(AP Photo/ Jack Dempsey)

Before I get any further I should preface this post by saying I am usually quite biased against the Avalanche organization.  Despite living in Colorado my whole life, I was raised a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan due to my French Canadian grandmother.  I am usually hypercritical of the Avalanche, but Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post recently wrote about something that made me side with Avs fans for once in my life.  His recent posting about how Roy should get rid of Semyon Varlamov made me cringe due to the laziness of his argument, but after looking through traditional stats, advanced stats, and much more, this is where I stand.  

Hockey Fans are often incredibly passionate, irrational, and even a little elitist when it comes to their favorite sport.  They don’t understand why hockey isn’t popular, but at the same time they belittle newcomers for trying to learn the game.  I am very guilty of this although I am trying to fix it.

The same condescending attitude is directed towards people in the media that don’t normally cover hockey, and Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post is example number one this week.  Kiszla wrote about Semyon Varlamov today for the Denver Post’s Lunch Special, a commentary piece released each weekday around noon.  In his posting he said that Patrick Roy should get rid of their starting goalie right away.

“His first job as coach should be to find the Avs a top-notch, stand-on-the-head, Vezina-worthy goalie the team has lacked since some guy named Roy left the building in 2003.”

I continued to read the cop out of a column and thought his argument couldn’t get lazier; I was wrong.

“Gripe all you want about the Avalanche’s obvious lack of talent at the blue line. That’s why the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft exists for Colorado. Pick 18-year-old defenseman Seth Jones. Ask questions later.”

After seething with anger about how someone could get paid to write a pile of crap like that, I calmed myself down and decided to start looking into the situation.

Kiszla is right about the Avs needing good goaltending to be a contender.  He is wrong about Varlamov though.  At only 25 years old, Varlamov is a very promising young goaltender.   Varlamov is six-foot-two, very athletic, plays very well positionally, and is good at keeping his composure.  For a frugal team like the Avs, his $2.8 million cap hit one of the lowest for all starting goalies.  Varlamov is also the favorite to win the starting job for the Russian team at the 2014 Winter Olympics, as Puck Daddy reporter Dmitry Chesnokov said on the Marek vs. Wyshynski Podcast several weeks ago.  It all sounds promising to me.

One of the irresponsible things that Kiszla does in his commentary is mention Varlamov and Roy in the same breath.

“Everything about Varlamov, from his goals-against average to his save percentage, shouts: Average. Pedestrian. Ho-hum.

We’ve seen Saint Patrick, and Varly is no Saint Patrick.”

Obviously he is no Saint Patrick; no one is.  Not many people are as passionate and borderline insane about their profession, as Roy was.  But to cherry pick Varlamov’s GAA and Save percentage and compare them to a hall of famer is stupid.  If I wanted to be reckless too, I could compare Roy’s stats at age 25 (GAA-2.71, Save%- .906) to Varlamov’s at 25 (GAA- 3.02, Save%- .903).  They are pretty similar but I know better than to cherry pick stats that make my argument look stronger.

The thing that blew my mind in this commentary though was the fact that the weak Avalanche defense was so easily made an afterthought.  The same defense that specializes in leaving front of the net wide open for opposing forwards and hanging their goalie out to dry.  The same defense that may as well be playing shorthanded instead of playing Greg Zanon.

This past year I have taken an interest in the advanced stats that are now being put online for hockey, so I will try to explain the weakness of the defense through Corsi ratings.  Corsi, named after Buffalo Sabres goaltending coach Jim Corsi, is a measurement of puck possession in a way.  It measures the sum of all the shot attempts that are directed towards the opposition net in comparison to the shot attempts at one’s own net.  If  the value is high, it probably means that that player’s team has possession of the puck a lot because of the repeated shot attempts they are taking.

Corsi percentage is the percentage of Corsi events that a player’s team has while they are on the ice.  To help you gauge what a good Corsi% is, the best player this year was Jake Muzzin of the LA Kings with a 63.1% rating.  The top tier players for Corsi% were in the mid-to-high 50’s range this past year.  You can also look at the Corsi% for the team when a player is not on the ice (the value typically goes down if the player is good).  For the Avalanche’s defensive core I have created a chart with their Corsi% values for when they are on and off the ice.  I picked the 6 defenseman with the most playing time throughout the season because of the larger sample size.

