Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sens Notes: Emery still ailing; Roster uncertain

Emery's wrist not healed yet

Goalie Ray Emery was expected to be ready for the home-and-home season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs starting on Wednesday, but, is now expected to miss at least the first three games of the Senators' season. Emery had surgery in the offseason on his left wrist which ailed him most of last season. It has not been announced yet, but I would expect that he will be sent to the Sens' AHL affiliate in Binghamton to get some rehab starts in. This decision was probably made after Emery gave up two goals on just nine shots against the Flyers Wednesday night.

Gerber gets his shot

Martin Gerber was was the starting Goalie going into last season but, he struggled out of the gate, losing his job to Emery. He started sparingly in the New Year but he finished off strong going 10-0-0-2 in his last 12 starts. He has followed that up with a stellar preseason. He'll get a chance to win his job back. When Emery comes back a platoon is very likely as the Sens lose very little with Gerber as their starter providing he does not lose his confidence again like last year.

Elliot over Glass

Brian Elliot has been called up to backup Gerber until Emery returns. He probably won't get to play any action unless Emery is out for an extended period of time. Brian Elliot has only had 8 games of experience in the AHL while Jeff Glass, former Canadian World Juniors starter started 43 games in his second pro season in Binghamton.

Elliot made 14 saves, giving up just 1 goal in 28 preseason minutes for the Sens so that could have been the deciding factor, or the Sens want to let Glass better develop, starting in the AHL.

Roster Uncertainty

By the looks of it, the CASH line will be split up to start the season and the top 3 lines will look like this:


The fourth line is completely up in the air with jack-of-all-trades Christoph Schubert, tough guy Brian McGratton, veterens Niko Dimitrakos and Denis Hamel and prospects Nick Foligno, Alexander Nikulin and Ilya Zubov. Schubert will definitely make the team playing back on D, up front and on the powerplay. McGratton should play against tougher teams like the Leafs but he'll sit when their isn't a tough guy on the other side. Nick Foligno, who can play up the middle and on the wing, is the most likely prospect to make the team. Keep in mind that when McAmmond comes back he'll be centering the fourth line. But, before we can guess on what the fourth line will look like we have to look at Schubert's chances are at starting on Defense this season.

Phillips-Volchenkov and Meszaros-Redden are a lock as is Corvo on the 3rd pairing. Christoph Schubert, Lawrence Nycolat and Luke Richardson are all in the running for the 6th and 7th defense spots. All could conceivably make the club.

My guess: Against tougher teams we'll see a Hamel-Foligno-McGratton 4th line with Schubert moving up against softer teams. This would mean that Schubert would fill out the defense and one or both of Nycolat and Richardson will get to play D when Schubert moves up.

The Ups and Downs of Being a Sens Fan

As you probably could have guessed I am an Ottawa Senators fan from Ottawa (Again you probably could have guessed as I have not met a Sens fan yet who has not lived in the Ottawa area for at least some of the last 10 years). Eggshmeg (who I met on a forum) has let me post my thoughts and opinions here. I plan on writing about the Sens and general hockey happenings. I will not be just writing plain reviews (you can find that about a thousand other places on the net) but I will give my opinion on strategies the coaching staff is using, trades made (or not) by newly appointed General Manager Bryan Murray, player performances or just general interest stories. You will find that I'm very nitpicky with what the front office and coaching staff does (Did they really need to trade for a 4th line winger in Oleg Saprykin at the deadline and we did not need to sign Gerber last offseason when we already had a more than capable goalie in Ray "Razor" Emery).

Anyways, on to what this entry is about, the roller coaster ride that is being an Ottawa Senators fan. Yes, by those uneducated hockey fans the Senators could be called one of the most consistent hockey clubs of the new millennium. But, if you follow hockey closely you will know that the Senators are renowned for being one of the most inconsistent teams when it comes to the playoffs. Ottawa has made the playoffs every season since they nearly upset the Buffalo Sabres in the 1997 playoffs.

In 1998 they won their first playoff series upsetting the top team in the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Devils in 6 games. In the second round they lost to the Washington Capitals in 5 games.

