yankee hockey

BATTLE OF THE TITANS

Posted in Pittsburgh, Players, Surprise of the Week, Washington by yankhockey on January 16, 2009

For those of you who do not get ESPN, or simply choose not to watch it, there is a very popular show which the station airs called Pardon the Interruption, or PTI. On it two sports columnists, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, argue about current sporting issues and events. It’s really a damn fun show to watch because it accurately portrays what every sports fan does with other sports fans: yell as loud as you can to be heard. These two guys have been talking and writing about sports for longer then I’ve been alive, and they really know their stuff. Well, they really know their stuff… except for hockey. It’s not their fault really, hardly anyone in the states really knows about hockey. Read any AP Wire Service game recap and you can tell the author has absolutely no idea what two teams were even playing the game. Anyway, the two men, though they both admit to attending many Capitals’ games, couldn’t talk hockey to save their lives. Thankfully the producers rarely give them hockey to talk about, unless someone does something exceptionally stupid or violent.

So I was a little surprised yesterday when they not only had a hockey topic to talk about, but that they got it right on, despite the fact that they disagreed with the majority of hockey experts. The topic: Is Alexander Ovechkin better then Sidney Crosby? Now they were talking about this because the players met on Wednesday where Ovechkin potted two goals, and added an assist, while Crosby skated away with a respectable two assists. Against the flow of the show, the two men agreed on this topic. Both men declared Alexander Ovechkin is better then Sidney Crosby despite Canadian and NHL media trying desperately to insist otherwise. And you know what my friends, they are absolutely right.

This debate has been going on since the first year these two began playing. Too be sure, they are both phenoms. They are both incredible, once in a lifetime type players. But Ovechkin has shown over and over again that he is a better hockey player. Watching Ovechkin must be similar to what it was like to watch Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, or Mike Bossy. He is a beast on skates. He hits people with such a flourish that if you missed the number 8 on his back you’d swear you were watching an enforcer play. He’s so strong on the puck that once it’s on his stick it’s only coming off at the time of his choosing. Before one of the goals he scored Wednesday, a defender had three or four whacks at the puck on Ovechikin’s blade before he scored. The guy actually defended himself out of the play trying to move Ovechkin off the puck. He’s got an unnatural ability to put pucks in the net. On his other goal of the game he went to pass across the crease and ended up knocking it off a defender’s skate and into the net. It’s not because he has the greatest hands in the world, his stick work is pretty good but far from the fanciest I’ve seen. It’s his pure determination. It’s like all he sees is pucks and nets. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Jimmy Hendrix and his guitar, Ovechkin sleeps with a stick.

Crosby is a great player, better by far then 99% of the players in the league, but he just doesn’t stand up. Even Ovechkin’s off ice time is better then Crosby’s. The man is the most personable man I’ve ever seen in sports. He’s like Terrel Owens without all the baggage. he’s charming, witty, and he bleeds excitement regardless of what he is talking about. The one area where Crosby is certainly better is passing. Ovechkin has good puck handling skills, and is a good passer too, but Crosby is even better. Crosby’s ability to pass is what really makes him a phenomenal player.

Now, there is a lot to be said about the different positions they play. Ovechkin is a winger, while Crosby is a center. The two positions have different responsibilities, and different styles. Crosby is probably currently the best at what he does, but that doesn’t make him better then Ovechkin.

The PTI guys said something else that surprised me, something else right on the ball. They said that Crosby wasn’t even the best player… on his own team! They said that Evgeni Malkin was the best player on the Pittsburgh team, and they’re right, he is. Malkin is an extraordinary player who doesn’t play with the same zest and lust that Ovechkin does, but has noticeable more skill the Crosby. Crosby may be the best Canadian player in the game today, and even if you weren’t sure about that any discussion of the top three would have to include him, but sorry Canada, he’s not the best player in the game today.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

I must say, I am quite taken aback by the resurgence of the Dallas Stars. They are 5-3-2 in their last ten, which is hardly great, but by their standards it’s incredible. They are fighting their way back into play-off contention, and you know what, they just might make it.

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LULLS

Posted in Calgary, Ottawa, Surprise of the Week by yankhockey on January 9, 2009

Try as I might I am at a loss for what to write about tonight. There’s just nothing much going on at all right now in the NHL. Sure the All-Star Game is coming up, but I’ve already spent too much time on that. Pittsburgh is outside the play-off picture, and Dallas is nearly in the play-off picture, but I don’t expect either of those things to last the month. The World Juniors just ended and I’d love to talk about those, but this is Yankee Hockey, and if the WJs proved anything, it’s that yankee hockey isn’t gonna look overly bright in the coming years.

