Monthly Archives: October 2009

RPI Hockey Weekend: Rivals, Black Knights and Masked Men

This weekend the RPI Engineers play one of a potential four games against local semi-rival Union College.  I call them a semi-rival because I’ve noticed through how the teams play these games that there’s a pecking order for motivation in games that are listed off as “rivalry” games where sometimes one of the opponents treats it like a blood feud and the other treats it like they’re play some other team.

That’s exactly what RPI-Union has been over the years.  Union is the kid brother of the pair, always looking to stick it to their big brother RPI and prove to them that they should be taken seriously at all costs.  Of course, RPI plays the part of the big brother rather well.  They’re the longer established hockey program, they have two National Championships and they have other schools that rank higher on the supposed pecking order as far as rivals go (Clarkson, Cornell).  At least those are the teams that RPI seems to get up for like they’re going to war.

The RPI-Union rivalry, for all intents and purposes, is similar to the baseball “rivalry” that the New York Mets and New York Yankees have and the similarities in comparing the two are striking.  Yes, they’re separated by just a few miles in locaation, that much is obvious.  In this case RPI plays the role of the Yankees while Union stands out the way the Mets do… Except that Union has a reason to have hope and they don’t have terrible management.

In baseball, the Mets go balls out to try and take down the Yankees, meanwhile the Yankees are caught up in worrying about what the Boston Red Sox are up to and being more concerned with taking them down in their divisional battles.  Of course, that’s where the one key difference between these rivalries exist, Union and RPI are both after the same ECAC crown meanwhile the Mets have the Phillies and Braves to contend with directly and the Yankees have the Red Sox and Rays.  So why is it that sometimes these travel partners can’t seem to mutually get up for games against each other?

The Engineers (and the Yankees) have the pressure to try and keep the local “kid brother” down so they (and their fans and the city rag newspapers) stay quiet but it’s often viewed to be more important to take care of business with the other rival(s) that the fans care more about.  In this situation, The Daily Gazette and Troy Record aren’t fighting each other for readers but the Union fans are just as vocal about giving grief to RPI as anyone. Call it an inferiority complex if you will as Union fans certainly get caught up in what happens in Troy whereas RPI fans could care less… Until recently.

During last Saturday’s game in Troy between RPI and AIC, out of town scores were being announced during the TV timeouts and when the announcement that Union was down 5-1 to Sacred Heart was made, a larger than normal roar went up from the home fans.  Is it because RPI had just dispatched Sacred Heart the night before and seeing them, at the time, throttling the travel partners from Schenectady was satisfying?  Perhaps, but it’s more than likely a huge case of schadenfreude.  That said though, if the fans are starting to care about what is going on with Union then perhaps this “rivalry” will get to drop the quotation marks and become a legitimate one.

As for the teams, given how well RPI has done against Union the last few seasons (4-9-3 since the 03-04 season) perhaps taking their “kid brothers” a little more serious might be a good idea.

How To Insult Army Cadets And Get Away With It

RPIs other game this weekend is against the United States Military Academy, you know them better simply as Army.  I don’t have much insight to offer about Army as I see them very rarely and they never quite land on the radar.  That said, the last time Army came to RPI, RPI drubbed the Black Knights 4-0.  The hilarious and insulting moment of the game came in the third period as the Engineers were strolling away with the victory and a sousaphonist from the RPI band made his way around Houston Field House until he was just behind the Army bench playing a tune:

Yup, the fight song of the United States Naval Academy. Nothing like rubbing a little salt in the wound especially to guys in the military. Hockey, the only sport that allows the nerds to beat up on the future officers of the military.

God bless America indeed.

Goalie Art Via Shoddy Photographs

A couple weeks ago I showed off goaltender Allen York’s mask and how I want to steal credit for the inspiration of him having Troy native Uncle Sam painted on the mask, and hey, it was cool enough to get noticed by Brian Sullivan at USCHO too.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t help this process along but also wanted to make sure I could get some photos of the other side of the mask as well and to get some photos of backup goaltender Bryce Merriam’s sweet helmet.  Besides, it’s Halloween weekend so what better to do than take a look at masks.

So without further ado, here we go.

RPIGoalies 004aThe other side of Allen York’s mask: Lady Liberty

RPIGoalies 005aBryce Merriam sports the RPI crest and Puckman on the front/side.

RPIGoalies 007aCan’t quite make out what that says?  Fear not…

RPIGoalies 001aThis reeks of confidence for the future.  I dig it.

RPIGoalies 002aThird-stringer Joe Harkenrider in an artsy-looking motion shot.

Armchair GM: Civil War

Last week it was Hockey Wilderness in-fighting as the matchup had me pitted against the head of operations, Nathan.  Instead of it being a spirited Civil War battle, it turned out to be the Fantasy Hockey version of Sherman’s march to the sea.

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Nathan’s squad of Yahoo-drafted fantasy mercenaries did manage to win a few categories and prevent my team from making things really awful (the lead was 11-1 before the weekend) and it also shows that fantasy hockey isn’t completely nerd-proof since categories like game-winning goals are things you just have to hope get you wins.

