Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Goalie

Gary Bettman held his "State of the League" address before Game One of the Cup Finals today and while addressing the fact that all the teams will play each other at least once, the topic of goaltender's equipment came up again. Bettman citing that goals are down and that goaltenders are better physically and in their equipment, that there needs to be a way to get more room for the shooters to shoot. This comes weeks after the league and PA announced they would be forming a group to find a way to deal with goalie equipment issues.

This has been a debate that has been going on since the new rules came into effect after the work stoppage. The game was opened up, for sure, but it always seemed that the league and the people in charge of rule changes have it out for goalies. It's an odd statement to say that because goalies are being better that they need to be punished and have equipment taken away from them. It's almost like saying that guys like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jarome Iginla need to use wood sticks because they are much too good for composite and that Dion Phaneuf and Shea Weber can only stick check because they hit too hard.

The problem I have is that the NHL brass isn't embracing the goaltenders for their stellar work. Not only do they have to be physically sharp, but mentality as well. The fact they have been subjected to these changes and still are as good as they are-- it's a testament to how far goaltending has come in the last two decades. To be honest, if a young Wayne Gretzky had to play against goalies of today back then-- odds are he wouldn't have scored 92 goals and 215 points like he did in the early 80s.

I think the time has come to embrace the idea of bigger nets. It needs to happen. It HAS to happen. For the sanity of goalies and fans out there-- bigger nets need to be a god-send and needs to be the saving grace. My reasoning is on how far these decrease in pads will end up being. Will we soon see that goalies wearing editions of the local papers on their legs, like so much Greg Goldberg in the "Mighty Ducks??" Sure, it would bring up advertising dollars for papers to bid to have their goalie wear their paper, but it's joke in the long run of things.

Bigger nets will stop the insanity of the shrinking the size of goalie pads, while also give Bettman what he wants, which is to give shooters more to shoot at. That is, until goalies adapt to that, to which there will be a scurry to figure out how to adjust the game more to give the shooter even more to shoot at.

Adaptation is the reason for the goalies getting better. It has been the case ever since the beginning of the sport. From wearing proper padding to freezing the puck to the mask to the butterfly position; goalies have been able to adjust themselves to the game around them and become better players. Sure, people love scoring and it's what gets fans out of their seats (aside from fighting); but why can't people realize that a great goaltending performance could outweigh scoring in a single game.

Plus, the protection issue comes up as well. Hockey sticks are becoming lighter and the velocity coming off the sticks are becoming higher and higher. The goalies need all the padding they need to help protect their bodies from these weapons the stick companies are coming out with today. Sure, the one-piece composites may break like a wet snowball, but when they stay together, they are deadly both in accuracy and velocity. Taking padding away is taking away absorption of the blow from guys who are facing upwards of 100mph shots on a regular basis throughout the game.

The thought of bringing back the firewagon hockey style of the old days is an intriguing one and one that many older fans may enjoy-- but in the grand scheme of things; it probably won't be as good as some thought it would be. All it would do is allow teams to adapt (there's that word again) to a more defensive style of hockey and we're right back to where we were before the lockout with clutching and grabbing being the norm and posing as defensive hockey.

Note to Gary Bettman and those in charge of rule changes-- bigger nets. It's the thing that'll allow goalies to keep their padding for protection, as well as give the league the bigger shooting area for the offense to shoot at. It's the only sane thing to keep the sanctity of the game in tact....until scoring is down again and we put in the "Doubler" puck like MTV's Rock n' Jock.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Fan Factor

There's an interesting debate on a message board I frequent about fan etiquette. Now, here's the lead post that started the whole thing. This is verbatim, so don't blame me for the craptastic structure or mistakes in spelling or grammar.

We used to be Flyers fans, but after hearing the immature booing every time a skilled player touches the puck in Philly - It's too embarassing to be associated with this team.
Those idiot redneck fans aren't smart enough to realize how lucky they are to be watching skilled players the likes of Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin etc. live so they boo like a bunch of drunken teenagers! Good thing they are not educated hockey fans as it would be a black eye to the sport. These people are dumb enough that soon they will boo all Canadian players, no matter which team they play on.
Hopefully there will be no more playoff games in Philly this year so all those drunken chest-beating, plexiglass-banging idiots can go back to shining their gunracks and kicking their dogs.
Hey losers; This is Stanley Cup Hockey, not midget rodeo!!
Now, this started a whole bashing of the original poster and thoughts about this inane post and what's it means to uneducated fans.

