Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

06/10/2009

A Break For Reality: Good-Bye to Nathan Marsters

I know this is the day when I should be wrapping up Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals and getting psyched along with everyone else about a Game 7, but during last night’s game news came down that probably doesn’t hit on most of your radars about the passing of someone who I had the pleasure to watch quite a bit here at home and monitor his career from afar.

In the heights of Game 6, I broke the news on Twitter that former RPI goalie standout and 2000 Los Angeles Kings 5th Round pick Nathan Marsters was killed in a car accident. This morning, the details of the accident became available to me and it’s an even bigger gut-punch to read the information.


Nathan Marsters at RPI (courtesy of rpihockey.net)

I can’t say that I knew Nathan personally and I only know him as someone on the ice who always impressed me with his playing ability for teams that sometimes failed to support him with the goals needed to win. A good friend of mine blogging for the St. Cloud Times offers a a better and more personalized view of Nathan Marsters.

It pained me to try to reach him as best as I could while he’s on the move supporting our country in Iraq and proved why sometimes technology while helpful doesn’t offer the personal touch necessary to pass along terrible news.

Marsters was a four-year starter during his time in Troy, NY with the RPI Engineers, a credit to his game. At 6’4″ 200 he was a big, lanky goaltender and presented an intimidating figure on which opposing shooters had to deal with.

His tenure in Troy saw him put up stellar numbers three out of his four seasons (his junior year being the lone hiccup) and his senior season he saved the best for last finishing with a 21-13-1 record with a .922 save percentage and a 2.15 goals against, earning career marks in wins and goals against that year.

After college, Nathan became one of the many uncredited unknowns that move on to journeyman careers in the minor leagues hoping to hone his game and catch on in the AHL and eventually the NHL.

Round about 2006, Marsters got the call while playing for the Portland Pirates, then a Mighty Ducks of Anaheim affiliate. It would be a brief moment and there wouldn’t be any time seen on the ice, but the Ducks thought enough of him to call him up while Jean-Sebastien Giguere was out with an injury and Marsters dressed as the backup goalie for Game 1 of Anaheim’s Western Quarterfinal game against Calgary.

One cup of coffee had and in playoff time no-less, not a bad credit for the résumé. That 2005-2006 season in Portland for the Pirates, he went 23-9-2 with a 3.10 GAA and .900 save percentage. Marsters would get one more turn with Portland the follow season but for only a few games. From there, he moved on to the ECHL and this past season saw some work in the German Professional League playing in nine games for the Krefeld Penguins.

That’s the rough road of being a professional hockey player and the part of Nathan’s story that really brings this all home for me. He was a guy just about my age trying to do whatever it is that he can to make it stick and to make it count and maybe catch lightning in a bottle and in one, horrible instant it’s done and over with.

For Nathan, he was trying to be one of those guys that I hope to someday write about on the big scene and going anywhere he could just to keep playing.

To keep trying.

Hearing of this loss has really thrown me for a loop for a handful of reasons which would be immensely disrespectful to bring up here. For now though, it’s time to remember one of hockey’s fallen and honor him.

10/08/2008

Thanks For Playing – Part 5: Los Angeles

The final team in my series that can pack it in and call it a year and wait for 2009-2010 I really don’t want them to go away. I’m going to enjoy watching them whenever they might land on my television.

Unlike the other four teams where maybe there could be hope for the future, in this case, the Los Angeles Kings have obvious signs that the future will be good and it will be enjoyable and they will be a force to be reckoned with. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

Anze Kopitar: 32 G 45 A 77 PTS
Alexander Frolov: 23 G 44 A 67 PTS
Dustin Brown: 33 G 27 A 60 PTS
Patrick O’Sullivan: 22 G 31 A 53 PTS

Do you remember what place in the NHL this team finished last year? Second to last. They had the #2 pick in the Entry Draft and continued their road to filling the gaps in the defense – a defense that was so porous they allowed 266 goals last year, third worst in the NHL (Atlanta 272, Tampa Bay 267). With the second pick they chose Drew Doughty from the Guelph Storm out of the Ontario Hockey League. He alongside with University of Michigan stud Jack Johnson are the building blocks on which the backline of this team are going to be built upon.

That said, these are it for the highlights for this team. What’s more incredible about the Kings is the fiscal responsibility that General Manager Dean Lombardi set in place for the Kings. They only recently signed Patrick O’Sullivan and they’ve got their eyes on the future despite having oodles of cap space and a glaring need to improve along the blueline and in goal.

