Monday, January 30, 2012

Absurd Goalie Monday: Dieter Kochan

For many, you have to go through the systems in order to get to the pros, especially when bounced around before you ever start your career. However, this week's AGM went from a big leap and actually because the first player to go from so low to that high. This week, the profile of Dieter Kochan.

Born in Saskatchewan, Kochan first came into his own in Wisconsin high school, playing for the Edgewood Crusaders in the 1990-91 season, before moving to the USHL in the 1991-92 season with the Sioux City Musketeers, going 7-10-0 in 23 games that season. Kochan would move to the BCHL for the Kelowna Spartans going 34-8-0 in 44 games, then 12-3 in 15 playoff games, helping the Spartans win the BCHL and then the Centennial Cup for all of Canadian Junior A league champions.

After his Junior A venture,Kochan was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1993 Entry Draft in the fourth round. However, Kochan moved to the NCAA ranks with Northern Michigan University starting in the 1993-94 season, going 9-7-0 in 20 appearances, while in 1994-95, Kochan compiled a 8-17-3 record in 29 games. In his junior year of 1995-96 season, Kochan played in 31 games and went 7-21-2, while in his final season in 1996-97, he went 8-15-2 in 26 games.

Kochan moved to the pro ranks in the 1997-98 season with the ECHL's Louisville Riverfrogs, going 7-9-2 in 18 games. However, he would be on the move to the UHL with the BC Icemen in the 1998-99 season, going 18-16-5 in 40 games, while then going 1-2 in four playoff appearances. Also, Kochan would score a goal in a game in January against the Winston-Salem.

The 1999-2000 season was quite a busy one for Kochan, as he would start out with the Binghamton Icemen, but would bounce from there to the IHL's Orlando Solar Bears for four games (4-0-0), then to the Grand Rapid Griffins for two games (1-0-1) and then back to the Icemen before getting the call to the NHL by the Tampa Bay Lightning, becoming the first goalie to go from the UHL directly to the NHL. Kochan played five games for the Bolts, going 1-4-0 before moving to the AHL's Springfield Falcons for two games (1-1-0). At the end of the season for the Iceman, Kochan went 29-11-3 for the year, getting second team All-Star honors.

The 2000-01 season settled down for Kochan, as he played primarily for the IHL's Detroit Vipers, finishing with a 13-28-3 record in 49 games, but would make 10 showings for the Lightning, going 0-3-0 in those appearances. Kochan would move up to the AHL's Springfield Falcons for most of the 2001-02 season, going 21-20-1 in 45 games; then appearing in five games for the Lightning, going 0-3-1.

Kochan signed with the Minnesota Wild organization for the 2002-03 season, playing mostly with AHL's Houston Aeros, finishing with a 15-6-3 in 25 games, while playing in one game for Minnesota, a loss.

On the move before the 2003-04 season, Kochan signed with the New York Islanders, but would be relegated to the AHL's Bridgeport Tigers-- playing in 45 games and compiling a 20-17-7 record, then 1-3 in four playoff games. However, Kochan, along with Wade Dubielwicz,won the Harry "Hap" Holmes Award for fewest goals-against in the AHL. Kochan remained in Bridgeport for the 2004-05 season, playing in 39 games and breaking even with a 19-19-0 record.

Without a job in North America, Kochan moved to Russia for the 2005-06 season for Sibir Novosibirsk, playing in only eight games. Kochan moved back to North America during the 2005-06 season, playing in 15 games for the Portland Pirates and going 9-4-1. The 2006-07 season had Kochan signing back in Houston and went 6-14-1 in 23 games for the Aeros before announcing his retirement after the season.

Kochan stayed in hockey for a bit, being the volunteer goalie coach for Michigan Tech from 2008 until 2011.

Though the orthodox route wasn't what happened with Kochan to get to the NHL, he was a guy who still hung in their rough despite not having the team around him or the record to help back him up. He had his moment to shine and will have the record to get the call from a very lower minor league to the show.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Last-ing Impression

While the buzz after last night's All-Star "Fantasy" Draft is all about the last pick, Logan Couture, it made me wonder about the other last picks of drafts, and I don't mean Phil Kessel's delve into the last pick from last season's edition of this.

I'm talking about the NHL Entry Draft, which "officially" started in 1979, as it was called the Amateur Draft prior to that. In that time span, only 10 last picks have played at least one game in the NHL, with the top-end player playing 739 games in the NHL.

It's started off in the 1979 Draft, where Blair Barnes was picked in the 6th round, 126th overall by the Edmonton Oilers-- playing in only one game in the 1982-83 season with the Los Angeles Kings. That next draft, the 1980 Draft-- Andy Brickley was the last pick in Round 10, 210th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers; then playing 385 NHL games with the Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, and Winnipeg Jets. Brickley finished with 82 career goals and 222 points.

There was a quite the gap, but we got back-to-back last picks playing starting in the 1987 Entry Draft with Edmonton again pick last, this time Igor Vyazmikin with the 252nd overall pick, leading to a four-game stint with the Oilers, for only one goal in his career. In 1988, Edmonton's provincial counterparts, the Calgary Flames, picked last at pick 252 and took another Russian in Sergei Pryakhin-- who was the first Russian who was allowed by the Soviet government to play in the NHL-- and put up three goals and 11 points in 46 career games. Pryakhin was the first Russian-trained player to receive a Stanley Cup ring, as well, but not engraved on the Cup.

A small gap before yet another back-to-back last pick. The 1993 Draft has the Pittsburgh Penguins pick in the 286th slot, using Hans Jonsson for their pick, where he'd lead a solid career over 242 games with the Penguins, compiling 10 goals and 48 assists on the blue line. Another blue liner was picked last in the 1994 Draft, when Kim Johnsson was pick by the New York Rangers and would lead the way for the last picks-- playing in 739 games with the Rangers, Flyers, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks, finishing with 67 goals and 284 points.

