Friday, August 31, 2007

Leclaire Gets Second Shot in Columbus

Last offseason, the Blue Jackets turned some heads by trading away starter Marc Denis to Tampa Bay, and announcing that they would be going with Pascal Leclaire as their full time stater. Leclaire, who was unproven and injury prone up to then, did what he did best with the role. He got injured and didn't prove himself. He ended up only playing 24 games, and posted a miserable record of 6-15-2. Hopefully this year he can turn it around and live up to his potential, right? Well Fredrik Norrena doesn't hope so. He was the starter when Leclaire was hurt, and played very well considering he didn't have the leagues greatest defense in front of him. He actually posted a winning record of 24-23-3 on a team that finished 33-42-7. You can't use the goalie's record to make assumptions about his play though, that's why you have to see that Norrena also had a .904 save percentage, and a GAA of 2.78. He was certainly one of the unsung heroes of last season, and I believe that Norrena should be the starter this season in Columbus, but since Leclaire is a lot younger, and has more potential, they would like to give him another shot. It's tough to argue against that type of reasoning.

Tomas Popperle was the starter in Syracuse of the AHL last season, and got called up when Leclaire got hurt, to back Norrena up. He only got into 2 games, but showed that he can handle the tempo. He had a good season in Syracuse, putting up respectable numbers, and is worthy of another recall, if it's required. Daniel Lacosta was the back-up to Popperle in Syracuse, but only played in 19 games. He requires some work in order to someday even be an AHL starter, but he is still young, and there is lots of time to get things worked out. The Jacket's main prospect is a young stud by the name of Steve Mason. Some may recognize that name because he was the goalie who started game one of the Canada/Russia Super Series which is currently going on. He stopped 40 of 42 shots that game, and got the win, but had some shaky moments. He is very big for his age, and posted solid numbers in London of the OHL last season. He had a good team in front of him, that's why I'm not sold on him, but from what I saw in the Canada/Russia game, he can handle the load of a game with a high amount of shots. He has some work to do, but he has the fundamentals to be a very good goalie in the future. Look for Fredrik Norrena to press Pascal Leclaire for the starting role opening day in training camp, but Leclaire definitely has the advantage because of his age.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Avs' Budaj Needs to be Taken Seriously

Peter Budaj proved last season that he was one of the best young goaltenders in the league. He didn't get the Avs into the playoffs, but his 31-16-6 record shows that he can win games. He won the starting position over Jose Theodore, who continues his fall from stardom. Budaj is far from perfect though. He has below-average rebound control, and must continue to work at getting stronger. Avs fans should see Budaj improve these next few seasons behind an improved D-core, and improved team itself. Jose Theodore on the other hand looks as if he's not able to be fixed. Theodore is making a hefty $6 Million , and is clearly not earning that with his play. Avs fans can only run down the clock until his contract expires, or pray to the Hockey Gods for a miracle.

The two starters for Colorado's new AHL affiliate Lake Erie will likely be Mike Wall who saw some time with the Ducks this season, and Tyler Weiman who was the starter in Albany last season. Both are relatively young, and either could fill in admirably if needed for a call-up. Wall would likely be the first to be called up, mainly because he has NHL experience. The Avalanche's main prospect is an Oakville, Ontario native by the name of Trevor Cann. He is somewhat small at 5'10, 199, but was a workhorse for Peterborough of the OHL, playing 62 games, all as a 17-year-old. He is a typical butterfly goalie, and the future only looks bright for this young stud. With the improvements the Avs have made this offseason, the tandem of an improving Peter Budaj and a puzzling Jose Theodore should be enough to get them into the post-season.

Notable Philadelphia Sports Fans

While you eagerly await Part Two of the Flyers analysis, I thought of something that I would like to share with you; 'Notable Philadelphia Sports Fans', from a private weblog I tinkered around with a little way back... It may not be totally hockey related, but I hope you find it enjoyable just the same.

I've been a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan for almost a half century now and I've encountered quite a lot of fellow fans over that span... I will relate to you below a baker's dozen of the most famous, more interesting, or merely the personal favorites of mine -- by groupings, but otherwise in no particular order:

THE MASCOTS [the unofficial chief fans]
1) Phillie Phanatic/Swoop/Hip-Hop/Phlex
Their leader, of course, is the Phanatic who is arguably the best in the business, and one of the very first. With the possible exception of the San Diego Chicken, he is in a league of his own and we have enjoyed him since the early days of the Vet... While the others are fine, they are really just afterthoughts to the good ol' Phanatic.

2) The WhooHoo Man
He is a causality in the move across the street to Citizen's Bank Park... He was the guy who sat behind home plate, the one who you would always hear being picked up over the microphone saying, "Whoo Hoo, everybody hits" or something on those lines. He was not the first, but he was the most famous, he took over from the original many years ago, and he made it his own... We wonder what happened to him in the new park; he may still be there but unheard since the microphones no longer capture his yells.

3) Uniform Lady
She was not famous but was amazing non-the-less... She would don the uniform shirt of the current Phillies batter, quickly changing after each batter; on defense she would wear the pitcher's shirt, changing with each relief pitcher... I found it amazing that she would have them all, and tote them there, and store them at her seat in a way as to quickly retrieve them; even with an obscure pinch-hitter.

4) Charge Buglers
Prior to the days of the organ/synthesiser or recorded versions, fans would bring bugles to the ball park. These musicians would trumpet, 'charge' at just the appropriate moment, without any given cue... There were always at least one there, but I don't recall any after the move from Connie Mack Stadium; I sorely miss them.

5) The Dancing Usher
There was an usher, who I'd would see in the Right Field stands, who would always dance to the music played between innings; he danced well and became fairly famous... One day, after a ball game, some idiots beat him up very severely in the parking lot, causing permanent damage to him... Quite a while later I did see him at his post, dancing, there were visible scars on his head and I thought that it was such a shame that there are idiots around that would do such a senseless thing.