On the other side of things:  PHEW!

Winning assists and shots on goal by one as well as power play assists by two are tenuous, yet celebrated, victories.  Sure losing goals and power play goals by one is a kick in the teeth, but hey, stuff happens.  The goaltending did the trick for me and new goaltending acquisition Scott Clemmensen did all that he could to try and throw the numbers off completely managing (in his only start of the week) to give up two goals on three shots before being pulled for Tomas Vokoun (who was supposed to have the night off).

As for how the matchup broke down comparatively:

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General Ulysses S. Grant (MVP of the week): How much fantasy hockey love can I heap upon Dallas Stars winger James Neal?  The guy has been a beast and a three goal, two assist week with 4 PIM and 12 shots on goal is pretty awesome.  Now if only I could get some of those goals to be game winners… Oh wait, he did that tonight against Toronto.  Chew on that Second City Hockey.

General William “Tecumseh” Sherman (Supporting the Romp): Give it up for L.A. King Drew Doughty and his five assists and +3 rating, a rating that helped balance out Kimmo Timonen’s -3 for the week.  Sidney Crosby also gets credit for being himself pulling down two goals and two assists as well as 11 shots on goal.

General George Armstrong Custer (Least Valuable Player): It’s tough to be less valuable than Kimmo Timonen is right now, but getting little to nothing of value from defensemen is semi-expected.  A -3 rating, four PIMs and two shots on goal is pretty lame though.  That said, Paul Martin did less than that and that’s why he’s been replaced by Vancouver’s Willie Mitchell.  What do I expect from Mitchell?  PIMs and the occasional point or two as well as not being a +/- nightmare.

hockeywilderness-large VS. secondcity-lg

The Next Battle of Big Horn (As written like a WWE wrestler promo):

I’m looking your way Chicago.  You hear me Second City Hockey? You guys in Blackhawks land might “Commit to the Indian” but I commit to handing your team a whooping.  This very week on this very Internet in this very Yahoo Fantasy Hockey league, all of SBN is going to see what happens when the Frontiersmen run wild on you.

Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Ott

In just a matter of days Colin Campbell’s idiotic Wheel of Justice has gotten enough of a workout to make even the most veteran spinner of the wheel tired and it seems that there’s a definitive line in the sand being drawn over who or what will get you actually punished by the NHL.

First there was all the stuff we talked about here before about Mike Richards and Tuomo Ruutu, then in the last couple of days Dallas Stars sandpaper-like forward decided it was high time he got back into the act of being a huge creep and managed to do so twice in the same game against St. Louis.  First with a highly dubious low-bridge hip check on Carlo Colaiacovo then later on with a hide-your-eyes ugly knee-on-knee hit with B.J. Crombeen.

Just brutal.

Dallas Stars fans and St. Louis Blues fans alike have come to verbal blows over at St. Louis Game Time while the guys at Defending Big D take the opposing stand and, frankly, I can’t blame Blues fans for being pissed because Steve Ott is your run of the mill talented forward that gets his jollies being an asshole. Now take what you saw in Ott’s hit on Colaiacovo and now soak in what you see from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi with his hit on Columbus’ Jason Chimera.

Again, really nasty business and an unneeded low blow of a hip check and this goes for Steve Ott as well. There’s no need to get that low on a player you’re looking to stop. None at all and the only reason you’re doing it is because you’re being a dick. Ott’s a dick and Scuderi, this one time, is also a dick.

That is, not completely… At least in the eyes of Colin Campbell. Rob Scuderi has already been let off for previous good behavior and received a fine for his hit. Meanwhile, Steve Ott will have a telephone hearing with Colin and the Wheel of Justice to determine how long he’ll be suspended for as the league is looking into his hit on Colaiacovo and not the hit on Crombeen.

wheelofjustice

Far be it from me to try and figure out where, exactly, any of that makes sense because it doesn’t, but I’d like to think that Campbell will at least mention in passing the Crombeen hit because that’s about as dirty as it gets. He leaves his leg out there while Crombeen skates by and there’s absolutely ZERO doubt in my mind that Ott was looking to injure him.

With all of that said…

What in the blue hell is it going to take for there to be any modicum of consistency out of Colin Campbell’s game show studio of an office when it comes to dangerous hits in the game?  Mike Richards gets no suspension for his hit on David Booth.  Tuomo Ruutu gets a three game suspension for his dirty play on noted scumbag Darcy Tucker.  Rob Scuderi gets a fine for his low bridge action on Jason Chimera even in spite of Scuderi having a relatively clean record and now Steve Ott is going to see some sort of action taken against him.  I’d like to assume it’s going to be a suspension but you just don’t know what the Wheel of Justice will turn out.

It shouldn’t be like pulling teeth to get some kind of ground rules set for punishment in this run-by-ninnies league.  Every other league seemingly has their act together and manages to avoid having the smokey room discussions about what to do when their players run afoul of the rules but not the NHL.  One man’s knee-on-knee hit is another man’s sloppy seconds.