With Player On-Ice 5v5 Without Player On-Ice 5v5
Player Corsi % Corsi %
O’Brien 53.60% 47.70%
Barrie 50.90% 47.90%
Johnson 50.70% 48.20%
Hunwick 48.80% 48.70%
Hejda 47.70% 49.20%
Zanon 45.70% 50.80%

From this data, Shane O’Brien is the most valuable defenseman on the team because of his fairly high value and the large drop that occurs when he is not on the ice.  After him, the defensmen are either mediocre or sub-par.  The values that jumped out at me the most were the values of Greg Zanon and Jan Hejda.  Both players have bad Corsi% values to start with, but when the player is not on the ice the team has a better percentage of Corsi events (shot attempts).  The Avalanche have 5.1% more shot attempts when Greg Zanon is on the bench than they do when he is on the ice.  That adds up over a long season.

Both Hejda and Zanon had over 700 minutes this season (two of three Avalanche defenseman to play that much), so you could imagine that their inefficiency on the ice would cause more stress for their goaltender.  If the Avalanche’s Corsi% goes down with either of those guys on the ice, that means the other team is possessing the puck more and therefore getting more shot attempts.  More shot attempts because of bad defenseman doesn’t fare well for any goalie.

Though it was a rough year for the Avalanche, and especially Semyon Varlamov, there is a bright future for the team.  With the right leadership, and some new faces on defense, this could be a playoff team come next year.  Varlamov will continue to mature slowly and if he is like most goalies he will hit his prime in his early 30’s (cough cough Craig Anderson, Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, etc).  Avs fans, along with media members, need to be patient while the team rebuilds and not try and blame the goalie for a lack of success.  It’s obviously working really well in Philadelphia…

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Third String Goalie

Posted: November 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Image

I haven’t been writing much lately since I have been busy with other things but I promise to start writing more for the few readers I may have left.  In the meantime, I recently had writing of mine posted on the great hockey blog Third String Goalie. TSG is a great site that revolves around hockey jerseys around the world and their history.  They also do a great job of teaching you a lot of hockey history in the process.  If you want to read my recent submission on the site you can find it here.

The O’Reilly Factor

Posted: August 29, 2012 in Player News

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

With this tumultuous offseason dragging on because of a potential lockout, the Colorado Avalanche have more to worry about than the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks that have been heating up as of late.  Unspeakably, the Avalanche is going into September without signing their rising star of a center, Ryan O’Reilly.  Only 21, O’Reilly finished his entry-level contract this last season, and despite having a breakout year, has yet to resign with the Avs.  O’Reilly made himself a potential staple of the Avalanche moving forward with his team leading 37 assists and 55 points, along with a league leading 101 takeaways.  This large statistical jump from his first two seasons leaves a reasonable person to have doubts as to whether it could be sustainable, but since he is so young there is still more room to grow.  If one dives even deeper into the advanced stats from Behind the Net, O’Reilly has a 1.75 P/60(points per 60 minutes), which was comparable to Dustin Brown, Erikk Karlsson, and Alex Ovechkin last year.  His Relative Corsi rating (an advanced +/- that has to do with scoring chances created when he is on the ice relative to when he is off it) has him close to Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Ryan Kesler.

Much like any other situation like this, money and length are the points of argument in the contract debates, but recent occurrences have made it even more complicated for the two camps involved.  As reported by Mike Chambers of The Denver Post, O’Reilly is seeking a 5 year deal between $3 and $4.5 million dollars, but the Avalanche don’t agree with either of those requests due his impending unrestricted free agency and how the market has been set this year.  In the National Hockey League, any player that is 27 years old or has played 7 full seasons in the league can declare himself an unrestricted free agent when their contract expires.  O’Reilly has already played three full seasons since he was drafted by the Avalanche in 2009, so anything more than a three year contract would leave him as an unrestricted free agent when the contract expires.  Since O’Reilly seems to be such a young and promising player, the Avalanche only want to give him a 3 year deal so that he will only have 6 years under his belt when the contract expires and Colorado will still own his rights as a restricted free agent.  If they were to give in to his demands and give him a longer contract, it could get really pricey since unrestricted free agents tend to drive the market up immensely with all 30 teams in contention of signing them.

Another thing that is hurting O’Reilly’s chances of getting the deal he wants is the market that his teammate and draft mate Matt Duchene set this summer.  After a very injury plagued and disappointing season, Duchene didn’t have much leverage with his contract negotiations so he was only able to sign a 2-year, $7 million deal.  Although this deal may be a bargain for the Avalanche, it really hurts the market for free agents that haven’t signed yet.  If O’Reilly were to hit the open market at this time without Duchene signing that terrible contract, O’Reilly could potentially make $4 million, but with the market set already he is realistically looking at $3-3.5 million a year.  Teammates David Jones and P.A. Parenteau signed identical deals for 4 years, $4 million AAV (Average Annual Value), and with similar production to O’Reilly it may seem odd that he is getting low-balled, but that’s business.  What I could see the Avalanche doing is what the Edmonton Oilers have been trying to do all summer with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.  Oilers GM Steve Tambellini knows that his future in Edmonton is in danger so he has been trying to resign both Hall and Eberle to identical long-term deals.  So far Hall has signed and Eberle is still negotiating.  With the market for O’Reilly where it’s at, it might be smart to give him $3.5 million for 3 years.