In the 1998/99 season the Senators finished with a winning record for the first time in franchise history. However they were disappointed, being swept by the Buffalo Sabres. The letdowns continued as they lost to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs in 6 games in the 2000 playoffs. The next year they would be swept away by the Leafs in 4 games. Now, on to what I can more than vaguely remember. On draft day following the sweep by the Maple Laughs (As so many Sens fans call them), in what is now considered the most lop-sided deal of the millennium thus far as the Senators sent Alexei Yashin to the New York Islanders in return for Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt and the 2nd overall pick (which turned out to be Jason Spezza). Chara and his 6'9" frame became one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league. Muckalt proceeded to score zero, yes zero goals in his one and only season as a Senator. Meanwhile, Jason Spezza has become arguably the best setup man in the league.

So the next year (2002) Jaques Martin does about the only worthwhile thing in his tenure as the Sens' Head Coach, letting Roger Neilson step behind the bench for his 999th and 1000th career games behind the bench. Also, being of use for the first and only time was Patrick Lalime. In the first round of the playoffs he held the Flyers to an OT goal in game one and three straight shutouts in the next 3 games. The Sens secured the series when Lalime gave up one goal in a Senators OT victory. Lalime looked good again in round two, the Battle of Ontario, shuting out the provincial rivals 5-0 in game one. However, Lalime disappointed the rest of the way as the Sens eventually lost in 7 games.

The 2002-03 season, the Sens best to that point, overshadowed by Rob Bryden and friends going bankrupt. The Sens manhandled the Islanders after losing 3-0 in game 1. (I still remember singing "Hey Hey Hey Goodbye" at game 5 and booing Alexi Yashin whenever he touched the puck. Also the fans about 5 rows in front were all over Garth Snow too) Anyways, on to the Flyers. We beat them in 6 games to face the Devils in the Conference Final for the first time since some time in the 20s (If they even had Conference Finals then). Well we got off to a good start in game one with Shaun Van Allen's (of all people) OT Goal. We proceeded to lose the next 3 though. In game 5, out saviour, Jason Spezza got into his first playoff action, leading the Sens to victory with a goal and an assist. In game 6 yet another unlikely hero, Chris Phillips, scored an OT goal to force a game 7. Anyways, game seven, tie game, 2 minutes left. Wade Redden gives up the goddamn puck and the Devils score, going to the Cup Final. On to 2003-04. Eugene Melnyk buys the club in the offseason. The Sens turn in a disappointing season finishing 3rd in the Northeast division and face the Leafs (yet again) in round one. Patrick Lalime struggled (especially in game 6 getting pulled after giving up 3 goals on 11 shots). Prior to the lockout season Martin was fired in favour of Bryan Murray and Lalime was sent packing in favour of Dominik Hasek.

First year back from the lockout the Senators were clear favorites after acquiring Dominik Hasek and Danny Heatley. The Sens only lose 6 games prior to the new year. But then, fragile Dominik Hasek has to go pull his groin in the Olympics, leaving the Sens hopes up to Ray Emery. Despite slumping late after Emery took over the Sens still posted their best season yet. The Tampa Bay Lightning were easily taken care of in 5 games. Emery was streaky in the 2nd round, losing in 5 games.

Now, 2006-07, the Sens put their faith on newly acquired Goalie Martin Gerber. Dan McAmmond, Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing were also acquired to fill holes vacated by Zdeno Chara and Brian Pothier and Brian Smolinski. Vaclav Varada was let go to play in Europe while Brian Smolinski and Martin Havlat were casualties of the salary cap. Mike Comrie was later acquired to help fill some holes up front. Gerber struggled out of the gate. Emery would take over and play the bulk of the games from December on. Despite not acquiring Gary Roberts at the deadline the Senators, led by Ray Emery and the famed CASH line, the Senators beat the Penguins, Devils and Sabres in 5 games a piece. However, the Sens struggled against the physical Anaheim Ducks, losing the Stanley Cup in just 5 games.

