Monthly Archives: September 2009

Thanks For Playing: Colorado Avalanche

Last season, the fate of the Colorado Avalanche was summed up with the fate of the franchise’s long time captain Joe Sakic.  Sakic, for all intents and purposes, was going at it for one more year to see if the team could bounce back after being embarrassed out of the playoffs in 2007 by their one-time hated rivals from Detroit.

Sakic was already out of the lineup for the Avs dealing with a busted back but living in Colorado in December means having to deal with winter and snow removal and for Joe Sakic that resulted in one of the more bizarre injuries recorded by humans as he broke three fingers and damaged tendons in his hand while… Well, screwing around with the snowblower.

snowblower

Public Enemy #1 in Denver

It could be more beneficial to you, the readers, to break down how bad the goaltending in Denver was last year or talk about how the offense was, by far, the weakest in the NHL managing to score 199 goals, two less than the NHL’s worst team the Islanders.

So they can’t put it in the net and they can’t keep it out of the net, but hey, they beat Detroit in some shootouts so season success, right?  Oy.  OK so what do the Avs do to make corrections for this season?  Their first step came in the form of first round draft pick centerman Matt Duchene.  Duchene will make for a great addition up the middle for a team in search of a new pivot now that Joe Sakic is retired and Paul Stastny has to carry the offensive workload.  Duchene will have his hands full, however, as expectations are high and at 18 years-old he’d normally be the lone supremely young guy trying to help turn around the franchise.

Of course, this is Colorado and with the Avs trading away Ryan Smyth (to Los Angeles) in the off-season to get cap relief scoring is at even more of a premium in the Rockies thus opening the door for yet another 18 year-old 2009 draft pick in Ryan O’Reilly.  Duchene should stick around all season long and if O’Reilly is still around after 10 games (otherwise they head back to juniors for the duration of the season), the Avs are in with the youth movement for the long haul.

How do you spell Avalanche?  R-E-B-U-I-L-D-I-N-G

On the wings, Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski are still here as is the enigmatic Marek Svatos.  Svatos so far in his career has been the hot-and-cold type of player.  In his first full NHL season (2005-2006) he scored 32 goals.  He then followed that up with season tallies the next three years of 15, 26, 14 goals respectively.  Svatos has also never played a full 82 game season and averages 64.5 games played per season.   Inconsistency, thy name is Svatos.

OK so what about the rest of the forwards? T.J. Hensick, T.J. Galiardi, Cody McLeod, Chris Stewart, David Jones and Matt Hendricks lead the “Who the hell are they?” crew while Darcy Tucker and David Koci lead the “Don’t Turn Your Back On Them” brigade.  Of that bunch, Chris Stewart is the most promising of the bunch while T.J. Hensick is still trying to capture the glory he once had at the University of Michigan.  T.J. Galiardi, on the other hand, will be getting his first real taste of the NHL this year after being a high scoring hero at Dartmouth College.

One other young guy to keep an eye out for later is former Minnesota Golden Gopher Ryan Stoa.  He’ll start the year in the AHL at Lake Erie, but with what the Avs are dealing with talent-wise at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see Stoa join the club and flash the skills.

Hang on, David Koci has something to share with us.

Thanks David, that was inspiring.

The defensive corps is where the strength of this Avalanche team will be.  Unfortunately for the Avs, these aren’t the, ahem, glory days kind of guys like Blake and Bourque, but Adam Foote is back in the fold (re-acquired in a trade last year) and he’s been deigned the new captain of the team.  John-Michael Liles, Ruslan Salei, Brett Clark and Kyle Quincey (acquired in the Smyth deal) make for a very serviceable unit on the back line.  Long time AHL’er and youngster Kyle Cumiskey gets to crack the big roster this year and once Tom Preissing returns from injury, Cumiskey will duke it out with him for steady playing time.

Goaltending in Colorado should prove to be interesting as career backup Craig Anderson was signed in the offseason and he’ll provide the bulk of the work in starting as new GM Greg Sherman sends the message to Peter Budaj that perhaps he should play a little bit better, a message that certainly couldn’t be sent last year with Andrew Raycroft as the backup to “push” him.  Now Budaj is slated as the backup but at the very least should Anderson struggle a bit there will be someone mostly solid right behind him to steady the ship.

The Avs have a new head coach this year after deciding to live with deja vu all over again with Tony Granato last season.   They’ve brought aboard former player Joe Sacco and while he has no NHL coaching experience, having him learn on the fly with what should be a really young team isn’t the worst thing in the world.   After all, he was the coach of the Lake Erie Monsters, the Avalanche farm squad.  Instant success isn’t demanded of him here but helping the admittedly very young team develop better at this level is.  Sacco was always a solid depth forward in his career in the NHL and he was never a big time scorer… Which works out to be pretty coincidental since that is what this Avalanche lineup will be like.

It’ll be a young team, it’ll have moments of fleeting glory but one thing it will not be is a playoff team, something, I’m sure Sean Payton at Anyone But Detroit will be very grumpy about me saying.  I will say though, at least Sean is being realistic about things, at least kind of, from what he had to say with the Slap Shots blog at the New York Times.