The one wildcard that could be holding the Avalanche back from pulling the trigger on a new deal is the fact the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement ends on September 15th.  With talks between the NHLPA and NHL offices going nowhere it’s hard to predict where the salary cap could be next season or what the requirement for unrestricted free agency could change to.  The latest proposal from the league has the cap going from $70 million down to $58 million.  If the drop in the cap ceiling were to be that drastic it would be hard for the Avalanche to give O’Reilly close to $4 million with their current salaries.  Although it may seem dumb to let the negotiations drag on this long, the Avalanche have plenty of time to get a deal done with their summer break about to be extended.

L’homme de L’heure

Posted: May 4, 2012 in League News

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

A new era has begun in Montreal.  Early Wednesday morning, news broke that the Montreal Canadiens had chosen a new GM for their franchise, and it was made official with a 2 p.m. press conference later that day.  Marc Bergevin, former NHLer and man of many trades (he speaks french!), was named the new GM for the struggling Canadiens.  At only 46 years of age he has played 1,191 games in the NHL, as well as being a scout, assistant coach, director of player personnel, and assistant GM for the Chicago Blackhawks.  He wasn’t a star in the NHL, he played for eight teams during his career, but he was a depth guy and a great teammate so teams kept calling.  When he retired as a player he wanted to stay in hockey and his good friend Dale Tallon, then with the Chicago Blackhawks, knew he had a good eye for talent so he brought him into the Blackhawks front office to work as a scout.  Bergevin’s scouting helped uncover gems like Chris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp, and he was eventually rewarded with a Stanley Cup in 2010.  Bergevin eventually worked his way up to assistant GM last year after former assistant GM, Kevin Cheveldayoff, left to become the GM of the new Winnipeg Jets.

Marc Bergevin reportedly beat out NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire for the job this week (Pierre has missed out on the Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and now Montreal GM jobs), along with Patrick Roy and Julien BriseBois, assistant GM in Tampa, who were also in the conversation.  The Canadiens have caught a lot of flak for this choice because of his lack of GM experience and education (he formerly ended school in 11th grade because of hockey), but with the way the NHL is moving towards younger GMs, it could be the smart choice.

Bergevin is no stranger to the pressure that will rain down on him once his initial grace period with the media ends; he may even be well suited for the job.  Marc grew up in Montreal being a big fan of the Canadiens and played numerous games in Montreal as an NHL player, so he is very familiar with the culture that surrounds the Habs.  He is also well known for being a jokester and very fun guy to have around in the locker room, which could be the perfect weapon against the very critical Montreal media.  The plethora of stories involving him and his jokes include him dipping donuts in wax for his teammates, riding a stationary bike with a helmet and water bottle after games, and dressing in drag on the side of the road with a sign to cheer on his team when he was listed as a healthy scratch.  His fun personality and good sense of humor could be a needed change after the very serious Pierre Gauthier regime.  Bergevin will definitely be a players GM and won’t do egregious things like Gauthier did when he fired assistant coach Perry Pearn and head coach Jaques Martin before games and traded Mike Cammalleri between periods of another game.  Marc understands what a player goes through and is familiar with the nuances of the game that other GMs may not be, so players will be the least of his worries.

The biggest issue for Bergevin and his new title as GM will be getting this team back to prominence.  After arguably the worst season in franchise history, there will be a lot of retooling needed to fix this team.  Bergevin has admitted that his weakness is his understanding of the salary cap, which is a big issue in Montreal with their old, overpriced contracts like that of Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle.  Luckily, there are many capologists in the NHL that could hopefully aide Bergevin and his understanding of the cap, so his knowledge of the cap should’t be too large of a problem. Going into summer the Habs will have $18.4 million in cap space and it could be even more if they can somehow get rid of Gomez and Kaberle.  The first priority for Bergevin will be to re-sign Carey Price, PK Subban, and Lars Eller, and then after that he will want to look into signing a number one center (something this team has been lacking for years) and a solid go-to defenseman that isn’t injury plagued like Andre Markov.  Things are finally looking up for the Canadiens after this disaster of a year, and having the number three pick in the NHL entry draft makes it even better.  The Canadiens could be on the verge of a turnaround, but if not, Bergevin can’t be worse than Gauthier right?

