Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Western Conference Playoff teams.

The Playoffs and golf courses are almost upon us, and while I am curious which member of the Florida Panthers (my bet is on Stephen Weiss, as he has every May to practice) has the best tee shot, I am more interested in who is most primed for a long post-season run, and what aspects of each team's game, may help or hinder their pursuits.

I feel that it is only right for the Western Conference to be featured first. They are the vastly superior conference, as their inter-conference dominance clearly proves. They are 57 games over .500 against the East this season, while the East is only 15 games over .500 against the West. I know I know, those overtime games through all these calculations off, but the numbers are still telling. Also, the top ten teams in the West would qualify for the Eastern Conference Playoffs, despite having to play against each other consistently.

So without further ado:

1. Vancouver Canucks: How on earth is this team under the salary cap?!?! They have the most explosive top two lines in the NHL, a defence corps that is six deep with actual talent, (not overpaid checkers, that were popular in Montreal and subsequently rewarded a five year contract with a no movement clause by a rival team) and one of the best and most expensive goalies in the NHL.

Strengths: Their depth. Nobody has been more crippled by injuries on the back end than the Canucks. Salo, Edler, Ballard, Bieksa, and Hamhuis have all missed at least 15 games this season, and they still have not missed a beat. Also on the offensive side, they have  top end talent that only the Capitals, Sharks, Lightning, Ducks and Blackhawks can match. (Will the Pens ever get Malkin and Crosby to play a full season together again). Also, Luongo has proven in the Olympics that he has the ability to be a big time goaltender, and on this team it looks like he just will have to ensure that he doesn't play a brutal game. Their greatest strength though is obvious: the telepathic connection between their dynamic twin pack.

Weaknesses: Luck. Injuries have decimated their defence and their checking forwards, and have taken a significant toll on this team. Luckily, aside from Burrows missing the first ten games of the season, none of the top tier offensemen have missed any time. But with the luck they have been having, you simply never know.

On that note, I would like to wish Manny Malhotra a speedy and healthy recovery. We are all rooting for you.

2. Detroit Red Wings: The most experienced team in the NHL simply never goes away. With the longest streak of playoff appearances amongst the four major sports, this team defines consistency. While they have a lot of has-beens like Modano, Bertuzzi and Kris Draper, they do possess a lot of young talent, that provides the spark of energy that keeps those old legs running. (It also helps that Modano hardly played this season. Maybe with the fresh legs, he will be a difference maker for the first time since 2006. Shh, don't let him in on the secret that he is washed up: he may be the only one that has not noticed).

Strengths: Experience. They have done it so many times before. To put this in perspective Nicklas Lidstrom, Thomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper won a Cup for this team when Jeff Skinner was five years old. He had not even begun elementary school! Also, they have so much goal scoring firepower from the offence and the defence, it is very difficult to stop their attack when everyone is healthy. Another strength of this team is their coaching and management. They are coached by perhaps the best coach in the NHL, since another Detroit legend, Scotty Bowman.

Weaknesses: Simply put, their goaltending is more than suspect. Jimmy Howard, the number one goaltender by default, has not shown that he is reliable in pressure-filled situations. Even with such a strong defence in front of him, none of his peripheral statistics are amongst the top thirty goaltenders. It would be hilarious, yet not surprising, if we ended up seeing Joey McDonald in the Playoffs. (Update: Not gonna happen after Thursday nights performance, where he let up seven goals!)

3. San Jose Sharks: Remember how awful this team was for the first half of the season? The only players on the team that were showing up were Ryan Clowe, Logan Couture and Anterro Nittymaki (where did he go?!?) and they were treading in tenth place in the Western Conference. Since the first forty games of the season, this team has been the hottest in the NHL and after last season's trip to the Conference Final, they look primed to make another deep run into the playoffs.

Strengths: It should not be underestimated, the importance of peaking at the right time in the NHL season. Just look at the Flyers from last season for a perfect example of this. They got hot at the right time and went all the way to the Finals, only to lose at the hands of the least dramatic Cup-Winning goal of all time. The Sharks have only lost four times in regulation since January 15th and have been winning because of their combination of strong goaltending and the semi-rejuvenation of their once unstoppable top line.

Weaknesses: The Sharks have gone through significant stretches where Marleau, Thornton and Heatley have done absolutely nothing. Heatley will not even crack the 30 goal plateau (he is at 24) after having at least 39 in every full season he has played since he was a rookie. If the big boys choose not to show up in the Playoffs and Pavelski, Clowe and Couture are leading this team, count them out first round. Unless Niemi can continue his strong play since his 15.36 GAA (that number might actually be an understatement) in the first twenty games. Wouldn't Hawks-Sharks be the most intriguing first round matchup? Remarkable!

