Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Than Just Two Points

Going into last night's showdown between the Penguins and the Red Wings I had pretty easily convinced myself that it was, despite all the hype surrounding the game, 1 out of 82 games the Penguins will play this season and nothing more. I'm not one of those people who thinks beating a team in the regular season after they beat you in the playoffs the season before is any kind of revenge, so that angle was lost on me. It was 2 points just like any other game.

Somewhere in the third period last night that all changed. The Penguins came back from 5-2 and 6-4 defeceits in the third period on the road against one of the best teams in the NHL. That counts for a lot more than just two points. This will be one of those moments that this team can look back on for the rest of the season and remember that even when they are down, they are never out of a game. Even under some of the worst possible circumstances.

Here are my thoughts on the game:

  • Have to start with Jordan Staal. The way he played in the last 10 minutes of the third and OT was a dominant a performance as you will ever see from any player. Jordan made himself a lot of money this offseason with this game. And it was not lost on me that #11 had the game of his life on 11/11 and set up the OT winner with 1:11 remaining.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke. Nice of them to show up in time for the second period.
  • Letang and Goligoski both looked really good to me. They did not have mistake free games, but they both looked really poised down the stretch.
  • I know he had 2 assists, but really... did Marian Hossa even play last night?
  • Mike Zigomanis may be the pick-up of the year. His dominance on face-offs can not be overhyped as it is a big boost for the Pens both in the defensive zone and on the power play. If he doesn't win that offensive zone draw at the end of the third I'm writing about a 6-5 Detroit win right now.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke. This game was so big and such a statement while they were winning, but as soon as Fedo sent them packing in OT it was just another regular home game against some random non-conference team.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury was much better than the numbers tell. The Hudler goal was the only one he had any chance of stopping. The bottom line is that right now if MAF can see it he is going to stop it 99% of the time.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke. They love to go on and on about how good Datsyuk and Zetterberg are defensively and all the turnovers they create and then turnaround and dismiss Staal picking Datsyuk's pocket in overtime as lucky or a fluke. Just watch Zetterberg flop around on the ice during the Pens' 5-on-3 goal and then explain to me how great he is defensively.
  • I have never been happier watching one of my fantasy goalies give up 7 goals.
  • Hearing Hossa getting booed on his "home" ice was priceless. Penguin fans definitely had the edge at "The Joe" last night.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke.
And this post would not be complete without a highlight package:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sympathy For The Devil

Miroslav Satan scored a highlight reel goal against Edmonton last night that was very similar to one scored by Rick Nash last season. The only problem is that while the hockey world was abuzz after the Nash goal, I have yet to here a peep about Satan's beauty. Coincidence? Anti-Penguin bias? Anti-Euro bias? People forgetting that there are players on the Pens not named Crosby, Malkin, or Staal? Whatever the cause, sit back and enjoy this beauty.

That Satan signing is looking pretty good right about now. As always, in sHERO we trust.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Error Jordan?

Every season in recent years for the Pittsburgh Penguins it seems like there is some storyline bubbling just under the surface and 2008-09 is no different as all eyes seemed to be focused on 20-year old Jordan Staal. Many Pens fans, and I am guessing people within the organization as well, are wondering just what the Penguins really have in Staal. Jordan set the bar (too?) high in his rookie campaign scoring 29 goals and 42 points in 2006-07. Last season Staal's totals sagged to a modest 12 goals and 28 points. As Jordan enters the final year of his entry level contract it remains to be seen if he can rediscover his scoring touch or if he continues to plug along as a third line center.

I said as early as the start of last season that it could be a while before Jordan approached 29 goals in a season again. His rookie season just felt a little too good to be true to me. It was like almost everything he threw at the net just found a way in. Having said that, I do think he can produce more offensively than he did last season or so far this season.

Offense is just one facet to Staal's game however. While centering the Penguins third line for almost all of last season Staal found himself serving as one of the key pieces to the Penguins defensive puzzle. Jordan thrived in this role, even if his stats may have said otherwise, and was a key contributor in Pittsburgh's trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Staal's defensive contributions can not be taken lightly, but as many NHL media outlets continue to suggest that Staal should command an annual salary around $4.5-$5 million one has to wonder if that is enough. The Penguins are flirting with the salary cap and can ill afford to pay anywhere near those dollar amounts for a third line center. At this point I would argue that Max Talbot, another Penguin headed for free agency, is more valuable to the Pens and could give them everything Staal does at a much more affordable price. If you came to me right now and said the Penguins can only keep Talbot or Staal heading into next season I would start asking who the Pens were planning to trade Staal too.

That brings us to the second part of this discussion... did the Penguins make the right move in drafting Jordan Staal? For the sake of simplicity I will only consider the eight players taken after Staal in 2006 who rounded out the top 10 picks. Here are some of the guys the Pens could have nabbed instead of Staal:

  • Jonathan Toews - Toews does not even have a full season worth of NHL experience, but he has already been named the Captain of the Blackhawks and is (along with Patrick Kane) the face of the franchise. For the record, Toews has one fewer goal than Staal so far this season... zero.
  • Nicklas Backstrom - Another player with a grand total of zero goals so far this season, Backstrom had an outstanding rookie season with 69 points in 82 games, yet he is probably best known for a goal he scored for the opposition. Very much a playmaker, Backstrom wouldn't add anything that the Pens don't already have.
  • Phil Kessel - Kessel has had a turbulent start to his pro career, but he is quietly developing into a top notch goal scorer. He only has 37 goals in 164 career games, but he also has 7 goals already this season in just 12 games. Kessel was also strong for the Bruins in the playoffs last April.
  • Derick Brassard - Brassard has just 28 NHL contests to his name, but he has 11 points through Columbus' first 11 games this season and is the team leader in scoring. He was also just named the Rookie of the Month in the NHL for October. Brassard may yet prove to be the jewel of the 2006 draft.
  • Kyle Okposo - Okposo is another player just getting his feet wet in the NHL, but it has been so far so good for the Islanders prospect. 8 points in 20 games is a decent start for Okposo as he should be the centerpiece of the Islanders rebuilding process.
  • Peter Mueller - Peter Mueller is a player I really like a lot. He got off to a blazing start last season and then hit the wall a bit in the second half, but he still finished with 54 points. Mueller is off to another solid start in 2008-09 and he should be a cornerstone of the Phoenix attack for many years to come.
As of right now I think a lot of Penguins fans would be happy to swap Jordan Staal for Phil Kessel. I think Kessel would be a nice compliment to Sidney Crosby and could realistically be a consistent 40-goal scorer riding shotgun with Sid. Most of the other guys on that list are scoring centers, something the Penguins are not really in need of. Toews may just be the best player of the six and could excel on the wing in Pittsburgh, but I would still take Kessel who is much more of a pure goal scorer than the others.

I want to close this out by saying that I am a big Jordan Staal fan (and I have the Staal jersey tee to prove it) and would love nothing more to see him blossom into a regular 40-goal scoring left winger for the Penguins. With that on the table I understand that this is the salary cap era and the Penguins are not in the position to be throwing around $5 million contracts to anyone who asks for one. Just ask Ryan Malone. I know that Ray Shero has an exact amount in his mind that he thinks Jordan Staal is worth to his Penguins team. If Jordan Staal's offensive output does not increase then I think the gap between that number and the one Staal's agent will be asking for in July will be too much for Shero, and that could pave the way for a Staal trade in February. I for one hope it never comes to that.

A Cold Day In Hell?

