Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Top 5 Injuries in Penguins History

The title pretty much says it all. So here we go with the list that will make any Pens fan squirm:

1) Mario Lemieux's back (1989 - forever) - Mario went through more physical challenges than any athlete should have to over the course of his career, but it was almost always his bad back that stepped in to sideline his march to greatness. Thanks to Mario's wonky back hockey fans are left with a laundry list of questions instead of a resume of records. How many of Gretzky's records could Mario have broken? How long could Mario's point streak during the '89-'90 season have lasted before his back took him out of a Valentine's Day game against the Rangers, ending the second longest points streak in NHL history at 46 games? How many more Cups could he have led the Pens to? How many 200 point seasons could he have had? We'll never know. All we can do is wonder what could have been if the greatest offensive talent the NHL has ever seen had not been cut down in his prime by a bad back.

2) Ron Francis' broken left foot (1996 Playoffs) - Blocking a shot that in the grand scheme of things was meaningless sabotaged the Penguins last real shot at claiming a third Stanley Cup. After battling by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, the Penguins obliterated the New York Rangers in the second round. Unfortunately, in the second period of the series clinching game 5 against the Rangers, Ron Francis broke his left foot and had to miss the Conference Finals against the Florida Panthers. The loss of Francis cost the Penguins the center of their top line and arguably the best line ever assembled. Francis, Jagr, and Lemieux combined for 158 goals and 429 points during the regular season as the trio claimed 3 of the top 4 spots on the NHL's scoring list that season, but without Francis for the Panthers series the Penguins lineup was in disarray. The seven game series against Florida was so close that there is no logical argument to be made that the Pens don't get past Florida with Francis, setting up what could have been one of the best Stanley Cup Finals ever. Seeing the high powered Pens take on the Sakic/Forsberg/Roy led Colorado Avalanche would have been hockey heaven. Unfortunately the NHL's fans were left with a lackluster 4 game Avalanche sweep. All thanks to one broken foot.

3) Kevin Stevens' broken face (1993 Playoffs) - Game 7 against the New York Islanders in 1993 is painful for Penguins fans for a lot of reasons. The Islanders put an abrupt and premature end to the Pens dynasty that night in the Igloo. It's hard to argue that the most painful part of that game was watching Kevin Stevens splatter his face all over the ice after a big hit on Rich Pilon. The hit was and still is hard to watch and Stevens was never the same afterwards. He managed to put up a strong year during the '93-'94 season, but he was traded during the offseason and never came close to regaining the level of play his showed before the injury. The injury essentially transformed Kevin Stevens from the best power forward in hockey to a guy smoking crack with hookers in a cheap motel. The downward spiral that was Kevin Stevens' life for quite a few years all started with that hit on Pilon in Game 7.

4) Rick Tocchet's broken jaw ('91-'92 season) - Finally a positive addition to the list. Shortly after being acquired by the Penguins, Rick Tocchet got his face in the way of a Mario Lemieux slapshot during the first period of a game in Chicago and broke his jaw. It wasn't pretty, but Rick Tocchet was never about pretty. In a move that you would never see in today's NHL, Tocchet returned to the game and scored a pair of goals, including the game winner, against a promising Blackhawks goalie named Dominik Hasek. Tocchet later downplayed the achievement by saying ,"We were .500 at the time, you want to play and you want to try to win. It's amazing when you have adrenaline. The next day I was obviously in pain, but during the game you just don't think about it." Long before Tocchet was scoring clutch Game 7 goals against the Islanders and getting busted for gambling, he was showing Penguins fans what it really meant to be a hockey player.