There’s zero consistency from the officials on the ice and there’s absolutely zero consistency or accountability from the officials in their offices in Manhattan.  The league is gutless for not trying to set any sort of measuring stick for even the most basic of offenses and apparently doles out suspensions based on some hazy measurement of what a player has done in the past.  It’s time to keep track of these things and keep the fans in the know where everyone stands.  After all, if we all know who the scumbags are and what the dirty hits look like, what the hell is the purpose of paying Colin Campbell too much money to be really terrible at his job when any of us common-folk could do just as good if not better than he can from our couch.

This friggin’ league…

(UPDATE:  Steve Ott suspended two games courtesy of the ever fickle Wheel of Justice)

To Hit Or Not To Hit (Update)

This weekend has brought about the resurrection of the “blows to the head” debate courtesy of two different yet interlinked plays.  Friday night’s game between Colorado and Carolina brings an added twist of what happens when a bad thing happens to Darcy Tucker.

Tucker was taken off the ice on a stretcher and received a concussion on the play as well as 40 stitches.  Ruutu has been slapped with a three-game suspension for the hit.

I’m not going to be a facetious jerk-off about this, I am going to ask this bluntly:  Who, aside from Toronto Maple Leafs fans who still worship the ground Tucker walks on, feels bad for what happened to Darcy Tucker after receiving that vicious, dirty hit from Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu?

Feel free to comment if you do because I’d love to hear why you feel bad for him because in my mind, I find it very difficult to muster up any sort of sympathy for him because when you play the game the way he’s chosen to over his 16 seasons in the NHL, eventually someone’s going to get you.  Sure, you love the hell out of a guy like Tucker when he’s on your team but the second he’s gone you’d like him out of the league one way or the other.  Just ask Michael Peca.

I’m fighting every urge in me to stay quiet about this entire thing because absolutely nothing good will come out of this, but it’s the elephant in the room.  Tuomo Ruutu lays a dirty hit on an unsuspecting player and does disgusting damage to that player… Only issue being that the player he hit is a guy who often times in his career has done the same exact thing numerous times in his career.

Is it justified?  No, certainly not… But I doubt you’d find a jury outside of Denver or Toronto that would convict Tuomo Ruutu for his offense in this case.  What will happen to Ruutu is he will eventually get paid back, more than likely in January when the teams meet again in Raleigh and Tucker will most likely be able to go after him on his own.  You do have to wonder though if hockey karma wasn’t just getting one up on Tucker itself after all the mayhem and ill will he’s brought upon himself over the years for playing the game the way he does.

Everyone has to pay the piper at some point and while Ruutu was completely in the wrong in this situation laying a vile and disgusting hit…  Perhaps the piper was tired of waiting.

Then you’ve got the oranges to Darcy Tucker’s apples on Saturday night when Philadelphia’s Mike Richards laid an absolutely brutal hit on Florida’s David Booth.

David Booth, like Darcy Tucker, was knocked unconscious and carted off the ice on a stretcher. Unlike Tucker’s situation, Richards’ hit on Booth was, by the book, perfectly legal but with great hesitation.  Watch the replay as much as you can stomach and you’ll see that Booth didn’t commit any of the textbook sins that a player who gets destroyed in open ice commits.  He wasn’t skating with his head down all the way, he wasn’t admiring his pass – he was just playing the game – a game that can be violent and dangerous at times, but that doesn’t mean that Mike Richards has to make a hit like that in that situation and both the Panthers and Flyers are doing their best to speak up for themselves, dander up and everything.

For what it’s worth, Richards received a five-minute major for interference which will allow Colin Campbell to spin his Wheel of Justice to see if he wants to send a message for hitting a prone and unsuspecting player or not.  It’s at a time like this where maybe, just maybe, sitting down a high-profile team’s captain down for more than a few games might send the message that the league intends to be serious about protecting its players.

I know it gets mentioned again and again whenever you see a terrifying scene like this unfold where paramedics with stretchers come out to cart a guy off the ice but at some point the NHL needs to jump in to help the players.  Hell, if the NFL has done something in their ultra-fast, ultra-violent sport then perhaps taking a page from their book isn’t the worst plan of action, even if it results in quarterback-like complaints being raised by fans and players.

The problem with the situation with Richards’ hit is that by the books it’s legal and suspending a player for a technically legal hit seems completely backwards.  The problem here is that Booth had no chance to protect himself because by the time he sees Richards coming, he’s already eating his forearm and shoulder.  This is where the NFL tie-in works.  The NFL has start penalizing players in games and fining them after the fact for hitting players who are in a defenseless position.  I’m thinking mostly of wide receivers in this case when safeties or linebackers use the occasion of a pass thrown too high or out of reach to decimate the receiver trying to make the play.

Would it be unreasonable to ask the same of NHL officials?  After all, when the league added the five-minute major for interference it was meant to curb out of the way hits where players would end up injured.  The penalty was semi-correctly called in this instance (it wasn’t textbook interference, but the violence was there), but to say it is a deterrent would be stretching the truth.

Sure the Panthers will get their shot at redemption at Richards a few times this year, but they didn’t even really stand up for Booth tonight so… What then?  The Panthers are now without one of their top players indefinitely and the Flyers will be without their captain for perhaps a few games.  You never know what will happen with that crazy Wheel of Justice.