TSN is reporting that New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur will be out for the next three to four months after having surgery to repair a torn bicep tendon in his elbow. This is a huge blow for the Devils who were already starting to come back down to Earth after a hot start in the Eastern Conference. Could this pave the way for a Nikolai Khabibulin to New Jersey trade, or are the Devils going to simply write off this season?

I really do not see a way for the Devils to keep pace in the Atlantic Division without making a move to shore up their goaltending. Kevin Weekes is a decent backup, but he is simple not good enough to carry this Devils team for the next three or four months.

This injury will also put a hold on Brodeur's assault on the NHL record book as he was looking to become the NHL career leader in wins and shutouts this season. Martin is currenly seven wins behind all-time leader Patrick Roy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October 2008 NHL Team Of The Month

It has been a while, but I am back and here with the first Team of the Month for the 2008-09 NHL season. The first month of the season is in the books and it is time to name the best players at each position in the NHL for October.

  • Left Wing: Alexander Semin - Alexander Ovechkin has been nearly invisible during the first month of the season, but the Caps have survived in large part thanks to the scoring of Alexander Semin. Semin has paced the Caps with eight goals and eight assists through nine games and has given Washington fans cause to wonder just who their top left winger is.
  • Center: Brandon Dubinsky - The Rangers were the NHL's best team in October and Brandon Dubinsky was a big reason why. His 12 points are not leading the league, but his three game-winners do. If the Rangers can continue to get this kind of production from Dubinsky while getting their higher profile players going they could be real tough to catch in the East.
  • Right Wing: Marian Hossa - The big prize of the free agent market has fit right in with his new club, as his six goals and nine assists would attest. After getting off to a bit of a slow start Hossa may just be the hottest player in the NHL right now. I can sense NHL GMs getting their offers ready for next July already.
  • Defense: Filip Kuba - Not much was made of Kuba moving to Ottawa in a trade with Tampa Bay, but Kuba has been huge for the Sens as his 11 points (all assists) are tops among defenders in the NHL. Kuba will undoubtedly come back to earth at some point, but he is more than capable of continuing to shine on the point of the Senator's power play and helping them stay in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
  • Defense: Shea Weber - Weber has had a great start for Nashville as his four goals and 11 points are both tied for the lead among defenders. Weber also has an excellent plus/minus rating of +5. The Predators could have a tough time staying afloat in the competitive Western Conference, but continued excellence from Weber will be a big boost for them.
  • Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist - As previously stated, the Rangers were the toast of the NHL through the first month and one of the biggest keys to that has been Lundqvist. He has yet to record a shutout after leading the NHL in that category last season, but he is pacing the league in a much more important stat... wins. King Henrik has eight wins to go along with his 1.99 GAA and .928 save percentage. Lundqvist was my pick to win the Vezina this season and so far that pick is looking on target.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Better luck next time Flyers.

That picture pretty much says it all from last night's game between the Pens and Flyers. After a ho-hum 1st period (with the exception of Godard beating down Riley Cote) the Pens carried the play for most of the rest of the game. Big props to Brooks Orpik for hitting a wide open Pascal Dupuis in OT and not passing to the equally open Sidney Crosby.

Also, VS. is already in mid-season form... their announcers were pretty unbearable last night. At least they have finally learned about the invention called the instant replay. Baby steps...

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's A Great Day For Hockey!

The Penguins have unveiled their new marketing campaign for this season and they could not have made a better choice:

Anything that brings up memories of "Badger" Bob gets an A+ in my book!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Anyone Feel A Draft?

Before things really kick into gear with the NHL season I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my two fantasy hockey drafts. I am in one of Sean's Going Five Hole head-to-head leagues as well as my own sponsored TOFTT roto league. Two very different leagues and two very different draft experiences as you will see. Picks are listed by round with overall selection place in parenthesis.

Team: Black n' Blue Line (GFH league)

  1. (3) Jarome Iginla
  2. (22) Sergei Gonchar
  3. (27) Chris Osgood
  4. (46) Brenden Morrow
  5. (51) Johan Franzen
  6. (70) Miroslav Satan
  7. (75) Cam Ward
  8. (94) Ilya Bryzgalov
  9. (99) Teemu Selanne
  10. (118) Jordan Staal
  11. (123) Duncan Keith
  12. (142) Braydon Coburn
  13. (147) Ryan Whitney
  14. (166) Michael Ryder
  15. (171) Joe Sakic
  16. (190) Robert Lang
  • Taking Iginla at #3 was pretty much a no-brainer for me. No offense Geno.
  • This draft was the night after Gonchar got hurt, which explains why I took him in the 2nd round.
  • My plan was to take either MAF or Henrik Lundqvist in the 2nd round, but they were both gone. MAF was the 6th player off the board.
  • Osgood, Franzen, Morrow, Satan, Staal, and Coburn should all be steady producers.
  • Teemu at 99 should be a steal. Why won't he score at least 40 goals this season?
  • I'm not looking forward to another season of Cam Ward, but I didn't have a lot of other options at that point.
  • If Ryder can regain his form under Claude Julien he is a great value pick, as is Sakic at 171.
  • I've already dropped Robert Lang to pick up Andy McDonald.
Team: TOFTT Again! (TOFTT league)
  1. (5) Dany Heatley
  2. (18) Dion Phaneuf
  3. (27) J.S. Giguere
  4. (40) Carey Price
  5. (49) Jason Pominville
  6. (62) Derek Roy
  7. (71) Mike Ribeiro
  8. (84) Brent Burns
  9. (93) Petr Sykora
  10. (106) Pascal Leclaire
  11. (115) Jordan Staal
  12. (128) Daniel Carcillo
  13. (137) Marek Zidlicky
  14. (150) Tomas Plekanec
  15. (159) Teemu Selanne
  16. (172) Sean Avery
  17. (181) Patrice Bergeron
  18. (194) Alex Goligoski
  • Heatley could be a beast this year. I could end up regretting not taking him in my other draft.
  • I could not be happier that "The Dion" fell to me at 18.
  • I am set between the pipes with Giguere and Price. Leclaire isn't a bad third option to have either.
  • If Buffalo makes the playoffs Roy and Pominville push me to an easy title here.
  • I will own the PIM column with Avery and Carcillo. And they can both provide some offense too.
  • Selanne at 159?!?! Somebody pinch me, I must be dreaming.
  • If Patrice Bergeron is back to 100% he could be a nice asset to trade down the road. Plekanec could fall into that category too.
So there are my teams. Initially I was pretty down on my GFH league team, but I am feeling more upbeat about it now. I could not be happier about my TOFTT team. I felt better at the end of that draft then I had at a draft in a long time. Probably since my fantasy football heyday. I would seriously be shocked if I don't win that league. Knock on wood...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The 08-09 NHL Prediction Experience

It is the first of October, and that means the start of the 2008-09 NHL regular season is just a few short days away. Like any respectable hockey blogger, I need to chime in with my predictions for the season to come, so without further ado...

