Thursday, August 31, 2006

Off With Their Heads!!!



There is some discussion over at Lowetide's space about who is likely to finish last in the West.

Here's a candidate.

But first, an interesting note on the THN rankings.

The Minnesota Wild lost five defencemen who played @ 60 games or more last season but in picking up Kim Johnsson, Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish, they are supposed to make the leap from 11th to 7th place. Indeed some predict even better for them.

But the team that lost two of these players who are supposed to help Minnesota make this quantum leap - the LA Kings - are supposed to hold the course and finish tenth, again.

Huh?

Anyhow, as to the Kings. This is a team that is following in the steps of its California brethren - shedding highly paid veterans and going with youth. Unlike teams like Phoenix these guys are going about it the right way I think. They signed Scott Thornton and the underrated Alyn McCauley, brought back Rob Blake (not sure about that one) and picked up Dan Cloutier, who has a lot to prove.

Luc Robitaille (Luciano Robitelli) retired. (Imagine how many goals he might have scored if he could skate - poor guy.) They dumped Val Bure, Parrish and the saddest example of how alcohol can destroy a man's career - Jeremy Roenick.

They also got rid of their best player - Pavol Demitra.

And this team had a hard time scoring last year.

So Patrick O'Sullivan will see a lot of icetime as well as Dustin Brown and their other kids.

That's good.

But the Sharks had guys named Thornton, Cheechoo, Marleau and Hannan while the Ducks had Selanne and Scott Niedermeyer to help the kids along.

The Kings have no such players.

One last thing, why in God's name did they resign Sean Avery?

This year, these guys finish way down the way.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Most Overrated Goalie Never to Win the Cup



The title of this post refers to how the Toronto media would trumpet Curtis Joseph, when he was a Leaf, as the GREATEST GOALIE NEVER TO WIN THE CUP! Much like Wendel Clark was THE BEST LEFT WING IN HOCKEY when he played.

Uh huh.

Let me start by saying that I like Joseph as a goalie and as a person he's hard to beat. My wife works at Sick Kids and Joseph has donated tons of time and money to that hospital, even after he left Toronto.

As a goalie, he was good, the type of guy who could get hot and win you a series or two. But he never got some pretty good Leaf teams to the finals. He failed in the WC against the Americans when a save or two would have made a difference. And of course there was Salt Lake City.

And even those days are gone.

I think it was frequent commentator Doogie who referred to the Coyotes as "The Island of Misfit Toys", one of these teams cobbled together with a bunch of weird parts.

I'd agree.

Pluses for the Coyotes - a D with Jovo, Boynton, Morris and youngsters Ballard and Seidenberg is pretty decent although I think the last two have a ways to go yet.

With Shane Doan, Nagy, Comrie and the underrated Reinprecht they have some pretty decent offence if Nagy can stay healthy and Comrie can stay focussed. (BTW, wonder what Gretzky said to your man Comrie to light a fire under him last season - maybe "jimmy carson" because he was brutal for quite a while there. Maybe Gretzky reminded him that the furniture business might get a new junior VP if a certain young centre didn't get his head out of his ass.

And I love Doan.

But replacing Geoff Sanderson (25 goals) and decent Mike Johnson with Owen Nolan and Jeremy Roenick? These two guys are not your ultimate team guys.

And Mike Ricci is their third line centre (-22 last season?). And who else on this team can check?

And Joseph between the pipes? He started strong last year and faded badly. Without that strong start this team is in Blackhawk country. Does anyone out there (besides THN - I presume that having ranked these guys 9th in the conference they believe it) figure Joseph to be even reasonably decent?

I think they finish down the road again. This team just seems to be one of those that is always mediocre, regardless.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Columbus DID NOT Discover America!

And they're probably not going to leapfrog five teams and go from 74 points to @ 95 points either.

That's what THN is saying is going to happen.

Now, they're going to be better.

And after they got over a spate of injuries (most importantly to Rick Nash) they did go on a decent run to finish the season if I recall correctly.

And they added Freddie Modin, who will be good for 30 or so goals as usual.

But they're carrying Sergei Federov's deadweight of a salary. (what a dum dum trade that was)

And Adam Foote is another year older.

