Monday, May 31, 2010

Absurd Goalie Monday: Bob Essensa

While it's one thing to buzz about the Stanley Cup final goalies, we go to one where never had a sniff at the Cup of Lord Stanley. Much to that, not even out of the first round for this week's AGM. In fact, if not for an epic collapse of the team he coaches now; he may have gotten a shot at a ring, even if it was from the bench. This week, we look at the career of Bob Essensa.

Essensa started off playing Midget AAA and Junior B with the Harry Carr Crusaders in the 1981-82 and 1982-83 season respectively. After an impressive season in 1983, Essensa got selected in the fourth round by the Winnipeg Jets. Essensa wasn't going to jump into the pro games just yet, as he opted to play at Michigan State in the NCAA.

Essensa's freshman year, he sat behind Norm Foster while only getting 17 games in. Yet, with those games, Essensa made the most of his starts, going 11-4-0 with two shutouts and a 2.79 GAA. Sophomore year in 1984-85, Essensa would be behind Foster yet again, but this time with 18 games in and 15-2-0 with another two shutouts and a 1.64 GAA, which was enough for Essensa to get on the CCHA First All-Star Team. Essensa would split the starting gig with Foster in the 1985-86 season. Essensa got 23 games in, while going 17-4-1 with a shutout, and a higher 3.33 GAA. And while he didn't get to play in the playoffs, Essensa was part of the 1986 NCAA Championship team with Michigan State beating Harvard 6-5. In the 1986-87 season, both Essensa and Foster were back for their senior years and dominated again. Essensa got 25 games in with a 19-3-1 record and 2.78 GAA. Michigan State won the CCHA tournament, but lost in the NCAA Championship game to Ed Belfour's North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

Essensa's move to the pro game started with the Moncton Hawks in the AHL in the 1987-88 season. The Hawks were in a logjam for goalies with Essensa, Steve Penney, Dave Quigley, with former AGM Pokey Reddick coming down for some stints in the season. That first season, Essensa only saw 27 games and went 7-11-1, which is a far cry from his years in college. Essensa would start the 1988-89 season with the Fort Wayne Komets of the IHL, playing 22 games going 14-7-1, before being called up to the Jets behind Reddick when Alain Chevrier got shipped to Chicago. Essensa would get 20 games in and go 6-8-3 with a shutout to his record. Back to Moncton for the start of the 1989-90 season, where Essensa would play six games (3-3-0, 2.51 GAA) before moving over the Winnipeg for the rest of the season, where he would take over the starting role from another AGM Daniel Berthiaume and Stephane Beauregard, while going 18-9-5 for the year and going 2-1 in the playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers. After being put in Moncton for two games (1-0-1), Essensa went back to the starting role in the 1990-91 season, where he would struggle with a 19-24-6 record and would miss the playoffs.

It was a horrible season for injuries in the 1991-92 season, as he would start the season off injured thanks to the sprained knee, then would deal with a left hamstring and left knee injury towards the middle of the season. With all of that, Essensa would only get 47 games in, going 21-17-6, but would lose out on his gig to another AGM, Rick Tabaracci in the playoffs, where he would only see one game, coming on in relief. Essensa would get back into the swing of things in the 1992-93 season playing mostly uninjured, sans two games, with 67 games in going 33-26-6 with two shutouts, but went 2-4 in the playoffs; which got the Jets ousted again in the first round. It was a very down season for Essensa in 1993-94, as he got all of the wins when he played, as his back-ups Beauregard and Mike O'Neill got zero wins in back-up duty. Essensa would get a 19-30-6 record before the Jets had to make a move.

That move would have Essensa and Sergei Bautin be dealt from Winnipeg to Detroit for Dallas Drake and former AGM Tim Cheveldae. Essensa would finish out the season in a disappointing fashion, going 4-7-2 in 13 games played. The 1994-95 season would see Essensa relegated to the IHL with the San Diego Gulls, playing only 16 games with a 6-8-1 record. A little better fortune for Essensa in 1995-96, though the bulk of the season was with the Fort Wayne Komets of the IHL, playing 55 games for them and going 24-14-5 with a .912 save percentage and 2.89 GAA. Though in the playoffs, he would only go 2-3 and the Komets were ousted in the first round. Essensa got a brief call-up to the AHL's Adirondack Red Wings, going 1-2-0 in his three games.

In the summer of 1996, Essensa was moved to the Edmonton Oilers from Detroit for future considerations. Essensa would be playing behind workhorse Curtis Joseph, which only allowed Essensa to see only 19 games of action in the 1996-97 season, going 4-8-0 in those games. More of the same in 1997-98, playing less games (16), but a better record at 6-6-1. The 1998-99 season was a bit better for Essensa, as he would get more time with Joseph leaving Edmonton; but would have to fight for space with another former AGM, Mikhail Shtalenkov, which would see Essensa get 39 games played and a 12-14-6 record with a 2.76 GAA.

With Tommy Salo in the fold, Essensa would sign as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes for the 1999-2000 season and would play alongside Shtalenkov again, before Sean Burke was moved to Phoenix and took over the starters role. Essensa would go 13-10-3 with the Coyotes, but would move onto the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent in the 2000-01 season. Essensa would get plenty of time with Vancouver, playing with Felix Potvin before Potvin was moved and Dan Cloutier came in. Essensa would go 18-12-3 for the season, but 0-2 in the playoffs as the Canucks were swept. Essensa had one last kick-in-the-can when he signed with the Buffalo Sabres, but would be behind Martin Biron, only getting nine games in before being pushed out by Mika Noronen. Essensa went 0-5-0 in that season and would hang up the pads once and for all.

Essensa would take a few years off from the game, but came back in 2005-06 as the Boston Bruins goaltender coach, where he still is employed now.

With Essensa, he was caught in a bind most of the time with a lot of goalies in one crease and Essensa being the odd-man out. While his college career made him a word-of-mouth star, he could never rekindle the magic when he got to the pros. Whether it was the team in front of him or his loss of the gift that got him to the show; Essensa could never find his groove for a long time. But, he did have one of the funniest and interestingly pronounced names out there.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pointless Playoff Prognostication: Stanley Cup Finals

(I don't know what's going on with Hayden Panettiere and the Cup...but I's likes it.)

Well, here it is. We have the last two teams looking to hoist that 30+ pound silver challis which makes every bump, bruise, and broken tooth feel better. With last round, did awesome in the West, took the collar in the East. Maybe it's a sign, maybe Blackhawks fans should keep me around. Either way, there's only one left to go, and here it is.


I'll be going about this in a different light-- doing a Nick Bakay gimmick in terms of the "Tale of the Tape" and determining the winner. Of course, if you listened live to this past week's FOHS; you know who I picked and how I picked it-- but for those who don't know that show actually it be.


If you were to tell me that Antii Niemi and Michael Leighton would be the starting goalies in the Stanley Cup Finals, I would have challenged you to a fight. However, the folk hero-esque rise of these two guys has been a story within itself; but which one will be the actual hero and who will be a footnote in history and maybe lose their gig next season.

Niemi took over for Cristobal Huet and did struggle in the first round. However, once the jitters were eased, Niemi has looked amazing against the likes of the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. While he hasn't had a shutout since the first round, Niemi has kept the Hawks in it and with him winning five straight-- he looks very unbeatable. That said, Leighton has came in after an injury that kept him out weeks and he looks like he hasn't missed a beat; especially coming into a situation like he did against the Bruins. Leighton has regained the magic that helped the Flyers get into a playoff situation, plus has been getting plenty of support with the injured forwards coming back at the right time. Leighton's freshness should be a solid factor in terms of the rigors of the Finals, as does his solid 1.45 GAA and three shutouts.

ADVANTAGE: PUSH-- While Leighton is fresh and his numbers do look fantastic, you can question whether he's been really tested or not. The Bruins looked very weak and lacked a killer instinct when it came to getting into the zone; while the Habs just were out of gas. Niemi has looked good, but there are times where he has his lapses. If he suffers a lapse in one game, it could determine the series.


The big thing for the Blackhawks is trying to deal with a grinding team. While Duncan Keith has improved in the Conference Final, there's still a lot of his game (and teeth) needs to be revitalized. The two Brents-- Seabrook and Sopel-- should be solid factors, with Seabrook contributing on both sides of the puck and needs one more goal to match his regular season total. Niklas Hjalmarsson has also been an undercover contributor for the Hawks and really fills out the defense. Oh, and Brian Campbell is there as well and playing decently, though he hasn't been stellar.

While the Flyers blue-line will be Chris Pronger's until he leaves; it seems that some of his old-style play has brushed off on the like of Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, both whom are logging over 24 minutes a game, which is just behind Pronger and Kimmo Timonen. The defense for the Flyers are a bunch of workhorse, but the question of if they can match-up to the speed of the Hawks will be the true test for them. Timonen and Pronger aren't spring chickens and could be worn down by the speed and physicality the Hawks will bring.
ADVANTAGE: BLACKHAWKS-- The thing that makes me determine this is how the Hawks defense is solid from the top to the bottom. The Flyers depend a lot on their top-four guys, which could come back to bite them with the Hawks offense wearing down their top guys. The Hawks run their lines solidly through, all of them getting almost 20 minutes at a clip and should be able to shutdown the Flyers offense.