The Avalanche will be better — they finished 15th in the West last year so there is nowhere to go but up. I’ve got them finishing 13th, ahead of Nashville and the mess currently known as the Phoenix Coyotes.

Normally there would be nowhere to go but up, but in this case, staying the course is what I count on happening for the Avs this year.  They will be out of the playoffs most assuredly and finishing dead last in the brutal Western Conference is a fate they appear to be aligned for.

Thanks for playing Colorado, go get ‘em next year.

ECAC Polls Released – RPI Sits Under The Radar

I’ve made it known here that one of the few things I will be a fanboy about are my college hockey allegiances, and in Division I it’s all about the RPI Engineers from the ECAC.  So if you’re expecting level-headed stuff here, well, just forget it while I let my hair down.

Today the ECAC released the conference coaches poll and the media poll.  Full disclosure here, I was, indeed, one of the voters in the media poll and something I’m quite flattered to be asked to take part in.  Thanks to Ken Schott at The Daily Gazette for giving a little bit of love to this Internet-only media freak.

Ironically enough, I did take off my homer hat for my rankings in the poll.  At least I thought I did.

My list went this way:

  1. Yale
  2. Princeton
  3. Cornell
  4. Harvard
  5. St. Lawrence
  6. Dartmouth
  7. RPI
  8. Clarkson
  9. Union
  10. Quinnipiac
  11. Colgate
  12. Brown

Compared to what the ECAC Pre-Season Media Poll turned out to be, I’m apparently the outlier they’re looking for.  The final Media Poll results:

  1. Yale   (15) 278
  2. Cornell   (7)  272
  3. Princeton  (2)  253
  4. Harvard  (1)  224
  5. Dartmouth  183
  6. Union  143
  7. St. Lawrence  134
  8. Clarkson  125
  9. Colgate  106
  10. RPI  102
  11. Quinnipiac  90
  12. Brown  35

The numbers in parentheses are first-place votes and the larger number is total points in the poll.  As expected, the top four teams were pretty universally chosen by all the voters and even yours truly managed to stay on point with everyone that way.

What I didn’t quite expect was how, seemingly, the rest of the pollsters stayed in line with each other in regard to how wide open everything in the conference is below the top four.  From how it shakes out, the only thing most everyone had in agreement was that Brown was going to finish last – something which all the coaches agreed with – ouch.  Everything between fifth and tenth though?  Crap shoot.

I won’t lie, I was toying with the idea of pulling names from a hat for those spots but instead tried to do the right thing and look at things logically.  Apparently my logic is a bit off from the herd.  I won’t break down why I picked the teams in the top four because that’s the consensus and you can juggle and mix and match all you want there.

The amount of love Harvard got in the poll, including a first place vote, is something to take note of.  Harvard will get goaltender Kyle Richter back this year (after missing last season for “personal reasons”) and they’re bringing in a solid freshman class lead by Montreal Canadiens 2009 first round pick Louis Leblanc.  Harvard does manage to do very well and they’ve got a solid defensive team as it is, but clearly Harvard’s stunning lack of offense in last year’s playoffs which saw them get shutout by last place Brown in back to back games didn’t cause voters to hold off on the Crimson appreciation.

For me, it was more about Richter being back in goal (because he is a very good goaltender) and providing the stability back there.  I’m not much of a fan of coach Ted Donato’s system so if the team struggles to score goals this year I’ll happily start pointing the finger there but I do believe that they will be better and embarrassments like the one against Brown in the playoffs last year won’t happen again.

I mention Harvard in particular because what is rightfully being lauded about them is their incoming freshman class.  Leblanc I’ve mentioned but there’s a few other names here that help the Crimson instantly with Minnesota Wild fourth round pick Alex Fallstrom and Marshall Everson from Edina High School in Minnesota.  These guys will all be solid producers for the Crimson this season and they’re guys that folks know about pretty well at this point in the ECAC.

Which leads me to wonder why, exactly, RPI sits under the radar.  Oh I know, they were bad last year.  Really bad.  Before the playoffs came around, RPI was 11th in the conference and was one of the lowest scoring teams in the NCAA all while winning seven games in the regular season.  If the season ends at that point ranking out the Engineers low is just about the only thing you can do.

Thank goodness for the playoffs.  RPI swept Dartmouth in the first round riding goaltender and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Allen York to victory in Hanover, New Hampshire.  RPI would lose their quarterfinal series to Cornell two games to one, with York shutting out the Big Red in game one.   Something RPI did in Game One scared Cornell so much that coach Mike Schafer decided to blame the officials for why his team couldn’t score and earning him a suspension for Game Two while ECAC officials made a mockery of the rule book after being scared by Big Mike.  Cute.

Shouldering the scoring “load” for the Engineers in the playoffs were members of the youth movement.  Conference All-Rookie team member Patrick Cullen along with other freshmen Christian Morrissette and Jordan Watts notching goals and instilling pride in the program once again.  Losing a hard-fought Game Three at Lynah Rink is a pretty decent moral victory but one that leaves the guys returning this year with a bad taste in their mouth because they know they could’ve had that series and made their first ECAC Championships appearance in Albany.