6) Longtime Vendors [honorary fans]
From the days when I was a little kid I would see these men and women at Connie Mack Stadium, and they also followed the team over to the Vet; they seemed to be there forever, the same ones it seemed... To this day I can picture them in my head, and they all had their own little 'things' that made them unique; The first female vendor, she sold peanuts, the guy who would toss the peanut bags across entire rows, the young guy who would pretend to hold a transistor radio to his ear and say, "How about those Phils?"... There were also there, security guards, who appeared to be retired cops, and they too had personalities of their own. These stadium workers became so familiar to the fans... as stadiums became larger, and prices increased, and trips to the ballpark became fewer and farther apart -- and I suppose the workers began to change jobs more often -- these vendors seemed to be lost to the past.

7) Sean Young/The Dirty Thirty/The 700 Level
The Eagle fans are a breed of their own; fanatics each and every one of them... The leader is a 'face painter' who talks trash like a pro-wrestler and seems to always be asked to speak for all the fans, which he gladly does... I believe that he is a part of the thirty fans put together by WIP and Angelo Cataldi, the morning drive time radio personality; 'The Dirty Thirty', as they are called, are most known for making fools of themselves on national TV by booing the Eagle's choice of Donovan McNabb... when they wanted the Eagles to choose running back, Ricky Williams, who was later suspended from the NFL for smoking marijuana and refusing to quit doing so... The 700 Level was a level in the old Veteran's Stadium where the rowdier fans would sit; they had a reputation for causing trouble and they relished having the rep. They were the main reason that the Vet had to have it's own jail, judge and courtroom.

8) Eagle Pep band
The song, 'Fly, Eagles, Fly' has become very popular among the people of Philadelphia, and it was made famous by the unofficial Eagles' band... You can catch them at many pre and post eagle game rallies... They raise up the frenzy of the already revved up crowd.

The Flyers
9) Sign Man
He was the most famous of the Flyers faithful for so many years... a teacher with a 'perm' hairdo... he would have professional type signs at each and every game -- very advanced for that time... and even better than any sign there today -- He would have them folded in two and open them up with both hands, high above his head, at just the right time, from his seat in the front row, directly behind the goal. The signs would read, "Insert here" [with an arrow pointing down]... or, "Next Goalie"... always clever and always photographed for the papers, or captured on the TV cameras... You still see him but he no longer has the 'perm', and the signs are fewer, and you hardly notice them anymore -- in fact I can't remember seeing them anymore, hmmm.

10) Hair Man
The unofficial team heckler, he would come to every game, heckle the opposition's fans and the players during the pre-game warm-up skates... He wore an orange 'third' jersey with, 'Hair Man' written on the back, a 'punk' style orange and black spiked wig... and he would roam the arena and try to be a cheerleader in the stands... After the 'strike year' he came to less games and now I hardly ever see him there at all.

11) Tambourine Ladies
These elderly ladies could be seen at every game in the section next to my old section #6 in the Spectrum. They had tambourines that they played as they cheered their team on... Come to think of it, they may not have really been that elderly, but sure seemed to be in the days when I thought everybody older than Forty was ancient. They weren't famous to many people but they were notables to me and the people around them.

12) The Long Island Season Ticket Holders
One day on local television the Flyers ran a piece on a couple who lived in Long Island, NY and were Flyers Season Ticket Holders for many years... They would travel down for each and every home game in Philly; snow, sleet, rush-hour traffic... they attended them all. They showed them on TV and interviewed them; the very next game I went to I saw them in the concourse... What great fans, I thought... I wonder if they still drive to each game, past the Islanders' Nassau County Coliseum, past the Rangers' Madison Square Garden and past the Devils' swamplands... I wouldn't recognize them now so I like to believe that they do.

13) Jersey Guy
This is my son, Anthony and my favorite fan... Like most of the above names, we anointed him with his fan name... He is a large fairly young man who Anthony said looks like a young version of Alfred Hitchcock. He comes to each and every game alone and sits in the upper level at mid-ice. He has a gazillion Flyers jerseys and wears a different one to every game; he chooses them according to who was the star of the previous game -- if Gagne scored a couple of goals he may wear a #12 Gagne jersey, if it was Kapanen who excelled he might wear a #24 one, etc. -- Last season we knew he is upset over the state of the team and that he was protesting because we observed him wearing a Phantom's AHL theme jersey the one game. It was an old style Flyers jersey that the Phantoms wore one game; it had Joe Watson's name and number on the back and a Phantoms logo on the sleeve... Another game he wore a Forsberg Quebec Nordic's jersey... When the team playing much better we expected him to be back with the Flyers' current roster again, and he did... We always look forward to see what he is wearing every game; he has all-star ones, Olympic ones, a newer Reebok Practice one with Gagne's name and number... We even saw him at a Phantoms game during the strike year, and he was wearing a Phantoms jersey; and to top that, we saw him at a Phillies game with a Phillies uniform shirt on... We often wondered out loud if he attends all Philadelphia sporting events and wears jerseys for them all......... The best occurred one night; I was sitting in my living room when the phone rang, it was Anthony calling from the Survivor Series Pro Wrestling match at the Wachovia Center; he asked me, "Guess who's here?" and I knew who it just HAD TO BE, I replied to my son, "What is he wearing?" since I knew it was Jersey Guy... BTW: he had a Jeremiah Trotter Eagles Jersey. Even if we are the only ones aware of him, Jersey Guy has to be Philadelphia's all time greatest fan.

Bonus Fan... Shawney, The Dancing Guy

The latest addition is Sean... He arrived on the scene, I guess mid-season or so... He is a regular season ticket hold who attends every game and sits in the nose bleed section at the far end, upper level, directly behind the goal that the Flyers defend twice... He wear the same orange shirt every game and is a full figured dude... He gets up and dances at the stoppages and is often picked up on the Jumbo-tron and the fans go crazy cheering him. He has very quickly became a fan favorite and people await the third period stoppages where he struts his stuff for the Fan Cam... The Flyers have even picked up on it and use him for season ticket promos by filming him around the city with kids and other people dancing with him; it aired on the local television channels.

Khabibulin So Far, Unimpressive in Chicago

When the Chicago Blackhawks signed Nikolai Khabibulin to a 4-year $27 million contract, they expected the goalie who led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup. He is now halfway through that contract, and he has been sub-par. He doesn't get much goal support playing in Chicago, but his play certainly hasn't helped the matter. Patrick Lalime should be the backup for the 'Hawks when the season begins. After he recovered from back surgery and returned to action near the end of last season, he played well enough to drive Brian Boucher out of town. He'll be hoping to return to the way he played while on the Senators a few years ago, and is willing to work towards that goal of someday starting in the NHL once again.

