5.31.2006

Seriously?

Reports indicate that the Toronto Maple Leafs have agreed to a five-year deal with defenceman Bryan McCabe. The deal is reported to be worth between $5.5 million US and $6 million per year.

Am I the only person who thinks this is insane money for a guy who is nothing but a defensive liability? If he gets between $5.5 million US and $6 million per year, what will Redden and Chara get once they enter the free agent market?

In any case, this means that we can enjoy more of this from McCabe:

The Legend of The Playoff Beard

There are all kinds of sightings and sayings to indicate that spring has arrived. For me, the true sign is when playoff beards start sprouting.

The playoff beard, a superstitious practice, largely restricted to National Hockey League (NHL) players where a player does not shave during a run for the ultimate prize - the Stanley Cup - is now a right of passage in the NHL. Almost all players stop shaving when their team enters the playoffs and does not shave until said team is eliminated or wins the Stanley Cup. It is believed that the tradition was started in the 80's by the New York Islanders with Butch Goring, Billy Smith and the boys.

The Stanley Cup Finals are set to begin on Monday and it is time to examine the best beards of 2006.

Total Hair Award

The team award goes to the Edmonton Oilers, hands down. Pisani, Torres, Smith, Smyth, etc look like they are ready to head to a Toby Keith concert with a couple of Jack and Cokes.

Final Four

Western Conference Glory

Anaheim Ducks and the best Salt and Pepper.





Oilers Shaggy Duo - A beard and a musty




Eastern Conference Scruff

Carolina Hurricanes and the Best Greg DeVries Impersonation


Buffalo Sabre or Woolly Mammoth

5.30.2006

Game 7

What can you say about the Buffalo Sabres? They have to be, along with the Oilers, one of the toughest and scrappiest teams in recent memory.

They do have more skill and speed that Edmonton, but they are missing 3 of their 4 top defensemen. To think that they are within one win of making it to the Cup final boggles the mind. As the teams stand now, on paper, Carolina should have sent them home long ago, but they keep fighting back.

The Hurricanes are no slouches though. They are a great team and have shown that they are quite resilient. They will not go down on Thursday without a fight. It will be one hell of a game 7. This is what the playoffs are all about.

Question of the day: If the Sabres win and face the Oilers in the Stanley Cup final, will any pucks actually make it to the goalies or will the players block them all?

In the Old Days...


...this was an Oiler Stanley Cup Celebration.


Love the "Mall Hair" and the sleevless Metalica shirt. Both never get old!!

Cats De-clawed

So, I get one wrong once in a while. I'm not perfect.

Now that I've had a few days to digest the Memorial Cup final, I feel I can comment on the game. A game in which the Moncton Wildcats were beaten by the Quebec Remparts in game that ended up being a showcase for Canada's best junior player.

The Remparts, who won 6 - 2, were led by young Russian phenom Alexander Radulov who had 2 goals and 3 assists in the game. On his second goal, he literally went end-to-end and scored by banking the puck off an opposing defenseman's skate. He was electrifying all night, not to mention all season (61 goals, 93 assists in 62 games in the regular season). The Predator fans will enjoy this young man next season.

What was most impressive was how the Remparts took control of the game in the first two periods. At one point, they were up 4 - 0 on the #1 ranked team in Canada, who were playing at home. Quebec was no slouch (ranked #2 in Canada), but that's still no easy feat.

The Moncton Wildcats had a great tournament and made the city proud. Unlike the offensively charged Remparts, the Wildcats are led by their goalie and their defence. Nobody on defence played horribly and Josh Tordjman was decent in the nets. None of them, however, played exceptionally well. It didn't help that one of the CHL's best defensemen, future Vancouver Canuck Luc Bourdon, was playing on one leg.

No excuses though. The Remparts were great and were the best team on that day. Kudos to Patrick Roy for teaching the new generation how to win. Not many are better at it than he is. Plus, if ever his goalie is having a horrible game, he'll surely pull him out before 9 goals are scored.

Common sense on the North Saskatchewan

During the second round of the 2004 playoffs, the Red Mile was yet but an emerging phenominon where fans joined together in an exuberant yet restrained celebration. Everyone was having fun and there were very few problems, even though the crowd size was exceding 20,000 or more on game nights.

This isn't to say that there weren't dipshits in the crowd. I do recall a guy trying to start something by throwing raw eggs into the air, and another tossing full water bottles at random. In both of these cases, the majority of the crowd booed these morons into submission, and very little of these incidents occurred throughout the rest of the playoffs, even during the end when things could have been much worse.

Which begs the question, why aren't Grease fans acting in the same manner to put their E-tard peers in their place?

It is refreshing that instead of touting for increased police presence on today's Whyte Avenue, the Edmonton Sun editors page is calling for some "good, old fashioned peer pressure" to "keep the losers in line". This is a long overdue sentiment made by community leaders which should be taken heed by the youth of Shiv City.

I don't know if this attitude will be taken up by the celebrants of the Stanley Oil run of 2006 but, if nothing else, it does allow me to express some pride that my fellow Red Milers of 2004 did not have to be told to put idiots in their place long before the damage to Calgary's image had been done.

5.27.2006

Pond Scum

Well, I hate to say I told you so, but...I did predict that the Ducks would be roasted by the Oilers in this round. Since the Buffalo - Carolina series is tighter than Condoleeza Rice, I can at least say that I'm batting .500 already. Maybe, now, I can start being intersted in the Eastern Conference final (is it just me?).

Many will say that Edmonton was lucky to win this series in 5 games because they seemed to have been outplayed by the Ducks for some fairly long stretches. Early in the series, pundits were saying that the Oilers couldn't continue playing the way they were and expecting to win when they only dominated for 10 - 12 minutes per game.

Those people may be right, but I've always felt that too much emphasis is put on the offensive domination and not enough on the more well-rounded approach.

The Oilers were very tight defensively throughout the series and they had the best goaltending by far. Add to that phenomenal penalty killing and some very opportunistic offense and you have a recipe for success.

The Oilers now get a well deserved break to help their players get over the flu and the various upper and lower-body injuries that need tending to. Whoever faces the Oilers next will have to be ready for a team that will be hungry to bring the Stanley Cup to Canada after a 13 year absence.

Some random notes from the game:

Bob Cole and Harry Neale are horrible (FYI: Jason Smith and Ryan Smyth are not the same person), but they do have some good lines once in a while. Such as...

Cole: Is that a beard or is Niedermayer eating a muskrat.

Neale: The Ducks PP is only working at 8.3%. I had two beers last night that were stronger than 8.3%.

Finally, Who was the screamer in the crowd at the Arrowhead Pond? Every time the Ducks got close to the Oilers’ net, she shrieks. WTF was that about?

Bring on Buffolina!

Coaching Duel

As I had predicted (sort of), the Moncton Wildcats learned a hard lesson by losing a chance to earn a bye straight the the Memorial Cup final and won a hard-fought game against the Vancouver Giants last night to make it to the final game.

The Moncton - Vancouver game was a great one until a few idiots on the Giants' team decided to embarass their team and their coach by gooning it up in the last seconds. I understand how emotional players get in these situations, that was a disgraceful display of sportsmanship from the Giants.

But, I digress. On to the final game...

The Moncton Wildcats and the Quebec Remparts have already gone head-to-head in the QMJHL final and it was a great series. Both teams are evenly matched, both in skill and in their hatred for each other. This will make for an intense game.

On paper, the Remparts seem to have more skill. They do have, after all, the CHL player of the year in Alexander Radulov. He and Mathieu Melanson, the son of 3-time Stanley cup goalie and current goalie coach for the Habs Roland Melanson, have been tearing it up in the post-season.

The key to Moncton's game is balance, goaltending and coaching. The first two are important, but the latter may well be what gives the Wildcats the edge.

Much has been written about the two high profile coaches that will be behind the benches in this final, but I believe Ted Nolan has the edge over rookie coach Patrick Roy. Regardless of Roy's outbursts and antics, he still is a very "green" coach and I think Nolan will have his team better prepared.

When Roy said, earlier in the tournament, that Moncton was bound to finally lose at home that that their Goalie, Josh Tordjman was due to play a bad game, he was right. Problem is, the Wildcats had their bad game and are now, once again, firing on all cylinders. Roy may have gotten what he wanted earlier, but he may regret that by tomorrow.

In the end, I am nothing but a "homer" and somewhat of a bandwagon jumper, but I make no excuses for it.

Go Cats Go!

5.26.2006

Hull no Oates

At least we still have Bert and Ernie. Brett Hull is finally emerging from Adam Oates' shadow and tying the knot.

The wedding is slated for July in Cabo San Lucas. Funny, my reservation must have got misplaced during the move.
Cross posted at Moldy.

5.24.2006

'Topes Lose!, 'Topes Lose!

After being unbeaten in their last 12 home games, the Moncton Wildcats ended up on the losing end of their final round-robin game at the 2006 Memorial Cup.

The much-hyped matchup between the country top 2 junior teams, who battled fiercely in the QMJHL final, was a tense affaire after the coaches went at it in the media. Patrick Roy got under Ted Nolan's skin when the former superstar goaltender said that the Wildcats goaltender, Josh Tordjman, was "playing over his head" and that he was due to have a bad game.

