex-lover on national television. We’ve all had exes (probably), and we’ve all wanted to say nasty things about them, and they about us, but I hope that all of us have had the decency to only express those thoughts in private. If Avery really thinks of his ex-girlfriends as “sloppy seconds” then that’s his issue, just don’t make it the NHL’s issue.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

Sean Avery’s gone! Yay! Also, this last week has been a great week of parity. Teams are winning all over the place! It’s great to see close, competitive hockey games, and that’s what we’ve been having. Don’t expect it to last too long. Some teams have injured players on their way back, some teams are just slumping, some teams are over-achieving. These things have a way of balancing out again with the good teams on top, but for the few weeks a season where things get a little jumbly, it makes for a lot of fun hockey.

EVERYTHING IS GOING AS PLANNED

Posted in Boston, Dallas, Surprise of the Week, Toronto by yankhockey on November 28, 2008

As the media has been reporting since last year, Brian Burke has finally signed a six year contract to become the new Leaf’s GM Thursday. Actually, I’m a little surprised, six years is a helluva long time to be the GM of one team, especially seeing as how his teams inevitably begin to tank two or three years after he arrives. But, in the long history of Maple Leafs missteps this one is can be classified as only mild and amusing, not entirely stupid or panic-inducing.

What can this mean for Toronto? Well, first off it means we’re likely to see Mats Sundin return to the fold. Make no mistake, Burke can claim his meetings with Sundin were innocent until the blue of his face matches the Leafs’ sweater, but the entire league knows what was going on behind closed doors. The only team that will be unhappy about this, though, is Vancouver, and they won’t be very unhappy. Somewhat annoyed is a more apt description. But they can take all that money they were going to offer him and get Mattias Ohlund under contract, which is much better for that team anyway.

It also means that Toronto is going to lose any young player they have in their system that can score goals. Burkie hates goal scoring prospects if his time in Vancouver and Anaheim are any indication. He’d much rather have young boxing types who are more likely to take a boarding penalty then get an assist. He enjoys trading them away for late draft picks and washed-up defensemen. Only then, in the upcoming draft, he’ll pick an undersized speedster in the first round who will forever be just on the verge of making the big show, but end up becoming a career minor leaguer.

And of course let’s not forget Burke’s love of conflict. It won’t take long for some personality in the team or media to get on his case and a war of words will ensue. Actually, if it’s a member of the team they better hope it’s just a war of words, Burke has been known to drive players to the airport himself to send them on their way to any other team he can find to take them. Just ask RJ Umber what it’s like to disagree with Big BB.

In the end it may actually mean a small improvement in Toronto. Burke’s love of hard hitting play actually ends up working for about a season. Toronto will become a harder team to play against, even if they aren’t exactly a better team. There’s no way he lasts six years. When he took over Anaheim he already had a skilled team in place and simply added some muscle to make them tougher. In Vancouver he had a very skilled team and on;ly managed to make them worse by giving up young talented players and drafting like he was stoned. In Toronto he has neither a good team, nor an entirely impressive group of prospects. Toronto is a basement team that needs intelligence and patience in management, and while Burke is certainly a smart man, he’s never been patient. Add to that his tendency to make stupid decisions based on his impatience and you’re looking at three years at the most.

What scares me is that he is short listed to build the US team for the 2010 Olympics. If there is one thing that never works in international hockey, it’s a smash mouth approach. I hope he is capable of collecting a group of skilled forwards and defensemen who can play with finesse, not just knock someone through the glass. Not only that, but I hope his love of veterans doesn’t lead him to fill the roster with old worn out hockey coots. There is a lot of young American talent in the league right now, and to pass that up would be a horrible thing.