My take on this first off is that Philly fans are probably the most passionate fans in any sport. Having lived in Philly for a year for college, everyone knew something about sports regardless of bracket-- meaning man, woman, young and old; they had a take on at least one sport in Philly. Sure, you can talk about the bad stuff like the Santa Claus thing and their booing-- but they only want the best all the time. Granted, some of them also proclaim that if they were to win something, it would be the worst time in the sport because of the fact they wouldn't have much to complain about.

As far as fans booing opposing players-- that's the nature of the beast. Personally, it could be a sign of respect in instance like Ovechkin and Crosby and then personal vendetta, like the Capitals' fans when it comes to Larry Murphy (woop, woop, woop), Sergei Gonchar, and Jaromir Jagr. People pay their ticket, they can do whatever the hell they want, to be honest. As long as no personal harm is done-- I don't see an issue with.

The fact of the matter is that if fans were wild and crazy in places like Philly, New York, Montreal, or Toronto-- the game would be very dull and the atmosphere of these arenas wouldn't be what they are. That's why it's called a home-ice advantage, because the fans become the 7th player on the ice without actually being on the ice (which is why I want to bring back the rover, but that's for another article).

So, to the person who started this post....either deal with it or move to a place where political correctness is the norm and everyone wins just so no one's feelings are hurt. If you claim you're a fan, you're really not. Grow some courage and suck it up, Nancy.

Let me hear you thoughts on this-- the comments are always open.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's Next For The Stars

It was a valiant effort by the Stars to try and make a comeback from being down 0-3, but it was stopped short by the juggernaut that is the Detroit Red Wings. However, many answers were given this playoffs, but some still remain.

One pressing issue will be what's going to happen with Mike Modano. There have been rumblings of his retirement in the distance, even though he has two more years left on his contract. Makes you wonder if the Richards trade and Ribiero re-signing were under previous notions that Modano is going to hang 'em up. That said, should he come back-- he'll have a great supporting cast. With Brendan Morrow stepping up this playoffs with the rest of the team and the bright future ahead, Modano could make go for the duration of his contract.

Defensively, the Stars were able to see how their defense has developed with the youngsters taking center stage thanks to injuries to Sergei Zubov in the playoffs. Mattias Norstrom and Trevor Daley are the only free agents this summer, with Daley more than likely getting a deal soon. Norstrom may have to look on the market as Mark Fistric, Niklas Grossman, and Matt Niskanen have stepped out of the shadows to make a name for themselves.

Marty Turco was clutch for the Stars in the playoffs and proved that he has a lot to give the team in the future to have a shot at the Cup. The wonder is what's going to happen for a back-up. Johan Holmqvist didn't get much of a look in Dallas and his track record is spotty at best. Tobias Stephan may not be ready, but with a work horse like Turco; you'd have to wonder if it really matters who's behind him.

It was a strong run and there's a lot to build off of this season. Co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson have built this team for the long-haul and it's paying off quick dividends. Now, if they could only re-do those god-awful black jerseys....

Monday, May 19, 2008

What's Next For The Flyers

It started off so well this playoffs for the Flyers, defeating the Capitals in a thrilling seven game affair, then taking it to the Eastern Conference leading Montreal Canadiens, but nothing seemed to click when taking on the Penguins. However, the future is bright for the Flyers.

The front-line seems to be in great shape with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter taking the helm. With the emergence of RJ Umberger in this playoffs, the youth movement is alive and well in the City of Brotherly Love. Daniel Briere proved he was worth the money he got last summer, as Mike Knuble provide a solid sidekick when healthy. The acquistion of Vaclav Prospal was key for the Flyers, but being able to retain him will be the big pressure point. The health of Simon Gagne will have to looked at as well.

