Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Hi, My Name Is Tim Kolupanowich. I Work For The Hockey News

After a two day delay, I have finally begun my internship with The Hockey News. Its been an interesting week so far in Canada, but I have settled in and am having a blast.

Due to some miss-communication somewhere along the line, there were people at the International Office at my school who did not know I was leaving the country. As a result, I did not have any paper-work when I crossed the border where I had to stay at the immigration office for two hours. The entire time I was there was spent listening to three women trying to figure out where I belonged in the system. They couldn't put me down as a student because I am not going to school and they couldn't put me down for work because I am not getting paid.   they said the only way for me to be in the country and do my internship legally was to apply to the SWAP Working Holidays, an international exchange program. I was given all the information I needed in order to apply and was finally allowed to leave. So finally, after a 13 hour trip, I arrived in Scarborough, ONT where I will be staying until my internship is over.

Thursday was hectic to put it lightly. I made my way to the SWAP offices in downtown Toronto, but they couldn't help me out there. Someone gave me the number of the person who could help me, but she wasn't available. I did manage to download the proper application but had to go to a printing place in order to get it. Administrators at Endicott were also trying to figure out a way for me to start my internship on time. It was getting to the end of the day and I still had no real direction. Fortunately, Sarah Edwards, the member of SWAP I had contacted earlier in the day, finally got back to me and told me everything I needed to send her. I let my school know and they sent over everything they could provide and I emailed everything over to Karen Laushway who works for Travel CUTS who made sure Sarah got it the next morning. The application is supposed to take two weeks to process, but she was a great sport and understanding of my situation and got everything done that day. This was especially important because she is out of her office all this week and wouldn't have been able to do anything now. Seriously, those two girls did so much for me and I will never be able to thank them enough.

This is where it gets ridiculous. I'm already in Canada, already across the border and they can't send my documents to me. They are required to send it to a United States address so they are nice enough to send it overnight so my parents can receive it on Monday once they get back to New Jersey. So they did and sent it priority back to Toronto where they shipped it from in the first place. On Tuesday, me and Steve, the husband of the woman I am living with who took a day off of work to help me out, are waiting for the package so we can drive to the border, hand in he documents, and I can legally be allowed to work in Canada. My parents paid for an overnight, a.m. delivery. At 1 o'clock, I am still waiting for the package to arrive. So I check the FedEx website for an update on my package and find that not ten minuted earlier, the driver went to the house and no one answered. We had two people and a dog that will bark at a leaf flying by waiting for the doorbell and it never rang. Clearly the guy went to the wrong house, so we call up the company and ask what is wrong. To make a long story short, I ended up having to pick up the documents at the FedEx building in Toronto. My mom and dad better get their money back from that priority delivery charge because that was just ridiculous.

I had an interesting time at the border the second time as well. It didn't take long to get my working papers, I was at immigration for all of 20 minutes, but me and Steve decided to cross the border into the States to get dinner and so he could visit a Harley Davidson shop. Apparently border guards find it suspicious when a Canadian and an American are driving from Toronto to the States, a two hour trip, just to get dinner. So they make us pull over into a long line of cars. Everyone is told to get out and a giant white truck drives by all the cars as they are all x-rayed. Once that is done we are given the all clear and allowed to enter the States. We go to the Harley shop and get some dinner at a local pub, great wings and beer. The family I am living with has been awesome. I feel right at home with them and they are doing everything to make me feel comfortable here. Steve, Cheryl, and their son Tommy are great hosts and I am lucky to have met these people. They also have a dog that knows how to give a high five.

Fortunately, all of these issues only delayed the start of my internship by two days. It really helps that everyone who works there is really cool and were understanding of my situation. I went in today and got to meet everyone and they are all laid back and made me feel right at home. I wasn't there 15 minutes when I went to my first meeting, one they have every day at 9:45. Basically all they do is talk hockey and discuss what they will potentially be writing about. The building I work in is really nice, we share a floor with TVGuide and Elle Magazine. That's right, I not only get to talk hockey all day, but get to do it while staring at models. Life. Is. Good.

My job in the beginning is pretty simple, mostly editing and fact checking, but it won't be long until I start writing. They will be little things at first, most likely a paragraph or two I haven't done much so far because a) it's only been one day and b) this is an off week where the magazine doesn't come out (it comes out three of four weeks during the season, once a month during the off-season). I did do some fact checking today and you can be rest assured this article received the Tim Kolupanowich stamp of approval. That's just about all I can say for now; literally I am not allowed to talk about what goes on there until the issue comes out, but I will keep you updated on what is going on as much as possible. Frankly, I still can't believe I'm here. You're supposed to do what you love and love what you do  and that is exactly what I am doing right now.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Claiming Nabokov a Curious Move

After the troubles the St. Louis Blues have had with waivers this month, I was curious to see if Evgeni Nabokov would actually play with the Detroit Red Wings after signing a one year deal following his departure from SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. I assumed a team on the edge of a playoff spot would nab him up, but was shocked when he was claimed by the New York Islanders. Apparently, Nabokov was too, to the point that he may not report to the Islanders and hung up on GM Garth Snow.