In the offseason, Bryan Murray was promoted to General Manager. Most believe because of Muckler not acquiring a big name at the deadline. Tom Preissing and Mike Comrie were both lost to Free Agency and Peter Schaefer was sent to Boston for Shean Donovan, while Matt Carkner, Niko Dimotrakos and Luke Richardson were the only Free Agent acquisitions. None of them are slated to make more than $575 000 this season. What this season will hold, who knows. But, the forwards past Daniel Alfredsson, Danny Heatley and Jason Spezza will have to step up and give the Sens some more secondary scoring.

Wow that was longer than I thought, now off to watch the Ducks/Kings game.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bernier to be Kings' Starter? Wieman Gets Shot In Colorado.

There are numerous reports today in the hockey world that Jonathan Bernier has indeed won the starting goaltender role in Los Angeles. When Dan Cloutier got sent down earlier this week, it set off signals that this could actually be the situation. You may have read about it in one of my earlier blogs as well. I don't necessarily disagree with the call, but if the coaches and scouts truly believe he is ready for the big leagues, then they should go for it. The lackluster play of Jason Labarbera this pre-season has also contributed to this decision, if it's true, and many picked him as the consensus starter this year. This will all be revealed tomorrow when the Kings play their first game of the season in London, England at Noon against the Ducks.

In a recent In the Cheap Seats article, there is an outline of how the team's roster is shaping up now that training camp is coming to a close. As most of you know, Jose Theodore will likely not be ready when the season starts due to a knee injury, so that means young Tyler Wieman will get a shot at the backup spot, at least until Theo returns. It will be interesting to see if Joel Quennville gives him any playing time, but I hope he does, so we get to see what he can do.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rangers Fight Nights

For the past few weeks, potential Rangers players have been fighting for a spot on the roster. As training camp ended and the preseason began, more cuts were made and the team found that they had quite a few position battles on their hands. So after three preseason games and 10 fighting majors, the situation seems to have cleared up a bit.

Goalie Fight (no, not that one)
It seems like Stephen Valiquette has locked up the back-up goalie spot as Montoya needs playing time, not to mention cannot show his face in Nassau after getting pasted by Dipietro last night. Steve is a good back-up, can win some games and is consistant despite erratic playing time. Montoya continues to remain in the minors thanks to his high salary and stage of development and will likely remain there until he is traded to a team in immediate need of a starting goalie. Valiquette will not play this weekend because of a cut on his hand but will be ready to return by the time the season rolls around. Lundqvist hopes to play 70+ games this season but if he gets injured, Stephen is not good enough to step in as a starter and Montoya will get his shot.

Dubie Dubie Doo (no, not that one either)
After a few months of deliberation that included names such as Peca, Cullen and, for some hopeful Islander fans, Yashin, the Rangers seem to be as close as ever to solving their third-line center quandry. The name is Brandon Dubinsky, a young center who has played a few games with the big club and has impressed the management and the fans in camp and the preseason. The Ranger's Dubi brings speed, effort, skill and size to the ice. He is 6'1 210 pounds and plays a similar grind it out style to Rangers success stories Prucha and Callahan. He will likely play with Avery and Callahan and that gritty line could be one of the best energy lines in hockey. Circumatantially, his competition seems to have fallen away as Anisimov has proven to be too weak on the puck and Straka will likely be needed on the first line. This starts a cycle which ends with the team lacking a third line center and Dubinsky being the man to fill that need. Hopefully, he will play well in his first full-time gig with the Rangers.

High School Science
Chemistry is quite the issue as Jagr has had trouble clicking with Gomez wheter Straka, Hossa or Dawes plays the other wing. It obviously takes time for new line-mates to find chemistry but the real question is how long. It is imperative for the top line to click or the Rangers best player and the Ranger's highest paid player will be ineffective. And Sather will have to hide in the wilderness (Edmonton). What is really needed is a lot of practice and ice-time together to make it work. They need to know each other like Nylander knew Jagr. It is best , for the time being, to keep Jagr's line-mates as familiar as possible so Straka looks like the best choice to play the wing. Although the rest of the lineup could benefit from having Hossa or Dawes play up top, it is not practical at this point. Of course this can all change throughout the course of the season but for now, Straka-Gomez-Jagr looks like the way to go.