My problem with it is that Richards has to know better than this, he is the captain of a team after all, even if it is the crazy Flyers.  He has to know that by gunning for a guy in that matter you’re going to be hitting him in the head, unless he’s just a really crappy judge of a guy’s skating speed.  Hitting a moving target is certainly hard enough, but hitting a guy is pretty easy to do when you’re skating as hard as Mike Richards does and he has to know he’ll make a more effective play if he hits him body-on-body rather than body-on-head.  So why does it appear when watching it and taking into effect how it plays out when you’re watching it at full speed that Richards is gunning to hit him up high?  I’m not going to go all Zapruder film on you with this but if Richards’ intent is to hit Booth shoulder-on-shoulder he missed badly.

What does anyone learn out of this anyway?  At this point, nothing at all, just keep playing the same old way because there’s no need to rock the boat.  Both Ruutu and Richards did wrong here, one more obviously so than the other.  One guy did so by the book while the other guy burned the book on Darcy Tucker’s doorstep while the neighbors all are secretly happy he did so since he’s had it coming to him for a while.  Does it make any of this any better?  Not in the least because you’ve got two guys out of action thanks to unnecessary head shots.  Perhaps Mark Messier better get a move on with his new helmet to help players out.

Better yet, perhaps the players can just have a little bit more respect for each other on the ice and not look to kill each other whenever they’re given the opportunity whether it’s by the rules or not.

Update: Mike Richards will not suspended by the NHL for his hit.  With me not having my wits about me and forgetting that Colin Campbell’s son plays for the Panthers, I forgot that he cannot hand down a punishment.  Instead, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly got to spin the Wheel of Justice and it came up “zero games” for Flyers captain Mike Richards.   I’m not entirely surprised by this considering it was a legal check, but chalk it up as another blown opportunity for the league to start sending a message to the players.

How’s That Versus Dispute Going Gary?

Any progress with that little DirecTV-Versus dispute Gary?

Just curious since, you know, the longer this goes the more pissed off fans of teams all over the country will get about this.  I guess this means that the NHL doesn’t care unless playoff games get affected.

Never say that Lil’ Gary never gave you nothing, fans.  Actually, you should say that.  Often.  What is Herr Bettman doing to help out?  Well… He told Empty Netters of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette what he was doing to “help” out.

“Yes I’ve been involved. I’ve been talking to both sides repeatedly. I even tried to mediate a deal to get the games on for last night and DirecTV didn’t seem all that interested in responding and reaching out to Comcast and Versus. Remarkably, I’m pleased to see the ratings were up last night nevertheless. But if you’re a DirecTV subscriber, you’re most immediate recourse, the most satisfaction you can get, the thing you have the most control over is your relationship with DirecTV.”

Wow, great work there.  So rather than work with their corporate broadcast partners at Comcast, Bettman has, instead, opted to go the slam route by proxy considering that Comcast has been busy with newspaper and sign propaganda while DirecTV is busy with propaganda of their own.  Of course, if you’re to believe what Comcast has to say a deal should be easy to broker.

Yes this dispute continues to be all about super rich jerkoffs trying to squeeze more money out of one another in some fashion, but the big jerkoff in all of it is happy to sit on the sidelines while his corporate partner still does all the heavy lifting.

The NHL does a lot of great things for the fversusans including being the one major sport that keeps in touch with the fans via blog allowances for press credentials and Twitter, but in this situation where it boils down to games being watched live the fans are getting boned the hardest and it’s everyone’s fault but the fans.  Comcast wants more money for their subpar network (supposedly), DirecTV wants to tell Comcast to sit on it and rotate (definitely) and Gary Bettman waits for them to play nicely even though that hasn’t even come close to happening as of yet.

If college football season and the NHL being in full swing (both major programming chips for Versus) haven’t gotten Comcast and DirecTV together for an agreement, I sincerely doubt the United Football League is going to patch things together for them for viewership.

So what now Gary?  Fans are getting pissed off, but not quite pissed off enough to force action.   It would seem that it would be your move now but inaction seems to be the correct action, right?  Weak sauce.

bettman-B&WOust This Man

RPI Hockey – We’ve Gone Full-Blown Viral

While I’d like to say I was able to make the trip to Alaska to watch RPI go 0-1-1 (3-0 loss to Anchorage, 1-1 tie against Fairbanks) against the native denizen teams of the 49th state… I can’t.  Instead, I shall point out a couple of things that I find to be completely awesome and demonstrate the wonders and the power of the Internet.

Remember a couple weeks ago when I took a look at the ECAC ahead of time and talked about RPI and why they’ll be better than some might think?  Oh come on, it wasn’t that long ago.  Anyhow, recall this little piece of artwork I posted courtesy of yours truly.

unclesamwantsrpi

Now keep that in mind while I show you this picture I took of RPI goaltender Allen York in Amherst, Massachusetts where RPI lost 5-2.

