yankee hockey

SKATING WITH THE STARS

Posted in This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on January 26, 2009

I’m watching the All-Star Game right now, it’s the second period and already my prediction is way off. Kovalev currently has two goals and the score 8-7. Can’t blame the goaltending here, the passing this game has been amazing, as have the shots. There have been a couple of goals that I’m sure the goaltenders would like back, but when you a dealing with the amount of skill present in this game along with a lack of hard hitting defensive play (which is fine in the All-Star Game, but you hope that these habits don’t carry over when the regular season starts up again), you can’t really expect to save as many as you’d like to. This has actually been a pretty enjoyable game this year, especially from the East where the emphasis is definitely on flash over force.

Still, the most fun event again this year was the super-skills competition, even with the silly addition of the elimination shoot-out event. What happened to the two-on-one event? There was almost no skills competition to show off goaltender skills. The elimination shoot-out came close, but for whatever reason only for of the six goaltenders played. It’s possible that the other two opted out, but we have to remember that, despite giving up a ton of goals, these goaltenders are all-stars too.

The young stars game was very fun too. I like the way the game progresses, no whistles, no face offs, no penalties. It’s actually an interesting way to play overtime. Five minutes, four-on-four, whichever team scores the most goals wins. That would certainly encourage offensive play, as well as mainting the team aspect that hockey thrives on.

Of course, the biggest moment of the evening was when the human sasquatch  Zdeno Chara broke Al Iafrate’s 16 year hard shot record by a tenth with 105.3 mp/h. The hardest shot competition is a fun one to watch. There’s something about a frozen piece of rubber flying fast enough to kill a man that just oozes excitement.

So of course the game ends with what I think is the most anti-climactic event in hockey: the shootout. 11-10 East, so at least I got the winner right. There was a penalty in overtime, the first All-Star Game penalty in nine years. There was also the annual single All-Star Game hit behind the West’s net.

But now they are talking about what I think is the saddest part of the All-Star Game… the MVP. Not that I don’t think that Kovalev earned MVP, but I hate that they are awarded a car. I know this is the case for the baseball All-Star Game as well, don’t know about the other sports. I just don’t get why we are rewarding players who make million of dollars, and almost certainly have enough cars already, with a new car! Obviously car companies are looking at the advertising they get from this award, but they could slap their name on a donation to the charity of the MVP’s choice. Just have some guy come out and say “Honda Motors is proud to present this check for $15000 to {name of charity}.” And not only does everyone know that Honda is the official car of the NHL, but they also get to show their charitable side. Instead Alexei Kovalev got a car. Why not make it a hockey prize? Like some sort of experimental pads, or a cool patch they get to wear for the rest of the year?

I don’t know, the All-Star Game seems fun when you’re young, but as you get older, and it may just be my own bad attitude, it quickly becomes obvious what the game is, a chance to schmooze with sponsors.

It’s great to be able to watch the best players in the game all skate at the same time (wait… was that Keith Tkachuk, who isn’t even the best player on his team?), but a full game of such players is a little much. One twenty minute period with all the stick handling, crisp passing, and between the legs shots would be more then enough for me. As it is, you spend the second and third periods repeating the first with a different goalie. It’s not as useless as the NFL All-Star Game, but this game could hardly be considered the most exciting moment of the year.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Which player will suffer most from the All-Star Game hangover? Will Brendan Shanahan continue his stellar play, or was his first game back a fluke? Will Roberto Luongo win his first game since coming back from injury last week? Which team will dominate the second half of the year?

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RETURN OF THE NATIVE

Posted in New Jersey, This Weeks Questions, Veterans by yankhockey on January 12, 2009

Right now, as we speak, Brendan Shanahan is working on a contract that would bring him back into the game with the Devils. This is too too long in coming. Shanahan is one of the better players to play the game. He was a huge part in Detroit’s Stanley Cups back in the 90s. He is a player of incredible skill, grit, and intelligence, as well as being one of the better leaders in the game. He has 1340 points in his career, and still managed to sneak 25 pucks past goalies last year despite his his age. This isn’t a Sundin situation where Shanahan decided to sit out a good portion of the year, he’s been trying to get a contract since the beginning of the season and no one has given him a sniff.