Well, I guess maybe that’s worth discussing. There actually is an important reason why Amercian youth hockey doesn’t always play it’s best games in the World Juniors; our junior leagues are not top notch unlike Canada and many European countries. Most of our best players play on high school teams, and then jump to college teams. The USJHL (United States Junior Hockey League) is a pretty respectable organization, but it’s not how many people here in the US imagine their children playing their way into the pros. We are so used to the college route thanks to basketball and football that most people assume that’s how hockey players make it as well.

They’re kind of right. American hockey players do come more often from college teams then from the USJHL, but that’s because all the best players get recruited by colleges here. In Canada, if you are a top notch hockey player, you get recruited by the junior teams, not the universities. When teams are scouting American players they scout high school and college teams, not just the USJHL. If you are a Canadian boy playing on your high school or college team, it’s because you weren’t good enough to get into a junior league.

One result is that many of the players on the US junior team come from the USJHL, with college players having responsibilities to schools and not always being able to make the tournament, or even try out. Still, we can field a pretty decent team. We gave Canada a little scare, even if we then blew it completely and lost to the Czech Republic. Canada was just a very excellent team this year… every year really.

We’ll beat them eventually.

GO USA!

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

I am surprised by two things this week; that Calgary is kicking so much ass, and that Ottawa continues to get its ass kicked. Calgary is a good team, and I expected them to win the Northwest, but did you see the beat down they put on San Jose? Where did that come from? And what’s with Kiprusoff? He plays like a third string goalie for a couple of months, and suddenly he’s running away with the Vezina. And Ottawa… you should be ashamed. Such a powerful scoring team that can’t score. It all starts on the back end as they like to say, and Ottawa’s back end looks like a couple of tin cans and a mangy dog with three legs. To say this team needs a retooling would be an understatement. I’m not sure who’s going to survive in Ottawa this season, but I’ll tell you this much, if this team does not looks dramatically different next season fans are going to stay away like the arena carries leprosy.

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WINTER IN THE BLOOD

Posted in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Surprise of the Week by yankhockey on January 2, 2009

I debated with myself about the subject of today’s entry. I had thought that a series of New Year’s resolutions for each team would be a fun and creative topic, but yesterday’s Winter Classic game is just too good for me to ignore.

I love the Winter Classic. Last years game between the Penguins and the Sabres was one of the most stunning events I’ve ever seen. The snow softly falling onto the ice, the amazing sweaters, the camera angles that managed to show the play, the fans in the stadium, and the sky all in the same frame… For those who didn’t get a chance to see it, the photos don’t really do it justice.

I loved the “first” one as well, the Heritage Classic, where the Canadiens took on the Oilers. That one gave us possibly the most iconic outdoor hockey picture yet; netminder Jose Theodore wearing a tuque in temperatures as far down as -30 Celsius.

This year it was Detroit and Chicago playing in Wrigley Field, and a better backdrop for such a game you couldn’t wish for. The temperature stayed low, which was nice. Unfortunately for me, but fortunate for the players on the ice, it didn’t snow, though the Chicago winds paid a visit. The stands were packed, even across the street on rooftops. Over 200,000 people requested tickets, the most for any regular season sporting event held in Chicago ever. If that isn’t a testament to the power of this game I don’t know what is.

The game itself played more like a regular hockey game then the last two, partly because the weather didn’t wreak havoc, and partly because the technology to keep the ice solid has improved. The Wings came back from being down 3-1 after the first to score five unanswered goals and win the game 6-4. There was an especially nice goal by Pavel Datsyuk in the third. Crazy fact: The starter for the Red Wings, Ty Conklin, was also the starter for Edmonton in the Heritage Classic, and the starter for Pittsburgh in the first Winter Classic last year, so you can be sure whatever team he ends up with next year will definitely be playing outdoors.

The Winter Classic is the saving grace of the NHL. This is a sport that constantly struggles with getting recognition by these United States. They have no solid television deals (Vs plays games sporadically, local sports stations cover a lot of games, and the NHL Network is a godsend to fans like me, but they have nothing on the level of any of the other sports), a lot of teams in non-traditional hockey markets can’t fill their seats, and even the Stanley Cup games get less viewership then most golf tournaments. The Winter Classic though, that’s an event that draws attention from everywhere. Even the most stalwart opponent to hockey has to admit that the Classic is a treat to watch, and that, more then anything, is the kind of attitude that the NHL needs.