The Blackhawks signed 39-year-old Wade Flaherty who played with Manitoba of the AHL last season, this offseason, and he is likely to start in Rockford this season (They are no longer affiliated with Norfolk). He is a proven veteran who the Blackhawks hope will be a mentor to young Corey Crawford, who is the other goaltender that will play for Rockford. Crawford was the starter in Norfolk of the AHL last season, and will probably play the majority this season, over Flaherty. Chicago is not very deep at the Goaltender position, so in terms of prospects, all they have is Joe Palmer, who will be at Ohio State University this season, and Joe Fallon who played out of the University of Vermont the last three seasons. Palmer has decent talent, and quite a bit of potential, but he relies on his reflexes a little too much, due to his lack of positioning. He needs to be coached in the coming years, and could turn into an NHL starter, so the 'Hawks will just have to wait and see with him. Fallon is a consistent, stand-up style goaltender, with good lateral movement. He takes up a lot of net with his 6'3 195 pound frame, and is very good at playing the angles. He is also a good puckhandler, and should continue to improve these next few seasons. Other than that, the Blackhawks don't have much to offer. Khabibulin needs to step things up for the present Blackhawks team, and the management needs to find a solid #1 option for the future Blackhawks team, down the road.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Forsberg Saga...

Have you heard the rumor?
Peter Forsberg is headed to < insert almost any team with with a Swedish player here >!
He may also be headed to < insert Colorado, Philly, or Nashville...ok not Nashville here > because he used to play there!

Let's face it people, even the most "inside" of "insiders" have no idea where Peter Forsberg wants to play if (when?) he chooses to return. So anybody (and this includes you, TSN) who speculates on the internet that Foppa Bear (Did I make that up or did I hear that somewhere? Google says I made it up) has a good chance of signing with a team (I think the last one was Vancouver because he's BFF with Naslund and his mom's coworker's second cousin is the neighbor of a friend of the Sedins's parents), give your head a shake.

Of course, I could be wrong, and for all I know Peter the Great (Wiki tells me I didn't make that one up) really is headed to Vancouver, but everyone must realize that it's the slowest time of the year for hockey news, and they'll hop on anything (even news from Bryan Murray's wife that Mr. Murray was muttering something in his sleep about talking to Foppa's agent), even if it isn't true, so it's not worth it to get your hopes up over it (No Columbus, Forsberg won't be coming to bring you to your first playoffs).

Besides, we all know that Forsberg is headed back to Colorado. You can't argue that because he used to play there, he has stated that he loves the scenery (I've heard from a trusted source), he's BFF with Sakic and Hejduk because they won Cups together (Ok, it's not plural with Hejduk, humor me), and of course.. oh wait. Darn, I could've sworn the Avs had a Swede somewhere on the pro roster. Oh well, back to the drawing board to find where No.21 will really play this year...

(Who wouldn't want this guy on their team?)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ward Looking to Bounce Back After Shaky Sophmore Season

Cam Ward seemed to crack under the pressure of being a full-time starter in the NHL last season. His below average save percentage of .899 proves my point. The Hurricanes are still confident in their young netminder though, and will continue to start him next season. Some fans blamed his play down the stretch as the reason why they did not qualify for the playoffs, but he was a little banged up, and was not used to playing a full NHL season. I would cut him some slack if I was a Hurricanes fan, after all, he did play a major role in the Stanley Cup championship of 06. He should be fine, so look for him, and the Hurricanes as a team to bounce back next season. John Grahame will be back next season as the backup, and should continue to be steady for the 'Canes through next season.

Michael Leighton was traded from Montreal to Carolina this offseason, mainly as insurance in case one goalie goes down. He played a little for Philadelphia last season, and held his own, but you will likely see him playing for Albany of the AHL once the season begins. The Hurricanes' biggest prospect in net a few years ago was Cam Ward, but now, as you know, he is in the NHL. That means the next biggest prospect they have is a kid named Justin Peters, who played for Albany last season. He didn't have the best of seasons, but they should see him improve enough to back-up Ward sometime in the future. The Hurricanes also have a prospect by the name of Daniel Manzato, who played for Basel of the Swiss Elite League last season. At 23 he is running out of time, but still may impress some people with his quick-as-lightning reflexes. He did not perform very well last season, but he has the tools to get better. I don't see him going far, but you cannot tell with some goalies. Many are late bloomers and you can really see them come alive in their mid-to-late twenties. I'm not giving up hope on Manzato, it's just that he can't make an NHL squad, or an AHL one for that matter, the way he is now.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Kipper Only Heating Up In Calgary

Miikka Kiprusoff had an off year by his standards (2.46 GAA, .929 SV %), yet he was still a finalist for the Vezina trophy. That should tell you everything about how valuable he is to the Flames organization. It is already a forgone conclusion that Kiprusoff will be starting again for the Flames once the season begins, the only unknown in terms of goaltending will be the backup. There will be an interesting battle for the position come training camp between the 9th overall pick of the 2000 draft, Brent Krahn, and Curtis McElhinney. The two were a tandem in Omaha of the AHL last season, and I myself had a chance to see McElhinney play. Although he had an off night (He lost 5-0), he looked very solid, and many of the goals were not his fault. Krahn has battled injuries throughout his young career, and may now finally see his first chance at making the big club. He's a big kid at 6'5, and takes up a ton of net, but he also moves well. Both have an equal shot at the backup spot, but only one can have it, so expect to see a great battle come training camp.

In terms of goaltending prospects, the Flames are set. Leland Irving, who is on the current "Super Series" roster for Canada, is the heir to Kipper's throne. The kid is a battler, as he has already defeated cancer as a young child, and is now making tremendous strides in the WHL. He is a positional goalie, and a very strong skater. Some scouts are even touting him as the next Brodeur, or Luongo. He's still 19, so expect him to be seasoned in junior and in the minors before making his final jump to the Calgary Flames. The Flames also have a young netminder by the name of Kevin Lelande who played for Belleville of the OHL last season. He is one year older than Irving, but is nowhere near as talented. He put up decent stats, and has some potential, but the goalie Flames fans should be focusing on is Irving.

