Yuletide magic

Happy holidays to all!

I'm pumped about the World Juniors and really hope that Ballzov can post from the WJC in Sweden. He's one lucky bastard.

In the meantime, check out 13-year-old Kevin Roy from Québec City. This young man is unbelievable.


Going for Gold!

Peace from Russia.

I hope that despite my low level of dedication to the whole blogging thing that this will not be my last post on this topic. I'm headed off on vacation after Christmas and bound for Sweden (among other places) during the time of the 2007 World Junior tournament taking place in Leksand, Sweden. Today I have been able to confirm my purchase of tickets for the playoff round of the tournament. Needless to say, I'm pumped.

Remarkably (if you're a Canadian) it was very easy to get tickets. (Well, I should say that there were plenty of good seats available, it wasn't actually easy trying to coordinate with a country six hours ahead whose version of Ticketmaster won't let you purchase on-line if you're outside the country.) Nevertheless, tickets to one quarterfinal game, both semis, the bronze medal and gold medal games cost me approximately $140 CDN.

I'm excited. This is one of my favourite hockey events every year. I have vivid memories from past tourneys - John Slaney's game winner and my first distinct impression of Jerome Iginla being a transcendent player skilled in every facet of the game. Canada should stand a good chance of winning gold again this year and I would never, ever be able to see it back home. (Incidentally, the 2009 WJC are in Ottawa and there are ads in the Ottawa Citizen for tickets right now...advertising some packages of tickets for more than $1,000.) I'll do my best to blog this sucker regularly from over there. It will be contingent on having a place to stay with internet access - my next mission in time zones!

Talk to you from Sweden...


Gretzky family: Not a hockey culture

I had a good chuckle when my Dad sent me the link to an article on Ty Gretzky and how he's adjusting to life at his new digs. The eldest son of the Great one and the Gambler is currently enjoying life at Shattuck St. Mary's School, the small boarding school in rural Minnesota that is now famous for its most famous alumn, a kid named Sid.

Gretzky (the young one), who had previously only played two seasons of organized hockey, is playing as a third line centre and is "learning" the game at one of the best schools in the land. According to J.P. Parise, the father of Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils, Ty has come a longway since he "almost died" after being skated into the ground during training camp.

The funniest bit, however, comes from Tom Ward, the school's director of hockey, who says that "if he had been in more of a hockey culture, he would be further along." I pretty much burst our laughing at this point.

More of a hockey culture? Although I do understand what Ward means (Ty has seen more surfboards than left wing locks in his life), the phrase comes out all crooked. He is, after all, the son of the most prolific hockey player of all-time.

If we can take anything away from the article, it's that Ty's hockey career might resemble more that of his uncles Keith and Brent rather than that of his famous father.

Who knows, he may become a lacrosse star.


The Crosby Show

Pardon the overused pun in the title, but what I watched tonight was quite a show. Or, rather, a display of skill at a level that is very rarely matched.

Tonight, Sidney Crosby tallied 6 points (1g, 5a) and led his Penguins to an 8 – 4 victory over their rivals from Philly. Darryl was on fire. This was a treat for me for two reasons. First, I am a great fan of dominating athletes. For some reason, I am fascinated by what drives someone to surpass themselves night in and night out. Second, I really hate the Flyers.

In order to eliminate profanity from this post, I’ll stick to my first point (I still can’t believe Bob F**king Clarke still has anything to do with hockey).

In all the years I’ve watched hockey, I have always focused on the players that excel and I’ve tried to figure out why. The obvious answer is skill, but, to me, that’s only part of the equation. Apart from Mario Lemieux, Alex Kovalev is probably the most skilled player to lace up skates (I’m talking pure skill here folks, not hockey sense). He is a great skater and has the hands of a God. He can shoot as hard and as accurately as anyone I’ve ever seen and he can make great feather passes and deflections. He’s the full package. Why then, can’t he put up “star” numbers? The simple answer is lack of “desire” or “passion”.

So, in essence, the perfect combination of skill and passion should create the optimal player. With players like Crosby, their skill and passion ratings are off the charts. I’ve watched Sid play many games and I have yet to see him take even part of a shift “off”. It doesn’t matter that he’s surrounded, mostly, by guys who would have trouble making it to the 4th line on most teams, he is driven to win and will pull no punches.

Now, watching the game on TSN, it was made very clear that Pierre Maguire has a huge man crush for Crosby (maybe because of this). He declared, unequivocally, that Crosby is the best player in the league.

It’s hard to argue with him. Crosby just took over the scoring lead and he has at least three games in hand on most of the guys in the top 5.

That being said, Maguire’s broadcast partner, Gord Miller, brought Pierre back to earth when he said that some people in the west might claim that Jarome Iginla is considered by many to be the best in the business right now.

Now, there’s a debate for the ages (well, not really, but an interesting one nonetheless). Both players are currently carrying the team on their backs and both are amazing players. Iggy is the most complete player and Crosby is the most offensively gifted player.

I guess it comes down to the age old question: If you were to build a team around one of these two players, which one would you pick?

To tell you the truth, I don’t have a clue. The only thing I want to think of right now is when those two represent Canada on the international stage (2008 World Cup of Hockey?). Iggy as Captain and Crosby as the offensive dynamo. Now that will be a show worth seeing.


Home is where the heart is

The Teal have slipped under the radar as the Niederpronger juggernaut in Anaheim has run away from the Western Conference pack so far this season. The Sharks (21-9-0, 30 GP, 42 pts) trail the Ducks (23-3-0, 32 GP, 52 pts) for the lead in both the conference and the Pacific Division but are far from being left behind.

One factor may be that Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo have been performing as mere mortals a season removed from winning major individual titles, but another factor is the team's schedule which has forced them to play more games on the road (17) than they have at the Tank (10). Their 11-6-0 road record is satisfactory enough for most teams and is nothing to sneeze at, but considering their proficiency at home (10-3-0), the next month or so has certainly been circled on the calendars of the Brothers-from-a-different-mother Wilson for some time now. Look for the Sharks, who will play 10 of their next 11 on the friendly surface of HP Pavilion, to make some gains against Anaheim.

But San Jose isn't the only city which has blessed its ice icons with a better record in its presence than when its heroes invade a foreign power: Most of the teams in either conference who are currently playoff-bound have a significantly better record in front of friendly crowds than on the road, at least when one does not consider losses in OT or shoot-outs. The only exceptions are Atlanta (10-4-3 on the road, 8-4-2 away); Ottawa (9-8-1 vs 6-7-0); and the Rangers (9-5-1 vs 7-5-3).

The Calgary Flames, as it has been noted ad nauseam in the local media, have been on a 9 game winning streak at home and, as a result, have all but caught up to the Northwest Division leaders in the standings. The team, however, is about to embark on a tough 6 game road trip -- with stops in Vancouver, Phoenix, Anaheim, LA, Colorado and San Jose -- following tomorrow's home tilt against the Wild, and will need to improve their road record considerably if they wish to stick around the playoff hunt (not to mention save us all from dismal commentary from the weathervane sports'perts in the aforementioned media). However, it is clear that a successful home record is absolutely essential for a team's elegibility for playing in late April, and if the Flames, for one, can come out with a .500+ road record this month, they'll be laughing their way for a Chance to Dance with Stan's.

(Er, I mean, " with the Stanley Cup".)

The question remains, however, why a team in this day and age is able to compete better at home than abroad. The playing dimensions are now all equal: Boston Garden have been replaced with a facility which inexplicably chose to replicate the same colouring for its seats as Montreal's Big Owe; the Aud and its tiny surface in Buffalo have been razed to the ground; and a trip to Chicago is no longer a colder version of a Battle Royale, though considering the brutal play of the Blackhawks, you wouldn't know it. The hometown crowd might be a factor in possessing an excellent home record, but this certainly isn't the case in Anaheim, Phoenix, Nashville or New Jersey. Ditto for the ice conditions, which only matters when one team has appreciably more speed than the other and that has more to do with player development than choosing between an Olympia or Zamboni.

The only factor left which might have any difference is real-time coaching decisions. A coach can devise strategies and systems all they want but once the puck drops, they have to rely on the players themselves to enact the game plan. At that moment, the coach is limited essentally to matching lines.

Still, this situation gives the home team the overwhelming advantage in any given home game. As I noted earlier, a top line can often be rendered impotent if he uses the right combination successfully.