The Boston Bruins picked last in the 1997 Draft, using the 246th pick to choose Jay Henderson, would only put up four points in 33 games with the Bruins.

More recently, the most active players on the chart include Jonathan Ericsson, currently playing with the Detroit Red Wings, who drafted him with 291st pick in the 2002 Draft. Currently, Ericsson has 10 goals and 42 points in 213 games-- with a Stanley Cup ring to boot. Also in the Central Division, Patric Hornqvist of the Nashville Predators was picked last in the 2005 Draft and has put up 67 goals and 129 points in 236 games with the Preds.

Keeping with the All-Star, Brian Elliott almost made this list, even with him being an All-Star-- but he was picked second-to-last in 2003 with the 291st pick by the Ottawa Senators, currently having career record of 76-58-18 over 165 games, with this year being his best on record.

While it's not horrible to be picked last, regardless of the fact, the success rate isn't always there....which I guess is why you're the last to be picked.

"Bett and Bals:" Miracles and Mirages

(Just when we thought that this series could be dead-- something happens to bring this back to a whole new level and why wouldn't this just be left for dead, huh?? That's silliness.)

Jim Balsillie: (Reading the paper on the couch) iPad3, how the hell do they keep doing this with their guy dead?? Of course, this could be a whole new thing when all is said and done....

Gary Bettman: (Busting through the door) SANCTUARY!!!

JB: I don't think that word means what you think it does.


JB: Okay, that's better-- but what the hell are you so happy about?? This better be cause for this celebration.

GB: Jim....there's a mystery guy for Phoenix!!

JB: This seems like a repeat. Are we in syndication already??

GB: Seriously-- the perfect timing of this news RIGHT before the big meeting with the Board and....whew, see the wheels are in motion with this team. We've got Jerry Reinsdorf, who-- let's be honest-- built that Bulls team to a dynasty; we've got Greg Jamison, who was the guy who helps the Sharks get off the ground, and now...this mystery guy-- who HAS to be the best of the three. Man....this is fantastic.

JB: How many of these mystery men have come to fruition, though?? Let's be honest-- the only mystery is when this bid will be considered a failure yet again, then have Reinsdorf get told by you he's still in.

GB: This is own free will to be in, especially since the White Sox are about to actually get less and less relevant....if I have my way.

JB: But, honestly-- what's going on with this mystery crap?? Is there a reason you don't want this mystery to be really revealed??

GB: Why are you harshing my buzz?? The point is this-- we have a third guy out there and it's now a sweepstakes. The power of three is a lot better than the two guys debating over the team.

JB: Debating?? What debating?? Is there a sale to be had that you held out on??

GB: Well, we have to wait for the City of Glendale for their stuff....

JB: Standing behind them now, too?? Do they not want to be revealed?? IS there actually a third buyer??

GB: Oh, there's a third buyer. The city wants to know who they're getting into business and how they can restructure one way or the other. They definitely want to have a good relationship where they can rearrange and work to the benefit of everyone out there. Win-win.

JB: And what about moving?? Let's be honest-- even with the team being bought, what's going to be done with these rumors of a buy-and-move?? I keep hearing Seattle, Kansas City, Quebec....

GB: All great areas-- you see how much snow Seattle has gotten?? They'd be PERFECT for the 2014 Winter Classic with all that snow, are you kidding me?? But the movement is secondary to get the team out of there. Once they're out of my hair and under ownership in Phoenix for a year-- I'll be whatever to moving. It's less stress on me once I get rid of this team and someone else can worry about them.

JB: So moving is still an option??

GB: Of course. Especially if the city can't come up with a good plan, I'll pay the $25 million payments BACK to the city in order to get the team out of there if they aren't thriving. At this point, I just want someone to buy the team from me.

JB: Interesting......because now I may have to reveal myself.

GB: Wait...what?? Didn't you just get fired??

JB: Fired nothing, I stepped down.

GB: If this turns out to be you.....(footsteps running up and down the hallway)...the hell....look, if it turns out to be you....(crashing into walls)...Okay, that's enough for our property value (Opens the door) Alright you rapscallions, this is....

Judge Redfield T. Baum: (Running By) T- BOMBED!!!!

GB: OH GOOD LORD (Falling backwards)

JB: Drive-by gimmicks now. Enjoyable, as always.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cannon Fodder in Columbus

The natives are restless in Columbus.

Through possible protests to beat writers basically having enough of the team they have been following, the state of the Blue Jackets have never been in more peril in the critical eye as it has been for this season. The criticism is well-needed, but the fact remains that nothing will fix this team, even though suggestions have been put out there.

The main point from everywhere is to get rid of most of the personnel in the organization and start anew, even though it won't create a quick fix and will probably actually make things worse before they are made better. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch and the Puck Rakers blog put out two suggestions, which encompasses the main bickering points of the Blue Jackets fateful.