Jonathan Toews has came to play in the playoffs like nothing else, while Dustin Byfuglien has rattled cages from here to Timbuktu. Which is amazing because it seems Byfuglien has really hid the play of Patrick Kane, who hasn't been too shabby, but also not as flashy as some would hope-- aside from the mullet. Guys like Marian Hossa, who is trying to break his Cup curse, hasn't been up to snuff; but luckily the depth guys like Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, and Kris Versteeg have added enough to be threats if the top guys get stymied.

The Flyers got a huge shot in the arm by the return of Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter up front. They struggled plenty without them, which is really the only slip-up they had in the playoffs-- the first three games against the Bruins. However, even with Gagne and Carter, you can't deny how well Mike Richards has played and how much Daniel Briere has started to earn the paycheck he's supposed to be playing for in the regular season. One guy that could be one to look at is Ville Leino, who has 12 points in 13 games with the Flyers and may be looked at in a bigger role in this series.

ADVANTAGE: BLACKHAWKS-- The Flyers have a lot of tools, but the Hawks combination of speed and roughness; that's going to be tough to keep up with. The defense is also offensive, as well-- which could create much havoc in front of Leighton. Niemi should be able to handle the Flyers offense, especially if the Hawks d-men can keep them from the scoring areas.


You can go on and on about power plays, penalty kill, killer instinct, but the match-ups are what are going to be the factor. The small battles will be the thing that determines how the series goes off. However, it won't be Byfuglien/Pronger, Toews/Richards, or Niemi/Leighton-- it's more than that.

The Hawks sport the likes of Vince Vaughn, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, and Kevin James in the stands. That kind of B-list start power is a solid display of affection, especially Vaughn; who knows it's not so much him as it is Roenick....he's good. While Kevin James is really a make-shift Hawks guy-- the folks from the Second City Chicago Troupe, like Aykroyd and Belushi; there's a chance we could see a Bill Murray sighting, which would be amazingly fantastic.

Yet, in Philly-- they have some bigger star power, like Will Smith, Tony Danza, Mark Wahlberg, and of course Joey Lawrence. You have a great mix of blockbuster kind of guys (Smith and Wahlberg) and then the random-but-still-remembered stars from the late-80s, early-90s in Danza and Lawrence. You have to love the mix they possess there, but in the end will it be enough to actually get these guys out to the rink??

ADVANTAGE: BLACKHAWKS-- Sure, it's a bit corny to see the celebs in the stands, but you have to give it to them in Chicago for coming out and letting themselves be known-- like Vaughn who has gone all out to be seen in Chi-town. You won't see anyone I mentioned from Philly show up-- which is good or bad depending on how you see it; but the celebs will be the intangibles and the Hawks win out.


Well, aside for the goaltending-- everything seems to lean Chicago's way. They have had a harder way than the Flyers to get to the Finals, but you have to wonder if that's a good thing or not. While the Flyers could be considered easy opponents in comparison, the Flyers are hungry and can overcome a lot of adversity. The Hawks will have to keep to their game plan and keep that killer instinct in order for them to bury the Flyers. And they may want to do it early, mostly due to the fact that if they don't-- it could spell a closer series than they want.

Chicago Blackhawks in Six Games.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Steve is Here, Man

(FOHS fans will get that pun by me going with our first ever called asking if it's "Eye-zer-man" or "Is-ear-man"-- got it?? Okay, not so funny if you weren't there.)

The Tampa Bay Lightning take another step to relevancy by hiring Steve Yzerman as their new GM. Yzerman was under Ken Holland's tutelage in Detroit and has been the head guy with Hockey Canada putting together the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team and a couple World Championship teams, as well. Now, he takes over the mess that has been created in Tampa before him, but not by the GM prior, but due to the ownership situation that had happened.

The good thing with this team is that they have a solid framework. The likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman on the roster help, but there's work to be done elsewhere, for sure.

One of the first things would be trying to get Stamkos re-signed to a long-term deal come July 1st and make sure that he's under contract for this team for a while. Stamkos will be the cornerstone moving forward, that's for sure. Of course, in order to do that, some players may need to be moved. The one name that pops up is always Lecavalier, but his No-Movement Clause ruins that rumor in it's tracks. Especially with the future ahead, it's unlikely Lecavalier will move that clause and move himself out. Even with Lecavalier slumping last season, it could be hard to move him even if he did waive that clause. St. Louis has another year left and Yzerman will probably see what he does with a second year alongside Stamkos to see if he's worth an extension. To free up the money, Ryan Malone could be moved out, so that his contract is off the books; but considering his underachievement for his big contract-- another hard sell.

Plus, what could Yzerman do with the coaching issue. Many names have been mentioned in terms of the people he's worked closely to like Dave Lewis and Ken Hitchcock, but while familiarity could be nice-- the fit with the team will be what gets them to the next level. Depending on how long Yzerman has known about this deal, which he has been offered numerous times before saying yes, he could have been scouting out who he could get for that role.

Regardless of what happens, Yzerman is a good hockey mind. He has always been know as a leader on and off the ice, which definitely shows in his limited time in the front office after his 2006 retirement. If there's anyone who can clean up the mess that is in Tampa, it's Yzerman. He's definitely a better choice than some of the names put out there-- like Pierre McGuire, Doug Risebrough, or Dave Nonis-- and really could bring together the best team to get them out of the lurch they have been in. The fans in Tampa should be excited about this move, and coupled with the Florida Panthers hiring of Dale Tallon, the Southeast Division could actually be competitive through and through in the next couple of seasons if they play their cards right.

What's Next: Montreal Canadiens 2010

The last placed team in the NHL when it came to playoff teams; knocking off the top-two Eastern Conference favorites, which had the NHL's top-two marketed players, making a folk hero out of the winner of their goalie dilemma and all from a team who many didn't think had enough to make the playoffs. The Canadiens have a lot to be proud of, even if they didn't get to where they wanted to be.

The defense was the main story of success for the Habs, who had one of the best shot-blockers in the league in Hal Gill in their line-up, who leads the playoffs with 68 blocked shots throughout the playoffs thus far. He is followed by Josh Gorges, who played well enough to have a regular spot and prominent role in next season. With PK Subban emerging, the offensive weight should be off the oft-injured Andrei Markov and relieve Marc-Andre Bergeron of his duties. Roman Hamrlik was less than stellar and could be a candidate to be bought out for Ryan O'Byrne to get more time next season. Moving forward, you'll probably see the like of Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle get call ups and more time, but it'll usher in the new phase of Habs defense.

The goaltending debate is over, with Jaroslav Halak taking over the top spot from Carey Price. Halak will probably get a nice hefty offer from the Habs. They would be dumb not to offer him a nice contract after what he did for them in the playoffs and regular season; and should do it before offer sheets come rolling in. The bigger issues is what to do with Carey Pirce. Do they try to make him an offer knowing he'll be the back-up or try to get something back from trading his rights. I've mentioned before about what would have happened with Price in a different market, which could happen come this summer-- though I bet the Habs will try to ration with him; though it could fall on deaf ears.

Up front, the Habs will focus on getting Tomas Plekanec re-signed, especially since he was the top guy for the Habs in the regular season. Plekanec should command an affordable price tag, but with 10 forward locked up to over $25M, the Havs may not be able to rationalize a siging to break the bank. Luckily for Bob Gainey, the big three that he got in the summer and underperformed in the regular season stepped it up in the playoffs to save whatever legacy as GM that he had. With four prominent RFAs out there, the odds are they'll have to make a choice quickly on what to do. The Kostitsyns may be on their way out of the country, which would save a bit of money for the Habs since Andrei is under contract for another year, with Sergei a RFA this year. There's going to have to be a lot of shuffling and penny-pinching in order to fill-out the rest of the forwards.

While they overachieved, they made a city come alive. They were able to revitalize a great hockey city and showed that the underdog can still learn new tricks. Jacques Martin did have a lot of detractors, but he did enough to motivate his team to the Conference finals. Yet, at the same time-- how much was that because of his coaching or his players trying to cover for him?? That may never be revealed, but the Habs did a lot for their city and franchise in how they were able to come from the lowest point to almost the pinnacle. The real question is can they do it all again next year....

Monday, May 24, 2010

Absurd Goalie Monday: Mike Torchia

The Memorial Cup has ended with the Windsor Spitfires winning back-to-back championships. However, the Memorial Cup is a breeding ground for AGMs, especially since most of them have won the Hap Emms Trophy for Top Goalie-- Mark Fitzpatrick, Darren Pang, Eric Fichaud-- and who knows if Martin Jones will join the list of AGMs, but let's hope not. In any case, this week's AGM follows that mold. A great goalie in the juniors, but thanks to some complications; never made it to NHL stardom. This week, it's time to profile Mike Torchia as the AGM.