And most importantly their goaltending duo is Paschal LeClaire, who put up pretty good numbers last season and has the pedigree but now has to prove he can carry a team, and Ty Conklin.

Remember Conkannen?

LeClaire may be the real deal and Conklin may bounce back (although to me I see Rick Ankiel) but if these guys still had Marc Denis and LeClaire I would feel a whole lot better about their chances. But Denis went the other way in the Modin deal.

And if Zherdev walks (I don't think so but you never know) then Gilbert Brule better be able to step in right away. And the chances of that happening ...

Uh huh.

It rests on LeClaire - if he can do it then they will hang around and likely fall short - if he cannot then its another year in the basement.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wild on ... Jack Lemaire



Yeah surrrre as Jim Bouton would say.

Jack Lemaire. Great player. Great coach. Bob Newhart lookalike. Also the man who killed fun in hockey.

THN has two new playoff teams and the Wild are one of them, projected to make the jump from 11th to 7th. At 84 points last season they were within a dozen points of the postseason, not an insurmountable leap.

Definitely a team that everyone is expecting bigger things from this season.

I think the Wild may be a different team this season. They have added Pavol Demitra, Mark Parrish and Kim Johnsson so the offence should have more juice (how could it not) and Gaborik and Rolston (man he is a player - another Bruins' mistake) finally have some help.

Joining Johnsson on D are Keith Carney and the Finnish version of Jan Hejda, some guy named Nummelin who played with Columbus 5 years ago for a season and is now coming back for another goround at age 33.

Riddle me this though and maybe I'm a dummy.

How does a team that has lost five defencemen from last season's team - Willie Mitchell, Kuba, Tjarnqvist, Zyuzin and Alex Henry (I know I know) suddenly become a better team, indeed a playoff team.

Mitchell and Kuba - two pretty good dmen. Tjarnqvist ate up a lot of minutes. Etc etc.

So the Wild lose all of these guys and replace them with Johnsson (good), Carney (maybe) and some guy who may be completely useless (like Jan Hejda, granted) and are supposed to leapfrog four other teams.

The Wild were fourth best in GA in the West but only 11th in GF - only Calgary and the three weak sisters were worst.

So if they jump in GF but drop in GA how does this make them better?

Or is Jack just that good a coach?

Yeah surrrre.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not Dead Yet



But getting there.

When is the last time the Red Wings were not a good team? 1991? Was it 92 and 93 that they were a young and upcoming team that got upset in the first round? That's a fifteen year run.

Holy shit - that's good.

And I think that while they are in decline they have maybe one more divisional title left in them. Part of me thinks Nashville might catch them - that's the key. But if I look at their rosters the Wings still have the edge.

The Wings did have a three year stretch without a Cup between 98 and 02 but that was when they were battling with the Avs and the Stars (and then later the Blues) for conference supremacy.

Since 2002 they have two first round exits and a second round exit as well. To lower seeds in each case. Times have changed.

Yzerman is gone. Shanahan. Now they are a two line team rather then a three line team.

Holmstrom, Lang, Maltby, Draper and even Lidstrom are aging. Lidstrom may have won the Norris but he was ineffective against the Oilers.

Chelios, well, he sold his soul to the Devil years ago.

And the goaltending? Does anyone really think Hasek is going to get it done for this team?

Kronwall is a beaut. Datsyuk too.

And Zetterberg? One of the best. Period.

I think they have one more division title - the D is too good (and Markov will help there as well) and Zetterberg and Datsyuk will carry the offence.

But their days as true contenders are over.

Former Powerhouse Takes a Crap



Don't care for the Dallas Stars.

Never have.

Big surprise there, huh?

Having said that, they had a good year last season until it crashed about them in a first round disaster against the Avs who in turn were crushed by the Ducks who had their heads handed to them by the Oilers. Ok, it wasn't that simple. I know that so don't start complaining, especially you Earl. A break or two here or there, I know.

Looks like all of those shootout wins courtesy of Jussi Jokinen may have seriously juiced those point totals.

Rent a player Willie Mitchell is gone but by my count the Stars have eight serviceable NHL defencemen including returnee Sydor. Other then Zubov and underrated Phil Boucher none really turn my crank but of course I said that about the Canes too so there. With playoff bust Marty Turco in the nets they should do alright defensively because Turco, for all his playoff failures, is a decent regular season goalie.