It's about having more people in the organization -- not just players, but above them, too -- who meet one or (preferably) both of the following two criteria:
1. They're absolutely g-- d--- obsessed with winning hockey games. Not competing. Not playing tough. Winning. It's a shallow way to go through life, perhaps, if your only concern is winning hockey games. And perhaps these individuals are so driven and myopic as to be a bit unnerving (Jonathan Toews). But it's what every winning club has in surplus, and every losing club needs.
2. They have long track records of winning in the NHL, either as a player or a builder. Some of the players in the room have had playoff runs, but a shocking number of them haven't. Ever. Only two of them -- third-line center Sammy Pahlsson and emergency defenseman Brett Lebda -- have their names on the Stanley Cup. The Blue Jackets front office is one of the most inexperienced and unproven in the NHL. There are some very good people, for sure, but compare the Blue Jackets, for instance, to the Blues. Can the Jackets match John Davidson, Doug Armstrong, Larry Pleau, Al MacInnis and Ken Hitchcock?
All well and good and while the point is a great one, but the big issue for me is that whether or not there's anyone who will actually want to take a job in Columbus. That doesn't say that the actual city or market or bad, but it's not one where people who are "hockey people" may not think it's the best place to be, especially since they probably don't have any link to the organization or want to be the guinea pig for this transformation in management. Sure, you can say that Steve Yzerman didn't have a link to the Tampa Bay Lightning to start, but he did start under the guise of Ken Holland in Detroit learning the trade.

We all know the history of the Blue Jackets had one playoff season and actually got off to a solid franchise start with a bunch of Expansion Draftees, like Geoff Sanderson, Tyler Wright, and Kevin Dineen-- which makes you wonder if the Jackets feel bad for not taking a chance on Dineen considering what he's doing in Florida right now with the Panthers. But, like it shows-- there's not many big names that have solid connections to the franchise or have the management skills to take over a team and have a quick turnover into greatness-- which is just happenstance of who they are and maybe where the team is located, always playing second fiddle to the University.

Not only that, but the reports out about the Blue Jackets losing money hand-over-fist and hoping for casino money, the attendance dipping to 80% capacity, and just the team getting worse despite getting bigger names in trades and free doesn't seem like the team is long for the area unless there's a DRASTIC change in the next.....six to ten months. That's not to say the team will fold or move-- but the reality of the situation is that if things don't change quick, it will be a long road to recovery for the Blue Jackets.

It stinks to think that this could be another failure to a NHL team and to Gary Bettman's expansion era regime, but it's the after-thoughts that always seems to get over-analyzed to no end. It's almost as bad as wishing for a team to move out of market to a more prosperous area to a more prosperous owner, but it's something that occasionally needs to be done in hindsight.

"Bett and Bals:" Means and Ends

All good things may come to an end, which may be the case now-- but even with a possible ending; it may spark a new beginning....or not be an end at all. The fact that Jim Balsillie is now out a Research in Motion; it could make it harder for him to buy a team in the NHL...but it doesn't make it easier for Gary Bettman-- but they still to live together in the condo of perpetual bickering; as you're about to see now. 

(Laying on the couch lamenting about what has happened, Jim Balsillie waits for the inevitable mocking by Gary Bettman).

Jim Balsillie: And I don't know why I thought naming something "Playbook" was a good idea. This isn't football, this isn't Playboy-- what was I thinking?? Sure, tablets are the way of the future, but this is almost as bad as the tablet Moses dropped at Mount Sinai.

Gary Bettman: Is that really true??

JB: The point is that....this could be it for us, this could be the end. I know you're happy with it.

GB: Happy?? What you're out of money?? Look, Jim, we here at the NHL hold the position that even broke or crooked, you too can have a NHL franchise at your disposal. You could even hold them.

JB: (Lifting his head in shock) Are you okay?? Do you understand what you're saying, more over-- do you understand what I'm saying??

GB: Sure, you've done stuff like move teams you didn't actually own and curse on live TV when possibly drunk...but at least you're real. I'm not sure this Matthew Hulsizer is real because he's screwed me twice.

JB: It does sound like a made up name.

GB: Sure, I can understand not being able to want to keep the Coyotes or be associated with them-- but the Blues?? Come on, that's the Wal-Mart guy's old team, so you know you're getting a nice rollback in prices.

JB: Good one, but the point is this: How are other teams getting sold and moved so quickly and yet the Coyotes are still in the limbo for the past 10 years of their existence. Why do you hold onto them so much??

GB: Look, I may have sunk some money into this project and I may have bet someone in 1996 I could make this work. The limit is 20 years and you know....almost there. Almost ready to collect on that bet and I can't let myself fail in this.

JB: All this for a bet?? It better be worth it.

GB: I think it's $20 and a dinner.

JB: Twenty dollars?? Losing millions and millions for $20 doesn't seem very fiscal....

GB: But we moved the Thrashers to Winnipeg, so that buys me at least another year for that honeymoon to stay. Plus, those bastards have screwed me. Luckily, someone wanted Dallas and now-- now it's a matter of getting St. Louis and Phoenix onward and upward for another turn.

JB: It's scary that you won't let me in, but keep allowing this Hulsizer to be in the fold. We've got the same money, he's got much less moxie, what the hell is the matter with me??

GB: The puns.

JB: The puns??

GB: Think of what the writers will say on the headlines when it got done. I mean, it'd go something like "Hulsizer Me!!: Phoenix Sold." Where as you-- we'll get "Balsille Goose: NHL Finally Gives In" or "RIM-Job: NHL Bends Over." See the spot I'm in??

JB: So, rather than actually sell a team to a guy who has a decent track record, funding, and a known presence in the business world and will actually put himself out there-- you'd rather have the unknown guy who can't follow-through on anything he promises and misses deadlines....all because the headline-puns would be better??

GB: Now you get it!!

(Doorbell rings, knock on the door)

GB: Oh hell no.

JB: No, you have to do it.

GB: No, I won't-- we all know what happens, we all know how this turns out, this is pee-wee bullsh-

JB: SHUT it and open the door-- it's what everyone want to see and you know it.

GB: (Thinking.....)Okay...I'll open it, but I'll get the upper hand. (Opens door) G-BOMBED!!!! SEE I GOT YOU THIS TIME!!!

Delivery Guy: ....the hell is wrong with you?? Package for G. Bettman for a M. Hulsizer. Sign here.