Torchia started out with the Toronto Red Wings in the Toronto Midget League during the 1987-88 season, playing 40 games, recording five shutouts and a 2.33 GAA average. From that, Torchia went onto the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers, where he backed up Gus Morschauser; where Torchia got 30 games in with a 14-9-4 record in the 1988-89 season. Torchia also got two games in the playoffs, going 0-2. With Morschauser getting traded at the start of the 1989-90 season, Torchia got more time with 40 games to his credit and a 25-11-2 record. Torchia also navigated the Rangers to the OHL finals, but lost to Oshawa in seven games, despite a 11-6 record. Kitchener got in since the OHL was hosting the 1990 Memorial Cup, where Torchia really shined. Despite a 3-2 record, including a Finals loss to the same Oshawa team that beat them in the OHL playoffs; Torchia got the Hap Emms Trophy for Top Goalie in the Memorial Cup and named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team.

The 1990-91 season was something to build off of, but it seems Torchia couldn't get off the number 25, as he went a second straight year with 25 wins (25-24-7), but Torchia wouldn't help in the playoffs going 2-4. Even so, Torchia got First Team All-Star from the OHL in that season, as well as being picked 74th overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the NHL Entry Draft. The 1991-92 season brought about almost the same record, with Torchia going 25-24-3 in 55 games. Torchia helped the Rangers get through the first round of the playoffs, but couldn't get through Sault St. Marie in the second round.

Torchia kept in the amateur ranks by playing for the Canadian National Team to start the 1992-93 season, winning all five of his games with a 2.20 GAA; but he didn't stay long there before he moved to the pros with the Stars' farm team; the Kalamazoo Wings of the IHL. Torchia was a big fish, getting the starting role over Jeff Levy and going 19-17-9 in his first pro season, despite a 3.80 GAA and .892 save percentage. He eased into his role for the 1993-94 season, improving his record with a 23-12-2, though his GAA (3.68) and save percentage (.889) were still not at where he wanted to be. The 1994-95 season saw Torchia back in Kalamazoo (19-14-5), but the Dallas Stars brought him up towards the end of the season in order to see what he could do. In six games with the Stars, Torchia went 3-2-1 and looked like he could fight for the back-up spot in training camp.

However, before he could get into Dallas, his rights were sold to the Washington Capitals. One thing that always haunted Torchia was his weight. Torchia had a bigger frame and it always seemed to be a stumbling block for him when it came to conditioning. Because of that, Torchia didn't get a back-up job for the 1995-96 season and would spend his season with five different teams, including being traded to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks-- though he would not suit up for the Ducks or the Caps in that season. Torchia would play with the Michigan K-Wings (1-0-0) and the Orlando Solar Bears (3-1-1) in the IHL, the Baltimore Bandits (2-1-1) and Portland Pirates (2-6-2) of the AHL, and the Hampton Roads Admirals (2-2-0) of the ECHL. Torchia still couldn't crack a NHL line-up in the 1996-97 season, making him play in the IHL with the Fort Wayne Komets going 20-31-3 on the season, while stepping in for a playoff game for the Baltimore Bandits. Torchia continued in the IHL for the 1997-98 season, playing for the Milwaukee Admirals for most of the season (13-14-1) and then moving to the San Antonio Dragons (0-2-0), with a stint in the ECHL with the Peoria Rivermen, going 4-1-0.

Torchia had no opportunities in North America in the 1998-99 season, so he moved to Europe, where he would head to Italy with HC Asiago, playing 43 games; but having an inflated GAA of over four goals a game. It was enough for the goalie to come back to North America to play first in the UHL in the 1999-2000 season with the Mohawk Valley Prowlers (8-9-4) and then with the Birmingham Bulls (4-10-0) of the ECHL. The highlight of the season for Torchia was that in October of 1999, he scored a goal on an empty-net; becoming one of the handful of goalies to do so.

Again without a North American gig, Torchia went back to Europe, this time to Britain, where he would suit up for the Sheffield Steelers. His numbers would get better, playing 23 games with a 2.06 GAA and .923 save percentage in the 2000-01 season. Torchia would stay in in Britain for the 2001-02 season, but this time with the Manchester Storm, with respectable numbers-- 2.82 GAA and .916 save percentage. Torchia would only play three games for the Storm in 2002-03, but spent most his time with the lower level Guildford Flames.

Torchia would return to North American in the 2003-04 season to play in the OHA Senior League with the Cambridge Hornets. In three seasons (through 2005-06), Torchia would go 14-11-1 before hanging up the skates for good. He now is the color commentator for Rogers TV's coverage of the Kitchener Rangers, as well as working for Hometown Hockey Training and Development.

While Torchia did have his glory, the conditioning side of things that is all so important in the game nowadays is what did him in. Though many would thing a bigger goalie would be the best way to go in order to get more wins, the ability to get a job would be a hard sell if you can't get side-to-side and match the speed of the game in front of you. Even so, Torchia does have all his personal accolades to look back on and set himself up for commentating his old team now.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Big Buff vs. Alex the Great

There's something about the playoffs that brings out the other side of players that may have been hidden or flown under the radar. John Druce back in 1990 for the Caps, Johan Hedberg in 2001 for the Penguins, and I think Dustin Byfuglien for the Blackhawks would be this year's candidate for breakout star. Yet, even so, there's something about him that's so very endearing that makes you think that he'll have a bit more staying power and longer than a 15-minute outburst than the previous two.

In fact, I would say that the excitement, tenacity, and all around love of the game could be on par with that of Alex Ovechkin.

Sure, it's a reach, I know-- but when you see how he celebrates his goals, how he'll go into any kind of situation to win the small battles, how he can bring energy to most every shift; it kind of mimics Ovechkin's play. Of course, Byfuglien is becoming more and more of a clutch player, which Ovechkin has been knocked for not being-- especially they year with the Olympics and playoffs. Yet, both are big body guys, both have a nose for the net, and both seem to be the folk-heroes in their respective cities. Not only that, but both guys get attention. Ovechkin get it from his skill and point totals; while Byfuglien gets it from the fact he can stir the pot and draw penalties, while not taking as many. He seems to be what Tomas Holmstrom was in the 90s for the Red Wings.

Yes, I know Byfuglien will never score as much as Ovechkin-- that's a given, but his spirit for the games, as well as his versatility to play forward or defense; makes him a valuable commodity and a great team guy for his teammates to feed off of and really get behind if they need a pick-me-up. If the Hawks can win the Cup this year, odds are you'll hear about how Byfuglien was a big reason for the victory. If it's not for his clutch goals, it'll be for stirring the pot and getting the other team off their games because of his antagonistic game-plan.

What's Next: San Jose Sharks 2010

Just when you thought they got over the "choke" label, the question comes back to them. How did a team who looked so good in one round, dominate to the two-time defending Western Conference Champions; look so flat and uninspired when four games away from the Stanley Cup finals. Thus is the enigma of the San Jose Sharks. They had the entire spectrum of emotion this year, but now it ends without the prize and swept by a possible destined team. But, what's going to happen now??

The big question lies about Patrick Marleau and what's going to happen with him. While the turmoil of his captaincy in the summer loomed into this season; he stepped up in the season with a career-high in goals and 2nd best points year in his tenure. In the playoffs, Marleau had eight goals, an eight-game point streak, and 13 points-- but is it enough to get him a new deal?? Probably, if he wants to keep his same wage. While he's consistent, Marleau never had too much explosive scoring prowess, which could help or hinder his leverage. Plus, the Sharks would have to worry about what to do with Joe Thornton who was nothing short of horrific in the playoffs with a minus-11 and only really showed up for the second round, where he got nine of his 12 points in the playoffs. That's right-- only three points in the other 10 games. With one year left on his deal, you have to wonder if the Sharks will press Thornton to move his No-Trade Clause to get money freed up. Luckily-- the likes of Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and Ryan Clowe make the future bright for the Sharks with or without the likes of Marleau, Thornton, or Dany Heatley-- who only had 2 goals this playoffs, but doesn't get the heat thanks to the history of Marleau and Thornton.

Defensively, the Sharks are set for the long-haul. With Dan Boyle, Marc-Eduard Vlasic and Jason Demers in the fold for next year and beyond (for the first two, at least), the Sharks will be on the look out to fill out the voids. Rob Blake will probably not be back, but his leadership will have hopefully rubbed off on the young guys and all of that. Who knows what the Sharks could get, but with a lot of key forwards needing new contracts, you may see them build from within or get a couple of fringe defensemen who won't command much of a contract hit on them. With the core group, don't expect much of a shake-up from the Sharks on this front.

What more can be said about Evgeni Nabokov that hasn't been said before. While his number weren't the best, they weren't horrible either. The playoffs saw every side of Nabokov, who couldn't do everything for the Sharks, especially without the support other goalies get. Nabokov could have been gassed after workhorsing it again this year with Thomas Greiss not getting much time behind him and with the Olympics-- but he didn't show it too much. Nabokov is going to be a free agent and it may be wise for the Sharks to re-sign him, especially since the pickings are slim for the free agent market in terms of goalies. For how much and how long-- we'll know in July or earlier.

While the doubt surfaced in the first round, they got erased in the second, but now came back in the Western Final, as the Sharks now move into hearing about the what they could have done better, who could have picked it up, and the other questions they've endured during the last few seasons already. I'm sure they'll take it in stride since they are used to it.....or not.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Advantage No More

While many are saying that what the Chicago Blackhawks have done by going into San Jose and taking two games, but in a season where nothing is of the ordinary; it shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Granted, there's only been one "upset" in the West, but the Red Wings taking out the Coyotes in the first round; it's hard to say it's not uncommon for the home ice advantage to be something of a deterrent.