Its up front that this team is a mess. They won't miss Billy Guerin whose 45M contract ranks up there amongst the worst in sports history I think but they will miss Jason Arnott who piled up the goals last season.

Additions up front - gritty Jeff Halpern, pain in the ass Matthew Barnaby (wonder how long he and Steve Ott square off in practice - who wins a fight where both participants turtle anyhow?), and two of the most fragile players in the league - Patrik Stefan and Eric Lindros.

Lindros was dynamite for about a month last season for the Leafs but the guy is an accident waiting to happen. There should be a pool on how he gets hurt this season. All risk, not much reward I'm afraid.

I figured the Stars would be touch and go to make the playoffs last year. I think this season the slide might really begin. If the bottom half of the conference playoff race is as close as last season they may nab a reasonable seed relying on that D but if Modano starts to fade again or Jere Lehtinen gets hurt that might be it.

San Jose and the Ducks will pass them by and I think they may be on the bubble come playoff time. They are going to miss Arnott's production.

Team to Beat



If Roloson doesn't stone Cheechoo in OT in Game three then its my guess that the Sharks would have represented the West in the Stanley Cup and maybe they would be defending Cup champs right now.

Two seasons ago they made the conference final and fell just short.

After shedding a bunch of veterans in the lockout year the Sharks started slowly last season until Doug Wilson picked up some guy named Thornton.

Now, I'm not sold on Joe Thornton as a big game player and trading Tom Preissing may hurt short term but damn, this team is good.

And I know I myself said that making predictions now is a fool's game but barring catastrophe this has to be the preseason Cup favourite.

Deep up front already, they added Mark Bell who will probably score thirty five now that he plays for a real team. And Mike Grier and Curtis Brown will kill penalties and add to that depth at forward.

The games aren't won on paper but this team is deep at every position. They are a little young on D but can add a veteran if necessary because they aren't even at 37M for the cap - if they dump Nabakov's 5M then they have all the room in the world. They also happen to be the youngest team in the league, meaning they are a few years away from having to pay a lot of these guys anything. It won't be until two seasons from now when Thornton and Marleau will both be UFA that the crunch may come for this team.

But with depth at every position including goal and having proven in the second half of last season that the kids are alright they only have that last step to take.

The Oilers kicked the shit out of them last season.

Maybe they don't have what it takes.

But if I were a betting man I'd say that in the next two years, barring disaster, Patty Marleau will be hoisting the Cup.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Same Old Lames?



Here's one I can agree with, the Flames repeating as Northwest champs and ending up with the third seed.

If the Oilers can cobble a defence together out of Chewing Gum (Jan Hejda) and Twine (Marc Andre Bergeron) then they can make up that eight points that separated the Albertans last year but I think the Flames should have enough to defend their division crown, likely with another 100 point season too.

They had to give up Leopold to get Tanguay but of course the Flames' strength is on the blueline and in Tanguay they have added a guy who has been a consistent producer in the NHL. Some may wonder if he is a product of the talent that he played with on the Avs but Iggy isn't chopped liver.

Other departures - Shean Donovan, Chris Simon, Mike Leclerc. Yawn.

The big question for the Flames is the same as always - can they give Kiprusoff enough run support? Amonte showed last season that reports of his demise were not exaggerrated. Huselius added some offence but more is needed. Jeff Friesen? Not likely. After plenty of goals in the late 90s he has only scored more then 20 once in the last five seasons and with the exception of last year he played 79 or more games in each of those.

Nope. It has to come from two guys - Chuck Kobesew and Matthew Lombardi. If these guys can create offence and consistently then this team suddenly becomes very very dangerous. If they cannot then Tanguay will help and they will win the division but their season will end in a loss in the first or second round. One line teams don't win championships.

They come close.

Horseshoes and hand grenades though, right?

Nashville Rising? Ar nott?



THN has the Preds finishing second in the conference. Last season they finished with 104 points, third best in the conference. Seeded fourth in the playoffs behind the division winning Flames they were bounced quickly by the San Jose Sharks.