Not that I'm complaining. I'm a regular attendee at Flames games and nothing gets me in a pissy mood faster than seeing them lose after spending a hundred bucks in fees and beer and 50/50s. I appreciate the unfair advantage.

However, if the NHL owners (who also enjoy victories at home, for obvious reasons) wanted to make the game more interesting, perhaps they would change the home-team-last-change rule such that the team who causes the previous stoppage of play would lose the advantage of changing last: If your team goes offside, the other team benefits; If you get a penalty, the other team gets even more advantage; Icings, shooting the puck in the stands, the goaltender covering the puck -- the consequences of these stoppages could actually mean more than they do now.

And if there is ambiguity as to which team caused the stoppage, then the home team gets the benefit of the doubt.

Would this have a significant impact on the game? Perhaps, perhaps not. It would make things a little more interesting, however, and you'll soon discover which coaches are earning their paycheques and which ones should stick to selling Fords.

Until then, however, I'll just bask in the glow of the Flames' streak and enjoy it while it lasts.


Canes battered, Flames flattered


Miikka Kiprusoff had yet another fantastic game last night for the Flames. He won the opening face-off, he put pressure on the defense, he caused a turnover and sniped a big-time goal, all within 30 seconds. He later slammed a bullet for another goal, not before he laid Eric Staal to the ice with a hard-ass body check, and he ended it off with an empty-netter for his 14th tally of the season. Indeed, it was all Kipper, all the time.

(Sorry. I spent most of the third period in the Saddledome Whisky lounge making fun of an Oiler fan who insists of making that oh-so-original argument that the Flames would be nothing without the Kipper between the pipes. What a maroon.)

I wanted to see first-hand how a Selke Trophy winner takes on one of the hottest lines in the NHL and was treated to just that as I witnessed Rod Brind'Amour led his Carolina Hurricanes visiting Jarome Igina and his Calgary Flames.

Clearly, it was a match-up that was underwhelming from the get-go. Iginla won the first face-off, the Flames got the puck in the Carolina end, Rhett Warrener forced a turnover, and Daymond Langkow dribbled a loose puck past a inexplicably awful, sprawling John Grahame. And it got worse for the Hurricanes, who limped into the first intermission with a 16-5 shot deficit and down two goals. Iginla sniped an empty-netter and the Flames beat the defending Stanley Cup champs in fine form.

But you can read about that here or here.

What you won't read about elsewhere is that the game featured arguably the two most complete hockey players in the game, the aforementioned Brinds and Iggy, and the latter certainly proved his mettle over the former. Jim Playfair kept Iginla & co. on the ice whenever last year's proclaimed best defensive forward was on the ice, and it was no contest. Alex Tanguay, Langkow and Iginla did whatever they wanted, moving the puck around, keeping the pressure on, getting near-perfect breakouts from their own zone. As with most of the season already, the only thing wrong with that line was the attempt to make the pretty play, though plenty a pretty play went performed, to be sure.

Meanwhile, Brind'Amour, skating between Ray Whitney and Justin Williams, couldn't get anything going. The veteran centre who is known for his prowress in the face-off circle, couldn't even win most of his draws, at least not the ones which mattered. He looked flustered and without poise. In contrast, Iggy and friends looked as if they designed the Saddledome ice surface for their legs only.

Not that I'm down on Rod the Bod; I've been following his career since he was drafted #9 overall to St Louis after winning a national Junior A championship with the Notre Dame Hounds, and think he's the bee's knees. He's always been one of my favorite players and I have nothing of respect for him. Having said that, if that performance was even minutely indicative of how a prototypical defensive forward plays, then I take back my recommendation of Stephane Yelle as a perennial candidate of the Selke (though, due to a devastating ankle injury, not this year).

Until last night, I had always thought that a good defensive forward is someone who is able, game in and game out, to frustrate the opponents' top lines. Apparently, I was wong. That being said, if anything, Iginla has shown that he is far more deserving of that award than almost anyone else in the league; last night, he dominated his own zone, he kept control of the puck, and, most importantly, he kept the top line off the scoresheet.

Maybe this explains the stellar home record for the Flames, especially as of late. While on the road, it is much more difficult for Playfair to get the match-ups he wants, that being Iginla's line paired against the opposing #1; at home, Iginla gets against the top line and because of his excellent two-way play, the opposing superstars rarely get an opportunty to break out in multiple point games.

In other words, the Flames are more than a nice set of limbs between the pipes.


No more 30 in Cowtown

Goaltender Mike Vernon will have his number 30 retired by the Calgary Flames on Feburary 6, 2007, in a pre-game ceremony. The announcement is being made at the Saddledome as I write this.

Vernon played 17 years in the NHL, 13 of them with the Flames. He holds Flames goaltending records in career games played and career wins, He set the individual mark for playoff wins in one playoff year (one more than Kiprusoff, natch) when he backstopped the Flames to their one and only Stanley Cup. Vernon also won a Conn Smythe trophy when he won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.

There is no doubt that Vernon was one of the elite goaltenders while in his prime. He may not make the Hall of Fame any time soon but his work was notable and contributed greatly to the benefit of the Flames and the league as a whole.

Vernon's number 30 will go beside Lanny MacDonald's number 9 in the Saddledome rafter. Look for Al MacInnis' number 2 to follow shortly.

(Notice I didn't say "Shorty".)

Congratulations, Mike. You deserved it.

Sign of the times

For all the signs in Edmonton's Skyall Rexplace last night, probably the worst-advised was "Chris: 1985 phoned, they want their hair back."

This from a fan of an organization which employs Ryan Smyth.

The Oilers lost in overtime due to a last second tying goal from the Ducks and a neutral ice giveaway in OT by Smyth.



Facing the music

Big game tonight in Edmonton, for unspecified personal reasons:

[Pronger] said he's prepared for the booing, especially after Calgary gave him a good booing on behalf of Edmonton a few weeks back.

"I'm sure it'll be loud and boisterous," Pronger said.

"I don't think booing bothers you when you're expecting it. The fans are paying the money. They can do what they want."

Bring it on.
Pronger expects and, deep down I believe, he knows he deserves to hear Oilers fans give him their vocal displeasure.

But let's hope they keep it classy and professional.

Pronger was a classy and professional Oiler in his year here.

Yes, he was.


Eagles Soar

Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus are on top of the CIS Men's Hockey ranking.

The last time Moncton was ranked first in CIS men's hockey was January 10, 1989 - Phoff's 3rd, first year of university. The stint lasted a grand total of one week. The team is gearing up to host the national championship later next year.

Question - Why is that the team is listed on the CIS website as The University of Moncton Aigles Bleus? It is either all French or all English, no?


Koivu on Koivu Action

I’m watching the Habs – Wild game and the Koivu brothers are playing against each other for the first time in Montreal. In the first, Mikko (right on photo) hooked Saku (left on photo) and took a penalty. That’s about as much action as I can take from two Finns.

I don’t really have much to say about tonight’s game. I really just wanted to write “Koivu on Koivu Action”.

The Habs controlled the 1st, led 2 - 0, and then they let it slip in the 2nd. The Wild had 21 shots on goal in the middle stanza and tied the game. 21 shots! As the Wild are, essentially, the Habs in uglier uniforms (Head coach, Assistant coach and the President/GM are all former Habs), the 3rd period was tight checking and, honestly, a little boring. At least one of the refs was Mr. Magoo, so I could laugh at all the infractions he ignored and then howl when he decided to pick one at random.

With 7 minutes remaining in regulation, Bonk’s second effort went in. An ugly goal that gave the Habs the lead for good. From the opening puck drop, Huet was the best Hab on the ice. He was left hanging in the second and let in two goals, but he kept them in the game after that.

Methinks “Le cousin” will get the #1 label soon.


Gui, Gui, Gui...part deux

Now, I can already hear Ballzov telling me that I'm obsessed with Guillaume Latendresse, so I will cut him off before he starts mouthing off.

I'm not necessarity obsessed, but, as stated in my previous post, he all over the media here in Montreal. Not one edition of "Sports 30", the RDS equivalent of "SportsCentre", is aired without a quote or a highlight from him.

Only one person commented on my long-winded post (thanks Rob!) and I have to agrre with the sentiment: I really don't envy him him taking his first steps in the NHL with this much pressure and attention. The thing is, though, he seems incredibly level-headed. Not one interview goes by without him giving great props to his linemates and saying how lucky he is to be getting PP time. Sure, he's been trained to say that, but he seems genuine.

