Today, USA Hockey fans celebrate the 35th anniversary of the first of seven games played by a bunch of unheralded college kids en route to a memorable gold medal that meant as much to a sputtering nation as it did to the players themselves.
Romanticized by the 2004 movie, Miracle starring Kurt Russell as the venerable Herb Brooks, the United States' 4-3 victory over the seemingly invincible Soviet Union "Red Army Team" is often misconstrued as the final game of the tournament, in which the host nation captured gold. To some who know the Americans still had to take on Finland two days later, the "Miracle on Ice" is simply known as the tournament's semifinal.
In reality, neither of these scenarios held true. Until 1992, The International Olympic Committee had a round-robin tournament format in place that was second only to the NCAA in ridiculous ways to determine a champion. In fact, the 1980 Winter Olympics might have been the most overcomplicated format we've ever seen.
Here's how it broke down:
-12 participating countries were split into two six-team divisions, named Red Division and Blue Division.
-Each country played five "First Round" games, one against everyone in their division.
-The top two teams from each division advanced to the "Final Round," while third place in each advanced to the "Consolation Round."
(In previous competitions dating back the 1964 games, the top eight teams all played each other once in a group stage format with no "final round")
-The four "Final Round" teams would play three more games, in round-robin style. The team with the most points won the gold medal, the team with the second most won silver, and third won bronze.
-In the event of a tie in points, goal differential would decide the order in which the teams involved finished.
Seems simple, right? Here's where it gets tricky: yes, four teams were placed in the "Final Round," but they only got to play two additional games, one against each team from the opposite division. As a proxy for the third game, the result from the "First Round" matchup between each of the two teams carried over to the "Final Round." Those two games were the USSR's 4-2 victory over Finland, and a dramatic 2-2 tie between the United States and Sweden, in which Bill Baker's goal knotted the game with just 27 seconds remaining. Remember that for later.
So before the Americans and Soviets took the ice on February 22, there were already standings:
When the final buzzer sounded in Lake Placid's Olympic Fieldhouse and the celebration of the greatest upset in sports history had subsided, nothing tangible had been won yet. In fact, as Mike Eruzione recalls in the HBO documentary "Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team," they almost gave it all right back. Quoting an irate Brooks in the locker room in between periods, he tells of his short, but effective speech.
"If you lose this game, you'll take it to your f****** graves." After a short pause and a few steps, he said, Brooks turned around and repeated himself. "Your f****** graves."
Down 2-1 heading into the third period against Finland, the United States was in danger of finishing behind the Soviets for the fifth straight tournament despite having defeated them. For argument's sake, let's say the Americans pulled their goalie late in the game, desperately chasing the tying goal, like they did in the tournament's opening game against Sweden.
If Finland had scored an empty net goal and won 3-1, not only would the US have lost out on gold, but they would've also lost a tiebreaker to the Finns and walked away with bronze. As it turned out, the pesky college kids had one more comeback in them, scoring three goals in the third period to clinch the gold medal.
Here's how the final tournament table shook out:
Now, remember that Bill Baker goal in the dying seconds against Sweden in the tournament's very first game? What if it didn't go in, and the United States started their 1980 Olympics campaign with a 2-1 loss?
Disregard the fallacy of the predetermined outcome for a moment, and assume every other game that followed fell into place in the exact same way. That's right, the Soviets would've won gold, having the tiebreaker over the Americans. Now we're really in NCAA territory.
Luckily, the IOC switched to a hybrid of round-robin and knockout round style formats before the 1992 Olympics. Since then, every international ice hockey competition has ended with a true "gold medal game" between the final two contesting teams.
But despite all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the dramatic and improbable win over the Russians in 1980, Eruzione's memorable goal celebration midway through the third period and Jim Craig's phenomenal effort in the game's final minutes, it turned out that Baker's goal in the tournament's opening game was just as crucial to the tournament's end result: the most crowded gold medal podium in Olympic history.
As Green Day's version of Avril Lavigne famously sings, "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Unfortunately, today is that end for Tonight's Healthy Scratches. With that said, we're excited to announce a new partnership with Bloguin's main hockey blog, Puck Drunk Love, which will begin effective immediately.
We are extremely excited about this move. While we are very loyal to and thankful for our readers here, we will be exposed to a wealth of new readers at Puck Drunk Love. We'll be posting more frequently and under the direction of managing editor David Rogers and myself in a lesser editorial role, which should drive the quality of our content through the roof. We hope you'll join us, if for no other reason than to see if I'm just blowing smoke up your ass.
Before we left in the middle of the night like the Baltimore Colts, I wanted to make sure our small, yet loyal, readership knew how much I truly appreciated their part in making this site so special to me. When we started this project 15 months ago, myself, Frank Castaldi and Brian McCormack were at different stages of our careers, and the former two were flirting with irrelevance.
Our work here has not only been enjoyable, but it's started to pay dividends as well. We've gotten recognition from a number of reputable hockey scribes, such as Sean Gentille of The Sporting News, and Katie Baker of ESPN's Grantland. As many of you know, Brian has been working as an intern with Stan Fischler since the early summer and I've begun what I hope is the start of a long, illustrious career at ESPN. And now we both move on together from this space to a bigger stage.
You are to thank for a good chunk of that success. Your page views, your comments, your "likes" on Facebook and retweets on Twitter all kept our motor running strong enough for us to continue to churn out more content. And on a more personal note, it came at a time in my life when I needed it most. I met and became friendly with many of you since we launched, and your support means the world to me.
Also, before going, I wanted to take the time to single out a few other individuals who have contributed to our site, either directly or indirectly. Obviously Frank, one of our founding members, was terrific despite having to step aside during last year's playoff run due to personal reasons. We all enjoyed his take on the Rangers-Flyers 24/7 series and are appreciative of the work he's done here.
Christian Arnold, now of New York Hockey Journal, became an integral piece of our playoff coverage last season. We wish him all the best, especially now that he isn't freezing his face off outside the NHL offices through the middle of the night. And the next time we run a live blog, we fully expect to see him pop in and give his take on the day's events.
I also wanted to thank a few guys at Bloguin who made this site look way prettier than we ever imagined. Our CEO Ben Koo, Dave Kelsey, our Network Operations Manager, and Derek Hanson, Bloguin's President, all played crucial roles in ensuring the success of our site. I'm sure I've been a pain in their asses more than once (and will continue to be) but they've been incredibly helpful every step of the way. Thank you, gentlemen, for helping craft our vision.
We've thoroughly enjoyed bringing you our skewed take on hockey's biggest news, both on and off the ice, and sincerely hope you'll continue to follow us at PDL.
Thanks for reading. Now hey, how about a hug?
Earlier today, Adrian Dater at Sports Illustrated, released his version of the uber-ridiculous exercise in futility known as "power rankings." He conjured up quite a stir by ranking the Edmonton Oilers third, ahead of the 2012 Presidents Trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Los Angeles Kings, who won something or other last season too.
If you're not familiar with the idea of this column, it gives writers an excuse to lazily list each team in a particular professional sports league in whatever order they see fit based essentially on any number of factors they deem relevant to their cause.
Oh you mean like standings? Well, yes. No. Kind of? Alright, not really at all. Power rankings are like standings with a poetic license. If you've got an agenda to establish, wins and losses need not apply.
One could argue that the best time (and, perhaps, only time) for such an article would be prior to any games being played. After all, how else would we ever determine who's best and who's worst without any tangible proof?
Now, this is not an indictment of Dater's character or work by any stretch. I'll leave that to the more experienced, professional trolls such as Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert. People make outlandish predictions without any consequence all the time.
And I understand that there is an editorial movement that pushes this sort of thing on its' writers, no matter how hard they may fight it. Good journalism can't change the fact that people just want to read four non-descript sentences about the teams they love, the teams they love to hate and the teams they forgot existed.
But Dater's been around for a while. If he wanted to write a calculated, intelligent column for a change, he likely would have the freedom to do so. Why not profess your penchant for Edmonton's stable of young stars by putting together a piece claiming Edmonton may very well be the favorite in the Northwest division?
A "worst-to-first" column would surely draw it's fair share of snarky comments from the peanut gallery, but at least it would be original. You could spend as many words as you saw fit gushing about Eberle's ability to score early and often, and how Justin Schultz is going to take the league by storm.
Or you could spend five listless lines justifying your aggressive gesture, jettisoning the Oilers among the league's elite. I guess that works too.]]>
This wasn't the star-studded US lineup we've seen in some other tournaments. No Chris Kreider, no Kyle Palmieri, no Emerson Etem. If you want to go further back, there weren't too many Zach Parises or Phil Kessels on this list either.
Even names that could have carried the torch offensively, like Alex Galchenyuk, ultimately weren't solely responsible for the United States' third gold medal at the World Junior Championships.
That's not how Phil Housley ran this team.
USA Hockey put together a roster that would have made Herb Brooks proud.
No, not a collection of no-names who shocked the world and stole a medal (maybe shocked Don Cherry, but not the world.) But this was a team that was built on defense, goaltending, and some opportunistic scoring. And they came up aces on all three.
John Gibson's selection as the tournament's top goaltender and MVP was a foregone conclusion, so much so it was a mere formality when it was announced with the Americans up a goal late in the third period of the gold medal game. With a 1.36 GAA (USA Hockey record) and 95.4 save percentage (3rd best all-time) in six games, Gibson put forth the greatest performance of any US goaltender ever at the World Juniors.
Beyond the stats, Gibson made the big save every time his team asked him to. His incredible tournament was punctuated by a pair of saves that may have saved gold. In the third period against Sweden, he stretched to kick out Victor Arvidsson's wrap-around and just minutes later saved Shayne Gostisbehere's bacon by robbing 2012 first-rounder Filip Forsberg's golden opportunity in the slot.
Entering this tournament, we thought that the US could only succeed in low-scoring, one-goal games. Gibson held to that plan, holding opponents to two goals or less in six of seven games.
Defense was certainly looked upon as a strength for the Americans entering the tournament, but this team was dominant. Gibson was there to clean up the messes, but the penalty killing was outstanding. They operated at 89 percent, a full nine percentage points better second-best Sweden. The backcheck was tenacious, the forwards collapsed to the house to win the battles in the slot, and in particular, Jacob Trouba may have proved to the Winnipeg Jets that he'll be NHL-ready for September. Or whenever they start playing this game at the pro level again.
Trouba was named the tournament's best defenseman and it showed on both ends. His four goals and nine points in seven games led all defensemen, while his usual physical brand accompanied a plus-2 rating. Seth Jones, entering the tournament as a possible first-overall pick in the upcoming draft, showed his growing pains early but progressed throughout the tournament and in the end finished with seven points and a plus-8. In the seven games, Jones and Trouba launched a combined 40 shots for a blueline that surprised us with their offense and were a major reason the US had an opportunity to play for Gold.