I do not understand how claiming Nabokov helps the Islanders in any capacity. They have no chance of making the playoffs this year; I would understand if they were within shouting distance of a playoff spot, but they need to call long distance. If they were in the Carolina Hurricanes' spot, 9th place with 53 points and only three points behind the struggling Atlanta Thrashers, it would make total sense. In that case, he would provide them with stable, consistent goaltending with the ability to steal crucial games at an important time of the season. However, that is not the case.

This season has clearly become about developing young players and getting prepared for the future. Seeing how the deal is only for the rest of this season, so what can he possibly do to help them in the future? If they start winning games now, it won't matter because they still need almost every game remaining to make the playoffs. This move may actually hurt them because, let's say he does decide to join the Islanders and helps them win enough games to get them up to 10th in the Eastern Conference; that will only end up costing them another top 5 draft pick this June.

They should be focusing on trying to get youngsters Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin as much experience as possible. These are the players that will carry the Islanders (along with Rick DiPietro, but he spends most of his time on IR with a wonky groin) going forward. Picking up Nabokov is a strange move that doesn't only not help the present, but hurts their future and slows down the development of the young goalies in their system as well.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

These Are Almost Done, Hooray!

There was a great article on the Puck Daddy Blog on Yahoo Sports that defended The Guardian Project. It made some good points, including how this venture may help attract new hockey fans and how the target market is not for people who are already hockey fans. It does make sense though, and you have to give the NHL credit for trying new ways of attracting fans and spreading interest in the game. Anyway, time to laugh at the heroes presented in the past week.

I think they made up the powers of The Capital as they went along. He's the Jason Bourne of super heroes, not sure whether or not he has spent his life working as a spy. A giant man-eagle with a 14 foot wingspan, he can blend in anywhere. The creators needed an excuse for him to be able to fit in so why not shape-shifting? He has telescopic sight which makes me believe he is The Flyer's pet and I hope he never cheers a goal when the other heroes are around because his voice can destroy objects and people. Along with The Wild, they need to start being careful around each other of this league will get depleted quickly.

This guy just looks silly. The Red Wing is part transformer, part fighter jet, part formula one racer. For whatever reason, the creators made him resemble a hawk, without realizing the 'Hawks are their biggest rival. They are starting to get too many heroes with the same traits, they have a few too many leaders so I don't know who all the others will  listen to. Especially if The Red Wing and The Blackhawk has two different ideas. I'd hate to choose between them and have to deal with that decision in their layer later on. I have been looking and I do not understand what is going on with his wheels. They look like a bicycle attached to his feet so he must be tripping over a lot. They are also useless because he can fly, they just needed to add something to represent The Motor City so threw that in.

I love throwback and vintage stuff, I really do. But who in their right mind is going to fight a modern day war with weapons from 1857? The Blue Jacket, that's who. His entire body is covered in 19th century weaponry and has the ability to communicate with Civil War generals. He is the first hero with a unique ability, his astral plasma Ohio flag has the ability to "cocoon his victim with the flag, giving the illusion the victim has disappeared when in reality, the victim is temporarily suspended in time." Umm...what?

Good news. The Flame is "completely resistant to heat." Whew! For a minute there there, I was worried a man comprised completely of fire would be unable to take himself. Basically, he's the Human Torch with out the back story and added wings. He likes to ski but I wonder how he's allowed on the mountain a second time after melting all the snow on his first run. Keep him away from The Sabre; he's just another hero whose purpose seems to be to destroy the other Guardians.  

The Star is nothing if not confident, so much in fact that any little idea he comes up with he thinks is original and the greatest thought anyone has ever had. I now people like that. They're called pricks. His catch-phrase is an unoriginal cliche and sounds like something this guy would say. He uses nuclear fusion as a weapon to create something he like to refer to as a "solar flare." Yeah, just him and the thousands of scientists who have studied the sun.

All in all, The Coyote seems like a pretty decent guy for a hobo. This poor man's Wolverine can conjure up spirits who apparently appear in the form of a T-Rex in order to give him advice. To me though, fortune cookie seem like a much less scary way to get some good guidance. He just needs to find some new apparel, dusters should be reserved for one badass, and one badass only

Another guy resembling Mr. Freeze, The Avalanche has a real problem with, well, everyone he works with. He not only has a problem has a problem with authority, but he takes meaningless risks "not because he actually believes that he can accomplish the act in question, but simply because he wants to see if it's possible." Just what I'm looking for in a superhero. He can create an avalanche at will, "provided of course that conditions allow for it." Yet another hero who is only useful only under the perfect circumstances. 

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Next Seven Guardians

As you could have guessed, I am not the only one who is critical of The Guardian Project. This article on Bleacher Report addresses just how dumb of an idea this is, NBC Sports did as well. Let's get started on the most recent seven "heroes" revealed.