Having younger guys like Cullen, Morrissette, Watts and Alex Angers-Goulet show up and score in the playoffs helps plant a seed, at least in my mind, that the new guys on the scene this year with Blackhawks second round pick Brandon Pirri and Maple Leafs sixth round choice Jerry D’Amigo as well as USHL product C.J. Lee and Pirri’s Hockey Canada teammate Marty O’Grady there’s a lot of good reasons to think that RPI can break out and “show up out of nowhere” this year.  Being ranked low by the media might serve to be a good motivator for this group, we know that coach Seth Appert certainly will put it to use.

pirri-damigoBrandon Pirri and Jerry D’Amigo (Photo: Tom Killups – Troy Record)

So if there’s this huge influx of talent… What gives media folks?  My thoughts on why I slotted RPI seventh include these points:

Everyone between fifth place and tenth place in the ECAC are all just about equally on par with each other.  That means these teams will all be knocking the crap out of each other and splitting season series with each other are possible.  Some teams are going to take chunks out of the top four on occasion (even RPI managed to manhandle Princeton once last year) and get a point or two on occasion.  The point differential between teams five through ten is going to be minuscule and the race for home ice in the first round (teams in fifth through eighth all get it) is going to be rough and for three of those four teams, it will mean a tough match-up right off the bat.

All of these teams have huge questions, all of these teams (even Brown) have done something in the off-season to try and make improvements.  The case with RPI that I’m willing to stick my neck out for is that while placing them seventh isn’t really a huge mind-blowing decree, it does mark a stark improvement for the program and one that coach Seth Appert will need to have show on the ice in order to keep the “Defenders of ’85” off of his back.

The “Defenders of ’85” are the folks in the RPI fan base who have been wildly unhappy with everything that has gone down in Troy since Adam Oates, Daren Puppa, John Carter, George Servinis and coach Mike Addessa brought RPI their last National Championship in 1985.  These fans can generally be found on the side of Houston Field House across from the student side and are questionably and amazingly mute during games.  This is an especially fascinating phenomenon when you consider that college games should be loud, raucous affairs.

I digress.  For Appert’s sake, the solid recruiting classes have to start paying off this year.  Last year’s surprising success in the playoffs helped whet the appetite for a lot of fans but another single-digit win season will not suffice.  Fortunately, the building blocks are set and this year brings the offensive weaponry.  Appert started by building from the back on out, starting with York who carried the team at the end of last season to show that he was, indeed, ready to be the top man in goal for the Engineers.

ibelieveinsethappert

From there, it’s up to the defensemen and new captain, junior John Kennedy, strikes some as a surprising choice.  He’s not a guy that shows up on the scoreboard with goals or assists but what he does is exemplify playing hard in your own zone.  I can’t even begin to count the number of times where another defenseman would end up out of position and Kennedy was always the “1” when the opposing team would have a 2-0n-1 opportunity going the other way.   For Kennedy, it’s not about putting up the huge numbers, it’s about doing his job the best way he can to help the team win.  Now it’s up to his other blueline mates Bryan Brutlag, Peter Merth, Jeff Foss, Mark Zarbo, and Christian Jensen to follow his example rather than feel pressured into doing too much.

RPI also expects to get a lift to their defensive corps with the return of sophomore (and Dallas Stars draftee) Mike Bergin.  Bergin was injured six games into last season and was granted an injury redshirt by the NCAA.  Bergin came in last year as a highly touted and highly talented defenseman, but a shoulder injury short-circuited his year.  His do-over year should be a huge boost to the Engineers.

What would also be a huge boost would be for Erik Burgdoerfer to stay off the ECAC officials Most Wanted to Throw In The Box List.  Burgdoerfer accumulated 106 penalty minutes last year in just 34 infractions.  That’s a lot of major penalty action for the senior and much of that helped RPI opponents gain a five-minute power play and cause RPI to be down a man for parts of the game.  While officiating can sometimes be suspect in the ECAC, you have to go out of your way to earn a reputation like that and with the number of defensemen back in the fold for RPI, Burgdoerfer will find himself wearing a suit instead of a uniform should he fall back on old habits.

Up front, youth dominates the forward corps for the Engineers.  The “old stalwarts” amongst the scoring forwards for RPI now are juniors Chase Polacek and Tyler Helfrich.  Polacek was RPIs leading scorer last season with 11 goals and 21 assists.  Helfrich was third on the team with 5 goals and 18 assists.  Like I said, RPI had some issues scoring last season.

Seniors Garret Vassel and Paul Kerins should expect to get “grind line” type duties this season although the competition for playing time amongst the forwards should be epic.  RPI lost four forwards to graduation, three of whom saw steady play and now see four very talented forwards join the team this year as freshmen.   Provided the defense can do their job and be responsible and the forwards can do their job and attack and everyone does their job and stays out of the box – this RPI team could turn the tide in the ECAC right away.  The additions of Pirri and D’Amigo alone are huge for the program as Pirri is a born and bred offensive maven and D’Amigo is seemingly made for the college game.