Since the Lockout and through the 2010 Conference Semis, there has been 57 series and 27 of them have been won by the lower seeded teams. That's just under 50% of all series have been taken by the team who started out on the road. Of those 27 series, the road team took at least one of the two road games to start off with 23 times, took both games nine times, and lost both games only four times in that span (Oilers in 2006, Penguins twice in 2009, Flyers in 2010).

But what's the cause of this all?? Many teams fight to get into the home-ice advantage, but it doesn't seem to be all too efficient with it's said and done. There has been 17 Game Sevens in the time span with the road team winning 10 times, with a perfect 4-for-4 in the 2010 Playoffs. There's not much to be said for getting that home ice for that crucial Game Seven, as it doesn't seem to do much for helping the home team winning it.

Plus, it's not like the Blackhawks were that far behind the Sharks in the standings (only one point), while winning three out of four in the season series. Even so, it's hard to win on the road despite the numbers showing somewhat to the contrary. It's quite the feat for the Hawks to go into the playoffs this deal and just outshining the Sharks in front of their fans.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Are Young Guys Worth the Big Deal??" or "Bargain or Bust"

CBC's Hockey Night in Canada's internet king Jeff Marek bought up an interesting point about contracts on his Twitter account. He mentioned the fact that you don't see a second contract anymore, as it just goes from an Entry-Level Deal to big money, long-term contract. Marek said this in response to Nicklas Backstrom signing a ten-year, $67M deal with the Washington Capitals on Monday.

While I brought up the case of Mike Green, who didn't sign a long-term deal with his team; Marek's point is a curious one. While Green will be a restricted free-agent at the end of his term, Marek pointed out how the money for these guys escalate after one deal-- which is a tad presumptuous for most of the guys signing these deals. The likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin can be explained because they are elite players at different levels, but when you look up and down the line; the likes of Mike Richards, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews getting the big money after having a so-so start to their career makes you cock your head and wonder if it's for the best.

Sure, each of the ones I named do have a lot of talent and are good for their team and market to associate the face with the team; but to get them a very long-term deal and for that amount of money may seem like a guessing game. While they do have the skill-set in order to succeed, is that skill-set enough to warrant the money and length of deal they are getting from these teams. It almost seems like a panic move on behalf of the General Managers to make sure they don't have a young star make a bold move and hold-out for a bigger or longer deal because they don't want to missed a minute of this kid being on the ice because if he does, then you give him the big deal and he falters; the GM has egg on his face for the deal.

One has to wonder how much offer sheets have to do with this, as well. In an age where there's a possible threat of a rival team snagging your young prospect; maybe GMs have a moment of panic to get these guys signed, which gives the player and his agent the upper hand in demands. Granted, the team will get compensated for the other team poaching the player-- but usually the return does not equal that of what is being given up. Yet, there are times were it breaks even, like in the case of Dustin Penner where nothing lost, nothing gained.

You have to put into the equation of a guy being a one-hit wonder. While the likes of Steven Stamkos, Tyler Myers, and Matt Duchene are going to get their money for their entry level performance; what kind of risk are you taking when you deal with a young player like that who may or may not be able to repeat a performance like that year-in and year-out. One good contract or one good year does not a career make. If a GM puts all his eggs into the basket of a supposed wunderkind who turns out to be a dud, it puts the team in a tight bind to get rid of the contract and start anew.

The interesting thing about this is that people talk about this more often than not now than we have in years past. Is this due to the great talent coming up through the ranks and all or does it have something completely different to do with it. How much is it is talent and how much of it is panic?? Or are the guys coming up being rushed a little too much in certain cases, which makes others look better by comparison, thus skewing the numbers?? The gauge is definitely on a case-by-case basis when it comes to the player and the management and how they see the competition when it comes to going against their team. This is yet another odd thing you can throw into how you value a player.

When you're dealing with a cap-era of sport, you have to be careful and how and where you spend your money. One small miscalculation could cost a team more than just money on other players. It could cost championships, wins, and so on. Plus, if you have too many big name young players getting a lot of money on the same team, you run into have to put yourself at a disadvantage in bargaining a deal because you're in a tight crunch and will do more harm than good to the franchise in the long run. It's a tight-rope walk with too many variables for me to be jealous of some GMs in their position.

Absurd Goalie Monday: Gary Inness

This past week, the Philadelphia Flyers followed in the footsteps of the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders by coming back from being down three games to none to take the seven-game series. This week, we take a look at the last goalie to blow the 3-0 series lead and put himself in the record book in the wrong fashion. This week, we take a look at Gary Inness.

Inness's story within itself is interesting from where he came from. After playing his Junior B career with the Weston Dodgers, Inness went to college at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, as he had goals to become a teachers. Inness played for the college team there and also played for the University of Toronto when he transferred there for the 1972-73 season. During his time at McMaster, Pittsburgh Penguins scout Rudy Migay found out about Inness and asked him to come to a training camp. After Inness finished his degree in Physical Education and History, he signed with the Penguins.

The 1973-74 season saw Inness play his first pro season between the Hershey Bears in the AHL and the Penguins. With the Bears, Inness had a solid 11-4-4 record with a 2.89 GAA, but while with the Penguins he went 7-10-1 with a 3.26 GAA. Inness was the starter for the new look Penguins in the 1974-75 season and held his own with a 24-18-10 record with a 3.09 GAA and .904 save percentage. The playoffs though is where things went sour for Inness and the Penguins.

While they made short work of the St. Louis Blues, winning two games to none in the first round best-of-three series, the Penguins steamrolled the first three games against the New York Islanders. The Islanders switched goalies from Billy Smith to Chico Resch, which seemed to throw off the Pens. After Inness got 14 goals of support in the first three games, he only got four goals of support in the last four games.

For the 1975-76 season, Inness's time was reduced from 57 games the previous season to 23, as the Penguins were going bankrupt for the first time in team history. In Pittsburgh, Inness went 8-9-2, while he went 0-2-0 in Hershey when he was sent down. As the new ownership came in, they made a big change in the roster, as they sent Inness and future considerations to the Philadelphia Flyers for Bobby Taylor and Ed Van Impe. Inness would go 2-0-0 for his two games with the Flyers to close out the 1975-76 season.

The issue with the Flyers is that they had Bernie Parent and Wayne Stephenson in net, which relegated Inness to the third string role. Inness was the goalie of record for only three of the six games he appeared in during the 1976-77 season with the Flyers, going 1-0-2.

With playing time being rare with the Flyers, Inness moved to the rival WHA and the Indianapolis Racers. The 1977-78 season saw Inness put into the starting role with 52 games under his belt, but didn't get much support; which showed in his 14-30-4 record with a 4.21 GAA and .870 save percentage. It was a short tenure for the Racers in the 1978-79 season, as they folded up mid-season, with Inness going 3-6-0 in his 11 games.

Inness was able to catch on back in the NHL with the Washington Capitals, signing as a free agent. Inness had a solid impact with the Caps from the start, going 14-14-8 in his 36 games with a 3.70 GAA. However, the Caps would acquire Wayne Stephenson prior to the 1979-80 season, which push Inness out of the frequent role again. Inness would play 14 games and go a dismal 2-9-2 with a 3.63 GAA. Yet, in the same 1979-80 season; Inness would play a vital role with the Hershey Bears. Inness played only 11 games (4-4-3) in the regular season with the Bears, but split the playoff starting gig with Dave Parro. In the playoffs, Inness went 7-1 and help the Bears win the Calder Cup as AHL Champs.

The 1980-81 season saw Inness get very little time in either Washington or Hershey. With Washington, Inness played only three games, going 0-1-2 and playing only 10 games in Hershey with a 4-2-2 record. After the season was done, Inness would retire from playing hockey.

Inness wasn't away from hockey at all, as the Hershey Bears gave him the head coaching job after Bryan Murray moved to the Washington Capitals for a new gig. Inness coached three full seasons, going a total of 104-115-11, only making the playoff twice in those years and not making it past the first round of the playoffs. Inness was replaced in the 1984-85 season. After hockey, Inness went to work in his other love, teaching-- which he is currently doing at a secondary school in Barrie, Ontario.

While Inness is one of the few to make the NHL after playing Canadian College hockey, it shows that talent can come from anywhere, you just have to seek it out. While his record may not tell the tale, he did have a decent career-- even if he is a foot-note in history for the wrong reason. Also, it shows how his dedication to schooling was, as he made sure to finish school before moving to the NHL. It's an AGM with a moral-- stay in school and go where the work is.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pointless Playoff Prognostication: Conference Finals

My trip to Maryland and the things happening around it has been something that has kept me from this post until now. However, with no games to go final, I think I should be good to keep doing this. Again-- went a perfect 2-for-2 in the West and took the collar at 0-for-2 in the East. Maybe I'll pick the East better now that I'm back there. But, we start with the first game of Sunday.