They, like the Wings, benefitted from playing in the Central Division. Indeed, Mudcrutch was one who felt that this team was overrated from the start, iirc. (And actually talks about them in his latest post).And while they did pull away from the pack a little bit, just two more losses to each of those divisional weak sisters would have left them tied with Vancouver and likely on the outside looking in.

So, for the Preds, two issues. Can they pull ahead of the Wings, who finished 20 points ahead of them, thus guaranteeing a playoff spot and probably a # 1 or #2 seed?

Or, failing that, are they a good enough team (or is their division still weak enough) to not lose those ten points that would drop them to the magic 94 point plateau?

Sounds goofy? It sure is. If they can catch the Wings (and in a few days I will look at Detroit, who I think is about ready to slide after over a decade of having terrific teams) then they are likely a top seed. If they do not they could likely be right out of it.

Nashville added some size to a lineup that dearly needed some with big centres Jason Arnott (although to me the fact that Dallas would rather sign an aging Mike Modano coming off his worst season then extend Arnott last summer makes me wonder wtf) and Josef Vasicek. Gone - rentals Brendan Witt and Mike Sillinger as well as faceoff whiz and third leading scorer Yanic Perreault, ex-captain Greg Johnson, gritty Dman Danny Markov (on his fifth team now already?) and plugger Scott Walker, among others.

Nashville has one of the top keepers in the league in Tomas Vokoun although issues with blod clots sidelined him for the playoffs and probably make management pretty nervous.

Paul Kariya had a nice comeback year, like his old buddy Teemu. He and Steve Sullivan are two guys who made a lot of hay with the crackdown on obstruction.

The Preds have the potential to have a powerhouse D for the next few years with Timmonen and Zidlicky being the oldsters in a bunch that includes Lowetide's mancrush, who is 23, and two twenty one year olds, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

For the Preds there are two issues that will make or break their year. One is Vokoun's health. The other is whether or not their kiddie corps D can take the next step. If they can then this team could win the division and earn one of those top two seeds. If not and their divisional foes improve enough to take some points off of them, they could take a step back right out of the playoffs.

Like Anaheim (and likely nearly every team in the league, I'm beginning to think) it comes back to the kids. I think they do well enough and Arnott and Vasicek add enough up front that they get in - not sure if they catch the Wings yet though.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back on this Horse

Except for Lowetide the Oilogosphere has been pretty quiet recently but lately there have been stirrings of life. Or is that my groin?

Nah, its the internet.

Anyhow, James Mirtle had the Hockey News predictions posted last week.

I understand why they do this but my God, talk about opening yourself up to second guessing. Just in the past week Malkin looks to be coming to Pittsburgh, Stillman had surgery and looks to be out until Christmas and Zherdev may play in Russia rather then sign with Columbus.

In other words, training camp has not even started and we have three teams with situations that may impact them significantly.

To pass the time until training camp begins lets take a look at each team in turn and what issues they may face. No predictions per se - just a quick look.

Today - I give you The Hockey News choice for first place in the West - the Anaheim Ducks.

Wait, I think I read that wrong.

No, there it is. Jeez, even Earl Sleek doesn't believe this one.

While anything can happen my guess is either Detroit or Nashville will pick up enough points off of the patsies in the Central to ensure that one of them will win the conference this season.

The Ducks finished sixth in the conference last season with 98 points. They had a pretty good draw in the playoffs and earned a trip to the conference finals.

They have depth in goal.
They have an amazing one-two punch on D.
In Teemu Selanne they have one of the top offensive players in the league from last season.
They have a whack of grinders - Marchant, Pahlsson, Rob Niedermeyer and now Travis Green who do a lot of the little things right and are hard to play against.
I think in Sudbury Wolves alumnus Randy Carlyle they have a terrific coach.

But.

They were six points out of ninth place so its not like they were free and clear. Of course few teams were.

We know Beauchemin can play. Or at least when paired with Niedermeyer he is effective. But remember Pronger played with a pretty good Dman in Jason Smith in the Oilers' playoff run. While Pronger would probably enjoy playing with himself the fact is the Ducks said goodbye to their 3-4 guys in Salei and Vishnevski. So who plays with the big baby?

Where's the depth on D now? Does Sean O'Donnell have enough left to play the Smith role?