5) Sidney Crosby's broken left foot ('06-'07 season) - During a March 16th home game against Montreal Sidney Crosby, in true Penguins fashion, broke a bone in his left foot blocking a shot. The break was not serious to keep Crosby out of the Penguin lineup as they were pushing for the playoffs and a possible division title so Sid the Kid played on. In fact, the injury was not even made public until after the Pens had been eliminated from the playoffs about six weeks later. While playing on a broken foot, all Crosby managed to do was lead the Penguins to the playoffs for the first time in years and become the youngest scoring champion in NHL history (he was in fact the youngest scoring champion ever for any major North American sports league). Crosby didn't let his injury slow him down in the playoffs either as he was probably the Penguins best player in their series against Ottawa not named Marc-Andre Fleury. After the Pens were ousted by the Senators the Crosby disclosed his broken foot and effectively shut up all the people trying to call him soft. It's hard to criticize a guy when he has a broken foot and is still the best player in the NHL.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mario Lemieux's broken hand (1992 Playoffs) - This is why no Pens fan will ever forgive or forget Adam Graves. But Ronnie and Jaromir put the team on their backs while Mario was out and the Pens still won the Cup. So in hindsight the broken hand wasn't that big of a deal.
  • Mario Lemieux's Hodgkin's disease ('92-'93 season) - Not really an injury, but Mario's battle with cancer derailed his assault on the single-season scoring record and essentially ruined the '93-'94 season for the big guy. Still, it raised awareness about Hodgkin's and led to the formation of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, so there is a bright side to the story.
  • Tom Barrasso' chicken pox ('92-'93 season) - Once again, not really an injury, but it cost Tommy 10 games that year. Considering how good the Penguins were that year, it's not out of the question to think that Tommy starts 9 of those games and wins at least 7 of them, making him the first and only 50 game winner in NHL history.
  • Evgeni Malkin's dislocated shoulder ('06-'07 season) - This one has to be on here somewhere. Not only did this injury delay the inevitable Malkin-mania, but it was also surely a factor in the Pens ridding themselves of the services of one John LeClair, and for that alone this injury was totally worth it!

LFC Refuses Toulouse

Liverpool have advanced to the group stage of the Champions League on the strength of today's 4-0 thrashing of French side Toulouse at Anfield. The win put Liverpool into the group stage thanks to the 5-0 aggregate score over the two legs. The Reds dominated on their home pitch today and got goals from Peter Crouch and Sami Hyypia to go along with a late brace from Dirk Kuyt. Little-used Yossi Benayoun also had a strong match for the Reds.

The lasting memory of this match will not be the score on the field, but the touching tribute Liverpool gave to Rhys Jones, the 11 year-old Everton fan who was murdered last week on his way home from practice. The Everton anthem (and Rhys Jones favorite) Z-Cars was played as the Reds took the pitch and the Liverpool players all wore black armbands in respect for the boy and his family, who were in attendance. It was an extremely touching gesture that was not lost on the Jones family and will not soon be forgotten by all on Merseyside as the search for Rhys' killer continues. Once again, there is class and then there is class. Rest in peace Rhys Jones, you'll never walk alone.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

2007 NHL Salary Cap Challenge

Anyone out there who spends any time on the web knows that us sports bloggers all think we would make great GMs and generally believe that we could do a better job running our favorite teams than the people who actually get paid to do so. Now while this may be true for Islanders and Knicks fans, I decided it was time for some of us to put our imaginary money where our mouths are. Thus, the TOFTT NHL Salary Cap Challenge was born! I have assembled some of the hockey blogosphere's best and brightest (and the guys from thepensblog) to assemble the best team possible given the following rules:

  • We will be assembling a team of 20 players, 4 centers, 4 right wings, 4 left wings, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies.
  • The salary cap for this exercise was $45 million. This is lower than the actual NHL salary cap for two reasons; 1) because we only have 20 players on our rosters, and 2) to add a little more challenge to the proceedings. NOTE: Due to a clerical error on my part some people were operating with a $42 million dollar cap, that is why a couple people have a lot of cap room left. At least they'd have room to pull a big mid-season trade right?
  • For the player salaries, we used the 07/08 player salaries (not their actual cap hit) from here.
  • To keep things simple, we used the same source for player positions. Some of their listings were a little inaccurate but like I said, I wanted to keep things simple.
So under those constraints, here is what us self-proclaimed hockey knowledgeable people came up with (player salaries are in parenthesis):
The Tyrone Snoops
GM: snoopyjode

Tomas Holmstrom (2.25) - Sidney Crosby (0.85) - Ryan Getzlaf (0.623)
Martin Erat (1.75) - Joe Thornton (6.67) - Michel Ouellet (1.2)
Brad Isbister (0.525) - Evgeni Malkin (0.984) - Mike Knuble (2.8)
Alex Ovechkin (0.984) - Jordan Staal (0.85) -
Maxim Afinogenov (3.5)
Ryan Whitey (2.5) - Sergei Gonchar (5.5)
Mark Eaton (1.6) - Chris Phillips (3.5)
Joe Corvo (2.5) - Joe DiPenta (0.7)
Ryan Miller (2.5)
Marc-Andre Fleury (1.6)