In any case, since he broke the goose egg and finally scored, he has added thee more in the last two games. The one last night got me up from my couch and I let out a hearty "nice!" that made my wife look up from whatever she was doing. Here's some grainy fottage of the nice dangle and deadly shot. I think he's for real...


Hard-boiled Iggy

Jean Lefebvre of the Calgary Herald talks about the new and improved Jarome, ten pounds lighter, replaced with vim and vigor:

Now understand that the previous No. 12 model wasn't exactly porky, and it's not like the Flames brass was diverting the dessert cart away from Iginla's table.

Indeed, the shucked pounds were mostly muscle and because of that, some wondered if the rough-and-tumble evening would come when Iginla would miss those 10 pounds of all-star mass.

Well, Iginla Lite has ripped out of the gates and obliterated his recent history of spotty starts by notching points in 13 of the season's first 16 contests.

It's an argument that is being used to justify Iginla's "rebirth" in the league, an argument written well by Lefebvre, as the latter does in most of his articles. My only problem with this is that, while Iginla is certainly faster than he was last year, it doesn't mean he still wasn't effective then. The team still won their division in 2005-06 and Iginla was a big part of this accomplishment, mostly because of his increased focus in developing his defensive game, and working on his presence in all ends of the rink.

Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find a better all-around player in the league today, one who takes face-offs, works the corners, backchecks, steaks down the wing, battles in front of the net, shoots lasers, takes on tough guys, handles the puck in traffic, and leads the team when they're behind. Save for his firey temper, Iginla has no weaknesses; he is the composite hockey player.

Last season, though his scoring wasn't as plentiful as it could have been, was when he developed this improved facet. It isn't so much as a regenesis for him as much as a continuation from his consistent year-on-year improvement which he has experienced since he came into the league. For instance, while Calgary isn't alone in using star players on the PK, Iginla came into his own last season when Darryl Sutter began to call upon him to front the opposition when they were a man down. With Stephane Yelle, Iginla lead a ferocious checking squad which allowed the fewest goals in the NHL. The Flames won the Jennings Trophy not only because they had the best goalie, but also because they were led by a man who took pride in defensive hockey, and the rest of the team responded in kind.

This year, a new man stands behind the bench and, while Jim Playfair hasn't tinkered with the system too much, it is clear that the team is making more of an effort to put points up on the board. This change has resulted in higher shots against, not to mention an unusually high GAA for the Kipper, but it seems the defensive system has been altered to allow more clear shots on the goalie provided that the defensemen get the rebounds out of the way and up the ice. Their faith in their goaltender allows for a quicker transition to offense, the type of transition which benefits a fast, straight-away skater like Iginla to flourish. In other words, it's not so much that Iginla is playing better, it's that the team changed their system to benefit their star.

Again, this doesn't change the fact that Iginla is much faster than he has been in the past and that he is more consistent in his play. Just don't discount last year because his statistics dropped a bit.

That sound is me puking in my mouth a little

After tonight's 6-3 drubbing at the hands of Les Habitants the Ottawa Senators are now 1-6-1 in their last eight games and 6-11-1 overall. This is getting awful.

I haven't had the chance to watch many games lately so my analysis is weak, but I'm willing to blame this almost entirely on Bryan Murray. So in honour of tomorrow's DVD release of "John Tucker Must Die," let me say that "Bryan Murray Must Be Unemployed."


Gui, Gui, Gui…notes from Québec

Jeff, from Sisu Hockey, pointed his readers to the current battle going on between, arguably, the best goaltender of all time, Patrick Roy, and Habs rookie Guillaume Latendresse. The short mention of the rift in the post did succeed in capturing the ridiculous proportions this story has taken on here in Québec. What the post didn’t quite convey is how Latendresse, who barely made it onto the Habs’ roster, is to what extent the fans and the media, especially the francophones, already adore this guy.

For the last two seasons, Latendresse has been very impressive in the pre-season, outscoring seasoned veteran players on many occasions. I know that this doesn’t mean much from a player/coach point of view, but for the fans, it was clearly love at first sight.

In his first pre-season stint, at the age of 18, the hype was such that the fans began chanting “Gui, Gui, Gui”, almost from his first shift. Many fans voiced their displeasure when he was sent back to his junior club last year. The need for the Habs fans to have a francophone star of their own was, and still is, quite palpable.

This year, the debate over his possible roster spot was more heated that the “ is Québec a nation” debate. Recently, in one of his first salvos aimed at Latendresse, Roy suggested that Habs kept the rookie on the squad simply because he was Québécois.

Outside of the francophone community in Québec, I’m not sure how much people realize how important it is for francophone hockey fans in Québec to have one of theirs as a star on the Habs roster. Not only is Latendresse being hyped beyond belief (luckily, he is being very well advised), but every time a Québécois hockey star (Gagné, Tanguay, St-Louis, Lecavalier) is rumoured to be struggling on unhappy, the hockey writers start foaming at the mouth. There is widespread notion that the Habs don’t have enough players from Québec.

There are less and less players from Québec playing in the NHL and, as result, less of them in Montreal than ever before. Regardless of what hockey writers would have us believe, the number of Québécois players on the Habs roster is not any lower than the league average (it’s actually slightly higher). The only thing missing is a star.

This brings me, in a roundabout way, to the issue of Québec icing a team in the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championships to be held in both Québec City and Halifax. The idea, which is actually 30 years old, is the brainchild of Québec City lawyer (and former Parti Québécois leadership hopeful), Guy Bertrand. The idea was originally hatched in 1976, when the separatist PQ took power in Québec for the first time and it’s been on the back burner for quite some time. The approaching World Championships has brought the issue back to the fore.

What do I think of this initiative? One word: ridiculous. I won’t even get into the politics behind this suggestion and will limit my comments only to the hockey related aspects.

What gets me is that, every time Bertrand talks about his idea of Team Québec, there is absolutely no mention of the players that would be involved and where their loyalties lie. Even if the IIHF would agree to Bertrand’s laughable proposal of having the winner of a best-of-three series between Team Canada and Team Québec represent the country at the tournament, I’m not sure many players would even agree to play for Team Québec.

Given that the players would most likely get to choose which team they would like to try out and play for (all QC players are, after all, Canadians), I am pretty confident that most of them would prefer not playing for a team that would have little chance of winning. Elite players would, naturally, like to play for the best possible team.

Sure, back in 1976, a Team Québec would have given any team (including Team Canada) a serious run for their money. Thirty years later, as was made clear on Spector’s Hockey, that team would have serious issues on the back end and would have a hard time competing with a team made up of players from the rest of Canada. Plus, if the better Québec players choose to play for Team Canada, Team Québec would then be mostly comprised of second tier players and players in the autumn of their careers.

I’m really not sure, then, how anyone could consider that this would be good for Québec.


Tony Toni Tone

The Tony Amonte show was out in full force last night at the Saddledome when the veteran winger sniped 2 and nearly snagged a few more in Calgary's convincing 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars. It's always good to see the guy bag a goal as he is the hardest worker on his team and celebrates his small victories with genuine enthusiasm and energy. The stats of this performance, unfortunately, says nothing about the tremendous defensive efforts made on his part either. The man was a force all over the ice surface, killing penalties, streaking down the right side, and wreaked havoc on the Dallas squad.

The Flames as a whole seem to have found their old style form, 14 games into the season, and could very well go on a tear if they continue. The first 10 minutes of the game were not televised and so I missed the first goal, the first big Kipper save, and Andrew Ference standing up to Matthew Barnaby in a solid welter-weight tilt. However, the details of these events coupled with the speed and action in the rest of the first period told me everything I needed to know: the boys got their passion back.

Generally, it was a fast-paced game. The Flames did a heck of a lot of banging and kept Zubov on his toes as much as humanly possible. The Stars didn't play awful but they had a difficult time gaining momentum. The officiating was a bit suspect but nothing to initiate a fundraiser over. The Flames did a wonderful job on their PK, though they did let one sneak by Kipper (from a fantastic snipe by Antti Miettinen which could have gone through a mail slot, given the opportunity). Overall, it was Flames hockey at its best.

Dion Phaneuf and Roman Hamrlik were the top d-men on the night, making confident, dominant plays, one after the other. The Hammer is the type of player who needs plenty of ice time to get into the rhythm and playing with the General on the top unit will finally get the man all the action he needs. The rest of the defense corps were fairly solid. Mike Giordano made a few rookie mistakes but the kid can skate and he's not afraid of screwing up, and that's what you want out of your rookies. Playing with Robyn Regehr, who laid out Eric Lindros in a beautifully-timed hip check, certainly gave Giordano this opportunity.