On The Marc
Rangers top defensive prospect Marc Staal has not locked up a roster spot yet but the young Thunder Bay native is getting closer to his goal. He has not been outstandin during camp or preseason but he has quietly played solid defense and has not made many mistakes. He looked sharp against the Islanders and will likely take the 6th defensive spot. He is competing with Jason Strudwick and Andrew Hutchinson who have been nothing if not detrimental thus far and Thomas Pock who brings more offensive upside and NHL experience but no competition against Staal's shutdown defense. Staal is slated to be the future top defenseman for the Rangers but as with all defenseman, it will be an uphill battle. But this year seems to be the year for the OHL's Most Outstanding Defenseman as he begins his journey to the top.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nashville's Fate Rests on Mason's Shoulders

With the trading away of Tomas Vokoun to Florida, for the first time in his career, Chris Mason has an undisputed starters role. Mason stunned the league last season by posting incredible numbers filling in for Vokoun, and eventually made him dispensable. Mason played almost as many games last year, as he had in his entire career leading up to that season! He played 40 games, and had 44 career at the start of the season. The question this year will be: Can Mason, who has only played 84 games in his career, handle the load of an entire season? He is 31 years-old, and entering his prime, so I see no reason why not. He certainly caught me by surprise last year, I'll admit it. If you told me at the start of last season, that this would be the situation now I would have called you crazy, but here we are. I know I'll be rooting for him to succeed, but he'll be playing behind a much less skilled lineup this season with some key losses this off-season. The back-up this season will be one of Pekka Rinne or Dan Ellis. Both are untested at the NHL level, and have equal opportunities to make the big squad. Rinne was in the Preds' organization last season, playing for Milwaukee of the AHL, and Ellis was with the Stars' organization, playing for Iowa, also of the AHL. A goaltender by the name of Dov Grumet-Morris will be the backup for the AHL team in Milwaukee, so they have their situation pretty much set in Nashville.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dan Boyle Injures Wrist In Freak Accident

Tampa Bay Lighting defenceman Dan Boyle will miss several weeks with wrist surgery because of a freak accident after last night's game against Washington. Boyle was apparently distracted while hanging up one of his skates and dropped it, cutting his left wrist open. The laceration also cut one of his tendons, and that will require immediate surgery.

Not sure on what distracted him (Maybe Vinny L asking him if something looked like a pimple or a boyle?), but not to make light of the situation, this is a serious issue for Lighting fans. He's a key cog on their powerplay, and I'm not sure what they'll do in his absence. I remember when Donald Audette cut a tendon in his wrist when it was stepped on during a game, but I'm sure this isn't as serious as it wasn't forced down, but rather dropped. Audette missed significant time, and I'm sure Boyle will too.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Kings Place Cloutier on Waivers

Goaltender Dan Cloutier has been placed on waivers by the Los Angeles Kings, leaving them with Jason Labarbera and JS Aubin as their two goalies. Kevin Lee on Hockeybuzz suggested that they may be after Martin Gerber in Ottawa, after his lights-out performance so far this pre-season. I personally do not think that's the direction LA is going, but I won't completely rule it out. I'm sure Bryan Murray wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on a Gerber-to-LA deal, but I'm not sure if Gerber is that much of an upgrade over Labarbera. As you saw in my Los Angeles Kings pre-season goaltending situation, they have also invited young Jonathan Bernier to camp. He was a long-shot to make the team out of training camp this year, but with the subtraction of Cloutier it heavily increases his chances. I'll keep my eye on this situation, plus many others, and will continue to update you on all of the goalie happenings throughout training camp.

UPDATE: Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail suggested that Cloutier will "almost certainly start the season in the minors this season", the reason being that no team will be willing to pay for Cloutier's hefty contract. As far as the Bernier situation goes, he went on to say that the chance of him making the team became "increasingly more likely today".

Rangers Ready To Roll

Tonight, the preseason begins for the New York Rangers as they face off against their first opponent since falling to Buffalo in the postseason. The Rangers return bigger, better and stronger than last year, having added top centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez as well as introducing a young group of Rangers hopefuls, led by defenseman Marc Staal. The upcoming season looks promising but now is time to focus on the present and answer a few questions about what the lineup will look like come opening night. I will count off five important questions and express my opinion on how they will be answered.