Total Cap Space Spent = $43.386
Cap Space Remaining = $1.614

On the Cheap
GM: "Dear Lord Stanley" a.k.a. Joe

Alex Ovechkin (0.984) - Sidney Crosby (0.85) - Dany Heatley (5.5)
Daniel Sedin (3.575) - Paul Stastny (0.685) - Maxim Afinogenov (3.5)
Andrew Brunette (1.6) - Sami Pahlsson (1.4) - Jason Pominville (0.925)
Alexander Semin (1.2) - Ryan Getzlaf (0.623) - Patrick Kane (0.875)
Dan Boyle (3.625) - Lubomir Visnovsky (2.052)
Dion Phaneuf (0.942) - John-Michael Liles (1.4)
Matt Carle (0.942) - Brian Campbell (1.75)
Roberto Luongo (6.5)
Peter Budaj (0.7)

Total Cap Space Spent = $39.628
Cap Space Remaining = $5.372

The Love Rockets
GM: Jes Golbez

Marian Gaborik (6.5) - Sidney Crosby (0.85) - Pavol Demitra (4.5)
Cory Stillman (1.75) - Evgeni Malkin (0.984) - Justin Williams (3.5)
Jere Lehtinen (3.9) - Jordan Staal (0.85) - Corey Perry (0.494)
Jay Pandolfo (0.836) - Sami Pahlsson (1.4) - Branko Radivojevic (0.68)
Kevin Bieksa (0.55) - Francois Beauchemin (1.65)
Dion Phaneuf (0.942) - Lubomir Visnovsky (2.052)
Jaroslav Modry (1.2) - Mike Commodore (1.3)
Roberto Luongo (6.75)
Chris Mason (1.25)

Total Cap Space Spent = $41.938
Cap Space Remaining = $3.062

The Jobbers
GM: The Pensblog staff

Alex Ovechkin (0.984) - Evgeni Malkin (0.984) - Jonathan Cheechoo (2.5)
Alexander Semin (1.2) - Sidney Crosby (0.85) - Bobby Ryan (0.85)
Martin Havlat (6.0) - Vincent Lacavalier (7.167) - Guillaume Latendresse (0.85)
Rick Nash (5.5) - Marc Savard (5.0) - Petr Sykora (2.5)
Dion Phaneuf (0.942) - Matt Carle (0.942)
Brent Seabrook (0.942) - Kris Letang (0.56)
Jay Bouwmeester (2.25) - Mark Eaton (1.6)
Marc-Andre Fleury (1.6)
Pascal Leclaire (1.4)

Total Cap Space Spent = $44.621
Cap Space Remaining = $0.379

Mike's Affordable Young Men
GM: Mike Chen

Alex Ovechkin (0.984) - Sidney Crosby (0.85) - Jonathan Cheechoo (2.5)
Alexander Semin (1.2) - Eric Staal (4.5) - Milan Michalek (0.942)
Rick Nash (5.5) - Evgeni Malkin (0.984) - Corey Perry (0.494)
Henrik Zetterberg (2.7) - Paul Stastny (0.685) - Maxim Afinogenov (3.5)
Dan Boyle (3.625) - Jay Bouwmeester (2.25)
Matt Carle (1.367) - John-Michael Liles (1.4)
Chris Pronger (6.25) - Dion Phaneuf (0.942)
Ryan Miller (2.5)
Marc-Andre Fleury (1.6)

Total Cap Space Spent = $44.773
Cap Space Remaining = $0.227

The Loser's Losers
GM: Loser Chris

Martin Havlat (6.0) - Sidney Crosby (0.85) - Ales Hemsky (3.6)
Alex Ovechkin (0.984) - Evgeni Malkin (0.984) - Alexander Radulov (0.689)
Henrik Zetterberg (2.7) - Eric Staal (4.5) - Jonathan Cheechoo (2.5)
Kristian Huselius (1.4) - Jordan Staal (0.85) - Colby Armstrong (1.2)
Dion Phaneuf (0.942) - Jay Bouwmeester (2.25)
Ryan Whitney (2.5) - Brian Campbell (1.75)
Marc-Andre Bergeron (1.045) - John-Michale Liles (1.4)
Mikka Kiprusoff (3.6)
Marc-Andre Fleury (1.6)