Defensively, the Flyers got quicker with the acquistion of Kimmo Timonen this off-season and Braydon Coburn showed his true worth on the ice. However, whether or not the Flyers will re-sign Jason Smith and whether or not to buy-out Derian Hatcher will be on the chopping block for GM Paul Holmgren.

Between the pipes, Martin Biron emerged as the #1 goalie for the Flyers, so what to do with Antero Niittymaki?? With a weak goaltending free agent market this summer, the Flyers could hang him out there and fall back on Rejean Beauchemin or Martin Houle as the back-up for Biron. Of course, should Biron fall to injury, having Niittymaki as a back-up could prove to be crucial.

All in all, going from dead last in the NHL to the Conference Finals could be deemed as a huge success for the Flyers. That said, Holmgren will have a lot decisions to make in the off-season and will have to be based on building on this season rather than fall short by three wins to the Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stanley Cup Breakdown

It's not over, but if either the Stars or Flyers can mount a comeback from going down 3-0, I'll gladly retract this post and will root for whoever overcomes the deficit. Let's fact it though, it's been 33 years since the last team to comeback from 0-3 to win the series (Islanders over Pens, 1975) and it was 33 years before that when the first team to comeback from 0-3 (Leafs over Wings, 1942). Huh....wonder if these teams who were defeated before could have history repeat itself.

That notwithstanding, it looks like it'll be the Pittsburgh Penguins taking on the Detroit Red Wings for the Stanley Cup. The buzz will be Sidney Crosby and his Pens taking only three years to get to this point-- so let the slurping continue. Also, this could be the first time a European, in this case Nicklas Lidstrom, would captain his team to a Cup win. Both teams have a ton of firepower, good amount of defense, and surprising goaltending.

OFFENSE: Even with their top scoring performer, Johan Franzen, out with concussion-like symptoms; the Red Wings are still effective. The play of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have excelled even more, while fringe players like Darren Helm, have stepped up and played at an elite level. There's plenty of fire power from the first line to the fourth line on the Wings to be taken for granted.

The Penguins have the best young talent assembled with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Ryan Malone playing like their veterans, while Marian Hossa seems to have finally shaken his playoff slump of years past, putting up more than a point-per-game this playoffs.

DEFENSE: Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney have been playing very well, both defensively and offensively. Both have been the puck-moving defensemen that the Pens need in order to get out of the zone. In fact, all the defensemen on the Pens are plus players, with Hal Gill actually playing like the defenseman many envisioned him to be.

On Detroit's side, while Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski get all the ink in the news, the play of Niklas Kronwall has quietly gone under the radar. With 11 assist, all at even-strength, Kronwall has been the Wings top point getter from the blue line. Lidstrom and Rafalski will still be a force, but Kronwall's performance thus far will get him some looks in the Finals.

GOALTENDING: Both teams have had their surprises in net, but Chris Osgood could very well trump M-A Fleury in this category. Osgood came off the bench and has yet to lose in the playoffs this season. With Osgood's turnaround as a whole this season-- he could get a few Conn Smythe vote sway his way when and if the time comes.

Fleury has been stellar as well, but still some people say he hasn't been tested yet. Granted, with the team he has in front of him, Fleury can really be better off not being tested, but will make the saves he needs to make in order to keep his team in it. It's amazing we're talking about a kid who was pretty much left for dead with his injuries and the stellar play of the other goalies on the Penguins roster.

This series could go the full seven and even then, the Cup may be given out in May for once in a long while. It should be a match of wits and a match to see who flinches first. It should be up-tempo hockey from the puck drop of Game One to the end with end-to-end rushes, air-tight defense, and top-notch goaltending.

This is another series where I hate both the teams with a passion, but the edge will have to go with the Red Wings. I think the Wings will take it in six games, but only due to experience being on their side.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Craziness in the Coaching Ranks

It's one thing to have the announcements of Paul Maurice and Joel Quenneville being let go from the Maple Leafs and Avalanche, respectively. It's a whole other thing when you hear that Barry Trotz and Jacques Lemaire are returning to the Predators and Wild. It makes you wondering what's going on with some GMs when thinking about what coaches should be behind their benches.