4. Phoenix Coyotes: They did it again! Yandle, Bryzgalov, Doan and who else?? On paper they may be tied with the Panthers and Thrashers for the most dull lineup in all of hockey. They buy into the system that the coaching staff has instituted, and they execute it to perfection. Their success should be a ray of hope for teams that cannot afford to spend to the salary cap, or just simply have no talent.

Strengths: They have a phenomenal grasp on the team game and a goalie that has proven throughout the last two regular seasons that he has the ability to stand on his head. While the offence on this team looks anemic (on the surface, but the sum of their parts is much better than they are individually), they have an extremely deep defensive team. Yandle, Aucoin, Morris, Klesla, Jovanovski and Roszival is as good a defensive group that you will find outside of British Columbia.

Weaknesses: Special Teams is going to kill this team. They rank only 22nd in the NHL on the PP and are 26th on the PK. For a team that will probably have a more difficult time scoring goals in the Playoffs then most, it will be necessary for them to improve on these numbers. Also, they have been shorthanded 284 times this season, which is the 11th most in the NHL, a number they definitely need to improve on.

5. Los Angeles Kings: At the beginning of the season, people would have been surprised to see the Kings this low on the conference seedings. Until the last six weeks, things have not gone according to plan for this team. Bernier has not taken the starting job (Quick has been a great goalie this season) Simmonds and Stoll did not provide the offence that most were hoping, and most significantly Doughty did not have the big breakout season that everyone expected. All in all though, this team has the talent (or had with Kopitar and Williams) to make some noise in the playoffs.

Strengths: They play a fantastic defensive game. With Doughty, Jack Johnson leading a talented backend they  are 4th in penalty kill and 6th in goals against respectively in the NHL. While they have not received the offence from d-men that they may have expected, their coverage in their own zone hase been outstanding.

Weaknesses: Injuries. Kopitar is done for the rest of the season and the playoffs. This is a huge blow to their chances at playoffs success. He does everything for their team. When he got injured he was leading the team in goals,points,shots,GWG and perhaps the most telling statistic +/-. He is an impossible piece to replace, and combined with the injuries that Williams sustained, it will be almost impossible for them to overcome these losses.

On the positive side, look for this team to be the second best team in the West next season, with a more experienced lineup. You read it here first!

6. Nashville Predators: This team is built in a similar fashion to the Pheonix Coyotes. Very good goaltending, a star defenceman surrounded by a very strong group around him, and a bunch of no-name slightly above average forwards. Surprisingly this team has made it to the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, and has never won a playoff series. Barry Trotz runs a remarkable system, in which he maximizes value from his players in the regular season, but it seems like he just never has enough talent to win in the playoffs. I am not sure their luck will change if they end up drawing the loaded Sharks in the first round this year either.

Strengths: They have fantastic defensive play. Pekka Rinne has been the most underrated goalie in the NHL and should finish as the runner up for the Vezina behind the remarkable Tim Thomas. Shea Weber and his fantastic linemate Suter, lead a young and talented group of defenceman that allow the third fewest goals per game in the NHL, and have the sixth best PK. Another strength of this team is their play on home ice. They are only one of three teams in the NHL along with Boston and Vancouver, to have less than ten losses at home. If they can sneak into the fourth seed, maybe they will be able to finally win a series!

Weaknesses: One word Offence. They are the only team in the NHL(not including the Senators which frankly post trade deadline are not NHL caliber), that does not have a player with 20 goals or 50 points on their roster. For them to have any extended success they need to receive more production from their top players. Mike Fisher has not provided that spark this team has needed since he came to Nasville to play for this team ( maybe he came just to be close to Carrie Underwood). On the positive side though, Martin Erat is playing the most inspired hockey of his career, and leads the team in points despite missing fifteen games.
P.S. David Legwand- the world is still waiting for you to prove that you are more than a massive bust.

7. Anaheim Ducks: This team has shown a remarkable amount of resiliency all season. They lost Getzlaf for an extended period of time with what essentially was a broken face injury. Their All-Star goaltender Hiller, has been injured for the last six weeks with vertigo and fatigue. Yet, they have continuously stayed in the hunt, due to the magnificent play of Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne. If they can get Hiller back, they can cause some serious noise in the first round.

Strengths: They have fantastic firepower at the top of their lineup. Selanne, Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan, may be the best group of four forwards on any team in the NHL. Also, they have a very solid combination of offense and defence from the backend. Toni Lydman, in what may be the biggest surprise of the season, has the highest +/- in the league, and Lubomir Visnovsky has the most points in the league as well with 64. And with Fowler and Beauchemin on the second line, this team is better defensively than most people give them credit for.

