Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How's it Gonna Be? Volume 2

Here are 5 more of the NHL offseason transactions that I thought were particularly interesting. This edition features some particularly uniquely dramatic scenarios including a star player jumping ship from his Eastern Conference Champs, taking a discount to play for the team that beat him to win the Cup. There is another Eastern Conference Champ who leaves his home town in order to make more money, a goalie who went from MVP, to backup, to star, and back to the bench again, an up and coming star who will in all likelihood get his first shot at the postseason, and a former all-star involved in a tampering scandal! The previous summaries were in no particular order that is not parallel with the order in which they are presented below, but if you’re reading this blog, you probably are smart enough to figure out which one is which…

1. Marian Hossa, one of the hottest commodities in this summer’s Free Agency Market, stunned the hockey world by signing with defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings. Hossa at 29 years of age left several years and millions of potential dollars on the table to go to Hockey Town. Detroit general manager Ken Holland reported that Hossa’s camp actually contacted him about putting Hossa behind the winged wheel. Holland told Hossa that we would need to contact captain Nicklas Lidstrom to see if he would mind having Hossa take his place as the highest paid player in Detroit; however Hossa said that it would not be necessary and settled for a one year, 7.4 million dollar deal. Hossa has averaged 84 points over the past 5 seasons. He was traded from the Ottawa Senators along with Greg De Vries to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for then pariah Dan Heatley. The 2008 trade deadline saw Hossa shipped from Atlanta to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Erik Christenson, Colby Armstrong, and former 1st round draft pick Angelo Esposito. Penguins fans were more than a little sour when Hossa, who put up 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) to rank 2nd in playoff scoring, swapped his black and yellow and a town that had given up so much to attain him, for the dynasty and probable repeat favorites in the red and white. Adding Hossa to an already dynamic offense spells trouble for…well everyone except Detroit.

2. Jose Theodore, a few years removed from his breakout season as a Montreal Canadian in 2002-2003 where he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, as well as the Hart Trophy as the player considered most valuable to his team, has had an interesting calendar year. After backstopping Montreal to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and winning those two coveted trophies, Theodore posted 3 straight sub-par seasons, averaging well under a .900 save percentage split amongst the Habs and the Colorado Avalanche who traded David Aebsicher for him in March of 2006. Theodore had an impressive 2007-2008 regular season campaign, wrenching the starting job away from Peter Budaj and playing excellent in the Avs opening playoff series in which they ousted Marion Gaborik and the Minnesota Wild. Theodore’s recumbent season, however, came to a screeching halt at the hands of the soon to be Stanley Cup Champions, the Detroit Red Wings. Theodore has an absolutely terrible series, giving up 15 goals against in only 130:31 of playing time. He posted a meek .809 save percentage and was pulled in 3 out of 4 contests as the Avs were cast aside after 4 straight losses. However, the Washington Capitals, who lost starter Cristbal Huet to the Chicago Blackhawks, and backup Olli Kolzig to the Tampa Bay Lightning, appear to be unnerved by Theodore’s tragic playoff breakdown and signed the free agent to replace Huet as the starter between the pipes for the upcoming season.

3. Pavel Demitra spent his first 3 seasons with the Ottawa Senators from 1993-1996 before being traded to the St. Louis Blues for Christer Olsson. Demitra signed with the Los Angeles Kings in 2005 after several impressive seasons with the Blues, his best being a career high 93 points in 2002-2003 season. Demitra was then traded from LA to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O’Sullivan and a previously acquired 1st round pick from the Edmonton Oilers. Demitra has been unable to reproduce the success he had in 2002-2003, averaging around 60 points per season ever since. He was supposed to be the catalyst that would propel Marian Gaborik into superstar status and lead Minnesota into a Western Conference powerhouse. However, the 3-time all-star never had the output that was expected of him and entered this year’s free agent market in search of a new home. He was signed by Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Mike Gillis somewhat shortly after the free agency period began. What makes this an interesting story is that it is reported that Demitra was seen in the Vancouver area two weeks before he became a free agent. What makes this story controversial is that Mike Gillis is the former agent of Demitra which has prompted tampering charges filed by Minnesota. It will be interesting to see if the 33 year old Slovakian native will be able to return to his former glory and also to see what action the league takes against Mike Gillis.