Total Cap Space Spent = $41.344
Cap Space Remaining = $3.656


  • Most purchased player: No surprise here, Sidney Crosby was on everyone's team. It's a no-brainer when you have the best player in the league still in his rookie contract. Malkin, Ovechkin, and Phaneuf were right on Sid's heels.
  • Most expensive purchase: Team Pensblog invested the most on a single player with Vincent Lecavalier and his accompanying $7.167 million price tag.
  • Biggest shock: No Gary Roberts on Team Pensblog?!? What is the world coming to?
  • Best bargain buy: It's hard to beat Corey Perry costing less than half a million.
  • Guy I'd never heard of: Bobby Ryan? Are we sure that's a real guy?
The lesson learned here seems to be simple, load up on young talent (those rookie contracts are the best!) It will be real interesting to see how this exercise plays out in a couple of years when guys like Sid, Ovechkin, Malkin and Phaneuf get into their second contracts.

It was fun to put on the imaginary GM hat and play GM for a day. I just wish there was a way to really see these teams take each other on. That would be a hockey fan's dream come true. Hopefully everyone had as much fun doing this as I did. Now I have to go scout incoming rookies for next year's roster!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

There is Class, and Then There is Class

A bit of Liverpool news to attend to, and I promise none of it has to do with Sunday's Chelsea match (I'm over it).

First, Luis Garcia has reached out to all involved with the LFC with a touching letter to the club and (more importantly?) the supporters. As a fan it is always the hope that cheering/singing/etc. will inspire your club/team to a better performance and ultimately victory, but it is still nice to have that effort graciously appreciated by a player who most Liverpool fans will always have a place in their hearts for. Luis will always be our little piece of football heaven.

In other emotional news, word is that the Liverpool brass are considering leaving 96 empty seats in the new Anfield in honor of the Hillsborough disaster. Before actually reading the article I had the same idea of having the seats be in the shape of a 96. I also thought maybe in the shape of YNWA or even JUSTICE would be nice. I also wouldn't mind having the empty seats smack in the center of the new Kop, but that's just me. It's just nice to see the club stay committed to the cause.

Now I just need the Peter Crouch to Man U rumors to go away and I'll be all set.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Keep Your Head Up Wayne!

Among the other things googling "gretzky hate" will get you:

Of Bright Sides, Silver Linings, and Glasses Half Full

Much has been made about the travesty that was Sunday's Liverpool- Chelsea match pretty much since the second Frank Lampard's spot kick hit the back of the net. And now the news comes out that referee Rob Styles and The Special One are BFFs and Styles is on Abramovich's payroll to boot. Well I'm not going to dwell on the negative here, there are many positives to be taken away from this (much like the two points that were taken away from the Reds on Sunday) and we should focus on them:

  • Referee Rob Styles has apologized for his mistaken penalty call. See? Everything's all better now.
  • The EPL has removed Styles from officiating this weekend and hopefully beyond. If they want to let him ref again that is fine, but Styles should never be near a Liverpool or Chelsea match ever again.
  • Fernando Torres is on the board! El Niño scored a world class goal that should have won the game. Nevertheless is was a spectacular goal against a top side and another good indication that bringing him to Merseyside this summer was money well spent.
  • The fact that this Liverpool squad can walk away from a draw with Chelsea knowing they were the better side could be just what they needed to carry them through the EPL this year. The Reds a legit contenders and the title race looks to be tight this year. As long as Liverpool don't miss out on the silverware (or heaven forbid Champions League qualification) by two points this game can still be seen as something of a positive. Now the boys just have to take care of the teams they are supposed to beat.
On a completely unrelated note, possibly the greatest thing since I started this blog happened yesterday. Some wonderful person out there got directed to this blog by googling "Gretzky hate". Things like that are why Al Gore invented the internet.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

It's Red vs. Blue All Over Again!

Big match tomorrow when Liverpool take on Chelsea at Anfield. It's way too early in the season to consider this a must win game for the Reds, but picking up the three points here would go a long way towards showing they can make a serious push for the title this season. With Man U looking less than impressive out of the gates the winner of this game will rightfully be considered the early front-runner this season.