You see, I believe that the reason more people don’t love hockey is because most people don’t watch hockey. If you read my earlier post about my first experiences in hockey you’ll find an example of how, just by trying to follow a few games, I became a hockey fanatic. I don’t believe it takes much to fall in love with this game because there is so much to love. If I’m a general, run of the mill, sports fan, I may turn to watch the Classic during bowl game commercials, and certainly during half time. Maybe I even stick around and watch what is certainly a visually enticing event instead of being flooded by what has become an absolutely useless splurge of college bowls. Take the bait and you are hooked!

The All-Star game is boring even to fans like me (though the Young Stars game is interesting, and it was much more fun to watch when it was North America vs The World), and even I lose interest in the play-offs when there are no teams left that I have a rooting interest in. The Winter Classic, though, I will watch regardless of who’s playing. You see, football has the Super Bowl, people really enjoy watching the baseball All-Star game, but hockey didn’t have on defining event… until now.

There are only two things that make me sad about the Winter Classic. 1) They’ll probably never have one around here. Even though they say the new ice surface could survive warmer temperatures. Even though it would be a sight to behold if they held it at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Even though the Sharks are a well supported team, the chance that rain or sun will cause havoc and ruin the game are too high. The second reason is that they will never have one in Canada. This isn’t the NHL’s fault, it’s NBC’s. NBC owns the right to the Winter Classic, and they are unlikely to allow the CBC the right to broadcast it instead. There’s a lot of money to be made with this game, sponsors came out in droves to get their names seen today. Let’s not forget, even though NHL headquarters are in New York, hockey is Canada’s game, and they deserve these games more then we do. Who wouldn’t want to see Toronto/Montreal, or Calgary/Edmonton? The NHL needs to find a way to convince NBC to do what’s right and schedule some games in Canada too.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

What’s happened to Pittsburgh? These guys were supposed to be a powerhouse team, and their leaders have certainly been putting up the numbers, but at this point they are a loss away from being out of the play-off picture. They are 4-6 in their last ten, only 8-8-2 at home, and have been absolutely floundering. Despite their great goal scorers, they are only +6 in goals for/goals against. They’ve lost three straight being outscored 12-6. They lost a lot of size this year, especially up front. You know who might be able to turn their year around, if they can stand him? Sean Avery.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

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

INVISIBLE MAN

Posted in Carolina, Players, Surprise of the Week, Veterans by yankhockey on December 12, 2008

(Note: Today’s post will include many references to a particular player as black. I will be using this term instead of African-American for two reasons. The first reason is that I believe that the term African-American perpetuates the idea that there is a separation of peoples because of ancestry, which I strongly disagree with, while I believe the term black is a statement of cultural identity. Further more, the term African-American does not even come close to expressing the many African ethnicities that exist. Sadly due to the inhumane and tragic nature of the crossing of their ancestors, most black Americans have no idea what particular peoples they are descendant from. I do feel that every person should be proud of their background, and that any person who is intolerant to another simply because of color, gender, ancestry, or belief, is ignorant and immoral. We are one people as they say, and the fact that members of modern society still can’t figure that out saddens me to no end. The other reason I won’t be using the term African-American is that the man at the center of today’s entry is, in fact, Canadian.)

You might remember I made passing reference to a man named Willie O’Ree in my last entry. O’Ree was the first black player to play in the NHL in 1958 when Boston called him up from the Quebec Hockey League to replace an injured player.. He actually was not the first black player to sign an NHL contract, that being Art Dorrington in 1950 who signed with the Rangers.

Willie O’Ree is often called the NHL’s Jackie Robinson because he broke the colour barrier, or at least that’s what they say. It’s true that before him no black player played in the NHL, and it’s true that he came into the league eight years after Robinson came into baseball, but I’ve always wondered if there was an actual barrier in hockey, or if he simply was the first black hockey player good enough to get the chance.