Well, I’m full of turkey and stuffing (mostly stuffing), so I’ll leave it at that for this week. Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you all on Monday.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

The surprise this week is that we’ve already made it to the quarter mark of the season. Man it seems like hockey just started a couple weeks ago, and already we’re at 20 games. At this rate it will be over too soon too. There have been a lot of good stories out of this first quarter, a couple disappointing ones too. But that’s hockey for you. All in all it’s looking like it’s going to be a good season with some absolutely stellar teams that will stay on top, and a lot of very good, very hungry teams battling it out for those last playoff spots. I’d have to say that at the quarter mark the two biggest surprises are Boston and Dallas. I made the mistake of putting Boston out of the playoffs this year in my predictions. I also thought that Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez would be sharing goaltender duties. Way to show me what’s what Thomas. As for Dallas, I did correctly predict them out of the playoff picture, but I thought for sure they’d at least be competitive this year. Believe me, I would have loved to have put them farther down in my predictions, but it just never occurred to me.


WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ GOING ON

Let’s see, what’s happened since the last post I wrote. Ok, we got five jerseys unveiled, two numbers retired, two devastating injuries, and a partridge in a pear tree. God, where to begin? Frankly, I don’t want to start anywhere because all of these occurrences just make me mad. The jerseys are horrible, one of the retired numbers doesn’t make any sense, and the injuries could cause their teams all kinds of troubles this season (for Dallas losing Morrow it could mean the deepest part of the sewer, for Vancouver and Luongo it may mean missing the post season). But, I am a hockey writer, and as a hockey writer I must remove my own misgivings to properly cover the news of the game, so let’s get on with it. Because of the length of today’s entry there will be no questions at the end.

IF INGESTED, USE THIRD JERSEY TO INDUCE VOMITTING:

In the weekend of weekends for third jersey fans five new jerseys were introduced. The Sharks started things off with their new horrorshow of a sweater. It even has a name: BlackArmor. That loud banging sound you hear combined with a throbbing pain in your forehead is you hitting your head against your desk. Don’t be alarmed, it’s a reflex like sneezing, yawning, or laughing at people who buy this jersey. I’ve never thought San Jose had a particularly good jersey scheme, but it has seemed to work if their continued use of teal is any indication. But this is so very lame. Not Dallas Stars lame, but pretty sad for a such a great hockey market. I mean, is black a theme or something? And giving it a name? Ugh. The logo itself looks too much like an AHL or ECHL logo for my tastes. Well San Jose, you didn’t do any worse then anyone else this year.

After the Sharks it was the Ottawa Senators’ turn to show how not to spend money. Also, is it just me or does Dany Heatley trying to look intimidating just look silly. The guy is a great hockey player, but he still looks like he’s eighteen. Wow, it’s black, and it says “SENS”… incredible. It must have taken a six year old four minutes with a crayon to work that one out. And what’s in this “Back in Black” campaign? I realize that the Senators have had black in their jerseys forever, but I thought the main color was always red. Am I wrong about this? Did they have a period of time when they wore primarily black? Whatever the case, I hates it.

Then the Coyotes came out and said “We want to do something different.” And something different they did. I’d like to take a moment to thank the Coyotes for doing something that’s been sorely missing from this alternate jersey season: create something entirely new. Oh, it’s plenty ugly, but it has a new main logo, new shoulder logo, and “Coyotes” script mark on the pants. I don’t know what’s up with all the black, I actually really like the Coyotes’ red. I lived in Phoenix for a time and I could say with confidence that the earthen red they wear suits the city. Overall the jersey is totally unremarkable though. The main logo is way to small, the little red sleeve forearms look pathetic, and seriously what’s with the black?

Then it was time for the Kings to do something completely different. They said “We want to stand out from the crowd, be unique.” And so they went with black… Ok, maybe they did what everyone else did but they must have had a unique slogan…. right? Seriously… did all these teams hire the same damn people? I mean, is black the new black or something? Are they planning on rescuing some hockey players captured by the Vietcong in a daring midnight raid? The new logo is decent I guess, it’s more of a mish-mash of previous logos then something totally unique but it looks fine. I just swear, if I see one more black jersey I’m gonna punch Gary Bettman.