As for the Liverpool lineup... I'm no Rafa and I know it, so rarely will you see me throw out my Starting XI, but I'm going to take a stab at it here. I preface this by saying that although Rafa has made it clear that Steven Gerrard will be available for tomorrow's tilt I am hoping that he will start on the bench and that he will not have to play at all due to the Reds having the game firmly in hand. Anyhow, here's my XI:

Finnan Carragher Agger Riise
Pennant Alonso Mascherano Benayoun
Kuyt Torres


Like I said already, I don't see the need to start Gerrard and I hope we won't need him off the bench. There's no doubt in my mind that Kuyt and El Niño will be starting up front and as much as I love Peter Crouch, I think Voronin has earned the spot on the bench ahead of him. If anything I would maybe have Crouch on the bench in place of Babel, but that would be a very limiting set up.

As for a prediction, I think Liverpool will win 2-0 thanks to goals from Riise and Kuyt. I would love to see Torres open his account against Chelsea, but my gut tells me it will be Dirk instead. That's not to say Fernando won't have an impact, just no goals to show for it. Then again, hopefully I'm wrong and Liverpool win by 10 and Fernando, Kuyt, and Pennant all have hat tricks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Roids? Barry? You Must Be Crazy!

So I had every intention of completely steering clear of the whole Barry Bonds freakshow, and then I saw this on Yahoo this morning:

Those really are pictures of the same guy. No, I'm not joking.

Seriously, anyone who can look at that picture and not think Bonds is 'roided through and through is out of their mind. And honestly, it would not be that big of a deal if the guy wasn't such a despicable person. It's not like he's the only MLBer who juiced up. He's just the only one with the nerve to do it blatantly and then get pissed at the world when he got caught. You're a fine piece of work Barry, enjoy your asterisk!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Burden of Being Barry Bonds

Let me start by saying that I haven't been a fan of baseball since the Pirates actually won more than 5 games a season. My favorite player was Bobby Bonilla, and I was as devastated as if he had left me personally when he went to the Mets in 1992. I wasn't the only one: during the first game he played in Pittsburgh as a member of the NY Mets, he was struck on the head with a golf ball (it hit his batting helmet) and booed mercilessly. But after the strike of '94, I never quite felt the same way about any of the MLB players, and I was never a fan of baseball again.

Barry Bonds was never a player that I felt strongly about one way or the other. I knew he was a talented guy, but when he went to the Giants, it was no big deal to me. But ever since then, Bonds has not been well liked in my state. As mentioned earlier, loyal Pittsburgh Pirate fans hated both Bonilla and Bonds for leaving. And in recent years, it appears that a good portion of the rest of the country has joined us in that feeling - at least regarding Barry Bonds.

Bonds, who at the time of this posting has just tied
Hank Aaron's home run record, is a polarizing figure that evokes strong feelings in people well beyond just the MLB and its fans. The Barry Bonds story has become less about the records he breaks and more about the means by which he was able to break those records. It has been all but confirmed that Bonds has taken some kind of "performance enhancing drug" (PED) during his career. His fans and even some members of the media claim that Bonds has a unique ability to hit home runs because he knows "how to hit the ball" no matter what his strength. His detractors claim that Bonds only achieved this goal because of the PEDs.

Is he a cheater?

This got me wondering: would so-called PEDs actually help someone hit more home runs or does the ability to hit a home run come more from the physics of how the ball is hit? In order to answer this question, we need to look at three things.
  • What are performance enhancing drugs and how do they work?
  • What is the science of how a player hits a home run?
  • Would these PEDs actually "enhance" the player's ability to hit a home run?

  • What are performance enhancing drugs and how do they work?
    Creatine is a supplement popular among athletes (even my husband uses it). Creatine occurs naturally in the muscles - it gets its name from the Greek word for flesh, kreas. It increases muscle mass by increasing the creatine levels in muscles and speeding up the metabolism of skeletal muscle. Taken in large quantities, however, it may cause kidney, liver, or heart problems.

    Ephedra was formerly widely available as a dietary supplement and was touted to improve athletic performance. The FDA banned all sales of the supplement following reports that linked its use to 40 deaths and more than 800 side effects. In fact,
    ephedra is believed to have played a role in the heat stroke death of Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer during training camp in 2001. Studies have suggested that ephedra does not effect strength, endurance, reaction time, anaerobic capacity, or recovery time after prolonged exercise.

    Some synthetic hormones can be used as PEDs. Human growth hormone does exactly what you expect it would do: it stimulates growth and cell regeneration. It, like creatine, is produced naturally in the body. It is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. Athletes use human growth hormone to increase muscle mass. Synthetic testosterone was at the center of
    the Tour de France / Floyd Landis scandal.