Weaknesses: The top six forwards on this team are, Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Selanne, Koivu and Blake. Name one of their bottom six forwards? (They just picked up Ruutu, so not sure if I count him).......... I would venture to say that only 20 percent of hockey fans outside of California are able to do it. They are absolutely awful. Against some of the powerhouse teams out West, those lines will get completely exposed. Don't feel embarrassed to look up their bottom six forwards, nobody else knows them either.

8. Chicago Blackhawks: The Stanley Cup champs are in the eight hole, and with the prospects of facing the best team in the league in the first round, the all-difficult repeat will be a daunting task. After the Marty Turco experiment was a colossal failure, they decided to return to their formula of success: a random old rookie goalie, that comes out of nowhere and plays well. So far it has worked for them. Corey Crawford is one of the main reasons this team will even be in the Playoffs in two weeks from now.

Strengths: Star talent. With Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp on offence and Keith, Seabrook and Campbell on the backend, this team has the stars to match up with anyone. Also, they all are Cup Winners, and know exactly what it takes to get to the finish line. For the new guys that do not know what the experience is like, I am sure they can just ask Hossa, after he had spent the previous three seasons searching for that Cup.

Weaknesses: The salary cap robbed the Hawks of a dynasty. The loss of Ladd, Versteeg and Byfuglien were all a product of the new era that we live in. The replacement players have been playing pretty well, but have not provided that secondary spark the stars were accustomed to receiving. Unless guys like Michael Frolik, who has only 7 points since coming over in a trade from Florida can elevate their game, Lord Stanley's mug will not return to downtown Chicago. Other than that, this team has strong talent, and their main weakness is their seeding due to their poor play in the beginning of the season. I do not think that Vancouver would be particularly enthralled with the idea of playing the Hawks in the first round of the Playoffs.

All of these eight teams, possess either remarkable talent, or remarkable team play and whatever the match-ups turn out to be, I can guarantee one thing: No series will be easy for any team. Cannot wait for the games to begin!!

Hope you enjoyed!!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Giggy in Florida and Sabres playing amazing, it is time to think about next year.

After a disturbing loss to the post trade deadline AHL Florida Panthers last Thursday night, the Leafs season unfortunately all but ended. While this has been an expected outcome, even with the late push the team has made the last twenty games,  it is still crushing to us playoffs crazed fans. Nevertheless, there still is work to do over the next ten games. The Leafs must still compete if only to ensure that Boston, who will be a contending team for a while, ends up with a lower first round pick this season. Also, the next ten games provide an opportunity to evaluate which players are key building blocks for the establishment of a championship team.

The Leafs have 24 million dollars in cap space to spend on filling out their roster for next season. While for the previous few seasons Leafs fans have grown accustomed to the big money being spent on Niklas Hagman, Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger and Jason Blake, hope still remains that money can be spent wisely in the future. While not all of these significant mishaps can be attributed to Burke, I think he has realized after the Beauchemin, Komisarek disaster that it is not worth overpaying for free agents to expedite the process. That being said, the money needs to go somewhere, and I personally hope that the majority of it does not get spent in this very very weak free agent class. A weak free agency class, breeds panic amongst GMs and they make foolish signing decisions, just ask Glen Sather about Gomez and Drury......(And no, they should not trade for a contractual disaster like Lecavalier either.) Before discussing free agency it is imperative that the Leafs understand the value of the players on their current roster that will become free agents on July 1.

The biggest component of the roster that needs to be re-signed is the defensive pairing of Gunnarsson and Schenn. Both are restricted free agents, and have shown enough talent and work ethic to be re-signed. While Schenn will command top dollar (and I think every Leaf fan will be happy to give it to him), Gunarsson will probably command a 1.5 million dollar per season number. To put that in perspective Lebda's cap number is a ratio of 1:1.45 million per goal he has scored as a Leaf. ( Hint: He has one goal. In other words he sucks for an offensive defenceman.) The most important thing to keep in mind, is that even though Schenn is only making 875K at the moment, his cap hit is 2.975 because of his signing bonus as a rookie. So while his salary may rise to approximately 4.5 million, the hit to the cap, which is the only number that any Leafs fan should actually care about, does not go up too dramatically.