We're finally at the point where the choke label is off the Sharks. They made it to their first conference Final since 2004 and most importantly, got past the second round. It was a little dicey, but with Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley realizing it's the playoffs and actually contributing; the Sharks look a lot better. Sure, it's a bit of an issue with Patrick Marleau still not getting onto the scoring sheet as often as he would like, but at the same time-- Joe Pavelski keeps stepping in up with Marleau slacking. Which Evgeni Nabokov shows up will be a story, too. Can he be clutch in a spot that he hasn't been in for six years?? He has done enough to get them to this point, but can he keep it up against a rested, strong offensive team like Chicago.

The Hawks are back for a second year in a row and should be able to feed off of last year's falter to move onto this year. Jonathan Toews has been leading by example in the scoring department, while Patrick Sharp has played well in a secondary role. The playoff curse is effecting Marian Hossa again, as he hasn't been able to step up as much as the Hawks were hoping, with only two goals and 10 points in the 12 games. Luckily, the shutdown defense of Brent Seabrook and Brent Sopel have helped out in the own end, but the minus on Duncan Keith's stats are a bit concerning, but should shut down in the finals. The shakiness of Antti Niemi continues to be something that could hold the Hawks back, but if he gets support from up front; he should be fine.

PREDICTION: Blackhawks in Six. While the Sharks have made it far, the Hawks look like the team to beat. The road record at 5-1 should help them, as they don't have home ice advantage. With the Hawks knowing what it takes, it should help them not lose focus, like the Sharks could.


How much is left in the tank, that's going to be the real question. Coming back from three games down, then coming back from three goals down in Game Seven can take a lot out of a team and could be a factor if this series becomes a long one. The one good point is Michael Leighton is back, healthy, and most importantly-- fresh. He will be the X-factor for the Flyers as he has got them to this point from the regular season, but wants to finish what he started. Danny Briere is finally earning his money this playoffs, which should be a great confidence boost to him moving forward. The Flyers have had a lot of issues, but this should somehow validate their bi-polar season.

The Montreal Canadiens may face trouble in the fact that the Flyers aren't a juggernaut like the Capitals and Penguins are. Even so, the Habs have been world builder, taking out the two faces of the NHL in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, making them very invisible throughout their respective series. Most of that has to do with the amazing play of Jaroslav Halak, who will command a healthy raise in the off-season; but plenty should be given to the likes of Hal Gill, who blocks everything coming at him. With PK Subban being called up, it has given the Habs another dynamic, especially with Andrei Markov out for this series, as well. You also can't say enough about the off-season acquisitions of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta, who have been the top dogs for the Habs and really brought them to this point with their scoring.

PREDICTION: Canadiens in Six. While the Flyers have a great story coming into it all, I don't think that they'll have enough left in the tank after their series against the Bruins. Especially considering how the Habs have had some time off and are on the high of shutting down most offenses; the only thing that can beat them is not scoring in the clutch-- which they seem to do just fine.

That's that-- enjoy the series and here's some decent action; even if it's a four-game sweep in each one.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What's Next: Boston Bruins 2010

They were up three games to none. They were up three goals to none. They had their superstar back. However, with all of that-- the Boston Bruins still fell to the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, it's time to see what happen and why this team couldn't find that killer instinct that was needed in order to not let something like this happen again. Though, I do believe there could be some changes in order to finally hit the crescendo they need to get to.

One order of business is how to deal with the goaltending. Obviously, Tuukka Rask proved his worth during the season and then in the playoffs. However, do the Bruins want to have Tim Thomas as the $5M back-up?? While it's nice to have the option of Thomas should Rask hit a sophomore slump, the money that he takes up is a little much and could probably be used to go elsewhere. The issue with trading Thomas away is that there's more inexperience behind Rask on the depth chart. Yet, there are plenty of inexpensive back-ups out there who have been know to take over a bulk of starts if they need to.

Zdeno Chara's consistency off his Norris Trophy win last year showed up again, as he lead the team in plus/minus, which was not hard for a team that wasn't good at all with the plus/minus side of things. The play of Johnny Boychuk probably got him a decent sized contract and a full year in the NHL next year; while Dennis Wideman was alright in the offensive side of things, but couldn't play well enough in his own end to get more acknowledgment. Both Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick did well defensively or offensively, combining for a minus-23 for the year. The defense was one of the things that could have prevented a collapse, had they played a little tighter; but there's a lot summer to figure it out.

The Bruins didn't show much of an offensive punch, as could be seen by Patrice Bergeron's team-leading 52 points on the year and only Marco Sturm with over 20 goals. While Miro Satan showed some kind of punch in the post-season, the question whether to retain him or not will be bounced around, as Satan hasn't been known for his prowess on a long-term deal. Blake Wheeler and Dan Paille will be priority to get re-signed over someone like Mark Recchi and Steve Begin, both UFAs and luckily seeing Recchi going into retirement. While Wheeler was expected to do much more, he'll be looked at for secondary scoring for the next season. With Marc Savard back healthy again, he should be able to get some offense rolling again at 100%, even though he'd need to get some help from his supporting cast in the process.

There's going to be some kind of questions on what will happen with Claude Julien, especially after this collapse, but I don't think Peter Chiarelli is going to be that knee-jerk about it and may keep Julien around, even though it could be on a shorter leash and depend on their start. Of course, their barely getting into the playoffs could have more to do about the lack of offense than anything else. There's going to have be vast adjustments to make sure that a slow start, then barely getting into the second season, and then blowing a 3-0 series lead won't happen again. Although, it may not involve major changes in personnel, but change in personality.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's Next: Pittsburgh Penguins 2010

The NHL will have a new champion. The Pittsburgh Penguins went down to the upstart Canadiens, but there were plenty questioning if this team had the ability to be as lethal as they were last post-season. Now, they have to wonder what adjustments they'll need to make in order to get to the pinnacle once again.

The biggest disparagement is the separation between Sidney Crosby and the rest of the team offensively. Crosby lead the team in the regular season by an incredible amount, as well as the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin was effected by injuries, but it could be a little bit of an issue of the Penguins don't have the consist secondary scoring they got when they make their big run. Jordan Staal played to equal his point output, but was much better in his defensive zone with a +19 on the year. Luckily, they won't have much shuffling, as they only have to make decisions on Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Matt Cooke; with all but the last one to probably going to be let go their own way. Guerin could get another one-year deal, but it depends on how he feels about coming back.

Defensively, the question will be what to do with Sergei Gonchar. He had a solid playoffs, but his regular season was hit-and-miss. With only three guys signed for next year (Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski), the presence of Gonchar could be needed, if they wanted to or not. However, they could go a cheaper route with re-signing Jordan Leopold, though his lack of playoff production could have made him the rental people though he'd be in the first place. Mark Eaton and Jay McKee's worth on the team will need to be evaluate; as should Ben Lovejoy-- who has been waiting in the wings for the longest time and is now a Group VI Free Agent. Considering there's not too much out there defensively that will hit the open market, the Penguins may have to stay with the status quo or hope the young guys can pick up the workload for those that left.

The enigma of Marc-Andre Fleury continues, as he shows that he benefits from a lot of goal support. His numbers from this season and last season are pretty much on par, but it seems he's not seeing as many shots as he did last season. That could be good that he's getting more defense, but bad considering he's not stopping as much as he should be. He's a strange study and it'll be something to see how he comes out next season for the Pens. Brent Johnson is there, too-- and should be able to fulfill his role as he has done in the past few season around the NHL.

There's going to be a lot of wondering. Even now, the Penguins are in a state of shock and wondering how this all happened. However, they'll have new digs as the Igloo closes up and maybe that will bring them good tidings with a new arena and new attitude to boot. They have all the tools, they have been champions, and it's not like they will fall off the face of the Earth soon. You just think that a killer instinct could have kicked in when they faced an injured, tired team like the Canadiens were. But that's why the game is played.

What's Next: Vancouver Canucks 2010

Exactly one year after the Chicago Blackhawks knocked the Vancouver Canucks out of the playoffs in Game Six; it happened again. Of course, this time; it happened in Vancouver rather than Chicago. But with all the high hopes the Canucks fateful had, with all the fire power it seemed to have this season with Henrik Sedin's breakout year-- the Canucks fell to injuries and power outages at the wrong time, which is why they're left wondering what happened.

Obviously, one of the main focuses will be the play of Roberto Luongo; who seemed to be disconnected in the playoffs. Luongo had a horrific 3.22 GAA and .893 save percentage in the playoffs and really didn't seem to be on his game. It could have the overuse thanks to the season, the Olympics, and then the playoffs-- but this could also put the tag of most overrated goalie in the NHL today. With nothing to show for his troubles, individual or otherwise in the NHL, it could spell trouble for Vancouver if they want to make the next step in the playoffs. The four years left on his contract could be troubling to those who have their doubts about Luongo. With him supposed to be the captain, it's up to Luongo to actually get up for the big games and motivate his teammates. With Cory Schneider waiting in the wings, it could be interesting how this off-season plays out for goaltending.

The loss of Willie Mitchell midway through the season really hurt the Canucks on the back-end. It remains to be seen how they'll work with him, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in the blue and green next season. One surprise was Christian Ehrhoff, who came into his own with a career-high in points. However, Ehrhoff has always been a streaky and inconsistent player season-to-season, so for him to repeat the feat will show he's actually ready to be in the race for solid defenseman status. Alex Edler also stepped up into a bigger role; while Sami Salo (who should get marks for bravery, but shouldn't have been in the Game Six line-up) had a drop-off in scoring, but a solid +16 for the year. Shane O'Brien will be a question in coming back, as his off-ice issues came into criticism, but his on-ice work was decent enough to get him a new contract.