The creators of The Guardian Project are keeping up with the trend of ripping off known characters; The Wild  just takes after Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Half the time he's an intellectual, the other half a raging maniac. He becomes so crazy that he "chains himself up at night so as not to cause any unnecessary mayhem." Does anyone else see a problem with this? Let's skip the fact that if he is chaining himself up he either a) has to keep the key near him for when he wakes up so he should be able to get out when he goes crazy, or b) he tosses the key away and can't get out the next morning. He has incinerators on his hands and can tunnel through the earth! I don't think it would be too much trouble to break through a chain. And let's hope he never gives a fellow super hero a pat on the back or we will only have 29 mutant freaks to fight crime. By the way, I can't wait to see what kind of brilliant criminal mastermind they come up with for these guys to fight. 

The Lightning has the ability to control lighting (wow, who would have seen that one coming?). And that's pretty much it. Has anyone ever tried to write a paper but the topic was too specific to find adequate information so you just rewrote the same sentence over and over in order to fill the required pages? Well, that's what they did on, stating roughly five times in two short paragraphs that he can control lightning. They really couldn't think of any other power to give this guy other than he's a ladies man. I'm sure getting lit up like a Christmas Tree is exactly what girls are going for these days.

This is just an unfortunate case of a guy with zero confidence. The Predator can spit radioactive plasma and can rip through steel like paper, yet he still sees himself as an underdog. And why exactly, the underdog he is, does he always volunteer first for any mission? Do the other heroes get annoyed at him for always asking to go first like that nerd in school everyone always made fun of? Hey Wild, give him a high five and you won't have to deal with this suck up anymore.

The exact opposite of his Predator brethren, The Shark only works when he feels like it. It's strange not for him to be the kiss-ass, seeing as he is the computer geek of the group (and we all know how great computers and salt water mix together). He can also control sharks to help him on a mission, if only a certain small-town sheriff didn't keep killing all his allies (damn you Chief Brody! he only ever wanted to help!). Hey, sometime you just need to do bad things in order to infiltrate the bad guys and dismantle their operation from the inside out. Ever see The Departed? Like that but with sharks.

Another Guardian who is just a big kid, The Bruin is also another Guardian who is very intelligent. The creators have now gone beyond ripping of current, established super heroes, they're just ripping off the other guardians they have already created themselves.   He has the ability to smell crime which, as any Sunny in Philly fan can tell you, has already been done. So this guy has the uncanny ability to track prey really well and scare people with nothing but his roar. Soo...basically he's a bear.

Ok, The Canuck is just Batman with a whale motif. Here is yet another guy who can control the weather except he can "fashion the resulting downpour into any number of offensive or defensive weapons," which is great if he's fighting the Wicked Witch of the West. He can also summon his whale friends to help him out when necessary. I hope he and The Shark never work together; having all the sharks eat all the whales might make for some awkward moments around their base. 

Give Ironman a new paint job and you have The Canadien. He has jets in his boots, along with ice skates and roller blades so he can get around. Uhh...can't he, you know, fly? He can take any power he wishes from any of the other Guardians and makes them all better at what they do. I bet The Leaf secretly loathes him. What he have here is another ladies man, some one rich in culture (and French culture, come on!) who believes he's the best at everything. I know people like that. They're called pricks.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Mid-Season Awards

We're halfway through the year.Here's my take on what the potential award nominees would be if the season ended today.

Hart Trophy: League MVP
Sidney Crosby, Pit: All you really need to look at to understand why Crosby should, and most likely will, be up for this trophy is the last three games by the Penguins. They have earned one of six possible points, have scored three goals, and allowed the Bruins to score four goals in the final four minutes in a 4-2 loss. As I stated in a recent post about Crosby, he is everything to the Penguins and with Evgeni Malkin still playing to a sub-par standard, the Penguins better hope Crosby's concussion is not serious.

Brad Richards, Dal: Richards has been a consistent offensive force for the surprising Stars. He is on pace to set career highs is goals and points and has helped the Stars to the top of their division, six points ahead of the Coyotes. He's the main reason Loui Eriksson has developed into a dangerous two-way sniper. Joe Nieuwendyk has a tough decision to make before the February 28 trade deadline; keep Richards for the playoff run and risk losing him for nothing to free agency, or trade him if they can't come to terms with a new deal and lose a highly experienced playoff performer (he won the Conn Smythe when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004).

Eric Staal, Car: After Ray Whitney left via free agency, Staal was the only bona-fide and proven scorer left on the team. After 42 games, he has the Hurricanes 2 points behind the Thrashers, with three games in hand, for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. He is also on pace for 41 goals, an important mark because the only two times his team has made the playoffs have come after his only two 40 goal seasons. He gets the nod over Steven Stamkos who gets the benefit of playing with Martin St. Louis.