Burke is going to have to  make some tough decisions between the pipes for next season. First things first: Giggy must go. With Gustavsson under contract, and Reimer playing like Felix the Cat, there is no room for him on the roster, Gustavsson cannot be sent down to the minors without clearing waivers (which he most definitely will not) and imagine the uproar that the Leafs fans would make if Reimer did not start with the team?!? You thought the anger directed at Wilson for sitting him in Florida was bad........ Also, there seems to be a new trend in the cap era of the NHL, that it is not worth it to invest significant money in the goalie position, rather that money should be used to improve the rest of the team. Aside from Luongo , and I am not sure that the Canucks would not rather have Schneider in net and use his 7 mil elsewhere, none of the other top five teams in the NHL standings have a top ten paid goaltender. Rather, they use young salary controlled prospects, and incorporate them into a system with an absolutely stacked defence. (Look at Detroit and Philly for  perfect examples). Burke may be smart to follow suit and use the money saved in Giggy's contract and attract an Ehrhoffesque player and a rugged dman, you know, the sorta player we expected Komisarek to be.

When it comes to the offence, the situation becomes murky. Macarthur and Bozak (and his crippling 3.75 mil cap hit), are the two biggest names that come off of the books. I think these two players both fall under the category of what I would call the Stephen Weiss problem. The theory goes like this: Neither player has the skillset to be the rugged and defensively responsible third line players that they should be, but at the same time, their offence is not up to standard of a championship calibre top six forward. Essentially, they can only have a key role, with the money that comes with it, on a bad team. No team with Macarthur and Bozak in their top six will win a championship, and neither player will ever embrace a Colby Armstrong role on a Leafs team. The only player less impressive than Bozak's -26 while playing with Kessel first line minutes in the NHL is Simon Gagne, how is he a -21 in only 54 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning? I think that Yzerman may wish he had Meszaros after all. I know that Grabovski and Kulemin have played well with Clarkie this season, but I think in the long run it may be best for the Leafs to convert Kadri to the wing and have him play on a line with those two, and hopefully create a dynamic second line for many years to come.

I know this dampens the exciting Kessel-Kadri duo that all Leafs fans have been waiting for, but be realistic neither of them have any idea how to play a legitimate two way game. Unless Jere Lehtinen is joining them on that line, your looking at two goals given up a game. While I am a huge fan of Kessel, I think that he really needs to work on his defensive responsibilities. The addition of Lupul to his line has really helped him improve in that area. Over the last 17 games, Kessel is a +1, comparing that to a -21 number the previous 56, it is a truly remarkable turnaround. This is why I believe that the Leafs need to keep those two together, and have Kadri play with Kuly and Grabo to create a deeper top six. Sorry Clarke, you were a solid piece to the team this year, but I think this is a case where you peaked with talented linemates and can now only hinder the future success of the team. And to you Bozak, sorry but you definitely had your chance. Nobody would be happier if you showed your worth over the next 9 games than me. Good Luck!

The rest of the free agents on the current Leafs roster are Crabb, Boyce, Rosehill, Sjostrom and everyone's favorite Leaf, Tim Brent. Rosehill should sign a minor league contract and prove to be a sufficient backup should we lose Orr again. Crabb and Boyce have been nice filll-ins on the......... first line (sounds retarded I know) and at the right price would be great on a two way contract. They do deserve it. Tim Brent on the other hand, fully deserves a new contract. He has played the point on the power play, has been our best penalty killer at times this season, and has done an exemplary job in the third line role. Sjostrom, a similar player to Brent, is probably going to be shown the door.

So what do the Leafs do with their desperate need for a first line center? There are two distinct approaches that can be taken; each with their own upside. The first option is to make a serious pitch at a long term fixture. Without speculating too much, Brad Richards is a name that will always pop up in discussion. He would most likely command a 5/40 million dollar deal to come to Toronto. The Leafs can most definitely fit him under the salary cap next season and he will provide for them some much needed leadership amongst the forwards as well. Another option that is much less Brian Burke style (and won't go over well with the fans), is to find a stop gap player for the likes of Joe Colborne to make it to the big league team. The gain with this approach is that when the team is finally ready to compete for a championship, they will not be tied to long contracts and they will be able to fill their needs at a more appropriate time. The reason I am inclined to the second approach is because I do not think that Richards puts the Leafs into the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, and it is a significant risk for a player of that age to invest a five year deal.

Of course the Leafs can chase after RFA's Stamkos and Parise, but after the Kessel trade and Leafs nation foolishly being frustrated with Burke, do you think he may try and pull one off again? Burke is notorious for being anti-offer sheet on someone else's RFA, so if he does go after these superstars expect a sign and trade.

Whatever happens, I think all Leafs fans are just hoping that Burke can avoid the business model of all his predecessors: "I will take an incredibly stupid risk, because if I do not, I will lose my job" With that logic in mind, I would just like to thank JFJ again for sending Tuuka Rask for Andrew Raycroft. Haunting us forever.

Hope you enjoyed!