#5 Who will back-up Henrik Lundqvist?

A. Stephen Valiquette: Having played as a backup goalie for most of last season, Valiquette proved to be a decent goalie that can win a few games. Because Lundqvist will play so many games and thanks to an excellent team in front of him, Valiquette will not likely hurt or help the team very much and with his low salary, he is the safe choice.
B. Al Montoya: The Rangers top goalie prospect, Montoya is a long shot for this role because he needs consistent playing time that he can get in the minors. He is not likely to become a starter in the Rangers organization unless Lundqvist has contract issues or gets injured. He is great trade bait and he can improve on his consistency in the minors while being an insurance plan if Lundqvist goes wrong.
C. Veteran Signing: there have been rumors floating around that the Rangers are looking to sign a free-agent veteran back up. I doubt this because Valiquette has proven to be okay and the Rangers have no need to add to their already high salary.

My Choice: A. Stephen Valiquette

#4 Where will Marcel Hossa play?

A. Line #1: Marcel has played great hockey with Jagr and Nylander last season and really seems to thrive on the top line. He is a physical, puck-possession type player and his style fits well with Jagr. Putting him on the top line adds depth to lines 2-4 and allows Straka or Avery to fill the third line center spot that would otherwise be filled by a rookie.
B. Line #4: If Anisimov or Dubinsky is ready, Marcel will be bumped to the fourth line. He does struggle on the fourth line and that is often attributed to his lack of effort when not on the top line. However, he will add much need scoring ability to an otherwise offensively impotent fourth line and would open up a spot for Prucha to jump to the second line for some much needed ice-time.
C. Minors: Hossa does not have complete job security as Dawes, Dubinsky, Anisimov and Jessiman are all pushing hard to make the team. If two or more of these players impress in the preseason, Marcel may find himself in Hartford.

My Choice: B. Line 4

#3 Will Marc Staal make the team?

A. Yes: Staal has everything going for him. Coming off an excellent OHL season in which he was named the leagueĆ¢€™s most outstanding defenseman, in addition to leading his Sudbury Wolves to the finals and made highlight reels with his huge open ice hit and end-to-end goal. He has outgrown the minors and needs to get some NHL games under his belt to continue his development. Even if he is not the best man for the position, Marc should get in so he can improve and be as ready as possible come playoff time.
B. No: The main problem for Staal is the stiff competition that he faces. Young Thomas Pock and veteran Jason Strudwick have NHL experience and would appear to be more ready to start games. Staal can be left in the minors until he is needed on the chance of injuries or playoffs and by then, he will be even more prepared to play on an NHL level.

My Choice: A. Yes

#2 Who will center the "Jagr Line"?

A. Scott Gomez: Gomez plays a similar "pass first" style to Jagr's former pivot, Michael Nylander, who he had much success with. Gomez brings speed and playmaking ability that will complement Jagr's puck-possession style well. Don't be fooled by last year's statistics because he will now be on a more offensive oriented team with more skilled wingers. As long as Jagr can keep up with the speed of Gomez, the former devil should grab the top-line spot.
B. Chris Drury: Don't count out the underdog in this fight, as Drury is the better all-around player has a knack for scoring goals. His scoring ability will draw defenders away from Jagr and create a double threat offensively. He tends to shoot as often as he passes and that will draw the Rangers away from the cancerous and predictable "feed Jagr" mentality and bring a new dimension to the top line.

My Choice: A. Scott Gomez

#1 Who will center the third line?

A. Artem Anisimov: The Russian played good hockey in the Summit Games and seems to be the most ready of the rookie forwards at camp. He can develop into a great scoring threat and should play well with players like Prucha, Avery and Callahan.
B. Sean Avery: Sean played well at center last season and will likely take that role again if the prospects are not ready. His grit and scoring ability is ideal for a third line center.
C. Brandon Dubinsky: Having played a couple of games last season, Dubinsky showed good hustle and an ability to produce offensively. All will depend on if he performs well in the preseason.
D. Martin Straka: The versatile Straka can play just about anywhere: wing or center, top line or third line. His speed and experience makes him able to perform with any line mates and Prucha and Callahan can benefit from having his experience on their line.