My pick: Sidney Crosby. If Malkin were playing like he did two years ago this may be a different story, but he is struggling and the Penguins simply do not win with out Crosby in the lineup.

Vezina Trophy: Top Goaltender
Tim Thomas, Bos: Thomas started off on fire and hasn't slowed down yet. He has rebounded from an off year, but has taken the starting role back from Tuuka Rask and it doesn't look like he will be handing it back any time soon. He is head and shoulders above every other goalie ion the league with a .946 save percentage and 1.77 goals against average and has the Bruins sitting on top of the Northeast Division.

Jonas Hiller, Ana: He has faced more shots than any other goalie in the league (1,245), and is still third with a .929  save percentage to go along with a 2.39 GAA. They are getting great seasons from Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne, but Hiller is keeping them in playoff position and giving them reliable performances each night while costing the Ducks less than former goalie J.S. Giguere. With a record of 21-14-3, he is one of four goalies with 20 wins on the season.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit: He has been giving the Penguins reliable goaltending and has been having the best season of his career. He is 18-11-2 with a .919 save percentage and 2.31 GAA; taking away his poor start, those numbers improve to 17-5-2, a .934 save percentage, and a 1.96 GAA. With his play, the Penguins currently have the second most points in the Eastern Conference.

My pick: Tim Thomas. A lot of the time stats don't tell the story, but his are too good to ignore.

Calder Trophy: Best Rookie
Jeff Skinner, Car: This 18 year old is currently second on the Hurricanes in goals (14) and third in points (33); among rookies he is second in goals and first in assists (19) and points. He has given the 'Canes surprising offensive depth after Staal and Tuomo Ruutu. He beats out Logan Couture because, despite his 19 goals and +9 rating, he has been streaky. Take away his two three-game goal scoring streaks in which he scored four goals both times, he has 11 goals in the remaining 38 games.

Corey Crawford, Chi: The Marty Turco experiment has failed, but Crawford has given stability to the Blackhawks goaltending situation. Of the three rookie goalies who have started at least 20 games, he has the best stat line with a .917 save percentage and 2.23 GAA. Expect Crawford to get the majority of the remaining starts if the Blackhawks wish avoid becoming just the third team since 1995 to win the Stanley Cup and miss the playoffs the next season.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi: In the year of the rookie goalie, Bobrovsky has been one of the most important freshman in the league. An undrafted 22 year old from Russia, Bob has given Flyers fans long-term hope in goal for the first time since partner Brian Boucher was a rookie 11 years ago. Its too early to say for sure he is the answer in Philly (anyone remember Roman Cechmanek?), but his 16-6-3 record, .917 save percentage, and 2.55 GAA show plenty of promise.

My pick: Corey Crawford. After last year's roster purge, the Blackhawks no longer have the deep lineup that won them the Cup, making Crawford's play all the more important.

Jack Adams Award: Best Coach
Guy Boucher, TB: The rookie coach has been instrumental in turning the Lightning around. Tampa Bay currently sits on top of a surprisingly strong Southeast Division despite injuries and sub-par performances to Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Downie, and Simon Gagne and inconsistent goaltending. They are 25-13-5 this year after going 34-36-12 and finishing 12th in the East last year.

Barry Trotz, Nsh: Only the Canadiens have scored fewer goals than the Predators among teams in playoff position and only the Bruins have given up fewer goals overall. They boast a record of 23-13-6 and yet they do not have one player on pace for 50 points.

Joe Sacco, Col: Neither Craig Anderson nor Peter Budaj has a GAA under 3.0, but Colorado is still 22-15-6. They are getting solid contributions across the lineup and do not lack a scoring punch, even with the absence of Chris Stewart who had 11 goals and 25 points in 23 games before breaking his hand.

My pick: Barry Trotz. It's just about time he won this, no coach does more with less.

James Norris Trophy: Best Defenseman
Kris Letang, Pit: The Penguins chose not to resign veteran Sergei Gonchar, banking on further development by Letang. He has rewarded them by already setting career highs in assists and points while tying Crosby and Alex Goligoski for the team lead at +20. He also leads the team in ice time, averaging 23:39 per game.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Det: Someone needs to tell Lidstrom that a player's skills are supposed to decline as they get into their 40s. He is tied for first among defensemen with 30 assists with Tobias Enstrom (14 years his junior) and Letang (17 years) and is tied with Dustin Byfuglien (15 years) for most points with 41. He continues to play more than any other Red Wing at 23:44 per game.

Dustin Byfuglien, Atl: Byfuglien may be the surprise player of the year, leading the Thrashers is goals and points. Not leading the defensemen, leading the entire team. He is also tied for the league lead with six game winning goals and is a plus player for just the second time in his career. His physical play and playoff experience has been one of the main reasons for the Thrashers' play this season.