If this US team was anything, it was opportunistic. They jumped on teams like Germany and, perhaps surprisingly, Slovakia. But after one-goal losses to Russia and Canada, it was obvious the US would need to make better use of their power plays and odd-man rushes to spread the gap against a tough Canadian team. With help from a Canadian defense that frankly looked lost for stretches, Johnny Gaudreau came to life and changed the tournament.
Gaudreau had seven goals in three games for the US after a quiet start, but most meaningful were his two against the Canadians in the semifinal, one a toe-drag wrister from the top of the left circle and the second a breakaway dagger to put the Canadians away for good. The 5'9" Calgary Flames prospect used the combination of speed and hands that got him drafted and became the Americans' most reliable scorer in the tournament. He made up for the offense lacking through most of the tournament from another small-framed forward, Rocco Grimaldi.
Grimaldi was expected to be a leader for this team offensively but entered the final with only two assists through six games. It wasn't for lack of trying, as Grimaldi was constantly involved, winning battles in the corners but never getting the right bounce, evidenced by his first period opportunity that bounced out after ringing both posts. In the second, when it mattered most with the Americans trailing 1-0, Grimaldi answered with two goals about three minutes apart.
That was how this team would win. Every line would contribute, and every day it would be someone new. Sure Gaudreau's three-game stretch stood out from other forwards, but Trouba was arguably one of the most effective skaters of the tournament in the preliminary round and the US may not even be talking Gold if not for Jake McCabe seizing the semi-final in the first period.
Phil Housley understood which buttons to push, always with his finger on the pulse of this team, and he made the right adjustments after the close losses to Canada and Russia might have indicated that something was missing from this roster. Housley knew that he not only had the personnel to score just enough, but also the kind of kids willing to play the proper roles to win gold.
JT Miller, the only professional on the roster (AHL, Connecticut Whale), put up nine points in the tournament, but was overwhelmingly effective in the gold medal game defensively. Ryan Hartman, a 2013 draft-eligible forward averaging nearly a point a game in Plymouth (OHL), helped his stock during the tournament using his scrappy style coupled with his nose for the net. But Hartman spent the majority of the tournament on what became affectionately known as the Grind Line with Blake Bardreau and Blake Pietila. With an opportunity to boost his draft stock, Hartman accepted a primarily defensive role and still managed to do so. There were no prima donnas on this team.
And perhaps no coincidence, with the net empty and 1:30 to go in a one-goal game, who did Housley have on the ice? Hartman and Jones.
This was a team of trust, that was as calm and collected as Housley's demeanor, whether they were up by nine, or down by one. It was a team that knew it couldn't get into a run-and-gun shoot-out with the Canadians and the Swedes and knew that they didn't have to. They knew there jobs, they did them incredibly well, and whoever had the hot stick that day would lead the way.
USA Hockey has again won gold, and has established itself more firmly than ever as a top dog on the international hockey stage.
And they made it look easier than ever.]]>
Three games into the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship, you wondered if Team USA would miss qualifying for the medal round for the second consecutive year. With the seventh-place finish of 2012 still reeking after back-to-back 2-1 losses to their two biggest rivals, the Americans were in playoff mode one game early.
Questions swirled. Is Phil Housley really the right guy for this job? Is he relying too much on his offensive defensemen? Is he pushing the right buttons?
Turns out those questions were a bit premature. The Americans steamrolled Slovakia to get into the medal round, then didn't let up a bit against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. A combined 16-3 score in two games? Well that certainly wasn't the offensively-starved US team we saw through three games.
Housley shuffled his lines, moving a player without a current line, Jim Vesey, to the first unit. The move was drastic, but had wide-ranging effects up and down the lineup. Perhaps the biggest impact was felt on John Gaudreau, who ignited alongside Vesey.
The kid they call "Johnny Hockey" exploded for five goals and an assist in those two games. Vesey had three assists. Good thing Housley chose not to cut him, like it was rumored in pre-tournament play.
Then came the mighty Canadians. In a rematch of one of those 2-1 losses, the Americans started like they were fired out of a cannon. Two goals by captain Jake McCabe had the US out to a 2-0 lead before Team Canada could blink. Both goals that were a direct result of a hard forecheck, a staple of many successful American teams in recent history, and something Housley stressed incessantly.
Then, Gaudreau continued his resurgence with another pair of goals. Before long, thanks in large part to John Gibson's stellar performance, the rout was on.
Housley had left his mark on this team already, heading into the gold medal game against Sweden. This team, who had yet to accomplish their goal of proving Seth Jones right as the tournament's best team, stared in the face of a opposing force that was supposed to knock them off. But the Americans didn't just beat the Canadians. They trounced them. The learning had been underway for months under Housley's leadership, we just didn't know it yet.
On the grandest stage of all, in the gold medal game, Housley's impact was felt again. Rocco Grimaldi, all 5'6" of him, entered this tournament as one of the premiere American forwards expected to produce. After a going scoreless through three games, Housley sent a message to Grimaldi and his team by stapling him to the end of the bench.
Grimaldi mostly watched as the Americans surged to the final, seeing limited time against Canada as the 13th forward. The snakebitten forward was hungry again.
Housley let him loose against Sweden, and was rewarded in kind. The ever-persistent Grimaldi wasn't discouraged when he blistered a snapshot past Niklas Lundstrom that hit both (!) posts but somehow stayed out of the net in the first period, a shot that nearly gave the Americans the lead. But as EJ Hradek persisted, the hockey gods can be as kind as they are cruel.
Grimaldi's sharp-angle shot tied the game at one, but he was far from done. Less than three minutes later, a shot by Jacob Trouba bounced off Grimaldi in front and past Lundstrom and all of a sudden, the Americans were in front. Thanks to a stellar post-to-post save on a wraparound attempt by Gibson, who turned in effort after effort that would make Jim Craig blush, the US stayed in front.
With under a minute to play and Sweden's last-ditch attack intensifying, Housley leaned on his checking unit of Cole Bardreau, Ryan Hartman and Vince Trocheck who had served him well the entire tournament. After Hartman and Tyler Biggs neutralized a Swedish power play early in the period, Hartman managed to get the puck out of the zone, springing Trocheck on a breakaway. With no goalie to stop him, the celebration was on for the Americans with just 16 seconds to play.
Housley, of course, has plenty of experience with USA Hockey himself. He was a member of the US World Championship team six times and won gold at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, arguably his career's crowning achievement. He knew better than most what it would take to overtake a more talented Canadian roster. And he executed his plan to perfection.
Nobody will remember that this team lost two games that pushed them to the brink of elimination. What will be celebrated instead is how their head coach managed to right the ship and find his Midas touch as his team rolled to their third gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships.]]>
Hello hockey fans and welcome to our 2013 World Junior Championship Gold Medal live-blog! If you've been following the progress of this tournament, you know that anything is possible in a one-game scenario, which makes today's matchup with the United States and Sweden so interesting.
The Americans got to the gold medal game with a surprising thrashing of the heavily-favored Canadians and have enjoyed stellar play from John Gibson throughout the tournament. Though questions about their offense lingered after consecutive 2-1 losses to Russia and Canada in the preliminary round, the United States has combined to outscore its opponents 21-4 in three games since.
Sweden returns to the gold medal game after a thrilling shootout victory over Russia in the semifinals, the same team they defeated a year ago in overtime to capture their first gold since 1982. Despite not having 2012's overtime hero Mika Zibanejad and suffering injuries to three defensemen, the Swedes are still standing and looking to repeat.
So grab some breakfast, hop on the couch and come talk hockey with your favorite healthy scratches!]]>
Unbeatable, they said. A juggernaut, they exclaimed. Team Canada, a gross compilation of first-round picks and future stars that awaited the Americans in the semifinals, was licking their chops as they prepared to get back on the ice after a flawless record in Group A play.
But when the puck dropped on Thursday afternoon in Ufa, the Canadians were met by an American team that hardly resembled the one they beat just a few days ago. The United States clinched a spot in their third gold-medal game at the World Junior level with a resounding 5-1 victory, making a squad that was considered Canada's best roster in over a decade look like a rag-tag bunch of peewees.
John Gibson was the unsung hero in net for the Americans, as he's been for the majority of the tournament. Despite suffering two 2-1 losses in the preliminary round, Gibson's 1.51 goals against average was tops in the tournament heading into action on Thursday. The backbone of this United States squad was as strong as ever as his team built a 4-0 advantage, making key stops against J.C. Lipon and Ryan Strome on a breakaway. He made 36 saves in all.
He was finally solved early in the third period by Ty Rattie on a sloppy play by both his defensemen and the officials as the play appeared to have been blown dead after Rattie's initial shot rang off the post. But that proved to be the only time he'd be beaten despite a significant uptick in pressure applied by the Canadians.
With just under 10 minutes to go in the third period, the Canadians threw everything they could at Gibson. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to outwait him from 10 feet away. But he couldn't get it past Gibson's glove, who got enough of it to push the shot over the net. The Canadians fired six shots on that power play, but were turned away each time.
It wasn't just Gibson who was nearly perfect, either. While he was putting out fires in the defensive zone, the Americans strong forecheck pushed Canada back on their heels early, allowing the team's high-scoring defensemen to creep into the rush. Captain Jake McCabe struck twice, beating Malcolm Subban to the glove side as the US took a 2-0 lead into the locker room.
McCabe, who was named Player of the Game, has scored two goals all season at Wisconsin. Though McCabe is known more as a conservative defenseman, he was able to find open space in the high slot because of a relentless effort around the net by the American forwards.
Early into the second period, John Gaudreau remained hot, getting his first of two goals with an absolute laser of a shot Subban never had a chance on. Gaudreau's second marker served as the ultimate extinguisher at 15:41 of the third, shutting down all hopes of a frantic Canadian comeback like a year ago. Gaudreau now has six goals in his last three games, including a hat trick in a 7-0 thumping of the Czechs in the quarterfinals.
The Americans chased Subban, instantly making him (and apparently Ryan Murphy) the scapegoat for his dilapidated defensemen, when Jim Vesey danced in and beat him to the far post to make it 4-0 with just a few minutes to go in the second period. Questions will undoubtedly swirl about if he deserves to start the bronze-medal game on Saturday, which is unfortunate for a player who was shaping up as the tournament MVP to this point.
But now, it's Gibson who's distinguished himself from the field. And it's the Americans, not the unstoppable Canadians, who will play for gold on Saturday.]]>
As NHL Execs and union leaders prepare to meet in New York City to once again negotiate a cease-fire in the war that has destroyed at least half of an NHL season, Jordan Eberle seems to be more ready than ever to get back to work for the Oilers.