  • Pacific Division Champ: Dallas Stars - This is going to be a tight division as the Stars, Ducks, and Sharks are all built to win now. While I really like the Ducks' chances this season, I really like what is going on in Dallas and I think they will eek out a division title.
  • Northwest Division Champ: Calgary Flames - This division is down right now. I think the Wild and Avalanche have regressed a bit, the Oilers are still a year or two away, and the Canucks just are not that good. That leaves Jarome Iginla and the Flames to come out on top. Iginla should get serious Hart consideration again this season.
  • Central Division Champ: Detroit Red Wings - I hate picking them to win, but there is not another team in their division strong enough to challenge them this season. Maybe next year Blackhawks fans.
  • Southeast Division Champ: Carolina Hurricanes - This was a tough one to call for me at first. After giving it some thought though I think Carolina comes out on top. I think the Capitals will regress a little bit under raised expectations and there just isn't enough defense/goaltending in Tampa for me to pick them. I think the Hurricanes will take advantage of being able to fly under the radar for a bit and claim the 3 seed in the East.
  • Northeast Division Champ: Ottawa Senators - Everyone and their mother is picking the Canadiens to run wild over the rest of the Eastern Conference this season, but I just don't see it. For some reason I can not explain I think the Sens are going to make one more go of it before their Stanley Cup winning window officially closes for a couple years.
  • Atlantic Division Champ: Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers are getting their franchise back on track and look to benefit from some addition via subtraction thanks to Derian Hatcher's injury status. I think this will be the most competitive division in hockey (again) this year, and I see the Flyers ending up on top. I think the Rangers will get off to a bit of a slow start as all of their new faces start to gel, and I think the Penguins will hit too many bumps in the road to win the division. Between the Europe trip and their injuries on defense I think the Pens will be hampered enough that they will have to settle for the fourth or fifth seed in the East.
  • Hart Trophy Winner (MVP): Sidney Crosby - You will get some argument over this, but I think Sid proved last Spring that he is the best player in the game today. I think the defeat in the Finals will drive Crosby to take his game to another level, something that I am sure is a scary thought for the rest of the NHL. I think the Penguins as a team will have their struggles this season, but I do not expect many for their captain.
  • Vezina Trophy Winner (Top Goalie): Henrik Lundqvist - I think this will be the year King Henrik breaks through and takes his first Vezina. I expect the Devils to drop off enough to deal a blow to Brodeur's chances. Then again, if Marty can get this year's Devils squad back to the post-season he may be deserving of some more hardware. Hopefully this is the year Marc-Andre Fleury gets his name into the Vezina discussion.
  • Norris Trophy Winner (Top Defender): Dion Phaneuf - Much like Lundqvist with the Vezina, I think this will be the year Phaneuf breaks Nicklas Lidstrom's hold on the Norris trophy and starts a run of his own. Phaneuf is arguably the best all-around blue liner in the game and he should be a regular Norris finalist for the next ten seasons.
  • Adams Trophy Winner (Top Coach): Dave Tippett - I already said I expect big things from the Stars and that should translate into some honors for their coach. Hopefully this award will go to a coach who gets continued excellence from his team all season long and not someone who squeaks into the playoffs with a team nobody expected a lot from.
  • Art Ross Trophy Winner (Most Points): Sidney Crosby- As long as Sid stays healthy this one is a slam dunk. When the game's most gifted offensive player is also its hardest worker you have a recipe for scoring titles.
  • Richard Trophy Winner (Most Goals): Dany Heatley - I went back and forth between Heatley and Iginla on this one, but finally settled on Heatley. I think Dany has the edge because he has better talent around him, like center Jason Spezza, and he will face more teams with bad defenses in the Eastern Conference (see Toronto and the entire Southeast Division as a reference). If Ilya Kovalchuk can stay interested for a full season in Atlanta he coule walk away with the Richard easily.
  • Stanley Cup Finals: Dallas Stars v Pittsburgh Penguins - Only Detroit stood in the way of this dream matchup (as a Penguins fan withing driving distance of Dallas) last season, but I think I might just get my wish this time around. A lot can change between now and then (especially if someone like Marian Gaborik gets moved), but for now I'm taking this Finals matchup with the Pens skating the Cup on home ice with a six game series victory.
That's all for me from now. There's not much else to do except wait for the puck to drop in Prague and for Yahoo Fantasy to put Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney on IR (more on that later). So for the time being I guess I'll just sit back and wait for all the Caps, Habs, Sharks, and whoever else fans to tell me how stupid I am in the comments section. Game on!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NHL 09 Review

It is finally time for my review of NHL 09. It has taken me much longer than anticipated to write this, but that is because NHL 09 is that hard to put down. I could easily have written this post on any of the last few nights. The problem is that every minute spent at my keyboard would be one less spent on the virtual ice. That last sentence probably tells you everything you need to know about NHL 09.

Last year's NHL 08 was simply an achievement in sports video games and easily the best game of fake hockey since the glory days of the NHL franchise on the Sega Genesis. The good news for fans this season is that not a whole lot has changed on the ice this year. The couple team-play games I have played went a lot like last year, but with better opposition AI. So if I have only played a "couple" of team games, what is all this talk about me playing so much?

The big addition in NHL 09 is the addition of the Be A Player (BAP) mode. Early on I was very skeptical about BAP. Admittedly this was mainly because I had tried it out in FIFA 08 and did not enjoy it much. BAP mode translates much better to NHL though, and from the first time I stepped into Sidney Crosby's skates in the demo I was hooked.

The real meat of BAP mode is to create yourself and then embark on your pro hockey career. You get to choose which AHL team you start out with and then begin your quest to make it to the NHL. I made myself as a playmaking center and as such decided to join up with the Minnesota Wild's affiliate the Houston Aeros. Obviously I would prefer to be on the Penguins, but I think cracking that lineup as a young center could take a while. Playing as a single player in a hockey game is so much fun you wonder why it took this long to happen. Even sitting on the bench between shifts is bearable as you regain your strength quite quickly and can then manually call for a line change to get back on the ice. The only real drawback is that by starting out on the third line of an AHL team you don't exactly have great talent around you. That was especially tough as a playmaker.

I worked around my teammates' shortcomings though and managed to work my way all the way up to the first line on the Aeros. Then last night, after my 16th game with the Aeros, I got word from the GM that I had been called up by the Wild and would be playing in their next game. This news was tempered by the fact that the Wild also traded for Brendan Morrison, which put another playmaking center between me and first line duty. I played my first game with Minnesota and there was a noticeable step up in difficulty at the NHL level, which was a pleasant surprise. After lighting up the AHL for 16 games I was shut out in my NHL debut against Phoenix. It was still a blast though. BAP is the best thing to happen to hockey video games since making Gretzky's head bleed.

Glove save, and a beauty!

To compliment BAP online, EA has introduced the EASHL (EA Sports Hockey League). This is really what convinced me to buy NHL 09 (and sign up for XBox LIVE as well). EASHL basically allows you to form a team of up to 50 players and then meet up online to take on other teams. You can have anywhere from 3 to 6 players per team in a game and you pick your position and stick to it for the entire game. As someone who loves the team part of hockey this is heaven to me. I have been fortunate enough to get on an awesome team with likeminded people who know the game and play it the "right way". Admittedly there have been some kinks in the system on EA's side with the EASHL, but I am having so much fun with it that I don't really mind. It is just a total blast to get in there with some of the other guys on my team, The Originals, and get after it. Hopefully EA continues to develop and improve this mode for years to come.

Warm up the red light...

All in all EA's Vancouver has reset the bar in hockey gaming and completely changed the way you think about the game. BAP mode has changed the game to focus more on your individual performance and less on wins and losses. Generally I am a team-focused person, but in this medium the shift in philosophy totally works. As an example, I played a game offline last night where my team lost 7-4, but I was still able to walk away positive because I had played well (two goals and an assist). My team lost because my goalie stunk up the joint, and guess what... sometimes that happens in hockey. Then I played another game right after and we won 4-1 even though I was held off the scoresheet. Again I was left with a good feeling after the game. And that is what it is all about. Everyone who even marginally enjoys sports games (not just hockey) owes it to themselves to at least give NHL 09 a rental. You will be glad you did.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Don't look now, but the boys are back and their gloves are golder than ever! Head over to Faceoff Factor for some top shelf training camp coverage.