My pick: Kris Letang. Only partner Alex Goligoski has as good a plus/minus rating among the top 20 scoring defensemen.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The (Stupid) Guardian Project

The NHL has had trouble gaining credibility in the United States, often failing to get recognition as one of the "Big Four" and rarely featured on national sports networks like ESPN. Even the "sport" of NASCAR has a wider audience in many places, especially in the deep south. As a result, many teams are forced to come up with gimmicks and publicity stunts in order to attract fans, including this little gem by the Atlanta Thrashers. But of all ways to try and get fans, there is a new low. The National Hockey League and Stan Lee have teamed up to create The Guardian Project, a collection of 30 superheroes, one inspired by each team. At the All-Star game, they will all be revealed as the same time and shown in their first adventure. I can't wait to see what kind of problem they come up with that takes 30 heroes to solve. Seriously, having 30 heroes solve one crime is like having 30 firetrucks show up to put out a barrel fire. Wouldn't it be easier just to call Superman? He's one guy, can only be harmed by a substance found on a planet that has already been destroyed, and won't have anyone helping him out that will get in his way.

Each day a new superhero will be revealed and each week I will look at the past seven heroes and make fun of them. Here are the first eight that have been revealed so far.

Looks suspiciously like Cyclops except this one can't shoot lasers out of his eyes. He has a set of wings that don't let him fly, yet he can maneuver through the air. How the heck is that not the same exact thing?! And the last time someone had his powers, they belonged to this guy, and he was evil. Among all of The Guardians, he is the least willing to be placed in a box so at least you know when you're in need of help, you can count on him, more than anyone else, on not being in Abu Dhabi. (that's right, a Garfield reference)

The King is apparently more celebrity than anything else. For whatever reason, his shield creates a forcefield. Seriously, why does he need both? His sword can create an earthquake (like LA doesn't get enough already) so he can crumble the city he loves in one fell swoop as he strikes down his enemy.

From what I can tell, this hero is a bit of an alcoholic and keeps somebody's brain inside of a jar. The hair seems crazy at first, but my theory is that he killed and scalped Storm, dyed the hair red, and implanted her hair on his head. Apparently it was the hair all along that allowed her, and now him, to control the weather.

Here we have a giant man-boy who all the other Guardians are supposed to look up to. That's right, the apparent leader doesn't take anything seriously and is all happy-go-lucky. Exactly what I look for in a leader. He wears enough armor that he needs six wings in order to fly and controls the element of wind which is already a power belonging to The Hurricane.

OK, they are just ripping off other comic book characters now. This is similar to Mr. Freeze (yep, this guy again)but instead of an ice cannon, just has an over-sized super soaker. He is said to be highly intelligent, yet turned down free trips around the world in order to pay for them himself. He gained his powers in an experiment that went wrong, and is now completely comprised of water. OK, he is not similar to Mr. Freeze, he is Mr. Freeze, just on a hot day.

Cut him and he bleeds rainbows. He has incredible vision that makes him only "slightly more valuable in certain situations" than the other heroes. So even when things go 100% his way, and even though he can control people with his mind, any other hero would have come out just as well, except maybe with one more black eye. He also has a titanium eagle and can see what it sees. Since eagles have such amazing vision in the first place, makes you wonder why he needs his own super vision. Good news though, he finally has the granite chin that has been lacking from other Philly based heroes.

A hero BP would be proud of, The Oiler is also the third hero already that can control the weather. I think these guys should stop fighting crime and start fighting global warming. Weighing in at nearly half a ton, he probably doesn't get to the scene of the crime too quickly, especially since he spends most of his time lost in the woods laughing at his own jokes because no one else will.

I have a hard time believing this is a hero. He (it?) spends most of his time screwing around with the other heroes and I think he should be on some sort of watch list, seeing as he spends the majority of his time making sure kids see him as good people. Probably with candy. He has a titanium tail covered in barbed wire. I don't know about you, but I do not think having someone with that thing swinging around should be fighting anywhere near me.

Prediction Reviews-Western Conference

Last year the Flyers and Rangers played what was essentially a two game playoff to determine who would secure the final playoff spot available. Expect to see that scenario more than once in the Western Conference this year as only eight points separate fourth and fourteenth place. Compare that to the Eastern Conference where eight points separate eighth and tenth and you can tell that, with the exception of the Edmonton Oilers, each team has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. Right now, Phoenix is in tenth, but with a win they move all the way to fourth; the last weeks of the season are going to be very intense as each win will move a team up several spots and each loss will be devastating. Any extended winning or losing streak will mean the difference between hosting the first round of the playoffs and having a high draft pick this summer.

Once again, here are the teams by division along with how I predicted they would finish.

Central Division
1. Detroit Red Wings (1)
2. Nashville Predators (4)
3. Chicago Blackhawks (2)
4. St. Louis Blues (3)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (5)

Northeast Division
1. Vancouver Canucks (1)
2. Colorado Avalanche (2)
3. Minnesota Wild (4)
4. Calgary Flames (3)
5. Edmonton Oilers (5)

Pacific Division
1. Dallas Stars (5)
2. Anaheim Ducks (4)
3. San Jose Sharks (1)
4. Phoenix Coyotes (3)
5. Los Angeles Kings (2)

Here are the conference standings along with their point totals and my predicted rank.