More to the point, after Teemu and Andy MacDonald who scores? Does Chistov have what it takes? They have to replace Lupul's 28 goals as well and this team didn't score a lot to begin with.

I was on edge all last playoff run with one exception, when Todd Marchant sent Rob Niedermeyer in all alone.

As some wag said, he may as well be wearing skates on his hands.

The key to the Ducks' season - can the kids, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner - do something offensively for this team?

I presume they can pick up a fourth defenceman.

But even if Selanne has another big year (why not?) and Chistov produces, if those kids can't get it done then this team squeaks into the playoffs on the basis of a lot of 2-1 wins, maybe gets a round or two based on that strong team defensive game and then so long again. One line teams are not very successful, as a rule.

If the kids all grow up in a hurry then this team may be one to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Dman Blues





Mrs. Plager told her boys not to grow up to be cowboys.

So they didn't.

Over at CIO the debate rages about whether or not Brian Leetch is an answer for our D corps.

I said no but regular commentator Steve asked, well, who then?

Uh ... good question.

Regular surfers here know I'm a pint half full type of guy or as Lowetide would say I tend to Blue sky things.

I'll admit to that.

And while I can paint a scenario where the Oilers can make do with their D as presently constituted just as I painted a scenario where the Oilers could get by the Wings, the truth is this team has three decent guys who can eat up minutes (Smith, Staios, Tarnqvist) and a bunch of question marks. Bergeron might figure it out. Hejda may be a player. One of Smid, Gilbert, Syvret or Young may be ready. Greene may be ready to be Commodore (although I think he is a year or two away from that in reality). Check out San Jose's D if you want to see young and unproven. They did alright.

The truth is the Oil likely will get a decent third pair out of the lot of them this season and in a year or two we will have a nice quality young D corps.

So where do we look?

A really nice summary of teams and their cap situations here and a few things jumped out at me.

The Oilers have gone back to being young - the third youngest team after San Jose and Columbus from what I can see. Of course this includes Schremp on the roster.

Jersey, even with the rumours that they are going to try and hide Mogilny and Malakhov on the IR to resolve their salary situation, are still in big cap trouble. Problem is the guy I like, Rafalski, has an expensive number on his contract and I'm not sure if Matvichuk or Lukowich add much more then what we have.

So, why the Plager brothers up above? Because while the Blues may have, in some estimations (Lowetide again and Mudcrutch as well) have had a nice summer, I think they aren't even close to being back. And they have a lot of age up front - Weight, Guerin, Tkachuk and Drake. Only Detroit, Jersey and Dallas are older.

And they have three young Dmen - Brewer, Backman and Jackman.

Could we pry either of the latter two away for a young forward or two? Would Torres fit the bill? Or someone else?

Maybe a fit?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Here they are, your Edmonton Sabres!


Maybe Earl Sleek can do some of that magic he does and mix a Sabres logo with an Oilers.

Because that's what this team is looking like more and more.

Good goaltending.

A plethora of young fast forwards (do the Oilers even have one over 30?) to come in waves, pressure on the backcheck, attack attack attack.

Now about that D.

My best guess is if anyone looked at the Sabres D before last season they would have been pretty underwhelmed. Lydman. Tallinder. Teppo. Kalinin. Campbell. McKee. A couple of unproven kids. An over the hill Finn with health issues. Who ever heard of Tallinder? McKee? Solid but won't be able to keep up.

You get the picture.

Carolina's too for that matter. Mike Commodore?

An oversimplification? Sure, a little bit.

Do I think the Oil get it done with this D. as presently constituted? Probably not but I think they are closer then we think. Bottom pair will be better then last year's. Three/four look fine.

They need someone to play 20 plus with Gator.

That's what they need. And I think they're going into camp thinking they may have the answer already. I can't see it and I know a lot of other Oiler fans feel the same way.

But if they do.

Oh baby.

Oh, Petr Sykora?

Welcome.

This guy is a player.

Happy Birthday to the Big Fella!



9 years old today.

A nice long walk.

Hanging in the backyard with the kids.

Eating treats from the dog bakery. (Yes, I know. Toronto, right?)

There's a good boy.

Happy Birthday Ben.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I have returned and I am seriously relaxed



Gone for a month and what has happened?