Nolan took Roy to task with this reply: "He's the one who put his arms up in the air and walked out of Montreal," said Nolan. "For him to say something against a teenager, it's classless. We're going to go out (tonight) and play our game. We're not too concerned about what Patrick Roy is saying."

Even with the unconditional support of their coach, the Wildcats were still not able to beat the Remparts and, as a result, they will have to play a semi-final game against either Peterborough or Vancouver before they get another crack at Roy and his Remparts in Sunday's final.

In the past, it was almost guaranteed that the team getting the bye straight to the final would end up winning the Cup. This year, tournament organizers have added an extra day between the semi-final and the final.

This is a significant change that, hopefully, will help the Wildcats.

Sad day for Lubelly

Our good friend and honorary team member, Lubelly (honorary because he begged to be added to the roster, but he won't post), will be sad to read that his favourite player of all-time, Chris Chelios, will not make a triumphant return to the Habs line-up.

The veteran defenseman, and two-time Norris trophy winner, will lace them up for a 22nd season in the NHL and he will do so in a Detroit Red Wings uniform.

Lubelly can rejoice, however, as Chelios' contract is only for one year. As he is not human, he will surely play for another 7 or 8 years.

There is still hope.

5.23.2006

Ducks Down for the Count


OK, so everyone agrees that was an ugly win. I know we'll hear all about how the Ducks outplayed the Oilers and that they "deserved" to win that one. Unfortunately, for Anaheim, the only factor that separates winners and losers is the final score.

Once again, Roloson played great and made key saves. He, like the rest of his teammates, ran out of gas in the middle of the 3rd period and let the Ducks back into the game. For Anaheim, however, it was too little too late.

The Ducks did themselves with poor special teams play. They had a number of power play chances in the 1st and 2nd periods and only scored once. In the 3rd, they took some really stupid penalties and the Oilers took advantage of it. That was the key to the game.

At the risk of repeating myself, how good has Peca been? He's looks like he's faster than he was when he was a lad and he's sniping top corners like a young Mike Bossy. And what about my boy Fernando? Scores the winner again and he has the best name in hockey.

Bottom line, the Oilers are winning dirty. They were outplayed tonight, but each player stuck to the system (as boring as it may be) and they capitalized and the few good chances they had.

Looks to me like a winning recipe.

----------
* Yes, the beaten man in the picture is none other than Ricardo Montalban. ¿Quien es mas macho?

5.22.2006

Give me a home where CBC roams

As a typical Canadian I am allowed to complain about services in Canada without appreciation of how good "we" have it. Anyone who frequently travels will know that Air Canada is actually a good airline and wins international awards. This might be a function of the poor competition, however, even the bad have to beat someone.

The NHL playoffs are no exception to this rule. The hockey coverage in the United States is AWFUL. We do not know how good CBC coverage is. You need to pay a guide to find hockey games on a cable package.

I have been in two major US centers in the past two weeks and have managed to catch exactly 1 game on television - to be fair NBC apparently had a game on a Saturday morning sandwiched between re-runs of Pee Wee's Playhouse and a Bowflex infomercial.

Now, back to my rant. The Ottawa and Buffalo series finale was the only game that I could track down. The coverage was from the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), and it was, to be kind to backpackers, fly fisherman and Babe Winkelman, terrible. The camera work was junk. This network has no business trying to carry hockey. The professionals stopped playing hockey outdoors the same year the "puck" was invented, many of the the OLN cameras - and most of their technology - were purchased. There were so many times when I was craving CBC coverage - even with Neale, Whitman and Millen. Desperate times call for drastic measures. What is even worse, is that very few cable providers have that channel on their package. There hasn't been a hotel that I visited that carries it.

The league has an exciting and improved product. It now needs a major league television deal. Please get back on ESPN. Beg the network to take you back and sandwich your game between 5 pin bowling and a spelling bee. Ask to be shown at half-time on the WNBA. Negotiate for a slot next to Stump the Schwab. I don't care. Get on a network with a sporting background.

Happy to see the Oil win again and hoping to catch game 3 at the ESPN Sports Zone in Vegas and maybe lay a few "dead presidents" on the lads for Redmonton.

Cross-posted at Moldy.

5.21.2006

Can You Hear The Drums Fernando?

Is there a team in the 2006 NHL playoffs that has shown more grit and team cohesion than the Oilers? I haven't seen any.

The Oilers won again tonight and leave Anaheim with what now looks like a huge 2 - 0 lead in games. When you consider that most of the Edmonton fans would have been ecstatic at the thought of the Oilers simply earning a split a stealing the home ice advantage from the Ducks.

A few observations from the game:

1. Roloson was simply awesome. He seems to be deeply ensconced in what is commonly referred to as "the zone". Unlike Huck, I think he's for real (at least for this year's playoffs).

2. Peca has been just as awesome. He has 4 goals in his last 6 games; all of them were quite impressive. For over a week now, I've been asking myself who number 37 is and what did he do with the regular season Mike Peca.

3. Bob Neale and/or Harry Cole are just awful. I can't even tell them apart anymore. How nay professional sports commentator cannot learn the names of the players on the only Canadian team still in the playoffs is beyond me. He, they or whoever was on tonight kept getting Peca and Pisani mixed up and referred to any of the Edmonton defensemen as, well, the Edmonton defenseman.

This is for number 34:

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty Fernando
Though we never thought that we could lose
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando

5.20.2006

Around the (Hockey) World in 800 Words

There’s an amazing amount of hockey to be watched on the weekend. I, unfortunately, can’t watch every minute or even every game, so here are some early impressions of the coverage I have seen.

Oilers – Ducks (Game 1): Missed the game, but saw the highlights and read the live coverage on mc79hockey. I’ve just discovered the blog and I thank the author for the compliments on Puck This!:

“There's a well written blog called Puck This! that I've been looking at lately.”
Like most of us, the author got a kick out of the “battle” between Huck and Sacamano from the Battle of Alberta blog. He does reference the quality of the writing twice and, in the second reference, he writes:

“I'm almost certain from the quality of the writing on the site that these guys are well educated and well beyond their undergraduate days.”
I’d like to feel proud and take some credit for that comment, but I’m fairly sure that he’s referring to Rob’s writing. Actually, I’m certain of it.

Oh yeah, about the game…

I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. I have, after all, picked the Oilers to move on to the Stanley Cup final. I also didn’t buy any of the “will the Oilers be tired” business. None of the teams get tired at this point. If so, they have no business being in the Conference finals.

As for Anaheim being “rusty”, well, that may have been the case. It’s a far better explanation than “fatigue” had the Oilers lost. In any case, as I’ve previously mentioned, I don’t think the Ducks can match Edmonton’s intense, physical, style of play.

Canada – Sweden (WHC Semi-Final game): This one hurt to watch. Canada has played so well in this tournament and to lose at this point and in such a way, is tough. Canada, in my view, outplayed the Swedes for most of the game (except, maybe, for the 2nd period), but they got some real bad bounces.

Canada was down 5 – 2 at the end of the 2nd and they rallied back to 5 – 4, but they were unable to make up the huge deficit.

Sweden, to their credit, played well defensively. They were great at cutting down the passing lanes and, essentially, contained Sidney Crosby for the first two periods (if you consider a two-handed cross-check to the face as “containing”).

Let’s hope Canada will be able to find the energy (and the interest) to take the Bronze from the Finns.

* I also watched a good chunk of the Finland – Czech Republic game and I still am amazed of well the Czechs play in international tournaments. They never seem to have the best team on paper, but the systems they have put in place, and the unconditional buy-in from all the players are quite impressive. Just as impressive was the play of Tomas Plekanec. He’s going to have big year for the Habs in 2006-2007.

Hurricanes – Sabres (Game 1): I was also not able to catch much of this game, but from what I did see, it was a very high-tempo game, but both team were very cautious defensively.

Surprisingly, it seemed that Carolina had trouble with the Sabres’ speed (I may be the only one who was surprised by that). The Sabres are fast, but so are the Canes. From the looks of it, this series will live up to the hype. I just hope they actually have night games so I can watch them after my son goes to bed.

Moncton – Vancouver (Memorial Cup): The Wildcats took their first game of the tourney in front of a very boisterous home crowd. It was great to see that the game is alive and well in my homeland.

Moncton had a very tentative first period. They directed only 3 shots on the Vancouver net. They were down 1 – 0 after the first, but came out strong in the second with two goals to take over the lead. The teams exchanged goals in the third and Moncton won 3 – 2.

I was a little worried with the slow start, but if the Wildcats play like they did in the last half of the game, they have a great shot at the Cup. I’m confident Ted Nolan will make sure the jitters aren’t there in game 2.

* I also caught some of the Peterborough – Québec game and the Remparts impressed me. They were actually robbed by Shantz, the Petes’ goalie. Regardless, I was not really rooting for Quebec as I don’t relly like Patrick Roy. He is, arguably, the best goalie to ever play the game, but he just comes off as the most arrogant SOB ever. Too full of himself for me.

I need to write thirteen more words to reach my goal of 800.