Playing in the American Hockey League during the lockout for the Oklahoma City Barons, where recently signed Oiler Justin Schultz has been turning heads, Oiler regulars like Eberle and Taylor Hall have been doing their part to remind us not just how bright the future in Edmonton is, but also how dangerous they can be in the Western Conference with a potentially shortened 48-game season.
On New Years Eve, Eberle celebrated 2012 with one of the best scoring feats of his career.
In a 5-2 win over the Texas Stars, Eberle, who leads the league in scoring with 49 points in 32 games, recorded a natural hat trick in only 2:43.
Eberle's first came at 15:44 of the first period on a feed from Hall. Eberle slid in behind the Texas defense and took the Hall pass between the circles, deking to the forehand to beat goaltender Yann Danis.
Nine seconds later, it was Hall setting up Eberle again. Eberle got the puck above the right face-off circle, carrying it down to the dot and lifting the puck over Danis' glove for his second goal of the shift.
At 18:27 on the powerplay, Eberle capped off his three minutes of dominance, taking a cross-zone feed from Schultz, driving the net and lifting a back-hander over Danis for the hat trick and his 23rd of the year. Eberle would later add an assist on Schultz's 17th of the season.
It remains to be seen whether or not the men behind the desk are ready to play hockey this season. Jordan Eberle certainly is.]]>
They call him "Johnny Hockey" in Chestnut Hill. You can't go very far on Boston College's campus without hearing about John Gaudreau, the slippery sniper with the smooth hands. But in the first three games of the World Juniors, it was more likely you'd hear about him on the side of a milk carton than on the scoresheet.
In what became a must-win game against Slovakia after consecutive 2-1 losses to Canada and Russia, Gaudreau showed up in a big way. After being part snakebitten and part overpowered in the previous two games, the 5'8" Calgary Flames draft choice had three points through two periods as the Americans routed Slovakia, 9-3.
Getting Gaudreau going is an essential part of the Americans offense. No United States forward had scored since the 7-0 rout of Germany to open the tournament, and confidence was waning. Consider this: half of the Americans offensive production has come from the blue line. Prior to this game, Alex Galchenyuk was the only forward with more than three points.
This team was starving for goals. Looking ahead to the medal round, if Gaudreau, Jim Vesey and JT Miller can stay hot, the depth of the US forward group will no longer be an issue.
Accolades have followed him everywhere he went. In the USHL, he won the Rookie of the Year award as he helped Dubuque to the Clark Cup championship. As a freshman at Boston College, he won the Beanpot MVP, was named to the All-Hockey East team, and scored a pretty snazzy goal to seal the National Championship game. His pure ability has never been in question.
But finally faced with some adversity--and some defensemen that could handle his shifty moves-- it was unclear how Gaudreau would respond. Now, it seems Johnny Hockey may have finally arrived in Ufa.]]>
One thing is certain in the unpredictable, topsy-turvy Group A: nothing is certain. That sentiment manifested itself in the first of two games in the final day of the preliminary round.
After a pair of dazzling assists from Dmitrij Jaskin that broke a 1-1 tie to give the Czech Republic a two-goal lead with just 20 minutes remaining, that unpredictability reared it's exciting head. Switzerland's power play struck twice in the final eight minutes to send the game to overtime. That gave the Swiss a point in the standings they desperately needed to pull ahead of Finland, the team who a pair of idiots picked to reach the Gold medal game.
But in the extra session, it didn't take Jaskin long to strike again. As the puck wrapped around the boards, Jaskin picked it up at the hash marks and showed the creativity that got him picked 40th overall in 2011 by the St. Louis Blues. Jaskin noticed Tomas Hertl was skating into the same corner he was facing, and as he reached the net, Jaskin threw the puck against the back boards.
The puck bounced perfectly onto Hertl's stick, who then beat Swiss goaltender Melvin Nyffeler to the far post for a wrap-around goal. The game-winner pulled the Czechs into a tie in points with Sweden for the moment.
In the second period, Jaskin helped the Czechs regain the lead with two plays that are sure to be on a highlight reel coming to you soon. Skating into the corner and holding a Swiss defenseman off with one hand, he slid a pass out in front of the short side of the net right on the tape of teammate Michal Svihalek.
His second assist was a one-touch, backhanded pass to Tomas Hyka, the third man trailing on a 2-on-1, who essentially deposited the puck into a vacated net. Take your pick. One was prettier than the last.
(videos courtesy of CZHokej)
With Russia, Canada and the United States all in Group B, no one was sure what to expect from Group A. But Jaskin's play has elevated the Czechs to the medal round, and a legitimate threat for a medal. Jaskin has been one of the more impressive players at this tournament on a team that features a lot of speed but not many household names. If he pulls off plays like that in the knockout stage, he may quickly become one himself.]]>
Sample size. It's the new buzzword on the lips of every insider, scout and writer about the unlikely performances we've seen at this tournament so far.
It's why Malcolm Subban's stellar performance against the Americans on Sunday came as such a surprise after two "shaky" outings in which he allowed three goals to Germany and Slovakia. Nevermind that he's had a fantastic year to date with Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League. But more than anything, it's also being used as an apologetic crutch for the subpar play of United States defenseman Seth Jones.
Jones, who riled up a number of people outside USA Hockey by claiming the Americans were the team to beat heading into the tournament, has been a contributing factor to each one-goal loss his team has suffered in the last three days. Jones was beaten on what turned out to be the game-winning goal both times, but the consensus top-two pick in June's upcoming NHL Entry Draft is merely "not playing like himself."
Instead of putting his money where his mouth is, he opted instead to insert his foot.
Now, we all have bad days at work. Who isn't human? And to suggest that Seth Jones' gaffes are the only reason the Americans are looking at a win-or-go home game against Slovakia tomorrow would just be silly.
After all, has anyone else noticed that Jon Gaudreau has been virtually invisible now that he's not able to dance around everyone like he does in Hockey East? Or how about the onslaught of penalties the preceeded the United States' final power play with 1:37 to play? The power play itself, with the exception of Jacob Trouba, has been abysmal.
The point is, in the wake of a pair of one-goal losses finger-pointing is useless. But had it not been for John Gibson early, a few more mistakes by Jones and his defensive colleagues would've ended up in their own net and this game would've quickly become a rout.
Take a look at this end-to-end rush by 17-year old Valeri Nichushkin on Russia's game-winning goal in the third period on Friday. Granted, Nichushkin skates around four Americans as if they were traffic cones, including Jones. But to allow the player to beat you to the outside that deep in the zone with enough room to cut up through the crease and create havoc around your net is troubling for a player who's supposed to have such good hockey sense.
Now here's Canada's second goal in the first period on Sunday. Notice how before Ritchie goes around the net, Jones takes note that Strome is breaking toward the crease. He sees him there. Nothing to worry about, right?
Wrong. As the play develops and Ritchie emerges from the other side of the goal, Strome is left alone enough that he can get good enough wood on the puck to beat Gibson, even with Jones standing right next to him. Without putting a finger on him, Jones allowed Strome to give Canada a 2-0 lead.
The first video is an example of a physical mistake, which will happen from time-to-time at every level of hockey. That, as painful as it may be, is forgivable. But the mental mistakes are the ones for which players are most held accountable. He simply cannot continue to let that happen. Expect both of these plays to be part of a greater learning experience for Jones, even though it comes at the team's expense for now.
Jones rebounded nicely in the third period after taking a bad slashing penalty in the second. Head coach Phil Housley and the Americans are hoping he's found his way out of this slump. He may not have been wrong about the Americans being the best team in this tournament, but for that to be true, he's got to raise his level of play significantly from where it currently stands.]]>
And...breathe. It was quite the day of hockey in Ufa, Russia. The Canadians had to overcome a pair of two-goal deficits to take down the Slovaks, who appear to be much more of a threat for a medal than originally thought.
Then, in the main event, the Americans and Russians put on a terrific display in what ultimately ended in a 2-1 victory for the host nation. With the game tied just a few minutes into the third period, 17-year old 2013 draft-eligible Valeri Nichuskin put together an end-to-end rush, dancing around four US players including star defenseman Seth Jones. The puck was jarred loose around the net where Vladimir Tkachyov hammered it past John Gibson for the game-winning goal.
Gibson was a calming presence in net for the United States, stopping 28 of 30 shots. His counterpart, however, was even better. Andrei Makarov, the goaltender who was upstaged by Sweden's Oscar Dansk in last year's Gold Medal game, made 41 stops of his own including this fantastic sprawling save early on:
It was one of many big saves by Makarov, who helped the Russians kill off a penalty in the final 1:32 of the game. The Americans scored their only goal on the power play, but were unable to mount a legitimate rush in the waning moments.
Meanwhile, Slovakia gave Canada all it could handle in an earlier game, jumping out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before the Canadians and goaltender Malcolm Subban regained their composure. Subban faltered early, but seems to be learning on the job.
Unfortunately, the story surrounding the Canadian locker room after the game wasn't about their slow start, or even their shaky goaltender as a matchup with the Americans looms on Sunday. With Boone Jenner serving the second of his three-game suspension for an egregious hit in pre-tournament competition, Canada had two more players ejected from play for heavy hits on Friday.
In the first period, J.C. Lipon was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for this hit to the head on Tomas Mikus:
Mikus, who was injured on the play, felt good enough to rejoin the action just moments later and good enough to score the Slovaks' second goal. Lipon will have a disciplinary hearing on Monday.
Then, in the second period, Anthony Camara was given another five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for charging Patrik Luza:
Luza left the game on a stretcher, and while the severity of his injury was far worse than Mikus', he will not face any disciplinary action from the IIHF. In this age of heightened player safety, it seems as though any time your gut reaction is to cringe following a big hit, the referee's arm will go up. In this case, a five-minute major is excessive, but the referees are told to err on the side of caution.
With Jenner already out of the lineup on Sunday, it'll be interesting to see if the Canadians lose Lipon against the Americans as well.]]>
For dedicated hockey fans, there couldn't be a more inopportune time for the World Junior Championships to be hosted by a country with such a significant time difference as North America.
Ufa, Russia, where the tournament is being held this year, is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. So even if your country happens to be playing in primetime over in good ol' Mother Russia, it's still 9 a.m. on the East Coast. If not? You may be looking at a 3:30 a.m. start time locally.
Now, in any year, the World Juniors is a big deal to many hockey fans. But this year? Of all years? This is all we have. As the lockout drags on into the New Year, we've found ourselves starving for hockey. Desperate to feed our ruthless withdrawal of the game we hold near and dear to our hearts. And so the odd hours in which this tournament is played this year merely twists the dagger dislodged in our hearts.
And let's not forget the poor men and women who've got the unenviable task of writing about hockey for a living. Those unfortunate souls aren't in it for the love of the game as much as they are for feeding their damn families. When will the madness end, for crying out loud?
