Thursday, 30 December 2010

Freaking THUNDER?! Are you kidding me?!

As it stands now, we are set to have by far the worst weather of any of the Winter Classics so far. After a month  of freezing temperatures in Pittsburgh, they are set to have a heat wave strike just in time for the New Years Day tilt between the Penguins and Washington Capitals. The forecast is now a high of 49 degrees, a 70% chance of rain, and thunder. Yeah, you read that correctly; I looked at the page on for several minutes to make sure I wasn't going mad. This had to happen eventually, its just too bad it has to happen during what may to the most anticipated Classic thus far. The weather will surely make for less than perfect ice conditions regardless of when the game is played which, as of now, looks like it will be better suited for early on January 2nd. The ice conditions are going to make for an interesting game. The game might just actually look like that commercial where Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are staring at each other during a monsoon (seriously, this has to be the most boring commercial for a hockey game I have ever seen).

The NHL has certainly been lucky with the weather in what has become a signature game for the league. The last two have been just about perfect, cloudy and near freezing. The cooler that makes the ice can keep it frozen in temperatures in the upper 50s, but that's not something the ice crew would really want to test. Boston had beautiful, calm weather last year while Chicago had frigid blasts of wind to deal with (though what else would you expect from the Windy City?). The weather in Buffalo was definitely interesting. The snow falling during the game added to the atmosphere and personality of the game, casting the fans into a real world snow globe. While the atmosphere was great and the fans loved it, it doesn't make for a good game when the Zambonis were on the ice just as much, if not more, than Crosby. The snow may have been annoying, but rain would be disastrous. As anybody who has participated in a pre-game skate after some jackass who has no idea what they are doing dumps too much water while cutting the ice can tell you, wet ice is shitty ice. Skating is difficult, equipment gets soaked and heavy, and the puck gets stuck to the ice like a suction cup.

Sunday looks like a good day to play, the forecast is 34 degrees and mostly cloudy, and I fully expect the game to be postponed a day. For the fourth year in a row, I'll be there, this time wearing my now famous Joe Sakic Quebec Nordiques jersey. I would love to be able to give live updates on here during the game, but I don't have a smart phone to be able to do that. However, I do have a new camera and will be posting pictures of the event on Facebook, so look for those at the end of the weekend. Whatever happens, this is sure to be an exciting game when it eventually gets underway. A few years ago, Ovechkin and Crosby both had hattricks in the same playoff game and one can only hope they, along with their talented supporting casts, give us another hard fought, exciting game in what has become the best player and team rivalry in the NHL.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Bad Nicknames, The Devils' Chances and Caps in the Final