Up-front, the core of the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, and Mikael Samuelsson will continue to be the go-to guys and should be keyed on more, especially with Henrik's breakout year and Daniel's solid production despite his broken foot. The turnover in Game Six could have spelled Pavol Demitra's end in Vancouver; but the guy passed it to him, Kyle Wellwood, could get a look at the Canucks after a decent playoffs, especially in the second round. Though Wellwood got a lot of heat throughout his career, his performance could garner some attention; as could his ability to eat the Old Country Buffet into bankruptcy (sorry folks, had to do that).

The big deal is how the extension of Alain Vigneault will play out, especially since he got a three-year extension in September. After his performance in the playoffs, who knows how much faith the main brass will have in him should he start to falter in the start of the season. How much leeway will AV have in terms of slipping up and what happens if he has a good regular season, but another short-run in the playoffs?? Next to Luongo, the criticism will be all on the coach-- as it always has been.

Another promising run with all the tools needed to make a Stanley Cup charge falls short for the Canucks. There's plenty of finger pointing, there's plenty of possible excuses for what went wrong, but the bottom line is they're out of it way too early. With much up in the air, the Canucks will have to do soul-searching and brainstorming in order to see what's going to work next year and get them over the hump of the second round.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Better Know Your Memorial Cup Team: Moncton Wildcats

The Memorial Cup, which crowns the best in major junior hockey, starts on May 14th and as a (dis)service to you folks out there; I'll do my best to breakdown the teams you may or may not know. As a note-- I'm a hack and probably won't get all the facts or anything like that straight, so bear with me.

The final team is now in the Memorial Cup and it's a team who has been there in the past few years, albeit in the perfect position. The Moncton Wildcats return to the Memorial Cup for the first time since 2006, where they hosted the event and won the QMJHL to boot. However, they weren't able to win on home ice, as they lost in the final. The story of this team is similar to that of the 2006 team, as the Wildcats were one of the top teams in the Q this season. They repeated their record from last season at 48-14-2-4, but were able to get out of the second round this time around....obviously.

One of the big stories will be the defense, as they let in the least goals in the Q this year at 164. It starts in net with Nicola Riopel, who had three shutouts in his 16 wins and only lost four in the entire playoffs. This is after Riopel came back from the AHL in Adirondack with the Phantoms. While Shane Owen is reliable enough to be called on, odds are they won't go to him at all. Riopel will be the guy to carry this team in net and should be able to deal with the pucks that may be thrown at him.

The defensemen are very offensive minded, but responsible in their own zone. They are led by Mark Barberio, who had 60 points and +39 in the regular season with 22 points and a +10 in the playoffs-- which should be able to help out on both sides of the puck. David Savard was able to transition his game from offensively in the regular season to a more defensive look at him as the playoffs came around. The most consistent through the regular season and playoffs is Brandon Gormley; who is more defensive minded and should help out Riopel should he need it. They'll also have an edge physically, as they boast Spence Metcalfe, who had 166 PIMs in the regular season, but of course toned it down in the playoffs with only 16. Odds are they'll throw Metcalfe out in roles where they would need to set a tone for the game.

Up front, one disturbing stat is the fall-off of Nicolas Deschamps; who had 52 points in 33 games after being traded to Moncton, but only has 14 points in his 15 playoff games. Luckily, Kelsey Tessier picked up the slack, leading the team with 30 points in the playoffs, while Gabriel Bourque is packing some punch on the score sheet, as well, with 29 points. All three were acquired midway through the season, which shows that GM Bill Schurman knew what his team needed in terms of forward production and got what he needed to get the team to this point. Especially considering the defense-first minded team, the trio of Tessier, Bourque, and Deschamps should be able to keep this team well rounded-- pending Deschamps waking up on the big stage.

The Wildcats could possibly be the most defensive oriented team in the Memorial Cup and they'll be up against very explosive offensives, who also have a defensive element to them. For the Wildcats to succeed, they'll need to hope for Deschamps to get back on track and hope they can play a shutdown game against the other three teams. Riopel should be tested a lot and if he isn't able to handle the pressure, it could spell the end for the Wildcats. Yet, they were able to go throughout the season with a defensive mindset, as well as the playoffs. They defeated the top-ranked Quebec League team in the league in the Final and should have a lot of confidence going into the Memorial Cup, especially in an underdog setting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Absurd Goalie Monday: Bob Mason

There's not much else to say about why this week's was chosen for the AGM. However, I do remember back in the day, I did have the buttons of both Capitals goalie that the booster club was giving out. One was Don Beaupre and the other was this week's inductee, who has plenty of success as a 1b or back-up and then in the minors-- but he'll be remembered mostly for being the goalie who was the loser in one of the longest overtime playoff games ever. This week, we give to you-- Bob Mason.

Mason started off his career path with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the 1981-82 season, where he overtook the starting role over Jon Downing and played 26 games 9-15-3 for his freshman year, but got a bigger role in his sophomore year, where he came into his own. Mason played 43 games games going 26-16-1 with a 3.49 GAA . Mason was able to get the Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament, but couldn't get out of the first round. His season was able to get Mason WCHA MVP and First-Team All-Star honors for his year.

Mason got noticed by the United States National Team, who was preparing for the 1984 Olympics. Since the team had to be full of amateurs, Mason couldn't sign on with anyone and leave school to take the position. Mason took the call and played on the National Team for the 1983-84 season, going 17-10-5 with a 2.82 GAA in 33 games. In Saravejo, Mason backed-up Mark Behrend and played three games and went 1-0-1. After his strong college and international performance, Mason got signed as a free agent in late February of 1984 by the Washington Capitals. Mason played two games for the Capitals at the end of the season going 2-0-0, then was sent to the AHL's Hershey Bears going 1-4-0 in five games.

At the start of the 1984-85 season, Mason started off with the Binghamton Whalers of the AHL, but got a solid call-up in November of 1984 for the Capitals. Mason won eight game straight during his call-up and 8-2-1 with a 2.81 GAA for the season. With the Whalers, Mason went 10-6-1 in 20 games. The 1985-86 season saw Mason back in Binghamton, as the Capitals had too many contracted goalies on the big club. With the Whalers, Mason went 20-11-2. Mason went up to the Caps for one game and got a win in replacing Al Jensen. Mason finally got the call up to the big club for the 1986-87 season, though he spent two more games in Binghamton, going 1-1-0. When he got the call-up to Washington, he had to battle former AGM Pete Peeters for playing time; but Mason was able to get a majority of the starts when all was said and done, playing 45 games and going 20-18-5 with a 3.24 GAA.

However, Mason's shining moment with the Capitals came during the first round of the 1987 NHL Playoffs. The Capitals took on the Islanders and Mason was put to the back-up role for Peeters. After Game Two, Mason was the guy who got the call for the Caps, as he won Games Three and Four and replaced Peeters in Game Five. The Caps lost Game Six, which set up one of the most epic Game Sevens the Playoffs. The game started on April 18th and didn't end until Easter Sunday on the 19th. The game saw many chances in overtime, 132 shots total by the teams, which resulted in Pat LaFontaine scoring on Mason to end it deep into the fourth overtime. Mason stopped 54 shots and went through 10 bottles of water throughout the course of the game. The Easter Epic will forever live in Caps fans minds as a testament to their snake bitten history. (YouTube Highlight Pack)

It would be Mason's last game for the Caps (for now), as he signed on as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks. Mason would battle for time with last week's AGM Darren Pang for time, which helped when they came out with almost a split. It saw Mason go 13-18-8 for the 1987-88 season. It was short timing in Chicago, as the Hawks traded Mason to the Quebec Nordiques for Mike Eagles. Mason would spent the first part of the season in Quebec, going 5-14-1 (that includes on loss at the end of the year) and would be sent to the Halifax Citadels in the AHL because of his poor play and being pushed out by another former AGM Mario Gosselin and Ron Tugnutt. With Halifax, Mason got better with a 11-7-1 record.

Mason was traded back to where it all started for him in the summer of 1989, as the Nordiques sent him to Washington for future considerations. Mason book ended the 1989-90 season with stints with the Baltimore Skipjacks of the AHL, but had a stint in the middle of the season with the Caps, going 4-9-1 in 16 games, but went 8-2-2 in 13 games with the Jacks.

The 1990-91 season was rough, as Mason was a free agent without a team. He would keep training until the Vancouver Canucks signed him as an insurance policy in December of 1990. Mason would go to the IHL and the Milwaukee Admirals. With Milwaukee, Mason went 8-12-1 in 22 games, but got a short stint with Vancouver, going 2-4-0 in his six games with the Canucks.

Mason stayed with the Admirals for the 1991-92 season, getting the starting time over Troy Gamble and Corrie D'Alessio. Mason played 51 games and went 27-18-4, but only 1-2 in the playoffs. The Canucks moved their affiliate to the AHL and the Hamilton area. Mason continued to get starters time, but this time had to fight off the youngsters like Gamble, Mike Fountain, and Jason Fitzsimmons. Mason would see 44 games with a respectable 20-19-3 record, but saw no playoff time.