My Choice: A. Artem Anisimov

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quick Avs Preseason Note

I've been fairly busy with personal and school-related issues so I'll use those as an excuse for the lack of posting. I just thought I'd come on here to quickly post my thoughts on the Avs and their 2-0 record so far in the preseason. Hopefully point form is okay for anyone who cares to read this. :D
- Stastny is showing no signs of a sophomore slump, scoring 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in these two games. Even though it's the preseason, if this is any indication, he's going to have another heck of a year.
- Jaroslav Hlinka, the 30 year old forward who signed with the Avs having played his entire career before that in Europe, has also been impressive in these first two games, notching 3 assists.
- I'm not sure how I feel about the Smyth-Sakic-Brunette line that Coach Q seems to be going with. I realize that he likes to shuffle up his lines quite a bit, but I would think Brunette and Smyth would better serve the team playing on different lines, as they both like to get the garbage goals. But what do I know?
- Despite the fact that we have more than enough forwards I still think T.J. Hensick will make the team, and we will end up trading someone else away (Svatos?).
- Kyle Cumiskey played fairly well when brought up last season, and has so far played well this preseason, but we'll have to see if he makes the team, or if he's just the go-to guy in the case of injury.
- And one last preseason-related thought, where's Hejduk? *UPDATE: Hejduk is apparently out with a hip-flexor.*

I'd also like to share my thoughts on the team's new jerseys.

I like them. They're simple, they stay true to the original symbols, colors, and style, and the best part is that "COLORADO" isn't stuck on the front in big letters. I'll probably be getting one with good ol' #19 on the back.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Class is in Session

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, hockey fans all across the globe, the time has finally come for the much anticipated blogging debut of Professor Prax here on Everything Hockey! So take a seat, take out your notebooks and #2 HB (pun intended… most of you will get that one) pencils, and make sure to pay attention because Class is in session!

We’re at the beginning of the 2007-2008 NHL season, and it’s shaping up to be one of the tightest races in memory in both conferences. And we’ll have plenty of chances to talk about all aspects of that race between now, the start of training camp and the preseason, and early June, when we crown the 2008 Stanley Cup champion (*cough* Canadiens *cough*… hey a guy can dream, can’t he?), but for now, let me take some time to introduce you all to your teacher for the upcoming season (and for those of you who already know me… I’m sorry).

What is there to say? I’m an accounting student in university from Montreal, I’m a hockey nut, and I’m a bit of a nut in general, as if these first few paragraphs of your Prax Experience haven’t been indicative of that thus far. Specifically, as an earlier comment seemed to have implied) I’m a Montreal Canadiens fan, so consider me your Habs correspondent for the season, although I’m a fan of all hockey and will blog about whatever comes to mind and whatever grinds my gears at any particular moment.

Other than Habs talk, expect your professor to enlighten you about business related topics in the hockey world. As a business student, the business aspect of hockey and most sports is constantly buzzing through my head. Cap issues, accounting issues, financial issues all throughout the league and in industries that affect the league, you can be certain that we will be talking about all of these things as the season progresses and as people start to get sick of my rantings every time the Habs lose (so you know to expect those rants fairly often).

Speaking of the Habs, after their loss to the Islanders tonight in Moncton, they fall to a record of 1-2 in their preseason campaign, and, to be completely honest, as a unit, they haven’t looked impressive at all in any of the three games, even though several players have stood out. Kovalev in the first game, who provided 3 points, along with linemate Andrei Kostistyn, brought a lot of energy to the team and squeaked out the squad’s only win. Mark Streit and Josh Gorges were solid as a defensive unit in that same first game, and last night in game 2, Ryan O’Byrne, the big strong defenseman coming off great season in Montreal’s Hamilton AHL affiliate, made a case for a 6th or 7th spot on the team. Bryan Smolinski started earning his paycheck in his first game as a Hab, and Cristobal Huet shined in game 1 (although he was relatively weak in game 3).