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

What should the Leafs do with Komisarek?

When the Leafs got rid of Beauchemin, I was ecstatic. Aside from the players that were obtained in the transaction, I felt that the Leafs were able to rid themselves of a player that seemed content with mediocre play and ultimately did not fit into the team's long term plans. With the length of his contract being relatively short, and combined with his former playoff success, the Leafs were able to parlay a mistake from the horrible 2009 off-season, into some pieces moving forward.

However the prospects of moving the other big (we thought at the time big, now just brutal) addition to this team Mike Komisarek, will unfortunately never happen. He was signed that off-season to a 5 year/22.5 million dollar deal. Since signing the deal, the physical defenceman that was an All-Star and former fan favorite in Montreal has completely faded. The Leafs have instead received a defenceman that still has has no offensive game, but now also seems to be completely inept in his own zone. While his cap hit of 4.5 million is probably at least 2 million dollars too high, it is not nearly as crippling as some make it out to be. To put things in perspective, Vincent Lecavalier has an 11yr/85 million dollar deal, that expires when he is the ripe old age of 40. That contract may not allow the Lightning to sign both Hedman and Stamkos, now that is crippling. (I sure hope Yzerman will be able to produce more magic and figure something out.)

Komisraek the entire year, has had a penchant for poor defensive decisions and bad penalties. Probably none were worse than his cross check Thursday night against the Flyers' Dan Carcillo. He got a five minute major, a number many Leafs fans consider a small price to pay for removing him from the game, and immediately put the Leafs down on the scoreboard, early in the first period. The coach, had no sympathy for his player after the game, saying that the right call was made, and limited his ice time the next game to a little over nine minutes.

This clip highlights his poor decision making. Even had this pass been made properly, I think everyone knows that throwing a puck in front of your own net on the PK, even to a teammate is always a poor decision.

The worst aspect of the Komisarek contract is his limited no-trade clause which allows him to submit a list of 12 teams to be traded to, as well as his no movement clause. The no-trade clause is absolutely meaningless, because, there is not a single team out there in the NHL that has interest in him at that cap number. The infintely larger issue is the no-movement clause. This does not allow the Leafs to waive him, (and then put him on re-entry waivers, where he may get claimed for half the price) or even send him to the minors. This leaves them essentially with two choices, continue to play him, or to buy him out.

If the Leafs were to buy him out, which would only happen if the Teacher's Pension did actually sell their shares, it would not bode well for future free agent expenditures, and attempting to lure them to the city. On the other hand, with a player like Gardiner ready to make the jump to the NHL as early as next year, the ice time for Komisarek may be even less available. With three seasons left on his deal, this may be the Leafs only option, unless his play and that of his partner Lebda's as well can significantly improve.

What you think the Leafs should do? Would love to hear your feedback!

Hope you enjoyed! Follow on twitter @realhockeytalk

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Handing out the NHL awards (to this point)

The end of the season is rapidly approaching and it is time to sit down and figure out, who really has made a difference for his team this season and is deserving of recognition. Each of the people on this list have provided the kind of performances that teams need to be successful. Sorry for not posting for a while, this one took quite some time to write up.

Vezina: Let's open it up plain and simply, Tim Thomas will win the Vezina. This point is not even up for discussion, who else would you give it to? Ondrej Pavelec came roaring back from a fainting spell, to put on maybe the most impressive thirty game spree, but has since been one of the worst five goalies in the NHL. In his last 17 NHL games he has gone 3-10-4, while giving up at least 4 goals in 9 of those games (nobody actually thought Atlanta could have a good goalie right?). Carey Price, Pekka Rinne and Henrik Lundqvist have had extremely successful years, and in a standard year, would all be legitimate candidates. However, Thomas simply takes the cake. He is number one in SV%, GAA and Win% amongst all goalies that have played 45 games. He is winning the goalie version of the Triple Crown and barring a Pavelecesque collapse (seriously, no pun intended), the trophy is his to lose.

Vezina Runner-Ups
1: Carey Price- You think he has made people forget about Halak?
 2: Henrik Lundqvist:- How does he continue to do this year in and year out? Already nine shutouts.
  3: Pekka Rinne -Plays in front of the most underrated defence in the NHL, otherwise he is second on this list.
 4: Jonathon Quick -Why does he always get rocked in the media for being a stopgap for Bernier, he is amazing, and it seems he will continue to be a top NHL goaltender for many seasons to come.