2 a.m. Quickie Discussion

Well, it's two in the morning and am cruising the web randomly. Boy, I sure love the Stumble feature on Firefox. I find all kinds of nifty things on tons of topics.

Anyway, on to the discussion I mentioned! With the New York Islanders bringing Bryan Berard to training camp for a tryout, what do you all think of teams bringing back talent they gave up on years ago for a shot against the youngsters?

I am all for it, but I can see some issues arising. 1) The Islanders already gave up on Berard and moved on fairly well. 2) If Bryan makes the team, who sits out? Witt, Sutton, Gervais, Campoli, Bergeron, or Martinek? I doubt he would be picked up to be a seventh defenseman.

With Bryan's statistics the past few years, I can't see giving him a top 6 spot on this team. He is a top 6 defenseman, but I do not see bumping any of the current crew for him.

Would you give him a shot if you were in Garth Snow's shoes? Would you gamble with Bryan if you have a capable core and depth already? Can you afford to pick him up and his defensive liability in today's NHL?

It's Always Miller Time in Buffalo

Ryan Miller has become a household name these past two seasons, mainly due to the success of the Sabres. Miller is already a great goalie, and will continue to get better, but he was not the main reason for Buffalo's success. Their potent offense and rock solid defense has definitely helped him earn this success. His stats slipped a little in his second season, but that doesn't have Sabres fans worried, and they shouldn't be, because Miller will only get better from here on, and they were able to keep their main defense core together, which helps. Although he is quite thin, Miller still barely weighs 170 lbs soaking wet, he has shown the NHL, and the fans in Buffalo, that his quickness and agility more than make up for it. The Sabres improved their backup position by letting Ty Conklin go, and by signing Jocelyn Thibault, who is nearing the end of his career. He has "bionic hips" and nobody is sure how long they will last, but until they do give out, expect him to be a solid option as backup to Miller.

Adam Dennis got his first taste of professional hockey after coming from the London Knights of the OHL, and lets just say it was a shaky, yet eye-opening experience for him. His lackluster GAA of 3.34 in Rochester of the AHL will probably mean that he stays in Rochester for at least one or two more years. He has potential and is still fairly young, and I expect him at sometime in his career to make the NHL. It's all up to him how fast he gets there. The Sabres also have a young Swedish prospect by the name of Jhonas Enroth, who played for Sodertalje of the Swedish Elite League last season. He is a fine young prospect, and should be a solid puckstopper in the future, but he is still very raw, and won't be in North America for some time.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

King Hank In The HOUSE!

First off, I would like to thank EggShmeg for inviting me to write for this site. I hope everybody enjoys reading what's on my mind. I'll be on "vacation". I would just like to introduce myself now and i hope to talk to you all later.

Some of you may know me as Rags2Riches from If you have already read my story there, I apologize for putting it up again but I cannot think of any other way to represent who I am. The following article is a description of my journey as a Ranger fan in my short 15 year life from my first-hand perspective.

I was born in September of 1991, a first child to my parents. My father is a lifelong, die-hard, former season ticket holder, Islanders fan who grew up 20 minutes away from the Nassau Coliseum, or as I like to call it, the Mausoleum.
He saw the glory days of the Islanders in the early 80s, the years of Bossy, Trottier and the hated Potvin. My mother is disinterested in sports and, like many mothers and wives, is puzzled by the obsession the my father and I have regarding sports. Nonetheless, my father quickly trained me to love the game of hockey and....gasp...the Islanders.

In the first 5 years of my life, I was taught all about the Islanders. I loved hockey, a sport that has been my favorite for all of my life. My father has pictures of me sitting on an ice-skating rink wearing an Islanders jersey. I have many-a-time begged him to destroy the photos but he refused and keeps them to remember the days when we shared fandom. I loved hockey and I knew that the Islanders is what hockey is all about. But it was in my nature to differ from my father in sports teams, myself being a Jets, Yankees and Rangers fan; he, a (football) Giants, Dodgers and Islanders fan. Something would change.

I was put in a situation where I was able to see the light and become a Rangers fan, much to the disappointment of my father. I was two years old when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1994. My father made a decision to wake me up from my peaceful slumber to watch the final minutes of Game 7 of the Cup Finals because after all, it was a New York team, albeit the hated Rangers. And I saw Craig McTavish win the faceoff with less than 2 seconds to go. And I saw Messier take the Cup with that insane grin pasted on his face.
Although I have no recollection of that night, I am sure that it subconsciously sent me on my way to becoming a Rangers fan.

Location also played a role in my journey. You see, I was born and raised in Manhattan, or as it is more commonly known: New York, New York. I live just a fifteen minute train ride from Madison Square Garden, home of my beloved Rangers. And so, the first hockey game that I attended was in that great building as a five year old kid. I only went to Islanders games, but living much closer to the Garden than to the Island, it only made sense to go to the world's most famous arena to watch them. I was confused by the anti-Islander atmosphere and was pulled along by the crowd to cheer for the Rangers. My five year old brain could not think of anything to do but cheer for both teams, to go along with my father and with the other 15,000 fans in the building.

As I grew older, when I was seven or eight, I realized that I could not cheer for both teams or for the Penguins, my adopted team that I enjoyed watching. I had to choose a team to become a real fan. Until then, hockey was a game, fun to watch, fun to play. But when it became a war where fans were emotionally invested in a team, and lived and died with every win and loss, I could not remain sitting on the fence. What really swung my decision was when I found out that a couple of my fathers friends had Rangers season skybox tickets. So when a seven year old kid approached them and asked for two tickets to a game, they could not refuse. And that season, I believe it was the 1998-99 season, I went to my first Ranger game in which the Islanders or Penguins were not playing. And the Garden atmosphere along with Leetch, Richter and Gretzky made my decision for me.
I would be a Ranger fan.