GB: Sorry, I just....every time there's a door....a guy happens to be there....and....

DG: Look, I don't care for your whole issue, but better get your slacker buddy on the couch to help you because I ain't leaving the dolly here with you crazy people.

JB: Is that an iPhone?? Why not a Blackberry Curve??

DG: What is this, 2002?? Get with the times, boss.

JB: (Underbreath) jackass.

GB: Come on Jim, help me with this damn thing.

DG: Whatever it is-- it's heavy and solid....unless the premise for this show.

GB: What show??

(Delivery guy rolls his eyes and walks away)

JB: Is this the gold statue of yourself you order for the New York offices??

GB: No, it was back-ordered until June.

JB: Whatever-- I need something for my back, that was a haul.

GB: Fine, I'll open it (Takes out ceremonial scissors to cut the ends and middle)

Judge Redfield T. Baum: (Busting out of the box) T-BOMBED!!!! (Falls out of the box to tackle Gary)


JB: (Walking down the hall) That's what daddy likes.

GB: (From the ground) MY HIP FLEXOR!!!

JB: (From the hallway) What are things Rick DiPietro has said??

Monday, January 23, 2012

Absurd Goalie Monday: Peter McDuffe

Whether it was a Reverse Draft, WHA Draft, or Expansion Draft, teams wanted this week's AGM. While he didn't get the best help or circumstances in the NHL, he did what he could in the lower leagues and other pro league to try to get him noticed. While it didn't necessarily work out, he did get a lot of mileage out of his career. This week, the profile of Peter McDuffe.

McDuffe started in the Junior ranks with the St. Catherine Blackhawks of the OHA, playing a span of 103 games between 1964 through 1968. McDuffe would make a stop onto the AHL's Buffalo Bison's at the end of the 1966-67 season, going 0-2-0 in two games there. McDuffe would play the 1968-69 season in the Eastern League with the Greensboro Generals for 65 games in the regular season and eight in the playoffs.

The Chicago Blackhawks had McDuffe's rights, but lost them to the Phoenix Roadrunners of the WHL in the Reverse Draft, but Phoenix will trade McDuffe to the New York Rangers almost a month after acquiring him in the summer of 1969. The Rangers put McDuffe in the Central League with the Omaha Knights for the 1969-70 season, finishing 26-24-9 in 59 games, while going 8-4 during the playoffs, helping the Knights to the CHL championship. McDuffe found himself back in Omaha in the 1970-71 season playing in 57 games and going 8-3 in the playoffs helping the Knights to another championship. McDuffe would have the fewest goals-against, First Team All-Star honors, and was co-MVP of the league.

The Rangers would trade McDuffe to the St. Louis Blues before the 1971-72 season. McDuffe would play in 10 games with the Blues, going 0-6-0 in those appearance before being sent to the Denver Spurs of the Western League to play in 21 games and finishing with a 10-7-2 record, letting him get the Leading Goaltender Award for the league.

The New York Rangers would reacquire McDuffe from the Blues in the summer of 1972 and during the 1972-73 season, McDuffe only played one game with the Rangers, which was a win. McDuffe played six games for the Rangers in the 1973-74 season (3-2-1), but would spend the rest of the time in the AHL with the Providence Reds, going 17-12-6 in 36 games.

McDuffe would be on the move again, as the Kansas City Scouts picked him up in the Expansion Draft, which allowed McDuffe to stay in the NHL for the 1974-75 season. McDuffe played in 36 games, finishing with a 7-25-4 record.

The Scouts traded McDuffe to the Detroit Red Wings for the 1975-76 season, where McDuffe would play four games going 0-3-1. The rest of the 1975-76 season had McDuffe play with the AHL's New Haven Nighthawks, going 8-9-3 in 21 games. McDuffe would stay in the AHL for the 1976-77, splitting between the Rhode Island Reds and the New Haven Nighthawks, playing 17 games in total between the two.

The WHA would call for McDuffe, as he signed with the Indianapolis Racers in the 1977-78 season, playing in only 12 games and going 1-6-1 before having a brief retirement. McDuffe would return to hockey playing amateur hockey with the Georgetown Gyros in the OHA before hanging them up. McDuffe would be part of the first induction class of the City of Milton, Ontario Walk of Fame in 2007.

Though he wasn't able to show himself off like he had wanted, McDuffe made a big showing in the minor leagues at the start, but because he got stuck into a rut, he was never able to actually get going, despite his early success. Whether it be bouncing around from team to team or minors to the show-- nothing seemed to stick for him when he needed it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Island of No Escape or Paradise Island??

The folks over at The Hockey News put out an article in their print edition (it's available online if you have a subscription, as well) about John Tavares and how it seems that he's "stranded" on Long Island and won't have the ability to show off his true talent on a national stage because of where he plays and the people around him. It's a topic that seems to have haunted him for a while, as the Globe and Mail tackled the subject in September of 2009.

The points made in both (as I have only skimmed both) are that Tavares is on a team that is struggling and really has no chance for accelerated success to be held over for a long period of time. And to an extent, it's a true statement. Long Island isn't necessarily the most desired place for some of the bigger production players long to be, especially with the crazed reputation of the owner and the unknown of the future of the team and whether they would stay in their mausoleum of an arena for much longer. It doesn't have the allure of what the Penguins had, a superstar player who was drafted and hot shot owner who was able to secure a new arena deal, even when times seem bleak.

But the notion that Tavares couldn't possibly be happy in Uniondale is a tad presumptuous. While it may not be the most desirable place for a young player to get development, it could be what Tavares needs in order to find himself as a player.