Maurice's scenario was something that seems predictable-- without a playoff appearance in three years, without a permanent GM, and with a whole lot of turmoil in the roster; Maurice was the fall-guy, plain and simple. All the players with no-trade clauses on the Leafs (thanks to John Ferguson Jr. of course), the ability to motivate the team wasn't there for Maurice because the players knew they couldn't be moved without their approval first. When you have that kind of issue, it's hard to get anything going.

Quenneville is an interesting case. Maybe there was another offer too good to pass up (perhaps Ottawa, Atlanta, or the Leafs), but Quenneville didn't do awful in Colorado. Three seasons, three 40+ win seasons, two playoff appearances-- then the team and Quenneville decide to part ways. There has to be something more to this situation and may unfold when/if Quenneville gets another gig.

However, the Trotz and Lemaire situations are fair too mind-bending-- especially considering the lack of success both have had in recent years.

Trotz has been with the Predators since day one and all he has to show for it is four straight first round exits in the past four seasons, though the regular seasons have been on the up and up. With all the change going on in Nashville, you'd think they would have changed the coaching regime as well. However, David Poile has stuck with Trotz, mostly because he has know him since Trotz was a part of the Capitals organization as coach of the Portland Pirates, then the Caps AHL affiliate. I'm sure that Trotz will be on a tight-leash if he can't get success from his team in the early going of the '08-'09 campaign.

Lemaire has also been with the Wild since day one, but his success has been up and down. With the exception of the first two seasons, Lemaire has maintain an above .500 winning percentage, but doesn't have much to show; save one big run in the 2003 Playoffs. The Wild have only made it to the playoffs twice, though the fact they are in a very tough division could be an excuse for the lack of success, but at that point-- wouldn't you want someone who can break through that barrier and take all doubt out of the toughness of the division??

It's very confusing to me, but what do I know-- I'm not a GM. You would think that coaches who haven't been able to break a threshold that you want to break through would get canned over guys who've only had a limited amount of time to show what they've got.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fabian: Flourish or Flop

After weeks and months of speculation on what he may do, Fabian Brunnstrom has made the decision to play for the Dallas Stars. Many times, Brunnstrom has been rumored to be signing with the Vancouver Canucks and the Detroit Red Wings, but in the end, the Stars are the place for Brunnstrom.

Now, the biggest question of them all-- with all the hype and all the press this 23-year-old has been getting, will he pan out to what has been written about him??

The Swedish forward has been a hot topic item since his break-out season last year in Division 1 Swedish hockey putting up 37 goals and 73 points to go along with a +51 with Boras HC. This season, playing with Farjestads BK in the Swedish Elite League, Brunnstrom has nine goals and 37 points in 54 games with a +4 rating. That put him tied for 18th in the League, while his 28 assists tied him for 7th in that category.

The resume is definitely something that will attract the teams and the attention of many people, however, the NHL is a much different place than the NHL. It'll be a little more physical and a little better goaltending. Especially on a team that has the skill sets as the Stars, it'll be interesting to see what kind of role the young Brunnstrom will play in the line-up.

With so much buzz and hype around him, the microscope will be focused squarely onto Brunnstrom and to see what he can do in the NHL setting. If it's a flop for Brunnstrom, then it'll be a lesson to some teams about who to trust in their scouting staff and how to deal with buzz and hype given to an overseas player. If Brunnstrom is able to flourish, then the scouts who first got the sniff of Brunnstrom will be hailed as legends in the game.

Needless to say, I'm glad that this whole ordeal is done with. I was getting a little sick of all this speculation of where he would go and when he would sign. Just to get his name out of the headlines for a little while will be a relief for me and other hockey fans I'm sure.

An Ode to Olie the Goalie

Through thick and thin, the Washington Capitals always had one constant in the past 18 years-- Olaf Kolzig. That will change next season, as Olie the Goalie has announced that he will not be back with the Capitals for the '08-'09 campaign. It shouldn't come as a surprise, though, as the writing was on the wall when Cristobal Huet came into the fold. Kolzig was the constant professional though all of the turmoil and it showed the real character he had as a person and a player.

And what an ending to an era this will be for the fans. Undoubtedly, Kolzig's #37 will be retired once he does, but Kolzig believes he has the ability to still contribute to an NHL team.