  • Enough is enough, I've had it with NHL nicknames these days. The Hockey News website has a quote of the day on their page and in the most recent one, Christ Drury refers to Rangers teammate Derek Stepan as "Steps." Read the Getting To Know You features on the THN website and most of the nicknames are God-awful. Brandon Prust's is "Prusty," Chris Campoli's is "Camper," Todd Bertuzzi's is "Bert," Chris Niel's is "Neiler," Kevyn Adams' is "Ads," Adam Oates' is "Oatesy," and the list goes on. I think too many players are getting hit in the head too often for them to come up with anything more complex than adding an "s," "y," or "er" to the end of someone's name or even just shortening it all together and calling it a day. Head injuries must be an even bigger problem than anyone else thought if these are the best players can come up with. What the hell happened to the creativity of the old days? What happened to Walter "Turk" Broda, named after the fact he looked like a turkey egg because of his freckles when he was younger; Georges Vezina the "Chicoutimi Cucumber," named for his hometown and the fact he was cool under pressure; Yvan "The Roadrunner" Cournoyer; Ken Dryden, the "Thieving Giraffe;" Martin "The Eliminator" Gelinas; Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, the inventor of the slap shot named for the sound of his stick hitting the puck and the puck hitting the boards; Pat Verbeek, the "Little Ball of Hate" and don't forget the Rockets, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Henri "Pocket Rocket" Richard, and Pavel "Russian Rocket" Bure. There are tons of other classic old nicknames, each infinitely better than the ones today. Even the ones that took part of their names showed some creativity. There was "Super Mario" Lemieux, Stu the "Grim Reaper" Grimson, Curtis "Cujo" Joseph, and "Burnaby Joe" Sakic just to name a few. A pretty good list of nicknames can be found here. And as a plea to all NHLers, the next time you're asked if you have a nickname and the best you can come up with is something to the effect of "Kaner" or "Prongs," just say no. 
  • The Devils have finally done the expected and fired John MacLean. He made it 33 games and and led (more like watched) the Devils to a 9-22-2 record, good for last overall in the NHL. Some growing pains should have been expected with the new look roster, but a drop in the standings like this would have been impossible to predict. Jacques Lemaire has re-taken over as head coach and has quite the uphill battle in front of him. The Devils remind me of the Carolina Hurricanes last year who, after 33 games, had a record of 8-19-6 mainly due to injuries, most notably Eric Staal and Cam Ward. They weren't able to turn things around and by game 41, they had a record of 11-23-7. They were able to turn things around and became one of the hottest teams during the second half of the season, but going 24-14-3 was only good enough to get them to 11th place and eight points out of a playoff spot. A survey on The Hockey News website asked if the Devils have a chance at making the playoffs but it appears highly unlikely. At this point the deficit is too great but they can still have a god second half to the season and begin preparing for next year. The search for a coach is going to be critical though, I don't know how long Lemaire will want to stay on as it seems he was enjoying his retirement. There are a lot of qualified coaches out there but I think Ken Hitchcock would be a good fit. He stresses defense which is how the Devils have always won, and is a great motivator. A good kick in the ass may be exactly what the Devils need. 
  • The fact the Capitals are the visiting team in this year's Winter Classic in Pittsburgh is a reason why they are struggling this season. If recent history is any indication, the Capitals are destined to make the Stanley Cup Final, an appearance that will ultimately end in a loss. In the inaugural Classic in 2008, the Pittsburgh Penguins made the trip up to Buffalo to face the Sabres in a snow globe-like atmosphere that saw Sidney Crosby pot the game winner against Ryan Miller (sound familiar?) in the shootout. The Penguins would go on to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in that season's Cup Final. The next year, those Red Wings would visit Chicago to take on the Black Hawks at Wrigley Field, a game they would take 6-4. The Wings would then lose in a rematch to the Penguins for the Stanley Cup. Last season's Classic involved the Philadelphia Flyers taking on the Boston Bruins in a physical battle in which the Bruins squeaked out a 2-1 overtime win. The Flyers said fine, take the Winter Classic, we'll take the epic playoff series comeback. They rode that momentum all the way to the Cup Final where the Black Hawks were inevitably too much to handle. This year the Caps will take the trip to Pittsburgh to take on the hated Penguins in hopes of continuing the trend of advancing to the Final. The Caps, while not playing bad, are not playing up to the lofty expectations they have set for themselves the past few years. Fortunately for them, each team goes through highs and lows and the Caps still have plenty of time to go on a hot streak. If things go right for them, it will happen in time for the playoffs. Captain Alex Ovechkin has the ability to go on fire for extended periods of time. Will this be the year that includes an extended run through the playoffs?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Some Teams Prove Spending to the Cap Not Necessary

For whatever reason, it seems there are some GMs in the league that feel the need to spend as close to the cap as possible in order to make their team competitive. I was curious to see if spending to the max actually makes a team competitive and as it turns out, spending wisely is more important than spending generously. Just for fun, I took a look at the top and bottom 10 spending teams in the league. Here they are along with their records this season. All salary cap numbers are according to The team money is based on what they spend, not what their cap is and players are based on their cap hit, not salary.