Let's be honest, Tavares has always been in the spotlight in his junior career. So much so, that he has a rule named after him in Major Junior hockey, as he was considered an exceptional player in Junior A hockey-- the OHL was allowed to have him available to be drafted at age 14 rather than 15. The spotlight continued to shine through in his first year, putting up 45 goals and 77 points his first year-- then exploding for 170 goals and 356 points in the following 182 games in the OHL before getting drafted. He's a player who has been under the microscope....and maybe it's not for him.

While some other players thrive in the spotlight, thrive in the media attention, and enjoy the criticism to make him better-- Tavares may not be that kind of player. He may have to be humbled for a bit and learn what kind of player and leader he is before he makes a lot of noise on the bigger scene of things. With the Islanders, he's got the ability to have the bigger market feel, but not the big market attention. He's on a team where he can grow and build along with other guys his age, which allows chemistry to build rather than actually having to deal with high-priced free agents coming in for a couple years just to collect a payday. This hardship could be what Tavares wants to show his manner of man he is as a player.

It has been a little rough for Tavares, as success hasn't come easy--- only 72 goals and 169 points in 207 games-- but he's growing as a player and shouldn't be expected to be the wunderkind that Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin were. Plus, he's learning more tricks of the trade while adjusting to NOT being in the spotlight and trying to tune his game to a team mentality rather than just being the whole effin' show for a team. Always good to learn young.

That all said, it does make you wonder about what he could actually do with some kind of support around him that could compliment him well, much like Steven Stamkos has in Martin St. Louis. Also, you have to question of whether the reality check of getting into the NHL after a successful junior career was something he's trying to adjust to.

As it goes, Tavares is excelling this year-- 19 goals and 48 points in 46 games-- 10 goals and 19 points away from his season-highs in the past two seasons of his play. He's signed until the end of the 2017-18 season and will have plenty of time to grow in Long Island....or wherever owner Charles Wang finds a place for him. There's plenty of great things to come from Tavares, but he's going at his own pace and trying to round-out his game in a different location. To assume he wants out just for the sake of wanting out is not only a knock on the Islanders, but also the skill of Tavares that he can't save a team-- which makes me wonder why people would want him if he's just going to be a hanger on.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another Post on Trivial Times in Montreal

The headline reads "Un Genou Au Sol." Or, for Randy Cunneyworth, "Knee on the Ground" and for those who want to REALLY simplify it-- "Death Kneel."

That's the state that the Montreal media has when it comes the the 17-21-8 Montreal Canadiens. In this day in age, in the riches this franchise has had for the better part of the century-- the media and everyone around the team seems to be treating this season like it's the worst ever in the storied history of the franchise. Yet, when you look at the past two decades, it could be a lot worse.

In fact, should the Habs not be able to catch-up those for wins their fans will so desperately crave to prove their own self-worth through a hockey club-- this would only be their eighth season under .500 since the 1950-51 season. That's right, readers-- in the past 61 years, the Montreal Canadiens have only had SEVEN seasons under the .500 mark in their record not including this year. Many teams would hope to be around for 61 years in the same place, much less be over .500 in those 55 years.

The 1950-51 season was the one that is the starter for this, where the Habs went 25-30-15 in the 70 game season under Dick Irvin's helm during the original six days. After that, you have to really fast-forward to the 1983-84 season where the 35-40-5 record yielded two coaches of Bob Berry and Jacques Lemaire were steering the ship. Though the shortened season of 1995 put the 18-23-7 record under Jacques Demers, the 1996-97 team under Mario Tremblay's watch is where the recent troubled waters could stem from-- as they went 31-36-15, where the 1998-99 franchise with Alain Vigneault had a 32-39-11 standing at season's end. Then a split between Vigneault and Michel Therrien went 28-40-8 in 2000-01, while the last sub-500 team was the 2002-03 season, where Therrien and Claude Julien finished with a 30-35-8 record.

But because of the heritage this team has in the annals of hockey history, because of the cultural mark they have with the French-Canadian contingent-- the team will forever be under the microscope, maybe even more than the Toronto Maple Leafs. You could see that on display when it comes to the Cunneyworth protests a number of people had a few weeks ago shows that. The fact that the coach's language skills gets more press and more heat than the team that was put together by the French-Canadian GM shows that the cultural aspect of things means more to the people at some points than winning, especially if it hides the fact that the moves of one are masked.

Yet, Spector's Hockey's Lyle Richardson amongst others have suggested that it's time to clean house from top to bottom. Some say it's because the cultural aspect has gotten in the way of winning, others thing the right people aren't in there; but the formula is close. I believe that there's too many excuses and too many unsolved distractions from the top to the viewing public which is completely screwing over this team and what they are trying to do-- it's only welcoming havoc to arise.

While this season won't be the worst ever in the past six decades for the Canadiens, something in the air has panic abound from the general public in the area, which then expands to the entire country, then into the entire hockey world. While it could only be much ado about nothing in the end of things, the buzz we're getting half-way into the season for a team that's only four games under par shows that the hockey crazed market may want to check itself into an asylum before they become their own worst enemy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Absurd Goalie Monday: Wayne Thomas

This week's AGM does have quite the track record-- being a Stanley Cup winner, to taking over for a star goalie, to being rostered, but never playing a game in the season. For all the hallowed franchises he play with, he would take his knowledge of the game to behind the bench and into the the front office. This week, the profile of Wayne Thomas.

Thomas started his trek in Junior A with the Ottawa Jr. Senators from 1965 until 1967, as well as playing with the Morrisburg Combines in the 1967 Allan Cup. Starting in the 1967-68 season, Thomas started to play for the University of Wisconsin, though he would not play in his first year. Thomas did see time in the 1968-69 season for the Badgers, going 9-6-1 in 16 games. In the 1969-70 season, Thomas compiled a 14-7-0 record in 21 games, helping him receive Second-Team All-Star honors in the WCHA.