Though they only had 18 shots counted on the Stars net, the forward units were pumping out opportunities the likes they haven't seen since Phoenix came to town last month. The Iginla-Langkow-Huselius unit seem like they know what they're doing on the ice. Huselius especially was a threat every time he touched the puck. If he could only get his one-timers on net, he might have snagged more than his empty-netter at the end. Iggy was his old usual self--making plays out of his ass and being the whirling dervish he is.

The second unit played a bit better, though I noticed a few sloppy plays from Tanguay. Having said that, the former 'lanche did do some banging and got a little dirty. He hurt is shoulder from laying out a body check, which is a much better way to do it than throwing off your gloves before a fight. Lombardi and Kobasew both had decent scoring chances and kept Turco on his toes.

The only problem with the forwards I could see was getting their shots on goal. There were far too many missed opportunities when a player decided to pass than shoot, and too many shots were going wide. With the excellent form in the faceoff circle, the Flames could have gotten shots on Turco and force a draw in the Stars' end. But that is an easy problem to fix. What isn't easy is Jamie Lundmark, who was called for a stupid penalty and doesn't seem to be taking the game seriously. He's got so much talent and can make great plays now and then but he's so frustrating to watch. Sutter needs to get Dustin Boyd fast-tracked so they don't need Lundmark any more.

Or else get Jeff Friesen some flu medication, stat.

It was a classic match-up between the top two 'tenders in the West, and Kipper came out on top. The Finnish flopper was spectacular when he needed to be. Having said that, there were only a few occasions when he had to scramble in his crease, and this was due to his defense clearing the rebounds and closing the passing lanes as much as possible. You know the Flames are playing well when they just let Kiprusoff stop the puck. They have the upmost confidence in him and aren't afraid to let him do his job. It is a positive sign.

As for Marty Turco, he was the best player on the Stars' end last night. Though he didn't have plenty of pepper on the pads, he made key saves when he needed to and kept his team in the game. The first goal against was a bit weak and the second goal, while difficult to stop as it was a deflection, did change the momentum of the game and boosted the Flames' morale. But he was decent and deserves recognition.

What does this mean for the Flames then? They are riding a two-game winning streak, not something to brag about but it's momentum all the same. They managed to neutralize one of the top defensemen in the game in Sergei Zubov with their high-energy forecheck and no-nonsense attitude. They'll have to do twice as much to do the same to two of the other top d-men in the league when they take on Anaheim at home on Friday night. The Ducks are the best team in the West so far this season and that has everything to do with the monster Niederpronger tandem on the blueline. But the Flames see themselves as underdogs again and are more than capable of taking on the OC juggernaut if they stick to their game plan.

Good stuff, all around.


Am I worried?

The record of the 2005-06 Calgary Flames, after 13 games: 4-7-2

The record of the 2006-07 Calgary Flames, after 13 games: 4-7-2

(via BoA)

Beyond parody

Maybe it is a result of withdrawal due to the lack of playoff action at Commonwealth Stadium this fall but, honestly, there is no suitable way to satirize this:

Craig MacTavish was fined $10, 000 today for his criticism of referee Mick McGeough following last night's debacle against the Stars. As I noted late last night, I think it would be a nice symbolic gesture for the hockey blogosphere, and in particular the Oilogosphere, to help pay the cost of MacT's fine. I think enough of us in hockey land have had enough of Mr. Magoo's antics, and this is a good way to show it. As Tyler noted in the comments last night, we can send whatever we raise to MacT. If he doesn't want it, we'll request that he give the cheque to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, or another suitable charity of his choice.

I know, I know. I have a weakness for making fun of the idiot greaseball lovers over at Battle of Alberta, but their stupidity has reached new depths. When a ref blows a key call, there are a number of courses of action a fan can take: throwing empty OV cans at the telly is one; writing a letter to the editor of the local paper is another; contacting your representative in parliament is a third. Heck, I'd even go so far as to suggest that loading a pile of manure in the driveway of a neighbour of the referee could be considered reasonable.

But offering to help pay a fine for a coach who makes, whatever, half a million dollars a year, is almost as retarded as an NHL coach who calls a ref "retarded" in front of a a set of press microphones. This isn't the first time MacTavish has been fined by the NHL and it won't be the last. He knew the consequences of his actions before he mouthed off and he knows he'll have to pay for it.

More to the point, if those goofballs at BoA want to throw their money away, the least they could do is give it to someone who needs it plenty more than a millionaire NHL coach, like, say, a homeless shelter or to the CNIB, as they put it so wonderfully, "if he doesn't want it". Their over-inflated egos could use a little humility in their lives to realize how selfish and downright ugly their gesture truly is.

Get over yourselves, losers.


Is it too early to panic?

I wouldn't call it a panic at the Saddledome, but GM Darryl Sutter has called up the kids in order to provide some spark to the lineup.

Centre Dustin Boyd and winger Brandon Prust have been asked to to join their passionless parent club on the upcoming road trip with the hope that their presence this early in the season might shake things up a bit.

Is this a good idea? Methinks it could very well be. The Flames are not an old club, by any means, but there is nothing like a rookie in the dressing room and on the bench to make a veteran look at the game from a slightly different angle. For evidence of this, remember last year's squad talking about Dion Phaneuf signing on. His being there allowed for something to get themselves excited about during the course of the season. True, the team already has Mike Giordano as its requistion newbee this season, but he's a seventh defenseman and won't get much playing time behind the established veterans. A skill player like Boyd might turn a few heads and add a bit of excitement, while Brandon Prust, being more of a mucker than a goal scorer, might piss off an opposing player or two in any given evening.

Of course, these additions to the roster won't be leading a resurgence in the Flames's fortunes, but the club needs a shake-up, now or later.

CODA: As an aside, calling up some of the young prospects might also show the rest of the league how stacked the organizational depth chart has become since Sutter took over the reigns. If there is some team out there in a rebuilding year who might, oh, I don't know, have a star Swedish centre who's getting on in years and who might look good with Iginla, seeing some of these hotshot prospects strut their stuff in The Show might intice a big trade within the next month or so.

I'm just saying.


No standing Ovechkin

But, nonetheless, the Flames only played half a game - again! - and were unsucessful in beating one of the lower-tiered NHL rosters last night. The Capitals were outshot and out-chanced from the second period onward but still managed to upset the hometown fire eaters 4-2, with captain Chris Clark netting the open twine at the end.

Dainius Zubris, the only other offensive talent on the slowly-improving Caps (or is that Richard Zednik?), was named the first star though I don't know why Ollie the goalie, who is still in the top half of starting tenders in the league, wasn't given more credit. The veteran netminder saved 37 shots last night, many of which were in close and while his defense was outmanoevered in front of him. His size has always taken away proper credit due to him because the man is a master at picking the angles and staying in position, thus making his saves look easier than their actuality. If he had the sort of team that Martin Brodeur has had throughout his entire career, perhaps Kolzig would receive more recognition.

Ovechkin wasn't an unstoppable force but he is the first player I've seen in a long, long time who made me sit at the edge of my seat everytime he touched the puck. He was so strong, as evidenced by the few times Phaneuf tried to hit him head-on. (And let's not forget the near-leveling at centre-ice of Robyn Regehr, of all people. He made some outstanding moves and almost caused the Saddledome faithful to head en masse to the loo to clean their collective shorts at the end. I am so glad I had the opportunitiy to see him play live. Wonderful, wonderful.

The Flames weren't the worst thing in the world, when they felt like playing. The top line of Iginla-Langow-Huselius was the most entertaining unit on the ice, making some nifty passes and creating scoring opportunities. They seem to have a much better feeling for each other than last season, and should remain together for a bit longer if the Flames wish to capitalize on this. Besides, Huselius does so much dipsy-doodling, he's a liability when playing with any other unit. The second line was almost non-existant last night: Lombardi's 6-game point streak ended as he, Tanguay and Kobasew weren't able to generate chances on a regular basis. The best line of the evening had to be Amonte-Friesen-Lundmark, who might have been playing for their spot on the roster after GM Darryl Sutter let his team know how well their Omaha AHL franchise was performing due to their high-flying prospects.

