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.