The interesting part is that all the fifteen or so Ranger games I went to before the lockout all ended in ties or losses with the exception of a Rangers-Leafs game which I left after the second period. I had seen the Rangers shutout twice at the hands of Dom Hasek and the Sabres as well as countless ties with the Isles and Pens. So when I heard that the lockout ended in the summer of 2005, I decided to get to as many Ranger games as possible. After watching two losses in 2005-06, I was desperate to see a legitimate Ranger win. I managed to secure tickets to only 3 games this past season thanks to my rigorous private high school schedule of 8AM to 9PM on weekdays and 8AM to 3PM on Sundays. After seeing the Rangers lose to Philly early in the year and blow a 3 goal lead against the Wings, I was ready for another disappointment as they trailed the Islanders 1-0 heading into the third period. DiPietro stopped over 50 shots in the game, much to the delight of my father who came to the game with me. But 27 seconds into the third, DiPietro made a kick save on a Cullen shot and I watched from a perfect angle as Prucha fired the rebound past the sprawling goalie to tie it up.
And when Cullen (I'll miss you) scored the only goal in shootout, I sang "Sweet Caroline" as my father watched with a smile on his face. Because he knew that it was a first for me and he knows that there are bigger things in life than hockey.
So now I have built on my hockey fandom, brainwashing my four year old brother into being a Ranger fan despite my father's futile attempts to make him an Isles fan. And now I am writing and reading blogs almost every day on many different sites. So all is good with me as I prepare for a Rangers cup run. And I am ready to watch, listen and breathe Rangers hockey in 2007-08. Hope to see you all along the way.


Filling the Holes in Swiss Cheese - Part One


There are many reasons why the Flyers regressed into the horrible team that was iced before the reversal began in mid-season this past year. It actually started before the Lockout took place... Clarke, sensing the great change on the horizon, decided to hold off on re-signing all his UFAs with the exception of Keith Primeau. Keith had decided to buck the NHLPA and forgo Free Agency, and a possible jackpot contract in order to take a lower, longer contract to stay with the Flyers.

Clarke felt that he should wait and see what the market would be before he could determine what to offer his FAs... He did however make low ball offers to the likes of Zhamnov, and a couple others, which were quickly and flatly refused. He sat down with Mark Recchi and honestly told him that the Flyers wanted him back but could not make an honest offer until he knew what the 'rules' would be in the new CBA. Recchi in turn told Clarke that he wanted to retire as a Flyer and in the area, BUT he had to do what he had to do... for himself and for his family -- quite understandable -- Pittsburgh offered him a sweet contract that he could not refuse; a main piece of the core of the Flyers was now gone.

Going into the Lockout the Flyers had a nice team that got within one goal of a winnable Stanley Cup Finals seat and they looked like a team that would be a force in the future... As we all are aware, the Lockout killed the following season and many players contracts were then to expire.

Meanwhile, the Flyers AHL affiliate, The Phantoms, had a nice year and won the Calder Cup. They were manned with many Flyers prospects and young players unaffected by the Lockout... Prior to that Clarke had figured that some prospects would push the Flyers for spots, now he believed that he could man his team with many young and inexpensive players that would fit well in a capped league as the NHL had now become; a miscalculation on his part.

Coming out of the Lockout Clarke quickly signed what he believed to be the top defensive duo that would anchor the D for the better part of the decade; Mike Rathje and Derien Hatcher, then Coach Hitchcock's captain in his Dallas Cup winning team. Clarke was counting on the usual occurrence of the NHL only calling the obstruction penalties at the beginning of the season... and then allowing the game to be played as it had been before. Rathje and Hatcher together would be monsters in a defense under those circumstances... Along with stud prospect and a past third overall pick, Joni Pitkanen, a puck carrying D-man who played the pre-Lockout year, and returning mobile D-men Eric Desjardins and Kim Johnsson, the Flyers were well set on the blue line... Or so it seemed.

Then Clarke got the phone call of a lifetime... Peter Forsberg's agent called to inform Clarke that his client had decided to sign with the Flyers. Clarke was under the assumption that he had been done with his post-lockout major moves, so he had to scramble to make moves to free up cap space in order that they may sign him. The major move was to ask Roenick if he was willing be moved in order that they may release enough money for Foppa... JR, being the team player that he was, agreed to be traded to Los Angeles-- he said that Forsberg was the best player in the World, and that he would trade himself to sign him... if he was faced with the decision (paraphrased) -- Clarke sweetened the pot with LA and tossed in a pick for them taking the salary dump.

Clarke struck fast and hard and many hockey pundits were hailing him for the moves, and many had placed them among the favorites to win the Cup... The Flyers had a good goalie going into the Lockout in Robert Esche, and Antero Niittymaki, the Calder Cup MVP, coming up... Keith Primeau returning as captain after a career playoff... the defense I have mentioned above, and Gagne back at wing after a breakout playoff... Also signed along with Forsberg was Mike Knuble a late blooming stud and Turner Stevenson, a mainstay with the Devils Cup teams... Can't miss prospects Jeff Carter and Michael 'Captain Canada' Richards, who was targeted as the future captain of the Flyers, were being counted on to step right in.

The future look bright... Then things started to fall apart; their captain went down, with a career ending final concussion, and only got nine games in during the season. The uncertainty would not play itself out through the entire season and into the next one. Also, the officials threw a curve ball and held tight in making obstruction calls throughout the entire season, thus hindering the big two D-men's usefulness... By mid-season, after the All star break that found the Flyers with the most points in the NHL, the bottom fell out and injuries began to take a huge toll... Not the least of which was the constant visits to the Injured Reserve List by superstar, Peter Forsberg... A concussion put an end to Kim Johnsson's Flyers career and his season, and Eric Desjardins' injuries made him unavailable for most of the second half of the season and the playoffs. Stevenson was also hurt most of the season and ended up being of no at all, finally being bout out at season's end... Niittymaki was felled by injury also and the team tailed off through the end of the season and flopped greatly in the playoffs.

This all set the table for the total collapse that was to be last year.

Part Two will analyze the initial disaster of a start in 2006-07 and the beginning of the pull out from the tailspin.