4. Ryan Malone spent his first 4 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. During that time, the 6’4 224 lbs Malone had averaged around 42 points per season, posting a career high 51 in 2007-2008. He had become somewhat of fan favorite, which could be expected since he is a native of Pittsburgh. Aside from being a hometown boy, Malone won Penguins fans over with his hard-nosed playing style and tremendous energy that he would bring to each game. Malone’s toughness can be best exemplified in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals series, in which he took a 6’7 240+lbs Hal Gill slap shot directly to the head, and missed only a couple shifts before returning to action with a bruised and swollen face. Malone opted to leave his native Pittsburgh for a 7 year $35.1 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The gritty forward has been accused of riding on the coattails of superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. Well, don’t expect his numbers to drop off much if at all, as the overloaded offense in Tampa Bay may see Malone teamed up with all-stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. He is joined by fellow Pittsburgh defector, Gary Roberts along with a long line of free agent signings by the Bolts whose owner has guaranteed a Southeast Division title this season. Is this an attainable goal? Adding the 29 year old Ryan Malone to the roster is a step in the right direction.

5. Mike Cammalleri, former University of Michigan standout has averaged 61 points per season for the Los Angeles Kings for the past 3 seasons after playing partially in two seasons prior. When healthy, he was far-and-away the Kings’ best player, posting a career-high 80 points in the 2006-2007 season while playing in the majority of games. On draft day in 2008, the Calgary Flames sent their first round selection to the Kings in a trade for Cammalleri. The deal brought Cammalleri to Calgary in order to replace despondent Alex Tanguay, who was dealt to the Montreal Canadians. Cammalleri has spent his first 5 NHL seasons as the star player on a young and underachieving team. But now in Calgary, he is in an entirely different situation. It is rumored that the entire city of Calgary pays a special tax that is used primarily to keep their all-star Jerome Iginla in a Calgary Flames jersey. With a strong fan base and supporting cast like winger Iginla, defenseman Deion Phaneuf, and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, Cammalleri’s story in Calgary should be one of success. If the speedy, 5’9 185 lbs center can click with team captain Iggy, expect the two of them to put up impressive statistics and make a bid for the Northwestern Division title. A rough and tumble team by nature, designed by head coach Darryl Sutter, the quick and talented Cammalleri should prove to be a valuable asset, living up to expectations that Alex Tanguay could not.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How's it Gonna Be? Volume 1

Well, it's the quietest that this year's offseason has been all summer. So while we're waiting around to see what Mats Sundin decides to do, I thought I might go ahead and discuss 5 of the more interesting stories that are being forged through offseason moves for this upcoming season. More to follow, but for now...

1. Olli Jokinen, the longest tenured player in the NHL never to make the playoffs goes from the Florida Panthers to the Phoenix Coyotes…and how thrilled he must be. The Finland native, who was dealt from the New York Islanders to Florida with Roberto Luongo in exchange for Mark Parish and Oleg Kvasha…making then GM Mike Milbury my nominee for bonehead of the decade, must have some pretty thin blood by now with as much time as he spends in the deep south (don’t worry, everyone from Arizona reassures me it’s a “dry heat”). Well you can bet coach Wayne Gretzky and the *ahem Phoenix Phaithful will be expecting no less than the 84 points he’s been averaging over the last 3 seasons. The Coyotes shipped off some young defensemen in this attempt to amp up their offense. This is an interesting move since they’re playing Ed Jovonovski $6.5 million to be their cornerstone on the back end. Wait a minute, did I read that right? The “Jovo Cop” is being paid $6.5 million? Good luck to you Olli. I hope you like killing off all of Dan Carcillo’s penalty minutes. How much did the Panthers use this 6’5 230lbs center on their penalty kill? Uh oh…Dan better cool it if they’re going to use the big Fin to his full potential.