RPI-UMASS 004

Say… Who is that on the side of the helmet?  That’s right – it’s Uncle Sam telling you to support RPI hockey.

All right, so he’s not saying that directly there, but I don’t care I’m stealing credit nonetheless.  Suffice to say, I’m pretty psyched to see Allen York adopting Troy, NY folk lore to adorn his mask.  That is clutch.

What else is clutch?  Getting visual reports of my artwork being seen around the RPI campus.

Who knows where else things like this might turn up around Troy but if there’s anything that can get people talking it’s more things like this.  The team playing well and winning games will only help add fuel to the viral fire for sure and with Sacred Heart and American International College coming to Troy this weekend… Well, a couple of wins shouldn’t be asking for too much.  Here’s to hoping the Alaska trip didn’t take too much out of them.

Armchair GM: Cutting Up Jackets and Feasting on Wings

A Sunday without NHL hockey is getting to be a bit old, two straight weeks without Sunday games makes Joe a dull boy.  Rather it makes me one that has to focus far too much on the NFL and when you’re a Detroit Lions fan there’s better things to do.

So rather than go into hiding and pretend like my efforts to take down the Western Conference elite of Sports Blog Nation are going all for naught, here I am to go and toot my own horn and pick out some MVPs and some players I’m going to put on notice.

Results from Week 1 vs. The Cannon

fantasy1

While it was just an 8-5 victory, my goaltending chomped on the tailpipe much in thanks to Josh Harding of the Wild getting bombed on and Ray Emery falling from his high horse after earning a shutout in his first start.  Marty Turco was steady but uninspiring from a fantasy standpoint.

Offensively, Drew Doughty was my main man providing tremendous value for a late-round selection tallying a goal and four assists during the first week of play.  James Neal of the Stars carried the goal scoring trophy for the team nailing down three goals.  Brendan Morrow added two goals and three assists and Sidney Crosby showed why it was awesome that he fell into my lap at fourth overall scoring four goals including a game winner.

Who’s on notice after the first week?  Alex Tanguay who scored just one assist (granted it was on the power play) and landing only three shots on goal.  Paul Martin of the Devils finds himself on the hot seat as well tabulating just one shot on goal, an even +/- rating  and one assist (also on the power play).  Josh Harding in his one start for the week managed to earn a 6.01 GAA and a .739 save percentage with only 17 saves.  Ouch babe.

The Cannons were lead by Evgeni Malkin (2g 5a 16 PIM 12 sog) and Alex Burrows (3g 1a 6PIM 23 sog).  Steve Mason and Cam Ward carried the goaltending efforts earning two wins a piece and putting up mostly nice GAA and save percent numbers while seeing a ton of action in the first week.

All in all, a very pleasing effort for the Frontiersmen but that goaltending has to get better.

Results from Week 2 vs. Winging It In Motown

fantasy2

The trend keeps on keepin’ on.  Another eight victories and only losing out on four against the Red Wings laden squad.  This is when it’s fun to not be a homer.  No, not Tomas Holmstrom.

Since you didn’t get to see how the squads shaped up before, here’s the comparison (click to enlarge).

fantasy2a

As you can see, there was one transaction made by me.  Josh Harding got the boot already in favor of Scott Clemmensen.  Harding has been lit up in two starts for Minnesota and well, if I’m going to have a backup goalie that starts occasionally, I’d prefer it to be a guy who doesn’t have an astronomical goals against average and a minuscule save percentage.  Call me old fashioned.  As it stood, the only thing I struck out on this time were wins.  Turco had a stellar week including a shutout and Emery, while mediocre, wasn’t overly brutal in his one start.

Offensively, the Frontiersmen were beastly although they enjoy the company of the minus rating.  Alfredsson, Knuble and Neal all ponied up the assists and Brendan Morrow did the heavy lifting with the goal scoring.  You really can’t complain when you get consistent offensive work like that each week.  What I can complain about is how miserable Alex Tanguay is.  I know the offense in Tampa Bay is struggling (as will happen when you basically have one scoring line and nothing else) but tallying zero points and a -3 for the week is a good way to end up on a fantasy managers bad side… Especially when you have one of his other teammates setting up at center for you.

Vinny Lecavalier has yet to score a goal and while the three assists this past week were nice, the -4 is a mega kick in the nuts.  Vinny will get his goals eventually, but the pain of his lack of success is being felt in places other than central Florida.  This isn’t to say that Vinny is officially on notice, but it’s just plain old frustrating.

Who is on notice?  Paul Martin of the Devils.   Zeroes across the board and three shots on goal.  At least get kicked out of a game or something man.  Defensemen are thin pickings in the league as it is, but its frustrating to not get anything from a guy that is getting enough playing time to make things happen.

That said, the whining ends there.  +/- is a bit of a crap-shoot category and it can fluctuate from week to week so there’s no real use in trying to plan against that, especially when you can get a lot more out of every single other category possible by playing a guy any given night.  I would like to see the goal scoring pick up though.  You hear me Vinny?