    Steroid precursors are substances that are converted to anabolic steroids within the body. Androstenedione is a steroid precursor that you may know as "andro" due to the publicity it received when it was revealed that Mark McGwire was taking the supplement during his record breaking home run streak.

    Anabolic steroids are the most widely known PEDs. They are hormones that are related to testosterone that are used to increase muscle mass and strength.

    Erythropoietin is a glycoprotein hormone that promotes the production of red blood cells in the marrow. It is primarily used as a PED in endurance sports such as bicycling, marathon, and triathlon racing.

    What is the science of how a player hits a home run?
    For our discussion, we don't need to know all the details about each element, such as bat weight, ball speed and angle, etc. We only need to know about the human element of the event of hitting a home run as this is the element that can be changed by PEDs. In other words, would a stronger, faster hit alone make a difference and produce more home run hits? For the answer, I looked to
    David Coburn, writing for Popular Mechanics:
    Boosting two factors — the mass of the bat and the speed of the swing — can raise batted ball speed (BBS), which adds distance to a hit. But swing speed can affect BBS more dramatically.

    Research has shown that doubling the weight of a 20-ounce wood bat can raise a BBS of 68.5 mph to 80.4 mph — a 17.3 percent increase. But Daniel Russell, a professor at Kettering University in Michigan, found that doubling the swing speed of a 30-ounce bat can raise a BBS of 62 mph to 83.8 mph — a 35.1 percent increase.

    In terms of turning a hit into a homer: Against a 94 mph fastball, every 1 mph increase in swing speed extends distance about 8 ft.
    Would these PEDs actually "enhance" the player's ability to hit a home run?
    Given that we have learned that PEDs increase muscle mass and strength, it's pretty safe to say that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. These substances aren't banned by almost all major sporting leagues for nothing! Based on the physics of a hit, if no other element of a hit is changed other than the speed of the swing of the bat, the ball will go farther. Therefore only logical conclusion that can be made is that PEDs can and do change the frequency of the occurrence of home run hits.

    Now that Bonds has tied and will ultimately break Hank Aaron's record, it will be interesting to see how his "achievements" are looked at
    20 years from now...

    The people have spoken.

    Friday, August 3, 2007

    I'll Keep the Flower, You Take the Thorns

    One of the unfortunate byproducts of the Penguins newfound hoard of young talent has been the debate among fans of which players are most vital to the team and which ones should be moved if they can't all stay due to the salary cap. Welcome to the new NHL. While ideally this topic would not have sprung up so quickly I won't deny my part in the conversation. I will also not deny my outrage at how many people think goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is the most expendable of the Pens' young studs. Nevermind that goalie is the most important position in the sport, Fleury had a breakout season at the tender age of 22 and at times carried the team to victory almost singlehandedly.

    Your '06-'07 Penguins MVP?

    In just his second full season in the NHL Fleury became only the second goalie in Penguins history to win 40 games in a season and backstopped the Pens to their first playoff appearance since 2000. He set personal bests in all statistical categories and did it all playing behind a suspect Penguins defensive unit. When I traveled to Dallas to watch the Penguins take on the Stars I walked away very disappointed in the Pens defensive play. I said right then that if the Penguins were going to make the playoffs it would be thanks to MAF. Well Fleury got the Pens to the postseason and was arguably their best player in the disappointing series loss to Ottawa. Yet this is the guy many Penguins fans see as expendable, despite excelling at one of the toughest positions in all of sport at such a rapid pace.

    Most knowledgeable hockey people will tell you that it takes goalies longer to develop than skaters. Some of the NHL's best netminders have been traded multiple times by GMs that lacked the patience to let them come into their own at the NHL level. Current franchise goalies Roberto Luongo and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are both now with their third teams in their relatively short careers. Fans and media members are still in disbelief that Mike Keenan traded Luongo away in a move that likely played a large role in his dismissal from the Panthers. Let's compare the numbers for each of these goalies in their first three seasons:

    The first thing that jumped out to me when comparing these numbers was how long it took Giguere to even secure a regular gig in the NHL. He really didn't have any success until landing in Anaheim. It wasn't like there were a lot of top-tier goalies ahead of him on the depth chart during his time in Hartford and Calgary either. Luongo put up good numbers in his third (second full) season, but only managed 16 wins. That was mostly due to the team playing in front of him, but I still would have expected at least 20 wins from a goalie of his ability. And then there is MAF... his goals against and save percentage are almost identical to Giguere's while appearing in far more games. On the surface Luongo's numbers look better... until you look at the win column. Fleury is the only one of the three to even reach the 20 win mark, let alone 40. Granted Luongo and Giguere did not have the luxury of playing behind the likes of Crosby, Staal, and Malkin, but they also broke into the NHL (slightly) later in their careers and never faced the kind of pressure in their first three years that Fleury was under this past season. They never had to feel the heat of a playoff push or challenging for a division title in their early years.