2. Brian Campbell, the most sought after defenseman this off-season finds himself a home with the Blackhawks. Averaging around 51 points over the past 4 seasons, he certainly built himself up to get this $7.1 million dollar a year deal. Whether he has earned this incredible amount of money is yet to be seen. Although he had a career high 62 points last season split between the Buffalo Sabres and the San Jose Sharks, he floundered in the post season as Sharks exited the playoffs in the second round, earlier than most expected, losing in 6 games to the Dallas Stars. Question: who remembers that hit that Campbell had on R.J. Umberger that will go down as one of the hardest clean checks of this era? Well they’re in the same (Central) division now…keep that head up R.J.! Campbell should feel right at home with his spin-o-rama having Denis Savard as a head coach, he might even learn a thing or two. Regardless, it is time for Campbell to prove that he is worth the investment as the fifth highest paid defenseman in the league.

3. Cristobal Huet, another recent arrival in the windy city has arguably been one of the most under-rated goalies in a time where bulging equipment has made some net-minders ridiculously over-rated (yes, YOU Sean-Sebastian Giguere). Over the past 3 seasons, playing the majority in Montreal before being traded to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline, Huet posted over .921 save percentage while collecting 13 shutouts. Despite his above average numbers, he was still chased out of Montreal by the up-and-coming Carey Price, who is supposed to be the future of the franchise. I don’t know if anyone saw the move out of Washington coming, as Huet played his heart out for the Caps in his brief tenure there. I was still surprised that Montreal let him go, given that Huet is a native of France, something the citizens of Quebec all should admire. It seems that Cristobal will play well for a team, and yet he still gets moved around. Oh, and the 32 year old will be making $5.6 million a year, which is decent starter money. Did I mention that Chicago already has a starter? Nikolai Khabibulin is already making $6.5 million in his last year. There is no way that there is room for $12.1 million on any roster (Los Angeles Kings excluded) to spend between the pipes.

4. Markus Naslund is New York’s newest Ranger. After putting up 90 points in 2001-2002, 104 points in 2002-2003, and 84 points in 2003-2004, he has averaged near a modest 65 points over the past 3 seasons. It appears that Steve Moore’s neck wasn’t the only thing destroyed in that Todd Bertuzzi incident, but the careers of Bertuzzi and Naslund as well, who has never been the same since Bert left town. He was run out of Vancouver after faltering when the Canucks counted on him to put the team’s scoring load on his back. Can we really blame them for turning on him? I mean, Anson Carter scored 30+ goals in one season playing with Sedin twins; I don’t think it’s unfair to expect the same, if not more from a star like Naslund. Well, with a new team and fresh start in a different conference, we shall see if the Swede can reprise his old role as a leading scorer and a valuable player. If not, the “Blue Shirts” are in trouble without Jaromir Jagr, which means that the scrutinizing fans and press of the Big Apple will be looking for a new scapegoat.

5. Erik Cole, the 29 year old New York native heads west to the Edmonton Oilers by way of trade from Carolina Hurricanes. The gritty American forward standing at 6’2 and 205 lbs should fit right in to the rough and tumble Western Conference style of play. Averaging 57 points over the last 3 seasons (which will be a welcome addition to a team with a team-high total of 71 points by Ales Hesmky), he adds veteran leadership, with two Eastern Conference Championships plus a Stanley Cup Ring, and a surly disposition. Cole led all Hurricanes in the checking department last season with 186 hits which put him 11th overall in the league for forwards. He will be a good fit into Craig MacTavish’s “old time hockey” system. Edmonton fans are hopeful that Cole will be helping alleviate any losses in the scoring department caused by possible sophomore slumps of the sensational Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. With solid puck moving defensemen, Lubomir Visnovsky now in the mix, that always so tight Northwestern Division just got a little tighter. After sending away Raffi Torres to Columbus in exchange for the talented and young Gilbert Brule, getting Erik Cole will make the Oilers a better team.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Red Wings in Cap Trouble....Awesome!