Some of us--the stupid brave few of us who are willing to disrupt our daily routines in the name of fanatical dedication and/or professionalism--need all the help we can get. And so, I've compiled a list of five ways to retain some sense of normalcy in combatting a sadistic case of self-inflicted sleep deprivation:
There you have it, five ways to help you survive the 2013 World Junior Championships. Now, there is a decent-sized contingent of hockey fans who pay painstakingly close attention to this tournament each and every year. But for those of us who focus more on the professional ranks instead of enjoying the stars of tomorrow today, I pose a question to you:
What are your plans for February, 2014? Anything ringing a bell? Perhaps you might be interested in a certain international hockey tournament that starts with an "O" and ends with "-Lympics?"
The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia, two time zones away from Ufa. That's a nine-hour time difference. So consider this your very own warmup round.
Like anything else, finding what method works for you is a matter of trial and error. So mix and match at your leisure, and be sure to tell us your results at @The_Scratches on Twitter or on our Facebook page. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm scheduled for a 20-minute nap before I pop in another 5-Hour Energy shot.]]>
The Americans got scoring from eight different players, including three defensemen, in a resounding 8-0 victory over Germany to open their 2013 World Junior Championship slate. Now keeping in mind that the Germans represent the smallest threat in the loaded Group B, this result was one that certainly shouldn't be looked at as unexpected, but there were a lot of positives to take away from the win.
First, and obviously foremost, the Americans got three points for a regulation win, something Russia failed to do in their opening game yesterday against Slovakia. The Russians won 3-2 in overtime, a result that yields two points rather than three. The Americans won't have much time to enjoy this win though, as the host nation lurks in advance of their meeting tomorrow.
A few things to take away from today's win:
There's a full slate of action ahead for tomorrow, including the showdown with the US and Russia at 9 a.m. EST. Follow @The_Scratches on Twitter for updates on all the action!]]>
This year's time difference between North America and Ufa, Russia doesn't allow for much time for the Christmas hangover to wear off in time for the start of the World Junior Hockey Championships. In fact, already at noon on December 26 on the East coast, four games have already gone final. So yes, you may criticize the fact that this isn't actually a "preview" in it's purest form, but we were busy pleading with Santa for some playing time.
This year's tournament features some of the most talented rosters in recent memory, thanks in large part to Mr. Bettman. Consider this his Christmas present to everyone who loves watching junior hockey, I guess.
The 2012 results yielded some rather interesting groups for this year's tournament as well. In one group, the three traditional hockey superpowers, Canada, Russia and the United States, wil all jockey for position, while defending champion Sweden will wrestle with the upstart Finns and Czech Republic for Group B supremacy. The entire groups are as follows:
Group A: Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia
Group B: Russia, Canada, United States, Slovakia, Germany
Canada has benefitted the most from the NHL lockout, boasting a roster that includes a number of players that would likely be playing professional hockey if it were a real, functioning league. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton go along nicely with potential 2013 top five picks Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Malcom Subban enters as the starter in net with Jordan Binnington nipping at his heels, which could develop as an interesting dynamic if Subban falters. They enter enemy territory as the heavy favorite for a Gold medal, and why not? This is probably the most talented team since the 2005 team that ended an eight-year drought as tournament champion. The star player on that team? Some guy named Crosby.
Returning champion Sweden limps into the tournament after losing three first-round picks to injury before the puck even dropped in Ufa. In an exhibition game against Canada, Boone Jenner KO'd defenseman Jesper Pettersen, fracturing the Swede's wrist and dislocating his shoulder. Jenner was given a three-game suspension, while Pettersen will miss the duration of the tournament.
Just hours before rosters had to be finalized, it was revealed that Anaheim Ducks prospect Hampus Lindholm would be unavailable for the tournament due to a concussion. After the Ottawa Senators held last year's overtime hero Mika Zibanejad out of the tournament as a safety precaution, it's hard to see this team duplicating their success from 2012. Though they're in a relatively weak group, they should struggle to earn a medal. If they do, expect Oscar Dansk, the maestro behind a wonderful 1-0 performance in last year's Gold medal victory, to have a statue erected in his honor in Stockholm.
Host Russia is a curious case. You'll probably never find a Russian side low on spectacular offensive talent. This year's squad is no different, featuring Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Kucherov and Anton Slepyshev. They return a pair of goaltenders who had an outstanding tournament in 2012 in Andrei Vasilevski and Andrei Makarov. But where this team may falter is on the blue line. Their inability to hold a lead may already have been exposed, as they allowed Slovakia to rally in the final minute and force overtime. Given the IIHF rules, an overtime win is worth just two points as opposed to a regulation win, which nets you three. In a loaded Group B, that may cost them come time for the medal round.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this year's draw is Finland. The Finns have already taken care of Canada and the US in pre-tournament exhibitions, and won't be sneaking up on anyone. But in Group A, they may be the team to beat. Finland, like Canada, features one of their finest rosters in recent memory, including Chicago Blackhawks first-round pick Teuvo Teravainen, 2011 Sabres first rounder Joel Armia and 2013 draft-eligible Aleksander Barkov, who has scouts salivating. The Finns have already dealt with a casualty of their own, though, losing Miro Aaltonen to a gruesome ankle injury. Don't believe me? YouTube it, but for reference, it's Willis McGahee/Joe Theismann ugly. You've been warned. Despite Aaltonen's loss, the Finns have their sights set on gold. Don't be surprised if they come real close.
The United States enters the 2013 tournament licking its wounds from a dismal seventh-place finish a year ago. And while potential 2013 first-overall pick Seth Jones thinks the Americans are the team to beat, they will most definitely be fighting an uphill battle in Group B.
New York Rangers 2011 first-rounder J.T. Miller returns as the only forward from the 2012 team and will get some help from Alex Galchenyuk, taken third overall in 2012 by Montreal, a high-end scorer the likes of which haven't been seen on a US roster since Patrick Kane. Other US forwards make up for what they're lacking in size with pure talent, but even on the international ice surface, questions linger as to how Jon Gaudreau and Rocco Grimaldi will fare against some of the finest defensemen in the world.
The Americans strength is on defense, with Jones and Jacob Trouba leading the way. Connor Murphy and team captain Jake McCabe offer significant depth on the blue line, which is in stark contrast to a year ago, where it was thought to be their biggest weakness. John Gibson gives the United States an experienced netminder, which is exactly what they'll need to contend past the quarterfinals.
One thing to keep in mind for the Americans is that although they'll need to Canada and Russia in group play, that means they'll avoid both of them until at least the semifinals. If they can win two games in regulation, they'll likely play Sweden or Czech Republic in the quarters, given the medal round's format. A matchup with the Czechs for a berth into the semifinals would be a favorable draw to say the least.
MIKE- It's just so hard to see a team knocking off Canada in the medal round, though, as we've seen time and again at this tournament that anything is possible in such a small format. Canada wins Group A, while Finland wins Group B, earning an all-important bye into the semifinals. The Russians, who finish in second in Group A, make quick work of the Czechs--third in Group B-- in the quarters, setting up a date with Finland for a chance to play for Gold on home ice. The Americans take care of whatever's left of Sweden to set up a date with Canada in the other semifinal. Canada knocks off the Americans while Russia is upset (dare I say in overtime, again?!) by the Finns.
But in the end, the onslaught of NHL-caliber talent is too much to overcome. The Canadians end their Gold medal "drought" of four years, defeating Finland in the final. Russia rebounds from a devastating loss to Finland to knock off the Americans for the Bronze.
BRIAN- Mike draws this one up pretty much on the money, but Finland gets my nod for gold. Finland may not be teeming with offensive talent the way the Canadians are, but they've got more than enough high-level talent to compete. Armia taught us last year that he has the makings of an elite scorer, and Barkov truly has the makings of a first-overall pick. Finland has the weapons to stick with Canada in a run-and-gun game that we have seen Canada get carried away in late in recent tournaments, and a Canadian team that has struggled to find consistency in the defensive zone and has had considerable trouble staying out of the penalty box will give the Finns too many opportunities.
Also indicative of past Canadian teams is a whiff of goaltender controversy. Subban will be ridden for the length of the tournament according to Coach Spott, as he should be as he was thought to be the best tender heading into Canada's development camp. The fact is that he was not, and Jordan Binnington gained headlines. Two starting caliber goalies in this tournament is hardly a problem, but with problems between the pipes a staple problem for Canada in recent tournaments, the slightest weakness shown by Subban could cause a stir and should be watched.
Russia comes stacked with offensive talent and arguably the tournament's best goaltender in Vasilevski. They could easily find themselves battling for gold, but I don't believe are well-rounded enough to beat Finland. Russia will however have the upper-hand on the US, a team much more solid defensively but missing tremendous offensive upside from 2012, fire power that wasn't even enough last year to bolster the weak defense. Team USA returns without Kreider, without Coyle, without Bjugstad, and without Etem. Galchenyuk may be more capable than any of these names in terms of creating for himself, but this is a team that to be successful, will need to win a lot of one-goal, two-goal, low scoring games. In a group with Canada and Russia, that's a heck of a challenge.
Finland Gold, Canada Silver, Russia Bronze]]>
Heading into the 2013 World Junior tournament, Team Canada had a boon to ask of the IIHF- namely, to keep Boone.
But such will not be the case after Canadian forward Boone Jenner received a three game suspension from the IIHF Monday for his hit on Swedish defenseman Jesper Pettersson during an exhibition game on December 22nd. The hit earned Jenner a five minute major and a game misconduct, and sent Pettersson from the ice on a stretcher.
According to the IIHF Disciplinary Panel, Jenner was deemed to have intentionally gone after Petterrson while having ample time to avoid him, and Pettersson suffering a broken wrist and dislocated shoulder only further cemented Jenner's fate. Jenner will miss Canada's games against Germany, Slovakia, and the United States.
After a review of the tape, Jenner's hit is late without question. As TSN's Bob McKenzie clarified, the NHL deems a hit to be late when contact is made after more than a half-second has passed after the puck is released. Jenner's hit spanned approximately 30 digital frames, almost a full second.
As Pettersson came around the net in his own zone, he sent a diagonal cross zone pass towards the left point, releasing it at the bottom of the right face-off circle. Jenner was at the top of the face-off circle and finished his hit. While the hit was certainly late, was it glaringly dangerous? Did it send Pettersson head first into a wall? Did it make direct contact to the head? The answer is no. In this instance, Jenner's only offense was an otherwise clean, square body check that happened to be late by half a second.
Canadian head coach Steve Spott said as much to the Canadian Press, arguing, "Ultimately, our feeling is the hit was shoulder-to-shoulder. If anything, maybe interference or a charge, but definitely not something that's worth suspending because although Boone is an aggressive player, he didn't target anybody's head and he didn't leave his feet."
You have to assume after watching the hit that Jenner is a victim of Pettersson's injuries, and more glaringly, his own reputation earned in last year's World Junior tournament.