In any case, there is word among some of the broadcasting crew that the Flames might not be among the elite in the league anymore, that now is time that changes might have to be made. Perhaps, but I think they need to get into a rythm, that their lines need to be set for a bit longer so that players start getting used to one another. Sutter might be able to snag a top-line centre, something this franchise has lacked since Joe Nieuwendyk was swapped for a young prospect named Jarome oh-so many years ago. That being said, is Toronto captain Mats Sundin up for a move west in exchange for a few peospects down in Nebraska town?

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the biggest disappointment in last night's game. Perhaps it was the presence of Donald Brashear on the roster, but I have to ask why not a single Flame stood up for the Kipper after he was leveled by Richard Zednik following the latter's breakaway goal in the third period. That the goal was legitimate is not the issue; Zednik was in all-alone and smashed into the crease on his own accord. Luckily for the Flames, no one was hurt. However, not only did the team not stand up for its goalie, it showed the biggest glaring weakness in the entire organization, a weakness which hadn't been seen since December 2003: The Flames lack passion.

And passion, above all else, wins Stanley Cups.



Florida Panthers' goalie Alex Auld was injured early Friday morning at his team's hotel in Uniondale, New York, after slipping on water when Ed Belfour dropped his bottle of water.

As reported in Sunday's Miami Herald, Auld needed stitches above his right eyebrow after the incident in the lobby and did not play Saturday night against the New York Islanders.

The Eagle has a history of treating the other goalie - much like many treat the other women - like shit.

There is no truth to the rumour that Eddie offered Alex $1 billion dollars to forget the whole thing.


Confused feelings aroused

What is so surreal/absurd/insane about the whole thing is that Christie Chorley is the one doing all the interviewing. The questioning is all centered around why Pronger left, how the Oilers feel about him, and how they feel about family. Yet no one even bats an eye during their interviews with her. Not even the slightest "wink-wink." Everyone stays in character, dutifully playing along with the idea that this reporter is searching for answers to questions that haven't already been asked and answered. She also does the voice over commentary, and even talks about the "swirling rumours around Pronger's departure." But she never lets on that much of the swirling was occurring around her frame (wrongly, I should add). I don't know how I can possibly begin to describe the confused feelings it aroused in me. She conducted the entire segment without even the tiniest hint or admission that she was a part of the whole episode. Did I just witness an example of extraordinary journalism, or a visual lecture in postmodernism? Was she negating her involvement out of a desire to be objective, or because "Chris Pronger's Christie Chorley" is but an imitation of the "real Christie Chorley", and to recognize the copy only leads to a distortion and eventual destruction of the original? At this point, I really don't know the answer...

I'm not one for answers but I am convinced that Oiler fans will not let go of the Pronger departure until CBC does an interview with them and their dogs in their potato patch.

What a bunch of pansies.


The grit is gone


Père Murray used to tell his gang, "Adversity is a bone for the Hounds to chew on." The Calgary Flames had better hope that this bone has plenty of meat on it still.

The Flarin' Horse Head Nostrils suffered a huge set-back the other night when Stephane Yelle, know as "Sandbox" to his teammates and fans (often the same people) for his gritty style of play, went down with a sonovabitchin' leg injury which included a fracture and a messed up ankle. He's gone for at least 2 months and, even though Yelle would never lay down and die--unless to stop a blistering shot from the point--this is the type of injury which might cut a man's career short.

Last season, when Marcus Nilson was down for a large portion of the season, the team's chemistry was noticeably affected by his absence. How much more, then, will the Flames have to contribute to make up for the loss of their best faceoff-man and perhaps the league's best defensive forward? Only time will tell.

Yelle didn't win many games for his team but he was able, just like Kiprusoff, to keep the team in the game, night in and night out. Perhaps Jamie Lundmark and Byron Ritchie will be able to partially fill this void and take charge in a way only Yelle could. Perhaps this injury is what the team needs to slap itself out of its present funk and start playing defense Calgary-style.

Yeah, and maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot.

The grit-less Flames will be put to the test tonight against the all-ribs-and-no-balls Desert Dogs of Phoenix. If you purchase the game through Pay-Per-View, look for me. I'll be wearing the red sweater.


And did I mention that Bob Clarke is an idiot?

Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald lists his all-time favorite memories of the gap-toothed bully from the Flon:

  1. Brought convicted felon and union crook Alan Eagleson into his team's dressing room AFTER Eagleson got out of jail.
  2. As NHLPA president, he depressed salaries for his union brothers by secretly taking benefits on the side, thereby reducing his contract number.
  3. Blamed Roger Neilson for getting cancer. Blamed Eric Lindros for having a collapsed lung.
  4. Named Lindros Olympic team captain in 1998 while he also had Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Ray Bourque on the team.
  5. Thought Chris Gratton was the next Mark Messier and signed him to a five-year, $16.5-million deal.
My own favorite was trading away Peter Forsberg and a whole lot else while "winning" the Lindros sweepstakes over the Rangers, but I'm looking for others.


Philly Cheese Stink

How long, after a carton of milk goes bad, can you keep drinking from it? It's the ultimate existential question. In Philly, the answer is about eight years. That's about how log the Philadelphia Flyers held on to (now former) general manager Bob Clarke.

Today, hockey fans have truly witnessed the end of an era. IMHO, it is a very welcome end to what has been an awful era for the Flyers.

It is no secret that Bob Clarke is man without sound judgment (I'm trying to hit above the belt here) and that, as he admitted himself, he hasn't delivered the goods as a general manager in the NHL.

Rob first broached the subject of Clarke's "intelligence" on this very blog back in May. He didn't pull any punches and one can hardly blame him. Let's all remember what he said after he let Roger Neilson go after Neilson had been diagnosed with Cancer: "I don't think they (the fans) want a cancer patient who is a friend of Eric Lindros right now."

When Clarke was later asked to clarify his position on the issue, he came up with this gem : "The Neilson situation - Roger got cancer - that wasn't our fault," said Clarke. "We didn't tell him to go and get cancer."

I know that Clarke is a hockey legend and that someone's lack of diplomacy (or brains) doesn't mean they can't build a Stanley Cup winning team. Regardless, his inability to recognize the changing style of play in the NHL and the need for any Cup hopeful to have a decent goalie, made him incompetent. It's as simple as that.

Good riddance.


SENSitive Situation

Not so long ago, I got Ballzov all riled up about his beloved Sens when I dared insinuate that they were not quite ready for prime time. Essentially, he told me to take a pill and relax. This was, after all, only a few days into the season. They will right the ship.

I hope that they do, but I did see a few things today that made me think that it may take more time than anticipated (apart from their fourth consecutive loss at home this season).

First, the boys at the Battle of Alberta, who regularly come up with great stats, gave us this little gem: “there's a team with a negative goal differential on the powerplay, and it's the Ottawa Senators (1 PP GF, 2 SH GA)”. This is a sad stat, especially when you consider the firepower they have up front.

The second thing that caught my eye was the piece by Bob McKenzie on tsn.ca. Good ‘ole “Chins”, as Shaky likes to refer to him, gives us the lowdown on Jason Spezza health. Apparently, although he had surgery in the summer, Spezza back is still bothering him. Conclusions have yet to be drawn, but bad news could have serious long term repercussions on the Sens’ offence.

Finally, what most sportswriters have been focusing on is the offensive explosion of former Senator Martin Havlat, who has been simply on fire since the start of the season. Havlat has more goals and points to himself than Ottawa’s entire first line of Spezza, Heatly and Alfredson. With the Sens’ offence sputtering, some Sens fans may be wondering why he was let go. In my opinion, that kind of comparison is a little cheap. Most GM’s would have dealt Havlat in a similar situation and I surely would have as well. Nobody could have predicted that Ottawa’s stars would start the year so slowly.

Just so you know, Ballzov, I’m not panicking…yet (the pills are still working).


Flame out

Tonight's Habs - Flames tilt was very entertaining. The hockey was great. Unfortunately, the officiating was horrible. Quite frankly, I can't remember a poorer display of refereeing in recent memory. Luckily, it was equal opportunity suckage.

I lost count of how many Flames went to the sin bin after phantom calls and I also lost count of how many Hab players got a stick in the face. One of the referees was about 8 feet from Kipper when he clearly interfered Kovalev. It was a joke.

As for the Regehr hit, it leaves me perplexed. As I asked the boys at the Battle of Alberta, how is it that Koivu gets called for feeling up Kobasew after he had dumped the puck, but Regehr can send Downey to the hospital after he dumps the puck and there's no call? It was a clean hit, but it was certainly as late as the Koivu groping.