Selke Trophy: I think it is time this trophy was renamed the, "good offensive player that has a defensive conscience trophy". I am not sure what has caused the prompt change, but the four winners before the lockout were Madden, Peca, Lehtinen and Draper. These four players were all defined by their defensive prowess. How many players nowadays, do people say wow, he is a stud shutdown forward? The market for the Shayne Corsons of the world seems to have dried up. Since the lockout, two players have received the trophy: Brind Amour and Datsyuk. Not to take anything away from these players, but one must think that other players defensive prowess has somewhat been ignored.

This year Datsyuk has been injured, and his +/- is a little bit underwhelming (+11, on the third best team in the NHL), and the most subjective trophy is ripe for the taking. The general consensus that the most important statistics for the Selke, are takeaways, Faceoff % and +/-. By analyzing these stats, we conclude with a clear winner: Jonathon Toews. He is second in the NHL in takeaways, (surprisingly behind Jumbo Joe, who deserves zero recognition as he is a -7 on one of the best teams in the NHL) top ten in the NHL in faceoff %, amongst players that have taken at least 500 on the season, and 5th amongst forwards (first not including players from Boston and Vancouver) in +/-. What is most important about Toews faceoff percentage is that he is also in the top five on percentage of team faceoffs taken, which means that not only is he good at taking them, but he is winning important ones too. Maybe we are actually seeing a new wave of players in the NHL, that are the most offensively gifted and possess the best defensive conscience.

.Selke Runner-Ups
1: Ryan Kesler- This guy consistently plays heavy minutes on the penalty kill.
 2: Pavel Datsyuk- Remember the award is mainly subjective.
 3: Matt Cooke:- He does have the most SH points, and he is consistently defending his personality.
746: Tyler Bozak- This guy has no defensive orientation, worst +/- amongst forwards in the NHL.

Dirtiest Player: This should be called the Matt Cooke award, because he probably deserves it every single year. It is called by many to be the year of the headshots, and I figured maybe an award should be instituted in its honor.

The clear cut winner of this award is Trevor Gillies. He simply doesn't seem to get it. After getting suspended for nine games for a brutal attack on Eric Tangradi, he goes and attacks Cal Clutterbuck (a really solid young power forward), and knocks him out with a concsusion as well. If this doesn't deserve to give him the award, maybe his dirty mustache puts him over the top.
Dirty Player Runner-Ups
1:  Matt Cooke- He is just probably surprised that he is not first.
2: Sean Avery- Actions combined with verbal abuse puts him in the top five.
 3: Brent Johnson- That was one dirty knockout, ask Dipietro.
 4: Colin Campbell- Intentionally gives lenient punishments in order to keep his job.

Jack Adams: This award goes to the best coach in the NHL, and along with the Vezina may be the most obvious of all the trophies. Jacques Lemaire signed on to coach the NHL worst Devils, and since he joined the team, they have been the best in the NHL. While not all of their success can be attributed to his coaching, (Kovalchuk finally remembered how to score) this sort of turnaround cannot be ignored.

Jack Adams Runner-Ups
1: Dan Bylsma- He has Crosby and Malkin injured 30 games each, and still challenging for the Conference title, that is simply amazing.
 2: Barry Trotz- How does he do it every single season? The Predators may have the most anemic offence of all time, and they are still only one point out of a playoff spot. (Great trivia question- who is the only Predator to ever score more than 75 points?)
 3: Brent Sutter- Realizing that his brother Darryl Sutter was the problem with the Flames, and getting him to finally resign.
 4: Ron Wilson- For putting up with the Toronto media every single day.

Norris Trophy: This is an extremely competitive field this year with the emergence of a lot of new top tier defenceman. The popular pick is the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom, with his remarkable comeback season. However, I have a very difficult time giving the best defensman trophy to a player that has a minus rating. While I am not advocating that a player like Andrej Meszaros or Adam McQuaid (who???) to receive it, the winner should at least have a token positive rating.Which leads me to Kieth Yandle (a +1!). He is tied for first amongst defenceman in points with 54, which is also tops on his team. Yandle is a strong offensive defenceman, that plays a ton of minutes and provides that necessary offensive punch to a Coyotes team that has an extremely mediocre group of forwards.

Norris Runner-Ups
 1: Nicklas Lidstrom- Always playing against the opposing teams top line. Has been a sparkplug on the power play this season.
2: Kris Letang- The favorite earlier in the season, has slowed lately, look for him to be a contender for this award for years to come.
 3: Tobias Enstrom- The engine that makes the Byfgulien train work.
4: Christian Ehrhoff- For not getting injured!

Calder Trophy- If someone predictedeven three out of the nominees on this list, can they please contact the scouting department for the Toronto Maple Leafs and offer them their services!! All the favorites of the rookies on this list have come from absolutely nowhere. While the Taylor/Tyler debate may have ended with the Oilers making the right decision, neither of them will win this award. If I would be running the show, I would give the trophy to all three men at the top of this list. However, for the sake of this article every category does need a winner and Corey Crawford has separated himself from the rest. He has been a rock all season in goal for the Hawks this season and after the Turco experiment worked out horribly, they have a lot to be thankful for.