Shanahan is just too good, and too important, to have been left hanging this long. There were certainly some requirements he had that limited the teams that could go after him, such as wanting to be near his family on the east coast, but there were plenty of teams that that could have snagged him. It’s not surprising to me that he appears to be headed to New Jersey. Back when he made himself available I suggested New Jersey as his likely destination. I knew they had some cap room, as well as a need for some extra goal scoring. If they manage to get him under contract they’ve done good, but why did they wait so long?

It’s not like they believed they would have goaltender Brodeur back early from his injury, it’s not like they didn’t know what kind of offense they were icing. They’ve been aware that both Shanahan was available, and that he was a perfect fit, for quite some time now. But now it’s the second week of January, and only now have they begun to hash out a contract with him.

Now, there’s could be a lot here that I am not privy to. There could have been attempts months ago to get him under contract and for whatever reason Shanahan was not interested at the time. There had been rumours that Shanahan was looking into going to St Louis, and that St Louis would have liked to have him aboard, and that may have stayed his hand for a bit. It may be that New Jersey came to him with an offer that he didn’t like, and thought he could get a better one somewhere else, only to find out that that was not the case. So it isn’t necessarily New Jersey’s fault for taking this long, but for those of us watching from the sidelines, as many Devils’ fans are, it sure seems that way.

What Shanahan will bring won’t be measured in point producing. He’s been out for a long time, and as good as he still is, it’s going to take some time to get accustomed to game again. Fans will have to be patient while he gets his hockey legs back. They’ll have to accept what he can bring, some assists, the occasional goal, and let he become acclimated to the ice again. Eventually they’ll see a change in this team thanks to Shanny. They’ll see his leadership and experience rub off on the younger players, and his cool, collected nature influencing  the vets. With Shanahan, and the eventual return of Brodeur, the Devils will be a force to contend with in the post season again this year

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Will Sundin win some games for the Canucks? Will Boston still be the top team in the league come the All-Star break? Will the All-Star Game ruin a perfectly good week that could have been filled with actual hockey? Will the experience the young players in the NHL got during the World Juniors improve their play in the pros?


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HOCKEY ASTROLOGY

Posted in This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on January 5, 2009

The NHL made all of us fans amateur astrologists on Saturday by announcing the All-Star starting lineup. I could here one unanimous “whoopity-shit” from all over the NHL nation. The All-Star Game is fast becoming a corporate-driven, ego-inflating, do-nothing game. Oh, I’m sorry, did I said “fast becoming”? I meant, has been for at least ten years now.

I remember a time when I was kind of excited about the All-Star Game. I thought it was real neat that North America’s best players were suiting up against the World’s best. That instilled a little drama in the game, a little consequence. Now the only thing I notice about it are the endless ads and the uninspired play. Just cause the scores are huge doesn’t mean the players are playing hard. They’re all-stars! They have a lot of skill! That’s what the term all-star was coined to describe!

The worst part is how they have the fans vote for the starting line up. I think anyone who has really paid attention to this all-star game, or the baseball one, must agree to some extant with me. I understand wanting the fans to feel like they play some part in the process, but it hardly ever turns out well. Hockey hasn’t been so bad, in baseball you’d think the entire American League consisted of only two teams; the Yankees and the Red Sox. This year, though, some fans finally got smart and filled the Eastern team with Canadiens. It’s not that I don’t like the Canadiens, but the NHL was lucky they didn’t have six guys from that team alone starting the game.

This should be a wake up call for the NHL to quit it with these votes. Let the players and coaches vote for the starting line up, they know better then we do anyway. As a fan I wouldn’t be pissed if my player didn’t make it onto the starting line, as a fan I’d be pissed that my player didn’t make it because a bunch of people in Montreal stuffed the ballots. As a player I’d be mad as well. I’m sure some players receive bonuses for getting into the All-Star Game, and there are only so many spots. I don’t want the fans to be able to prevent me from earning money I may well deserve because they want to field an entire team of Canadiens.

They won’t change of course. The opportunity to get fans involved, and by way of that, count fans, is too great. Especially because they want to prove to their sponsors that people are interested and hence be able to charge competitive rates on their advertising space. The NHL is a business and having fans vote is very good for business. But for those of us who want to take the game seriously, it’s bad PR. Unfortunately those of us who want to take the All-Star Game seriously aren’t liable to stray away from hockey because of one poorly done exhibition game, and the NHL is keenly aware of that. The All-Star Game is all about showing people who aren’t serious fans the kind of fun that can be had with hockey, and the kind of skill possessed by the best players.