So…in signing Valtteri Filppula to a five year contract worth a total of $15 million, the Detroit Red Wings find themselves coming dangerously close to being in salary cap trouble. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for ‘opportunity’ as they do for ‘crisis’? Well as luck would have it (and by luck, I mean the genius of GM Ken Holland), The Wings can use their current cap situation to their absolute advantage. How? They can do this by clearing up some cap space via shipping out a couple of not-so-fan favorites in order to make room for some of their younger, up and coming stars.
Andrea Lilja is someone that most Wings fans have been groaning about for years. The veteran defenseman can be steady at times on the blue line, but has since become infamous for making glaring mistakes at the worst possible time. Let us go back to 2006-2007 NHL Western Conference Finals in which the Wings saw themselves in overtime against an Anaheim team that would go on to win the cup. “Lilja carries the puck out from behind the net in his own zone. Oh, the puck gets away from Lilja, he stumbles and falls down. The puck goes right to Teemu Selanne who walks in all alone, puts a move on Hasek to the backhand, shoots and scores!”
Now, I personally have always defended Lilja despite all of his failings (which include a baffling insistency of making cross-ice passes in front of his own net). I would always tell his critics that this man would be a top four or five defenseman on 75% of the other teams in the league. Well, there is little that would make me happier than to be proven right in this case. Lilja was re-signed early in this offseason, true. It is not the usual practice of Ken Holland to re-sign a player and then turn right around and deal him elsewhere, true. On the contrary, Holland noted that the re-signing of Lilja, which came before the re-signing of hard hitting d-man Brad Stewart, was in fact an “insurance” move by the Red Wings front office. Now that Stewart is locked up and the cap ceiling is growing nearer, it may be time to exercise this insurance policy.
Let us asses the D situation in Detroit; #1 Nicklas Lidstrom (LOCK), #2 Brian Rafalski (LOCK), #3 Nicklas Kronwall (LOCK), #4 Brad Stewart (LOCK), and then there is the ageless Chris Chelios and a campaign of young studs that include Jonathon Ericsson, Brett Lebda, Derek Meech, and Kyle Quincey that could all fill in the spots of #5-9. So…who needs Lilja? Certainly Detroit could consider him to be obsolete. I would suspect that the top trade candidates who would put some value on Lilja’s service would be the Los Angeles Kings, who have nothing but room under the cap and a overly young defensive core that could use a veteran D-man like Lilja, and the Tampa Bay Lightning who just might ice a team of all forwards and goalies at the rate they're signing. I hold no ill-will towards Andreas Lilja, but I believe the time has come to let him go.
That brings us to my second trade candidate: Mr. Mikael Samuelsson, the man who never saw a shot he didn’t like. Sammy is the less likely of my trade proposals, but there are definitely reasons that he could and should be dealt to another team. Of course, moving Sammy would free up some of that valuable cap space after the Filppula deal first and foremost. He is also in the last year of his contract and would be almost impossible to re-sign given the fact that Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen will also need to negotiate new contracts, and Z and the Mule will have priority. Oh and who was that guy the Wings signed from Pittsburgh? No, not the goalie with the great save percentage, the one who scores all those goals? Oh that’s right, if Wings fans want to dare to dream about keeping those red Marian Hossa jerseys, some sacrifices must be made.
Looking past the monetary situation and at more towards the player himself…like Lilja, Samuelsson can be an extremely frustrating person to watch play the game of hockey. This man takes so many (poor quality, high quantity) shots that it is not uncommon to hear Wings fans yell out in disgust every time he touches the puck in the offensive zone. He perpetually has a horrid shot percentage, flirting around 200 shots the past 3 seasons and scoring 20 goals only once therein…hmm. However, other teams across the NHL universe may see value in him largely due in part to his two goal game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the national spectacle that was this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Those that paid attention to the Wings outside of the this year’s Cup Finals may have actually noticed Sammy’s prowess while in his defensive zone, though his performance was probably overshadowed by Detroit’s pair of Selke nominees; Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Now let’s look at the offensive situation for the Red Wings. Line 1: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom (LOCK), Line 2: Marian Hossa, Valtteri Filppula, and Johan Franzen (Probably), Line 3: Daniel Cleary, Kris Draper, and Juri Hudler (Possibly), and then Line 4 will have cagey veterans Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty, and Aaron Downey fighting with youngsters Tomas Kopecky, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Mattias Ritola, and Darren Haydar to earn those last few spots that feature little time on the ice during games. So…do the Wings need Samuelsson? I say, no. Teams that might look to move some picks to Detroit in exchange for the big forward are probably teams that are looking to fire more pucks toward the net. Again, the LA Kings have more than enough cap room to make a deal for Sammy, so do the Phoenix Coyotes or the Florida Panthers. The Nashville Predators may express some interest as they are looking for someone to quarterback their dismal power play (and Samuelsson has experience of playing the point in such situations).
All of these points that I have tried to get across are my attempt to paint a picture of how the Detroit Red Wings can use their current cap predicament to actually add value to their team in the long run. Getting rid of aging, mediocre players while they still have value and they have demand in the market, and at the same time making room to help budding young talent to reach its potential sounds like a pretty good strategy to me. Moves such as the ones I have offered for your consideration will help lay the foundation for long-term success in the one and only Hockey Town. Again these are simply my opinions, and I humbly present them to you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