Fernandez Era Begins in Beantown

The Boston Bruins have one of the more unique goaltending situations in the league. The Bruins traded for Manny Fernandez from Minnesota, who decided to go with Nicklas Backstrom full time, in exchange for prospect Petr Kalus and a Fourth-Round draft pick. He should be the team's starter come opening day, although his wonky knee is a bit of a concern. You can't argue with his numbers, although some people say that playing for the defensive-minded Wild may have skewed them. He has a career GAA of 2.47 and a .913 Save %. I believe that he will strive in Boston, and he will provide the Bruins with solid netminding for the next couple of years. The backup this year will be the wild Tim Thomas. He burst onto the scene in 05-06 and earned a starting job in 06-07, but it was quickly proven that he could not handle the load of an entire NHL season. He is still a very good option for Boston as a backup, and in case of another injury to Fernandez, they can feel comfortable with him back there.

Jordan Sigalet is a name Bruins fans have probably seen in their system for the past few years. He has played for Providence the last 2 seasons, and even got a brief call up to the show in 05-06. At 26-years-old he doesn't have much left in terms of potential, and he will probably be a mainstay in Providence for the rest of his career. They have an American goalie by the name of Mike Brown who played mainly in the ECHL last season, but has been called up to Providence on a few occasions. He is still young and may be a welcome surprise for the Bruins farm system.

The big name that everyone keeps hearing about is young Tuukka Rask. He was traded to Boston from Toronto in the now-infamous Raycroft deal. He keeps putting up great numbers for Ilves Tampere in the SM-Liiga, and he will be making his way to Boston very shortly. He is now 20-years-old and has completed his mandatory army duty for Finland (to the best of my knowledge) and he will surely be playing for Boston by 08-09. He has everything you would want in a goalie. Quick, agile, and strong, with great vision. He will need to add some muscle once he comes over to North America, he is a slim 165 right now, but that should be accomplished easily. Tuukka Rask will be a star very soon in Boston, and Fernandez should be able to hold the fort until he arrives.

Sure Success or Recipe for Disaster?

As the season fast approaches, I look back at this crazy summer. I mainly look at the two teams in the East that made the most noise, The Flyers and the Rangers. Both teams took the UFA opening bell by the horns and made huge upgrades, but is it going to give them success?

The New York Rangers made a big day huge by landing Scott Gomez and Chris Drury in the space of a few hours. Many in Manhattan where elated when they found out about these signings and the Islander fan inside of me cried out in dismay. While on paper these signings look phenomenal for the Rangers, will that equal up to on-ice success?

With the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Sean Avery, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist already in the fold, will the chemistry work at MSG? All the tools are there, but will they get them to work? We all know the work ethic of the new comers, will that rub off on the young players and veterans, giving the Rangers a potent team that will burst into the playoffs and do some serious damage? Will the Rangers find that too much ego and too many names are now in the locker room and collapse in on themselves and drop from the playoff picture or get a first round elimination for all their hard earned money?

The Flyers are another team that made huge strides, but they started well before the UFA open season. A quick and very good upgrade the Flyboys made was getting Martin Biron to mind the net for the next year. Biron was an instant upgrade for the Flyers who finally have some stability in net. The Flyers made some extremely great moves as the summer went on and upgraded their team exponentially. Picking up Daniel Briere, Joffery Lupul, Scott Hartnell, Scottie Upshall, and Kimmo Timonen the Flyers will be a force to be reckoned with next year... or will they? In the same situation as the Rangers, the Flyers could face the very real problem of these players not gelling in their new environment. I hope against hope that does not end up happening, but it definitely has happened before. Will the Flyers ride the scoring touch of Danny B and break back into the post season or will the team continue to play down at the bottom of the East?

Both these teams face enormous mountains this season. High contracts and high expectations are placed on the players coming to these teams and are expected to provide immediate results. Will they be up to it? The season is coming quick and the answer lies in the future. Only time will tell if these moves, which look good on paper, turn into the on-ice quality that is expected.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Thrashers Current Goaltending Solid, Future Also Bright

Despite being knocked out in the first round last season, and being yanked in favour of Johan Hedberg after two games, the playoffs were a good thing for young Kari Lehtonen. He is going to be a stud in this league, but he still needs to gain experience. After Pasi Nurminen had his career ended by a devastating knee injury, the Thrashers goaltending hopes were all on Lehtonen's shoulders. One knock against Lehtonen was his consistency. He is about as consistent as Hockeybuzz's server (which in case you didn't know, is not good). The Thrashers brass are hoping that it improves with time, which in most cases it does. Lehtonen has lightning quick reflexes and a solid frame to work with at 6'4 195, so things should only get better for him. Johan Hedberg is a quality backup netminder who should provide 20-25 games of rest for Lehtonen, which is key.

Goaltender Fred Brathwaite came back from playing in Europe last season, and played 40 games for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, the Thrashers farm team. He serves as a very formidable backstop if either one of Hedberg or Lehtonen goes down. The Thrashers also have a very highly regarded prospect coming up by the name of Ondrej Pavelec, who played for Cape Breton of the QMJHL last season. Patrick Roy was once quoted raving about him, calling him the "real deal" and that he would be a star one day. He is another large goalie with great reflexes, and he should be pressing Lehtonen for the starting position in Atlanta in no time. At 20 years old, he still has plenty of time to develop, and the Thrashers certainly won't be rushing him, so you probably won't see him on the radar until 2009-2010. The Thrashers shouldn't be worried about their goaltending for a while, they have decent goaltending now, and a young one coming up for the future.

The Know-Nothing Rookie

Hello fellow bloggers and readers alike. A thanks to Eggs who invited me from another great site, I'm a Leaf fan. Just thought I'd get that out of the way first. I became a Leaf fan just like every other Leaf fan out there; indoctrination. My father, a quiet Leaf fan, had a friend who was a very loud Leaf fan. I enjoyed the game from a young age and had a Leaf jersey at the age of 4, just in time for my first great disappointment. As blurred as it is, I can remember bits and pieces of that magical playoff run that I had such a small understanding of. All I can really remember is that we lost, and that it wasn't exactly the best way to lose either. As I grew older I saw the Leafs do many things, all of which, at the time, were infallible but sure enough by years end the moves, which were praised by myself and millions of fans alike as great moves, proved to be not enough to get us all what we wanted.