With his contract up, Mason returned to Milwaukee for the 1993-94 season, as he would team with with Larry Dyck for the Admirals tandem, seeing each of them get equal time. Mason had 40 games under his belt with 21-9-8 record for his troubles. Mason would spend 13 more games with the Admirals, going 7-4-1 after going 0-1-0 with the Fort Wayne Komets to start the 1994-95 campaign. It would be the last Mason would play hockey.

Nowadays, Mason has gotten into the coaching aspect of things. He started off with the Atlanta Thrashers in their first two years of existence, but has since moved onto the Minnesota Wild, helping the likes of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding ply their craft and deal with the barrage of shots they are facing. He also mentors young goalies during the summer camps he holds along with Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson.

While the lasting mark of Mason will be the four overtime epic in 1987, he also will be seen as another story of logjams getting in the way of his playing prowess. While his minor league records show he had potential, and while he had some success in the NHL; he couldn't keep the NHL success constant, which really was his demise. Though, that seems to the case for most of the AGMs; lack of consistency really ruining promising careers.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

What's Next: Detroit Red Wings 2010

The two-time Western Conference Champions have fallen and we're guaranteed we won't have a third consecutive Stanley Cup Final match-up. Things could have been different, however, if the Wings didn't have the injuries and slumps they had in the start of the season. Even so, the Wings should get used to the make-up of the team, as they have to start going with a fresher look in the years to come.

One of those immediate changes was the arrival of Jimmy Howard. Many wondered if he would ever get a chance in the Wings organization. Yet, when Chris Osgood struggled, Howard was able to come in and pick up the pieces to lead the team to the next level, as well as getting himself a nod for the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. His 37 wins started to show his potential that the Wings were hoping for. The question is what to do with Osgood, who has one year left at over a million dollars tied up. The decision will have to be if they should keep Osgood around to teach Howard more, or move up either Daniel Larsson or Thomas McCollum to have another young tandem. Expect the former to happen, especially with the thought of a sophomore slump.

Defense is going to hinge on what happens with Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom is 40 years old now and you have to wonder how much gas he has left. He showed that he can still contribute and still be solid in his own end, but will his body allow him to go on. He could go to a year-by-year contract, but who knows how much he'd be looking for. That notwithstanding, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall, and Jonathan Ericsson will all be back for another season and should be the core going forward. How they fill out the rest of the blue line will depend on Lidstrom.

Up front, a shot in the arm could come with Jiri Hudler coming back from the KHL, but it'll be interesting what kind of reception he'll get from his team and from the crowd. If he can spark himself to solid secondary scoring way, he should be welcomed back, no problem. If he doesn't-- not so much. With or without Hudler, the load will be on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk had a huge 27 point drop off in only one less game from his season last year. The heat will be on Datsyuk to get back into form for the success of the Wings. Zetterberg kept pace with last season, but dealt with a shoulder injury for the mid-part of the season, which slowed any momentum he had. Johan Franzen had a lot of injury issues, playing only 27 games, but the Mule was big when called upon. He should be ready, and hopefully healthy, to help take the pressure off the big guns.

The big questions will be what to do with the old-guards of the Wings front line. Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Todd Bertuzzi, and Jason Williams are all UFAs, with Kris Draper having another year left on his contract. While Holmstrom seems the lock to stay, you wonder if they will not re-sign the others and buy-out Draper in order to bring up Justin Abdelkader and Cory Emmerton to the main squad. While the Wings want to respect their old veterans, they can't keep the rookies down for long.

The Wings should have a whole new look to them come the fall, maybe with guys retiring, maybe with some coming back, maybe some bring brought in to fill the void the vets left. One thing is for sure, there's going to be a new look in Motown next season. Whether it will pay off or not remains to be seen. You can never count out a Ken Holland team, especially with Mike Babcock at the helm. They went to the last two Finals before this, so they must be doing something right.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Better Know Your Memorial Cup Team: Calgary Hitmen

The Memorial Cup, which crowns the best in major junior hockey, starts on May 14th and as a (dis)service to you folks out there; I'll do my best to breakdown the teams you may or may not know. As a note-- I'm a hack and probably won't get all the facts or anything like that straight, so bear with me.

It was 11 years to the day after their last WHL championship, the Calgary Hitmen hope their trip to the Memorial Cup this year ends up much better than their trip back in 1999, where they came up one goal short of the Memorial Cup. This year's team was determined after their WHL Finals loss last year to the Kelowna Rockets and got over that hump by winning it this year. Now, with the top goalie and top scorer from the WHL's regular season and playoffs on their side, the Hitmen now set their eyes on the ultimate prize in Major Junior hockey.

Starting in net, Martin Jones (Los Angeles, free agent) has been nothing short of stellar for the Hitmen this season and playoffs. Crowned with the Goaltender of the Year and Playoff MVP honors, Jones is the main cog in the Hitmen's success. With a calm demeanor, Jones won't get rattle easily from the offense. Luckily for him, his team often gives him an early lead. The only issue is what his team in front of him will do if they get down early. Much like other goalies, Jones can only do so much before support needs to come into play. However, if Jones does falter; it could spell a demise for the Hitmen's hopes.

In front of Jones, the Hitmen have a very potent offense; headlined by WHL top scorer in the playoffs (8g, 22a) and regular season (32g, 75a), Brandon Kozun (Los Angeles, '09). Kozun is at a distinct size disadvantage, but his speed and smooth skating will what makes up for his size. The size is brought by Joel Broda (Washington, '08), who lead the playoffs in goals with 13. Broda has a quick release and laser-like shot. While he's not too much for speed, if he gets room-- he's deadly. The surprise for the playoffs is Mischa Fisenko (UFA), who put up 8 goals and 11 assists for the playoffs; which wasn't too much off his pace from the regular season where he has 12 goals and 32 assists. Late-season pick up Tyler Shattock (St. Louis, '09) and role guys Cody Sylvester (Eligible 2010) and Kris Foucault (Minnesota, '09) have also chipped-in here and there. The biggest intangible is the block-party the Hitmen have when they're on the defensive, as this is a team who isn't afraid to get in the way of pucks.

Defensively, the Hitmen are just as good in their own zone as they are in the offensive zone. Leading with Eastern Conference Defenseman of the Year, Michael Stone (Phoenix, '08)-- the Hitmen have a lot of guys who contribute offensively as they do defensively. One guy who has come into his own has been Giffen Nyren (UFA), who came over from Kamloops during the year and was able to find his game while with the Hitmen. Youngster Ben Wilson (Eligible 2010) and Matt MacKenzie (Eligible 2010) have come into their own this year and most importantly, these playoffs.

Coach Mike Williamson had a chance with both teams in the WHL Finals and may or may not have been the cog to push the Hitmen ahead, but the players have bought into the system. GM Kelly Kisio built a team around last year's team with not many drastic changes, which kept the team chemistry there. They also have a nice blend of experience and youth for their team to keep building for years to come. It has been a while since their last trip, but the structure is still the same for these Hitmen as it was in 1999. It's been 15 years since the Hitmen came to be in the CHL landscape and they hope that the end of their 15th year will have a Memorial Cup to make it even more memorable.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Baltimore Hockey History: The Last Baltimore Hockey Team....For Now

Two years after the Skipjacks left for Portland, Maine; Bob Teck and Alan Gertner thought it would be time to bring some kind of hockey back to the area, because they had thought it was for the best. These two pump millions of dollars to get the Bandits off the ground. They also had the backing of the Disney Corporation, who designed the raccoon logo and jerseys that were worn on-ice (As an aside, anyone with a lead on where to get one of these jerseys-- let me know). With that kind of clout and the mentality that they would be able to provide a good atmosphere for the fans, there was a positive vibe for the team to come through the struggles and actually make Baltimore more than a hockey footnote.

The ideology was superb to start. Teck said that with over 30 area high schools having teams and kids playing in the streets, it was the right time in order to expand the landscape of popularity. The ownership team learned, also, from the mistakes of the past. An article done by current NFL Network contributer Jason LaCanfora about the new team showed what the Bandits team had learned from what the Skipjacks could not.

The Baltimore Bandits will market extensively and promote the sport. The Skipjacks did little in those areas to boost the team. Bob Leffler, whose ad agency handled the Skipjacks, now works for the Bandits. He said the new ownership is consumed with making hockey work.

"Gertec is putting together a massive marketing campaign," Leffler said. "They are dedicated to spending $1 million to advertising. The last time we had that kind of financial support was with the Blast [of the Major Indoor Soccer League] in the mid-'80s. They were drawing 11,000 fans a game then."

Bandits merchandise has been in stores since mid-July, the team already has begun advertising on Orioles radio broadcasts and it is negotiating with three local radio stations for broadcast rights. It will focus its campaign on television and billboard advertising in the coming months.

You could see that these guys were waiting for the money to start rolling in for this team. You have to spend money to make money, right?? Right??

In any case, there was a big buzz around the new team. The purple, silver, and black was ready to hit the ice and maybe erase the entire loss of the Skipjacks, even though the Jacks were beloved for the past decade. The Bandits had a backing from a major corporation and seemed to be primed to be a big success.