Thomas was initially property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but would traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1968,  then the Kings would trade him to the Montreal Canadiens in 1970. After leaving Wisconsin-- Thomas would play for the AHL's Montreal Voyageurs for the 1970-71 season going 8-17-6 in 33 appearances. The Voyageurs moved to Nova Scotia for the 1971-72 season, which seemed to help Thomas; who finished that season with a 22-8-10 record in 41 games. Thomas only played in six games for Nova Scotia in the 1972-73 season, before getting the call by the Montreal Canadiens, where he'd play 10 games with an 8-1-0 record. Despite not dressing for a playoff game, Thomas received a Stanley Cup ring and included in the team picture at the end of the season-- but is not engraved onto the Stanley Cup.

With Ken Dryden opting to study law for the 1973-74 season, Thomas assumed the starting role-- playing in 42 games, finishing with a 23-12-5 record while splitting time with Bunny Larocque and Michel Plasse. Yet, in the 1974-75 season, Thomas was listed on the active roster for the Canadiens, but never played a single minute the entire season.

With his time in Montreal done, the Canadiens traded Thomas to the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 1975-76 season, where Thomas would take the starting role, going 28-24-12 in 64 games and a 5-5 playoff record. Thomas would also play in the 1976 All-Star Game. However, the 1976-77 season would be a little rough for Thomas, who lost his starting job and only appear in 33 games with a finishing record of 10-13-6 and 1-2 in the playoffs.

Before the 1977-78 season, the New York Rangers claimed Thomas in the Waiver Draft, though he struggled in his 41 games that season, finishing with a 12-20-7 record and 0-1 in the playoffs. Thomas's time in the pipes dwindled in the 1978-79 season, seeing only 31 games, but putting together a 15-10-3 record for the season. Thomas split his time in the 1979-80 season between the Rangers for 12 games (4-7-0) and five games with their AHL affiliate, the New Haven Nighthawks (5-0-0). Thomas would make one last gasp at playing int he 1980-81 season with the Rangers, but would go 3-6-1 in 10 games before he would hang-up the pads in retirement.

Not long after his retirement, Thomas went into the coaching ranks-- first with the Rangers as a goalie and then assistant coach, then getting his first head coaching job in the IHL with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles from 1985 to 1987, winning the 1986 Turner Cup with them; then onto the Peoria Riverman from 1988-90. Thomas would be promoted to assistant coach of the St. Louis Blues from 1990 until 1993, when he moved to be part of the coaching staff for the San Jose Sharks.

In March of 1996, Thomas was promoted to Sharks assistant General Manager and General Manager to their AHL team, which is the Worcester Sharks at the moment.

Though he had quite the ride for his playing career, his hockey sense allowed him to actually get an idea and prepared for something outside his playing career-- which he has turned into a great position and one of the respected front office people for the Sharks organization.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On the Topic Of the All-Star Game

So we're at the time of year where the All-Star Game is the next big thing on the NHL schedule. For years, people have been clamoring to see the NHL stars of today on one big stage and for them to play a competitive game with nothing more than pride of their conference on the line.

It was hard to write that without breaking up laughing.

But the ASG is a time-honored tradition that really has no way to actually quit or have a big meaning to it all. The weekend has two gimmicks leading up to the game-- the "Fantasy Draft" and the Skills Competition-- which get a lot more heat than the actual game itself. In fact, the only good things in the past couple of years that the NHL has done with the game is to have fans only pick the top-six rather than 12 and then have the fantasy draft.

If this was a legitimate thing, you'd have to think that four Ottawa Senators-- who are hosting the event this year-- wouldn't be in the starting line-up, in fact; they may not even be starters at all. Hell, four Sens is a stretch when it comes to the game. This just shows how stupid fan voting is. The "starters" of the game are all Eastern Conference players and represent three teams.

Also, if you wanted a true ASG, you wouldn't have to have all 30 teams represented. That's a great idea to have every team recognized in the biggest major event in the NHL schedule, but if there's a team that doesn't warrant it (because there's a few); they don't deserve to be there.

Yet, the All-Star Game format is one that almost needs to happen for a league to have some kind of legitimacy, I suppose. However, I think the concepts that have the best way is MLB, who has the winner get home-field advantage in the World Series, and the MLS, who has their All-Stars play an elite European team and string up interest in their sport that way.

However, the NHL is a league that is going to get their sport out there by promoting the big name stars, even if they don't deserve to be there-- like an Alex Ovechkin type, who isn't having a great year, but is still a big name and will be needed to be used when it comes to hyping the game up because of his recognition in the mainstream. There's probably plenty of guys who are more deserving than Ovechkin, but he'll get their spot because of the fact he's more noticeable.

The game itself is just a glorified pond hockey game with little flow to it and little meaning to it all. There's really no way to fix the game itself and it's meaningless quality because it would be too much of a risk if they were to play in a game against a team from overseas or to make some kind of home-ice situation, because that would make the whole regular season achievements moot and take away from the real thing.

That said, it's not something you can just take out. It's something for the fans and allows another adventure for people to go to that's not the Draft and allows them to see a game, as well. Considering the game is in Ottawa, of course they'll vote four Senators into the starting line-up, because they want to see their guys in their building. Plus, it's a popularity contest, so whoever the fans want-- the fans will see. The NHL will cater to guys, even if it's not technically correct.

For the people bitching about it, I agree to an extent. However, it's a necessary evil for a "major" league to be considered relevant. If you don't like it, don't watch it. Because I know I won't most likely.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Absurd Goalie Monday: Markus Mattsson

When the WHA came into the landscape in the 1970s, it gave me chances for players, mostly goalies, as well as giving the chance for international players to start off their career. That's what happened with this week's AGM, who broke in with the WHA from his native Finland before making a push at a NHL career. This week, the profile of Markus Mattsson.

