Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

10/30/2009

RPI Hockey Weekend: Rivals, Black Knights and Masked Men

Filed under: college hockey,RPI,RPI hockey,Union College — Joe Yerdon @ 4:18 PM

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.

10/29/2009

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.

fantasy3

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:

fantasy3a

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.

10/19/2009

RPI Hockey – We’ve Gone Full-Blown Viral

Filed under: college hockey,RPI,RPI hockey — Joe Yerdon @ 7:01 PM

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.

10/13/2009

Thanks For Playing: Minnesota Wild

Filed under: Doug Risebrough,Marian Gaborik,Minnesota Wild,Nik Backstrom — Joe Yerdon @ 2:37 AM

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.

10/06/2009

Thanks For Playing: Ottawa Senators

Filed under: Daniel Alfredsson,Dany Heatley,Jonathan Cheechoo,Ottawa Senators — Joe Yerdon @ 6:44 PM

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.

10/04/2009

Armchair GM: Week One

Filed under: Columbus Blue Jackets,Fantasy Hockey — Joe Yerdon @ 8:08 PM

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.

10/01/2009

Thanks For Playing: Phoenix Coyotes

Filed under: Gary Bettman,Jerry Moyes,Jim Balsillie,Phoenix Coyotes — Joe Yerdon @ 1:26 AM

I feel bad about writing this one.   I like the Coyotes.  I like Coyotes fans (and yes, they do have fans).  I like what GM Don Maloney has done on what amounts to be a bare-bones budget/being under Gary Bettman’s thumb.  Maloney has also been able to do pretty well in the draft for the Coyotes and it shows with their current lineup.

All that aside, the ownership fiasco that’s been covered ad nauseum elsewhere across the Internet and semi-ad nauseum here has derailed any kind of happy thoughts about this franchise.  Of course, on the eve of the start of the season, things have come to a head and Judge Redfield T. Baum has declared that both Jim Balsillie’s and the NHL’s bids for the team are no good and have thrown out Balsillie completely by saying that the NHL has every right to decide who they want to own a team.gretzkycoach

With that fiasco aside for the time being, it’s time for the team to hit the ice and the product they’ll hit the ice with isn’t overly terrible especially now that one of the people more responsible for the lack of forward development is out of the way, part of the collateral damage of the mess with Jerry Moyes.  That person being former head coach Wayne Gretzky.

Gretzky was a no-show for training camp this year, leaving assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson in charge.  Also tossed out was goaltending coach Grant Fuhr and replaced with former Hartford Whalers super goalie Sean Burke.  Former Blue Jackets coach Dave King was brought in to be an assistant coach to someone and then finally a foregone conclusion was reached when Wayne Gretzky announced he was stepping down as coach of the team.

Much the same way that Odin Mercer at SBN’s Five For Howling feels, I too think this is a move that was overdue and will help the team.  After all, the old saying goes, “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Well Wayne Gretzky did everything in the NHL and there’s not another player alive right now that sees or plays the game at all the same way that Wayne did and every person that walked into the Phoenix locker room had to be starstruck having him as the coach.  After all, he’s only the greatest hockey player of all time – how do you handle getting instructions and teaching from a guy that sees the game on a completely different level than every human being alive?  You don’t, that’s how.

wile-e-coyoteDon’t worry, help has arrived… But it’s going to take time.

Enter new head coach Dave Tippett.  Tippett is the former coach of the Dallas Stars and for six seasons he lead the Stars to the playoffs, peaking in 07-08 in the Conference Finals and then indescribably getting the boot after failing to lead the Stars to the playoffs last year, and that’s after the Stars were stuck with a miserable start of  the season by Marty Turco and that whole Sean Avery thing.   Tippett gets the job done, Tippett teaches winners and better yet, young guys won’t totally crap their pants every time he barks out orders.