Just to give you an idea of where things are currently at with me... I am totally engrossed in NHL 09 and The Originals in particular. That said, I will have an NHL 09 review up here some time this week and then next week I will get into season prediction mode.

In other exciting news, I got my Pens/Stars tickets yesterday! March 1st can't get here fast enough.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Hits Keep Coming

I have to say that arguably the best part of NHL 09 is the new hitting engine. It is so gratifying to lay out an opposition player with a big check that I have, from time to time, found myself running a little out of position to land a big hit. Especially on the forecheck. With that in mind, here are a couple of my big hits for your viewing pleasure.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goodbye World

So after much anticipation (and about four trips to Best Buy) NHL 09 is finally here, and more importantly in my possession. Among other things, this means that there probably won't be much content showing up here in the next few days.

I will at some point in the next week or two be posting a "full" review of the game here. I put quotes around full there because I will probably be playing the Be A Player mode exclusively. I played a few games offline last night and it is as fun and addictive as I had hoped. I also jumped online and played a couple games with my EASHL squad The Originals. It was a lot of fun and all the guys on my team who I have played with so far seem really cool. I also managed to snag the shootout winner in the second game I played in. The only problem is that there is some kind of bug in the online play currently so neither of my games were recorded either for myself or the team. Hopefully EA comes up with a fix for this soon, but in the meantime I think I found a workaround on the EA forums.

Until next time, I'll leave you with my first ever goal. The words "warhorse with hands of silk" spring to mind...

Friday, September 5, 2008

No Running By The Pool!

It is update time! First I'll hit on fantasy hockey. Yahoo is back up and my league is open. I still have plenty of spots open currently so if you want to join up:

  • League ID: 5752
  • Password: LetsGoPens
Now, on to NHL 09. The response to me trying to start up my own EASHL squad was less than desired. Because of that I have scrapped my GM plan and have signed on with the EASHL squad The Originals. So if you are playing NHL 09 online and want to throw down, look for us.

While we're here, I guess I will give my thoughts on the NHL 09 demo. It is freaking awesome! I am loving Be A Pro way more than I thought I would. I tried it out in FIFA 08 and wasn't that impressed by it, but I think it translates way better to hockey than soccer. My one complaint with the demo is that you can't choose your position. It is not that bad since I will be playing as a center when NHL 09 launches, but I was looking forward to the chance to strap on the pads and give goaltending a go. I guess that will have to wait a few days...

Look at what I just found...

NHL 09 Custom Covers

It has been well documented by now how jazzed I am for the pending release of NHL 09 next month. Those of you who have been coming around here for a while also know that I like to put together custom covers. So with that in mind, here is my custom cover thread for NHL 09.

It took me a little longer than I had hoped to get these ready because I made my own template this year. The good news is that the hard work is over and new covers will be relatively easy to produce. So... if you want to request a cover you can leave a note in the comments or e-mail me and I will get to it as soon as I can and then add the finished product to this post. Additionally, if there is a particular image you would like me to use feel free to attach it in the e-mail or include a link in your e-mail or comment. Enjoy!

Pascal Leclaire added. Martin Brodeur and Brenden Morrow are on the way!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Players Wanted

Okay gang, it's audience participation time! I was going to hold off a little longer on this, but I think the time is right for action. I am organizing both a fantasy hockey league(s?) and an EASHL squad for XBox 360.

First concerning fantasy hockey. I will be setting up my league as soon as Yahoo (re)opens their fantasy hockey for the upcoming season. I have a couple commits, but still have plenty of room for more people. If you are interested in participating just send me an e-mail and I will send you an invite as soon as I get the league set up. I will set up multiple leagues if the demand is there.

Now onto what has the hockey nerd world buzzing... NHL 09's online league! I will be setting up an EASHL team on XBOX Live once the game ships in a couple weeks. I would love to add anyone who wants to join up to the roster. We can have up to 50 people on the roster with multiple games going on simultaneously. I think this is a great opportunity to have some fun online and develop a steady group of people to play with. If you want to enlist just send me an e-mail and be sure to include your XBox LIVE gamertag in the e-mail. You can also include what position you are likely to be playing if you have decided (my poll is still open if you want to have a say in my decision) and what time you are generally online. I know personally I will mainly just be playing at night, likely between the hours of 9PM and 1AM Central time. Not that that will really be an issue if we can get a decent sized roster together. Also, if you want to add me to your friends list on LIVE, my gamertag is merlin48.

That is about it for now. Feel free to leave any questions or comments in the comments section here or send me an e-mail. Otherwise, hockey season is almost here and things are finally starting to heat up!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fantasy Hockey Live Chat This Thursday

As I have previously mentioned here, I will be plying my trade as a fantasy hockey writer over at Going Five Hole this season. I put up my first article last Wednesday laying out my rules for a successful draft and will publish my pre-season ranking of the Top 10 centers in fantasy hockey on Friday.

In the meantime, Sean will be hosting a fantasy hockey live chat this Thursday night at 9PM Central Time. Be sure to stop in with your fantasy hockey draft questions, or even just to say "Hi." if you want. Also, be sure to keep checking back here as I will have information about this season's TOFTT fantasy hockey league up as soon as Yahoo goes live.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

NHL 09 Media Blowout

At this point there can be no doubt that EA's NHL 09 is going to dominate the world when it arrives in early September. I have to admit that I was not planning on picking up 09 early on as I have been very content with NHL 08, and with the latest rosters in tow was not feeling compelled to pony up another $60. Needless to say I have changed my mind.

I will have a lot more coverage on NHL 09 in the coming weeks but the wave of fresh new videos this week has forced my hand a bit. Before I get to the videos, there are a couple quick things I want to address:

  • Be sure to take a second and vote in my poll on the right. I really would like some input on which position I should make my "Be A Pro" player. I am leaning towards being a goalie, but I am not totally sold yet so be sure to have your say.
  • It is about 99% certain that I will be starting up an EASHL team and I am looking for people to join up. I will go into more detail on this later, but if you are an XBox 360 player and have any interest in being on this team leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or just stayed tuned here for more info.
Now then, on to the videos:
Passing Gameplay

First Fight Footage

"Be A Pro" Player Types

EASHL Demo (This is a MUST watch!)

New Features

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's In My Five

So the Puck Daddy himself, Greg Wyshynski, has been running a daily feature this month where he is having various luminaries from around the hockey world list the five ways in which they would change the NHL. This series has spawned some interesting lists from around the blogosphere as well, and I figured it was about time that I unleashed my list on an unsuspecting public. You will have to forgive me if a few of these entries look a bit familiar.