5.19.2006

Moncton is (Memorial) Cup Crazy

The 2006 Memorial Cup started tonight and, this year, it will be hosted by the City of Moncton in the great province of New Brunswick.

I grew up 20 minutes from Moncton and I lived in the city for years while I pretended to be a serious student.

Moncton will be a great host and they went to great lengths to make sure that they would ice a competitive team. At the end of the regular season, they were the #1 team in the country and they just won the QMJHL championship.

The Irving family, who owns the Wildcats, have spared no expense and made sure that, first and foremost, their young team would be led by a great coach. Ted Nolan was hired and has done a great job.

Here’s to hoping that the trend of the home team winning the cup continues and that Moncton becomes the first team based in the Maritimes to win the Memorial Cup.

5.18.2006

Third Round Hunches

Well, I was pretty much the opposite of Huck in the second round. I batted 0.250, which is still a better average than Barry Bonds. I was not only off in my picks, but alos in the length of the series.

Following my second round hunches, Freak-o-nomics commented on how most analysts and fans tend to predict longer series in the second round than in the first. His comments were bang-on (a must-read, really) and I seem to have fallen right into this trap. Here's where I went wrong (mostly):

Anaheim v. Colorado:

My pick: Ducks in 7
Winner: Ducks in 4
San Jose v. Edmonton:

My pick: Sharks in 7
Winner: Oil in 6
Carolina v. New Jersey:

My pick: Devils in 6
Winner: Canes in 5
Ottawa v. Buffalo:
My pick: Sens in 7
Winner: Sabres in 5
Predictions for 3rd Round:

Now, I have to say that, after watching more games in the second round, I got to know the western teams better (who know Shawn Horcoff was lightning fast?). Despite my bad predictions, the teams that make up the final four are all well-balanced and hungry to win. Also, all of them are fast, really fast, which will make for great hockey (unless the officials start letting "the players decide the outcome").

Finally, all of the four teams have stellar goaltending. It's unbelievable that three of the four goalies are rookies.

That being said, here's what my gut tells me...

Carolina v. Buffalo:
I've not only copied Huck's template for predictions, but I'll actually steal his first line: "This will be the best series in the 2006 playoffs, hands down." I will pay more interest to the Oilers - Sharks series, but this one will be filled with an unmatched level of skill. So far the Sabres have yet to meet a team that could match their speed and intensity. The Canes will not only be up to the task, but they'll bring in more than Buffalo can handle.

Canes in 6

Anaheim v. Edmonton:

I don't think I saw Anaheim play a single game in the regular season, but I've watched many of their games in the playoffs. They are quite impressive, especially when it comes to team defense. The whole squad has committed to the "defense first" philosophy.

I don't think, however, that they have yet to play a team who plays with the desire and intensity of the Oilers. Edmonton will not only bring skill, but a physical style of play that the Ducks are not accustomed to.

This will be the tipping point (also, I'm officially on the bandwagon...sorry Huck).

Oilers in 7

Where I went right, where I went wrong

I batted 1.000 in the second round of the NHL though with some reservation. In retrospect, I should have been more bold in my predictions, because anyone could suggest a series go to seven games if one is less confident as to the differences of each team. I won't make that mistake again.

Anaheim v. Colorado:

My pick: Ducks in 7
Winner: Ducks in 4

I thought the Ducks were good but I didn't think they were that good. Bryzgalov was brilliant between the pipes and Anaheim's star players turned up to score at key moments. However, it was the timely contribution of the youngsters which impressed more than the others, in particular, the incredible 4-goal-game by Joffrey Lupul. The main difference, however, was the coaching. The Avs didn't play bad per se, but it was as if they felt they were playing above their heads. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle had his team believing that they were exactly where they should be. That was the difference.


San Jose v. Edmonton:
My pick: Oil in 6
Winner: Oil in 6

During the Stanley Cup playoffs, it is a well-known axiom that your top players must be your best players, and that was the case here. Pronger is clearly in MVP form. It was his composure during the grease monkeys' first two losses which allowed them to regroup and steal the next few games, even though they had to come from behind in three of them.

Joe Thornton, on the other hand, turned out to be a huge waste of space. Yes, there was a stifling shadow on him at all times and, yes, he drew coverage away from Marleau's line, opening up the ice for his teammates. However, that didn't stop Lemieux, Gretzky, Iginla, Richards, Lafleur, Trottier and a whole host of others take their team right to the very end. Hell, even Eric Lindros led his team to the final once. That should say it all.


Carolina v. New Jersey:
My pick: Canes in 7
Winner: Canes in 5

The best time to go on a 15-game winning streak is during the third game of round one, not 11 games left in the regular season. The Devils, who hit their stride by playing dominant hockey against slumping teams, met their match at the hands of an overwhelming Hurricanes roster. Cam Ward outplayed the great Marty Brodeur in goal, though the latter should not be blamed for the near-sweep. The dust demons themselves were completely outplayed in every important aspect and it was evident that once they were blown out in game one by the Hurricane juggernaut, they lost their swagger.


Ottawa v. Buffalo:
My pick: Sabres in 6
Winner: Sabres in 5

As I figured, the Sens were out-desired by the fast and ferocious fellas from 'falo. Ray Emery between the pipes was shit and Ryan Miller responded with MVP-like goaltending. Lindy Ruff, having beaten both Bryan Murray and Ken Hitchcock, is finally earning the paycheques he received over the past few years of futility and has shown his place amongst the best in the game.

If Ottawa fans can take any solace, it's that GM John Muckler doesn't have to think twice about signing Zdeno Chara for $7 million. See ya later, freak.




Predictions:

As usually happens during the playoffs, coaching and goaltending were the primary differences between the winners and losers. I'm predicting that for the conference finals, this will not change.


Carolina v.Buffalo:
This will be the best series in the 2006 playoffs, hands down. We have two fast, cocky clubs riding on the backs of confident rookie 'tenders and being propelled by nifty playmakers -- specifically, Briere and Staal -- and a hard-hitting forecheck. Both teams have a no-nonsense no-name defense corps who are good enough to give their scorers a chance to win the game. Peter Laviolette is a terrific coach but I can't see him outcoaching Lindy Ruff. However, the intangible will be, once-again, Rod Brind'Amour. He is the heart and soul of the Hurricanes and has proved he can elevate his game when his team has needed it most.

Gaddamn, this will be freakin' awesome.

Canes in 7


Anaheim v. Edmonton:
The Oilers have beaten tremendous odds against them so far by knocking off supposedly far more talented rosters with apparent ease. However, if one looks at either San Jose or Detroit closely, one could see the lack of heart and determination by their star players as the series wound down, a trait which was not emulated in the dressing rooms of their opponents.

A lack of killer instinct is one luxury which will not be provided by the Ducks. Their long layoff might appear to hinder this organization which has re-written the Calgary Flames textbook on stifling defensive play. This is a team which is having fun while being miserly, and especially enjoys ripping the hearts out of their opponents if given the opportunity.

If the Shiv City Lube Jobs can topple the Mickey Mouse Quackers, then all the credit to them. But just as I don't think E-town could have beaten Calgary in a seven-game series, there is even less of a chance of them upsetting Anaheim.

Ducks in 5

Class of the NHL

The classy fans of Edmonton continue to show the world how much of a "first-rate sports town" it can be:

Within two hours of the Oilers' series-clinching 2-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks, chaos was erupting on the Whyte Avenue strip.

Thousands of jubilant fans poured into Old Strathcona and even as scores of police - including the riot squad - tried to keep a lid on things, mayhem took over.

At 105 Street and 82 Avenue, the centre of the maelstrom, two young women flashed their breasts while standing in a shopping cart. The women continued their antics as the cart was lifted by the crowd and began floating over the revellers.

Nearby, fireworks exploded into the air. One blast veered sideways and shot directly into the cart. The explosion wrecked the cart and sent the women plummeting into the crowd. At press time, their condition was not known.

Two blocks away at 107 Avenue, another man was reportedly severely injured when he was hit in the face by a flying bottle.

In fact, bottles were flying through the air all over Old Strathcona. By 11 p.m., shattered glass was all over the streets.

Up above the crowd, people stood on rooftops, while others climbed trees and lighting poles.

And everywhere was the heady scent of marijuana.


Riot squads? Beer bottle missiles? Fireworks on the streets? Drug-fueled streetlight scrambling? You're right, Sacamano. This does totally suck.

Questions

  • With the absence of lousy goaltending, scoring support and rib injuries, what will be Joe Thornton's excuse this time?
  • Which Swedish-born captain should be putting his home up for sale in the Ottawa-Gatineau real estate market?
  • Who, aside from Sydney Crosby, will be selected in the Pittsburg Penguins dispersal draft?
  • Why is Glen Sather, who has coached, but never built, a championship team, sitting in the Hall of Fame while Pierre Lacroix resigned because of a second-round loss?
  • How many people will be stabbed tonight on the Blue Whyte Ave Mile?
  • Who will be the last former Flames defenseman standing: Commodore or Lydman?
  • Which coach, due to his regular season prowess, will be considered the biggest choke artist since Billy Reay: Pat Quinn or Bryan Murray?
  • Is Bryzgalov as good as Kiprusoff?
  • Is Kipper as good as we thought?
  • Who is going to win the Cup, and who is going to win the Conn Smythe?