Top Spending Teams
New Jersey Devils-$65,809,882 (15th in East, 33GP-9W-22L-2OTL-20PTS)
Calgary Flames-$63,348,520 (14th in West, 35-14-18-3-31)
Vancouver Canucks-$62,768,893 (3rd in West, 32-19-8-5-43)
Philadelphia Flyers-$59,945,049 (1st in East, 35-22-8-5-49)
Pittsburgh Penguins-$59,204,785 (4th in East, 35-23-10-2-48)
Boston Bruins-$59,011,472 (8th in East, 32-17-11-4-38)
Detroit Red Wings-$58,933,778 (1st in West, 33-21-8-4-46)
Montreal Canadiens-$58,434,472 (3rd in East, 34-19-13-2-40)
New York Rangers-$58,390,542 (7th in East, 35-20-14-1-41)
Minnesota Wild-$58,359,940 (13th in West, 32-15-13-4-34)
Combined Record: 336-179-125-32 Average Points: 39

Bottom Spending Teams
Atlanta Thrashers-$41,086,800 (6th in East, 36-19-12-5-43)
Colorado Avalanche-$42,974,086 (4th in West, 34-19-11-4-42)
New York Islanders-$43,077,879 (14th in East, 31-7-18-6-20)
Edmonton Oilers-$45,635,027 (15th in West, 32-12-15-5-29)
St. Louis Blues-$45,945,147 (12th in West, 33-16-12-5-37)
Tampa Bay Lightning-$48,850,554 (5th in East, 34-19-10-5-43)
Nashville Predators-$49,488,527 (7th in West, 33-17-10-6-40)
Carolina Hurricanes-$50,080,770 (9th in East, 32-15-13-4-34)
Phoenix Coyotes-$50,185,551 (10th in West, 32-15-10-7-37)
Florida Panthers-$50,754,990 (12th in East, 32-15-17-0-30)
Combined Record: 329-154-128-47 Average Points: 35.5

That makes seven teams in the top group and four in the bottom that are in playoff position. However, with the exception of the Islanders and Oilers who are either at or tied at the bottom of their respective conferences, three of the four other teams on the wrong side of 8th are within four points of jumping into playoff position. Don't let the Coyotes and Blues fool you, each are only three points out of a spot and five points from jumping to 4th in the ultra competitive Western Conference.

The teams spending the least amount of money are spending wisely, many going with the common trend of spending little money on goaltenders. The Thrashers have spent a combined $3 M on Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec, the Avs have spent $3,062,500 on Craig Anderson and Peter Budaj, the Oilers $4.550 M on Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk, the Lightning $3.7 M on Mike Smith and Dan Ellis, and the Predators $4.275 M on Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback. Only three of the bottom 10 teams, the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Panthers spend more than $6 M on goaltenders. On the contrary, six of the top 10 teams spend more than $6 M on goalies: the Devils, Flames, Canucks, Bruins, Rangers, and Wild. Only three have gone cheap with goaltending and they are among the top teams in the league. The Canadiens spend $3.750 M on Carey Price and Alex Auld, the Red Wings spend $2,133,333 on Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard, and the Flyers split $4.225 M between Sergei Bobrovsky Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Spending as little money as possible on goalies allows GMs to make the team in front of them deeper and more competitive. If the 18 position players on the ice are good enough than all they need is a goalie that won't lose them the game rather than one that needs to steal each one from the opposition.

When it comes to the positional players, it is probably better to have two $3 M players, rather than one $6 M player. Depth is key in today's NHL and having one player take up the majority of the cap space is likely to put teams into tight spots. Having a player who does well enough to earn upwards of $6 M is nice, but not when GMs can't afford to give them quality teammates. the exception here though would be the Penguins whose centers Crosby and Malkin each make $8.7 M and have the ability to won game by themselves. Of the top 10 teams, only the Wild are without at least one player making over $6 M leaving some teams, most notably the Devils and Flames, with weak teams that have cap problems. Quality players are nice, but over-paying them at the expense of team depth can kill a team. Not every team in the bottom 10 are sure things to make the playoffs, but all have room for improvement thanks to smart spending.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

If you can pay, you can boo

I was the the Flyers-Panthers game last night and witnessed the Flyers do their best New Jersey Devils impersonation against a middling team they should be able to handle easily. The crowd was obviously unhappy with the effort (or rather lack thereof) set forth by the orange and black and it showed; a noticeable amount of fans didn't come back for the third period, and most left after it became 5-0 halfway through the final stanza. Another aspect of the game was the booing. At several points and especially the final moments of the game the crowd showed their appreciation for the team with a chorus of boos.