  1. Penalties last the full two minutes - This is an easy way to increase offense without really screwing with the integrity of the game. It rewards teams with a good power play while also getting the skill players more ice time. Ideally this would also lead to teams ultimately taking fewer penalties, which in theory would improve the pace of the game.
  2. Eliminate the trapezoid - As I have stated before, I really hate this rule. It just blows my mind that the NHL changed the game because goalies had become too skilled for its liking. I am getting rid of this rule and allowing goalies to take whatever risks they want with the puck.
  3. Reserve 5% of all tickets for the day of the game - There is no better live sport to behold than hockey, and the NHL needs to find a way to get some new blood in the seats. My plan is for teams to hold 5% of their tickets for each game and to put them on sale about 15 minutes before they open the arena doors. Not only would this be about the only way for an "Average Joe" to get tickets in a city like Toronto, but it would allow someone to decide to take in a game on a whim. There really is no downside to this plan as places like Florida and Columbus probably would not have sold those tickets anyway. At the same time you could breathe some added life into an already full arena, much like the Student Rush program did in Pittsburgh the past few seasons.
  4. Contract four teams - With minimal apologies to fans in Miami, Nashville, Atlanta, and Columbus... I am taking your teams away. The skill level in today's NHL is a little too watered down for my tastes, and this should help remedy that. My process would be simple; these four teams cease to exist and all their players become unrestricted free agents. To allow the remaining teams to take on some of these players I would allow the remaining 26 teams to buy out two contracts on their current roster with no cap hit. In reality a move like this would require some kind of compensation to the players who no longer had teams to play for to get the NHLPA to sign off on the move, but I am not going to worry about that here.
  5. Introduce the "Play In" game - On the day after the final day of the regular season the #8 seed in each conference will host the #9 seed in a single-game playoff to determine who goes into the post-season as their respective conference's #8 seed. Clean and simple. Post-season overtime rules apply so we do not have to worry about a post-season spot being decided by a shootout (shudder). I have to admit this is a bit gimmicky and really goes against my general trend of maintaining the integrity of the game, but I think it would be a fun and exciting way to get the post-season underway.
So there is my list for better or worse. In all honesty I could come up with another five ways to improve the NHL without even blinking, but I think these five would be a big step in the right direction. There are probably a couple people in Nashville and Atlanta who would disagree though I'm guessing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Do More Pucks In The Net Mean More Butts In The Seats?

The topic of new restrictions on goaltending equipment has risen to the surface of NHL discussion in the last week or so, due largely to the fact that there really isn't anything else to talk about right now. One item that has drawn particular attention from many (including Puck Daddy and James Mirtle) is the idea of goalies wearing pads that are proportional in size to their bodies. While this rule in itself is completely absurd, it underscores a bigger problem with the powers that be in the NHL; the NHL front office is far more concerned with the totals on the scoreboard than they are with the product on the ice.

Short of photographic evidence, there is no way you could convince me that Gary Bettman had ever seen a hockey game before he became commissioner of the NHL, and it shows. All you have to do is go watch old YouTube clips of the NHL in the 80's to see that the goalies of that era were a joke. Somewhere in the early 90's a new generation of Patrick Roy inspired goalies finally caught up with the game and shooters actually had to do more than just shoot five hole every time down the ice. Bettman and Co. are taking the game back to the 80's, and I for one am not happy about it (even if they bring back Cooperalls too).

People can spout all the "Offense sells" rhetoric they want to, I'm not buying. I saw the 92-93 San Jose Sharks in person enough times to know that more goals does not equal better hockey. Some people like to draw a parallel between hockey and baseball and how the "long ball" helped bring fans back to baseball after its strike in the mid-90's. These people want to argue that increased goal scoring will do for the NHL what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did for Major League Baseball. This is a ridiculous argument to make. Ignoring the fact that McGwire and Sosa were most likely juiced to the gills, the NHL restricting goalies is not the same as the power surge that took place in MLB. This is more akin to MLB making it illegal for outfielders to jump and catch a ball going over the fence. Players like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla are proof that the NHL's skill players can still put the puck in the back of the net. There is no need to keep changing the game until fourth-line grinders are putting up 30 goals a year.

The NHL has already set a precedent for preventing goalies from utilizing their full skill set with the trapezoid behind the goal line. In a nutshell, goalies like Martin Brodeur and Marty Turco (among many others) had gotten too good at handling the puck and diffusing an attack before it could even get going, so the NHL stepped in and attached an invisible leash to them in order to hamper them. I cannot think of another sport that punishes its players for developing a skill to an elite level. The NHL has done that with their puck handling netminders.

Handcuffing goalies will not make the NHL better. Neither will bigger nets. I will not go so far as to say that goalie equipment cannot afford to be reeled in a bit, but the NHL needs to come to the realization that hockey fans do not judge the product on the ice based on the number of pucks in the net. Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals was one of the best hockey games seen in ages, despite the fact that over 50 minutes were played without a single goal scored. There is nothing better in hockey than a jaw dropping save. Nothing. I can only hope that sanity and logic will eventually win the day. Otherwise Matt Bradley may yet get his blindfolded goalies.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Take The Leahy Challenge

So "Friend of the Team" Sean Leahy put up a great post on Friday over at Puck Daddy where he laid out the roster for his ultimate all-time NHL dream team. I have to give Sean credit as he came up with a pretty solid team. And not too many people would have Kevin Stevens on their dream team, which is another credit to Sean's good taste.

Pleasantries aside, I thought this would be the perfect time for me to map out my own dream roster. So here we go!

First Line
Mario Lemieux - Ron Francis - Jaromir Jagr
The best line ever assembled will work just fine for me thanks. This line could do it all and had no trouble generating offense as they took three of the top four spots on the NHL's scoring list in the one season they played together as a threesome (that's the 95-96 season for those of you counting). There is no better top line I could ask for than Ronnie Franchise centering two of the best offensive talents to ever take the ice. Like I already said, best line ever assembled.

Second Line
Keith Tkachuk - Joe Sakic - Pavel Bure
This is a line that can do it all. Bure brings the explosiveness and will keep defenders honest at all times (especially if we're playing in today's no two-line passes NHL). Keith Tkachuk was one of the NHL's best ever power forwards when in his prime and he will fit in quite nicely next to Sakic and Bure. He's also a guy who was never afraid to, ahem... get his hands dirty if you know what I mean. Kevin Stevens in his prime would fit in nicely here too. And then there's Joe Sakic. Sakic is a great leader who can do it all and is better defensively than he often gets credit for, and then there's that whole best wrist shot ever thing too. Gotta have Sakic on my team.

Third Line
Mike Bossy - Doug Gilmour - Maurice Richard
"Killer" Dougie Gilmour centering the first two 50/50 guys in NHL history? Not a bad "third" line if I may say so. I've got Bossy playing on his off wing here, but I think that would just lead to more goals with Gilmour setting the table. Like my other centers, Gilmour is top notch in his own end and makes up for his lack of size with an abundance of grit and heart. As far as the "Rocket" goes... if I have to explain to you why he makes my team then you aren't a hockey fan.

Fourth Line
Bob Errey - Joel Otto - Gordie Howe
Bob Errey was one of my favorite players ever and I had to leave a spot for him on my team. He is a tremendous leader and will be valuable on the PK. Joel Otto was never a particular favorite of mine, but he brings size, toughness, great defensive ability, and great faceoff skills to the table. That's a prototypical fourth line center if you ask me. Otto is also American, which is always a bonus. Mr. Hockey lands on my fourth line bringing his toughness and scoring touch to the table. Gordie could easily slip onto the right side of either of the top two lines if needed and could be counted on to help dish out some punishment on opposing defenders.

First Defensive Pair
Scott Stevens - Bobby Orr
I truly could not come up with a better defensive pair than this if I had years to think it over. Orr redefined the position and would bring even more offense from the blue line, while Stevens is one of the games great intimidators and would ensure opposing forwards kept their heads up as they entered my defensive zone. Stevens also has a solid offensive game which would allow him to fit right in with my talented forwards.

Second Defensive Pair
Doug Harvey - Paul Coffey
Paul Coffey is the next best thing to Bobby Orr and would look great going coast to coast for my squad. He was also a good defender who could hold his own in the defensive end. Harvey may just be the best player I never saw play. He did a ton for the game off the ice, and was one of it's biggest stars on it. When The Hockey News names you as the sixth best player ever, you can bet there's room for you on my roster.