This week I will have my duel with Nathan from Hockey Wilderness, one of a handful of in-house throwdowns.  After reminding Nathan about his team, suffice to say he hates his Yahoo auto-drafted squad.  I’m not about to start counting wins here, but confidence is running high.  Nathan’s “State of Mediocre” pulled a rather Wild-like showing this past week getting shutout by Defending Big D 11-0.

Oh yes, confidence is VERY high.

Thanks For Playing: Minnesota Wild

It’s with a heavy heart and loads of regret that I am choosing the Minnesota Wild as the fifth and final team of my season’s over series.  No, it’s not just because I occasionally moonlight over at SBNs Hockey Wilderness (I warned them already tough times might be ahead).  I like just about everything the Wild did in the offseason.   The problem here, however, is that it’s going to take a bit of time to right the ship in St. Paul and get away from the “make the most with the least” way of operating the team did under Doug Risebrough and Jacques Lemaire.

Lemaire certainly had his hands full as Risebrough got seemingly lazier as the years moved along in Minnesota and there’s only so much you can do when you’ve got four lines of grinders and one scoring threat who was out of the lineup too often to be counted on.  Last year you could sense that Lemaire had had it with Risebrough’s inability to add actual help to the lineup and Minnesota’s bare bones farm system didn’t allow Lemaire to pick off anyone overtly worthwhile from Houston in the AHL.

gaboriknyrWild fans both love and hate this picture. No, they’re not bi-polar.

Lemaire left the Wild and shortly thereafter Wild owner Craig Leipold let Risebrough walk away.  In their stead, Chuck Fletcher was tapped to be the new GM and Todd Richards was plucked from San Jose to coach the team.  Out went the neutral zone trap and in with an aggressive attacking system.  The problem with this is that the Wild were built to fit Lemaire’s system and scrapping an entire team isn’t logical nor possible.  You can guess where this is headed.

While the start of the season has seen at least one huge highlight from the Wild, a 4-3 overtime comeback victory against hated Anaheim, other games have shown there are reasons to be more concerned (loss to Los Angeles, loss to San Jose). That’s not to say this team is a lost cause, they’re not,  but they are definitely one in the midst of transition and one who you will get to see learn their new system as games and the season moves along.

The positives for the Wild start with their soul cleansing – parting ways with oft-injured high-scoring phenom Marian Gaborik whose injuries last season set Wild fans off for the last time and made them all extremely happy that Gaborik turned down a Titanic-sized contract offer the season before from Doug Risebrough to stay in Minnesota.  Out went Gaborik and in comes Martin Havlat to shoulder the load on offense and give rising star Mikko Koivu someone to work with on the first line.  Petr Sykora joined up late to the party and will help give Martin Havlat somhavlateone to goof around with on the ice and bring about some insta-chemistry thanks to both of them being Czechs.

As for the rest of the forwards there are a lot of question marks about what their play in a new system will be able to provide.  The prevailing thought is that with the leash Lemaire kept everyone apparently under being gone now, some players who showed offensive potential might be able to break out.  Players like Pierre-Marc Bouchard, James Sheppard and Benoit Pouliot will have the chance to show that they’re worth something for the team and have the ability to be productive offensive players.  Older players like Andrew Brunette know their roles Owen Nolan and speedy guys like Antti Miettinen could flourish in Richards’ new system… But all that learning needs to be done on the fly while trying to win games and with a defense that leaves a bit to be desired.

Sure, Marek Zidlicky was a fine point producer and power play quarterback type of defenseman with the Nashville Predators but his new gig in Minnesota has made some Wild fans angst-filled as his defensive liabilities were apparent last year and now its feared they’ll only get worse as the team opens up the game.  What they do have working here is Brent Burns who is one of the better defensemen in the league you’ll never hear about.  He’s a great puck mover, has some solid offensive skill and can defend decently to boot.  As for the other parts here, it’s a bit of a patch work.  Nick Schultz and Jamie Sifers are still young with promise which is a good spin off to talking about Kim Johnsson who is not so young but still doing decently along the blue line.  Shane Hnidy and John Scott are big bruisers, especially Scott at 6’8″, and Greg Zanon (free agent acquisition from Nashville) is the prototypical defensive defenseman.  Scott is the defenseman this year who has drawn the unenviable assignment of occasionally playing on the fourth forward line to play the part of enforcer while Derek Boogaard is out with an injury.  Just the fact that John Scott is seen as somehow appropriate in this role as a forward is a bit disturbing and speaks to where the depth on this team lies… Not that Derek Boogaard is a game-breaker in the first place, but still.

Goaltending, the Wild’s asset under Lemaire, is now up for debate to see if Niklas Backstrom is a system goaltender or the real deal.  Wild fans are praying that he’s the real deal as former GM Doug Risebrough’s parting shot into unemployment was granting Backstrom a potentially short-term crippling contract paying him $6 million per season for the next four years.  If Backstrom doesn’t show that he’s the Vezina-nominated man between the pipes, the Wild are going to be cursing the name Risebrough until well after the contract expires.  Backstrom is a good goalie but he will certainly have moments where he’s hung out to dry by guys unwittingly leaving him alone.  All of this same lingo applies to backup Josh Harding who, despite being a restricted free agent in the off-season, stuck it out in Minnesota getting a nice bump in pay and providing Minnesota with a potential fall back option in case Backstrom fails.