What to Do With Lu

Posted: April 27, 2012 in Player News

sportsofboston.com

con·tro·ver·sy
noun, plural con·tro·ver·sies.
1. a prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention;disputation concerning a matter of opinion.

2. contention, strife, or argument.

3. Anything involving Roberto Louongo and the city of Vancouver.

As Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet reported Thursday, Vancouver’s 64 million dollar man, Roberto Luongo asked Canucks management to trade him in his exit meeting.  Lu has a no-trade clause written into his contract and would have to waive that to be traded, so ultimately he has the last say in the trade and holds all the leverage in the situation.   Luongo has reportedly said that he would want to be traded to either Toronto or Tampa as of now but there is also speculation towards New Jersey and Columbus.  For any team to trade for Lu, it wouldn’t take a lot to get him but with a cap hit of $5.33 million until 2022, the team really has to believe in the guy and pay up.

Tampa Bay Lightning 

In my opinion this is the situation that makes the most sense for Luongo.  Tampa was last in the league this year in goals against with 281 goals and a goal differential of -46.  With the extremely skilled offense and developing defense that the lightning have, they would have been a playoff team if it weren’t for Dwayne Roloson’s rotting corpse sitting in the crease.  A deal could easily be made between Vancouver and Tampa because Canucks GM Mike Gillis has said that he wants more size on offense and Ryan Malone fits that bill well.  If Tampa were to part with Malone, that would get rid of a $4.5 million cap hit that would add on to the $3.4 million they already have free for next season.  Even though they would have the cap space to make this move, it is still hard for a small market team to commit $40.3 million in the next six years (his contract has a significant salary drop off in 2019). Luongo is also know for his somewhat fragile mind and his tendency to sometimes not play as well under pressure, but in a smaller market with less media pressure he should be able to flourish like his days with the Panthers.  His wife is also from Florida so playing in Tampa would be close to home and as everyone knows, a happy wife means a happy husband.

Toronto Maple Leafs

When it comes to Toronto, all I see are red flags and the only way I could see this happening would be if the media pressure finally caused Brian Burke to cave.  Burke has always been ridiculed for publicly saying that the Leafs need a solid goaltender and scoring center to be a good team, but then he goes out and signs depth players and defensemen (usually American despite the fans longing for a hometown boy).  Although Burke really wants a solid goaltender that could make his team playoff bound, he is also notorious for refusing to give players longtime contracts.  Luongo has essentially a lifetime contract (it ends when he is 43 years old) and although he could be a decent fit for the team, Burke will most likely stand his ground and try to sign or trade for a younger guy that he can ink for a shorter period of time like Jonathan Bernier or Josh Harding.  Also, with rumors of Tim Thomas or Miikka Kiprusoff possibly leaving, Burke could get one of them for much cheaper and a shorter period of time since they are at the end of their careers (basically he could do what Tampa did with Roloson in the 2010-2011 season).  The other huge red flag that comes with Roberto Luongo coming to Toronto is the rabid media.  Toronto has some of the harshest and unrelenting media in all of sports, and the fact that they haven’t been in the playoffs since before the lockout, they are even more critical and blood thirsty.  Since Lu has succumbed to Vancouver media pressure already, he would get eaten alive in Toronto.

New Jersey Devils  

This situation is probably the most interesting to me out of all of them.  Much like the Toronto situation is filled with red flags, New Jersey is full of “ifs”.  Luongo would be a good fit in New Jersey if Martin Brodeur retires, if Zach Parise doesn’t take his talents to another city and if Devils ownership can generate enough revenue to keep a winning team in town.  Brodeur’s contract has a cap hit of $5.2 million so Luongo’s $5.3 wouldn’t be a huge change, but the Devils’ financial struggles make it hard to spend $24 million on the salaries of just four players (Parise, Elias, Kovalchuk, and Brodeur/Luongo).  Ultimately, if the Devils can solve their financial woes and figure out what Brodeur and Parise are going to do, then they could be a candidate for Luongo, but it is going to take a lot of work and some luck for that situation to pan out.

Playoffs: My Thoughts So Far

Posted: April 20, 2012 in Opinion

Bruce Bennet/ Getty Images

With the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs about halfway over, I have to say that, despite it still being early, this has been the most fun NHL playoffs that I can remember in my short lifetime.  If you like parity, there is a plethora of it this year.  From the amazing skill, controversial physical play, and funny off ice stories (Bertuzzi’s ping pong incident), these playoffs have been nothing short of invigorating.  TV ratings have been at a record high for the NHL, and for the first time since the pre-lockout era, there is a legitimate amount of hype surrounding the league; both good and bad.  For this post I guess I will just be spitting out my thoughts and opinions on the playoffs so far.