In any case, it was good to see the Flames come to town. It is a rare occasion. After losing to both the Leafs and the Habs, two teams who, according to most prognosticators, will be hard pressed to make the playoffs, one has to wonder what adjustments the Flames brass will make. The cameras focused on Sutter towards the end of the game and he didn't look like a happy camper.

The Habs got the "W", and that will make many fans breath a little easier. The Canadiens' "D" is quite banged up and a few people were worried before tonight's game. I thought Streit played well in his first game of the season and Mike Komisarek is looking more and more like a top 4 D-man. Souray was his usual self: a defensive liability. He did get two goals, so he did more good than harm. For me, Markov is the question mark on the back end. Last year, he was arguably Montreal's best defenseman, but he seems to be lost this year. Maybe he misses Bouillon.

Final thoughts: Beeg wants me to mention that Bonk is Radekal.


Looks like Old, Ballzov

As it was on Pay-Per-View, I didn't catch the only match-up of the season between the Senators and Flames (before the Stanley Cup final, that is), but I hear it was tight, playoff-style hockey. Good for the Flames, bad for the Sens. A Kipper shut-out, an Iggy game-winner and a few big hits by the General were all that was needed for the Cowtown Horse Heads to pull out a big road win against a sleeping giant.

Not all is doom and gloom for the Ottawa faithful, however. Apparently, the team put out an outstanding effort and were only thwarted by the stellar play of Kiprusoff and the Flames defense. Finish was all that was needed and finish will eventually result with the likes of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatly on the front line. They'll be fine.

Next up for the Calgary Flaming C's is a stop for a Saturday night prime time game with the loopy Leafs. The boys in blue have surprised many observers with their scoring prowress and cocky air. Will they rebound from last night's lost victory in Jersey? Or will they hit the Kipper wall with a resounding thud in front of Bob, Harry and the Don? No matter the result, only one thing's for certain: after the game, Leaf fans will continue to be the laughing stock of the league.


The West Wants In

So, true to my word, I've now watched (most of) a game featuring teams from the West. The Vancouver Canucks just lost to the Minnesota Wild in what turned out to be another of many heartbreakers to come this season for the 'Nucks.

As I expected, the game was fast paced and featured some great goaltending. Roberto Luongo was, once again, simply unconscious. Seeing him in a Vancouver uniform made me feel kinds sorry for him. He left Florida to play with a contender and so he wouldn't have to win games (almost) all by himself. Once again, he did everything in his power to keep his team in the game, but in the end, they didn't provide enough offence.

On another note, this is the fifth game I've watched this season and the third that has gone to a shootout. I never thought I would say this, but I'm beginning to like the shootout. Not that I've ever been a hockey "purist", but I've always been quite averse to settling what is essentially a team game using an individual skill competition. Yet, tonight, I found myself hoping that nobody would score in OT.

How did it go? Well, the Wild are loaded with offensively gifted players, so I gave them the edge in the beginning. Then, when I saw that Vigneault sent in Bulis as the fourth shooter, I pretty much knew it was over for the Canucks. Bulis didn't even try. Ballzov could have done better than that. Weak.

Just to rub it in, Lemaire sent in some unknown European defenseman to beat Luongo on the glove side. Done and done.

I like Vigneault, but that was a poor choice. Not that he has a tonne of players to choose from, but he could have gone with the other Sedin sister in the fourth spot.


New or Old SENSations?

Peace from Russia.

Phoff has been after me for months to talk about the Senators changes since last season. First off, it's obviously tough to assess at this point, although the 1-2 start doesn't make me happy. Second, no one would argue that losing Chara and Havlat is a good thing. That's stupider than I'm willing to be without a quart of vodka. However, the moves all come down to management of the salary cap and choices that the franchise had no choice but to make. In that context, let's do a quick review:

Out - Havlat, Chara, Hasek, Pothier, Smolinski
In - Preissing, Corvo, McAmmond, Gerber
Contracts - Redden (2 years, $13-million), Spezza (2 years, $9-million)

There is no doubt that the Sens will miss Havlat's explosiveness on the second (sometimes third) line. Personally, I have wished for Smolinski's departure for three years. But, let's put this in context, this team scored 313 regular season goals and Havlat had 9 of them. With Alfie, Heatley, and Spezza leading the way they will score goals.

On defense, everyone seems to think that Chara is a Norris candidate, and who am I to argue (I could, but won't, let's just see at the end of the season). Pothier will be fine in Washington, but look up the post-Senators careers of Pitlick, Lance and Neckar, Stan for two examples of guys who were considered "good" defensemen in Ottawa prior to leaving as free agents. Corvo and Preissing were both very good last year for their respective teams. Better than expected, which is always a concern. It leaves you facing the choice of Chara versus Redden (or that's how I'm interpreting it) and the Sens management made their choice. I happen to think they made the right one and were then able to add depth to the blueline (until Corvo was hurt). Chara was unrestricted and bound to be overpriced. Chara got five years at the same price as Redden ($7.5-mil/season), which if you've ever seen the man pass the puck, you know is ridiculous. The Sens defense will have some more empty ice to cover this year, but I don't think this is the disaster some commentators do. If, as I assume, it also made room for the Spezza contract extension then I am totally satisfied. Enjoy Boston, Big Z! They'll love you.

The question as always is between the pipes and more specifically between the ears of the guy between the pipes. It seems so easy to remember in the glow of Cam Ward's playoff performance that Gerber was the better Carolina goalie in the regular season, and apparently (although I didn't know this until reading it over the summer) he was sick while getting shelled in the playoffs. Everyone bore witness to the fact that Ray Emery wasn't quite ready for prime time, as they say, so turning to Gerber who'd been cast off in Raleigh seems smart. The question is whether he's still carrying any baggage from what had to be an embarrassing end to his season in 2005.

After all the changes, one would likely have to surmise that this is still likely a 90 point, top half of the conference team. My impression is that few teams made a move that will cause them to make "the leap" and get above the Sens. Will they win the Conference? I don't think so. Is that a bad thing? Quite possibly not.

New NHL = Money Puck

Peace from Russia.

It's been a while. It has taken many months of therapy and vodka to get over the Senators devastatingly inept performance last spring. My nightmares focus on Alfie playing the point and Chara crushing Sens into the boards of Scotiabank Place rather than stylized B's. Luckily, Phoff sobered my up and begged long enough for me to write again.

First, an interesting article over at Yahoo! caught my eye recently. As an avid sports "pooler" I've been obsessed by baseball statistics for some time. Phoff, Beeg and I have discussed several times how the cap era of the NHL might eventually lead to some new developments in statistical evaluations of players. Afterall, using "new stats" in baseball developed first in its arbitration system. I think there are challenges to developing more refined statistical analysis for hockey, the primary one (as identified in the article) is the fluid nature of hockey. Where baseball can easily and effectively be broken into a series of discreet units hockey can't, except for time, but I'm skeptical that time on the ice provides provides a good measure of production. The other part that interests me about the article is that it sounds as though these new developments are happening within the organizations primarily. I haven't checked the public resources listed in the article, but in baseball's case, many of these developments first occurred outside of the infrastructure of Major League Baseball. This is significant, because part of the reason it happened that way in MLB was the institutional culture of the game - old baseball men who "knew" what made a good player. That hockey organizations seem to be adopting this without the groundswell of grassroots activity may be positive or could mean it takes longer to root itself due to being subordinated to "traditional" means of evaluation and "the old stats." I digress. It remains an interesting piece. (PS- I wonder if Huck shares my sense that having Craig Button as the spokesperson in this article is disheartening.)


So far...

So most teams have about 80 games left to play in the regular season and things are heating up. Well, actually, they’re not. I do, however, have a few first impressions to share after watching only four games. My impressions will be limited, as I’ve only seen four teams from the Northeast division play (Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Buffalo).

1. I don’t regret picking Buffalo as the top-rated team for the regular season. Man, they’re fast and they finally have a consensus #1 goalie (who is great, by the way). They will be fun to watch. Unfortunately, they now have the ugliest jersey’s in the league.

2. Refereeing, which is one of the only bad things about NHL hockey, is so much better than it was pre-lockout, but is still horribly inconsistent. Was anyone else totally confused by the fact that Daniel Brière seemed to have talked his was out of a call after spearing Radek Bonk?

3. When will the Senators figure out that the pre-season is over? Seriously. Two losses in their own building, one of which was a 6-0 thrashing from the Leafs. The leafs? Alfredson won’t make it to the All-Star break. He’s gone.