Jenner, a second round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011, got attention in his last go-around with Team Canada on two occasions. In the tournament opener against Finland, Jenner caught defenseman Olli Maatta with his head down in the corner and landed a blind-side hit on the eventual Penguins' first-rounder. Maatta was knocked out of the tournament with a concussion.
Jenner received no discipline for that hit, but did get a lashing for his second offense, a spearing incident in the semi-final game against Russia. Trailing the Russians 5-1 late in the second period, Jenner caught an elbow from defenseman Ildar Isangulov on an open ice hit, which drew a penalty. Upon getting to his feet, Jenner jabbed his stick into the midsection of Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, earning him a 5 minute major to nullify Canada's powerplay, a game misconduct, and a suspension for Canada's bronze medal game.
So while Jenner's hit on Pettersson was hardly a textbook example of a dirty hit, it was a textbook example of a late hit, and his brash style of play combined with Petersson's exit from tournament contention puts Jenner in street clothes until Canada faces host Russia on New Years Eve. The suspension feeds the already troubling trend for the Canadians in the early stages of tournament preparation.
Though Canada will send one of their more talented rosters in recent memory, discipline has been a concern through exhibition games against Finland and Sweden, with Team Canada racking up 34 minutes and penalties in two games. That's excluding 25 PIM for Jenner.
"The effort was great but again we’re taking too many penalties,” Spott told the Canadian Press. “That’s an area that we have to continue to improve at because we’re just putting our penalty killers on the ice way too much and there are some elite players that are sitting."
Jenner is in the midst of a breakout season in his fourth year with the OHL's Oshawa Generals, already with 27 goals and 47 points for Oshawa in 32 games. He also only has 30 penalty minutes. That's the Boone Jenner Canada hoped to have going into next week.
Hopefully, they'll have him by December 31st.]]>
We had wall-to-wall coverage of teams, players, results, you name it. Unfortunately, any money we did make was given to us in Canadian dollars, so we mistook it for Monopoly money and threw it away.
With that in mind and a certain professional hockey organization's unwillingness to budge in a mind-numbing labor dispute, we plan on diving head first into this year's tournament once again. Hopefully we can work on some kind of exchange rate this time around.
There was a lot to be learned from yesterday's game, and surely even more coming in tomorrow's final tuneup against Finland. Head coach Phil Housley (pictured right) will make his final cuts after the game as he and his 23-man roster will fly to Ufa, Russia while three players head home for the holidays.
Now, if you watched yesterday's exhibition game between the US and defending-champion Sweden, there was a lot to get excited about. The Americans pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory despite not dressing their entire first line, two top defensemen or starting goaltender. This team's great, right?
Well, not quite. But we'll know more about their definitive strengths and weaknesses after the final roster is announced. Each player considered to be "on the bubble" has played well, making this decision a tough one. But it's an enviable spot to be in for coach Housley and the Americans. Here are some of the things we learned from yesterday's game:
The IIHF Learning Curve
Both Sweden and the United States took a slew of penalties that slowed the pace of play down considerably as the game wore on. The referees were incredibly strict--yet consistent--in their calls, which gave both sides an insight into how the international game differs from that of the NCAA or CHL. Many of these players were donning the red, white and blue for the first time in their careers, so encountering such straight-laced officials could serve them well. Anything that even resembled a stick infraction resulted in two minutes. This is an area the Americans will need to learn from fast if they're serious about their hopes for a medal.
Lucia stands out
Mario Lucia looked pretty good for a kid who suffered a broken leg just over three months ago. The Wild's second-round pick in 2011 was thought to be a lock for the team prior to his injury, but it's been a long road back to recovery. Lucia showed the tenacity and touch of a top-six forward in the second period, causing a turnover behind the Sweden net and feathering a saucer pass to Ryan Hartman in front, who finished it off to give the US a 2-1 lead. Lucia was constantly around the puck, creating havoc on the backcheck as much as the offensive zone. While it appears he may be safe from the chopping block, what kind of role he will play for this team is still in question.
Defense on the offensive
If the United States finds its way to the medal stand, it'll be on the heels of their numerous two-way defensemen. It's an interesting dynamic considering a year ago the blue line was considered the Americans' Achillies' heel. Although Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones were not in the lineup on Thursday, two of the three US goals still came from the blue line. Connor Murphy, who was easily the Americans most impactful player, got the Americans on the board and nearly got another that would've broke a 2-2 tie late in the third period. Matt Grzelcyk got plenty of time to create opportunities with the man-advantage, but his defensive play at even strength left something to be desired. Against teams with such strong counter-attacks as Russia and Canada, he could be exposed. We're not in Hockey East anymore, Toto.
Speaking of Grzelcyk, here's to hoping Ray Ferraro of TSN can figure out the difference between him and Shayne Gostisbehere, the game-winning goal scorer. He confused them at least four times. Gostisbhere had an up-and-down game as well, and shouldn't be considered safe just yet. He was victimized by the officials on a pair of calls, including one out of necessity after being beaten in front by a Swedish forward.
Skjei on the chopping block
It's incredibly difficult to tell from just one game, but based somewhat on what junior hockey savants such as Chris Peters have reported all through the selection process, it's tough to see New York Rangers' 2012 first-rounder Brady Skjei finding a spot on the team. His inconsistent freshman year at Minnesota hasn't helped his cause, and he looked even more tentative on Thursday. It's not even that Skjei has looked terrible, but rather that he's been surpassed by others around him. All that could change with a strong effort tomorrow, and perhaps, a weaker showing by another defenseman.
Goaltending depth not a concern
Both Jon Gillies and Garret Sparks played very well, making the question of "who's number two" that much harder for Housley & co. Sparks' resiliency after a soft goal just minutes into the action was impressive, while Gillies was beaten only by a near-perfect shot by Rickard Rakell near the end of the second period. John Gibson will likely anchor this team throughout the tournament, but if anything were to happen to him, there are two capable players waiting in the wings.
Thanks again to our fan(s) for reading. We'll continue to enjoy bringing you the latest and greatest from the 2013 World Junior Championship. Follow us on Twitter (@The_Scratches) for up-to-the-minute reaction! Also, be sure to follow @chrismpeters and @USABestHockey for some of the most informative/entertaining WJC thoughts on the interwebs.]]>
Back in early September, when the NHL and Players' Association were merely digging the trenches in which they're currently submerged, we all scoffed at the outrage from frustrated hockey supporters claiming that if the league suffered through their second lockout in eight years for even a day that they'd never return as fans.
"Sure you will," we said. "You'll continue paying your season ticket subscriber fees, if only to hang on to your right to playoff tickets," we said. "And you'll be happily in your seat come Opening Night as if nothing ever happened, whenever it comes. ...If it comes."
Two months and 326 unplayed NHL games later, that's starting to make a lot more sense.
The quibbling over percentages and length of contracts as the leaves changed colors has not been without an exhausting battle in the PR department, one which both sides seem to be losing. The casual fan is gone, and the exponential growth the League has enjoyed over the past eight seasons probably along with it. That, by the way, was the pillar in which both sides have been negotiating.
So now what's left for us die-hards to do?
Leave, that's what. It's tough love for sure but sometimes, that's what the situation calls for. Whenever these two sides do come to an agreement (which may not be before this time next year, keep in mind) they are counting on you and I to fill their pockets. That alone is enough of a deterrant for me.
Let's face it, the NHL has made incredible strides in the right direction since the "other" lockout. But what else is there to unveil? The game has been modernized, and the stars of today and tomorrow have breathed some life into what was a stagnant league with aging superstars. Innovations such as the Winter Classic and HBO's 24/7 series have captured the imagination of even the most luke-warm fans and given them an insight into the cult following we've all been a part of for so long.
But what's left for the NHL to do? Is there a Sidney Crosby-type savior in the draft this year? Well, not quite. Without any new cutting edge ideas, the gunshot wound the players and owners have inflicted in their own feet gets bigger by the day. So, until someone comes up with a really good idea as to why I should continue to put up with Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr trading shots across their respective bows, I think I'll step aside.
Hockey, in it's purest state, will always be on somewhere. You might have to dig a little to find it, but it'll be there. This is no longer an NHL I want to come back to. Not to the players, not to the owners. It's an ambitious move to say the least, and one I hope I'll stick to. But it's also one that's necessary. I'll find my hockey fix elsewhere. And if your passion runs as deep as you say for this game, I encourage you to do the same.]]>
David Poile is widely regarded as one of the best in the sports management business over the last thirty years, nominated for the NHL’s General Manager of the Year award for all three years of its existence.
Poile’s prowess, as well as patience, in the draft has built Music City into a hockey town, a contender in the West, with its main pillars a product of home-grown talent.
Now one of those cornerstones has been stripped away.
Ryan Suter’s decision to play in Minnesota for presumably the rest of his career, written on the wall for the rest of the hockey world to see, surprisingly left Poile “disappointed” and somewhat mystified, likewise with Shea Weber. Now with Suter gone and Weber a pending restricted free agent, the Predators situation can become dire in a hurry, not totally independent of some decisions by one of the league’s best executives.
Big-name players leaving Nashville in free-agency is nothing new. Dan Hamhuis became a hot commodity for the Predators and left for Vancouver before the 2010 season, and Marek Zidlicky was dealt to Minnesota after the 2007 season in which he led the Preds’ defense in assists and points.
Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen were moved in 2007 before they hit the market for a first round pick, Nashville’s own pick they’d sent to Philly for Peter Forsberg’s short stint. That pick became Jonathon Blum, who has 15 points in 56 NHL games since then and remains in the AHL.
Despite these historical difficulties, Poile had much more success in recent seasons, bringing in players like Mike Fischer and signing franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year extension.
But even that contract, at $7 million per season, sparked talks around the league about where Poile would find the money to re-sign both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber long-term without hamstringing his roster for the next decade.
Things didn’t get any easier when a protracted arbitration process, which never ends without sour feelings on both sides, left Weber a one-year, $1.75 million dollar deal that set up another restricted free-agent negotiation for this summer, when Suter would be free.
The inability to sign Suter during the season planted the seeds for this mess, and now Poile finds himself in serious trouble dealing with Weber, too. Obviously with Suter gone, Poile will have no financial restrictions in keeping Weber. The issue will be whether Weber, who was disillusioned to be abandoned by his partner, wants to stay in the city where only Rinne, Martin Erat, and David Legwand have stood the test of time.
Just as important is that Shea Weber is in almost anyone’s eyes the most valuable, well-rounded, complete defenseman in the game with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. In the last four years, Weber has 74 goals, ten more than any other defenseman in that time, to go along with a +29 rating during that stretch. He had 10 goals and 12 assists on the powerplay. Nashville scored 54 powerplay goals and Weber was on the ice for 47 of them.