What I give the Wild thumbs up for here is making changes to fit in with the way the NHL is played now and for realizing that if things stayed the way they were, things were going to continue sliding downhill even in the face of seemingly being close to the playoffs (last year’s Wild team was two points and two wins out of the eighth spot last year).  This year they’ll have to take their lumps and build character and build off the wins they do get.

Learning lessons is difficult to do and fans in Minnesota are going to HAVE to be patient with this team and realize that the previous administration put them in this hole by scouting young players poorly and not being properly active in the free agent market.  Chuck Fletcher has already done a world of good in that respect, losing out on Saku Koivu because he didn’t want to steal the spotlight from his younger brother and landing Petr Sykora to help give a boost to the offense.

A championship won’t be won in one off-season in St. Paul, but should coach Todd Richards show a commitment to playing the up-tempo attacking brand of hockey that has become more of the norm across the league and the fans continue to show their immense support and love for this franchise, the free agents will come because playing that brand of hockey in a place that will  live and die with their team while supporting the hell out of them is the greatest thing in the world.  It’s just going to take a little time is all and this year is going to be the “darkness before the dawn” for Wild fans.

Have faith, but for now… Have a seat on the bench, the playoffs won’t be there for you this year.

Thanks For Playing: Ottawa Senators

I get that I’ve been dragging my ass on these but my PR-friendly reason for going slow on these is so I can look at all these teams with the magnifying glass I need to to make sure I don’t make a boneheaded choice.  Of course the three teams I’ve profiled already have had impressive starts of their own (Colorado in particular going 2-0 so far) so perhaps I’m just yet another Internet blowhard that doesn’t know anything.

Naaaaah.

I’m to the point now where the final two teams I’m going to look at I do with severe reservations because they had so much off-season upheaval that it’s tricky to tell which way they’re going to go and how they’ll respond to things.  In the case of the Ottawa Senators, they’ve done what they can to rid themselves of a cancerous presence in Dany Heatley and despite one failed trade with Edmonton that would’ve provided a very nice return package, they sent him away to San Jose for a couple of players who very well could help make the Sharks look really bad for dumping them.

There’s a lot of qualifying statements in there and that’s a fun way for people to cover their asses when making supposedly bold statements, so instead of doing that I’ll just come out and say it.  The Ottawa Senators aren’t making the playoffs without Dany Heatley this year.  Of course, they didn’t make the playoffs last year WITH him so that statement isn’t as bold-sounding as it should be, but I digress.  Coming over from the Sharks were steady goal-scorer Milan Michalek and the enigmatic Jonathan Cheechoo.  We know what the Sens are getting in Michalek, a 20-30 goal scorer that functions well on the power play.  In Cheechoo, that’s more of a question than Dany Heatley’s ability to deal with a tough head coach.

dany_heatley8So long, douchebag! Oh… Now we can’t score.

For three seasons Cheechoo was a goal scoring fiend notching 28 in 2003-04, 56 in 05-06 and 37 in 06-07.  Then something happened, as he netted only 23 the following season and a mere 12 last season all while being supplanted as Joe Thornton’s right wing man by youngster Devin Setoguchi.  So which Cheechoo are the Senators getting from the Sharks?  The guy who was a budding Brett Hull or Sylvain Turgeon redux?  Some have theorized that Cheechoo needed the change of scenery but let’s face facts, if anyone was feeling pressure to perform in San Jose, Cheechoo was pretty low on that totem pole underneath Thornton, Marleau, Nabokov and two different head coaches.

At least in Ottawa he gets to join a team with another enigmatic centerman in Jason Spezza and much like in San Jose, Spezza is really all the Senators have that passes for a playmaking center.  This does not bode well for the Senators.  Mike Fisher is a nice defensive centerman capable of occasionally making plays but asking him to be the scoring #2 guy is like asking for Carrie Underwood to be your girlfriend.

sensshoulderThe “O” stands for 0% chance of making the playoffs.

Er, nevermind.

Along the wings, the Senators still have captain Daniel Alfredsson and signed Alex Kovalev in the offseason to help create two lines of solid-enough scoring talent (provided Cheechoo can shake off the cobwebs).  Nick Foligno and Chris Neil are solid depth pieces and Chris Kelly is an all-right checking center.  The rest of the forwards here toss out names like Peter Regin, Shean Donovan, the even more enigmatic Ryan Shannon and the man with a name that sounds like he should be the villain in a teen comedy, Jesse Winchester.  Outside of the all-worldly talent of Alfredsson, Spezza and the temperamental Kovalev, most of this teams offense is surrounded with question marks.  That’s just a minor cause for concern here though as the major concerns come from the defense and elsewhere.