Certainly there was racism in hockey. O’Ree himself said that he experienced racism on and off the ice. Even today there is racism in hockey. Sean Avery has been accused of making racial slurs towards black players, and anyone who has perused comments on hockey message boards on the internet has read their fair share of disgusting comments from ignorant bastards. The thing is, when O’Ree played his first game, as monumental as it was, there was much less interest in it nationally then there was for Robinson. It could be that, hockey being a niche sport, not enough people gave a shit. Or, it could be that, unlike Robinson, O’Ree had not previously been barred from playing in the NHL, so when he stepped on the ice he wasn’t breaking a barrier, he was just like the first Swede, Finn, or Russian to play.

I was not there, my father was 2 years old, my mother not even born, so I couldn’t say what the people in the arena must have felt when they saw O’Ree playing for the first time. Maybe it’s just a bit of optimism on my part, but I like to think it was similar to earlier this year when Jannick Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks played against Frans Nielsen of the NY Islanders marking the first time two Danish born players played against each other. I like to imagine that, like me when I heard about Hansen and Nielsen, fans were interested, but not shocked or dismayed.

Hockey has often been called a white man’s sport, sometimes in jest, sometimes in all seriousness, and in a way it kind of is. But hockey is not the most accessible of sports. Until recently it could only be played in certain regions only during certain times of the year. And until recently, with so few teams to play for, very few people got the opportunity to play in the NHL, white or black.

Willie O’Ree got that opportunity in the Original Six era not as a gimmick, but as a mighty skilled player. How skilled was he? He was so skilled that he played nearly his entire career blind in one eye after an accident with a puck early on, and not a single teammate or coach suspected. He was so skilled that he played 45 games for the Bruins, scoring 14 points, all against the best players in the world at the time. He was so skilled that his number has been retired by the San Diego Gulls, the team he was playing for when he retired. He wasn’t only a skilled player though, he was a great man too. He has been described by former teammates as one of the kindest, smartest, most admirable individuals they had ever met. He has often acted as ambassador to the game, and the NHL has put him in charge of youth development for their diversity task force. Not just because of who he was, but because of who he is. It was only his quiet humble nature that continues to keep his profile¬† so low.

Sports are often the most progressive force in matters of tolerance. I believe this is for two reasons: One, the goal of sports is to put the best team you possibly can into play. If this means signing a black player, or Asian player,¬† or Native American, then you sign that person before someone else does regardless of your beliefs. The other reason is that sports are universal. Go anywhere in the world and you’ll find sports being played. It’s not a European invention, or an African invention, it’s a human invention. You might be surprised to find that it doesn’t matter where you travel in the world, sports are being played with remarkably similar rules. It doesn’t matter what your background is, everybody loves sports.

Because of this I find there to be surprisingly few black players in the NHL, but I don’t believe it is because of an effort to keep them out. There are a lot of players fighting for positions in NHL teams, and many of these players come from European countries like Sweden and Finland that are very homogeneous. Still, the black players that are and have been in the league prove beyond a doubt that it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, anyone can play this game.

Willie O’Ree has the honor of being the first, and a more deserving man there may not be, but he was just the beginning. Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr played some amazing goal for the dynasty Oilers and deserved all the accolades he got. Jarome Iginla, who’s father was a native African of the Yoruba tribe, is the captain and face of the Calgary Flames. There are not many players in the league who are as respected or feared as Iginla. Rookie Kyle Okposo’s father was native Nigerian as well. There are even two native Nigerians associated with the NHL. Rumun Ndur was the first Nigerian to play in the NHL, playing for the Sabres, Rangers, and Thrashers, and Akim Aliu, born in Okene, Nigeria, was drafted 56th overall by the Blackhawks, whose fans are really looking forward to seeing this kid play in their sweater. In fact… here you go, a whole page on Wikipedia dedicated to African hockey players.

Race and racism is an uncomfortable topic to tackle. The previous entry was not meant to say “Hey look, blacks can play too!” It was meant to say “SHUT-UP!” to anyone who thinks differently. I guess the message is we all can play, we all can watch, because hockey such a wonderful exciting game, given half the chance, anyone would fall in love with it.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

So Carolina is up 5-1 against the Flyers going into the third period. 5-1… a four goal lead… with twenty minutes left to play… and then they lost 6-5 in a shoot-out. Wow! Way to go Philly. But the real surprise is when I found out that Carolina’s mascot is, are you ready for this?: Stormy the Ice Hog. Yeah, that’s right, the Ice Hog. ‘Scuse me? According to my sources (read:Wikipedia), Stormy is a hog because of the abundance of pig farms in Carolina. Really? That’s what Carolina wants to be represented as? They couldn’t come up with some sort of anthropomorphic cyclone? Let’s see what other stupid mascots we can find. Kings have a lion… king of the jungle, ok. Toronto has a polar bear? Does Toronto even need a mascot? Calgary has a dog? You know, this is becoming a post all of it’s own so I’m going to stop here. But seriously… an ice hog?

NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE? HOCKEY ENDURES

Posted in Carolina, Surprise of the Week by yankhockey on December 5, 2008

Ok, so I’m about to totally nerd myself up with today’s post, but I got a little excited about this recently and I want to share it with you all.

Hockey is only one of my obsessions. I have a few, and one of them is post-apocalyptic fiction. Many years ago there was a computer game called Fallout where you play a character having been raised in an underground vault who must explore and survive the post-nuclear war wastelands fighting mutants and raiders and all kinds of crazy shit. It was the best game I had ever played. It had everything I loved, a heavy emphasis on discovering new things, great storyline and character development, and apocalyptica as well.

Flash forward 11 odd years and the third official installment of the game finally came out, and it’s even better. It’s taken up a lot of time I should be using on other things, including writing for my this here website,

So why do I waste two paragraphs of space on a post-apocalyptic video game in a hockey blog? Well, there was one moment when two of my obsessions shared my attention. Imagine my delight when, upon finding a not upon a dead body, I discovered that it was from a man named Goalie Ledoux to another man (the dead body I presumed) named Winger Mercier, both belonging to a wasteland gang known as “Sudden-Death Overtime”. I was so excited to see that I tilted my head back and let loose a loud guffaw. A hockey reference in a sci-fi game… awesome!

Eventually I ran across the gang out in the wastes. Along with Goalie Ledoux the other members included Centre Dubois and Winger Gervais (who was very sad at only being a winger, but hoped one day to work his way up to the centre position). I listened attentively as Goalie Ledoux told me how ice-gangs used to roam the continent, having face-offs and crossing sticks in huge arenas packed full of cheering crowds. His group was bent on bringing those glory days back, and he hoped that one day he could cross sticks with me. The only way I would have enjoyed this encounter more, as the game takes place in Washington DC, is if he had been wearing a number 8 jersey instead of leather and chains. Still, it was a fun little moment that I appreciated even more being a hockey fan.

See, hockey isn’t like baseball or football, references to it in pop culture do not come lightly. One of the team members who designed this game knew exactly what they would miss most if the bombs fell; the sound of blades on ice, a crunching check into the boards, a slap-shot from the blue line delicately tipped past a goaltender. This person put their own little valentine to hockey in the game for all of us hockey fans to enjoy. It made me both happy and sad at the same time. Happy to know that, even if the world is doomed, somebody somewhere will remember hockey. And sad because I really wanted Ledoux’s special goalie mask and had to shoot him in the head to get it.

Well Ledoux, don’t fret, you may be dead but your message of ice-gangs and arenas will be carried on as long as I have breathe. Besides, you’re in a better place now. No longer do you suffer through the radioactive desert that Washington DC has become, you’re in heaven when the ice is always freshly Zambonied, making saves against the greats, backstopping your team to shut-outs, and maybe taking a moment to salute us fans in the real world.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

The ‘Canes fired Peter Laviolette this week and replaced him with Paul Maurice… the man Laviolette replaced! This is some goofy stuff right here. The Hurricanes haven’t been doing so poorly, and their division is weak enough that they still have a great chance to win it. The real problem in Carolina is that they’re big names aren’t playing like big names. Maurice made them into big names and I have to believe that’s why he’s been rehired. But it’s just so odd that it boggles the mind. Hockey coach hirings and firings are so nonsensical that I know of at least two sports commentators who refuse to say anything about it anymore other then “It’s hockey, there’s no rhyme or reason.” Barry Trotz has been the coach of the Predators since they came into the league! And they’ve never done anything worth while. And despite leading the Devils to a huge season and into the playoffs, in 2007 Claude Julien was suddenly fired right before the post-season. Why? Who the hell knows!? Anyway, Laviolette certainly didn’t deserve to be fired, nor did he especially deserved to be kept on. The firing itself is hardly a surprise, it’s the subsequent re-hiring of the man he replaced that makes this the surprise of the week.

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.