So if Ryan Suter can earn the same $7.5 million cap hit that Weber made last season, anything in the $9-$10 million dollar range is by no means unreasonable for Weber to demand. While Poile would pay Weber anything he asked, if Weber decides to move on, Poile will have to behave as Penguins’ GM Ray Shero did with Jordan Staal: offer a long-term deal and if rejected, trade immediately. Afterall, Poile can lose his two best players for nothing in the course of a year.
But Weber can’t wait for the start of the season, or even the end of the summer, if that’s the route he seeks. With the current CBA set to expire on September 15th, and provisions likely to be added to eliminate the front-loaded mega-deals landed by Suter in Minnesota, Weber should be eager to sign his long-term deal this summer.
With that in mind, how is it that Weber hasn’t been signed already in the week since Suter departed? Poile has nothing else on the agenda and no more important point on his shopping list. If it’s that Weber isn’t eager to stay, there will be new pressure on Poile to get the max return for Weber, in a market where GMs may be willing to let the clock wind down to a new CBA with a more affordable salary structure. Who’s the pressure really on?
In any event, an off-season losing both Suter and Weber is devastating to the Preds no matter who comes in a return package. Perhaps one can never get “fair value” if forced to move one of this generation’s best. But with Poile’s deadline decisions this past February, there is added pressure.
Poile put all his eggs in this year’s playoff basket, knowing it may be his last with Suter wearing gold. With that in mind, he brought in Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Paul Gaustad, overpaying a first-rounder and two second rounders. He also brought back prodigal son Alexander Radulov.
The Preds fell flat in the second round, Kostitsyn proved a distraction and is back on the market, and Radulov earned a one-way ticket back to Russia for his useless, partying ways.
Poile’s moves didn’t work, Suter is gone, and now Poile will be desperate to convince Weber to stay just to prevent his Cup contender from taking a massive step backwards into mediocrity.
If Weber forces a trade, Poile will have to pay the piper for the winding road that brought him to this point. But that won’t guarantee the Music City won’t be very, very silent.
If you're an avid fan of getting your news, whether it be sports-related or otherwise, via Twitter, you've undoubtedly come across the numerous fake accounts that spew rumors at the speed of, well, sight.
These cretons, who apparently have nothing better to do with their time, continuously announce fake news citing unnamed sources that don't exist, providing rabid Twitter users with all the ammunition they need to recreate the Vancouver riots in the virtual realm.
False reports have dominated this year's free agent season in the NHL, with Ryan Suter having apparently landed in Detroit, Zach Parise in Pittsburgh, and Alex Semin, well, everywhere so far.
The fact is, anyone can throw a bunch of paint at a canvas and call it art. In fact, long-time Rangers fan and writer Greg Caggiano decided to have some fun with the all stupid people out there. Not-so-shockingly, as it turns out, there are a lot of them.
Late last night, Caggiano tweeted, like many others had before him, that not only was a deal that would bring Rick Nash to New York imminent, but that it was completed:
#CONFIRMED New York Rangers Acquire Rick Nash from #CBJ #DONEDEAL #NYRtinyurl.com/7w9c7wu— Greg Caggiano (@GregCaggiano) July 10, 2012
You could imagine the reaction of hundreds, maybe even thousands of Rangers fans, couldn't you?
"Oh my God! This is breaking news! Quick, click the link! Who'd they trade for him? Somebody help me! I need an adult! I need an adult!"
Trouble is, the link in that article was not a news story explaining the details of a trade that would shake up the landscape of the Eastern Conference. Rather it was a link to Caggiano's personal blog, and an entry titled "A Great Social Experiment with NHL Trades on Twitter." There, Caggiano gives step-by-step instructions on how he shook the masses into a frenzy with just a few short hashtags. Embedded between his sinister laughs and retweets of people both hating him and loving him for his actions, is a lesson for all of us:
"So, why did I do this? To give fans high blood pressure? To bask in the attention? No, just to prove a point that no one on Twitter can be trusted except for the people who actually work for real sports outlets, and if something is too good to be true, like a 21-year-old blogger with no aspirations of being a sports journalist and just writing as a hobby, breaking the biggest trade of the year before TSN, it’s probably not."
Perhaps the most diabolic part of his plan, was that just minutes before that tweet, with several others in his timeline hinting at a deal coming in mere moments, he dropped this little hint that he was totally full of crap, and just playing with everyone's emotions:
Yes, War of the Worlds. Great flick. Especially the Orson Welles RADIO broadcast. Classic. Had people talking for a loooooooong time.— Greg Caggiano (@GregCaggiano) July 10, 2012
Yeah, that one fell mostly on deaf ears at the time, but it was a good one nonetheless. Perhaps those worked up into such a haze put their blinders on to anything not Nash-related until there was a resolution that would quench their thirsts for fake information.
"People may hate me for this, but that is their prerogative, as at least I was comfortable enough to release this was an experiment. Then again, what if Nash actually did get traded the next day? I would be a genius, immediately vaulted to the top of the rumor totem pole. If I was wrong, I could immediately flip just like everyone else does and say that family matters came into the equation, or something in the deal changed at the last moment and the entire thing fell through, and that there are now five obvious teams still in the running for said player. Either way, I hope this is a wake up call to all those who fancifully waste their lives following these people on Twitter. Thanks for the laugh, everyone!"
Nicely done, Greg. You've shown us just how easy it is to become someone Eklund, Incarcerated Bob or HockeyInsiderr, and also why we should avoid them like they've got the Bubonic Plague. We'll continue to stick with the Darren Dregers and Bob McKenzies of the world.
Click here to read Caggiano's full entry.]]>
In case you've been out celebrating the birth of the world's greatest nation and missed this morning's news, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, two of Uncle Sam's favorite hockey-playing sons, have joined forces in Minnesota, signing identical 13-year, $98 million contracts with the Wild.
With the pair of big-ticket players now officially off the free agent market, and alternative options alarmingly low, contending teams looking to make a splash will most likely have to do so via trade.
Though players like Matt Carle and Alexander Semin, both fine players in their own right (as long as you don't watch TSN) still have yet to find homes, organizations such as the Flyers, Red Wings, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Penguins seem to be in an arms race for names such as Nash, Ryan, Luongo and Weber.
So who's next?
-The ambiguity surrounding the Rick Nash sweepstakes is expected to quickly come to a head now with Parise gone to the Wild. Nash though, who comes with a salary cap hit of $7.8 million for the next six seasons, won't be cheap.
Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson has come under fire for his handling of the situation thus far, being unable to find the right fit first at last season's trade deadline and then at the NHL Entry Draft late last month. To his credit, Nash's limited list of teams he'd be willing to play for have hampered Howson's ability to find a suitor with the right assets.
For instance, the Carolina Hurricanes, since acquiring Jordan Staal on draft day, have repeatedly inquired about Nash, but have been told that they are not currently on his list of desired destinations.
The New York Rangers have been the team most connected to Nash, but their unwillingness to part with young phenoms Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and playmaking center Derek Stepan have quelled most rumors that a deal would be imminent.
However, Aron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday that Howson has not asked for any of those three players in return for Nash, allowing for speculation about a deal built around Blueshirts' defenseman Michael Del Zotto to run wild.
Along with the Rangers, Howson is also speaking to the Flyers, Sharks, Penguins and Red Wings about acquiring Nash's services. The Flyers, in a classic Yankees-Red Sox bidding war move, may have joined the fray in an attempt to press the Rangers into overpaying for him. So far though, Blueshirts general manager Glen Sather has remained steadfast in his refusal to include his top young players in any deal.
-In fact, the Flyers may be more interested in a different, more affordable disgruntled scorer. Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, the subject of early-season trade rumors last Fall, has repeatedly voiced his displeasure with the way the Ducks have handled him and would prefer a fresh start in a new city.
His destination of choice? Philadelphia, just minutes away from his hometown of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Ryan's price tag, both in cap hit ($5.1 million through 2014-15) and via trade, is significantly less than that of Nash's. He would also be an attractive replacement in Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk, who was dealt to Toronto last week in exchange for Luke Schenn.
But would bringing Ryan into the fold make the Flyers that much better? Sure, he'd replace Jaromir Jagr on Claude Giroux's wing to form one of the best duos in the League. But if it'll cost them a young, budding star such as Brayden Schenn or future shutdown center Sean Couturier along with a high draft pick, it may end up doing more harm than good for a team who wasn't exactly defensively sound last season.
For all the talk about the poor job Howson is doing in Columbus, Anaheim's Bob Murray sure has escaped a fair amount of scrutiny for his handling of Ryan. So far, the Flyers have been rumored to be most aggressive, but other potential landing spots include Detroit, New York, Boston and Carolina.
-The Flyers, despite losing out on Suter, are also interested in Predators captain Shea Weber, a restricted free agent. Though Weber is free to sign an offer sheet with another team, which will likely cost that team their next four first round picks if Nashville does not match the offer, a trade is more likely if he is to be moved.
Of course, David Poile, Predators general manager, has turned all of his attention to retaining his captain since being spurned by Suter. Prying Weber away from him will not be easy, nor will it come without a steep price.
-Roberto Luongo continues to be the crown jewel of the goaltending market, but there's been no distinguished chatter between Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis and other teams since draft day. The Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks continue to be the most interested, and desired destinations for Luongo, who has a no-trade clause in a contract that runs through 2021-22.
Luongo has reportedly requested a trade back to Sunrise. But wouldn't it be interesting to see him in Blackhawks red singing along to Chelsea Dagger, instead of hearing it in his sleep like he has for the past four years?
Buckle up, folks. After a lackluster draft and first few days of free agency, the trade market is officially open for business.]]>
It seems the biggest trade of NHL Draft weekend was saved for after the final selection. Late Saturday afternoon, the Leafs and Flyers pulled the trigger on a deal exchanging defenseman Luke Schenn for Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk.
After speculation reached an all-time high that this trade would be made around last season's trade deadline, the swap of former top-five draft picks marks the second in two days in which family ties are re-kindled, when Eric and Jordan Staal were joined in Carolina. Luke and Brayden have always thought about the prospect of playing together, but for quite sometime it seemed as if it wouldn't happen.
Luke was drafted fifth overall by Brian Burke in 2008 and expectations were through the roof. But beyond stretches where Luke has been good, his career hasn't been terribly impressive thus far. At least it's the first time Brian Burke has gushed over a first-round draft pick, right? Oh hey, Nazem Kadri.
Schenn had 75 points in four seasons with the Leafs.
Speaking of underachieving draft picks, James van Riemsdyk hasn't exactly lived up to his billing either. The now-former Flyer was taken 2nd overall in 2007, after Patrick Kane was selected by Chicago, and has accumulated 99 points in roughly two and a half seasons with the Flyers. JVR's size, strength on the puck, and blistering shot were the types of things that made Paul Holmgren believe they had something really special. In fact, van Riemsdyk's expected leap forward was a big part of the reason Holmgren felt comfortable trading away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last summer.