Mattsson started is career off in his homeland, Finland, playing for Ilves Tampere from the 1973-74 season until the 1976-77 season. During that time as well, Mattsson played for Finland in international competitions, like the European Junior Championships (1974 and 1976), the World Junior Championships (1975), and in the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976 before moving his career forward.

In the summer of 1977, Mattsson was drafted by the New York Islanders in the NHL Draft and the Houston Aeros in the WHA Draft. Mattsson chose the WHA route, but he would be traded from Houston to the Winnipeg Jets in June and play a total of ten games (4-5-0) with the Jets in two stints-- as Mattsson was traded to the Quebec Nordiques, playing there for six games (1-3-0) before being traded back to Winnipeg at the end of the 1977-78 season. Also that season, Mattsson played two games for the Central League's Tulsa Oilers, going 1-1-0 in that brief time. The 1978-79 season settled down for Mattsson, who stuck with the Jets to play for 52 games that season, going 25-21-3.

As the Jets moved to the NHL, Mattsson moved with them, even though he was reclaimed by the Islanders, but then re-reclaimed by the Jets. For the 1979-80 season, Mattsson played 21 games for the Jets with a 5-11-4 record, while going into the Central League with Tulsa going 10-7-2 in 20 games. Mattsson would spend more time with Winnipeg in the 1980-81 season, but with a worse record-- finishing with a 3-21-4 record in 31 games, while playing five games in Tulsa with a 3-2-0 record. Though, Mattsson played in the 1981 Canada Cup, but he went 0-2-0 in two games before the 1981-82 season, where he's played in Tulsa all season, compiling 26-23-0 record in 50 games.

Mattsson signed with the Minnesota North Stars before the 1982-83 season, going 1-1-0 in two games. He'd spend most that season with the Central League's Birmingham South Stars, playing in 28 games and finishing with a 17-10-0 record of that season.

In February of 1983, the North Stars traded Mattsson to the Los Angeles Kings for a Draft pick. To close out the 1982-83 season with the Kings, Mattsson played in 19 games with a 5-5-4 record. Mattsson would split the 1983-84 season with the Kings and their AHL affiliate, the New Haven Nighthawks. In Los Angeles, Mattsson went 7-8-2 in 19 games, while in New Haven, Mattsson finished with a 16-10-1 record while appearing in 31 games.

After that, Mattsson would move back to Finland to play for Tappara Tampere from the 1984-85 season until he retired after the 1986-87 season.

While he still is the goalie who stopped Wayne Gretzky's 51-game point streak, he never seemed to get a chance to make a mark in front of a big audience. Mattsson played behind some of the worse defenses and offenses out there, which didn't help him much. Yet, luckily, because of the WHA, he was able to get his break in North America and leave his mark in the hockey aspect of things.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Why Eric Francis Enrages Me, Volume 3,452

Eric Francis' douchebaggery knows no bounds. I've been saying it since 2005 and it seems people are cluing into it.

This time, the morning zoo jock at JACK-FM in Calgary had a little piece about the Russian junior's captain and Washington Capitals' prospect Evgeni Kuznetsov. To his point, Francis went on and on about how much of a selfish player he is and how he will fit into the "selfish-Russian mold" the Capitals have seemed to build. Because, as we all know.....Francis has been following the Caps beat for as long as anyone can remember.

Forget the fact Kuznetsov has seven assists this tournament. Forget the fact as a captain, Kuznetsov should be the one to be "selfish" on the ice and want to be the one to have the spotlight. Forget the fact that if Jaden Schwartz or any other Canadian would have done it, he would have been touted as a great leader-- the fact remains that this is just another point of Eric Francis ignorance and the fact him being a columnist is a bit of a joke, especially considering he took the time out to focus on the bad side of Kuznetsov's game rather than the Canadians melting down as they did.

Kuznetsov may be a little wet behind the ears-- sure, but at the same time; he did what any captain should do and make the heat and take the heat one way or another. He backed up his comment about looking forward to facing the Canadians and did what he needed to in order to get his team ahead (read: jawing/consoling Boone Jenner).

While Francis says that Kuznetsov is not much of a teammate, how does he know that?? Has he watched him this whole tournament-- because I know I haven't seen him in the media scrums in the mixed zone while I'm down there. Plus, if being selfish gets the job done, what does it matter how he is on the ice in terms of "being a teammate"?? Francis isn't in the room, he hasn't talked to the players, he hasn't done the leg work to get the actual beef of this story to see if Kuznetsov is actually a team player or only in it for himself. It's pure assumption, which is something I expect out of Francis-- who will get to spout this off on Hockey Night in Canada before getting put in his place by Mike Milbury and/or Elliotte Friedman.

For a guy like Francis, who seems to want to have all players controlled like his NHL12 team that he plays on his XBox, to question any player or coach's integrity-- much like he did with Darryl Sutter before his hiring in Los Angeles-- is absurd. You can't be a serious hockey reporter, while giving away Coldplay tickets to the ninth caller who gives the "phrase that pays." Sure, the CBC does pay some of his bills, so his nationalism is something that is expected, but to use the broad stroke brush he did is not only childish, but really lazy reporting-- which I guess is something we have become accustom to when speaking of Francis. 

There is no love/hate for Eric Francis-- it's mostly hate. Not only from me, but from most of the people who watch him, most of the people who read him, and whoever decides to listen to him-- if only to get those advance screening passes for the next crappy movie out. Yet, he proves that if you kiss enough ass; you'll go places in the business.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Another Winter Classic Post

For more pictures from JonnyP, check out the Face Off Hockey Show Facebook page  for his set. 