As for me… yeah I’ll watch it. Even with cable I don’t get to see hockey on TV often, so I’ll take any chance I can get. Actually, I do like watching the super skills competition and the young stars. The latter especially because you often don’t get to watch younger players really show what they can do in a regular game, too much pressure, not enough experience, but in the young stars game they can just have some fun with it. So yeah, I’ll watch it, just don’t ask me to analyze it ok?

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Will we finally see Mats Sundin suit up for a game? When their game of Chutes and Ladders finally ends, will the Penguins be at the top, or the bottom? Will Boston maintain their league lead, or is San Jose poised to take it back? Is Ovechkin going to maintain his MVP calibre play for the rest of the season? Will the Coyotes sneak into playoff contention? What’s in store for us in this brand new year of hockey?

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THE LOWER DEPTHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

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

NOT-SO-HARDY BOYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

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

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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STUCK IN THE MINORS

Posted in echl, stockton thunder, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 1, 2008

Saturday was the first time this season I got to visit my local hockey team; The Stockton Thunder! Sure they may just be an ECHL team, and not an especially good one at that, but they’re mine team. Well, ok, they’re only my team cause for some reason Stockton, California (about 30 minutes or so south of Sacramento where I make my home) realized that it’s city, which is a quarter or mine, could support a minor league team. Meanwhile Sacramento has problems supporting their major league basketball team (a subject for a different blog however). I’m a little upset they beat us to it, the city of Sacramento has nearly 500,000 people living in it, and the metro area over 2 million, but this city struggles with putting public works together so it’s doubtful a place for a hockey team to play will ever be built here.

What’s the point of my little rant? Basically it’s that with San Jose two hours away, the Stockton Thunder! are my team. Every year I get a six game package for real cheap (cause who has the time to go to every ECHL game in a season), and head off with friends for an enjoyable evening of hockey. Truthfully, it is an enjoyable evening. The players never let you forget that you’re watching and ECHL game. Most of these guys will be lucky to get a sniff at the AHL, let alone the big show. The ones who show some promise get called up quickly leaving ECHL teams without enough talent to put on a top notch show. But, for the most part, that’s par for every team so the ice isn’t tilted in any ones favor. This is the kind of hockey you pay forty bucks for two seats for, and in the end it’s worth it.

The Stockton Thunder are currently a Coyotes farm team, and are hardly the most intimidating opponents in the league. Their first year they were a farm team for someone else… Nashville I think, and they stunk up the league. But the citizens of Stockton filled the arena every night. It was great to watch. An entire arena of people who had never seen hockey before but were dying to learn all about it so they could support their team. It was funny being the first one in the arena to cheer a goal while everyone else was trying to find the puck or waiting for the red light to flash. The second year they became an Oilers’ farm team and really began to rock. It was their most successful year, and the fans were getting better two. Last year was another stinker and this year isn’t looking much better. But who cares? I spent twenty bucks a ticket. They may be my team but I don’t have the kind of loyalty that makes me sad when they lose, I’m just glad to be able to drive a short distance away to watch an attempt at minor league hockey. I cheer for their goals, and moan for their goals given up, but whatever the outcome I leave happy.

This Saturday started out great with two pretty goals in the first period, followed by awful defense and sloppy forechecking for the next two. The final score was 4-2, beaten by the neighboring city team, the Fresno Falcons (how can Fresno and Stockton both have teams and not Sacramento!!!). The most fun part of the game, and often this is the case when I go, is explaining to the fans next to me how the game works. Some folks behind me had some confusion regarding game misconducts and boarding penalties. I think the best part was when the woman behind me said “But they push each other into the boards all the time and never get a penalty.” I think it’s important, as a hockey fan, to always help other people become better hockey fans. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about new fans because they don’t know how to watch or talk about the game. Well don’t tell them to piss off! Educate them. Lead them into the hockey bliss that veteran fans feel every time we hear a blade on ice, or a slap shot. I remember when FOX mad the puck glow red so viewers could follow it better and “true” hockey fans went nuts, like a slight glow ruins the nuance of the game. I fully supported the experiment, because if one more person said to themselves “Now that I can follow the puck, maybe I’ll watch the game.” Then that was one more hockey supporter in the world, and the sport really needs it.