Player Discipline

This year’s NHL playoffs have been nothing short of violent.  Brendan Shanahan has tried to set a tone in these playoffs by handing out nine suspensions and five fines already (a significant increase from last year), but his inconsistency in his ruling has left a lot to be questioned and really hasn’t done too much to curb the violent atmosphere this year.  I feel like Shanahan really missed his chance to set the tone with his non-suspension of Shea Weber, and since then he has overreacted and tried to make up for his big miss.  The thing that I believe is leading to his inconsistency is the fact that he is basing suspension lengths on injuries. This flawed reasoning leads to both the teams and the league stringing each other along until the last minute.  if you look at the Andrew Shaw-Mike Smith incident, Smith was obviously in a great deal of pain immediately after the play but was then able to continue the game and play the next game.  The Coyotes knew Shanahan’s injury policy though and used it to their advantage by listing Smith as a game-time decision so that it would appear he may be hurt worse than he is.  This game-time decision nonsense made it so the Blackhawks had to wait until the last minute to find out about Shaw’s punishment, which changes the Hawks’ lineup and game plan.  Somehow Shaw was given three games for trying to avoid Smith and accidentally hitting him, yet Shea Weber was given a measly $2,500 fine for this trash because Zetterberg was not hurt on the play:   I’m glad that Shanahan realizes that something needs to be done to stop overly violent acts in hockey, but I am afraid he is going start a suspension culture around the NHL that will either have the players in fear of doing anything, or if he keeps his sliding scale it could make violence worse as long as no one gets too injured.


Violence

I won’t say too much more about the violence so far, partly because I don’t have a problem with it, but I did want to share this funny video released by a Taiwanese animation studio about the chaos that has been the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far.  

My Favorites So Far

If you picked all chalk for these playoffs you were completely wrong.  The beauty of the NHL playoffs is that no team really has a large advantage because once the playoffs start it is a free for all.  This years playoffs have been extremely fun because of how unexpected they have been.  Not too many people came in thinking that the LA Kings would take a three game lead against Vancouver and even fewer people believed that the Flyers would dominate the Penguins so bad (ignore game 4).  After watching almost every game these last few weeks I am starting to get an idea of who is rising to the top in the NHL.  In the Western Conference the Kings have shocked everyone and I am hopping on their bandwagon.  If Jonathin Quick can keep up his stellar play it will be incredibly tough to get past these guys.  They have been very solid defensively and producing on offense so it will be tough to stop them but my favorite to come out of the west is Nashville.  The Predators have been very good this postseason and in my opinion they haven’t come close to their potential.  They have possibly the best defensive core in the playoffs and a top five goalie along with a very good offense led by Mike Fisher and new aquisition and soon to be NHL star Alexander Radulov.  It won’t come easy for the Preds but their fate is in their hands in my opinion.

The Eastern Conference is more of a crapshoot right now, but I believe Philadelphia and Boston are the two teams that I think could take the conference.  If Philadelphia can get Bryzgalov to play like the goalie he is payed to be they will be virtually unstoppable because of their potent offense and surprisingly solid defense.  Despite missing Chris Pronger, guys like Braydon Coburn have really stepped up and played very well.  As much as I hate to say it, Boston has the potential to take the conference also.  They have not been playing to their potential yet, and if they can get by Washington and get some production out of their top two offensive lines, I don’t see how they couldn’t go back to the finals.  The Bruins are just too big, tough, and skilled to not make another run and it would honestly be a disappointment if they don’t pick it up and make a run.  These next few weeks will be some of the best hockey we have seen and although I believe in my picks, it is the NHL and nothing goes according to plan.

To finish things off I wanted to share this playoff hype video posted by Janne Makkonen, the same guy who posted the inspiring “Our Way of Life” video several months back.  If you aren’t already pumped for playoff hockey, this video will do the trick: 

Bruce Bennett/ Getty Images

This Monday, the moronic Mike Milbury went on Sports Radio 94WIP in Philadelphia to talk about Sidney Crosby and the situation that had occurred the night before in the Penguins’ game against the Flyers.  The 6-4 Flyers victory ended in a line brawl and with Peter Laviolette and Tony Granato standing up on the boards screaming at each other.  This all started with Brayden Shenn’s cross-check to Sidney Crosby earlier in the game and ended in an all out melee.  Milbury, the opinionated man that he is, went on Philadelphia talk radio the next day and absolutely bashed Sidney Crosby and here is the gist of his tirade:

“Little goody two shoes (Crosby) goes into the corner and gives a shot to [Braydon] Schenn. Schenn was late to the party, he should have turned around and drilled him right away, but I guess better late than never,” said Milbury, who is an analyst on CBC and NBC.