The first season on ice, there were ups and downs, but the fans seemed to turn out at the start. I, myself, along with Papa Stan Wazz were partial season ticket holders because it was a little bit closer than traveling to Landover to watch the Capitals play. The team had their finesse guys, but also the bruisers. The likes of Jeremy Stevenson and Peter Leboutillier had over 200 PIMs on the season, while Dwayne Norris, Mike Maneluk, Slava Butsayev, and Steven King were lighting up the score sheet. The likes of Darren Van Impe and J-F Jomphe were chartering between the AHL and NHL, as Denny Lambert became a folk hero as he moved down to Baltimore after his Anaheim dreams didn't pan out. Another folk hero was Mike O'Neill, who set an AHL record for playing 74 games in a season in the 1995-96 season.

While the Bandits finished with a 33-36-9 record and third in the Southern Division. They made the playoffs, although everyone but two teams made the playoffs. They were able to upset the Hershey Bears 3-games-to-2 in the first round and lost in seven games to the other underdog Syracuse Crunch, who finished last in their division. The on-ice product seemed to be there, but it's off-ice where things started to go horribly wrong.

Three-quarters through the season, the ownership trust of Teck and Gertner was in trouble. They had unpaid debt to a number of groups. The team owed their parent team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, $500,000, as well; they owed the AHL $100,000 of the $1 million franchise fee. The duo of Teck and Gertner decided to hand over the team, not even out of their first year, to Mike Caggiano; a Northern Virginia businessman, who went to school in Baltimore and owned the Potomac Cannons baseball team to some success. Teck and Gertner made more bad decisions than good, but when it comes to an expansion team-- you have to make good decisions through and through; especially in an uneasy market. Caggiano gave his confidence that the team would stay in the city and would be on even ground after management and financial re-structuring.

The second season had as much turmoil on the ice as they were off the ice. On the ice, there was a coaching change as Walt Kyle was replaced with Moe Mantha as Kyle went to Anaheim. There were a lot of changes with the likes of O'Neill, Norris, Butsayev, and the other notable gone to other pastures. Craig Reichert, Mike LeClerc, and David Sacco held up the offense and they had five guys with over 20 goals on the season, including Bob Wren, Sean Pronger, and Igor Nikulin added with Reichert and LeClerc. The goaltending of Mike Bales and Tom Askey couldn't fulfill the workload that O'Neill had left, which led to struggles from the team. Even with all of that, the Bandits finished up with a 30-37-10 record, but lost in the first round as the Philadelphia Phantoms dominated the Bandits in a three-game sweep.

Things were much worse off the ice, as debt continued to pile-up. After the 1995-96 season, the Bandits were $1.6 million in debt, but it rose to $3.7 million after the 1996-97 season, including owing the AHL more than $500,000 in franchise costs, their billboard people over $30,000, the audio/visual team over $3,000, and their jersey people $5,000 for lettering the jerseys. Caggiano realized he was over his head and looked to sell the team. Some of the shareholders tried to stop any sale because they though insider debt would be recouped, but that didn't seem to be the case. The team was eventually sold to the owners of the Cincinnati Gardens and the team became the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. In the state-of-the-franchise report, Caggiano said that they did all they could in order to save the franchise.

Even more over, the Bandits were having issues with the schedule. They often were bumped by the owners of the building to give preference to the Baltimore Spirit indoor soccer team over any Bandits games that could take place. That brought the attendance and general interest down because of it. Caggiano went against the city council many times trying to lobby for a new arena for the team, as the Baltimore Arena lacked what a professional team needed. Caggiano also went as far as going to the AHL and trying to relocate the Bandits' playoff games to Hershey, Pennsylvania because of the Spirit locking up dates in the Baltimore Arena. It did not happen, but it was an interesting proposition. Of course, that left a bad taste in the mouth of the city council, thus support dwindled; which helped along the demise.

It only took two seasons for this team to go into the crapper and really was one of the first of the rotating teams the AHL had gone through. The Bandits were one of the many teams to not last long in their area and relocate-- along with the Kentucky Thoroughblades, Carolina Monarchs, PEI Senators, and Cornwall Aces to name a few. While there is still shuffling today, it's not as wide-spread it seems.

The ownership to start had a lot of promise for the team. They did all they could to make hockey a mainstay in the Baltimore landscape, but there could have been a lot of sidetracking with he Ravens coming into the NFL and the poorly processed marketing campaigns. While the sport on the grassroots level has become popular through time, the actual professional game has never and may never take off as it should or could in the Baltimore area. Especially with the popularity of the Capitals, the time could never be better for hockey in the area. Yet, with the lack of a new arena and support from outside interests-- the time-frame will close shut before anything tangible and realistically comes to be.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Bett and Bals": Jerry Canned

Just when you thought things were better for the Coyotes.....ESPN is now reporting that the deal with the City of Glendale and NHL's poster child for ownership, Jerry Reinsdorf, is dead. The city has reached out again to the Ice Edge Holdings group and maybe could get them back on board, even after they outright rejected the IEH proposal.

This episode, we see Jim Balsillie sitting on the couch watching the TV. Gary Bettman comes walking in.

Gary Bettman: (Muttering under his breath) Why are they doing this to me now?? I was going to get over it and be rid of this financial burden....

Jim Balsillie: Anything wrong, Gary?? It seems like (snickering) you've misplaced something.

GB: Oh, guffaw, guffaw-- I get it-- relocation in a non-traditonal market which turns out to be a money-sucking venture.

JB: The joke doesn't work if you have to explain it.

GB: Whatever-- I have my own issues. What does it take to actually get rid of this team?? I thought I had it. He was unsuspecting and willing to take it over for me and get the pressure and heat off of me. It's like he actually did research and realized this deal probably wouldn't do well for him, especially with the lease and having to wait five-years to try to sell the bloody team.

JB: Were you really expecting this whole thing to go down with Reinsdorf?? I mean, from the on-set of this thing, he really hasn't said much about anything in regards to this whole issue. It's like he didn't even know much about-- he just threw his hat into the ring. Or at least, someone did on his behalf. I don't even think he knew there was hockey in Chicago, much less Arizona. I think you could have been the only one to think it would all work out.

GB: He's got the MLB team, the NBA team-- why not go lower in the ranking and hit up a NHL team. It's affordable and it's something that'll help out his taxes and what not. Plus, he didn't have to do much-- just keep the people around that helped them to a playoff berth and move on. Not much to do, just pay some bills.

JB: But Gary, have you seen the bills?? They are piling up at a massive rate and really are never-ending. The Coyotes are like the Greece of the NHL. (Editor's Note: This gag was topical in early May 2010 when the Greek economy went to crap. Look it up if you don't get it.)

GB: Yes, but with a little help, they could have been revived in less time. Sure, the bills are piling up, sure the city is footing the bill for most the stuff, sure the taxes are getting crazed, sure the team can't turn a profit....wait, where was I going with this??

JB: You weren't. The fact is that you can't keep a team in an area where the responsiveness of the "fans" is depended upon the threat of losing the team. It seems that the only time people come out for the team is when they think they're going to lose them. Even when they were winning, it took them a while to get to the rink.

GB: Maybe so, but they made the playoffs, they had a great season, they have a lot of award finalist, they have a great looking future...

JB: That could be blown up this summer. They have seven UFAs and five RFAs who had an everyday role on the team. With the insecure nature of the team-- are you willing to spend the money in order to get the re-signed, especially since you control the team?? Don't you think the other owners would be a bit upset about it if you did?? Plus, with all the other FAs out there, wouldn't you want this team to build off their success and add more to their team??

GB: You mean....I'd have to take care of all of that?? Not that I'm stressed enough or anything, now I have to deal with that. All because this guy couldn't take over the team?? All because the City of Glendale wouldn't go with the best idea in the Ice Edge Holdings in the first place??

JB: And all because you didn't want to tease the idea of selling it to me on threat of me moving the team. Let's face it-- your ego can't take a hit of relocating a previously relocated team. You don't want to be proven wrong for decisions that weren't that keen to begin with. Sure, we all can regret some things, but most of us have the ability to actually move forward after admitted some wrong doing. You take your lumps and bounce back.

GB: That's just it though. I can take the lumps-- look at the work stoppage. The fact is that even if I do sell and move this team, who's to say the place it will moved to will be any more viable than another. The harsh reality of it is that if we have to sell it, that has to be approved by everyone. If they want to move, it again has to be approved. Who's to say that where the new owner would want to move the team would work out monetarily for the league and the other owners?? The thought of moving a team in trouble is great in theory. It's when it's put into actual motion and trying to get everyone on board that is the issue. It's nothing personal-- always business.

(Phone rings)

JB: I'll get it. James and Gar-- your helpful hardware, folks.

GB: Funny.

JB: (To Gary) Would you shut up?? (Phone) Yes?? Oh really?? So, you do want back into the mix Mr. Reinsdorf?? You made a horrible mistake?? Sure, I'll put him on. (To Gary) It's for you-- it looks like you got your wish.


Judge Redfield T. Baum: (Over the phone) T-BOMBED!!!!!!!!

GB: OWWWWWW (Grabbing his ear and falling over) My ear, my ear.....I....I think it's bleeding.

JB: Much like the Coyotes bleeding money from Glendale...