I thought about earlier this season when Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke criticized Leafs fans for booing the team, most notably captain Dion Phaneuf. Sure, booing is usually reserved for hated opponents but sometimes the home team needs to be made aware they are not performing up to expectations. Burke called Leafs fans "disgraceful," but they should be able to act however they want when it is they who are being disgraced. Sometimes it takes a kick in the ass from the crowd to get a team going. Though if the Devils are any indication this season, that may not always work.

Look at the Flyers last year. Three hundred and sixty-four days prior to last night's game, the Flyers played played another lackluster game against those same Panthers, only this time they had lost 14 of their previous 17 games, including that one. they were booed off the ice and the players felt embarrassed, not only for that game but for the way the season in general had been going to that point. After that, they went on a tear, getting points in 19 of their next 26 games and saving the season. The players were no doubt disappointed in themselves but the booing from the Flyers faithful must have stung them extra deep. Fans pay for way over-priced tickets and beer to watch way over-payed players play a game, the least they can do is to show a little effort. Expecting them to win every game is foolish but they can at least try.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Anybody for a glass of whine?

We Americans live in a strange culture. Despite the fact we all know that not every person will get ahead and not everyone will win everything, we do our best to make sure that version of reality is as skewed as possible, especially at a young age. No one fails, no scores are kept, and everyone gets a trophy. My brother's girlfriend Beth teaches young kids and told me over Thanksgiving break that she is not allowed to give her students a grade lower than a 50 or fail them. Even if all they write for an assignment is "Hey teach, you suck," they still can't get lower than half credit and they will pass that class. It seems every youth league either declares every game a tie or just simply doesn't keep score. Well you know what folks, these kids are going to fail at something sometime in their lives. Their high school team won't make it to the championship game, that girl they like won't want to date them, and they will not get that job they want (anyone wanna tell me what that's like? I have no idea). It is definitely better to have them understand this aspect of life early so they can get used to it and learn how to cope with defeat when they get older. Or not.

See, I thought this nonsense was limited to children and that the adults in this country were able to handle disappointment themselves. I was wrong. After an embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a loss that in the dying seconds of a game in which the away team won the crowd was in a frenzy, the Columbus Blue Jackets management threw a hissy fit and instituted a dress code for fans of opposing teams who come to see the games. Apparently, the real travesty here was Penguins fans riding the Zamboni but you have to think they just didn't want their opponents to be cheered, especially after an embarrassing loss. The Blue Jackets have some of the worst attendance numbers in the league, they should just be happy people showed up and not worry that half were there to see the greatest player in the world. Worry about trying to find a center to play with Rick Nash, something they haven't come close to doing yet.

This scenario reminds me a lot of the New England Patriots during their (almost) perfect season a few years ago. So many teams complained about the Pats running up the score on them. Well, if you really don't want them to score, stop them. Quit your bitching, man up to your mistakes, and make sure it doesn't happen again. The Titans did then and the Blue Jackets should now. So here's an idea, instead of wasting their breath trying to keep opposing fans from cheering on their teams, something they have every right to do once they purchase their ticket, try putting a team together that won't lose such an embarrassing game on home ice. Defenses could have shut their mouths and put their energy into stopping Brady and Co., Blue Jackets management should do the same thing here.

So, to the Blue Jackets, get over yourselves and let the fans have their fun. They paid for the over priced tickets and not letting fans (most of which are kids anyway) ride the zamboni because of the sweater they are wearing only teaches them things that are different are bad and you should always get your way.