Calder Runner-Ups
1: Logan Couture- He came up huge early in the season when all of the big guns were faltering. With 25 goals and a +17 rating, he has been a real find for the Sharks.
2: Jeff Skinner- He is born in 1992, and was an All-Star! He has been having a fantastic season leading all rookies in scoring.
3: Sergei Bobrovsky- Great season, slowing down lately, would be higher if Boucher did not have comparable numbers.
 4: Taylor Hall- Might be the only player in history to get a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, and injure himself for the season in the process, well done!

Hart Trophy- The one that I am sure you have all been waiting for. It is difficult to decide who deserves this trophy for a number of reasons. 1) Steckel knocked out Crosby. I do not think that if he was healthy all season, we would be debating who deserves to win this. He was having an unbelievable season and if returned today, would still be my favorite for winning the Art Ross Trophy. 2) All good players have remarkable teammates. Stamkos has St. Louis, the Sedins have each other and Kesler, so how can you actually decide who to give it to. 3) Goalies have their own award, so we try not to give them this one. 4) Nobody from the Washington Capitals wants to play any offence this season. With all of these in mind, I think that the winner of this trophy should be  Jarome Iginla. His linemates are made up of has beens (Tanguay and Brendan Morrison) and overrated players (that is what happens when you trade for the entire Leafs team) and he still has them in the Playoffs in the ultra competitive Western Conference. He is ninth in the NHL in points and seventh in goals, after overcoming so much adversity. The first two months of the season, he was subject to constant rumors. After that, his team had porous play and the general manager resigned. Throughout all of this Iggy has been as firm as a rock and should win his second Hart Trophy.

Hart Ranking Runner-Ups
1: Daniel Sedin- The best player on the top team in the NHL does deserve some sort of recognition even if he plays with superstar
2: Tim Thomas- He has probably been the most dominant goaltender the NHL has seen since Dominik Hasek in the late nineties. If Theodore was able to win the Hart with the numbers he posted, no reason to believe Thomas is not in the running.
3: Steven Stamkos- I know I know, St Louis is a very good player, but Stamkos is still the only player in the NHL that has a chance at breaking fifty goals this season, and that in itself is an impressive statistic.
4: Sidney Crosby- Even if he has missed so many games, he still deserves to be on this list for everything he accomplished until the Winter Classic.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can the Leafs really make the Playoffs?

Since Viktor Kozlov of the Islanders put that puck past Clemmensen (jerk move by the Devils not to play Brodeur) in the shootout on the final  day of the 2006 NHL season, Leafs fans have not come close to seeing the Playoffs. It has been an arduous and frustrating process, which included, overpaying (cough cough Toskala) for players that define mediocrity and horrible signings that consistently left the Leafs with nothing but zero cap space and a dearth of picks.

November 29, 2008, was supposed to be the day of salvation for this franchise. Brian Burke, the constructing manager of the Stanley Cup team in Anaheim, and the consistently good Canucks, signed on to bring this franchise back to the promised land. For the first 25 months of his reign, he tore apart the team he inherited and tried to place players in the lineup that fit his style of play. Although he brought in star-studded talent in Phaneuf and Kessel, this team has been lower in the standings than in any of the previous seasons in the last twenty years. That is until now.

Since the beginning of the New Year, the Leafs have been 16-9-5 and have crawled back from as far as 14 points out of the playoff race, right back into the thick of things. Even with trading some of their bigger named players, in Kaberle (wasn't it sad seeing him in number 12?) the ultimate third line scorer Kris Versteeg, and the "I need to play with a star defence partner to mean anything" Francois Beauchemin, this team has not given up and is actually playing their most inspired hockey of the season.

So the question that remains is, can this team actually taste the playoffs for the first time, since Jeremy Roenick's wicked wrist shot in the semi-finals all those years ago? The way that the team has played lately, (aside from the latest gaffe against the Hawks) indicates that they still have a fighting chance. The final two spots in the Eastern Conference are wide open, as the Rangers are free-falling, and the Canes are not playing the most inspired hockey themselves. The Sabres have been playing a little better of late, coming back and knocking off the Flyers, (something that the Leafs did as well this week in remarkable fashion) and look strong to make the playoffs.

I don't think that the Rangers thought that trading Michal Roszival was going to have such a negative effect on their team performance. But combining that with the poor play of Del Zotto this season, has turned one of their strengths into a weak area for this team's overall play. Since the trade they are 9-14-1 and do not seem to be playing any better recently. (Fine they beat the Sens, but who doesn't).