There’s reasons to stay hopeful in Troy and if Allen York can pick up where he left off at the end of last year and provide the stability in goal to cap off all of those other things… Hockey in Troy is going to be a lot more enjoyable really soon.

unclesamwantsrpiPay attention when a legend speaks.

Thanks For Playing: New York Islanders

Last season I did a twist on the customary season preview kind of story.  Instead of painting everything with the forever awesome hopeful brush, I came busting through like the Grim Reaper (no, not Stu Grimson) and tapped five teams before the start of the regular season to tell them that their season was over before it started.

I tried on the black robe once again and it fits great and the sickle is just as menacing as ever and it’s time to go a-reaping.  My goal this year was to pick on five teams that I didn’t touch on last year, barring the possibility of those teams being so piss-poor that it was thoroughly unavoidable.  My five choices last year were the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders and Atlanta Thrashers.  My only slip up came with the Blues as they powered through last season to find a spot in the Western Conference Playoffs and giving me the finger the whole way.  Thanks guys.

This year after breaking down the teams I was faced with the inevitable task of having to pick on one team because they qualify under my own rule:  The Islanders.

Now as much as I’d like to be a mean-spirited prick, I find the Islanders to be in such rough shape that it’s evtavaresen beyond me to be mean.  I know, feel free to call me names – it’s fair enough, but getting to meet a lot of Islanders fans in Montreal this summer showed me that you guys are tremendously faithful and very eager for the future and for that I don’t blame you.

A trend that you’ll find amongst the walking dead teams in these previews (MAJOR HINT FOR WHAT’S TO COME) is that most of these teams have a bevy of issues going on off the ice that do nothing to help alleviate the fans’ worries about what’s going on with the team actually playing on the ice.  In this case, it’s Charles Wang taking on the Town of Hempstead in trying to build the Lighthouse Project.

The team itself are doing some of the small things to make things better for the future.  In the offseason, the Isles drafted potential franchise savior centerman John Tavares first overall and followed that selection with defenseman Calvin de Haan, an eventual power play quarterback on Long Island.  While Tavares will undoubtedly begin playing for the Islanders this season, de Haan’s near future likely lies back in Canadian Juniors and while he gets to learn there, Tavares will only have the burden of being the main attraction on an otherwise hapless team.

There are nice pieces on the Island.  Defenseman Mark Streit is a true power play quarterback in his own right and as the featured defenseman with the Isles, he’s lifted his game with it.  Forward Kyle Okposo too is a stud but, much how things go with the Islanders these days, he’s hit a bump in the road courtesy of Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf.

Okposo was likely set to eventually be Tavares’ right wing at some point this season but with a concussion, you can never be too sure when, exactly, you’ll be OK to play.  Looking at the Islanders potential depth chart, the enigmatic Trent Hunter looms as the potential top wing along with Blake Comeau.  Those of you unfamiliar with the Islanders are likely asking, “Who?” and now it’s hitting you as to why the Isles are being featured first and foremost this season.

Another forward who might sound familiar is Doug Weight who had his own unreasonable run-in last year at center ice with Hurricanes forward Brent Sutter, difference being that Weight was on the delivery end of the hit.  Sure, a couple of other names might ring a bell or two (Jeff Tambellini, Sean Bergenheim, Richard Park) but as far as being a big scoring team… Well, the Islanders are just not going to be that.

Defensively, Mark Streit is the do-it-all deity on the blue line and hey, why not, he’s Swiss and that’s pretty fun – isn’t it Roger Federer?  Brendan Witt is the other name you’ll recognize here and he’s also there to be the team peacekeeper.  Outside of that you’ve got the oft-injured Radek Martinek and Bruno Gervais as well as the oft-injured Andy Sutton.  Come to think of it… Those are three guys that are usually banged up.  Thankfully for the Isles and general manager Garth Snow they managed to address one sort of weakness in goaltending.

Goaltending was a major problem for the Isles last season given that superstar Rick DiPietro again found himself shelved with nagging injuries.  In his stead, the team ran with superstars like Yann Danis, Joey McDonald and Peter Mannino in goal.  Goaltending depth shouldn’t be a problem this season as both Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson were brought on board to help steady this ship while DiPietro, again, rehabs from a knee injury.

At the very least the Isles won’t get caught with their pants down in goal but in tcharles-wang_392his case, it’s merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic after it’s already at the bottom of the ocean.  Yeah, that’s a bleak outlook but being part of a perpetual rebuilding project often has huge roadblocks, the least of which is an Eeyore-like black cloud looming over the franchise about whether or not their future lies in Long Island or some other place.

All of that stuff will just provide little to no respite for Isles fans who will get to soak in the future stardom and celebrity of John Tavares while watching their team struggle for offense (unless Tavares goes 1980s Gretzky on us) and hopefully avoid the injury bug that’s bitten this franchise for three years running.

Realistically, this team will be one of the five worst in the league which, considering their building blocks with Okposo and Tavares, might not put them in a bad spot for the future.  For now, however, they’ll struggle terribly and being stuck in a division with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins as well as the built-to-kill Philadelphia Flyers.