With all that aside, I like how the Coyotes are made up and I have enjoyed what they’ve been doing for the last couple of years now.  The Coyotes and the Kings are my not-so-secret crushes in the NHL and while the Kings don’t have the off-ice problems (and may actually get Gretzky back in some capacity) they too have been able to capitalize on years of poor play and making the draft work for them.  The Coyotes have been doing the same thing but just haven’t been able to land a guy as awesome as say… Anze Kopitar.

Instead, the Coyotes have loaded up on highly-touted young forwards.  Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, Kevin Porter and Kyle Turris (currently in the AHL) make up a great group of talented skaters up front that Desert Dogs fans have been patiently waiting to blossom.   Among them, Porter should get his first real shot to break out this year after spending last season riding the bus between Phoenix and San Antonio.

Guys like Mueller and Hanzal are the “veterans” among them and Boedker had a solid first season last year.  Turris is the interesting guy to watch as he’s touted as the guy with the biggest upside and the most talented of them all. Yet last year he spent his time getting sent up and sent down to the AHL and this year he’s starting off the season right out in San Antonio.  GM Don Maloney said that he wanted to see how Turris would develop and with him coming off back surgery in the off season, perhaps going to San Antonio to start the year might not be the worst idea.

Then what to do about the center spot?  After all, who is going to be there to play alongside blue-collar man of the franchise Shane Doan?  This is where the Robert Lang signing comes in.  Lang is coming back after an injury-shortened 2008-2009 season with Montreal and while he did not participate with any team in training camp, the Coyotes and Maloney used this as an opportunity to bring in solid scoring veteran.  Savvy move indeed and it takes the pressure off the front office to play the shuttle game with Turris this year, provided Lang can stay healthy.  Adding Lang to another crafty free agent signings like Taylor Pyatt, Vernon Fiddler and Lauri Korpikoski and suddenly the mix of youth and veteran leadership up front doesn’t look so bad.  Peter Prucha and Radim Vrbata (returning from a year wrought with moving from Tampa Bay to the Czech League) add depth to the forwards and provide a full line of Czech Madness (with Martin Hanzal centering).

What about the defense though?  Ed Jovanovski is still here and youngster Zbynek Michalek continues to improve.  Veterans Adrian Aucoin and Jim Vandermeer were acquired in the offseason and help add some steadier veteran play on a blueline that remains mostly unspectacular with Kurt Sauer and Keith Yandle filling out ranks.  Sami Lepisto gets to play the part of the plucky youngster looking to carve his niche in this group of veterans.

In goal, Ilya Bryzgalov is the man – plain and simple.  His stats last year were a bit subdued but on a team that played as sketchily as the Coyotes did last year… You can understand why.  Should things for Bryzgalov go sour, the backup situation isn’t quite so appealing as the Coyotes signed journeyman Jason LaBarbera to back him up.  Al Montoya lurks in the AHL waiting for anyone to slip up so he can attempt to fulfill the prophecy as a first round selection to play goal.

Should the Coyotes goaltending come down to calling on either LaBarbera or Montoya for an extended period, perhaps getting the Vancouver Canucks on the phone to ask about Cory Schneider’s availability might be a good plan of action.

Much like I said last year in talking about the Los Angeles Kings lack of opportunity to make the playoffs, I make this choice for failure with resignation because I like what’s happening here, at least on the ice.  I like the young make up of the team, I love the youth that are in place, I’m a fan of Ilya Bryzgalov and I’m a huge fan of the Dave Tippett signing for the coaching position.  So why won’t they make a run at a playoff spot?  It’s the Western Conference and they play in what may prove to be one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.  Anaheim and San Jose will fight to the death for the top spot, Dallas should be more improved and Los Angeles is on the verge of upsetting the balance in the West.  Phoenix, for now, is going to have to tough it out this season.

With that said, this may also prove to be the team that by the end of the year, they could be threatening to prove me wrong if everything breaks correctly.  Most publications and prognosticators are eager to write off the Coyotes (except for the Two-Line Pass that haikus them in eighth) completely based upon what’s happened off the ice and while I admit I’m doing the same thing here… If the Coyotes go all St. Louis Blues on me and prove me wrong I’ll happily eat my bowl full of crow.

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