In the end Stockton gave up an empty-net goal with .3 seconds left to play and my friend and I got up and shambled out of the arena. But unlike when I see my favorite professional team lose, we didn’t once complain about the officiating, or our teams work ethic, or that we had been cheated. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves. If any of you, dear readers, have a local minor league team, I suggest you go and support them, it’s all the fun without all the responsibility.

THIS WEEKS QUESTIONS:

How many starts will Cory Schneider get while Luongo is out? What will Brian Burke’s first action as the Leafs’ GM be? Is this the week Brendan Shanahan gets signed? Can anyone stop the Sharks and their BlackArmor?

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MULLET POWER FAILS

Posted in Tampa Bay, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on November 17, 2008

Anyone in the States who loves hockey was a little saddened in the offseason when Barry Melrose was hired as the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a commentator, there weren’t many who could reach Melrose’s level of charm and personality. Or, for that matter, his absolutely stubborn commitment to a mullet hairstyle. But that’s ok, he comes from an old school hockey background, and that means you either go the mullet route, or dress like a couch gone wrong like Don Cherry. Anyway, back on topic, we knew we would miss Melrose on television, but I think I speak for many hockey fans when I say that we wished him the best of luck behind the bench in Tampa.

Fast forward a mere 16 games and he’s already gone; fired for not producing up the the standards of fans in West Florida, a place that until recently wouldn’t recognize hockey if blew in from the Caribbean with 90 mile per hour winds. Ok, so a record of 5-7-4 doesn’t look great on a resume, but it’s not like they were playing a bad brand of hockey. The problem in Tampa wasn’t that they were being outplayed, it was that they were being outscored… and that my friends is a big distinction in hockey.

What I’m trying to say was that the firing of Melrose so early in the season was not just bad protocol, it wasn’t entirely justified. But, when ownership sees a team icing both Martin St Louis and Vincent Lecalvalier while also scoring very little that puts them a bit on edge. I’ve also heard rumours… rumours… that St Louis and a few other offensive players had complained about the style of play under Melrose; that it was more defensive minded then they would have liked. I don’t know how credible this may be, but from what I’ve seen St Louis has certainly had plenty of offensive chances, perhaps just not as many finishes as he’s used to.

A lot of this, I feel, is how the team is currently built. They got rid of Brad Richards last year which is a bigger loss then I think management realizes it is. He’s not just a skilled guy, he’s a big guy, a guy who can make room for their smaller, faster goal scorers. Malone seemed like a good pick-up, but without players like Crosby and Malkin around him he’s really bombing this year. That, and he was never an amazing player anyway, good sure, great no. They also heaped too much pressure to Stamkos to provide scoring this year. Stamkos is going to be very good someday, but he shouldn’t have to be in the top five in scoring on his team in his first year.

This team will get better, it’s too good not to. They’ve steadily improved the D since the season began, their forwards are starting to put points up like they should, and all the players seemed to finally understand Melrose’s game plan. And then he was fired. The team will still get better and I expect them to start fighting for a top spot in what is an even weaker division then I expected before the season. I look forward to listening to Melrose’s spot on analysis now that he’s free, and I hope this firing doesn’t prevent him from any further coaching positions because he’s a good coach too.

Hear this Tampa Bay: What you just did was unneccesary and will in no way help your team. Hockey is a game of patience, not just on the ice but in the board rooms as well. If your team starts to faulter, well, that’s the nature of the game. Every team experiences down time, even Detroit went through some sad sack years. When your team is playing good hockey but still losing, be optimistic. When they start playing like they belong in the ECHL… then you can justify firing a coach so early in the season, not before.

THIS WEEKS QUESTIONS:

One simple question: With all-star balloting having begun, who do you plan on voting for? A few names come to mind over here. Tomas Vanek certainly. Roberto Luongo deserves a spot. How about Todd Bertuzzi having his comeback year in Calgary? Speaking of a comeback year, what about Teemu Selanne? How about the NHL all-star game is just as useless as every other all-star game outside of baseball. Well, at least it’s not football where the players voted in take the free trip to Hawaii and then don’t show up to the game. Well, the skills competition is actually pretty fun, I’d like to watch that.

THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF MARTY TURCO

Posted in Dallas, Players, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on November 10, 2008

There’s been a lot of craziness down Dallas way, and I don’t just mean Mike Modana mouthing off about Sean Avery and Steve Ott. No, I’m talking about the uncharacteristically horrible season plaguing Marty Turco. In previous years Turco has been considered one of the most skilled players at his position, even posting the lowest GAA in the modern era (later broken by Kiprusoff). Just a few years later he set yet another record posting three shutouts in one post-season series against the Canucks (a series he and the Stars eventually lost). In general, he has been a thorn in the side of goal scorers everywhere… until now. As of Saturday, the Stars have given up an astounding 54 goals, leading the league in that particularly bad stat. Turco has been in net for most of those goals giving him a stomach turning 4.11 GAA, .848 save percentage. Worst part is, their back-up, Tobias Stephan, would barely be considered a goalie in the AHL giving them almost no hope in net at this point. Actually, check that; the worst part is their former back-up, Mike Smith, is absolutely tearing it up in Tampa Bay.

So let’s go back to Saturday when Dallas was visiting San Jose and the last vestige of Turco’s hockey skills went bye bye. The one huge advantage that Turco has always had was his ability to play the puck. Teammates often commented that having Turco in net was like having a third defensemen. So in the game against the power house Sharks in which he had played up to Turco-par, holding them to one goal through nearly three periods, and with the game tied 1-1 with 30 seconds left, Turco played a long dump in. Sounds innocent enough, certainly a goalie with the puck handling skills of Marty Turco could play a simple dump in. Play it he did, right into a charging Patrick Marleau’s skates. A moment later the puck was in the net and the Sharks were on their way to a victory they may not have deserved.

The big question in Dallas right now is; can the Cowboys win without Tony Romo? The question only hockey freaks and Canadians are asking is; what in the world has happened to Mr. Turco? Certainly the aging defense in front of him isn’t helping, nor are all the penalties his team is taking, but that shouldn’t equate to leading the league in goals against. It just doesn’t make sense, Turco was/is a wonderful goaltender. Sometimes guys have flukey years like Jose Theodore, but Turco was no fluke. His entire career as a starter up to this point has been nothing but brilliant, even a great defense in front of him couldn’t create that good of an illusion.

Something is wrong, that much is certain, but what could it be? I’ve watched him play, and he doesn’t appear to be playing hurt. His range looks fine, as does his speed. His glove appears to be a little slow out of the gate, and he doesn’t have the same catching accuracy as he once did. He’s also giving up many more rebounds, and considering his defense is so much slower then the forwards coming into the zone that could definitely play a role. I think, and I believe that his mishandling of the puck against the Sharks is a symptom of this, I think that his confidence at this point is completely shot. He’s playing timid, and that’s no way for Marty Turco to play. Not only that, the goaltender behind him is even worse then he is so he has no real incentive to improve. He’s not going to lose playing time because of his on ice issues because they don’t dare give Stephan the starting role.

Is there a solution? Not a quick one. I believe this year may have to just be a bad one for Dallas and Marty Turco. They need to bring in some young defenders, this year preferrably to get them used to playing in the NHL. They need to get rid of people like Sean Avery who should have never been signed in the first place. And they need to get a first rate back-up so that Turco can relax on his days off, or should he get pulled at least believe that his team still has a chance because his back-up is capable of keeping a game close. I went way against the grain and picked Dallas to miss the playoffs this year, and it was precisely because of their age on D and their weakness in scoring. I never thought for a moment that they’d be in the bottom of the league because of their weakness in net.

THIS WEEKS QUESTIONS:

Carle for Eminger and Downie? What in the world is wrong with Tampa Bay’s GM? Will Carle help Philly right the ship? Will Luongo break his own shutout record Wednesday against Avalanche? Will the Rangers get rewarded an extra pick in the upcoming draft due to Cherepanov’s unforunate death? How much will losing Brodeur cost New Jersey? Will Toronto continue to trend up in the standings? Will Alexander Semin continue to play this well and be the best player in the league this year?

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