Enjoy Tavares Islanders faithful and don’t worry about if you get caught daydreaming about the future, you won’t be at fault for doing so.

Armchair GM: Following Fantasy Hockey

This year, I’ll be taking a weekly look into what my team (Wild Frontiersmen) is doing in the SBN Yahoo Fantasy Hockey Invitational (Western Edition).  I know these types of columns can sometimes make your eyes gloss over because, really, it’s all an effort by yours truly to show how smart/stupid he is and open up the flood gates for a lot of really awesome trash talk.

With my SBN allegiances tied to the Minnesota Wild this allowed me the open door to join the league.  If you’re not familiar with how things are run in fantasy hockey… Well you might want to just come back and visit another time.

In this league, I’ll be competing with my two cohorts on Hockey Wilderness as well as these other tremendous writers at SBN whom I all suggest that you strongly bookmark their pages (links at the bottom of this entry).

Our draft was conducted  over a week ago and while it wasn’t quite the standard trash talk fest, I will say that thanks to the random draft placement generator I had the fourth pick overall.  Considering there are 16 teams in this league, picking fourth is pretty fantastic but my main thought being in this position was, “Aw crap, that means I won’t get any of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby.”  My thinking here being that if you have a top three selection you get one of those guys and guarantee yourself a ton of points.  This meant it was time to form a plan.

In this league, depth is huge and goaltending is a precious commodity since you have to start two goaltenders or potentially lose out on points in your head-to-head matchups.  My plan here was to try and take the league out a whole new door, by picking up dominating goaltending and then duke it out for the offensive points by being sneaky with the sleeper action.  My plan of action here was to fall back on either picking up Roberto Luongo or Miikka Kiprusoff or Evgeni Nabokov first and then maybe, perhaps, getting Martin Brodeur or someone else that plays a billion games in goal on the way back around in the second round and then get a relatively quick turnaround for my third round pick and start loading up on offense.

It was a great plan if I do say so myself, of course, my new nemesis in the league, Dirk Hoag from On The Forecheck, one of the more brilliant numbers guys at SBN and anywhere else on the Internet for hockey, was picking third.   As expected, the guys from Nucks Misconduct snag Ovechkin first and the guys from The Cannon take Malkin second.  Dirk, however, must have been operating out of the same playbook I had designed for my strategy as he snags Evgeni Nabokov with the third overall pick.

Now, I won’t get upset at him for this because, hey, if he appears to be running with the same idea I had how can I get mad?  I get to select Sidney Crosby fourth and get off to a rousing offensive start with my team.  I will say that’s a nice booby prize but sometimes the best laid plans just don’t come to fruition.  So, my Plan B is shot and now Plan A.5 is in order and, again, Dirk would come back to snipe me in the third round.  I had Panthers goalie and semi-fantasy stud Thomas Vokoun in my queue ready to go… Until he disappeared from my list because On The Forecheck was on fire blowing my spot up.

Unreal.  So instead, I put my team’s faith and goaltending power in the shaky demeanor of Marty Turco.  I now also have to root for a resurgence of the Dallas Stars on top of all that so I can do well in this league.  Christ.

I give a ton of credit to Dirk as well as to James Mirtle of From The Rink for being really smart drafters (“smart” meaning “they made picks I would make”) and Mirtle, in particular, was in my head sniping out selections a round or two ahead of where I was thinking to pick them.  Thanks… Jerk.

Without further ado, here is the final roster for the Wild Frontiersmen.

fantasy

Yes, that is indeed THE Ray Emery as my other starting goalie.  My centers I couldn’t be more tickled about as Lecavalier was my 2nd round pick and my sneaky sleepy choices here include Ville Leino with the Red Wings and Josh Harding who may or may not get more work in Minnesota.

Brenden Morrow I was simply giddy about finding still on the list in the 9th round because in past leagues and seasons, Morrow was always a great guy to have for both goals and PIMs.

Potentially Brutal: Yes, my defense kind of sucks a bit, but so does most everyone elses.  Thankfully, defensemen aren’t judged on their own and are simply there to help try and boost the +/- ratings… Which makes me wonder why I thought Bryan McCabe was a good idea.  Hmm.  At least there’s Matt Hunwick lurking on the bench to take someone’s spot away.   Cough…

Fingers Crossed: Brendan Morrison should be centering the second line in Washington and that could yield some nice results…  Or Morrison will prove that his career has fallen off the map completely and be worth nothing while I scour the free agent list for a replacement.  If he’s healthy and the Caps wingers can pot some goals, Morrison should be able to bounce back well.

Don’t sleep on them: Patrik Berglund and James Neal are two young guys that I’m hoping can build off really solid rookie campaigns.  Neal was a 20+ goal scorer (24-13-37) for Dallas and really emerged when Brenden Morrow went down for the season and Berglund was an offensive spark plug for the Blues (21-26-47) and there’s more than enough room for growth there for the young Swede in St. Louis.