It wasn't until two short years ago that I had a free box to watch a Leaf game did I truly realize what was going on. At the age of 16, I sat in one of many boxes which were built just for the purpose of business. From the box I had binoculars and found myself watching the entire lower bowl of fans, completely disinterested in the game itself, more than the game. Merchandise was marked up to seemingly 200%, food, drinks and parking followed suit. This wonderful hockey game that was being played infront of them all, didn't matter. The best seats in the house were used to sell something to the casually interested, not to please the biggest fan. Outside, there were scalpers selling tickets for two sometimes three times the price. Everybody got their cut. The Leafs won that game, but I was far from pleased from what I had learned. I always knew that money was part of the league, but it was much worse than I had ever imagined. Here are thousands of fans, if not millions who are absolutely crazy about their team, but at the same time so blind to see how badly they are getting screwed sideways every single year.

I have since then tried to become the complete opposite by keeping my team accountable and away from my money, until I see fit to change, even if I am one little man. I believe that changing teams is not for me, despite the endless failures and the lack of a plan to change it simply because that's not who I am. I'd rather continue to bleed blue, while keeping my cash where it belongs, in my pocket, than switch teams, even if that team is a winner. I may be crazy to believe this, but I believe one day this insane streak of 40 years, and counting, will end, and when it does, it will be a joy I will not want to miss. I would rather stick with my team and have them never win until well after I die, than switch teams and miss it, as unlikely as it may seem.

That's just a little bit about me. I may be 18, but I hope to bring many interesting, and quite different angles, to as many stories as possible be it for my own personal view, or, just for the fun of it. What I believe and what I don't is for you to guess and to attempt to know.

Giggy the Man in Anaheim's Future

This will be the first of my 30 overviews of the goaltending situation of every team in the NHL going into 07-08. I'll cover everything from the starting position, to prospects. So we start with Anaheim. Last year JS Giguere proved that he was the starter after entering the season in competition with Ilya Bryzgalov. Although Giguere may not be the most athletic goaltender in the league, he has experience that not many goaltenders have. He is very professional about his job and has a knack to come through in the clutch. Bryzgalov is nothing to sneeze at either. He played well when he did play last season, Giguere just outperformed him. That's not a bad thing for Ducks, it's a good kind of problem to have. Giguere received a long term contract from the Ducks, so look for Bryzgalov to find his way out of Anaheim sometime in 07-08 (He just hopes it's not Edmonton). The Ducks may wait until an injury, then teams will be more interested in him, thus the price goes up, and they can sell high. Bryzgalov deserves to be a starter, he is good enough, he is just not in the right situation as of now.

The Ducks signed prospect goaltender Jonas Hiller from Switzerland in the off-season, and he is ready to step in as a backup if Bryzgalov were to leave. As for the goaltenders on the bubble, they also signed a goalie by the name of Gerald Coleman who actually played a little bit for Tampa Bay and has some NHL experience. He will most likely be the AHL goalie for Portland. They also have a 20-year-old prospect by the name of JP Levasseur who played for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies last season and saw plenty of shots. His goals against wasn't too good as a result, but this kid is good, ignore his stats. The Ducks are very well off in the goaltending position for years to come, Ducks fans have nothing to worry about.

Hockey in Hamilton (Again!)

The once hot topic has seemed to cool in the latter months of the summer, but I still need answers. As a proud Hamiltonian hockey fan, I was thrown directly into the middle of this mess when word first broke that Jim Balsillie was about to buy the Nashville Predators. I was probably the happiest guy on earth, I may finally be able to see NHL hockey live, on a regular basis! I've been to a total of 1 Toronto Maple Leafs game in my life, and that was at the old Maple Leaf Gardens when I was five. When I moved out west I was able to go to a couple of Vancouver Canucks games, but I have since moved back to Ontario, and it's back to this crap. I frequently go to Hamilton Bulldog games, and don't get me wrong, those guys can play (especially that Carey Price kid), but there's a reason why they aren't selling tickets. Three simple letters, N-H-L. There is far too much to do in southern Ontario, going to an AHL game ranks pretty low. People have used the Bulldog's attendance figures as a reason why Hamilton would not be able to support an NHL team, but trust me, if it was an NHL team, there would be people coming from all over Ontario to watch the best players in the universe, and there would be sellouts left, right and centre.

Now let me get back on track to the real reason I am writing this blog. Why did the selling of the Nashville Predators to Mr. Balsillie fail? There are rumours of Bettman rearing his ugly head (Sorry Gary), and stopping the transaction, but I'm not sure if I can believe that. Bettman may be the commish, but does he have complete control over what the teams do? The topic has been off the radar for a while now, and people seemed to have forgotten already about this. I wish there was a way Hamilton could get a franchise without having the loyal fans in Nashville lose theirs, but I'm not sure expansion is the right route for the NHL to go (Plus the team will be as good as an AHL team for the first couple of years).

Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Bettman have been pretty tight-lipped about this, maybe in hopes that this will all blow over. I have not given up hope that the NHL will never come to Hamilton, but in the meantime I will still enjoy going t my Calder Cup Champion Hamilton Bulldog games, and I hope that my fellow Hamiltonians will join me, and prove to the world that we can fully support an NHL team to ourselves, and that we have hockey in our blood, because there is no doubt that we are a hockey town.

Let Me Entertain You, Let Me Make You Smile

Please allow me to introduce myself; I am ForeverFlyer16, a regular of HockeyBuzz... I will attempt to blog with both content and humor... Please watch out for thick slabs of sarcasm in my blogs as well as more than a few dashes of silliness and fun... With some serious rants tossed in for balance.

A little history about my love for hockey in general, and the Flyers in particular... I am not a talented hockey player -- although I wish I were -- rather, I'm a die hard fan of the greatest sport on Earth, hockey... Prior to the 'First Expansion' in the NHL Philadelphia hockey consisted of watching the 'Original Six' teams on National TV and minor league Philly teams of various levels. I attended some 'Philadelphia Rambler' games and watched few TV games; I was far from a knowledgeable hockey fan back then... Then came the Flyers.