Third Defensive Pair
Larry Robinson - Larry Murphy
Can't go wrong with "The Larry's" rounding out my defensive six. Larry "Big Bird" Robinson was one of the NHL's great competitors and has a hockey mind to match. He is also one of the game's great all-time hitters. Larry Murphy was the consummate pro. He wasn't the best at anything, but he excelled at everything. I never really felt Murphy got the credit he deserved during his playing days (I still do not know how he did not win the Norris in 92-93), but as a first ballot Hall of Famer, he was recognized when it mattered most. There is no way I could have this team without good ol' number 55 on it.

Martin Brodeur
Ken Dryden
The debate over who is better between Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy will probably go on for quite some time. There is no doubt in my mind that Brodeur will own most of Roy's records by the time he retires, but it is Brodeur's temperment that secures him a place on my team. He is calm, cool, and collected at all times and would have no trouble handling the pressure that would come along with backstopping this team. Dryden may be the biggest winner the NHL has ever seen. That alone should be enough to get him onto my team, but there is more to it than that. Dryden probably knows better than any goalie in history what it is like to be expected to win every time your team takes the ice. I also think Dryden would be able to handle being a backup to Brodeur and not let his ego become an issue. Don't get me wrong, Dryden is one of the greats, but if this team plays an 82-game schedule I'm putting Marty between the pipes for at least 60 of them.

So there is my team in all it's glory. There were a few tough choices, but not too many. I really wanted to find a spot for Sidney Crosby on here, but I could not bring myself to drop Sakic or Gilmour to make room for him, and Joel Otto fills a very specific role for me that Sid would not. It took me a while to come to a decision on who was going to be my backup goalie. One of the things that makes a goalie great is that they always want to be the guy in net. Brodeur was clearly going to be my number one guy, so I needed someone who I thought could handle being the backup. That rules out a lot of history's greats. If I could add one more player in some kind of provisional spot it would be Scott Young. He was always one of my favorites (was firmly in my Top Five for a long time) and was also very versatile, which is never a bad thing.

By all means comment away on this and feel free to leave your own dream team in the comments as well. Tell me where I screwed up and tell me where I nabbed the right guy. Just spare me the "Where is the Great One?!?!?!" stuff. The guy is way overrated and never played enough D to get anywhere near my roster.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Meat's Back On The Menu Boys!

Whew, July is finally over. It is amazing, for a month that starts out so busy, what with free agency and all, July really seems to drag on forever. Granted my own laziness factored into the recent lack of activity around these parts the last couple weeks, but it is time to put all of that behind us. It is a new month and there is work to be done. Most likely August will be even quieter than July was for the NHL, but if all goes according to plan things will be in full swing here.

Here is some of what you can look forward to here in the coming weeks:

  • I will be using OI% to break down the NHL's leading scorer in each season since 1940 in an attempt to determine which players had the best offensive single seasons in modern NHL history. I will be doing one decade at a time, probably at a pace of two posts per week.
  • The Salary Cap Challenge is coming. This year's version will be bigger and better than before. Invites should be going out this weekend and I hope to have the results for you around mid-month.
  • With help once again from my friends at I will be taking another trip back in time. This time we will be visiting the Spring of 1996.
  • I will have plenty of preview coverage leading up to September's release of NHL 09 from EA Sports.
  • I will start to get back into fantasy mode towards the end of the month and should have plenty of fantasy hockey coverage for you between here and my new second home over at Going Five Hole.
This is just some of what I have lined up to get us through August and to the start of training camps. The off-season is far from over, but I plan on making the best of the remaining time until pucks start dropping again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Breaking Down The 08-09 Pittsburgh Penguins Schedule

The NHL released the full 2008-09 regular season schedule today (view it here). This is probably a little more exciting than it should be, but it is always fun to look at the schedule for the upcoming season and try to find the key points. So I'll get right to it!

  • 4th/5th vs. Ottawa - The Pens open up the season with two games against the Senators in Sweden. Hopefully the travel will not be as big of a pain off of the ice as ex-Penguin Jarkko Ruutu is sure to be on it.
  • 11th vs. New Jersey - The Pens return to the States to raise their Eastern Conference championship banner and take on the Devils. On paper this is a game the Pens should win, but crossing "The Pond" may have an impact on that.
  • 14th vs. Philadelphia - The second home game of the year sees the Flyers come to town. They will surely be looking for payback for the Eastern Conference Finals and will undoubtedly be looking to take it to the Pens physically. This is where Eric Godard starts earning his pay.
  • 16th vs. Washington - Continuing a high profile start to the season, the Penguins will welcome the Capitals to town for the next chapter in the Crosby/Malkin/Ovechkin saga.
  • 8th @ Islanders - Satan and Fedotenko return to the Island for the first time since becoming Penguins. Hopefully this will help get the team up emotionally for...
  • 11th @ Detroit - The boys head back to Detroit to take on the Red Wings in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch. I'm guessing Marian Hossa will be mentioned once or twice leading up to this one.
  • 23rd vs. Tampa Bay - As an early Christmas present, the Penguins get half of their team "back" as Ryan Malone, Mark Recchi, Adam Hall, Michel Oulette, and Gary Roberts come calling. All those familiar faces should make for an interesting night at the Igloo.
  • 27th vs. Montreal - BGL returns to Pittsburgh for the first time. Is a showdown with Godard inevitable?
  • The Pens won't play the Rangers eight times in January, it will just feel like it.
  • The schedule is really packed this month to account for the All-Star Game being dropped in.
  • 8th vs. Detroit - The second half of the Finals rematch. I hope Hossa is ready to receive the Jagr treatment from the Igloo faithful.
  • 27th @ Chicago - Two of the NHL's best young teams play for the only time this season. Should be a very entertaining game.
  • 1st @ Dallas - Not terribly noteworthy except for the fact that I will be there. The first official TOFTT road trip is on the calendar!
  • 14th vs. Ottawa - The Senators' only visit to Pittsburgh this season (thanks to the Sweden games). Will the fans be booing or Ruuing?
  • 9th vs. Islanders - The regular season home finale should be a slam dunk as the Islanders will most likely be resembling a junior team by this point in the year. That being said, those kids will be hungry and fighting for roster spots in 2009-10.
  • 11th @ Montreal - The last game of the regular season could either have a big impact on playoff seeding or be totally meaningless. I'm guessing it will be the second option.
Inside the Numbers:
  • The Penguins will play on back-to-back days 13 times this season.
  • The longest homestand will be eight games long, and late in the season to boot.
  • The longest road trip will be five games long, but take them no further from home then Dallas.
All in all the new schedule looks solid enough. It will be nice to not be playing the Devils or Islanders seemingly every other night. You could argue that the Pens got the short end of the "at large" stick by having to play two of the best teams in the Western Conference (Detroit and San Jose) twice each, but it is worth it to make sure Benedict Hossa has to come to Pittsburgh. My biggest concern is that the travel associated with the Sweden games could see the boys get off to another slow start this year. Let's drop the puck already!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Curse Of Kris Draper

The story did not come out too long ago, but by now most have probably heard all about Kris Draper and his adventures with the Stanley Cup this summer. There have been an alarming number of stories coming out about the damage the Wings have been doing to the Cup since winning it back in early June, but this is getting to be too much. I understand that there is a long, colorful history surrounding the Cup and some of the abuse it has taken over the years, and that is part of its charm, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. I mean, his kid freaking crapped in the Stanley Cup! How would you like to win the Cup next season, and then right when you go to drink from it, in the back of your mind you think "Draper's kid took a dump in there"?