However, it's a time for Caps fan to genuflect on what Kolzig brought to the Capitals organization since he was drafted 1989. In fact, only Mike Modano and Joe Sakic have been with a single NHL team longer than Kolzig. He is fifth amongst active goaltenders in wins and became the 23rd netminder with 300 wins when he beat the Calgary Flames this March. Let's be honest, if not for that silly rule about not being able to give goalie's the captaincy, Kolzig would have had it on his sweater for a number of years.

Kolzig has seen it all, the lows of being on a last place NHL team, highs of getting to the Stanley Cup finals, the lows of losing in four-straight in the Finals, and the revitalization of the Capitals' team in the past few seasons. On top of that, his personal achievements include a Calder Cup ring, a Vezina Trophy, the Butterfield Trophy for Calder Cup MVP, and Hap Holmes Memorial Award for AHL goalie with the lowest GAA.

But it was never about personal gain for Kolzig. Much like another Capitals star, it's more about the team goal in winning the Stanley Cup than any personal award. So much, that he did what he did after the Huet trade because he thought it would give the Caps the best chance to win.

Kolzig was solid for most of his career, posting a .907 save percentage in his Caps career and a 2.70 GAA in 711 games with the Caps. In fact, the only time he started to really struggle was after the Lockout. The only time Kolzig posted a .900 save percentage was this past season and the first season after the Lockout, 2005-06, based on at least 25 games played.

For all the on-ice accolades Kolzig has achieved, off the ice, Kolzig has been just as busy. Kolzig is the co-founder of Athletes Against Autism and set up the Carson Kolzig Foundation, named after Kolzig's son who is affected with autism. Also, Kolzig-- along with former teammate Stu Barnes-- owns the WHL's Tri-City Americans.

In the end, Kolzig's career with the Caps didn't end in a Stanley Cup, it didn't end with him playing in Game Seven, didn't end with him going off into the sunset on his own terms. It will end with him being one of the most recognizable Capitals in the history of the team, being one of the top goaltenders to ever play with the Capitals, and being known as the constant professional regardless of the frustration that he may have had to endured.

I'm sure I speak for a lot of Caps fans when I say, thank you for everything you have done Olie-- it was been a great ride and we wish you the best.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Western Conference Breakdown

The Conference Finals start tonight with the Western Conference and it looks like it could be a dandy. It'll be the Red Wings, who steamrolled the Avalanche last round, facing the Stars, who have taken out the Cup champions in the first round and had their way with the Sharks in the second. Each team have been on a roll, which should create for a hard fought series.

OFFENSE: Though the normal hot hands in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been clutch for the Wings, the main performer has been Johan Franzen; who leads the Wings in goals and points. Frazen has been put in every situation with four power-play goals and two shorthanded goals to go along with his four game winners. Even moreover, outside of the three mentioned, no Red Wing has averaged a point per game. For the Wings to get by, the role players will have to step up the offense a little bit.

The Stars best players have been their best players, with Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, and Brad Richards being up there, but Brendan Morrow; a noted grinder; has been the key offensive prowess for the Stars. Morrow's four goals on the power-play tie him with Modano for the lead on the team, while proving that Morrow is a great leader by example for his team. Loui Eriksson and Jere Lehtinen have been potting points in here and there, but will need to step up for the Stars to be successful.

DEFENSE: The Red Wings continue to be solid on the back line. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski have been, undoubtedly, leading the way with +7 ratings heading into the Conference Finals. Niklas Kronwall has also provided both on the score sheet and in his own zone. The key to the Wings success has been always been with the defense and it should continue as long as the Wings build around it.

With the addition of Sergei Zubov back into the line-up, the defense for the Stars has excelled. Though before Zubov came back, the no-name defense has come up huge. Stephane Robidas led the way, with Mattias Norstrom as his right-hand man. Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley, Mark Fistric, and Nicklas Grossman have all contributed in their own way, but don't and won't get the recognition they deserve.

GOALTENDING: Marty Turco and his lack of success against the Red Wings is the focal point on this one. Turco has gone 2-10-5 career against the Wings, while going 0-7-2 in Detroit. In fact, that last time Turco won at Joe Louis Arena is when he played for the Michigan Wolverines. Turco, though, has been more than amazing for the Stars and should prove to play very well against the Red Wings. Last season, he got the monkey off his back when it came to lacking the will to be able to win in the playoffs and now it's time for him to prove himself again.