1. Vancouver Canucks 59 (1)
2. Detroit Red Wings 57 (2)
3. Dallas Stars 53 (13)
4. Nashville Predators 48 (11)
5. Colorado Avalanche 48 (7)
6. Anaheim Ducks 48 (9)
7. San Jose Sharks 47 (3)
8. Chicago Blackhawks 47 (4)
9. St. Louis Blues 46 (8)
10. Phoenix Coyotes 46 (6)
11. Minnesota Wild 45 (14)
12. Los Angeles Kings 45 (5)
13. Columbus Blue Jackets 43 (12)
14. Calgary Flames 40 (10)
15. Edmonton Oilers 33 (15)

Biggest Surprises
Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz needs to win the Jack Adams award for best coach one of these seasons. Every year, the Predators lose key veterans and scoring support and every year they remain competitive. Only two teams in the conference have scored fewer goals and yet they are currently 4th. The predators have been the best team at developing goalies over the past decade and they never have a shortage of quality puck stoppers. Since the 2002-03 season, they have had a new starting goalie seemingly every other year, including Mike Dunham, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, and Anders Lindback. Trotz is able to get each player to buy into his system, leading to few individual accolades, though Shea Weber may once again be a Norris Trophy candidate by season's end, but plenty of team success.

Dallas Stars: Before the season started, I said the Stars needed to find their identity. Apparently that identity comes in the form of Brad Richards, who is on pace for a career year, possibly including his first 30 goal season. Kari Lehtonen has managed to stay healthy and Andrew Raycroft has performed well in his backup role, giving them an upgrade in goal over the departed Marty Turco who has yet to find his groove in Chicago. Loui Eriksson has turned into one of the top two-way forwards in the game and they get solid secondary scoring from Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, and James Neal. GM Joe Nieuwendyk had put this team together on a tight budget and he has performed his duties admirably.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Prediction Reviews-Eastern Conference

Before the season began, I took a shot at predicting the end of season standings. As we are now halfway through the season I thought it would be a good idea to revisit my predictions. As it turns out, predicting where teams will finish is a lot more difficult than I had thought.

Atlantic Division
rank-team-(my prediction)
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (1)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (3)
3. New York Rangers (4)
4. New York Islanders (5)
5. New Jersey Devils (2)

Northeast Division
1. Boston Bruins (1)
2. Montreal Canadiens (3)
3. Buffalo Sabres (2)
4. Ottawa Senators (4)
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (5)

Southeast Division
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (2)
2. Washington Capitals (1)
3. Atlanta Thrashers (4)
4. Carolina Hurricanes (3)
5. Florida Panthers (5)

Here is a look at the conference as a whole:
rank-team-points-(my prediction)
1. Pittsburgh Penguins 56 (2)
2. Tampa Bay Lightning 53 (7)
3. Boston Bruins 48 (3)
4. Philadelphia Flyers 55 (5)
5. Washington Capitals 52 (1)
6. Atlanta Thrashers 50 (12)
7. New York Rangers 49 (11)
8. Montreal Canadiens 47 (9)
9. Carolina Hurricanes 42 (8)
10. Buffalo Sabres 39 (6)
11. Florida Panthers 38 (14)
12. Ottawa Senators 37 (10)
13. Toronto Maple Leafs 34 (13)
14. New York Islanders 30 (15)
15. New Jersey Devils 22 (4)

Biggest Surprises
Atlanta Thrashers: The Southeast Division as a whole is much better than I had anticipated. Steve Yzerman has done a phenomenal job in his first year as GM in Tampa Bay, revamping the team and speeding along their resurgence, but the Thrashers have really impressed me the most. that they are having their best season ever leads mt to believe there is a "Kovy Curse" and any team he plays on will greatly underachieve (more on that soon). The trade that landed them four players from last years Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks has really paid dividends for them. New captain Andrew Ladd has quietly been a great leader for them, s they have gone 15-6-3 since he was named captain on November 18, and Dustin Byfuglien has emerged out of nowhere to become one of the league's best defenseman. they are getting contributions across the lineup and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has recovered from a scary incident during the first game of the season and has been terrific so far this season.

New Jersey Devils: There really isn't much I can say here that hasn't already been discussed. Nothing has gone right for them this year. Somehow, the entire team is out of shape and Martin Brodeur looks like he can't stop a beach ball on most nights. He has set numerous records in the past few seasons, but now it seems since he has nothing else left to prove, he has given up. Good news for Devils fans though, they only have 14.5 years left of Ilya Kovalchuk. Every team he has played on has underachieved; the Thrashers had a few promising teams in the early mid-2000s but could only muster up one playoff appearance in which they were swept by the New York Rangers, Team Russia completely flamed out during the Olympics last year, and the Devils hardly showed any life in a five game loss to the Flyers last year. Usually his team loses while he gets pretty goals, but this year they aren't even getting that. Changes have begun recently with the firing of coach John MacLean and today's trade of captain Jamie Langenbrunner back to Dallas, but they still have plenty of work to do before they get back to respectability.