“So you know, Crosby gets cross-checked, big whoop. He said after he came back from his 35th concussion, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m not going to get into this scrums, I’m going to stay away from that stuff.’ He couldn’t help himself because there’s a little punk in Crosby.

“He’s not the perfect gentleman. He’s not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I’d say screw him, hit him.”

The thing that amazes me most about this uncalled for attack on Crosby is that Milbury is just now in 2012 figuring out that Crosby isn’t a “goody-two-shoes.”  Crosby throughout his career has been a workhorse that is willing to get into the dirty areas, but he is also well known for crossing the line with a cheap shot or just flat out mugging someone.  The Sidney Crosby that I know is a great player that often does things like this: 

After taking a lot of flak for his comments, Milbury apologized on Tuesday and retracted everything he said.  This was due to Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, and many other people, who criticized Milbury for his ignorant comments.  Ray Shero even went as far to say that it was completely uncalled for that Milbury joked about the concussion issue that the league has been trying to fix.  Mike Milbury’s ego picked the wrong person to criticize this time.

Finally, I want to know where Mike Milbury’s gargantuan ego comes from.  Isn’t he the man that famously traded away Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Bryan Berard, Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi, and Olli Jokinen while coaching and Managing the Islanders?  Isn’t he the man who drafted Rick DiPietro first overall in the 2000 NHL Draft, instead of picking Danny Heatley or Marian Gaborik?  Isn’t he the guy who, when coaching the Boston Bruins in 1990, was up two games to none in the 1990-91 Stanley Cup Finals and then lost the next four games to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Mike Milbury needs to realize that he is not Don Cherry and that people don’t tune in to NBC Sports to listen to his opinions.  If anything people listen to hear the dumb and hypocritical things that come out of his mouth.  The game of hockey and the NHL are still growing in the US right now, and instead of blindly criticizing players that he doesn’t like and bringing bad press to NBC Sports, Milbury should be working to grow the game and teach casual fans more about the game.  Although controversy may get him the spotlight, the league as a whole is counting on NBC Sports and Mike Milbury to educate the fans, promote the game, and make it fun to watch.

The Radulov Situation

Posted: March 23, 2012 in Player News

Photograph by: John Russell , NHLI via Getty Images

With the most anticipated return other than Sidney Crosby this week, Alexander Radulov found himself back in Nashville on Tuesday ready to play out the remaining ten games and the playoffs for the Predators.  This move had many NHL GMs questioning the league’s choice to allow this transaction because it is after the trade deadline and no transactions are allowed to be made unless the player is put through waivers.  The loophole for Nashville though, was that he still had one remaining year left on his entry-level contract after he abandoned the team for the KHL in 2008.  Since Radulov’s KHL team, Salavat Yulaev, didn’t make the playoffs, both Alexander and the Predators talked about the possibility of him returning to the Nashville if the KHL would release him and the NHL would allow the transaction.  Although Salavat Yulaev was willing to let Radulov temporarily leave, knowing that he has contractual obligations to the team next season, the KHL Rules and Regulations made this ordeal very complicated.  By KHL rules, the league cannot terminate a player at the start of playoffs, and a player can’t terminate his contract without being subject to sanctions.  The sanction in this instance was that a player must pay 2/3 of his contract value to be able to end the contract.  Alexander was able to terminate his contract for the remainder of the season, but he did not pay off his contract.  An undisclosed person or entity actually bought out the next month of his contract to allow him to leave temporarily.

The next big step in Radulov’s return to the NHL was his contract with Nashville.  Although he still has a year left on his contract, the Predators only had (as of Tuesday) ten games remaining in the regular season, so they didn’t want to pay a full years contract for only about one eight of the season plus playoffs.  Ultimately, the Predators realized that it is not worth losing Radulov back to the KHL due to contractual disagreements, so they agreed to pay his full years contract, $984,420 for only ten games, plus he will get his playoff bonus when the playoffs start.  Who loves life more than Alexander Radulov right now?  He is the highest paid player in the KHL and is now getting an extra million or more dollars added on to his KHL money for only a small fraction of games.