5.17.2006

Bring on the Ducks!


How could the Oilers lose after witnessing the ultimate "support rally"? They couldn't.

I will post a more in-depth analysis of the series later and I will also revise my (bad) predictions for round two. If I have the guts, I may even venture some guesses for round three as well.

In the meantime, check out the pictures of the rally in Edmonton posted by Colby Cosh.

(Thanks to the Battle of Alberta for the link)

On to the semis

While I'm avoiding "After Forty Minutes", I figured I'd take a minute to post an update on the IIHF World Men's Championship in Latvia.

Canada faced Slovakia in the quarterfinals today and, after being tested for the first two periods, exploded for three quick goals in the 3rd period to take the game 4 - 1.

The Canadian coaches have been preaching defence first and, apart from the breakdown against the Czechs, the Canadians have been strong in their own end. What is encouraging is that, when they need to, they can turn it on offensively as well. This is not really a surprise given the lineup they have.

As has been the case all tournament long, Crosby and Bergeron have been leading the charge. They are both tied at the top of the tournament leaderboard with 13 points. I can't wait to see these two matching up with Ovechkin and Malkin in 2010 in Vancouver.

Canada faces the Swedes in the semi-finals on Saturday. The Olympic champions have a strong team and they easily ousted the Americans today as they routed them 6 - 0. I hope that the "Phil Kessel is the next Sidney Crosby" talk will stop now.

Real Men Carry Shivs

Who could have forseen this coming?:

The post-game stabbing of two men marred celebration of an Edmonton Oilers playoff victory.

Both were stabbed around 11:30 p.m. MDT Friday at a Whyte Avenue bar.

The avenue has become known as the Blue Mile during hockey playoffs, as thousands of young fans of the NHL club have gathered there after wins.

While I don't mind the ribbing about actually being glad to see the demise of the Red Mile if it means I can afford to go on vacation this year, not to mention a decline in hooliganism which occurs in my own neighbourhood, I can't say I understood the motivation of Sacamano when he attempts to belittle my sentiments. Here we have an Oiler fan -- a guy who rips 'er up during the playoffs by, well, sitting in front of his computer and "getting electric" with his fellow wild-child bloggers -- whipping it out on the table and suggesting that I -- someone who actually goes to home playoff games, is out in the pubs during road trips, racks up the Visa and parties every night for the team as if it's the last night on earth, win or lose -- am less of a fan than he is. I am many things, but at least I have enough pride to leave the house and physically show support to my team when they're doing their job.

Secondly, and more to the point of my post, is that I love my team and I love the playoffs, but I don't love mindless vandalism, violence and hooliganism. This year's edition of the Red Mile didn't start off as a spontaneous jubilation of fans pouring into the street and celebrating their team as in 2004; it was a confrontational atmosphere from the start, with police and idiot drunken teenagers setting to square off if the team made it into the later rounds. But even during the final rounds of 2004, things were already getting out of hand. I've mentioned before how the party began to turn nasty after the Detroit series, of how young women were coerced into doffing their tops to have their goods displayed for the whole world to leer, of how drunken louts were causing trouble with the cops and innocent citizens, and how Calgary was lucky someone wasn't seriously hurt -- or killed -- during the two months of playoff ruckus. It would not have taken much to have made the situation much worse.

And, obviously, the fans in Edmonton are simply proving my point. What they lack in originality with their celebratory styings, from the Blue Mile to silver pom-poms in the rink, they make up with stupidity. In June of 2004, over 60,000 people were on 17th Ave during every game night and I can't recall a stabbing incident. The Oilers haven't even completed the second round and two men were shivved in a crowd of 15,000. If you didn't know better, you'd almost think it was Canada Day.

I suppose this is still a step below that of the city of Boston, which had a young person killed after both the Patriots' Super Bowl and the BoSox World Series.

But if the Oilers defy the odds and win it all and the city of Edmonton beats the death toll in Boston, would that make them a "first-rate sports town"? Or would the death of a young celebrant be what it takes for Edmontonians to realize that they don't have to go completely overboard in this latest attempt to show themselves up to Calgary?

For me, I'll continue to cheer on my Flames from here on out. However, if it takes the team to occasionally bow out early in exchange for a drop in vandalism and violence in my neighbourhood, I'm not going to be completly disappointed.

I like to think that there are still some Edmonton fans who feel the same way.

The New Flames (2006 version)

So I was chatting with Shaky tonight about the Oilers and how they were this year's Flames. A team that nobody thought would play this well. A team with players that are, as the saying goes, "playing over their heads".

Then I read this article by National Post's Mark Spector. His title: "The New Flames".

This is a great analysis of not only how the Oilers' current run compares to the Flames' run of 2004, but also about how, essentially, the Oilers are not the Detroit Red Wings or the Ottawa Senators. By that he means that the Oilers success lays in their intensity and unmatched desire to do whatever it takes to win. Two elements that Potter and I mentioned in our posts on Ottawa's early exit. Says Spector:

"The formula is one of the few elements that has transcended the rules changes. If you're going to get anywhere in the NHL playoffs, you have to be able to raise your game. Find a new level. I know, they're cliches. But there's a reason those phrases have caught on: they're all true.

Ask Detroit, the poster children for winning all season on pure talent, then stubbornly refusing to add the requisite sweat and blood to that formula come playoff time. Or Ottawa, whose picture you'll find on the opposite side of the milk carton from Detroit's.
"
The article is also filled with interviews with some interesting people. Martin Gélinas, one of the best clutch players in recent history, shares his thoughts on the comparison between the '04 Flames and the '06 Oilers. Gélinas' take on the situation comes down to this:

"Guys have to chip in -- that's how you win. And maybe that's why Calgary didn't make it this year. Not enough guys going full out. They're getting that in Edmonton."
For me, another one of the reasons that explains the success of the Oilers is the intensity and leadership of Ryan Smyth. As I have said in this forum before, Smitty is probably my favourite current players. His play in the playoffs so far, however, has been nothing short of spectacular. Some might say that he has divine powers. In fact, my good buddy Flowbee sent me a one line e-mail this week. All it said was:

"Tom Hanks should be looking for Ryan Smyth, for surely he is the scion of Christ."
If he is indeed the son of Christ, I hope that daddy has a good dental plan. I have a feeling that he hasn't lost his last tooth

5.16.2006

Henry the Husky

In the hallowed traditions of the Blue Mile and car flags, the Oilers unveil their new team mascot ...

HenryTheHusky

5.15.2006

No shocker

A lot of people have been offering the Sens the excuse that they were "unlucky". And yeah, to a certain extent they were: Game 1 -- 10 seconds from victory. Game 3 -- Alfie hits the post with 1.4 seconds to go, then they lose in OT. In the last game, they must have hit two or three crossbars.

BUT:

The Sens lost 3 games in OT. When the Habs won in 1993, they won 14 consecutive games in OT. That isn't luck. That's courage, grit, character, whatever you want to call it. Yes, you need luck. But as everyone watching noticed (Hrudey said the same thing last night) the Sens didn't play with any sense of desperation. If anything, they reminded me of Team Canada at the Olympics: Talented as hell, but just sort of expecting it to happen. Ottawa has still not had a "Gretzky moment" as a franchise -- recall Gretz's famous story about walking past the Isles dressing room in 1983 and seeing the guys all beat to shit and going, "whoa."

To be honest, it looked to me like some of the Sens had one eye on the golf course. Not that they didn't want to win, but that it wouldn't be devasating to lose.

I also think at some point coaching comes in. The coach has to make it clear to the players that it is simply unacceptable to lose. How do you make millionaires, who aren't even being paid for the playoffs, feel that sense of pride? Only one way: Bench them. Both Spezza and Heatley were more or less benched for period 3 of game 4 (CBC had them at 3 or 4 minutes each). But I think it has to go further. They shouldn't even dress for the next game. Have a flock of journos sticking mics in Heatley's face saying, wtf dude, leading scorer and you are in the press box? What is your problem? Make him explain why he sucks.

But then the coach has to explain to the owner why his $4million player is sitting in the stands. The owner has to care about winning as well.

Organisations have characters. Ottawa is not a winning organisation. What to do? I'd trade Alfredsson.

5.14.2006

Shocker?

So I've been waiting most of the day for our Ottawa "correspondents" to give us their analysis of the Sens - Sabres series, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

So far, all I've received is an sms from Moi containing a certain four-letter word (hint: it sounds like puck) and a golf invitation from Ballzov. I thought that was particularly poetic.

In their absence, I will give my quick impression of the series.

In my opinion, Ottawa's quick exit from the 2006 NHL playoffs is the result of one thing, intensity or, rather, the lack of it. Last night's game was just one example of how little intensity most of the Senator players showed throughout the series.

The winning goal by Pominville will be the play that most will point to as an example of that lack of intensity and they would be right. How any player can simply walk in on net, one on three, against a team facing elimination, is simply beyond me. I was just as puzzled when, earlier in the game, Chris Drury waltzed in untouched against three Senators and scored.

In today's paper, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredson, explained that he was surprised at the quick move by Pominville. He also said that he was afraid to put a hand on him for fear of being penalized.