REDISTRICTING

Posted in NY Islanders, Surprise of the Week by yankhockey on November 21, 2008

There are many aspects of the NHL that fans consider unfair: Bias towards the Leafs in Canadian media, size increases in goalie equipment, the instigator rule, the Western Conference travelling schedule… Oh wait, that last one really is unfair!

Every year we hear about how the teams in the West have to deal with a horrific travelling schedule, and how it affects their play. Not only that, every year some vaunted free agent refuses to sign in the West specifically because of the travel. Brendan Shanahan certainly won’t sign there even though there are teams who would love to have him on board, and it’s likely the reason Mats Sundin has yet to (and will not) sign with Vancouver. I’d love to call them stuck up prima donnas who need to shut up and play for who will pay them, but they’re right; the Western Conference travel is awful.

The worst part about the travelling in the West is it’s so damn easy to fix with a little maneuvering. What follows is my solution that requires only the slightest of adjustments to the way the Western Conference is set up. Let’s start the farthest West with the:

Pacific Division:

1. Anaheim

2. Los Angeles

3. Phoenix

4. San Jose

5. Vancouver

How easy was that? I agree that it’s nice to have all three Western Conference Canadian teams in one division so they play each other often, but how can you call the Pacific Division the Pacific Division without Vancouver and with Dallas. Last time I checked Dallas wasn’t even on the Western end of Texas. No need to worry about rivalries either. After their punch-you-in-the-jaw five game series against Vancouver, Anaheim would love to get their hands on the Canucks a few more times a year. And San Jose loves to play the Canucks cause every time I go to HP Pavillion to see them play the Nabokov puts up a goose egg (seriously, every time). And the Canucks finally don’t have to fly to Minnesota four times a year.

Mountain Division:

1. Calgary

2. Colorado

3. Dallas

4. Edmonton

5. Minnesota

Ok, I’ll have to work on the name a bit but the organization makes perfect sense. Dallas and Minnesota flying all over the damn country for inter-division games never made any sense. With this grouping you still get the awesome Battle of Alberta, you get Dallas and Minnesota clogging up the ice like my ex-roommate clogged up the shower eight times a year. And let’s not forget that Colorado and Dallas have never had the most friendly relationship so that should be fun to watch too. The best part is that the most any of them will have to travel is one measley time zone, and mostly they’ll be going North/South so that cuts back on travel time too.

Central Division:

1. Chicago

2. Columbus

3. Detroit

4. Nashville

5. St Louis

Already well grouped, so they can stay as they are.

And there you have it, I just solved a bunch of the problems with the travel conditions in the West. I even have an alternate solution for hockey fans that believe hockey only belongs in hockey markets.

Pacific: Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, (Seattle or Portland), Vancouver

Mountain: Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Phoenix, Minnesota

Central: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, St Louis

See, no more Nashville and it actually works even better! And I’m just some jerk sitting at home pretending to know a thing or two about hockey, not some powerful NHL exec with many illustrious degrees in business management and sports entertainment. Of course, Seattle and Portland are merely suggestions based on population and location. Hell, I’d love it if they could bring one here to Sacramento, but most people here wouldn’t know ice if it was floating in their lemonade, so we’re probably looking at the former two sites. I think both cities would support the team at least better then they do in Nashville, and both of those places also have more Canadian transplants then Nashville too so you already have a fanbase waiting to happen.

Both of these solutions are doable, though I admit moving Nashville to the West Coast is more radical. But I find it hard to believe that simply moving two teams into different divisions is such a daunting task that it isn’t worth the trouble to help teams like Vancouver and Dallas not have to travel half the distance of North America to play within their own division. I can say with absolute confidence that doing something so simple as putting names in different places will vastly improve the way hockey is played out West.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

Well, it comes as no surprise to this writer that Dallas lost against Chicago on Thursday while wearing those absolutely awful third jerseys, and it’s no longer a surprise that Marty Turco is capable of allowing five goals, most of which should have been little problem for him. It was, however, a little surprising that the ‘Hawks were able to score a goal with less then a minute to go in each of the three periods of play. The real surprise this week is the play of Islander’s back-up goaltender Joey MacDonald who has had to step in for an injured DiPietro. After being more or less mediocre since taking over, in the last week MacDonald is 3-0, giving up only for goals and stopping 98 shots (including 38 in one game against Ottawa). The Islanders are a team looking for a hero, and MacDonald is showing he’s got the cape and tights to fill the role.