So I'm calling it right here and now... The Curse of Kris Draper! It is going to be a long time before the Detroit Red Wings sip from Lord Stanley's Cup again. I don't know what it will take for the curse to be lifted. Maybe it will last until Kris Draper dies, maybe just until his daughter is potty trained, I don't know how these things work exactly. The important thing is that the Wings may want to hold off on planning their next victory parade.

All humor aside, this really is too much. I do not think Draper intentionally put his daughter in the Cup to take care of her business. At the same time I do think he is being way too nonchalant about the whole thing. This isn't dinging the Cup or dropping it in a pool. This is something a whole lot worse. And the worst part is that Draper and the Wings do not seem to care. Red Wings, thou art cursed!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rewriting History: The '93 Playoffs

The 1993 NHL playoffs stand out in the memory of every longtime Penguins fan. The Pittsburgh Penguins went into the playoffs that season as two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and had arguably their strongest team yet. The Penguins closed out the regular season with an NHL-record 17 game winning streak and looked all but unstoppable heading into the post-season.

The Pens easily handled the New Jersey Devils in round 1, beating them soundly in five games. In round 2 the Penguins would face an upstart New York Islanders team that had upset the Washington Capitals in the first round, but were without leading scorer Pierre Turgeon, thanks to Dale Hunter. The Islanders gave the Penguins all they could handle (Mario Lemieux missing a couple games with back trouble did not help either) and forced a Game 7 in Pittsburgh. Game 7 was simply epic, and despite being outplayed by the Penguins the Islanders lead for most of the game and then shocked the hockey world by eliminating the Penguins on a David Volek overtime goal.

That Volek goal was easily the most painful moment of my life from a sports fan point of view, and I have always wondered what would have been if the Penguins had scored in overtime to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Montreal. Well now thanks to my new friends Paul and Paul over at I have a pretty good idea. They have used their technology to sim the '93 Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals on the assumption that the Penguins won Game 7 and not the Islanders, and the results were pretty much what I expected.

The results of each game are listed below. Be sure to click on the links to see the full breakdown of each game.

Eastern Conference Finals - Penguins v Canadiens:

Stanley Cup Finals - Penguins v Kings
Obviously this is not an exact method, but it does help reenforce the theory that the only thing standing between the Penguins and their third straight Stanley Cup was David Volek. And all this time I thought I could not hate him any more. I guess I was wrong.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Own Free Agency Saga

So I had been sitting on this for a few days, but the cat is now out of the bag. I will not be writing for RotoTimes again this coming season. I will however be helping out Sean over at Going Five Hole with some fantasy hockey coverage. It was a tough two-part decision that turned out being very easy to make in the the end.

I decided a couple weeks ago that I was not going to write again for RotoTimes for the 2008-09 season. I enjoyed writing for them this past season and had a great experience working with my editor over there, Ray Flowers. My decision came down to the fact that I did not think I could give them the volume and quality of writing expected without sacrificing the amount of time I have to commit to TOFTT and The Flower Shop. I also did not feel up to being locked into a set article theme to be produced every week for an entire season. For these reasons I informed Ray that I was going to take a pass on writing for RotoTimes this season, but the door was left open on both sides and I would not rule out writing for them again in the future. In the meantime I heartily recommend and sister site as great resources for fantasy info.

So how does Going Five Hole factor into this equation? At some point earlier in the year Sean had e-mailed me about my fantasy writing and asked if I would be interested in contributing some fantasy posts for GFH. I am a big fan of Sean's and was definitely interested, but I could only write here and for RotoTimes until my contract with them ran out so my hands were pretty much tied. A few days after coming to my decision regarding RotoTimes I e-mailed Sean to see if he was still interested in having me contribute. We reached an agreement pretty quickly to say that I will be writing fantasy hockey posts over at GFH starting in late-August. After going through the pre-season motions I will be writing a weekly post and also commenting on any events that impact the fantasy landscape.

Now some of you might be thinking that I have agreed to do for Sean what I said I did not want to do for RotoTimes, but that is not the case. I am going to have more-or-less complete freedom over my posts on GFH. I will not have a word count to meet or be locked into a set format for my articles. I will beable to write about whatever I want to in the fantasy hockey world, and that was the key factor for me. Essentially, any fantasy posts I would have written here (or at least most of them) will now be appearing on GFH instead. Plus, Sean is apparently now referring to me as a fantasy hockey guru (I wonder if I can get that on my checks?), so I've got that going for me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Remembering Double J

With his decision to play in Russia for the next two seasons, the NHL has likely seen the last of Jaromir Jagr. This is a sad thing for me, not just as a Penguins fan, but as a hockey fan in general. Jagr, one of the best offensive players in NHL history, deserved a better way to go out than this.

Two of the best ever.

Jagr has always been a polarizing figure among fans as he was never the most personable guy in the league. He burned a lot of bridges with the way he left Pittsburgh and similarly when he was traded from the Washington Capitals to the New York Rangers. I can see why Caps fans were upset with Jagr as they never really saw the kind of hockey they expected to from the talented Czech, but when you consider the spare parts they gave up to acquire Jagr they still came out ahead on that deal.

Not the happiest time in Jags' life.

Jagr's relationship with Penguins fans is another story. Jagr did not handle his exit from the Penguins well and he, deservedly so, drew the ire of the Penguins faithful. I had no problem at all with Jagr being booed during his first few visits back to Pittsburgh with the Capitals. I do think though that at some point Penguins fans needed to move on and remember Jagr for all that he had done for the Penguins. The final chapter in Jagr's time as a Penguin may not have gone well, but that should not have overshadowed his total body of work in black and gold, and I for one was hoping to see a new chapter to the story written in 2008-09. Unfortunately Jagr has chosen Russia over the Igloo in a move that all but certainly closes the door on him ever returning to the Penguins.

Growing up a young hockey fan in California, we didn't have televised hockey until my cable provider picked up SportsChannel before the 1991-92 season. By that time my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins were defending Stanley Cup champions and a young, mulleted Jagr was beginning his ascent to the top of the NHL. Though I started following hockey in the 80's, it didn't really amount to much more that checking the paper every morning until we finally got hockey on TV in '91. What the really means is that even though I followed the NHL before Jagr's arrival in 1990, I've never really known the NHL without him. The only other guy left who I really identify with being in the NHL when I really came on board is Joe Sakic, and he may be ready to walk away as well. In many ways Jaromir Jagr's departure for Russia has closed the door on the NHL of my youth.

So where does that leave Jagr in Penguins and NHL history? To me, the first thing that comes to mind is that Jagr was the second-most dominant player I have ever seen behind Mario Lemieux. No other players I have watched even come close to those two in terms of being able to simply step on the ice and take over a game. Without actually taking the time to figure it out for certain, I would guess that I saw Jagr play in person more than any other player, and he was worth the price of admission every time. I remember a game in San Jose against the Sharks, I got there a few minutes late (I had flown up from Long Beach just for the game) and Jagr had taken an early penalty. As soon as he got out of the box he got the puck and completely controlled the play inside the Sharks zone for about the next minute. There wasn't a player on the ice for San Jose who was going to get the puck off of his stick. Those are the types of moments I think of when I look back on Jagr's NHL career. When Jaromir Jagr was on his game he was an unstoppable force. There is not a single player in the NHL today who comes close to Jagr's ability to completely control a game. Not one.

Nobody came close to 68 in the late-90's.