Well, at least they still have Claude Giroux.
This trade has numerous implications for both teams. Toronto gets an explosive, yet still mostly unproven, forward in van Riemsdyk who has shown instances of brilliance. He was a force in the 2011 playoffs, netting 7 goals in 11 games as the Flyers lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. A change in scenery might be just the thing that he needs and playing alongside Phil Kessel and a rejuvenated Joffrey Lupul might be just the place.
Van Riemsdyk has the potential to become a superstar. And that is exactly what Burke is going to preach, and quite honestly, it may not be too far off.
Now, the Flyers didn't get such a bad deal here, either. Make no bones about it, Luke Schenn hasn't been the dominant force he has been touted to be. But he is another guy who can certainly step up his role into an All-Star defenseman. Undoubtedly, the Flyers' brass are looking at this 22-year old imploring him to become the very thing they just lost: Chris Pronger.
The Flyers' interest in a player like Schenn speaks volumes about their confidence in Pronger's potential return after a debilitating concussion forced him to miss the majority of the 2011-12 campaign. This threw the Flyers into talks with Ryan Suter, specifically, earlier this offseason despite reports that Suter was less than thrilled with the idea of playing in Philadelphia. This trade might make any of those rumors obsolete. The Flyers may have just made the move for their man on the blue line.
Despite the "less than explosive" starts to both of these young players' careers, this trade has the makings of something that can totally revitalize the way we look at them.
Two young players, traded one-for-one.
A dying breed of trade in the NHL and something that is quite refreshing.]]>
The NHL Draft has come and gone, and like usual there are some teams that are far better off than they were this time yesterday. While the prevailing opinion with most drafts is that you can't truly grade a team's performance, which is certainly true to an extent, some general managers were decidedly more aggressive on the CONSOL Energy Center floor.
Here are some of the teams that benefitted the most from the 2012 NHL Draft:
1) Pittsburgh Penguins
Surprisingly, the Penguins made the biggest splash of the first round, sending Jordan Staal to Carolina in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the eighth-overall pick. Staal reportedly refused to sign a 10-year extension with Pittsburgh earlier in the week. General manager Ray Shero got a great return for a player who was a key component of a Stanley Cup-winning team, but was ultimately stuck behind Malkin and Crosby.
The Penguins then drafted a pair of high-end defensemen in Derrick Pouliot of the WHL's Portland Winterhawks with the eighth overall selection, and Olli Maata of the OHL's London Knights 22nd overall. The acquisition of Dumoulin as well allowed Shero to turn a position of weakness into one of strength.
Pittsburgh also traded Zybnek Michalek on Day 2 of the draft, a move that was widely regarded as a salary dump. Shero will now turn his attention to the free agent market, where he will try to attract either Zach Parise or Ryan Suter to the Steel City.
2) Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres happily watched as eight of the first 10 players drafted were defensemen. As the draft unfolded, Russian center Mikhail Grigorenko, the fifth-highest ranked player heading into the draft, had not yet found a home. Darcy Regier & co. happily scooped him up with the 12th pick.
Regier, though, was far from done for the evening. Just a few minutes later, he moved the pick he acquired from the Nashville Predators in exchange for Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline (21st overall) as well as the Sabres' second-round selection to Calgary for the 14th overall pick. Buffalo then selected Zemgus Girgensons, a heavy-hitting center from Latvia.
Buffalo's depth down the middle got a significant shot in the arm with a pair of impressive prosepects. Don't be surprised to see Grigorenko crack the NHL roster this fall.
3) Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes, who obviously made a big splash by acquiring Staal from the Penguins, had themselves a fine draft as well. Getting Staal out of the shadow of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and into a more offensive role will pay dividends for the Canes for years, assuming he signs an extension to stay after next season. He is already projected to be flanked by older brother and team captain, Eric Staal, and 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner.
Despite trading the eighth-overall pick in exchange for Staal, Carolina still made three of the first 69 picks. They used their first selection, in the second round, on forward Phillip Di Giuseppe. The speedy winger finished sixth on the team in scoring in his freshman season at the University of Michigan.
With their second pick, the Hurricanes went off the board a bit and took gritty winger Brock Mcginn. While he may not be a prolific scorer, Mcginn certainly projects to replace some of the void left by Brandon Sutter in time.
The Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks also benefited from an early run on defensemen. Washington, who acquired Colorado's first round pick last summer in a deal for Semyon Varlamov, selected Swedish center Filip Forsberg 11th overall. Forsberg was ranked third. They also selected Tom Wilson of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers with the 16th pick. Acquiring the big pair of forwards softens the blow of having Evgeni Kuznetsov stay in Russia.
The Blackhawks selected Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen with the 18th overall pick. Teravainen was expected to be taken in the top 10 and possibly in the top five. Chicago got incredible value at 18, adding Teravainen to an already robust group of young forward prospects including Mark McNeill, Brandon Saad and Brandon Pirri.]]>
Come chat with your favorite Scratches and some very special guests, including Chris Peters of The United States of Hockey, Sean Gentille, hockey editor for The Sporting News, as well as a pair of Bloguin's finest Devils writers, Darren Shetler of Running With The Devils and Chris Wassel of The Hockey Program.
In addition to some of the finest scribes on our network, we'll also hear from a draft-eligible member of the 2011-12 Peterborough Petes as he watches players he skated alongside and against have their names called in the hopes he will find a home.
Sign in below, and let your voice be heard:]]>
Without a formal host for the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas, the format for the show was a bit different than most awards ceremonies. The League adopted a "host by committee" which included a combination of on-air sports personalities, actors-turned-fans and of course, fellow players who took turns taking big swings at making the audience laugh, and almost always coming up empty.
The theme? When in doubt, and scared of a room full of people finding you less than amusing, make fun of John Tortorella's press conferences, like Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet did, among others.
The awkward silences after bad jokes that the likes of Joshua Jackson and Erin Andrews admittedly did not write painfully gave way for over two hours. However, the NHL found some funny bones with a few spoof videos starring some of NBC's most famous actors, Tracy Morgan of 30 Rock, and Up All Night's Will Arnett.
New York Rangers goaltender, and Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist, introduced a video featuring "a very important player" who spent some time with the team this year. In a spoof of the popular HBO series "Rangers-Flyers: 24/7 Road To The Winter Classic," the video profiled Tracy Morgan, a player some might call "enigmatic," to say the least:
Morgan, who's known for his outlandish, yet simple comedy on 30 Rock, won over the crowd while the NHL video crew cut up a John Tortorella clip that was meant originally about cutting ties with Sean Avery, another important Ranger who didn't finish the year with the team. Hm, interesting.
Over the course of the two-hour event, Will Arnett starred in several "Shanaban" spoof videos as the Director of Player Safety himself, sporting an aggressive wig and monotoned Shanahan accent. In this instance, he takes on Kings captain Dustin Brown for his dangerous attempt at rehydrating:
Arnett's impressions of Shanahan became a running theme throughout the show, including videos where Shanahan gets into infractions committed away from the rink, like Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, and his inability to correctly park his vehicle like a proper North American:
Ovechkin drives a Honda, does he? Oh, that sneaky, sneaky NHL marketing department.
While Jay Mohr hosted the NHL Awards in years past, the League gambled big this year at the Wynn and crapped out. With a number of seemingly great would-be hosts around hockey these days in Arnett, Matthew Perry, Vince Vaughn and even former Bruins writer and comedian Bill Burr, one wonders why the NHL went hostless for their only red carpet event.]]>
The Minnesota Wild locked up 28 year-old goaltender Josh Harding for the next three years, a deal worth $5.7 million over that stretch. The contract is a raise for Harding, whose previous deal paid him $750 thousand last season. The contract sets the Wild up for the future after starter Nicklas Backstrom, age 34, becomes a free agent, scheduled for the summer of 2013.
But for anyone playing "Brian Burke - Home Edition," don't make the mistake of believing that Harding's new deal in Minnesota makes Backstrom an option via trade for the Leafs next season, or any other team for that matter. Backstrom won't be going anywhere.
Pierre Lebrun reported as much this afternoon, stating that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher wanted to keep Backstrom and Harding as a formidable "1-2 punch" in the West. Such isn't a bad plan with the two posting similarly strong numbers. Backstrom posted a GAA of 2.43 and a save percentage of .919 while carrying the bulk of the work, while Harding posted a GAA of 2.62 and a save percentage of.917 through 34 games, the heaviest workload of his career, as the Wild groomed him to be their starter for the future.
But while the Wild are solid in net with both Harding and Backstrom, there is probably more to Fletcher's remarks than a "strong 1-2 punch." More realistically, it would seem as though Backstrom would be hard to move.
Despite strong goaltending, there are numerous question marks for a Wild team seeking to contend in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Wild were strong throughout the first half of the season, only to drop to twelfth in the conference. But injuries to Guillaume Latendresse (16 games played) and Mikko Koivu (55 games played) deprived the Wild of much needed scoring, while the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi didn't translate to wins.
Fletcher will be among the top bidders if Zach Parise hits the open market in July, as he needs to add scoring to his roster that ranked dead last in the NHL in goals scored, 17 back of 29th ranked Los Angeles. But would Fletcher give greater consideration to dealing a proven starter like Backstrom, in relatively high demand in the league this summer and after making a commitment to Harding, to fill those scoring needs? Perhaps if he could.
The fact is that the 34 year-old Backstrom carries with him a $6 million cap hit and, again, is a free agent next summer. What team, even with the most dire goaltending needs, would deal for a one year rental at that hefty a cap hit, not to mention the package Minnesota could command to complete such a deal?
Or think of it this way. Even a contract as unappealing as Roberto Luongo's would charge a team $4.5 million next season, and at least give that team the stability of knowing their situation in the crease through 2022. Luongo's contract is more affordable for next season and at least allows for a plan and stability, while Backstrom would serve as the most expensive temporary stop-gap in the game.
Any deal for Backstrom would almost certainly require an extension upon signing, if not some restructuring, which would not even be considered until a new CBA is set in place this fall, we hope.
So one way or another, Backstrom will stay, and Minnesota will be safe in net. But regardless of their goaltending strength, without additions to the offense, Minnesota will find themselves in the exact same spot they were last Spring when the trade deadline comes around. At that point, when teams are willing to deal for large expiring contracts for the playoff run, Backstrom may be the most sought after goaltender in the game. But for the time being, Chuck Fletcher will have to work to see that this "1-2 punch" isn't the only punch his roster has.]]>
Now, it probably stands to reason that Chris threw a few playful jabs around the office as his Devils advanced past the Panthers, Flyers and Rangers and into the Stanley Cup Final against Los Angeles.