A WORD TO MY READERS:

This has been a very productive week at Yankee Hockey. The number of visitors I’ve had in the last week is more then a quarter of my total visitors. It makes me happy to see that so many people are reading my blog, and I’d like to take a moment to thank you all for showing up. I’d also like to encourage all of you to leave comments. It’s quite easy, you don’t even need to register with wordpress to do so, just a name and an opinion is all that is necessary. I even like contrary opinions because it is through discourse that new ideas are formed. So please, keep stopping by, I hope to continue to write new and interesting hockey stories for you all.

3’S COMPANY plus VANCOUVER GOES BACK IN TIME

Posted in Chicago, Players, Retired Jerseys, Surprise of the Week, third jersey, Vancouver, Veterans by yankhockey on November 14, 2008

On Thursday the Chicago Blackhawks lifted number 3 into the rafters. They did this to honor two of the great defensemen in their history, Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson. Pilote played 13 seasons with the Blackhawks, and Magnuson 11. In total they scored just 637 points in the NHL, but that only proves that statistics tell only part of the story.

Pilote was an incredible defensemen, one of the best of his day. He won the Norris trophy three years in a row, and in an era of low scoring defensemen put up decent point totals his entire career. In 1961 he helped his team win the Stanely Cup. The next year he was appointed captain, an honor he would have for the next eight years. He was considered, even during his time, one of the more epic defensemen the game had seen. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.

Magnuson was less of an offensive threat, he was really just a threat. In a period of play where big bruisers dominated the game, he was one of the most feared. He had only 14 goals in 11 seasons, but a whopping 1400 penalty minutes. His gutsy play, and leadership on and off the ice led him to be named captain in 1976, a title he would hold for three years. Though he never won a Norris trophy, nor a Stanely Cup, he helped the ‘Hawks reach the finals twice, and defined an era of Blackhawks’ hockey.

Pilote was there for the honor, unfortunately Magnuson was killed three years ago in a car crash. Both of these men were loved in Chicago, heroes in their own right. It is not for me to say anything bad about these two, or to imply that this honor was not well deserved. However I feel that the tradition of retiring numbers has become less and less exclusive these days. If you look at the history of retired numbers, until the 90s you didn’t get too many a year, if at all. Suddenly we’re having them by the truckload. This season we are having seven numbers retired. SEVEN. How can anyone feel like this is a truly exclusive, rare honor, with so many numbers going up into the rafters. Certainly these men do deserve to be honored, and Magnuson’s memory especially, but the last time either man played for this team was 1980, 28 years ago. You’d have to think if Blackhawk nation really felt that 3 should go up to the rafters that they would have put it up there already. Well, it’s made many Chicagoans happy so there’s just not much to criticize.

THIRD JERSEYS KEEP-A-ROLLIN’ OUT:

Vancouver released their third jerseys last night, and I wish there was a lot to say about them, but we’ve seen it all before. I feel for Vancouver, I really do. In the entire history of this franchise they haven’t found one decent logo. They love the stick-in-rink logo because it’s the closest thing they’ve had to a worthwhile insignia. The colors are great. I really think the blue and green says Vancouver, as well as being acceptable colors for hockey anyway. The logos they’ve trotted out over the years? Not so much. How great would they look with just a V? And I don’t mean that horrible black orange and yellow garbage they put out in the early 80s. I mean like the old Vancouver Millionaires that won the cup way back in the teens. Not only that, but burgundy and white are cool hockey colors too. There is actually one really awesome thing that came with these jerseys: Luongo’s new helmet (scroll through at take a look). Holy shit that looks awesome! He needs to wear that all the bloody time.

WHAT THE HELL ESPN:

Remember that article I wrote about goal scoring being up? Well it appeared on the ESPN hockey homepage yesterday with Pierre LeBrun as the author. Check it out. Not only is it the same subject, he even notes the exact same reasons I did for why hockey scoring has been up this year. He has one advantage, he gets to actually interview hockey players so he can quote them saying what I said. Like I said ESPN, if you want to use my writing on your site, just hire me. I’m sure I come cheaper then Mr. LeBrun.