To people who have heard of Radulov or seen him play might be thinking that this whole situation is blown out of proportion, but in fact, Radulov is one of the most dynamic players in the world and could be the final piece to a possible Nashville Stanley Cup.  It might also be what Nashville needs to convince Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to stay with the Predators after this season.  In his first two years with the Predators, Radulov was a very good forward.  His rookie season he had 37 points in 64 games, and then improved to 58 points in 81 games his sophomore season.  Since then, Radulov has led the KHL in scoring twice, is their all-time leading scorer, and has the records for most assists, points and best plus-minus in a season.  This guy is no joke.  For a team like Nashville who really only needs depth on forward right now, Radulov is everything they want and more.  Not only does he strengthen their offense immensely, but he is so skilled and dominant that teams will now have to play against him like they do a Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Kelser in the playoffs.  Teams will always have to be aware of where he is on the ice, because he is a legitimate scorer that can’t be ignored.  This move by Nashville, in my opinion, puts them in the first tier of Stanley Cup contenders along with teams like New York, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, and possibly Boston.  The remainder of the season will be extremely interesting to see if Radulov is able to fit right in to Barry Trotz’s system and improve the team even more, or if this whole situation was a waste of Nashville’s time and money.

For those of you who haven’t seen him play, here is is a highlight reel I found on YouTube of him that will give you a little glimpse of his talent.  

The Worst Front Office in Hockey?

Posted: March 18, 2012 in Opinion

By: Daniel Hogue

edmontonjournal.com

The Edmonton Oilers are not a good hockey team. In fact, they’re a bad hockey team. Brutal even. Shocker right?

It’s pretty sad that this is the way the hockey world is left to view what was once one of the NHL’s premier franchises, winning 4 Stanley Cups in the 1980’s and another in 1990, which remains to this day one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports. Even though that kind of success is very unlikely to ever be repeated (and shouldn’t be expected to be in the salary cap era), it’s reasonable to think the Oilers can have sustained success. Sure it’s one of the smallest markets in the league, but they have a rich owner, one of the most passionate fan bases in hockey, and a new state-of-the-art facility on its way downtown. To be honest, they did quite well for a while. A perennial playoff contender through the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Oilers even broke through in 2006, coming just a couple goals short of the franchise’s 6th cup, losing a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.

So the question is inevitably asked: What happened? How does a club go from that close to the Cup, so close they could taste it, to not making the playoffs since? To having the number 1 overall pick the last two years and possibly again this year?

Well, mismanagement happened.

Let’s say you acquire an elite level player. Take a gamble. Give up 3 (THREE!) solid NHL players for him (including All-star Eric Brewer) to get him in a controversial deal. He leads your team all the way to Game 7 of the cup final. Time to build around him for the long-term right? Nah, not Edmonton. Someone upstairs had the bright idea to move along and trade Chris Pronger (CHRIS PRONGER!) to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, and three picks. All because Pronger’s wife didn’t like living in Edmonton. At some point don’t you have to say, “Hey, you’re making millions to do what you love in a city where everyone loves you. Deal with it.” I know I would. Anyway, Pronger went to Anaheim and won the Stanley Cup the very next season, while Edmonton failed to make the playoffs, and Lupul and Smid did a whole lot of nothing on the ice (and only one of the picks turned into anything substantial, Jordan Eberle in 2008). So I guess that deal worked out well…

So the Oilers muddled in mediocrity for a couple years, losing hometown star and fan favorite Ryan Smyth in a trade to the Islanders because the Oilers wouldn’t pony up the cash. Went through coaches Craig MacTavish and Pat Quinn, now employing Tom Renney, even getting spurned by sniper Dany Heatley, who refused to waive his no-trade clause to go to Edmonton (even though he demanded a trade from Ottawa). It’s actually funny on some level.

So the Oilers had a really brutal couple of last seasons, finishing last overall and getting the first pick in the last two drafts. Armed with top prospects Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as well as solid young players Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner, the so called “Oil Change” should be just about finished right? Wrong. The Oilers are again cellar dwellers, last in the Northwest Division and second to last in the league, and were even enlightened enough to reward Ales Hemsky’s fantastic play (yes that’s sarcasm) with a two-year, $10 million dollar extension. Great move boys. So now when the Oilers pass on another top defenceman in this year’s draft to take another flashy forward, they’ll let Hemsky play on the top line and throw someone like projected No. 1 Nail Yakupov to play fourth line minutes.

Look, the Oilers have a great young core at forward, no doubt about it. But they have literally nothing in goal or on the back end. These aren’t the days of Gretzky, Messier, and Kurri, where you can just outscore opponents. Look how that’s working for the Washington Capitals. The fact of the matter is until they address these concerns, they aren’t going anywhere, certainly not back to the glory days.