4. Tie Domi on TSN: How excruciatingly painful is that? My God, it’s like watching…aw, fuck it…there is no comparison. It’s Tie Domi as broadcaster! WTF?

5. I need to stay up later to catch some of the games featuring teams in the West. The West will be strong and I need to know if Dallas’ 2-0 start is just a fluke or are Soft Mellon and Mickey Ribs going to be the new odd couple.



Is it too late to add Peter Sykora to my Fantasy Team?

"... Other match-ups tonight had the Maple Leafs downing Ottawa, 6-0 ... The Canucks stole one from Detroit 3-1 ... Despite being outshot almost 2-to-1, the Pens surprised the Flyers in a 4-0 victory ... Chicago earned a tough 8-6 road win against the Western Conference favorites, the Nashville Predators ... The chemistry must be working in Phoenix as the Coyotes downed the new-look Islanders ..."

So, am I worried? Not in the least. The team looked good on the get-go all the way up to that disasterous penalty shot attempt. Until Jarome Iginla gives up his Rob Huck-on-a-breakaway impersonation and actually begins to skate at the goalie, I wouldn't put him closer than 30 feet to a penalty shot or game-deciding shootout.

The boys seemed pretty decent, however. While the Oilers were showing off their potentially leathal fast-break ability, the Flames showed poise and confidence with the puck which hadn't been seen last year. True, they needed to crash the net more on the power play, but I have no problem with the players testing each other's proclivities out for a few games, getting used to each other and all that. Excepting the penalty shot, Iggy seemed as fast as he's ever been. Not just faster, though. Lighter on his toes and more mobile. Tanguay, for his part, made some incredible cross-ice passes through traffic at a success rate that Silly Ass Huselius could only dream about. And while Regher and The General laid out the body as we all thought they would, Kipper needed a bit of time to settle down in the goal. A good surprise was the mobility and smarts of newcomer Andrei Zyuzin, who more than proved that the departure of Jordan Leopold will not be lamented.

Not bad, but I expect better.


Flame on!


Tonight marks the first installment of Battle of Alberta, v.06-07. The Flaming Horse Head Nostrils are looking in fine form and should repeat as Northwest Division champions. The Shiv City Grease Monkeys, on the other hand, enter the season without 10 players from their Stanley Cup run this past spring, and open with plenty of questions as to their potential. They'll raise their Biggest Loser banner tonight in the Rexreach Skycentre and then the 2006-07 NHL is truly on its way.

Let's do 'er, boys.


Take that, Kreskin!

Wow. Shaky’s post is quite impressive. Although I have not done as much research into season two of the new NHL, I will nevertheless steal his template and give you my predictions.

I know that, technically, the season has already started, but since it’s only a few hours old, I don’t have any information that my fellow bloggers didn’t…well, except for the fact that I know that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been sold to the guy from Kitchener-Waterloo who keeps giving everybody RIM jobs.

Here we go…

Eastern Conference







Western Conference







Phoff’s Fantasy picks:

Forward: Sidney Crosby PIT, Jaromir Jagr NYR, Alexander Ovechkin WAS
Defense: Scott Niedermayer ANA, Niklas Lidstrom DET
Goal: Miikka Kiprusoff CAL
Rookie: Phil Kessel BOS

Phoff’s individual award winners:

Hart: Miikka Kiprusoff CAL
Ross: Sidney Crosby PIT
Richard: Alexander Ovechkin WAS
Norris: Niklas Lidstrom DET
Vezina: Miikka Kiprusoff CAL
Calder: Evgeni Malkin PIT
Selke: Michael Peca TOR
Byng: Mike Fisher OTT
Adams: Barry Trotz NAS
Pearson: Sidney Crosby PIT
Smythe: Alex Tanguay CAL

President's Trophy: Buffalo Sabres

Western and Stanley Champs: Calgary Flames

Eastern Champs: Buffalo Sabres

First coach fired: John Tortorella TBAY

Not cross-posted anywhere.

Amazing Kreskin

Another season of fun and exciting NHL hockey is upon us and it is time to make the fearless predictions.

Eastern Conference







Western Conference







Shaky's Fantasy picks

Forward: Jason Spezza OTT, Eric Staal CAR, Alexander Ovechkin WAS
Defense: Scott Niedermayer ANA, Chris Pronger ANA
Goal: Miikka Kiprusoff CAL
Rookie: Evgeni Malkin PIT

Shaky's individual award winners:

Hart: Scott Niedermayer ANA
Ross: Jaromir Jagr NYR
Richard: Alexander Ovechkin WAS
Norris: Scott Niedermayer ANA
Vezina: Miikka Kiprusoff CAL
Calder: Evgeni Malkin PIT
Selke: Brad Richards TBAY
Byng: Jere Lehtinen DAL
Adams: Barry Trotz NAS
Pearson: Sidney Crosby PIT
Smythe: Scott Niedermayer ANA

President's Trophy: Anaheim

Western and Stanley Champs: Anaheim

Eastern Champs: Ottawa

First coach fired: Joel Quenneville COL

Cross posted at the only site that matters in the new NHL: Moldy


Puck This! Fantasies

I'm taking the charge and inviting all contributors and visitors of Puck This! to submit their ultimate fantasy teams (3 fwds, 2 d, 1 g, 1 rookie, where goalies get 1 pt/win. 5 pts/so) this year. Also encouraged are picks for season-end individual award winners, the President Trophy, and the Stanley Cup finalists.

Got it?

Bumf's Fantasy picks
Forward: Sidney Crosby PIT, Eric Staal CAR, Alexander Ovechkin WAS
Defense: Scott Niedermayer ANA, Lubomir Visnovsky LAK
Goal: Miikka Kiprusoff CAL
Rookie: Evgeni Malkin PIT

Bumf's individual award winners:
Hart: Sidney Crosby PIT
Ross: Sidney Crosby PIT
Richard: Erik Cole CAR
Norris: Scott Niedermayer ANA
Vezina: Miikka Kiprusoff CAL
Calder: Evgeni Malkin PIT
Selke: Stephane Yelle CAL (though not likely)
Byng: Daniel Alfredsson OTT
Masterton: Eric Lindros, DAL
Adams: Barry Trotz NAS
Pearson: Sidney Crosby PIT
Smythe: Jarome Iginla CAL

President's Trophy: Nashville Predators

Stanley Cup finalists: Ottawa Senators

Stanley Cup winner: Calgary Flames


First coach fired: John Tortorella TAM


Philadelphia Flyers (3)
New Jersey Devils (5)
New York Rangers (7)
New York Islanders (11)
Pittsburg Penguins (12)

Buffalo Sabres (1)
Ottawa Senators (4)
Montreal Canadiens (6)
Boston Bruins (9)
Toronto Maple Leafs (13)

Carolina Hurricanes (2)
Atlanta Thrashers (8)
Tampa Bay Lightning (10)
Washington Capitals (14)
Florida Panthers (15)


Nashville Predators (1)
Detroit Red Wings (4)
Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
Chicago Blackhawks (12)
St Louis Blues (14)

Calgary Flames (3)
Minnesota Wild (7)
Colorado Avalanche (10)
Edmonton Oilers (11)
Vancouver Canucks (13)

San Jose Sharks (2)
Anaheim Ducks (5)
Los Angeles Kings (6)
Dallas Stars (9)
Phoenix Coyotes (15)


Straight Shooter

Flames Defenseman Rhett Warrener welcomes Jeff Friesen and tells of playing in NHL purgatory - Washington.

New Jersey(s)

Mind the stampede.


W - O - W

Charles Wang and Garth Snow have decided that goaltender Rick DiPietro will never leave the island. In fact, DiPietro likely has a clause to take over in year 10 as coach.

The New York Islanders are set to announce that they have signed DiPietro to a 15-year, $67.5 million contract. DiPietro's contract is in line with the large, wasteful contract that Alexi Yashin was awarded.

Cross-posted at Moldy


Class Act


One of the few people who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this town--if not in the entire country--with hockey superstar Jarome Iginla has decided to hang 'em up, at least at the highest competitive levels. Cassie Campbell, two-time captain of the gold medal-winning Canadian women's Olympic hockey team and a part of six world women's championships, embodied everything good that can be accomplished by an elite athlete in Canada. Not only was she a talented performer and leader on the ice, her ability to connect with people was evident in her extensive work with charities here in Calgary and elsewhere. Having seen her up close, I can honestly say that she appears much more genuine and sincere in person than she does on television, if that is possible, even though she almost seems embarrassed by her success when accolades are thrown her way. She is a blessing to our nation and, although she will be missed on the ice, there is no doubt that Campbell will continue her winning ways for years to come.