On the other side, the reemergence of Chris Osgood continues. Osgood played very well this season and has continued the trend into the post-season, going 6-0 so far. Coming in relief of the struggling Dominik Hasek, Osgood has played much like he did in 1998 when he helped the Wings to their second straight Stanley Cup championship.

This has the making of being one of the better Western Finals in a while, which means it'll go more than five games. In that, I think that the Dallas Stars will emerge victorious in seven games. The Stars have been defying the odds all playoffs long and I don't think this will be any different. Turco will be on his game and the top-four for the Stars will continue to have the hot hands.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Eastern Conference Breakdown

One thing is for sure in this Eastern Conference Final, the winner will come from Pennsylvania. That's right, it's every Capitals' fan worst nightmare, the Penguins against the Flyers for the right to play in the Stanley Cup finals. So, let's break it down bit by bit, shall we??

OFFENSE: Let's be honest, the Penguins have a bevy of firepower in their line-up and are a threat to be reckoned with. With Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins could have the best offense in the NHL Playoffs right now. With role players like Georges Laraque, Ryan Malone, and Gary Roberts, they Penguins do have some depth should the top trio get shut down. Though, I'm sure Petr Sykora and Jordan Staal still have much to prove in these playoffs.

Philadelphia has been led by Daniel Briere, which should be no surprise, but RJ Umberger has been a pleasant surprise for the Flyers these playoffs. Umberger's nine goals helped the Flyers get past the Habs in the second round. Vaclav Prospal quietly has racked up 12 points, while Mike Richards has contributed silently on the scoresheet, but loudly along the board. The Flyers depth could help them get an upset victory in the Conference finals.

DEFENSE: The Flyers should have the advantage in this section, but it's something of an enigma for both squads. The Flyers have the shutdown player in Kimmo Timonen doing his job perfectly, while Jason Smith and Braydon Coburn have been an excellent compliment on the blue line. Derian Hatcher could be the Achilles heel should he get overly aggressive and give too many power-plays to the Pens.

I personally though the Penguins defense would be their downfall, but they have played very respectable in the post-season. Hal Gill of all people has been playing very well, while Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney have been playing well, with Rob Scuderi being the best rated defenseman at +7.

GOALTENDING: Marc-Andre Fleury has played huge for the Penguins, but has faced the least amount of shots of any goalies who have played at least eight games. He is second in GAA and first in save percentage while proving that he has what it takes to be a #1 goalie in the NHL. We'll just have to see how much this streak for Fleury can go.

Martin Biron, in his first playoff appearance in his career, has played solidly for the Flyers and has kept them in many games not only in the post-season, but also during the season. Biron is battle tested too, mostly due to him facing the most shots this playoffs.

This is a case of two surprising, hot goaltenders on a collision course for the right to play for the biggest prize in all sports. It should come down to a goaltender's duel this series.

Now, if the regular season is any indication (which...let's face it-- it isn't), the Flyers beat the Penguins five times out of the eight and were very physical against the Pens. When the Rangers instilled physicality into their game, you could see the Penguins get a little flustered. We'll see if the Flyers will be able to get better results from the same game plan.

It should be an interesting series and may be one of the better ones, but with depth, shutdown ability, and physicality-- I'll take the Philadelphia Flyers in six games for this series.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What's Next For The Sharks

It took a while, and had some promising looks, but the Sharks bow out of the playoffs in the second round for the third straight season. For any other team, this could be the one that has the most questions surrounding them.

Starting from the top, Ron Wilson's job behind the bench is undoubtedly in jeopardy and it would take a miracle or scandalous pictures to keep him there for another season. It seems that the second round seems to be killer for the Sharks. Especially since the Sharks have been a high seed in the playoffs, it's even more of a disappointment when you look at the big picture. The fate of Wilson will probably be decided quickly and painlessly.