Jagr may never get the credit he deserves as a player, mainly thanks to his demeanor off of the ice, but it is easy to see that he is among the best to ever take the ice in the National Hockey League. He currently sits ninth on the career scoring list with 1599 points, and he could have definitely made it as high as second on the list after another three or four productive years. He is 12th on the all-time goals list with 646, and again another three or four years would have surely seen him crack the top five. The same could be said for assists, where he currently ranks 13th with 953 for his career. Jagr also put together quite the collection of silverware during his time in the NHL with a Hart Trophy (he should have also won it in 1995 and 2006), three Pearson Trophies, five Art Ross Trophies, and a pair of Stanley Cups. Jagr was also named to the NHL First All-Star team seven times. Arguably more impressive than all of that was the fact that from the period of about 1995 until 2001 there was no player in the NHL better than Jagr. Jagr was the one player who seemed somewhat immune to all of the trapping and obstruction of the late-90's.

Jaromir Jagr may be walking away from the NHL before his time was up, but at least he went out in vintage Jagr fashion. Jagr was the best player by far for the Rangers in this year's playoffs and seemed to have rediscovered some of his old magic as he at times was able to carry the Rangers to victory. Jagr was the best Ranger on the ice for each of New York's five games against Pittsburgh, and it is worth noting that he was the NHL's leading scorer through two rounds. Somewhere along the way there Jagr made a connection with Ranger fans and has ultimately left them wanting more.

Jagr could only carry the Rangers so far.

I will have many fond memories of Jaromir Jagr's time in the NHL. I'll always have that goal against the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Finals. I'll always have him scoring in OT to send Wayne Gretzky out a loser in his final game. I'll always have the Jagr/Francis/Lemieux line in '96. I'll always have the way he made defenders look like rag dolls on the ice. What I won't have is the privilege of watching Jagr work his way up the list of the NHL's all-time greatest scorers. I won't have one last season with Jagr back in black and gold. Jaromir Jagr gave hockey fans everything they could have wanted in his 19 NHL seasons, but in the end he still left me wanting more.

Here's just a bit of Jagr being Jagr:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Atlanta = Hockey Purgatory

A lot has come out in the last couple of days about how Dan Boyle was treated by the new Tampa Bay owners in his final days with the Lightning. Just read the following quote from Boyle:

"I've given this franchise everything I had. I love it. I love the area and the fans. But at the end of the day, I was misled and lied to and completely disrespected. When you're threatened to be put on waivers and end up in Atlanta, it was an eye-opening situation for me."
I'm sure the first thing people think about when they read that quote is how out of control Koules and Barrie are turning out to be in Tampa, but not me. Just look at what Boyle said there again... threatened with ending up in Atlanta. This is what is has come to for the Thrashers. They have to overpay for any free agent to sign with them and now this. I'm sure Ilya Kovalchuk and his agent are counting the days until his contract runs out. I wonder where the over under is for how many years before the Thrashers move. Three or four sounds about right to me at this point.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Making Sense Of The Free Agency Madness

Well. we are about 58 hours into the NHL's free agency period as I write this and the dust is just now starting to settle. There are still a few big names still out there (Sundin, Jagr, Demitra). Most of the big players in the market appear to be done spending, and it is possible that from here on out most of the noise will be made by teams trying to find a way up to the salary cap minimum. As it is, let's take a look at the free agency winners and losers thus far.

The Winners
  • The Detroit Red Wings: Obviously the Marian Hossa signing is huge for Detroit, and most people seem ready to forego the 2008-09 season and just give the Red Wings the Stanley Cup now. Hossa's deal is a perfect fit for their contract environment and he is a perfect player for their team. Ty Conklin is also a good signing, assuming he can play near the level he did in January for the Penguins. It seems like they maybe overpaid a little for Brad Stuart, but I'm just a guy with a blog so I will give Kenny Holland the benefit of the doubt here.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets needed to make some big additions this off-season. While they didn't go quite as big time as I had hoped, adding Kristian Huselius, Mike Commodore, and R.J. Umberger (via trade) are very good additions for the Jackets. Hopefully for the Jackets Huselius and Umberger can help take some of the pressure off of Rick Nash offensively.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks made two of the bigger splashes in the free agent pool by signing Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet to huge contracts. You hate to kick dirt on the grave of Bill Wirtz, but signings like this would not have happened 12 months ago and Hawks fans have to be excited. They do have way too much salary tied up between the pipes right now, but they will find a way to deal with that somehow. It looks like the Blackhawks are finally ready to be players again in the Western Conference.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins: Losing Hossa has gotten most of the ink in Pittsburgh, but take a step back and look at what Ray Shero has accomplished in about the last 48 hours. He locked up Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, and Marc-Andre Fleury to long-term deals. He added Eric Godard as a cheap replacement for Georges Laraque. He brought back Mark Eaton and Pascal Dupuis on the cheap. And finally today he brought in Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko with very palattable one-year deals to help fill out the top two lines. Fedotenko should slide right into Ryan Malone's spot quite nicely, and Satan has enough offensive skill to thrive alongside Sidney Crosby. My only real complaint so far is why could the Pens have kept Adam Hall for $1.8 million over three years?
  • The New York Rangers: This was a tough call for me simply because it is hard to say something positive about a team that is going to be paying Michal Rozsival $5 million per year for the next four years. Aside from that deal though, the Rangers did pretty well. The Wade Redden contract stands out, but he still has a lot of good hockey left in him and he should be a good influence on their young defencemen. The acquisition of Aaron Voros, Markus Naslund, Patrick Rissmiller, Dimitri Kalinin, and Nikolai Zherdev are also pluses for the Blue Shirts.
The Losers
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Jeff Finger signing has quickly become a running joke in NHL circles and I don't feel real good about the Hagman signing either. Hagman strikes me as the kind of guy who would be great in the right situation, but will flame out in Toronto. Only time will tell there I guess. At least they gave the fans a little service by bringing Curtis Joseph back.
  • The San Jose Sharks: With Brian Campbell gone that trade looks pretty lousy now. The Sharks did not appear to have much of a Plan B in place after losing out on Campbell and have now had to settle for bringing Rob Blake in on a one-year pact. Losing Patrick Rissmiller to the Rangers is another shot to the Sharks, although the seem to have enough young talent to deal with that loss. Ultimately the Sharks have done nothing to improve a roster that has consistently underacheived for years now. Then again, maybe that Patrick Marleau trade is just around the corner...
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning: I have to say that on paper I like a lot of the signings the Lightning made. Ryan Malone is an awesome player, they just paid too much for him. The Radim Vrbata and Adam Hall deals are also excellent signings. As is the deals they got Gary Roberts and Olaf Kolzig to sign for. The problem is that none of the players I just named are defensemen, and that is Tampa's biggest weakness. To compound the issue, the Lightning they may now be forced to deal Dan Boyle to compensate for their recent spending spree, which would weaken their defensive corps even further. In a vacuum I like the deals Tampa made, but in reality the Lightning's new owners spent their money in all the wrong places.
  • The Washington Capitals: The Capitals did what they had to do in re-signing Mike Green, but then they took a big step back in net. The Caps front office can say whatever they want to, but the money they saved in signing Jose Theodore instead of Cristobal Huet was not worth it. With that one transaction the Capitals were transformed from a team on the rise in the East to a team that could easily find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. Just when things had started to look up for them too.
  • The Carolina Hurricanes: If you are intentionally paying Josef Melichar real money to play hockey for your team you are a loser. Nothing else matters. There is a reason why this guy was in Europe last year.
Honorable Mention - The Edmonton Oilers: Kevin Lowe is the punch line to about 75% of all hockey jokes these days, but he has done a real good job of upgrading his team in the last few days. The only reason why the Oilers are here instead of among the winners is because Lowe did it all through trades. Having said that, Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky are players any GM would love to have, and the Oilers will be a better team with them this coming season.