I was a big Philly sports fan so I adopted the new team into the fold of 'my' teams. They started off their existence while I was away in the service, in Vietnam and other places, so I had to follow them and my other Philly teams as best i could, with 'old' Inquirers that were sent to me and other less than ideal sources... I was taken in by their first year and their battle to win their Conference although they had to play their crucial stretch of 'home' games in NYC and mostly Quebec due to a wind storm that blew a major portion of their roof off at the newly built Spectrum... They won the conference and almost played .500 in the process; they would have been over .500 had they been able to play at their real home, no doubt since thay were only one win short... The seeds had been firmly planted and the city of Philadelphia and myself had taken to the upstart team, and the NHL, and hockey in general.

To make a long story short; I moved across the river upon discharge from the service and resided in the area of most of the players' residences... My love for hockey and the Flyers grew with each passing game... I was newly married and had two young children so my free spending money was not great; I could not afford to get in on the ground floor as a season ticket holder so I had to buy games where I could in a tight market where the tickets were hard to come by and sellouts were the norm... There was a long waiting list for season tickets... I bought seats in various location until the mid-Seventies when I was able to find someone who was willing to sell a fairly nice amount of games each year... That quickly turned into an official partnership in the season tickets that started at a quarter share and evolved into a half share as some partners left the group... I started taking my son when he was old enough to appreciate the sport and the Flyers; he is now as large a fan as I am.

My passion grew by leaps and bounds each year, although I didn't think it could since it was so huge to begin with... I am now at a fanatical point where the Flyers family is as much a part of my life as anything could be that was not a flesh and blood member... And I have learned to really appreciate other teams as well over the years... And with HockeyBuzz, I have now learned to really like very many opposing fans.

Being a Flyers fan has spoiled me greatly... This past year has brought my feet down to Earth; I will not take winning for granted any longer.

Living in South Jersey, and being a member of the Flyers Fan Club, and traveling to road games has given me the chance to meet many Flyers players and management, both past and current... I will use all this experience in composing my blogs here, and I hope that you can appreciate my love and passion, since my only aim is that you do.

The humor was not present in this first blog, as promised... It will be in the future ones, you can count on that.

I will use the Flyers as a base much in many of my blogs, but I will also look at the NHL and the World of Hockey in depth also... all of which will be, IMHO.

Holy Crap, It Just Won't End

Alright, before I start my first real entry I have to admit, after reading the entries by Egg and Psy, I felt a little ashamed by the lack of quality and quantity in my intro, so hopefully I can provide some more thoughtful or, at the very least, lengthy entries in the future. As I told Egg earlier, this is my first time blogging and thus I am not quite used to writing out my thoughts on any given issue in any form longer than a paragraph or two. Having said that however, I will try my best to find items that will hopefully give me enough of an opinion to write more than just a paragraph. Fortunately for me (and possibly unfortunately for anyone who decides to read this), I've already found such an issue. This is probably a slightly bigger deal to me as an Avs fan than it is to most other fans, though it still nonetheless changed the lives of two NHL players, ending one hockey career and dramatically altering another for the worse. I am, of course, talking about the Bertuzzi-Moore incident, which happened more than three years ago, yet still continues to make TSN news today.

Before I start ranting about the fact that we are still hearing about this (note: just a warning, this will probably be very long), I want to share my opinion on the incident right after it occurred, and my opinion now. When I first heard about the incident on TV, I reacted, as I'm sure most fans did, in anger and shock. I couldn't fathom what was going through Bertuzzi's mind as he punched Moore on the back of the head, and as it was slowly played out in the news I became entrenched in the same opinions that the media repeated day after day: The Vancouver Canucks were headhunting after Moore's elbow on Naslund, and Bert happened to have the best shot at him and took it. Now whether Bert had it all planned out or he just coincidentally happened to be within arm's range of Moore when he wasn't looking, I didn't know, but I was convinced that Bert had acted with clear intention to end Moore's career. Even after the lockout year and Bert was reinstated, I was still upset, and felt that the suspension was nowhere near long enough, as it was only a few regular season games and the playoffs, and everything after that was suffered by all, and not just Bert himself.

A while after that though, and having heard some more reasonable opinions from fellow hockey fans, I began to see that Bert really did suffer enough. He had lost much more than just a few games. His reputation was shattered, he was faced with media and fan criticism for the rest of his career, and he was criminally charged, resulting in his serving a year on probation. As if this wasn't enough, word of a multi-million dollar civil suit followed against Bertuzzi, Brad May, and Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment. I realized that Bert had suffered enough and, as a hockey fan, accepted that he should be welcomed back into the league to continue his career and to once again be judged by his playing abilities, and not the mistakes he had made in the past. I had in a sense forgiven him, even though he had done me no personal wrong.

Flash forward to the present, and this is where the rant comes in. I had all but forgotten about this incident, and my only thoughts of Bertuzzi were that he was being overpaid in his new contract with the Ducks. Then I noticed the article I mentioned earlier, and all these memories came back to me (note: writing the blog certainly helped, heh). It looks like the civil suit is carrying on, and Bert will once again have his mistake brought to the forefront of his attention, but hopefully, for his sake, this won't become a full-blown media circus. Even if it doesn't, I still feel that this is unnecessarily kicking at a man again who, even though he isn't down, isn't quite fully back up yet either. Does Steve Moore deserve some sort of retribution for what's been done to him? Absolutely, but that should have been settled out of court years ago. Here is a man who, with all due respect, was a grinder in the NHL without much potential to be a good, let alone great player(12 points in 69 games over three seasons at 25 years of age), and he's not only demanding nearly 20 million dollars, but also refusing to accept any personal apologies from Bertuzzi, despite many attempts by Bert to do so.

Even though I am vilifying the victim a bit here, it is very hard for me to understand how such a large amount of money is justified by Moore as anything but a cash cow after an unfortunate incident. Even if I was a complete Moore sympathizer, I couldn't justify some of the sums of money being demanded in the suit, such as $1.5 million dollars being owed to the Moore's parents because they were watching the events on TV and thus suffered "mental distress." Again, I know I am vilifying the victim, and many will disagree with me, but this just seems wrong, and they're prolonging the punishment of a man that, I feel, has already received his due, and prolonging the media attention that they have, I feel, already received enough of.