Next would be the Jekyll and Hyde performance of the Sharks' top players. Joe Thornton had 10 points, but you expected more out of him-- while Brian Campbell and Patrick Marleau were showed up at some moments, but would disappear the next. The good thing is that players like Joe Pavelski and Ryan Clowe stepped up in the absence of the Sharks' top guns.

Full marks to Evgeni Nabokov, though. Often, he would keep the Sharks in the game-- especially in Game Six with his save on Brad Richards early on in the first overtime. In his first full season in the starter's role, Nabokov more than likely will take home the Vezina for his efforts this season. Nabby was a key cog in the Sharks' success and will be in year's to come. He just needs better support.

However aside from Campbell and maybe timely scorer Jeremy Roenick, the Sharks don't have to worry much about UFAs, as they have most of their squad sured -up for next season. Also, the debate on whether to trade Patrick Marleau before his no-trade clause kicks in on July 1st. Even with not much on his plate, Doug Wilson will have a lot of tough decisions to make in the next few weeks.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What's Next For The Rangers

Things looked good for the Rangers after the first round victory over the Devils, but they were outmatched in the second round by the Penguins. There's some questions up in the air for the Rangers, but most of the key answers are in place.

The pressing question will be what will Jaromir Jagr do?? There have been rumors abound that Jagr will be playing for Avangard Omsk in Russia next season. However, the passion that Jagr played with in the playoffs shows that he could come back for one more kick in the can with the Rangers. Jagr is quiet the specimen. When he's having fun, he's the best player in the world. When he's uptight and being child-like, he's his own worst enemy. Depending on what Jagr shows up will depend on the investment that the Rangers may want to put into him.

Along with Jagr hitting the UFA market, so will Sean Avery, Martin Straka, and Brendan Shanahan. Avery has said he would want to return to the Rangers, but the Rangers have played hardball in the past. Straka will probably want to stay, as would Shanahan. Of course, everything can change in a New York minute, especially when it comes to the direction the Rangers brass may want to go in.

That's just the forwards.

Paul Mara, Marek Malik, and Michal Rozsival are all UFAs on the defensive side of things. Malik and Rozsival are most likely to be re-signed to help out with Marc Staal, Fedor Tyutin, and Christian Backman.

Luckily, three key cogs have been rapped up for the next few years in Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, and Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist was amazing this past season, getting himself a Vezina Trophy bid for it. Gomez and Drury played well in their first season in Broadway, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

One great surprise was the play of Brandon Dubinsky and Nigel Dawes. Both played key checking roles and showed they can provide on the scoresheet as well.

As a whole, the Rangers may need to increase they scoring, as they only had 213 goals for this season, but could do a whole lot more. It seemed that the defense and goaltending was in shape, so the concern for that is gone. With everything seemingly in place, the Rangers are well on their way to continue being a success in the Big Apple after years of uncertainty.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

What's Next For The Canadiens

There was plenty of promise for the Montreal Canadiens heading into the playoffs. They had the most goals-for in the regular season and looked primed to take the Eastern Conference by storm. That was not to be as the Habs barely scraped by the 8th seeded Boston Bruins, and then got outplayed by the Philadelphia Flyers to put them to the golf course.

There's some questions that will need to be answered in the next couple of months, like what's going to happen with a couple of their UFAs, like Michael Ryder, Patrice Brisebois, and Mark Streit. Ryder will more than likely be gone from Montreal, while Streit will likely be retained due to his versatility. Brisebois is a bigger question mark, as he didn't play amazing, but didn't play horrible either. There's plenty of things GM Bob Gainey will need to look at when trying to re-sign these three.

However, there's plenty to build off of. The offense for the season was great for the Habs, with their power-play being tops in the league in the regular season. Yet, in the playoffs, the PP was nowhere to be found, currently ranking 13th out of the 16 playoff teams. Also, it wasn't as explosive as it was in the regular season, with goal-scoring by committee it seemed. Alexei Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn led the way with five a piece, but neither of them really took control for the Habs nor set a big pace for the team. Saku Koivu played well, though, after he came back with a foot injury.

Defensively, the big guns of Mark Streit and Andrei Markov were shutdown in the playoffs, only collecting only four points in the playoffs a piece and really held in check. Obviously, with their offensive prowess, neither Streit nor Markov were too, too defensively responsible, but Roman Hamrlik and Mike Komiserek picked up the slack on the defensive side of things and the play along the boards. With this core together for another couple of years, things will get better and better.