The rest of the office, who certainly adopted the Kings if for no other reason than to wipe the silly grin off their co-worker's face, added some silver and black pizzazz to Chris' desk when he was on vacation.
Tonight's Healthy Scratches has reached out to the brilliant architects of this trolling Picasso for comment, and will happily relay their thoughts if afforded the chance.]]>
The New Jersey Devils announces on Wednesday that they will indeed be staying put and utilizing their first round pick in the NHL Draft on June 22nd.
The Devils will be forced to surrender a first-round pick in one of the next three years, a penalty for attempting to circumvent the salary cap when they made their first contract pitch to forward Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010. Surprisingly, the Devils opted not to give away the pick this year, even though they pick in the 29th slot out of thirty teams, and will almost certainly be in more favorable slots in the next two years.
So who is it the Devils are so excited about that they deem it imperative to hang on to that 29th overall pick for dear life and possibly hurt their draft status one or two years down the road?
Could it be Malcolm Subban?
The Devils obviously have their eye on someone, and that someone needs to at least have a chance of being around at the end of the first round. That, plus the career of Marty Brodeur coming to an end, if not this year than in the next two and prospects like Jeff Frazee, Keith Kinkaid, and even Scott Wedgewood not yet pinned as long-term answers, all signs point to a goaltender going to New Jersey at number 29.
Subban, younger brother of Montreal defenseman PK Subban, is the consensus number one goaltender available, posting a 2.50 GAA and a .923 save percentage in 39 games for Belleville of the OHL this season.
Of course, as many other mock drafts have leaned, there are other teams that could potentially eye Subban earlier in the first round. The Chicago Blackhawks could certainly look to upgrade their goaltending situation. Goaltender Corey Crawford has been suspect at best this past season, and that only two years removed from the departure of rookie Antti Niemi. With two young goaltenders out of the picture so quickly, hypothetically of scourse in Crawford's case, the organization has had a whole to fill.
The Chicago Blackhawks drafted goaltender Kent Simpson out of Everrett in the second round in 2010, who had an unimpressive season in the WHL with a GAA of 4.00 and a save percentage just over .880 this past year. Mac Carruth of the Portland Winterhawks, taken in the seventh round of the same draft, faired better, but neither is close at all to NHL ready. AHL Rockford leaves few appealing alternatives. The Blackhawks will stick with Crawford next year, but taking the best goalie in Subban is an option for a team pretty well solidified at all other positions.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have also been pegged as a team to go after Subban, an argument that I simply don't understand. Certainly the most glaring weakness for the Lightning is goaltending, and it is a weakness that needs to be addressed immediately. But is Subban prepared to take on a full NHL workload next year? Hardly. Few goalies are.
Secondly, after dealing Kyle Quincey and Steve Downie at the trade deadline, Steve Yzerman has 5 picks in the first two rounds. Despite a lack of chatter to this point, I would expect Yzerman to do anything in his power to package those picks and get an NHL ready goaltender for next year. Of course this was simpler at the trade deadline, before we knew Luongo would be shopped (won't end up in Tampa) or that Tim Thomas would be taking a year long sabbatical.
But several young goalies could, maybe, be had for an appealing package. Does this spring convince the Kings that they will have to move Jonathan Bernier? Perhaps there is a conversation for Yzerman to push for. Or how about Anders Lindback in Nashville? Pekka Rinne isn't going anywhere soon, and after the Preds lost first and second round picks in deadline deals that fell short, a package including early round picks may appeal to them.
All speculation of course, but I for one cannot see Yzerman amassing that many picks that early and not planning to do something with them. A goaltender to the Lightning in the first round is not automatic, but with two first rounders is of course possible should Yzerman decide to send Tampa into a miniature rebuild.
But back to New Jersey. Certainly Subban could be there for them to take at 29. Luckily for the Devils, even if Subban is taken, there are two top-flight, highly regarded goaltenders remaining in this draft, to the point that some mock drafts like NHL.com's Adam Kimelman's have had all three goalies going in the first round.
Swedish netminder Oscar Dansk and Russian Andrei Vasilevski are the top two ranked goalies in the NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. Lou Lamoriello could take either of these netminders and be very pleased with his draft day.
The Devils have needs in net for the future, but these aren't the most pressing needs. More size and depth up front is certainly needed, despite the job done by a brilliant fourth line during the playoffs, all headed for free agency and none guaranteed to match a level of play in the Spring that they had never produced before. Defensively, the Devils have several solid young prospects, including Michigan's Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas in AHL Albany. And even in net, there can be patience for Kinkaid, and especially for Wedgewood coming off a very solid campaign in Plymouth.
Essentially, the Devils certainly could have forfeited this pick.
But the Devs are sticking in, not even considering the thought that Vasilevski or Dansk could drop to the late second round or that the Devils could move up in the second round. There is no consideration that the Devils could take a sleeper goalie in the late rounds, again already possessing several netminding prospects and waiting for one of the to take charge.
But the Devils want this pick. They believe they need to make this pick. And who is available at the very end of the first round to bolster this franchise for the future, that the Devils feel they NEED to have? Lou Lamoriello is prone to surprise us.
My common sense tells me it's one of three men, and he will be Marty Brodeur's successor.
Subban is preferred option one.]]>
The rest of us? Well, we've already started the countdown to Opening Night (assuming there is one).
A reputable offshore betting site, Bovada.lv--formerly Bodog.com, has catered to the early stages of our hockey withdrawal. This morning, they released their initial odds for the 2012-13 NHL season. Surprisingly, the Kings are not the favorite to become the first repeat champion since the Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98. They've got the second best odds heading into the offseason, at 11:1.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who barring a catastrophic off-ice accident will enter next year with a healthy Sidney Crosby and likely defending Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin among others, are the favorites to return to their Cup-winning form from 2009. According to Bovada.lv, they've got a 7:1 chance to recapture Lord Stanley's Cup.
The Devils, this year's runners-up, are facing some long odds at 30:1. Obviously, it's been widely speculated that their captain Zach Parise, an unrestricted free agent, will not re-sign with the team. If Lou Lamioriello is somehow able to retain Parise though, expect a significant jump in those odds.
Likewise, the Detroit Red Wings, who will be enduring the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom, open at a surprisingly high 12:1. However, it's also expected that they'll be major players in the free agent market this July.
Among some of the more ambitious wagers for the bettors who like to live on the edge, may we offer the New York Rangers (12:1), the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins (14:1) and the Washington Capitals (25:1). That's right, folks. These people do this for a living. They've found a way to make the Capitals one of the most intriguing stories of this offseason, alright. They'll dare you to pick them to win the Stanley Cup.
Obviously, these odds are subject to change on a whim, based mostly on the destinations of unrestricted free agents Parise, Ryan Suter, Alexander Radulov and others.
With that said, as the League continues hurtling toward terrifyingly pessimistic labor negotiations, it's a wonder Bovada didn't add a prop bet to this wager entitled "nobody." It's entirely possible that no one, not the Kings, Donald Fehr, nor Gary Bettman, will be crowned champion in 2013. While we are all hopeful that Bettman, Fehr & co. can avoid work stoppages that stunted the game's growth in 1994 and 2004, we're not so sure we'll get our wish.
For our readers who are also compulsive gamblers, we sure do hope your bets get ruled "no action" in the case of a lockout.
June 14, 1994. The New York Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup, shattering a 54-year drought in America’s largest media market. Brian Leetch became the first American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Sports Illustrated ran a front-page story lauding the NHL and it’s rise to prominence as the NBA sank into the background. The NHL product was on the rise and the sky was the limit.
Then the NHL put up it's own low ceiling.
On October 1, 1994 the NHL let all of that momentum and popularity go to waste with a 104-day work stoppage that killed half the season. The league never fully recovered before a second and much more detrimental lockout in the fall of 2004 shook the sport to it's core, almost beyond repair.
Monday night, once again, the Stanley Cup was hoisted in a major media market of the United States, one that had waited 44 years to bear witness to the most coveted of trophies. Again, and for only the third time in history, an American-born player was named playoff MVP. And again the US is clamoring for the NHL in record numbers.
Now more than ever, the NHL must realize its own potential, both to carry the game to new heights and to tear it down once again to the depths of irrelevancy in the eyes of the casual, prospective fan. Gary Bettman cannot allow history to repeat itself once again.
For a moment let’s forget the television ratings, which set records in 2011 and were strong again in 2012 for a revamped, rejuvenated, and totally rededicated NBC broadcast that took NHL cable coverage to new levels in 2012.
Rather, let’s focus on the culture of what the NHL has built since the 2004-05 lockout. The lockout from which many said the NHL could never recover has instead yielded a stronger brand of hockey as well as a stronger league, most notably due to the dedication of the fans of hockey.
But in the years since, the wide-spread depth of talent both on the ice and in the front office has given every National Hockey League city something special- expectations. Greatness in Detroit has been preserved. Pressure, frustration, and high demands persist in Philadelphia. The prestige and blind devotion to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge remains. But Cups in Anaheim and Carolina sent the message that any market could compete in a salary cap era, and that anything less was unacceptable.
The back-to-back Cup appearances for the Penguins and the resurrection of the Washington Capitals taught us that with solid drafting and patience, every team is competitive.
Most importantly, the Stanley Cup playoffs made Chicago a hockey city again, brought the Bruins back to the center of attention in Boston, made Madison Square Garden rock in May, proved that ice can stick in the desert, and now has made the LA Kings, an eighth seed that barely squeaked into the postseason, the most important team in Laker Land.
Doesn’t that all seem too precious to let slip away once more?
Attendance is up, revenues are up, ratings are up for a game that once again finds itself garnering more spotlight and more interest from new fan bases. As the NHL season has come to a close and with the present collective bargaining agreement set to expire in September, Commissioner Gary Bettman And NHLPA leader Donald Fehr have a simple objective: to conclude labor talks as quickly as possible.
Let the Draft be a celebration of the prosperity of the game. Let the free agency period be just what it is, a shopping frenzy where the landscape of the league changes over night, where every fan can hope to be the day’s big winner. And let September be a time not to discuss labor controversy or shortened seasons, but rather to start training camps with a burst of enthusiasm, to see if the Dallas Stars are the next blossoming young squad in the West, to argue whether or not the Edmonton Oiler rebuild is finally ready to produce, to learn what life after Lidstrom is like in Detroit.
The NHL cannot afford another work stoppage like 2004, or 1994. The strides made by the NHL, by junior and college programs, by youth hockey as a whole in that time to recapture the imagination of North America and to provide hope that each year truly is a clean slate, that success is only a few good decisions away, and that a sip from the Cup can quench even the longest drought (here’s lookin’ at you Toronto), is incomparable and immeasurable.
Mr. Bettman, the sports world is beginning to shine its lights on you once again. Please, this time, don’t flick the switch.]]>