Another year has come, another Winter Classic has come and gone, and the debate of whether this is a gimmick that has run its course. To be honest, I have to say that I'm starting to think that the whole idea of the Winter Classic and most outdoor games being put on the shelf for a bit to freshen it up a bit. There's a couple reasons why, which I will point out-- in no particular order.

First, the limited amount of locales still available is one factor. The past two Winter Classics have been a bit sloppy in terms of the weather, which we can attribute to Al Gore. That said, the fact that we're going to Pennsylvania, which is usually nice and chilly at this time of year, and it's still sloppy-- it may limit the places for this event even more. What do you think DC could be like or anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Second, with the limited locales, you have the limited amount of teams that are available. This is the second time we've seen the Philadelphia Flyers, we've seen the Pittsburgh Penguins twice, and we'll probably see the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals twice when it comes to the Winter Classic. While the idea of the Winter Classic is all well and good to opening up the public to the NHL and its players, but at the same time-- it's enraging to most fans who actually are hardcore into the game.

Part of that, however, is due to the NHL and their agreement with the National Broadcasting Company and it's bevy of networks that come with it. NBC wants the ratings, NHL wants the ratings and exposure-- thus, you get the teams in the bigger markets and with the bigger named players on the roster. Which is a damn shame, because you have so many teams with so many young and talented players on it that the world will not see because NBC doesn't seem to want to give those teams the exposure. Which is a disservice to the league and the fans-- hardcore and casual-- but it will definite increase people shelling out cash for the Center Ice package if they want to see teams outside of their area, which is good and bad.

When it comes to the Heritage Classic, that's already a limited thing between the seven Canadian teams, in which people will come out for regardless of the situation or the area because of how much the people love the game. That said, that game seems to be every two or three years so they don't hit all the areas at once.

As far as the US areas are concerned, you will likely not have many more areas to deal with. In all honesty, you have Detroit, New York, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, and maybe Washington, DC left before you start to worry about this thing going into repeats. Sure, the ability to make and keep ice is there and you could really move it all over the place, however-- the sustainability has been tough in the past couple of season-- which makes me worry that they won't go south of DC.

The bottom line is that while this is a great thing to have around to get the causal fan into the game and to give exposure to the sport-- the fact you need a certain condition for it to be a great game and actually be true to life like every other game....we're looking at the last legs of the Winter Classic.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Absurd Goalie Monday: Guy Hebert

When it comes to going from NCAA to the pros, it's always a tough route if you stay in college all four years. It's even harder when you play at a Division II school and hope for the best. However, with a little luck and the expansion era-- this week's AGM was able to not only get out of the shadows; but also become a franchise face for a team. This week, the profile of Guy Hebert.

Starting off a a little college in Clinton, New York-- Hebert started his long trek with Hamilton College starting in the 1985-86 season, going 4-12-2 in 18 games. However, the 1986-87 season was far kinder with Hebert compiling a 12-5-0 record in 18 games, which got the attention of the St. Louis Blues-- who drafted Hebert in the eighth round of the 1987 Draft. Hebert then went 5-3-0 in nine games during the 1987-88 season, before finishing out his college career with an 18-7-0 record in 25 games.

Hebert went on his way to the Peoria Rivermen of the IHL in the 1989-90 season, getting limited time by seeing only 30 games and finishing with a 7-13-7 record. The same went for the 1990-91 season, where Hebert went 24-10-1 record in 36 games-- sharing the James Norris Trophy for fewest goals-against with former AGM Pat Jablonski. That record helped Hebert into the 1991-92 season, where he would go 20-9-0 in 29 games with Peoria, but also getting the call up to the Blues, where he'd go 5-5-1 in 13 appearances. The 1992-93 season allowed Hebert to get a chance as a full-time back-up in St. Louis behind Curtis Joseph, where Hebert would go 8-8-2 in 24 appearances.

Even with his performance, Hebert was left unprotected in the Expansion Draft, where he would be picked up by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In the first year of the franchise, Hebert held his own finishing with a 20-27-3 record in the 1993-94 season, while in the shortened 1994-95 season; Hebert went 12-20-4 in 39 games. The franchise and Hebert fortunes started to turn in the 1995-96 season, with Hebert going 28-23-5 in 59 games; while in the 1996-97 season, Hebert compiled a 29-25-12 record in 67 games, helping the Mighty Ducks to their first playoff berth, in which he went 4-4 in nine games. It was a tough 1997-98 season for Hebert, who only played 46 games with a 13-24-6 record before having to miss out on the season after a shoulder injury.

Coming back in the 1998-99 season, Hebert was able to get into 69 games and finish with a 31-29-9 record with six shutouts, while going 0-3 in four playoff games in Anaheim. In another marathon season in the 1999-2000 season, Hebert played in 68 games and finished with a 28-31-9 record. The 2000-01 season seemed to be a swan song for the long time Mighty Duck, as he would only play in 41 games in Anaheim, going 12-23-4 before being placed on waivers at the trade deadline.

The New York Rangers picked up Hebert off waiver, playing him in 13 games and finishing with a 5-7-1 record before he would hang up the pads for good.

Hebert's career also had some international experience, as he played on the 1996 World Cup of Hockey team for the Americans, winning one game in which they won the title; while Hebert also played in the 1994 World Championship and going 4-2-0 in six games, including being the winning goalie when the US beat Russia, which was the first time they did so since the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" game in the Olympics.

From a small-time college, to back-up on the Blues, to being a huge building block for a franchise's existence; Hebert ran the gamut of experiences. You'll very rarely see these accomplishments from a Division II player making it this big in the NHL, but that's why people scour the ranks to see that diamond in the rough-- which St. Louis found, but Anaheim reaped the benefits of him.