Come on! This is the Stanley Cup playoffs and your team is on the brink of elimination and you can't even make an effort, even a legal one, to stop an opposing player? And what if a penalty was called? It's still better to be shorthanded than on the golf course. Weak. Very weak.

As we were flying back from a conference last night, Lubelly asked me if I thought that, in the event of an Ottawa loss, the Sens brass would make some major changes in the off-season. I said I didn't think they needed to, but that they will need to make some changes.

The first change will have to come in goal. Emery is not the guy to blame for the Sens early exit, but you can't count on him to lead you to the cup just yet. Muckler and Murray will also have to address the issue of intensity. If they bring in a few experienced playoff leaders and let go some of their, soft, excess baggage, they will fare better than they did this year.

That's my take on it, but what do I know? I predicted that the Sens would beat the Sabres in this round.

5.11.2006

What not to wear



The 4th game of the Ottawa - Buffalo series got me thinking - are NHL coaches mandated to purchase bad blazers and ridiculous ties?

Lindy Ruff was sporting a sweat vintage baby blue blazer with a blue and gold tie behind the bench. A tribute the 70s Sabres?

It all comes crashing down for me, however, when I saw this photo. I love Bob Gainey. Masterful hockey player. Great hockey mind. Fantastic motivator. Horrible dresser. Seriously. He is trying to pull off a bucket hat. Does he not know that those are reserved for fishing trips and the Yang.

Just for kicks, check out the Habs Halloween party. I love Saku in the video. Classic.

Hat tip to Habs blog!

Cross posted on Moldy.

Pros versus Joes

The Battle of Alberta has an interesting post regarding how important (or, as Matt puts it, "less important") amateur scouting will be relative to pro scouting in this new CBA:

The key to a GM's success in all sports leagues, but especially where there is a salary cap, is simply to underpay as many of your players as possible by as much as possible. That's a bit glib, but it's another way of saying this: you need players who will outperform their contracts. Ideally, you sign young players to 2/3/4 year contracts just before they make The Leap; you sign experienced players after abnormally poor seasons when their market value is depressed; etc.

Restricted free agents help your team accomplish this, as the restrictions allow you to sign them to contracts for below their market value. Let's say I'm Kevin Lowe, in negotiations with Ales Hemsky, and that every GM in the league agrees that Hemsky's performance will be worth $4M next season. I can pay Hemsky up to $4M and be getting a "fair deal". John Ferguson Jr., however, cannot. For him to be getting a fair deal, he can only offer Hemsky a contract for [($4M) - (the $$ value of the draft picks he has to surrender to me)]. There is a ton of room for argument on what that "$$ value" should be, but it is some number greater than zero.

It's a Moneyball issue, in my mind, where you sign players who are pulling in the best numbers while still developing and if any player wants more, you get rid of him.

In my mind, there are only a few players in the league who can command "franchise" status. A franchise player is one of two types: men who people will come out in droves to watch even if their own team is shit, or; a person who can win you championships. Rocket was both, as was Guy. But, honestly, how many players have that kind of pull any more? Maybe Iginla. Ovechkin is in the former group, Lecavailier in the other. Toss in Crosby, Thornton, Pronger, Kovalchuk and, now, Staal and Briere. Maybe a few more.

Outside of that elite group, who can be identified as while amateurs by an old lady watching junior hockey on her local cable channel, many of the other players on the league have a parity which has been unmatched in the history of the league. Due to wondrous advances in training and coaching techniques, the average Joe in today's NHL is far superior to the role player of 20 years back.

Thus, if some decent player has one good season in the final year of his contract -- a player who is well-liked, works hard and can pop a few in, but, yet, isn't a superstar -- rather than burden a team with a hefty contract, it might be wise for a GM to ship him off for a younger player of similar skill set but who hasn't developed yet and who could play three more seasons at half the salary.

A good example would be Martin St Louis, who had one terrific season and was rewarded with a big contract. He followed up with a decent season, but likely could have been traded for a solid defenseman or -- dare I say it -- a goaltender, in addition to a prospect or three, and the team would have been sitting pretty. The Bolts could have gotten away with it because they already had in their midst two other superstars, one who also made rich during the off-season, and the other who was still being underpaid for this year.

Or take Jonathon Cheechoo as another example. Here was a tough and talented winger who had loads of potential but wasn't accomplishing anything until Joe Thornton arrived, and then went out to win the Richard Trophy. If he was in his contract year, GM Doug Wilson might be tempted to give Cheechoo top dollar in order to preserve "chemistry" or some other bullshit. However, if the Sharks had a well-researched pro-scouting staff, Wilson might be able to bag a young, as-yet-unproven power forward who simply needs a chance with a superstar centre, in plus a couple of other prospects or veteran players looking to wind down. Cheechoo's great, but I wouldn't open the vault on him, not like the "have" franchises pre-2005.

In other words, most players who aren't superstars in the NHL are still quality athletes who can do much as what other players can do, given the right circumstances and linemates. And so, I agree that a pro-scouting staff will be far more valuable in the "new" NHL than an amateur staff.

5.10.2006

I think I just threw up in my mouth a little...

Peace from Russia.

1-0 Buffalo after two periods of Game 3. After 13 goals in Game 1 this series has gone all defensive. How is it the Sens can't manage more than 1 goal in the last 40+ minutes of hockey?

Luck surely accumulates randomly (although someone feel free to make a matrix to show me otherwise and I'm in for a lottery ticket ring), but the Sens could use some right now. They could also use a key faceoff win...someone? Anyone?

Also, Spezza is turtleing like it's the 2001 WJC. The only one who looks more afraid is Christian Schubert, who should be.

Good thing Hasek practiced today. That won't be distracting.

Can you tell my Ottawa pessimism is in full blown aneurism mode? I think it's because I had to do my expense report today. Accountants can kill any buzz. Ask my ex. (Hey-o!)

END OF REGULATION - Ott 2-Buf 2

Jesus.

I guess I'd better write some more mean stuff about Spezza so he'll score again. Ummm...he can't grow a decent playoff beard, he is physically and mentally incapable of shooting and when he does it's about as hard as my nephew's blasts in the basement of my brother's house, he gives terrible interviews, he dresses like a bum (one who thinks he dresses well, like every Montreal male who was born somewhere else, apparently we stick out like sore thumbs according the women I work with...luckily sometimes we're born tall, Go Ballzov!!), he inherited those stupid La Maison D'Or ads from Jacques Martin...I've got nothing else without getting derogatory toward all sorts of people who I like and admire.

I've defended Emery throughout the playoffs, but his inability to hold a rebound is doing a number on my insides. Everytime Buffalo shoots my stomach flips. Still, if you're Brian "Shawville Slick" Murray, can you even think about making a change to The Gimp?

3-2 Buffalo

J.P. Dumont scores. It's over for Ottawa.

Blue Man Group


Is Tom Cochrane an oiler fan?

Calgary started the trend with the Red Mile and subsequent mayhem. It wasn't too long after that it turned into a mini-Girls Gone Wild series. A breast here, an ass there and finally full nudity ensued. Now, following in that wonderful Alberta tradition the Blue Mile - read Whyte Ave - has emerged in Edmonton.

The website is a pretty good indication of two things:

It is colder in Edmonton so the *streakers* have more layers. I think I saw a toque in there.

Calgary has alot to be proud of.

Cross posted at Moldy.

Recovery

It's not that I've given up on hockey. I've been watching plenty of games since my Calgary Flames were bounced ignobly from the post-season due to the ferocious defensive attack of the upstart might Mighty Ducks of Anaheim from Anaheim. I'm probably watching more than I did during round one and I'm enjoying the game as much as ever.

Why is that?

For one, I still have a vested interest in the playoffs. My office pool has no more players from the West but my guys from Carolina and Buffalo are doing wonders for me in the East. As for my auction-draft team, we lost out bad by picking Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow and Michael Nylander, but are still alive and kicking with Joffrey Lupul, Francois Beachemin and Rod Brind'Amour.

I also happen to enjoy great playoff hockey in general, especially with these series being contested right now. The game is as exciting as it's ever been - it's fast, hard-hitting, and leads are suddenly surmountable. If only there were consistency in the officating, which has been at times wonderful and atrocious, this could be considered the dawning of a new Golden Age on ice.

But why my enduring silence here on Puck This! since the end of round one?

The fact is, I'm afraid to say, lest I receive attacks on my character and loyalty, but I'm actually kinda, sorta glad that the Flames are done. And I'm not the only one.

Many of my fellow Calgarians expressed that same sentiment shortly after the team lost. It's not because we didn't want them to win: who doesn't want the bragging rights of a Stanley Cup champion, especially with the obnoxious buffoons residing three hours north on the QEII? We were all disappointed at the quick exit of the Firey Horse-Head Nostrils and will deal with that for the next three or four months.

However, for those of us who were around during the 2004 run, a time filled with nostalgia of legendary proportions, we realized at once how much of a shit-show those two months were. Every day was a Flames day: one was either talking about the game the night before, getting ready for the next game, or in some bar filled with carcenogenic smoke, spilled rye on red jerseys, a dozen TVs and make-shift projection screens. Everyone was geared up. School kids, waitresses, rap musicians, my 55-year-old Philippino woman technician who, at one point, embroiled me in an argument over the merits of having Robyn Regher quarterbacking the powerplay. It went on and on and on and on.