NHL blogger asking wrong questions

The National Hockey League, in my opinion, should be applauded for not putting up with a player who is considered to be a prima donna, who had a mediocre (at best) season, who lost his starting job yet demanded more than he was worth. Instead, the league is being scrutinized by some…and why? I’ll get to that soon enough, but first let me try and paint the picture…
Say there is a player, one who has been suspended for slashing a player in the face. This player shows up late for numerous practices. When he doesn’t get the starting nod in net, he pouts visibly on the side. Not only that, but he fights with his teammates, and has had a few of the all too familiar “traffic incidents”. Does that sound like someone you would like on your team? These are all personality and judgment characteristics that have earned this player a one-way ticket to Russia. Did I mention that he was black? Does it matter? Absolutely not.
The NHL has had a long and proud tradition of not tolerating cancerous individual behavior. When off-ice issues become too much for a team to handle (Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Heatley, Theo Fleury), players are run out of town. Bertuzzi hasn’t been the same since his incident which lead to him being kicked out of Vancouver. His point totals have plunged and as such, he has accepted a lesser role and thus less money. Heatley left the United States in a trade that sent him to Ottawa where he has still been successful but has since stayed out of any major trouble. Fleury was run right out of the league altogether and was playing in a professional team in Ireland. Did I mention all of these players were white? Does it matter? Absolutely not!
The NHL has always earned my respect for its strict behavioral policy, the unwritten one that reads “Miscreants Not Welcome.” This whole shape up or ship out mentality has largely kept the NHL from many of the highly publicized problems that the NFL and NBA always seem to be facing. Is it because the NFL and NBA have more black athletes? No. Is it because the league (policy makers, disciplinarians, GM’s, coaches, and fans) has had a tradition of tolerance for bad behavior? Absolutely.
Rules and policies should transcend race and should also transcend celebrity status. An NHL goalie, two seasons removed from backstopping a team (that was extremely offensive oriented) to the conference championship, should be held to the same standard as the minor league backup goalie struggling to get ice time. Just as the starting quarterback should be held to the same standard as the 4th or 5th string wide receiver fighting for this spot on the roster, or the big shot point guard and his rookie teammate, etc. To let one player behave in such a way that would cost the job of a lower profiled player acting the exact same way is an extremely slippery slope, and will lead to bigger trouble as time goes on. The NFL has taken a few good steps forward in their disciplinary actions and I commend them for that.
So, going back to our original story of this mediocre goalie with a bad attitude who takes a job (a multi-million dollar job) over in Russia instead of taking less money as a backup somewhere else…why even bring up the issue of racism? Because some small-time blogger wants to use the sensitive issue of racism as a lightning rod in order to get him national attention. Did he have to go and open up Pandora’s Box regardless if it was warranted (and it wasn’t)? No, he did not. Are we all going to have to deal with now? Unfortunately, yes. In an age where any idiot (myself included) can blog his opinion to the masses of internet junkies, it is our responsibility to keep in check those that make potentially dangerous and harmful accusations just as it is the NHL’s duty to not tolerate behavior that could be potentially damaging to a sport that is still trying to win back the masses