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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Marian Hossa Stuns The World

I am in complete shock right now. Marian Hossa just signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings for $7.4 million, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. Why take a one-year with Detroit when the Pittsburgh Penguins were offering similar dollars over five years? Where is the logic in this? The only line of thinking I can come up with on Hossa's part is that he hopes to win a Cup this coming season, and then just get the biggest contract he possibly can next off-season. That is totally ludicrous thinking, and that is about all I could come up with.

For Detroit the move is pure genius. They add another uber-talented forward to their roster who will fit into their style of play perfectly. Then next off-season they simply walk away and put the $7.4 million they paid Hossa towards Henrik Zetterberg's new contract. They get a (hopefully for them) good year out of Hossa and then just let him move on. No big loss for them. It might even be possible that Nicklas Lidstrom retires after next season and Hossa stays in Motown. Either way it all works out for the Wings.

So where do the Pens go from here? Ray Shero undoubtedly was prepared for this and is already hard at work on Plan B. There is a short list of guys out there who Shero can look at to fill the void left by Hossa. Names like Jagr, Naslund, Demitra, and Huselius will surely all be looked at. I think this will work out better for the Penguins when all is said and done because they should be able to bring in new wingers for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at close to the amount it would have cost to keep Hossa. It will be like the time I traded in my Mustang so that my wife and I could both get new cars. Sure neither car was as nice as the Mustang, but they both got the job done. I would expect at least two or three signings from the Penguins by the end of the day now that Hossa has made his decision.

Where does this leave Marian Hossa's legacy as a Penguin? As far as I'm concerned he does not have one. I'm not trying to downplay all he did for us in the playoffs, but the guy played roughly 40 games in Pittsburgh. That's not exactly enough to earn you a long-term residence in the hearts of fans. Add in the fact that he signed with Detroit, my personal most hated sports franchise, and Marian Hossa is essentially dead to me now. Make no mistake I enjoyed the time he spent with the Pens, but the first thing I'm doing tonight after my kids are in bed is trading Hossa away from my Penguins franchise in NHL 2008. And I sure won't be sending him to Detroit either.