Sinden to retire

One word - Finally. Now, Boston can truly rebuild. Is there any chance we could convince Milbury to head to Del Bocha Vista?


How to lose a GM in 40 days

Staring Neil Smith, Charles Wang, Pat Lafontaine and Ted Nolan.

The "Island" is turning into a creepier version of the Michael Bay movie.

Garth Snow as the new GM - I had to do a double take to see if it was April 1.


Sutter Plays Fair

One of the most difficult challenges of being successful is knowing when you have done enough, and it is heartening to see that Calgary Flames coach/GM Darryl Sutter understands this quite well. Sutter will be handing over head coaching duties to his capable protege Jim Playfair today and will concentrate rightly on managing the franchise. He has done an admirable job in both roles but, the fact remains, he was working two full time jobs, either of which have shown to be too much for most men to handle one at a time. Thus, except for temporary situations, the era of the NHL coach/GM is over in the NHL, and anyone who tries to do it from now on is an arrogant idiot in over his head.

Wayne Gretzky should take note the next time he attempts to both coach an NHL club while managing an Olympic team.

Speaking of the Olympics, the Flames will also announce the arrival of Wayne Fleming to the coaching staff. Fleming was a key contributor to past Olympic hockey programs, including
the 2002 gold medal team, and is considered one of the brightest and most innovative minds in the game. There isn't a single franchise in the league who wouldn't be delighted to have this man on their payroll and Calgary is quite lucky to have him.

Donovan, Simon and Leopold out. Tanguay, Friesen, Zyuzin, McLennan and Fleming in. This team is shaping up well.


Watch It! Love It!

If you can watch this and not have a tear in your eye, you are not a hockey fan:

Steve Yzerman tribute video.

Door 1 or Door 2

In the spirit of sport and trash. Let us keep the dirt coming. There are two theories on the Pronger saga in Edmonton.

1 - His wife hated the city. 6 games in she told Chris that they were leaving and she was going to take the kids. She was known to leave for long spells and head south.

2 - He scored with a local Edmonton television personality - Christie Chorley.

Christie, for her part, denies any wrong doing.

Her statement:

I write this statement as a result of two weeks of unrelenting and untrue rumours linking my name with former Edmonton Oiler Chris Pronger, and his reasons for leaving Edmonton. These rumours have affected me professionally and personally and have had significant impact of my reputation. I release this statement because a number of media outlets have asked me to speak publicly and I hope this statement will satisfy their needs.

The international scope of this damaging gossip has been shocking and devastating.

Let me be clear and direct, I DO NOT KNOW CHRIS PRONGER PERSONALLY. I have only interviewed him as a part of a large media scrum. I have never had a one-on-one conversation with him and I have never been alone in a room with him. Despite this, and for reasons unknown to me, I have become the subject of many baseless rumours. My career is still young, I have worked extremely hard to achieve what I have professionally and I do not want these unjustified rumours to affect my life in any way.

I have sought legal counsel and have sent Cease and Desist letters to specific outlets. Concerned that this could happen to someone else, especially others in the media, I would like to see Canadian law regulate the Internet more responsibly.

I make this statement with the sole purpose of clearing my name from this entire situation and would like to move past this both personally and professionally. As a result I will be providing no further public comment.

You are welcome for the free press. Good luck with your career.

Paris Hilton / José Théodore: Follow-up

I was very happy to see that good old Shaky was up to his old tricks and posting some trash again. I actually held off on writing anything on the subject in the hopes that someone would do it first. Well, as they say, the seal is broken now.

José Théodore is simply pure trash. He and Paris are actually a great pair and really deserve each other.

The Théodore / Hilton affair has been a major headline in the Montreal tabloids and it's not about to stop.

Of course, the editorial cartoonists have been having a field day and the best of the lot is, without a doubt, YGRECK. Here's the best one he's done on Paris and Théo:

There are also these...

...and then some more risqué ones can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.



Did the Paris Hilton accept backdoor deliveries?

Colorado Avalanche and Former Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore and his girlfriend are demanding a retraction from Quebec television station TQS over a story the network aired reporting the couple had separated.

Marie-Christine Proulx reported on the June 20 current-affairs program Le Grand Journal that Theodore had moved out of the couple's Montreal home.

The couple are, however, not asking for the photos and eye-witness accounts of Theodore partying with *brand* star Paris Hilton in Toronto at the Much Music Awards, after party and after, after party to be retracted.

It has been, to say the least, a trying year for No Way Jose. The *hair* thing, the trade and a stay at the Paris Hilton. That is a hat trick nobody should be proud of.


Confessions of a hockey fan

Forgive me father, it's been almost two weeks since my last post. To make up for my absence, I will write the longest post ever. You've been warned.

So I leave the blogosphere for a few days (Canada Day weekend + tons of work + great weather = less blogging time) and I come back to the new "new" NHL. Serves me right for leaving town on deadline for UFA signings. Is it just me or was there more movement than usual? Hell, it's not even over.

Before I comment on the major moves, though, I want to comment on what was the biggest story of them all: the retirement of one of the classiest athletes of all-time.

Steve Yzerman hung up his skates this week and the NHL, as well as the entire sporting world, will miss him deeply. Yzerman was not only one of the games most skilled players, he was one of the most respected and well-liked players in the game.

Stevie Y has always been one of my favourite players, but I've always had a difficult time giving him a label. You could say he was a finesse player, because he was one of the most skilled players in recent memory, but he was also one of the grittiest. You could say he was a gritty player, but that would be too limiting. He never shied away from the physical aspect of the game, but he couldn't be classified as a power-forward. He was just a great, all-around player that was a born leader and never, ever, quit.

In the end, he doesn't need a label. He's Steve Yzerman: a 22-year veteran (20 years as Captain!) of what is perhaps the most grueling team sport we know. He is 6th on the all-time points leaders list and has lead his team, his ONLY team, to three Stanley Cup victories. Not to mention that he has also won the Conn Smythe trophy, the Lester B. Pearson trophy and an Olympic gold medal.

After his final game in May, Rob wrote a great piece on Yzerman right here on Puck This! It's a great read and, if you haven't read it, I suggest you do: Last Dance of Stevie Wonder.

Now, onto some comments on all the movement in the last week...

  • Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to Boston: Although I knew Boston was going to be in the hunt for new faces after they dumped Thornton and Samsonov, I didn't think they would get a big name (and giant man) like Chara. I also like the pickup of Savard. For some reason, that I can't explain, I like this guy and I think he gets a raw deal with the critics. I guess we'll see what he's made of now.
  • Chris Pronger to the Ducks: I won't get into the Pronger-bashing that has been going on in the Oilogosphere, but if you want to read all about, head over to the Battle of Alberta. Although the circumstances under which he left Edmonton were fishy at best, I just don't think we have enough information to bash him or his wife.

  • Either way, the Oilers were seriously screwed and got a raw deal. Nothing against Joffrey Lupul (or Mr. Rachel Hunter), who's a great rising young star and an Edmonton native, but he won't make up for losing one of the best defensemen in the league.

    Pronger will join a Ducks team that is looking more and more like a Western Conference powerhouse. Think about it: the Ducks have BOTH Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on their blue line. That's the most solid-looking back-end I've seen since the last Jennifer Lopez video. Hiyo!
Other notable moves:
Those who stayed:
  • Redden signs with Ottawa: The Sens will find out soon enough if they should have kept Chara instead.
  • Pisani and Roloson sign with Edmonton: The two stars of the 2006 playoffs will be back with the Oilers. Pisani was a no-brainer, but Roloson is 36 and will have knee surgery in the summer. To say that that is risky is an understatement in this case.
  • Patrick Elias signs with the Devils: Lou keeps his hands on possibly the most sought after UFA forward. (Who inks a player for 7 years nowadays?)
  • Erik and Eric stay in Carolina: Cole and Staal will be mainstays with the Hurricanes for a few years to come. This team is for real.
...and the inertia award goes to: Bob Gainey. Seriously, WTF? The Habs are in dire need of a strong centerman and some quality "D". Sheldon just can't cut it anymore and Koivu may not be back. Wake up!

There were, of course, many ore moves that I didn't comment on, but if you got this far, why don't you check out the list of free agents to see who Gainey won't pick up over the summer.