This league is a lot more different than any other I’ve participated in in the past in that there’s so many teams and everyone basically knows the same things so this is a real nice mental test as far as the draft goes.  There’s no doubt that there’s a huge amount of luck that goes into picking a good team as well, but staying well scouted is what helps folks out later on in the draft.

The plan here is to keep this updated to show off on a weekly basis but if you’re curious and want to see how everyone is doing in the league on your own, there is a link to check it out yourself so feel free to scope it out.

Blogs represented in the league:

NHL – From The Rink

Minnesota -Hockey Wilderness

Dallas – Defending Big D & Stars Scene

Columbus – The Cannon

Edmonton – Copper & Blue

Detroit -Winging It In Motown

Nashville – On The Forecheck

St. Louis -St. Louis Game Time

Vancouver -Nucks Misconduct (sweet name)

Colorado -Mile High Hockey

Phoenix -Five For Howling

San Jose -Fear The Fin

Chicago – Second City Hockey

I’m Still Around – Kessel To The Leafs

I know I’m woefully lacking in updates but forgive me, things are a little busy personally.

Instead of begging forgiveness, I’ll just show you how spanking pretty Phil Kessel looks in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform in video game splendor.

Kessel

Not a bad look for the kid.

Will it work out though?  We’ll see how well he handles the hockey insane fans of Toronto.  Then again, maybe Ron Wilson won’t bench the guy for just wanting to play offense while giving the finger to back-checking.

As an added bonus to trying to buy your love, here’s a video of virtual Phil batting home a rebound goal.

A big week lays ahead as five teams will get euthanized by yours truly as the season looms closer.  Stay tuned.

Jim & Gary: The Final Showdown

jimandgaryfaceoffA true summer blockbuster if there ever was one.

There have been many classic showdowns in history.  Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West, Gargamel and the Smurfs, G.I. Joe and COBRA.  Hell,  Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker as well as Batman and The Joker even managed to do it over the course of two different movies in each series.

It only seems fitting that with today (and tomorrow) being Franchise Auction day in Phoenix that there’s only two bidders left for the team now that Ice Edge Holdings has dropped out of the auction.  A real mano y mano showdown in the Old West, fitting of a Spaghetti Western.  Of course, in this movie, we’ve got the henchman from Face/Off going up against Billy Barty.  That’s the beauty of the NHL, they give rise to the thoughts of many of the greatest talents of Hollywood.

Enough has been made of this ridiculous vendetta-driven (by both sides) duel for the Coyotes already and Balsillie, to his credit, is putting Gary Bettman and his NHL bid in a very bad place as far as public opinion goes.  After all, Balsillie raising his offer by $30 million dollars makes even the most casual of NHL fans and non-fans alike wonder what in the blue hell Bettman and the Board of Governors have against a guy so obviously desperate to own an NHL franchise.

Faceoffnoodlesbw

Jim Balsillie vs. Gary Bettman… In Hollywood

These wonderings and out-loud thinking I’ve done over and over and over again here and you folks know where I stand.  I’m pro-Balsillie as an owner, I am pro-having another team in Canada and I am pro-sticking it to Gary Bettman and making him have to deal with it.

The peril for me is that I am also pro-Phoenix and pro-Coyotes if for no other reason other than the fans that DO care about the team there.  The fans are almost always the folks caught in the middle of millionaire in-fighting in sports, Lord knows we know enough about that being the saps that are fans of the NHL.  The dedicated thousands in Phoenix have been wrongfully taken for a ride by their gutless puke of a soon-to-be former owner Jerry Moyes.  While I don’t blame Moyes for trying to sell the team, the guy has the ability to handle delicate situations about as well as a five year-old wound up on Pixy Stix would handle sitting still.

What sucks most for the fans in Phoenix is that the guy they’ve got to rely on to help them out is the diminutive dictator whose pride and miserable plan for domination of southern culture is on the line with the Coyotes.  The same guy who, if he and the NHL do succeed in winning the auction and the courts, is going to spin the team off to someone else to let it be their headache and marketing toy, to someone else that will likely be forced to move in the future no matter how hard they try to make it work in Arizona.

I don’t say that to break out the hyperbole and be a worrywart about the matter, but the NHLs plans if they win don’t exactly look all that sparkling and they’ve left themselves a lot of ways to get the hell out of Dodge.

In other words, the league has no intention of assuming this lease (for obvious reasons) and is apparently using a “transition services agreement” in order to leave it in Moyes’s hands for up to nine months after closing. Prior to the termination of that TSA, the league “may elect in their sole discretion to treat any Glendale contract as an excluded contract” and “the sellers [Moyes] shall be entitled to reject such a contract.”

The issue here for the judge will be that the NHL’s bid could easily become a relocation one by June, 2010, depending on how negotiations go with Glendale. What the league’s really after here is to buy time to find more suitors for the team and put pressure on the city to capitulate to its demands.

So the NHL is stalling so they can hand pick their own future criminal they approve to be owners.  After all, if it’s already broken why try to fix it?  It’s so much easier to just to throw rocket fuel on a smoldering fire.