On the blueline, the Senators trot out a top six lead by the steady and solid work of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov.  From there, things get dicey as duties fall to former Islander Chris Campoli, big shot and power play guru Filip Kuba, and a choice of youngsters like Erik Karlsson, Alexander Picard and tough guy Matt Carkner.  In goal, the Sens bust out Columbus castoff Pascal Leclaire, who lost his job thanks to injuries and Steve Mason as well as farmhand turned into last season’s starter Brian Elliott (from the University of Wisconsin).  While neither of these guys are named Martin Gerber, the lack of  faith in goaltending has to be stuck in the back  of coach Cory Clouston’s mind.  Hell, it’s got to be stuck at the front of his mind too.

But hey, at least Dany Heatley isn’t around anymore to sulk and be a huge distraction, since that’s where all the team’s problems on the ice stemmed from.

…Cough…

What the Senators have here is a team that cannot afford an injury to Alfredsson, Kovalev or Spezza.  Without Spezza this is a team without a playmaking center and have virtually no one to pass to the wingers who actually can score.  Yeah, I know, injuries are capable of crippling any team at any time, I get that.  What hampers Ottawa is that even without Heatley and his ego, attitude, and monstrous contract, the team is still pretty hard up against the cap.  With this, defenseman Brian Lee was sent to Binghamton of the AHL to keep his contract off the docket ($1.275 million worth) and having to replace anyone who is injured becomes more of  a chore, especially if they’re not long-term injured reserve (LTIR) eligible.    Let’s also just say that what the Sens have available to them in the AHL isn’t exactly appealing.

Ilya Zubov is a young center with potential, but he’s apparently been sent to the AHL for the last time (at least for his liking) and Martin St. Pierre was signed in the offseason to help out up the middle just in case, but to me he strikes me as a player who is really good in the AHL and just can’t get over the hump in the NHL.

Yuck.

Someday the Senators are going to get out of salary cap purgatory and be able to replenish their stock and someday they’re also going to figure out how to get better at drafting because having homegrown third and fourth liners is nice… But it’s not going to win championships and for the time being, it’s not going to even get them in the playoffs.  Canada’s capital city is going to have to settle for being the tackling dummy for the Leafs and target practice for the Canadiens this year.

Thanks for playing Ottawa, the Islanders, Avalanche and Coyotes await you at the first tee.

Armchair GM: Week One

This is a look at my first week fantasy match-up in the SBN Invitational Fantasy Hockey League where yours truly under the guise of being a part-time Minnesota Wild blogger gets to taken on the elite members of SBN’s Western Conference.  I’ll be making this a weekly feature here and will keep mentioning this until you all get the hint.

This week’s match-up runs from October 1-10th thanks to the Thursday start of the season.  As I teased you all last time when I previewed the season and showed off my team, the link I provided to you to check out the league is not so helpful to those of you who aren’t in the league.

My bad.

This week my opponent are the folks from The Cannon, the Columbus Blue Jackets blog.

hockeywilderness-largethecannon

These results are through this weekend’s games and since there were none today, that makes things relatively even… I guess.  The competition between Wild Frontiersmen and Columbus Cannons goes until Saturday’s games.  How do the teams stack up?  Click on the photo to enlarge it and see what the teams look like without straining your eyes.

fantasy1a

Whod’ve thunk it that Ray Emery would be helping me in the goaltending so nicely?  Same for Marty Turco.  Going up against the Cannons with Ward and necessary homer pick Steve Mason is a tall order to say the least but the Bruins helped rough up Cam Ward well on Saturday night making his road to recovery the rest of the week a bit more difficult.

The Cannons are well represented with Blue Jackets and may be the most homeriffic team in the league, but when those guys are Derrick Brassard and Nikita Filatov and Steve Mason… That’s not so bad.  Outside of that though, the offense isn’t particularly terrifying to me from a fantasy standpoint.  After all, Mark Recchi hasn’t been a good pick in fantasy hockey since 2000.  Matt Stajan had a great first game for the Maple Leafs.  The Cannons are loaded on defense but, unlike in the real NHL, defense doesn’t win championships.

As for my merry band of secret lovers, Sid the Kid has done his thing reasonably well and I shake my fist at his shootout-winning goal against the Islanders not counting as a game-winning goal for fantasy purposes.  That would’ve made for a nice bonus.  Speaking of nice bonuses, how about that James Neal in Dallas?  He impressed me last year and got out of the gates fast Saturday night scoring both regulation goals in Dallas’ 3-2 shootout loss against Nashville.

I’ll also allow myself a little time to pat myself on the back for picking Drew Doughty, even though he may end up being a minus machine for me, notching a goal and an assist in the Kings’ 6-3 loss to Phoenix on Saturday night does this Armchair GM proud for a day.

What will I kick myself for?  Not putting a little more faith in Dan Cleary or Brendan Morrison on Saturday but with all teams playing, sacrifices had to be made.  We’ll see if this costs me a point in the goals category this week as both Cleary and Morrison notched goals on Saturday.

As for what to expect for the rest of the week… Like I know?!  It’s the first week of the season so having any expectations at all is silly, but let’s just hope things keep on… keep on truckin’ right now because this is a nice start.  I’ll wrap things up next weekend with a recap of the contest and a preview of next week’s fantasy face-off with the Detroit Red Wings bloggers at  Wingin’ It In Motown.