Since even I can’t sniff out these answers, I’ve gone to the source I trust best – another sarcastic hockey die-hard by the name of Rudy Kelly. You may know Rudy from his work at the Battle of California blog where they do triple-duty following the Ducks, Sharks and Kings.

I bothered Rudy with a list of questions I demanded answers for or it would be time for some regicide. He didn’t answer and only said I’d be doing him a favor but when I told him that I wouldn’t be able to resurrect him in a couple of seasons when the Kings are stomping everyone’s asses in, he relented and offered up the information as he best knows how to dish it out.


HockeyJoe: I never thought I’d live in an age when
a Los Angeles team not named the Clippers was trying to be financially frugal but we know Phil Anschutz is rolling in money. Why are they insistent on staying as close to the salary floor as possible while seemingly hurting relationships with guys like Patrick O’Sullivan?

Rudy Kelly: Rich Hammond (the awesome beat reporter for the LA Daily News)
stated early in training camp that the Kings had a
$40 million cash budget
for this season.

There’s two ways you can think about that: either they’re going cheap and the Kings are screwed, or they’re saving money in a lost year so they can spend more once they make the playoffs and are all awesome and rainbows come out of my ass.

I’m not sure if the whole Patrick O’Sullivan thing is really related; it’s dangerous policy to just throw around money and rationalize it by saying, “Who cares how much money we spend, we’re not near the cap.” Next season the Kings have Kopitar, Johnson, Ted Purcell, Brian Boyle and Matt Greene up for free agency; they’re going to need money. Plus, if Marian Gaborik wants to sign here we need that money too. (Hi Marian, love your work.)

HockeyJoe: The Kings seem to have very good scouting and are
seemingly teeming with youth at every position – why haven’t we seen more and
better veterans mixed in with these guys to become more competitive right now
rather than biding their time towards the future? Selling guys on Los Angeles
and Hollywood and starlets galore can’t be that hard….can
it?

Rudy Kelly: I think the reason good free agents haven’t been signing here is threefold:

One, the Kings are terrible. Sure, LA has hot chicks and nice beaches, but guys ultimately want to win a championship and they realize the Kings are ways away from doing that.

Two, the Kings probably aren’t offering long terms.
Like I said, the Kings have a lot of good young guys coming up and they need
financial flexibility that doesn’t afford for big free agents. A guy like, say,
Jeff Finger isn’t going to sign with the Kings if he knows that in a year or two
the Kings will probably trade him to another team in a terrible city like, well,
any other place besides LA.

Three, Dean Lombardi isn’t stupid. I can’t really think
of a free agent signing this off-season that I actually felt was fair value. I
would have been pissed if the Kings had signed Ron Hainsey or Brian Campbell to
their ridiculous deals. Dean Lombardi has said he offered deals to Chris Drury
and Zdeno Chara but they just weren’t enough. I can’t say I blame him for
that.

HockeyJoe: Offensively, there are guys on this team that will pile up points (Brown, Frolov, Kopitar) and outsiders will look at them and say, “These guys shouldn’t be this bad – what gives?” What do you tell these apparent fantasy hockey gurus?

Rudy Kelly: The Kings are a pretty dynamic offensive team: they finished 12th in goals scored, which is pretty amazing when you consider they played 24 games against Dallas, Anaheim and San Jose, 3 of the top 6 defensive teams in the NHL last season. They should only get better this season with a new 2nd-line center (Jarrett Stoll) and more youth in the bottom six.

The problem, of course, is the defense. Our best defenseman is 21 year-old
Jack Johnson. Eek. New additions Matt Greene and Sean O’Donnell were basically
#6 defensemen on their old teams and 18 year-old Drew Doughty is going to be
their fourth defenseman. A bigger problem is that Johnson, Greene and O’Donnell
all take a lot of penalties, which is going to leave them short-handed a lot
more than they were last season.

Jason Labarbera is a good goaltender on a bad team, but he’s proven a
little inconsistent and injury-prone over the past few years. I think the new
schedule change will help the Kings because they’ll play more non-division
games, but those 24 games against the brutal Pacific are going to kill
them.