As it looks now, the playoff picture is pretty much set. The Carolina Hurricanes are in 9th place, five points behind Montreal for the eighth and final spot. There is always a chance for the 'Canes, or even the Sabres, Panthers, or Senators to go on a hot streak and pull closer to playoff position, but unlike the Western Conference, there is a clear distinction between the upper echelon and the bottom feeders of the conference.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Hating Sidney Crosby a Waste of Time

I've said it. Probably hundreds of times. My mom, dad, and brother have said it. Pretty much everyone that doesn't go to games with a streaking penguin on their chest has said it at one point or another. "Crosby sucks." And you know what? We're all wasting our breath. Like it or not, Sid the Kid is the face of the NHL and rightfully so seeing as he is the best player in the game. It is not a title he ever asked for, rather one that was thrust upon him at an early age. He had some growing up to do early in his career but hey, haven't we all? Here are some reasons to just start enjoying his play.

  • Crosby's evolution. Players often get better throughout the course of their careers, but few have changed their game the way Crosby has. He has always been an elite playmaker, recording 63 assists as a rookie, not falling below that number until last year when he had 58 during his first 50 goal season (he had 48 assists during his third season in only 53 games, a rate of 74 over a full season). Passing has never been an issue, but there was always knocks against his game; he couldn't score, was not good on faceoffs, and his defensive play wasn't strong enough. Ever since his epic duel against Alex Ovechkin in the 2009 playoffs, a series in which he scored eight goals in seven games, he has been a goal scoring machine. Newfound confidence, along with the switch to a one-piece stick, helped him record 51 goals last season, tying his with Steven Stamkos for the league lead. This year he is on pace to record just the second 60 goal season since 1996, the other belonging to Ovechkin. He has also greatly improved his performance in the faceoff dot. His winning percentage in his rookie season was a measly 45.5%, but has steadily improved and so far this season has a 55.7% on a league high 958 draws, 149 more than the second closest player. Steve Yzerman was one of the greatest players in NHL history, one of the great stories is how he transformed his game from an offensive dynamo (his 155 points in 1988-89 is the highest total for someone not named Gretzky or Lemieux) to being one of the top two-way players in the game, winning the Selke Trophy in 1999-2000. All it took for him to do that was 13 years of playoff disappointments and legendary coach Scotty Bowman. Crosby is only in his sixth season and is one of the most underrated defensive forwards. Don't be surprised when he ends his career with a Selke Trophy or two. As I stated before, Crosby has evolved while most players simply get better. Let's compare Crosby to (surprise, surprise) Ovechkin. Ovie has become one of the most dynamic talents the game has ever seen. However, his game hasn't changed much, making him predictable and easy to stop. He does pass more than he used to but still tries, way too often, to skate up the left wing and snipe a shot on the goalie. As the Canadiens showed in the playoffs last year, if you get in his lanes you stop Ovechkin and, consequently, the Capitals. Crosby has been able to find many different ways, not just to score, but contribute all around the ice. 
  • His will to win. Regardless of how much you may hate him, and this is usually because, more often than not, the Penguins are likely to come out on top of yours with Crosby being the main reason why, he is a winner that is going to show up and play his best when games matter most. Included in his resume is the shootout winner in the first Winter Classic, two goals in elimination games against the Flyers and Capitals in the same playoff year, and of course the golden goal in the Olympics last year. He is a player that absolutely hates to lose and will do anything to avoid the agonizing sting of defeat. The bigger the game and the more the crowd is on his back, the better he is going to play. All those geniuses that attend Flyers games probably don't realize that chanting "Crosby sucks" all game only makes him want to win more. They would do better to take a page out of Mystery, Alaska and read newspapers and ignore him when he's on the ice. Any bitterness directed is way only fuels his intensity and motivates him ever further, putting him into a zone that will only end up costing your team. 
  • Simply put, Crosby means more to his team than any other player means to theirs in the NHL. Comparing the captains of the two Pennsylvania teams, Mike Richards represents, while Sidney Crosby is. Let me explain. Anyone who watches hockey on a regular basis is familiar with Philadelphia's particular brand of hockey. Hard hitting, fast-paced, in your face, pedal to the metal hockey. They have earned the nickname Broad Street Bullies, with players like Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz, Rick Tocchet, Scott Mellanby, and Eric Lindros suiting up for them over the years. These players could not only rack up points, but piles of penalty minutes as well. Richards is the new face of the franchise, whose enthusiasm and intensity mirrors the image the Flyers have made for themselves since the early 70s. Richards, however, really is just one contributer, albeit an extremely important one, on a very deep team. When they win, they get contributions from all across the lineup, as clearly shown by the fact the Flyers are tied with the Penguins for the top spot in the Atlantic division, yet only have three players on pace for more than 70 points, however each player on their top three lines has a legitimate shot at 20 goals. By comparison, the Penguins have only three players on pace for 20 goals. Basically, when the Penguins win, Crosby is going to have a major contribution to their scoresheet. During his recent 25 game point streak he recorded 26 goals and 50 points while the Penguins in total scored 88 goals during that span. He scored 30% of the teams goals by himself and had a part in 57% of their total offensive production. Yes, they do have another superstar in Evgeni Malkin, but he hasn't been as spectacular as usual the past year and a half, leaving Crosby to produce the bulk of the offence. The salary cap also leaves GM Ray Shero without room to provide him with quality linemates, meaning he produces most of his point playing between Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on the top line. They would respectively be second and third liners on most other teams. Crosby absolutely is everything to the Penguins and when he doesn't produce, the team does not win.
So like him or not, Sidney Crosby is the best player in, and the face of, the NHL, and will probably be so for a long time. So you might as well quit the booing and jeering, sit back, and watch Crosby dominate the league, break records and set the new standard for every player coming into the league from now on. 