    Marc-Andre Fluery may never quite get to the level that Roberto Luongo is at, but he has proven to be an outstanding goalie at a young age and has all the potential and ability to be a top 5 goalie in the NHL for the next ten years if not longer. He has also shown the knack to make the big save at the key point in the game, something that is vital to winning games and playoff success. MAF's present is in Pittsburgh and I am confident that his future is as well. I would love to see him sign a long-term deal this season and remain a Penguin for the long haul. Sid is great, Malkin is a star, and Staal is tremendous, but MAF is the key to the Cup for the Penguins.

    Thursday, August 2, 2007

    The Man Who Killed the NHL

    It has become something of a hobby for the mainstream sports media to take shots at the NHL. This charge has undoubtedly been led by ESPN in their effort to show Gary Bettman what a fool he was for moving the NHL to the Versus network. As a hockey fan myself, I am not about to pile on the NHL during these dark times, but I can't deny that the league isn't what it used to be. Despite many attempts to open up the game, the NHL is still not the wide open, creative, up tempo kind of hockey that was around in the 80's and early 90's. The NHL has been constantly adjusting the rules for years in an effort to "open up" the game and increase offense, but that is not going to solve the problem. Clutching and grabbing is not the NHL's problem. Neither is the dreaded neutral zone trap (which was around long before the Devils won the Cup in '95). The lack of offense in the NHL is attributable to the increase in elite level goaltenders in the NHL, and there is a single person to blame for this... Patrick Roy.

    If you were a French-Canadian kid in the late 80's to early 90's you worshiped this guy.

    When Patrick Roy won the Stanley Cup in 1986 in his first full season with the Canadiens he set into motion a change in the hockey landscape as the world knew it. As Roy began to dominate the NHL he made it cool to be a goalie. Young Canadian kids (French-Canadians in particular) who used to grow up wanting to be the next Orr or Lemieux now had a new idol. Patrick Roy brought a new level of athleticism to the goalie position while at the same time showing that a goalie could dominate the game like no other position in any sport. Youth hockey was no longer just about sticking the slow, fat kid in net. All of a sudden the best athletes wanted to play in net, and the result turned the NHL upside down.

    When Roy won his second Cup in '93 he solidified his place as one of the game's brightest stars. But his real impact on the sport was also starting to take shape as the first wave of top French-Canadian goaltending prospects were starting to arrive in the league. Goalies like Felix Potvin, Stephane Fiset, and Dominic Roussel were already starting to appear in the NHL and in some cases, like Potvin with the Maple Leafs, have a huge impact on their teams. The '95-'96 season saw Roy leave his hometown team and move on the the Colorado Avalanche where he would lead the Avalanche to Stanley Cup glory in the team's first season since leaving Quebec. He would later win a second Cup with the Avalanche and become the first and still only player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP three times. These seasons also saw the emergence of even more dominant French-Canadian goaltenders in the NHL. The likes of Martin Brodeur, Jocelyn Thibault, Jose Theodore, Roberto Luongo, Patrick Lalime, and J.S. Giguere have all followed in Roy's footsteps to NHL stardom. Many of them by imitating the butterfly style of goaltending that Roy himself perfected.

    The definition of a winner.

    Patrick Roy retired as the most successful goalie in NHL history in both the regular season and playoffs, but his true legacy lives on every time a French-Canadian goalie takes the ice in the NHL. Like I said before, Roy made it cool to be a goalie. That single change in attitude led to a league-wide increase in the quality level of goaltending in the NHL that has not subsided. Despite all the rule changes, equipment advances, and overall improvement of player quality in the NHL scoring is still down from 10-15 years ago. The reason in my opinion is largely due to the quantity of outstanding goalies currently minding NHL creases. And the man to thank/blame for that, is Patrick Roy.