THIS WEEKS SURPRISE:

I’d love to say Brian Burke stepping down as GM of the Ducks is a surprise, but anyone who follows hockey has seen that coming since summer. Roberto Luongo setting the franchise mark for shut-out minutes? No, that’s not a surprise, he broke his own record he set last year. How about the fact that so far, since they began testing, five players in the KHL have been found to have heart defects? That’s a helluva lot of players. I wonder if the NHL does similar testing. You can’t assume this is a local phenomenon in Russia, certainly some players here must have some possible problems as well. Of course, the danger is, can you allow someone with a heart defect to continue to play hockey? Certainly there have had to be many players, many good players too, who have played entire careers with heart defects. It’s very hard to say exactly what kinds of problems a heart defect can cause. There are different levels of heart defects, many of them somewhat benign. There are a lot of us sitting at our computers reading (or typing) this right now who were born with minor defects we aren’t even aware of. This will become on issue of rights of privacy because insurance companies will be wary of insuring hockey players with defects, even if those defects would never cause a life threatening condition. But at the same time, are we obligated to protect our players? We can only hope we won’t see any more deaths or the end of any careers, because if we do there may be sweeping changes that began to infringe on the rights of our hockey players.

POWDERED PENGUINS

Posted in Pittsburgh, Surprise of the Week, third jersey, Vancouver by yankhockey on November 7, 2008

We’re back! After possibly the most aggravating experience in my life trying to get my internet back up and running I’ve finally gotten back online, and I should be on without incident from now on (but no promises). In the meantime there was hockey news to be discussed

The Penguins revealed their “new” third jerseys this week, and it actually doesn’t amount to much. I don’t say that because of my fore-mentioned feud with the Penguins, rather it’s because it’s the same jersey they played in for the Winter Classic game. Now, even I have to admit these are some really sweet jerseys. I love the powder blue, I love the stripes, and I love the shield on the front.

It’s totally classic, which is why it was both perfect for the Winter Classic as well as for the regular season. You had to know that this was going to be the third jersey the moment that they reintroduced third jerseys, just like you know whatever Canadiens jersey is the most popular of their centennial set will be their third in the coming years. My bet is the Barber Jersey (the one with all the stripes).

As for the Penguins new third, I wish it was their main jersey. I’ve never really liked the Penguins jersey much. I mean, it’s ok, but black and gold makes it seem like an NFL jersey, or a high school jersey. And the penguin on the front just doesn’t do much for me, it seems so entirely tame that it’s practically unnoticeable.

I have an replica Bure (Pavel or Valeri who knows) Soviet Red Army Penguins jersey and there is just so much more going for it then the Pittsburgh club’s. First of all, the penguin itself looks way more awesome. Add to that the star in the background, which makes the penguin look much more dynamic, and looks better then a big ol’ gold triangle, and it makes the entire logo look like it’s in action, and it is immediately noticeable as a better logo.

The Penguins logo looks like it was made to be inside a shield, cause when it is it looks really friggin’ awesome. You look at the old logo after looking at the third jersey one and the most immediately apparent thing is that within the shield the triangle looks like it should be there, on the normal logo it looks like a really odd after thought. The best thing I can say about this jersey is that it looks like it belongs on the ice. Watching the Winter Classic last year the thing I thought about most was just how much fun it was to watch the Sabres and Penguins play in those jerseys. I’ve been accused many times of having been born in the wrong era, and the way I felt watching two teams play like it was 1920 just made me believe it even more. It was a joy to watch then, and it will be a joy to watch the Penguins play in those jerseys in the coming years.

The Penguins aren’t the only team that could use this kind of touch up. How cool would the Panthers look with a shield? Or how about the Leafs? The jersey shield is such a hockey institution that, frankly, I can’t think of one team that I wouldn’t love to see in one… except maybe Detroit.

Well, suffice it to say that the Penguins will look great this year in this sweater. There’s really nothing to critique about it, and I’ve been praising it for awhile now so I believe I may have said enough already. I’d love to see every team get one classic sweater to wear with classic colors, classic shields and word marks. How much fun would it be to see the Sharks and Kings play in jerseys that look like they are 80 years old? A ton of fun, that’s how much.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

That I’m back online? Well, that’s the surprise in this house anyway, but the hockey surprise would have to be Kyle Wellwood. This is a guy who Toronto kicked out, didn’t make a Canucks team out of preseason despite the fact that they were desperate for scoring, cleared waivers twice, and now leads the Canucks in goalscoring. Some GM out there is banging their head on their desk, while Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis is chuckling and wringing his hands. If Wellwood can keep this up, and there’s no indication that he won’t, he might be the biggest surprise of the season. He’s certainly the biggest surprise in Vancouver (if you don’t count Luongo giving up six goals a game). Whopps, spoke too soon, second shutout in a row.