HockeyJoe: If you were the GM: What kind of deal do you give Patrick O’Sullivan? Would Schneider have been a pick up? Khabibulin? What move would you make right now to get this team into the playoff hunt today?
(note: O’Sullivan was signed an hour after this e-mail correspondence was sent)


Rudy Kelly: Overall I’m really stoked (that’s SoCal slang, baby) about Patrick O’Sullivan’s deal. He ended up getting a 3-year, $2.95 million dollar deal, a deal that pays him while providing a lot of flexibility for the Kings going into next season. By the end of the deal the Kings will know who has panned out from their prospect pool and should have Alex Frolov either tied down or shipped off. I think O’Sullivan will eventually price himself off the Kings, but he’s a good young player that can play all three forward positions and I’ll enjoy watching him the next few years.

I would have loved to have Mathieu Schneider on the Kings and was
disappointed the Kings didn’t get him. I think they could have gotten him easily because Schneider wanted to stay in Southern California but ultimately the Kings couldn’t afford him. It is what is is. If I had wanted to get the Kings into the playoffs this off-season, I would have traded for Schneider and either Jay McKee from the Blues or Adrian Aucoin from the Flames. Both could have been had for cheap because they’re teams were up against the cap.

I wouldn’t have gone for Khabibulin because I actually think he’s about as good as Labarbera at this point in his career. The Kings aren’t that far off. They have a franchise player, a solid young defensive core, a great supporting cast, and a 3 good young goaltenders in the pipeline.

The Kings have made the stew; now it just needs to simmer for about 2
years. Of course, it does me no good because I’ll be dead by then, but I’m sure my loved ones will be celebrating.


This is where all of us folks in the blogosphere and the hockey writing world all agree. There’s a ton to like in Los Angeles and there’s a zillion reasons to want to get in on the Kings bandwagon because it’s going to fill up fast.

Even Mike Brophy from Sportsnet Ontario knows what’s up:

“So let me say this then: the Kings could miss the playoffs and may very
well finish last in the West (I think the Islanders have the best shot at
finishing last overall), but I’d rather be the Los Angeles Kings than the
Toronto Maple Leafs, or the Islanders, or the St. Louis Blues, or the Vancouver
Canucks, or the Colorado Avalanche.

…When I look at the Kings I see a team that has the potential to take a
giant step forward very soon as long as ownership continues to show patience. GM
Dean Lombardi has been very calculating in turning this team around and he
understands there are no quick fixes in today’s NHL.”

The Kings are going to end up being a very good and very dangerous team.

Just not this year.

Like Rudy mentioned, their division is brutal with Anaheim, Dallas and San Jose. Mix in what should be a better Phoenix team and the Kings are going to take their lumps hard, especially with what figures to be suspect goaltending with Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg (and Jonathan Quick mixed in too) made to look even worse thanks to very suspect defense.

I’m looking forward to watching the Kings play. They’re going to score goals. They’re going to play up-tempo. They’re going to frustrate teams with their offensive talent. They’re also not going to be able to stop anyone else from scoring either – firewagon hockey at its best, you just can’t be a Kings fan and totally warm up to it since they’re going to end up on the short end of the stick more often than not.

They’re going to stink this year. The entire Western Conference is brutally difficult. Like I pointed out already, the only other true patsy is in St. Louis. Fear not L.A. fans, you’re only a couple of years away from getting to stand on the top of the mountain and saying…

06/10/2008

Looking Ahead — Also, What It Takes to Upset John Tortorella

Fools! The whole lot of you! Hockey does not rest – in fact, outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the week or two leading up to the trading deadline, the start of the NHL offseason is wrought with drama.

First of all, some coaches are finding homes while others are righteously being shown the door. There are rumors abounding that Barry Melrose will return to coaching in Tampa Bay after being away from it for nearly 15 years after being let go by the Los Angeles Kings, just go visit ESPN.com’s NHL section to see evidence of that.

One guy I’m keeping my eye on, and for purely selfish reasons, is John Tortorella. Back in late September of 2001, I was able to cover a pre-season matchup between the Lightning and Blue Jackets in Syracuse, NY and one of the guys we were able to get an interview with was Coach Tortorella. My partner in crime on this broadcast, Dom, and I were thrilled to get this opportunity and Torts was a guy that we were excited to talk to.

At the time, Vinny Lecavalier was mired in a contract squabble with the front office and it was looking like he was going to miss the beginning of the season. Not good if you’re a young and ready to move team like the Lightning. They’d just acquired Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin St. Louis was just about to break out after coming to Tampa from Calgary.