The people in charge of the game seem to wonder why the sport gets laughed at.  At least with the other three major sports the criminals are on the field easily deposed of and not in the owners box where they continue making everything more corrupt and broken.

It’s far too late/early for me to let this nonsense get me riled up and thankfully the festivities in Phoenix operate on western time.  If you’re not on Twitter, first of all why not?  Secondly sign up immediately so you can follow along with those who will be in attendance on Thursday and Friday for the auction and hearings. For what it’s worth, CBC’s Tom Harrington reported on Twitter last night that Friday will be the day to be there as both Balsillie and Bettman will testify and be cross-examined.  What I wouldn’t give to witness this.

Here’s a list of the folks to follow in the next two days (if you’re not already):

@brahmresnik – Brahm Resnik is a News 12 anchor in Phoenix who has been instrumental in covering things with the Coyotes.

@TheYotesDiva - Founder of Save The Coyotes and avowed Jim Balsillie hater.  You’ll love her if you’re pro-Coyotes.

@OdinMercer – The head man and guru of SBNation’s Five For Howling.  Oh yeah and he’ll be hosting a courtroom drinking game while following along with the proceedings on Twitter. Giddy up!

@JeffMarek – Jeff Marek is a CBC sports reporter offering solid straight-forward reports with a slight bent for Balsillie.

@reporterchris – Chris Johnston is a reporter for The Canadian Press. You can bet that he’ll also be rooting for Jim Balsillie.

@cbctom – Tom Harrington, another CBC reporter in Phoenix to cover things.

@HKYFN – Larry Halliday, a devout Coyotes fan who has been dedicated to keeping fans on Twitter up to date on things and a true credit to hockey fans in Arizona.

Now you’re all set and if you’re not following me yet, well why don’t you just go ahead and do that already, mmkay?

Sailing The Financial Failboat In Tampa Bay

I’m going to quote a piece from David Shoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail and I’m going to remove who they’re talking about and I’ll quiz you after it to ask you who you think it’s about.  Pretend it’s a really bad mad lib.

(noun) took money improperly from the (other financial operation) and its investors in order to pay for his share of the (NHL franchise), according to a member of the real-estate development’s executive committee.

Reading something like that, given the recent history of upstanding owners in the NHL and all, doesn’t really help clear up who this could actually involve, right?  After all, it could be Phoenix with Jerry Moyes.  It could be another story about Boots Del Biaggio and his ham-handed work with the Nashville Predators.  Perhaps it’s a long dormant story about John Spano, former Islanders owner and how he’s enjoying life as a convicted felon.

Or… It’s about one of the knucklehead co-owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning and how he used money from his Bear Mountain Resort in British Columbia, Canada to help pay for his stake in the team.

garytpirTampa Bay Lightning – Come on down!  You’re the next contestant on The Price Is Wrong!

It’s quite amazing that characters like Barrie and all of the others I mentioned previously have all managed to pass the NHL Board of Governors sniff test to be an owner, yet Jim Balsillie, the guy actually with money, is always left out in the cold.  It’s just silly.

Adding to the fun of this nonsense with Barrie, Bear Mountain and the Lightning is this analysis from Tom Benjamin of Canuck’s Corner.

Palace Sports and Entertainment – owned by the estate of Bill Davidson – had been trying to sell the team for a year before Koules emerged in the spring of 2008. Unfortunately, Koules had neither the money nor the partners to swing the deal. Even after hooking up with Barrie, Koules could not get financing. It is a mark of how desperately Palace wanted out that they agreed to temporarily carry the mortgage. After Koules failed again to get alternative financing, the arrangement became more than temporary.

It now appears that Koules and Barrie’s falling out happened when the team ran out of money early in 2009 and Barrie couldn’t answer the cash call. Koules (and the league?) carried the Lightning through the season. If the news reports are correct, Koules is back knocking on the Palace door because Len Barrie has to be bought out, because the team will probably run out of cash at some point during the season again, because Koules doesn’t have the money and because Koules can’t borrow it anywhere else.

Yes, that’s right – the eccentric pair of Koules and Barrie could end up sticking the former owners of the team with the bill because their money pot could be empty.  More from Benjamin:

What can Palace Sports and Entertainment do? I’m sure the executors of Bill Davidson’s estate want out of the hockey business, but they have a substantial amount of money at risk. If Palace goes along it will be becarepomanuse the alternative is bankruptcy and they will be effectively repossessing the team.

Imagine being the folks in control of Bill Davidson’s estate and having these two losers showing up on your doorstep to say, “Uh, well, if you don’t give us a hand with this problem, this problem is yours in a much bigger way.”  Damned if you do, really bent over a barrel if you don’t.

I don’t think Bill Davidson had being a post-mortem repo man in mind for the afterlife.

As always, the man bringing things to life on the Internet of this situation is From The Rink’s James Mirtle, and Mirtle has been on top of these slimy worms since the get-go in Tampa Bay, just check this list.

This time around, Mirtle comes out guns blazing on this situation with graphs and everything to show that the problems with Tampa are just the tip of the iceberg for our good friend Gary Bettman.