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Even Rain Can't Damper Spirits at the Winter Classic

Some people a few years ago were worried about over-saturation. As long as there is only one per year (plus the occasional all -Canadian Heritage Classic), I don't see there being a problem at all. For the fourth consecutive year I, along with my dad, have brought in the new year with an unbelievable hockey game. This year would mark the most bitter rivalry to be shown in the Winter Classic so far. Detroit and Chicago certainly have a long-standing feud, but the two Original Six franchises have a mutual respect for one another. Washington and Pittsburgh absolutely hate each other. That scorn would make for a hard fought, physical game. Captains Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are able to show respect towards each other, but you know deep down inside they are only happy when the other is losing.

This would also be the first time the game would be played at night, as the warm and soggy weather conditions caused it to moved from its original 1:00 PM starting time to 8:00 PM. With the game in prime time, going head to head against college bowl games, including the Granddaddy of them all, The Rose Bowl. The result were some of the best television ratings in a long while. The Winter Classic was conceived in part to grow the game in the United States, an effort that is clearly working. A few years ago nobody paid attention to the sport at all and now it can go head-to-head with with other major sporting events and hold its own weight.

The scene in the stadium was spectacular, the mixture of red and blue in the stands created a wonderful atmosphere. The fans get more and more into this game each year and with the exception of the jackass Caps fan behind me who had no respect for, and little knowledge of, the game at all, I loved the roars and cheers. One of the more interesting aspects came during the national anthem. All the Caps fans shouted in unison the words red during "The rocket's red glare" and O in "O say does that star spangled banner yet wave," regarding the color of their uniforms and their star Ovechkin.They also had a C-A-P-S Caps, Caps Caps chant, an annoying cheer I thought, and hoped, was limited to Jets fans. Countering "Let's go Caps" and "Let's go Pens" chants also echoed throughout Heinz Field all night.

Even though there was no scoring in the 1st period as players got used to the ice conditions, there were fireworks. John Erskine and Mike Rupp set the tone with the second fight in Winter Classic history. Both goalies were tested early and often and each were on their game as Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 12 shots and Washington's Semyon Varlamov was perfect on 16 shots. Jordan Staal, playing in his first game of the season, showed he was in game form, holding off a Caps defenseman and getting a good shot on Varlamov. The wet ice didn't appear to be much of a problem. I watched the puck the entire game, waiting to see if it would slow down or get stuck in a puddle. It never did and despite the rain that came down later in the game, the ice seemed to get better and better as it went on. I felt there should have been a penalty shot awarded to Sidney Crosby when he was hauled down in the slot. The Penguins would have to settle for a power play.

In the 2nd period, it was the other Russian, Evgeni Malkin, who opened the scoring on a breakaway just moments after Ovechkin was denied by Fleury. Former Flyer, and a personal favorite of mine, Mike Knuble tied the game a few minutes later in typical Knuble fashion, jamming in a loose puck in a scramble in the crease. With a little over five minutes to go, Eric Fehr would break the deadlock with his first of the game, capitalizing on Fleury's misplay on a dump-in. The lead after two periods was huge as rules for the game stated it could be called official after two periods if the weather did not hold up.

Despite steady rain falling in the third period, the game was able to be played in full without any problems. Fehr would score again to seal the win for the Caps, sniping a shot over Fleury's glove on a breakaway. The win would mark the third time in four games (four out of five including the Heritage Classic in 2003) the away team has skated away victorious. The 3rd period may have been highlighted by some for the lack of handshakes after the game. I think this was a little over blown though. While this is a major event, it is only a regular season game between two teams with nothing but contempt for each other, and handshakes are a tradition that should be left to the playoffs. All in all, it was another magical New Year's Day.

Pictures of my trip can be found here. There aren't too many of the actual game itself simply because I'd rather watch the game than watch my camera. Here are some other great pics of the game.