Suddenly, it was over. We attempted to find our bearings and discovered that we went from April to the end of June and missed out on the entire spring season. Stampede was a mere two weeks away, giving us all pause as to the best way to scrape up some dollars and energy to do it all over again.

As magical a time as it was, I don't think anyone who experienced 2004 -- other than drunk-ass teenagers and their like-minded wannabes -- was really aching to do it all over again. It would have been too much.

That's the prevailing view from around town.

But we're still watching hockey. We would just rather Edmonton destroy themselves this time around.

break wood

I was going to post something about the Avs game last night, and then this gem came in from my friend Wayne:

Throughout the game yesterday I kept thinking, "Why didn't Brisebois play with that kind of cool authority and efficiency during his final years with the Habs? Once again, the Canadiens have proven their inability to exploit talent." Then came his "clearing pass" into the slot to hand the overtime winner to the Ducks, and I remembered how his fatal flaw was always his staggering errors of judgement. Good riddance.

5.09.2006

Scapegoats

I wanted to write a post on how, with 3 teams up 2 - 0 in their respective series', the upcoming games are, obviously, incredibly important. They are, for the teams that are behind, must-win games.

I just watched the Colorado - Anaheim game and guess what, the Avs just went down 3 - 0 to the Ducks.

This was a great game and the overtime was the most entertaining one I've seen in the 2006 playoffs. It had great scoring (all 4 Ducks goals scored by Joffrey Lupul!) and great goaltending by Theodore. It also had great hitting throughout the games and the referees did a good job in controlling the game without taking away the intensity.

For those who have seen the winning overtime goal by Lupul, you will all know why I want to write about scapegoats. The goal was a direct result of a horrible play by Avs defenseman Patrice Brisebois. I'm sure Theodore thought he got rid of this guy, but he continues to haunt the new Avs goalie.

Brisebois will, and should be, the scapegoat for this loss and, perhaps, the Avs early ousting from the playoffs. Granted, that's a lot of blame to put on one man in a team sport, but these are mistakes professional players really shouldn't make.

In Ottawa, there are many fingers being pointed, mostly at a trio of players. While Ray Emery was being singled out for the loss in game 1, Chara and Phillips are being blamed for the two Buffalo goals in game 2.

In this case, the fingers should point away from the goalie and straight to the Sens defense. It's true that Emery didn't have a good first game, but the "D" have been invisible in the first two games. On the first goal of game 2, Chara played the 2-on-1 like a nine-year-old. I don't think I had hit puberty yet when my dad taught me that, on a 2-on-1, you take the shooter...and you stay with him. You certainly don't let him go after he passes to his teammate!!!

If fingers in Ottawa are pointing to the defense, eyes should then focus squarely on captain Daniel Alfredson. The main purpose of this would be to find out if the player wearing #11 is really him. How can the guy who has been the heart of the Sens and the Olympic champion Swedish team suddenly vanish? What's up with coasting into the neutral zone with 50 seconds left in the game and your team is trailing by a goal? Weak.

Time will tell which players will remain scapegoats and which ones will step up and turn things around.

5.08.2006

BAH!


43 freakin' saves. Man, I hate Buffalo. I'll be in a bad mood for the next 24 hours. Stay away.

5.07.2006

Get your claws out

Note: Before I get started, I just want to tell Shaky that this isn't a post about cougars. You can now breathe normally my friend.

So, since my home province doesn't produce as many NHL stars as Saskatchewan, there is still lots going on in and around my hometown.

In less than two weeks, Moncton will host the 2006 Memorial Cup. The hometown Wildcats are, as all host teams have been, assured to play in the four-team tournament. Even if they've known this for a while, the team did not take the season or the playoffs for granted. Ted Nolan has made sure of that.

They finished the season as the #1 ranked team in country, just ahead of the team they are playing in the QMJHL final, the Quebec Remparts. As both teams have earned a spot in the Memorial Cup, many thought both teams would take it easy and rest for the tournament. They aren't.

Moncton has won the first two games, but they have both gone into OT. It's clear that both teams want to go into the Mem Cup tourney as the QMJHL champ.

Here's to hoping that the 'Cats can take care of the Remparts quickly so they can rest and bring the first Memorial Cup to Moncton.

Norwegian Wood

OK, so I didn't pick a very good title. I was trying to find something clever with a reference to Norway and the great Beatles song is the only thing that came to mind.

Over to Riga for a IIHF World Championships update.

Team Canada, who now has a full complement of players and a veteran captain, walked all over Norway in a 7 - 1 victory earlier today. It could have been worse had they not let up slightly in the 3rd period. All of their goals were scored in the first two periods (7 goals on only 24 shots!).

As expected, the young trio of Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes is leading the Canadians offensively. Adding Brendan Shanahan was a brilliant move and he will be the undisputed leader of this team. Make no mistake, however, the offence will be dictated by the youngsters. When the Crosby - Bergeron duo is followed up by the Carter - Richards duo, you know that scoring won't be an issue.

Now, of course, Canada has only played Denmark and Norway. The real challenge will begin in earnest on Tuesday when the Canadians play Team USA.

The USA is the only other team that has a roster filled with NHLers. What's different this time around, though, is that they have a roster on which half of the players are under 25 years old. This is quite the change from the geriatrics we are used to seeing.

That's it for today's report from Latvia. Now I've got to pay more attention to the Edmonton - San Jose game and hope the Oil can tie it up early in the third.

5.06.2006

So Long

You see, when I said Habs in six, I meant Habs lose in six. Anybody should have known that. In any case, the Canadiens were simply outplayed, though not by much. One-goal games were crucial to this team in the first third of the year, when it seemed that they would never give themselves an insurance marker. As it turned out, the Canadiens finished ninth in the league in one-goal victories, with 23. Naturally, Carolina topped the list, with 28.

The numbers suggest, and the playoffs corroborate, that the Canadiens season was much more precarious than it should have been. Despite remaining basically fully healthy (though the temporary losses of Alex Kovalev and Andrei Markov, who each missed about fifteen games, was deeply felt), Montreal couldn't consistently win convincingly. Even when they went 8-0 toward the end of the season, they owed more to a soft schedule and lucky bounces than hard-fought victories.

Players who should have been key took a floater for the year, and will probably find themselves elsewhere come the fall. Mike Ribeiro never seemed to recover from losing his two amigos - Pierre Dagenais, to the AHL and Jose Theodore, to Colorado - and just didn't seem to give a shit night in and night out. Theodore played his way out of town, though six months too late. Niklas Sundstrom and Radek Bonk provided adequate defensive play and decent penalty killing but came nowhere near to earning their salaries. Jan Bulis did his best two-face impression, though Bob Gainey seemed to have it in for him. Sheldon Souray took the puck, and not the man, and that's all you need to know. And Richard Zednik played an entire season with the spectre of Kyle McLaren's elbow bearing down on him. His one, last move - bring the puck in along the boards, stick your arm out to keep away the defenceman - proved utterly useless.

Not that there weren't any pleasant surprises. Steve Begin carried the team early on in the season. Cristobal Huet shouldered the burden down the playoff stretch, though I wonder if he'll be able to bounce back from the inevitable six-goal shellacking that will come his way sooner or later. Mike Komisarek showed promise, if not discipline, on the blue line. Michael Ryder racked up 30 goals and Chris Higgins emerged as a gritty garbage goal-scorer, though the last three games of the playoffs proved that their success required the initial effort of Saku Koivu. Tomas Plekanec showed enormous growth and will make a great third-line centre next year. Alexander Perezhogin hung in despite his first coach, Claude Julien, banishing him to the press gallery and the fourth line. It would be nice, however, for him to hit more mesh and less post. Mathieu Dandenault showed up for all 82 games (Craig Rivet too) and played his heart out in the post-season. And Andrei Markov proved to be a core member of the team and an emerging elite defenceman. Finally, Yann Danis excelled with the team at the start of the year and had a decent run in Hamilton. He'll make a fine backup to Huet next fall.

So where do we go from here? Bob Gainey has a lot of room to move. The team has salary cap room and enough decent players to make some wise trades. Bulis and Sundstrom, unrestricted free agents, are toast, though Jan will succeed wherever he winds up next year. Aebischer will be excellent trade bait, especially in the new NHL where above average is about as good as it gets for goalies. Ribeiro and Zednik have earned a one-way ticket out of La Belle Province and Rade Bonk's salary is untenable, though he finally showed up at the end of the season.

The free agent market is a tight one this year. Along with Huet, Patrick Elias, Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden will interest a lot of teams, as will Jason Arnott. Gainey has enough players to move around to compete in any bidding war, but players tend to perform better before they sign long-term deals - not after. That said, any Montrealer must be salivating over the prospect of Redden or Chara patrolling the blue line, helping to shore up a slightly-better-than-average defensive corps. Gainey will have to make some sharp moves, though, to make sure that the Canadiens don't rely on the likes of Mike Ribeiro and Richard Zednik to bring the pain next season. The team is already deep at the number three and four lines, and has a good collection of prospects for next season. Throw in a strong centre who can bank 90+ points a year and the Habs will be right up there with the 'Canes come the fall.