Fuck all. I guess the plan is to go into camp, see who can play and then go from there. I guess the hope is that one of these #4-7 guys can make the jump to be a #2 or #3.

Yeesh.

Looks like the Traktor Boy may be coming. That excites me.

And I love the newest Oiler site, Hot Oil. At Paupers for Game 6 Alana filled me in on her love for Roloson - good to see that she has an outlet for her lusty thoughts. Apparently Loxy and the Prez need multiple outlets for their passions (Mr. Reasoner and you know who).

Anyhow while I was whiling away the days beside various northern lakes I was tagged multiple times. At first I felt weirdly violated, like the time at Paupers when Chris! cornered me in the mens' room and ... never mind.

Anyhow, much like after that incident, I now feel a little funny and well, pretty good really.

So here goes - I've posted nothing in a while so beware, I've answered both of these deals that have been floating around.

Five Weird Things About Me

Actually these are five stories I like to tell to reveal that I am an ass with little sense but one who has a good time all the same.

1/ I once worked in the film industry. The movies I worked on were just this side of porno. I was not the stunt dick or fluffer but a camera assistant. One of these gems - Vivid - if you have seen it, well, you'll know what I mean when I say just this side of porn.

2/ When I was a camera trainee on Vivid I essentially had no money in my bank account and was working for nothing but food. Unable to afford my apartment I moved out and while I worked to find funds to finance a new place I lived at the Gladstone Hotel in Parkdale for a week. This was not the redone arty Gladstone of 2006 but the serious flophouse filthy dive of 1995 - it cost me $95.00 for a week's lodging. Good times.

3/ Around that same no money period I once drank a full bottle of ketchup at a bar so my buddy would buy me a beer. The beer tasted damn good but a little bit later I didn't feel so good. I would not recommend drinking condiments.

4/ I have no background in computers and got my present job nine years ago because I was dating the company president's niece. At the time I didn't even know how to turn on a computer. I'm still here but the niece ... long gone. I can turn on a computer now however.

5/ Two for one boring drinking stories. As someone who once was mocked for beginning every tale with "Once when I was loaded" I have a million of them, but one I am particularly proud of is the time I showed up with my best friend at a party with a case of Molson Ex, only to be told we were leaving for the bar in an hour. We finished the case in an hour, matching each other beer for beer. Then we went out. Ahh, good old Northern Ontario upbringing paid off that night.

And to prove that with age, wisdom does not necessarily come, just before my holidays a month or so ago, I took my nine month old son to my local and had a few pints while the patrons, a bunch of FOB Irishmen, passed my son and heir around the bar.

Grabia's Topics

Fantasy Leagues in the past year

None - not a lot of time with the new addition

First Jersey/Sporting Item I ever owned

Not the foggiest but likely something to do with the Sudbury Wolves, our local Junior club in my hometown

Five Favourite Sports Books

Fever Pitch - Nick Hornby
Ball Four - Jim Bouton
Riding on the Roar of the Crowd - Hockey Anthology
I Play to Win - Stan Mikita
Eight Men Out - Eliot Asinof

Ten Favourite Athletes

Stan Mikita - boyhood hero
Ryan Smyth - favourite Oiler ever
Billy Conn
Fernando Pisani
Shawn Horcoff
Steve Larmer - the complete player
Wayne Gretzky
Robbie Keane - may actually get to see him play this fall
Alex Baumann - hometown hero
Marnie McBean

Honourable mentions - nearly any Canadian Olympian you can name, Derek Jeter, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, John Lynch, Mike Foligno (another boyhood thing)

Three Athletes I Admire Secretly but am ashamed to admit for fear of ridicule

Robbie Alomar - spitting incident and prima donna act aside, the greatest Jay ever before he got a big head (and I mean that not in the Barry Bonds/Sammy Sosa sense)

Iginla

Tyler Dellow - his on ice antics make him a hated foe but I'd take him on my team anytime

Five People I Tag

Nobody - I think I'm the last one to get these damn chain letters

Three People I'd Pay To have Coffee With

uhhh

Kevin Lowe
Eric Duhatschek
Natalie Portman (sad I know)

One Thing I Would Change

Not a goddamn thing.

Yeah right.

We all know the answer to that one.