What transpires during our pre-game interview goes down in the annals of time as being perhaps the most uncomfortable couple of minutes ever. As you know, Tortorella is intense – in a big way – just ask anyone who’s played goal for him. After a couple of light introductory questions, I fire away asking about their first round draft pick. After all, it’s pre-season and this is the place where you would see a highly-touted kid. Problem was, the highly-touted kid they picked was Russian centerman Alexander Svitov…who was still in Russia. Torts set me straight and said he’d only seen the kid on tape but they’re high on him and hope to see him next season.

Oops.

Dom, being the ever diligent friend, ends up bailing me out by asking Torts about Lecavalier and his holdout. Visibly bothered by the question, Torts gruffly answers stating that he’s not in camp where he should be and that he only cares about the guys that bothered to come to camp in the first place.

Suffice to say, the interview was wrapped up quickly after that doubleheader of d’oh. Dom and I tag-teamed to put John Tortorella in a bad mood before the game even started. Awesome.

I’ve been a Tortorella fan before getting to talk to him and I greatly enjoyed seeing him win the Stanley Cup in 2004 as well as getting the nod to coach Team USA this year for the World Championships. He’ll get another job, he’ll go somewhere where there’s no questions about goaltending. He’ll go somewhere with a wily pack of veterans with a ton of talent. There’s only one team that fits that bill right now – and that is San Jose.

The convenience of the Internet and being able to tack onto what you’ve already written allows me to link you to a story out of Tampa and Vinny Lecavalier reflecting upon his years under John Tortorella and speaking a lot about that tumultuous start to the 2001-2002 season to which Dom and I paid witness to firsthand. Who doesn’t love the Internet?!

Elsewhere, older players are hanging it up.

Among them, Dominik Hasek, Mattias Norstrom and apparently Trevor Linden as well. One guy not hanging them up is Mats Sundin – and you better believe that with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the center of any action around him, especially with Mats as an unrestricted free agent, that all the cameras will be trained on what Sundin decides to do.

Of course, the early rumors surround Team Sweden of North America in Detroit lurking waiting to give Mats the shot at a Cup he so desires. While Sundin would no doubt fit in goldenly with the Red Wings, the big question is what kind of deal will Sundin ask for and how bad does he want to win. He could surely command a fat contract out of someone with the space, but a team like Detroit will not dump a ton of money on Sundin for a year or two.

Toronto will be hot on his case and expect a public relations fiasco if Sundin signs elsewhere. After all, it was Sundin who asked to not be traded at the deadline last year and most of the Maple Leafs fans lauded him endlessly for sticking with the team. Trick now is that if Sundin bolts elsewhere now, Toronto gets nothing in return for him whereas at the deadline, a lofty sum could’ve been brought in return. Either Mats ends up an idiotic saint or he’ll be the pariah of Toronto (wrongly) for going somewhere else – especially if it ends up being Detroit.

We’re also just a week or two away from the NHL Entry Draft where Steven Stamkos will be the top pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning GM Jay Feaster dealt away Brad Richards to Dallas at the trade deadline this past season, and by winning the NHL Draft Lottery, he gets to draft his replacement in Stamkos. Stamkos is the real deal and he’ll get to score a ton in the NHL when he arrives – and given the situation the Lightning find themselves in, crippled by bad cap management and huge contracts, Stamkos may get the opportunity to jump into the lineup right away. He’ll make a great addition to a team starving for scoring talent beyond their first line.

The Los Angeles Kings pick second, and they really ought to feel a sense of relief that they’re not in the position to pick Stamkos or not because this team is loaded with young forward talent already and have goaltending on the way in Stephen Bernier but their defensive corps are severely lacking and after Stamkos, this is a defensemen draft.

The Kings and GM Dean Lombardi will have their choice of any of these Canadian junior defensemen: Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo who happens to be the son of former Whalers and Penguins goaltender Frank Pietrangelo. All of these guys rank out high on the NHL Central Scouting Board and all of them would be welcome in Los Angeles. Remember, the Kings were starting retreads like Jon Klemm for better parts of the season – and they desperately need other defensemen to surround young blue-chip stud Jack Johnson.

There’s so much going on and so much left to happen – it’s just funny to think that some people actually put hockey out of sight and out of mind once summer is underway.

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