The Carey Price era got off to a respectable start, but had its bumps along the way. That said, he is a 20-year-old starter who pretty much got thrown into the fray with the trading of Cristobal Huet at the deadline. Price had his shaky points, but what rookie doesn't?? Just seems that his performance was magnified for the stage he was on and the location he plays in. He'll get better as time goes on, plus he has the right demeanor to be playing in a big hockey city like Montreal. Just so long as he doesn't buy into what's being written up, he'll be leading the Habs back to the promised land sooner than many think.

There's a lot of promise for the Habs to work with and there's plenty of time to watch these kids to grow and play together as a team. With the right balance of youth and experience, the Habs have a make-up for a Cup contender year-in and year-out.

Controversy or Common Sense??

There has been a lot made about what Guy Carbonneau has been doing with his goaltending situation. His decision in Game Four to sit Carey Price in favor of Jaroslav Halak created a ruckus in ways of the media in Montreal. Why would Carbonneau sit the franchise player for someone who hadn't started in almost three months?? Forget that Price let in three goals on 12 shots in Game Three, you'd have to discount that and go back to your bread-and-butter goalie, right??

No, and maybe more coaches should take Carbonneau's lead.

Sure, in some cases, like San Jose and Dallas-- you don't sit your starter because of one bad performance. That said, in a case like, say, Calgary-- where Curtis Joseph steals a game for you to get you ahead in the series, you should at least think about going back to him in Game Four to see if Lightning can strike twice and maybe have the goalie with the hot-hand to carry you through the series.

Granted, some times when you do pull your starter in favor of the hot-hand; the adverse effect happens when the starter can't find their form once the get the chance again, or in the very rare instance-- the starter becomes a nuisance and disrupts the locker room and team.

However, you have to take a chance. It's the playoffs and often tomorrow is closer than some team can bear. You have to roll the dice and see what happens. If it pans out, then you're hailed as a genius and you have the admiration of the media and fans. If it doesn't, the second-guessing of your abilities happens and then you get mocked by the same people who would have praised you. At the same time, if you don't make the change, the second-guessing will happen when the series is over. It's really a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

So cheers to Guy Carbonneau for shaking things up a bit and making a somewhat dull Round Two a little more exciting. Granted, tonight could be his last night for the season, but you have to take some chances to get success.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What's Next For The Avalanche

The Avs run looked promising after they disposed of the Minnesota Wild, but the hot goalie for the Avs this season, Jose Theodore, crapped out against the Red Wings. Now, it's time to see what the Avs need to do to build off this season.

First, they need to see what's going to happen with Joe Sakic. They'll need to find out what the Avs' captain will do and then move from there. After an amazing season in '06-'07, Sakic was slowed by a groin injury and then hernia surgery, but still almost managed a point per game. However, he will be 39 when he heads into next season and could be time for his swan song to let the younger players come together.

Outside of that, the Avs are pretty solid up-front with no one, sans Andrew Brunette and Sakic, to worry about re-signing. The young core group of Paul Stastny, Wotjek Wolski, and Marek Svatos to build on, the Avs should be very solid for years to come.

Defensively, John-Michael Liles, Adam Foote, Jeff Finger, and Kurt Sauer are all UFAs, with Liles and Foote getting a big push to get re-signed. With Brett Clark coming back from injury and Scott Hannan in his second season for the Avs, the blue line seems pretty solid and definitely bounced back from last season.

The big question mark will be in goal. Jose Theodore played well enough to get a contract from the Avs, though it will be much, much lower than what he received in his last contract. We'll see what the Avs do and how they'll handle Peter Budaj, who has one more year left in his deal. Expect the Theodore re-signing since the goaltending free agent market is thin and that the Avs have nothing in ways of goaltending prospect on the horizon.

All in all, it was a great bounce back season for the Avs, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time since the franchise moved to Denver in 1996. If they can keep their defense in tact with their stellar offense, as well as avoid the injury bug that hampered them last season-- the Avs could put another long playoff streak together in the very near future.