You know what the saddest part of this depressing situation is? Edmonton actually DOESN’T have the worst front office in hockey.

Forgot about Columbus didn’t you?

Calder Hopefuls?

Posted: March 14, 2012 in Player News

Jack Dempsey/ Associated Press

With about twelve to thirteen games left in the regular season, it is of course getting close to playoff time, but it is also almost time to give out regular season awards.  Perhaps the most intriguing award race right now is for the Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) because of how tight the race is right now.  With four players putting up huge contributions for their teams and similar stats it will be a tough decision for the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and hopefully by the end of this you will be able to make some sense out of the race as well.  To make things easy I will go through the race for the Calder one player at a time and in the order I believe they are in right now.

Gabriel Landeskog

For me, Gabriel Landeskog is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year at this point in the season.  His contributions to the Colorado Avalanche, who are still fighting for a playoff spot, is too big to ignore.  To start, Landeskog plays an average of 18:27 minutes per game, which is considerably larger than the other top rookies at this point in the race (with the exception of Adam Henrique who clocks about 18:21 minutes per game).  Gabriel leads his team in goals, plus/minus, game-winning goals, and shots, while he also leads top rookies in takeaways, hits, and power play goals.  His two sided play and dominant stats for a rookie show his key contributions to his team, but also if you watch him play you will be even more convinced.  Being in Colorado I have the pleasure of being able to watch him constantly and it is fun to watch.  Landeskog plays like a true power forward and dominates through his physical game in the corners.  He is so big and talented that besides the occasional giveaway, you wouldn’t even know he is a rookie.  I would definitely say that he is first in line for the Calder right now, and he can probably solidify it if he is able to help get the Avalanche, who are tied for eight in the west,  into the playoffs.

Adam Henrique 

Although many people will dispute this, Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils is a very close second in the running for the Calder trophy.  As I previously said, Henrique clocks over eighteen minutes a game for the Devils, but his statistics aren’t quite as all-around dominant as Landeskog’s are.  Henrique is second on his team in plus/minus and leads the team in shorthanded goals. Also, he leads all rookies in points and assists, but one could say that that comes with an asterisk.  That possible asterisk would be that Henrique gets to play with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk on his line every night.  Having two of the NHL’s most talented players on your line would definitely help your nightly production, especially assists, which Henrique leads NHL rookies in.  Though his physical game may not mirror that of Landeskog, Henrique takes the cake with his penalty killing abilities, where he leads his team, along with all rookies, in shorthanded goals.  The thing that kills Henrique in my opinion is that his team is sitting pretty with the sixth spot in the east, while Landeskog and the Avalanche have been hot lately, and his contributions have been more noticeable while the Avs are still in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Matt Read

This rookie out of Bemidji State University has shocked everyone this year.  Very rarely do undrafted players make it in the NHL, but they almost never are in consideration for the Calder Trophy or any other trophy at season’s end.  With undrafted players like Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle, Dustin Penner, and Brian Rafalski in the league, it is not impossible to become an all star, but it is no cake walk either.  Read has been a pleasant suprise for the Philadelphia Flyers this year with his 39 points and +10 plus/minus right now.  He also plays close to seventeen minutes a game, which is quite impressive for a star-studded team like the Flyers.  I believe the one thing that is keeping Read from winning the Calder this year is his role for his team.  Although he is doing great things, the Flyers don’t depend on him to win games and can easily pick up the slack with such a high profile cast of forwards surrounding him.  The one thing that Read has going for him that the other rookies don’t is that he leads rookies in blocked shots and has the fewest turnovers out of the potential Calder contenders.  This guy is no joke, but with guys like Landeskog and Henrique ahead of him, he would have to be flat out spectacular for the rest of the season to win the trophy.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

This is the part of my analysis where I get somewhat sad.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a shoe-in for the Calder Trophy earlier this year, but his shoulder injuries have kept him out of a significant amount of games that will probably be the deciding factor in whether he has a chance at winning the award.  Nuge’s stats are great for the amount of games he has played.  As of right now, he has 41 points in 49 games, which amounts to a .83 point per game average.  He also gets close to seventeen minutes of ice time and was a part of one of the most exciting lines in hockey with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.  His unreal hockey smarts along with the skill of Eberle and Hall (not to discount RNH’s skills either) were probably the brightest spot in the Oilers season.  I think he still has a slim chance of winning the award, but he would have to get healthy really quick and continue on the pace he was at before his shoulder injury.