So then, on Sunday Tampa Bay ended the parade (well, not really, since the Bruins will be unveiling theirs later today). And all I can say about it is I LOVE IT! Sure, there’s a little black on the sleeves but look at all that blue! And if I’m not mistaken there’s a little bit of silver in there too. And white. Who cares if it’s the most boring piece of crap I’ve seen since Manos: The Hands of Fate, the colors make me feel so alive.

Alright, I’m done with that charade, it sucks, they all sucked, looking at them just makes me mad. So let’s move on to something more positive.

IF YOU DIDN’T REVEAL A THIRD JERSEY, RAISE YOUR BANNER:

On Sunday the Maple Leafs raised the number of former captain and home town favorite Wendell Clark. Cap’n Crunch’s number 17 went up into the rafters in Toronto to take it’s place amongst some of the games greats. He got the name Cap’n Crunch because of his brutal hits, as well as his awesome ‘stache. He was a scrapper, a body checker, and a bruiser. He could score some goals too, over 40 in ’93, but his role was the adrenalin gland of the Leafs. This number retirement is exactly what the whole concept was meant to represent. Clark is no hall of famer, he wasn’t the best player in his era. Hell, he wasn’t even the best player on his team. It wasn’t his point totals that retired his number, it was the love from his city, and his love back. This leaves Maple Leaf nation with a good feeling, they love Clark there, and have even after he left for other teams. That his number joins Ace Bailey’s is an honor well deserved.

In a more questionable retired Saturday, Montreal retired Patrick Roy’s number 33. We all should know enough about Patrick Roy to understand why they might do this, but for those new to the sport, let me give a brief history. Roy came into Montreal as a rookie and won the Stanley Cup right off. He won a bunch more games for them including another Stanley Cup (the last they have won). And then it all fell apart in one game. After letting in 9 goals in a period and a half Roy was finally pulled from the game. Feeling like his coach left him in just to humiliate him (they didn’t have a good relationship) Roy demanded and trade and never went in goal for the Canadiens again. He was traded to the Avalanche where he won two more Stanley Cups, became the winningest goaltender in NHL history, and uttered one of the best sports quotes of all time.

I can understand why anyone would want to retire Roy’s number. Colorado already has. The thing is… they hated Roy in Montreal for demanding that trade. After that trade the Canadiens had no success in the post season at all, if they even got there. It’s great that they are able to forgive, but you shouldn’t forget. A guy should go from arch-nemesis to in the rafters just cause his numbers are huge. Granted, he did a lot for that team while he was there, but he spit in their faces and stormed out. There’s no going back from that, or at least, there shouldn’t be. But, I guess love is blind and Patrick Roy is a French-Canadian hero. Just look at all the goaltender’s he’s inspired; Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Roberto Luongo, Jose Theodore. Ok, I’ll let this pass this one time, but don’t be doing anything like it again Montreal!

ALWAYS STRETCH BEFORE EXERCISING:

Ok, I’ll be brief. Brendan Morrow and Roberto Luongo both left games on Saturday with injuries. Morrow’s requires surgery and he is done for the year. Luongo’s is still undetermined, he will be having an MRI on Monday, but walked unaided to a press conference after the game so it doesn’t look too bad. Of the two Morrow’s is by far the most damaging to his team, and not just because it’s for the entire year. Dallas needs leadership and scoring, and Morrow brings them both. Without him they will be completely disheveled, like the Lost Boys without Peter Pan. The Canucks will miss Luongo, he’s one of the best goaltender’s in the league. But in his place Curtis Sanford won his second game in a row, and the Canucks have an amazing prospect by the name of Cory Schneider who not only rocked the pre-season, but is making complete fools out of AHL shooters posting a record of 10-1 with a .945 SAV% and a 1.37 GAA. Frankly, I’d really like to see what the kid can do in the big show, and I think Canucks’ fans will too as soon as they stop hyperventilating.