5.05.2006

That's Offensive

Start of round 2.

So I've been watching hockey for about four hours tonight and I've seen 15 goals scored. Eleven of them were in the same game. The last three games of the Calgary / Anaheim series had a total of 11. THen again, that has been classified as the most boring game 7 ever.

If this is the new NHL, I'm in for the long haul.

I watched all of the Sens and Sabres game and I've never seen taht kind of action. It was like watching one of thoseuber-fast chess games in Central Park, except for the fact that it was on ice and there were multiple players who were hitting each other. But, still...how about that offense?

Some will alos say, what about the defense? Well, it just wasn't there. The goaltending was also not very good. Nevertheless, it was a great show.

As for the Avs and the Ducks, I've been listening to the game in the background and checking when the Ducks score. It just seems like the Avs have not showed up. That's OK, I've picked the Ducks. Man is Selanne hot or what?

Ottawa will readjust. The Avs will not.

5.04.2006

Second Round Hunches

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not much of a prognosticator. This is how I fared in the first round:

My Pick: Carolina over Mtl in 5
Result: Canes in 6

My Pick: Philly over Buffalo in 6
Result: Sabres in 6

My Pick: Sens over Tampa in 7
Result: Sens in 5

My Pick: NJ over NY in 6
Result: NJ in 4

My Pick: Sharks over Preds in 6
Result: San Jose in 5

My Pick: Edmonton over Detroit in 7
Result: Oil in 6

My Pick: Dallas over Colorado in 5
Result: Avs in 5

My Pick: Calgary over Anaheim in 6
Result: Ducks in 7

So, I was 5 for 8. Not bad. It's one better than Maggie the Macaque.

For the record, here are my picks for round 2:

Ottawa v. Buffalo

This will be one of the fastest series ever. Lots of speed and skill on both
sides. Also, lots of intangibles with two rookie goalies in nets. It's a tough
one to call, but I think the Sens will take it by using their newly acquired
tougness. Ottawa in 7
Carolina v. New Jersey

These are also two great teams that have lots of skill. The Canes outplayed the
Habs in the first round, but just barely. The Devils, however, are the hottest
team in the league. Brodeur will make sure they get past the upstart Ward. Devils in 6
San Jose v. Edmonton

Joe Thornton and Chris Pronger know each other well. After this series, they may
as well put up a tent on Brokeback Mountain. Pronger will be in Big Joe's face
for the entire series. This will be the key to the series. If Pronger, and the
other Oiler players can shut down Thornton, they stand a chance. It'll be tough
though, as Marleau can pick up the slack. Sharks in 7
Colorado v. Anaheim

I can't really get into this matchup. Not really interested. It will, however,
come down to which José Théodore shows up. If he finds his 2002 form, the Avs will take it. If he plays like Red Light Racicot, they have no chance. I've learned not to bet on Théodore. Ducks in 7

Hometown Heros

The Western Hockey League's Annual Bantom Draft, held today, showed just how strong minor hockey is in Saskatoon. The city produced 4 of the top 9 picks in the draft. Not bad, for a *small* town.

I can attest first hand to the talent in Saskatoon having coached Pee Wee kids a few years back. There is a very good developmental league and two good Midget teams. The major junior team is alot like the CFL Riders, always in next year country.

Saskatoon is just a small part of a hockey mad province- see Prince Albert's win of the Midget national tournament. Maybe it is the cold winters and the short summers, but the province is a hockey factory. If you don't believe me, stop by the statue of Gordie "Mr. Hockey" Howe and say Hi. Or, drop by the statue of Ghandi, it is your choice.


FYI - Ray Ferraro's son was the 2nd pick overall.

Cross posted at Moldy Peaches

Where reality went wrong

My predictions were all correct. What I didn't consider was reality having a well-known anti-me bias:

***

Me: Carolina over Mtl in 5
Reality: C in 6

Me: Philly over Buffalo in 7
Reality: Sabres in 6

Me: Sens over Tampa in 7
Reality: Sens in 5

Me: NJ over NY in 5
Reality: NJ in 4

Me: Nashville over SJ in 6
Reality: Sharks in 5

Me: Detroit over Edmonton in 4
Reality: Edm in 6

Me: Colorado over Dallas in 6
Reality: Avs in 5

Me: Calgary over Anaheim in 4
Reality: Ducks in 7

Where I went right

Unlike last season, where I picked Toronto to play in the Cup final, my predictions for the Eastern Conference were nearly bang on. Then again, I peered deep into my crystal ball and ended up picking all four of the higher seeds to win.

Against all odds, that's how it turned out. Spooky, no?


Ottawa v. Tampa:

My pick: Sens in 5
Winner: Sens in 5

There was simply no contest between an untested goalie behind a fantastic defense corps and the pylon 180 feet down ice which wore different jerseys, depending on John Tortorella's mood.


Carolina v. Montreal:
My pick: Canes in 5
Winner: Canes in 6

I had expected Hurricanes 'tender Martin Gerber to grab hold of the series and give the Habs a well-deserved spanking. I didn't expect Montreal to lose their captain nor did I see backup Cam Ward make a case as an early Conn Smythe candidate. However, I did predict that the difference would be Captain Carolina, Rod Brind'Amour, whose brawn and endurance are dwarfed only by his heart.


New Jersey v. New York:
My pick: Devils in 6
Winner: Devils in 4

Though I was aware of the Devils' 11-game winning streak heading into the playoffs, I'm often reluctant to base my assumptions on regular season trends in the last few games before the playoffs. But I did mention how Marty Brodeur seemed rarin' to carry his team on his back and how Elias and Gionta were catching fire at the right time. Looking back, I should not have given the Rangers the benefit of the doubt. They were terrible.


Buffalo v. Philadelphia:
My pick: Sabres in 6
Winner: Sabres in 6

I'm quite proud of my prediction. I knew Robert Esche couldn't win the big one and he didn't. I knew the Flyers could win if Forsberg wanted to play, and they did. Unfortunately for the idiot Bob Clarke, Forsberg decided to play in only 2 games.Good for me, bad for Philly.




Predictions (because I know you're pining for them):

Ottawa v. Buffalo:
This will be one hell of a series. The Sabres have come off a high-flying, fast-skating series with a big, bad defense-minded crew and emerged with confidence filled to the brim. The Sens, as good as they are, played a weak team with even weaker goaltenders and haven't run up against a challenge as of yet. Of the many factors to consider, perhaps the most important will be that of off-ice leadership. Lindy Ruff out-coached the pants off of the great Ken Hitchcock. Will he do the same to Bryan Murray?

My instinct says, absolutely. Sabres in 6


Carolina v. New Jersey:
At risk of falling into hyperbole, this will be the greatest spectacle in the history of professional sports the world has ever known, at least since Pericles was ruling over the Golden Age of Athens. New Jersey is hotter than Jessica Alba, with a healthy mix of youthful exuberance and veteran leadership. The Canes, on the other hand, are a hungry bunch with a healthy mix of, er, youthful exuberance and veteran leadership. Brodeur is rightly recognized as being the best goalie in the world. In contrast, Cam Ward is too inexperienced to think this is something which means anything significant.

That might prove to be the difference. Canes in 7

Where I went wrong

My predictions were, shall we say, less than stellar. I went 0 for 4 in every series and turned out to be everything I didn't expect it to be. My bad.


Detroit v. Edmonton:

My pick: Wings in 5
Winner: Oil in 6

Though I knew the Oilers could skate with the Wings, I didn't believe the team had confidence in Roloson. Obviously, that wasn't the case. Chris Pronger was the better of the two elite defensemen in the series and is the team's MVP to date.


Dallas v. Colorado:
My pick: Stars in 4
Winner: Avs in 5

Even experts who thought the Avs would defeat the "most well-rounded team in the NHL" didn't expect a complete collapse of the entire organization, from Turco on out. I felt sorry for them. Damn.


Calgary v. Anaheim:
My pick: Flames in 7
Winner: Ducks in 7

To quote myself, "If it's a disciplined, tight-checking affair, go with the Flames."

Oops.


Nashville v. San Jose:
My pick: Preds in 6
Winner: Sharks in 5

The loss of Vokoun effected Nashville more than I had anticipated, and the team didn't rally around Chris Mason. Such is life.

The Sharks were not led by Joe Thornton as much as by captain Patrick Marleau, who is picking up where he left off from the 2004 playoffs.



Predictions (in case anyone wants to hear them):

San Jose v. Edmonton:
I still don't think that San Jose has been challenged in the playoffs and that Thornton has yet to prove he can perform under pressure. If he can thrive against who is currently the best defenseman in the game, I'll give San Jose a chance.

I don't think he will. Oil in 6


Anaheim v. Colorado
The mighty Mighty Ducks of Anaheim from Anaheim were able to shut down the Flames by playing their game. Calgary, on their part, were quite successful doing the same to the Avalanche during the course of the season. Ergo, the Ducks should win this series, right?

I'm not so sure. Sakic is not Iginla. He won't get shaken up by a rookie defenseman looking to harass his ass. He's also surrounded by a talented and hard-working attack and will be difficult to shut down. Anaheim, however, has this year's Kipper in Ilya Bryzgalov.