If the Leafs can continue their play from the last two months, there is no reason to believe that they cannot challenge for the final two spots. With two games the rest of the way against Buffalo, both at home,  and one against Carolina, those games provides a significant opportunity to solidify a position amongst the NHL playoff teams and give this storied franchise a chance to claim what they have been chasing for 44 years.

For more on the NHL schedule breakdown the rest of the way check out the NHL site,

At the same time, Brian Burke has been very smart not to make any personnel decisions that could hurt this team in the future. He understands that the ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and this team is nowhere near achieving that goal right now, and patching it up by trading picks and prospects is something that John Ferguson may have attempted to do. Again, trading for a 22 year old player that scored 35 goals, does not mean that he veered off of his stated agenda, rather it means he feels more confident knowing what he is getting than taking a risk in the draft. Maybe Seguin turns out to be the Milicic of hockey, maybe he doesn't, either way Burke understands the value of a player like Phil, and realizes that they do not grow on trees either.

With the addition of Colborne, Gardiner and a couple of other home grown prospects on the way up, the future has not looked brighter for this team in many seasons, and while it would be nice to make the playoffs, I am pretty sure most intelligent Leafs fans prefer to see this Brian Burke version of the "rebuilding process" that hopefully can build this city a dynasty, to the oft-tried path other GM's have taken and failed miserably in this city.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What happened to the trade deadline?

Is it possible that the general managers got the date wrong and thought the trade deadline was February 18th, only to find out that it was the 28th? Yesterday was the quietest deadline in the last ten years, with only one significant player (Penner) and one formerly significant player (Arnott) moving. To contrast, on February 18th we saw the movement of Kaberle, Stewart, Shattenkirk (c'mon the best name in the NHL) Erik Jonson, Brewer and Anderson, now that is what I am talking about. Well I guess the two deals do deserve to be analyzed.

Penner joining the Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the top line, creates a very difficult matchup to defend against. Surrounding Kopitar with two strong wingers will provide one of the best puck cycling lines in the NHL. All three of them should see a significant boost in their production over the rest of the season. All the respect to Brad Richardson but he has no business playing anything higher than the third line on any team in the NHL. Together with Williams (congrats on the new deal, now just stay healthy) Stoll and Smyth on the second line, their is finally some offensive potential from this team.

This deal made sense for the Oilers as well, they got a rugged defensive prospect in Colten Teubert (although his stock has dropped significantly lately) and a couple of picks. In the rebuilding mode, Penner is not the kind of player you want to pay the big bucks to. It is better to hold off on that money so that when your stars need to get re-upped you have the cash available. (Will be interesting to see what will happen with the Lightning with Stamkos and Hedman).

For more on Teubert:

Arnott is a very interesting case to anlayze, especially from a fantasy perspective. He provides for the Caps the legit number two center that they have been looking for, and also a big body in front of the net on their surprisingly 25th ranked power play. Also, he will be expected to bring the playoff experience that he has from his Cup winning seasons to a team that just seems to buckle for one reason or another every single year. After watching his game Tuesday night, and his beautiful pass to Laich for the tying goal, look for Arnott to provide solid fantasy numbers the rest of the way. A lot was expected from Arnott upon his return to the Devils, and that never happened. However, I think though that with the talent surrounding him in Washington he will have his numbers improved.

The Capitals also did really well bringing in Dennis Wideman. He will provide stability to the backend with Green having an injury-filled season. The new look Caps look destined for a deep playoffs this season, especially when considering their attention to defence this season.

The Devils made a savvy pickup in this deal. David Steckel is one of the best face-off men in the NHL and will fill a void in their lineup since the days of the all-important John Madden. I think most expect the Devils to bounceback next year and re-enter the playoffs and Steckel will be a huge part of their success. Also, they added a second rounder for Arnott, who after his lackadaisical season was most definitely not coming back next year. Good move Lou! I am sure ownership did not force you into this one!

A key difference between this trade deadline and the previous few, is the upcoming free agency market and draft. Aside from Brad Richards there are no big names out there to catch, and teams feel that the selling value of players may be higher at that time. Also, this years draft is considered to be one of the weaker ones in memory, so the value placed on picks was not as high. Also, due to the parity in the NHL, very few picks for later years were trading hands, as teams are scared that their teams may plunder and the value of their picks may skyrocket. Can you imagine if the Avs and Sens after making the playoffs last year had traded their picks this year? Yikes! I think the thought of being the next Brian Burke scared a lot of GMs off.

Hopefully we will see more action next year!

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