All that said, my guess is there are really only nine or 10 NHL teams which make a significant profit on the hockey side of things most seasons, with roughly another 10 breaking even depending on their playoff success. It’s amazing that, even with a cap that is effectively only about $47-million** after escrow, the economics of hockey are broken, with the perennial losers (like the Coyotes) doomed to incredible losses.

** N.B. Nine teams were spending more than that in 2001-2002.

Sounds like an incredibly fun situation around the league, doesn’t it?  Meanwhile, the NHL is busy putting in a bid for a financial albatross in Phoenix to keep it out of the hands of one over-zealous BlackBerry guru.  I don’t think that the NHL wants to really get overly involved in this kind of do-gooder action while trying to save face for what appears to be failed market experiments.

I’ve stated since the beginning that what’s happened with Tampa Bay isn’t a failure of the NHL.  Tampa Bay was a successful market and one that was thriving… Until Tweedle-Barrie and Tweedle-Koules took over and made hockey in Tampa Bay a joke.

From the chasing out of John Tortorella to the hiring of Barry Melrose and how they’ve curiously handled their player moves the last two off seasons, you have no need for further evidence as to why the fans in Tampa Bay have stopped showing up in the crazy numbers they once did.  After all, would you pay crazy NHL prices to watch a team with no direction, no leadership and no respect for its new fanbase?  Absolutely not, especially when the owners have no idea what they’re even doing.  Bill Davidson and Palace Entertainment knew what they were doing but then again, Davidson had it going on with the Detroit Pistons as it was.

Tampa Bay was once, briefly, a very successful NHL market and it can be again but not until Koules and Barrie are gone and should things shake out grimly there it could be a very ugly situation very soon for the Lightning.  Maybe these jokers shouldn’t have thumbed their nose at college hockey and brought down the wrath of the hockey gods.

Or maybe they should’ve actually had money to make a purchase instead of being shifty real estate shysters.

Time Can’t Move Fast Enough

Two weeks.

We’re two weeks away from the start of NHL training camp.  Summer is damn near over, children both young and old alike are headed back to school and then there’s others who have shown that they’re really not grown up at all.

Ugh…

You know what this makes me feel like?

I’ve even got the same dress and everything. It’s amazing really.

What’s not helping matters there with all the secrecy of the NHLPA and their motives in booting the now former boss Paul Kelly are statements like these from Atlanta Thrashers superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, courtesy of Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy via Twitter translated from Russia’s SovSport (God Bless the Internet!):

Kovalchuk calls the current CBA “dumb;” says “players lost on all counts.”

And this beauty:

Kovalchuk says that during the lockout there was a split among players who started looking for a new boss behind Goodenow’s back.

Sounds like it’s going to be a party in the near future doesn’t it?

It’s hard to believe that there’s a group of guys dumber than the NHL Owners and Board of Governors with Gary Bettman on their leash, but it appears that the NHLPA wants to vie for the crown.  What the firing of the very likable and pacifying Paul Kelly spells out is doom in the future and Kovalchuk’s comment about how the CBA works against the players and that they “lost out on all counts” is mind-boggling, especially since the owners, who indeed thought they won have seen their own supposed victory fall down around their ankles.

The players can see what’s coming on the horizon though.  They see that the gravy train has ended and that the salary cap is going to fall next year and with it the cap floor.  They know already that the owners will be looking for assistance for their own bad management (AGAIN) and the players know that they’ll be made into the villains in all this by the shyster owners.

With all that said, everyone is feeling queasy about what this means for the future.  While this year will go fine and without a hitch (provided no one gets hurt during the Olympics), this will cloud things up immensely for the following seasons so long as the NHLPA hires a hardliner that they’re supposedly looking for (so says Kevin Allen of USA Today on Twitter).  While the owners have made it nearly impossible to like anything that they do given how Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes has acted towards his own team and market to the Board of Governors attitude and actions towards Jim Balsillie, the players association fires right back with a dumpster full of stupid of their own feeling like they’re getting the short end of the stick.

Unreal.  Both sides of this idiotic operation continue to feel like they’re the big men on campus when it has somehow not dawned on them that they’re not even the big fish in the major league sports pond.  The owners locking the players out for a full season was bad enough and should’ve continued to make both sides suffer for their malfeasance towards each other and the fans yet in a couple years time we’re likely to see the same storyline unfold all over again.

I’d lecture using old clichés about how those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it,  but why bother.  If the players want to play hardball with the owners who are likely going to look to correct the “mistakes” they made in the last round of collective bargaining… Have fun.  You’ll all be playing in Sweden and Russia again to help bide the time while your newly elected union head butts heads with the most stubborn bunch of backwards curmudgeons this side of the nursing home.

Go ahead and get locked out for a year or two and see who’s left to care when you come back.  The fans have better things to do than wait for potentially equally moronic sides to come to an asinine agreement over who gets to have more money.  This time there won’t be quirky rule changes to be made to help win people over instantly.  This time distractions won’t work.

This time, fans will have something better to do with their time and money.  Just test it out and see if it’s a bluff.

I dare you.