It'll be close. Ducks in 7

Ducks Roast Flames

DucksRoastFlames

If they were playing the Sabres, they would have lost 7-1. They were listless, they gave the puck away, they didn't seem to care about each other. It was awful. Blaming the refs on this one is as weak as a limp-wristed Roman Hamrlik clearing attempt. They have no one else to blame but themselves.

The only thing more boring than a Flames game is another team beating the Flames by doing the exact same thing, only better. Simply put, the Flames were out-Flamed, Kipper was out-Kippered, and Sutter was out-Suttered.

That being said, they had a terrific season otherwise, beating up on their division like Beauchemin beat up Iginla. Kiprusoff established himself among the goaltending elite and the Flames defense could be considered the best in the game. Plus, they made the playoffs for the second year in a row. These are no trifling matters.

Still, weaknesses remain. The most obvious is the lack of supplementary scoring. When Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose, Flames fans were asking, Why not us? Indeed. We did gain a capable backup in Brian Boucher at the deadline, and I'd take Lundmark any day over Wiemer, but where was the first-line centre which had been lacking even during the 2004 run? I like Langkow and I think Huselius is only going to get better. But Iginla needs someone willing to set him up as well as someone big and talented enough to clear space in the offensive zone.

Sutter's got his work cut out for him. If he doesn't realize that, then his tenure in this town will be shorter than Barry Bonds' credibility.

As a fan of the Roughriders, it is easy for me to say, We'll get 'em next year.

So ...

Did anyone catch the result of last night's game?

5.03.2006

Call in the reinforcements

The 2006 IIHF world hockey championship starts Friday and Team Canada has called in some reinforcements after losing 4 - 3 in an exhibition match against Belarus.

Philadelphia Flyers rookie forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are flying to Riga, as is Red Wings forward Jason Williams.

Yesterday, forward Scott Hartnell and defencemen Dan Hamhuis and Stephane Robidas were added Tuesday. TSN reports that three or four more players will be added on Thursday or Friday to complete the roster.

This makes the team much better, but there are still many quality players that are no longer in the hunt for Lord Stanley's cup that most likely won't be there. As of today, none of the Big Four from the Tampa Bay Lightning have been added to the roster, which is surprising. It would be quite a disappointment if none of them made the trip.

Stay tuned.

Why the Flames will win tonight

Iginlaelation

goaltender interference

Old goaltenders don't go away, they just become radio and television analysts. John Davidson, John Garrett, Kelly Hrudey, Glenn Healey... the list goes on. Why are goaltenders overrepresented amongst the hockey commentariat? A few possible explanations:

1. Goalies have a lot of time to think, and therefore tend to intellectualize things. Dryden is the prototype, but all of them have the tendency to ponder, to muse, because they spend so much time at the far end of the ice.

2. Goalies see the game better. Because of their situation on the ice, they see patterns that other players don't, they can follow the entire ice surface. This gives them an analytical perspective on the flow of the game.

3. Goalies are better socialized than other players. For some reason, perhaps self-selection, fewer meatheads become goaltenders. Goalies thus become analysts not because of any innate knack for it, but simply because so many other players are inarticulate and unsociable.

4. Goalies are actually second-rate analysts. The best minds of the game, amongst the players, become coaches. Goalies may have the media, but no GM in his right mind would let a goalie coach.


I tend to think it is some combination of 3 (which clearly applies to Glenn Healey) and 4, which applies to guys like Davidson.

Last Dance of Stevie Wonder

My only comment on the Flames' defeat last night was that they deserved it and that they'll be back in form come Wednesday for Game 7. My only comment about the Oilers' victory was that they deserved it, at least when it counted, and that I hate that goddamn team.

Today, I want to shed some focus towards one of the greatest players to ever grace the ice in a professional level who played in his final game at Edmonton's Rexall Place last night.

YzermanYoung3


Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings personified, was drafted by the then-woeful organization in 1983, three years after long-time Motown legend Gordie Howe retired from the game. Coincidently, the Class of '83 was three years after the Miracle on Ice, and the first round selections reflect this. Three out of the top-five 18-year-olds selected were American: Brian Lawton, #1 to Minnesota; Pat LaFontaine, #3 to the Isles (a Michigan native sought initially by Wings owner Mike Ilitch), and; Tom Barrasso, #5 to Buffalo. Other draftees during the first round include John MacLean (#6 to New Jersey), Dave Gagner (#12 to the Rangers), Cam Neely (#9 to the Canucks), and Sylvain Turgeon (#2 to the Whale). However, with the exception of Dominik Hasek (#199 to Chicago), not one of these terrific cohorts of '83 could match the sheer brilliance of the #4 pick overall throughout their careers.

YzermanYoung2


Yzerman went on to finish second in rookie-of-the-year voting, losing the Calder Trophy to Tom Barrasso but establishing himself among the vanguard of the emerging high-flying NHL being ushered out of Edmonton. He was as flashy as Denis Savard, elegant as Jean Beliveau, and in possession of a stare comparible only to the Rocket himself. He thrilled fans across the league with his smooth skating style and uncanny ability to react to defenders less fleet of foot.

Yzerman's play did not go unnoticed. He was selected to the 1984 Canada Cup team, though his time was limited due to tonsilitis, and established himself as a dedicated Canadian sportsman with the first of three appearances at the World Championships in 1985. Most notably, Yzerman was made captain of his team shortly after his 21st birthday -- making him, at the time, the youngest captain in the history of the NHL -- and holds that position to this day. To put it in perspective, Steve Yzerman has lived his life as captain of the Wings longer than he has not.

Numbers-wise, Yzerman's career peaked in the extraordinary 1988-89 NHL season. It was Wayne Gretzky's first year with Los Angeles, taking the Kings from zeroes to heroes almost instantaneously, and Mario Lemiuex scored an outstanding 199 points with the Pittsburg Penguins. Yet, it was Yzerman who was selected by his peers to win the Lester B Pearson Trophy as player of the year. He sniped 65 goals and helped on 90 others with a team whose only other notables included enforcer Bob Probert and PEI's favorite son Gerard Gallant. The stunts he pulled on the ice that season are that of NHL legend. Little Stevie Y had become a superstar.

YzermanConnSmythe


The next thing on his list was a championship. Following years of mediocrity as part of the lowly (Chuck) Norris Division, the Red Wings began to establish a core of young, dynamic prospects. Chief among these was a Soviet-era hotshot by the name of Sergei Fedorov, who was climbing swiftly up the depth chart at centre with his speed and strong defensive play. Yzerman was still the leader of the team, but with the emergence of Federov, the Red Wing captain discovered himself suddenly to be trade bait.

Fans in Detroit, hungry for a title since Mr Hockey patrolled the right wing in the '50s, began to call for the trade of Yzerman in exchange for that one missing piece of the Red Wing championship puzzle. The Stanley Cup had eluded the now-powerhouse franchise which had been compiling laudable accomplishments in the the regular season but next to nothing post. In the end, there were no deals which could make the still-viable Yzerman -- who was turning himself into a noted two-way specialist himself -- expendable.

The trade rumours were swept aside eventually as the Wings nabbed themselves a Stanley Cup in 1997 and once again in 1998, where Stevie Y was awarded a well-deserved Conn Smyth trophy for his exceptional play. The Yzerman-led Wings would go on to win one more Cup in 2002, ensuring a place in the Hall of Fame for the Cranbrook, B.C.-born hockey star.

YzermanHowe


Though his youthful looks have never abated, time and injuries have caught up to the man who was arguably the most exciting player in the fastest team sport in the world. In particular, problems with his knees have plagued him more than most. He won an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup in 2002 with his knee hanging by a thread, and he has had questions regarding his health ever since.

A testament to his grit, then, was how Yzerman once again became the undisputed leader of his team during the waning days of the 2005-06 regular season and was perhaps the only effective force during their recent first-round defeat by the Oilers. He blocked shots, took faceoffs and contributed to scoring opportunities, once again making a statement as to what qualties in a player separate who is merely great and who belongs in the Hall.

It takes an exceptional individual to play hockey Steve Yzerman's age, especially at the forward position. Still, he isn't much younger than when Gordie Howe first retired from the Wings back in the early '70s. Also, unlike Al MacInnis, Yzerman was able to not retire as a result of a devastating eye injury and has proved he could go out on his own terms. The question is, Why would he continue to subject himself to a gruelling 82-game season just for a chance to play 20+ more in the ultra-intense NHL playoffs? How much more can he take?

True, Howe made a comeback and played until he was 52 but by then he was a bit of a relic, where opponents stayed away more out of respect than fear. Yzerman seems to have more sense than that. He knows his team isn't getting any younger and there are prospects who need the ice time up in the bigs. He has proven he is willing to make sacrifices for Mike Ilitch and his team. Is one more too much to ask at this juncture?

YzermanYoung


As much as I would enjoy seeing the man do a victory lap throughout next season, I would also like to remember him as he was in his prime. The guy could skate through any defense thrown his way. He could take a hit as well as he would give it. He held an audience captive, game in and game out. There will never be another like Yzerman.

Hang 'em up, Stevie Y. You've earned it.