But other than that, the two squads that took the ice the last three nights looked weaker than they should’ve preseason or not. Mikhael Grabovski looked fairly impressive and full of energy, but he needs to do more if he has any hopes of making this team for good. Dandenault and Bouillon, two experienced defensemen that can be valuable assets to this team, need to do a lot more if they want to keep their spots on their team. In reality, considering their salary and their experience, both will most likely make the team, but if I were a coach or a GM, I’d make sure to make it clear to both of them that performances like Dandenault’s in game 2 vs. the Pens last night (he was a -5) are just unacceptable, and that their spots aren’t as safe as they would imagine.

And that’s only naming a few… but I’m sure I’ll have many opportunities to whine about Montreal players as the season starts and progresses. For now, enjoy preseason action if you can, hope for some training camp trades, grab a beer and sit tight and wait for the season to start.

Since it’s the first day of class, I’ll let all of you out early. No homework. It is, after all, just the preseason.

Class is dismissed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pre-Season Goaltender Rankings

This is the first installment of my goaltender power rankings. I will update it every so often throughout the season, to see who is the hottest goalie on the block at the time. The pre-season rankings are difficult, as I'm forced to predict who will have a good season, but here is what I came up with:

1. Roberto Luongo
2. Miikka Kiprusoff
3. Martin Brodeur
4. Henrik Lundqvist
5. Ryan Miller
6. Niklas Backstrom
7. Jean-Sebastien Giguere
8. Marty Turco
9. Marc-Andre Fleury
10. Ray Emery

Now this is very preliminary, and could change due to injury or whatnot, so keep checking back. I will post the most recent rankings on the right hand side for easy viewing, and will post the date of the update so you can tell how recent it was.

Sean Burke Retires

Sean Burke has finally decided to hang up the skates at the age of 40. He was a 3-time all-star, and put up some very good stats throughout his career. He was maybe one of the final traditional "Stand-up" style goaltenders left in the league. He had to play that style because of his size, if he wanted to avoid back issues. Burke was drafted by the Devils, then went on to play for the Whalers, Flyers, Hurricanes, Canucks, Panthers, Coyotes, Lightning and finally, the Kings. He also had some stints with Team Canada, including in 1986, when he backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal in the world junior championships.

I grew up right around the time Burke was in his prime, and
have fond memories of watching him play. Although I would never mimic his style whatsoever, I respected the presence he had on the ice. You could always tell that it was Sean Burke in net, just by seeing how the goalie stood. Although he played for my Devils, that was a little before my time. I had a hockey card of him on the Devils, and always thought he looked weird as a Devil, since I was so used to just seeing Marty Brodeur as the Devils goalie! I also thought his name was pronounced "Scene", but that's another story (I was reallllly young...). I wish Sean the best in his post-career endeavors, and I will always remember the impact he had on the game of hockey.

Friday, September 14, 2007

New Poll

There has been a lot of talk these days about the new RBK Edge jerseys that are being released this season for every team. Now that all of the new jerseys have been revealed I'm leaving it up to you to decide whether they are good for the league or not. If you look on the right hand side at the poll, you 'll see that you can choose one of three options based on your opinion of the jerseys: I like them!, They are awful!, or I don't really care.

Last week's poll was Who will be the most improved team in 07-08? The results were as follows:

Colorado - 6
Edmonton - 7
Los Angeles - 5
New York Rangers - 4
Philadelphia - 20

My thanks to everyone who voted, I'm looking forward to seeing how this new poll will end up!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Habs' Depth Chart Filled With Quality Goaltenders

When Cristobal Huet injured his hamstring last season Jaroslav Halak came in to the picture, and played well, yet they were still not able to get into the playoffs. Huet is now a proven first-stringer, and his absence certainly factored into why they did not make the playoffs. A healthy Huet should win his job back at training camp, unless Carey Price shows him up, but we'll get to that later. Jaroslav Halak was thrown into the fire after David Aebischer couldn't pick up the slack, and played decently, but I feel that the quality of his play was blown far out of proportion. I watched him play many times in Hamilton (and had the pleasure of meeting him) and there's no doubt he has talent, but the reality is, he did not have the league at it's mercy, he only held the fort until Huet's return the last game of the season (although some Habs fans may argue that Halak should have started that game). In the 16 games he played, he had a 2.89 GAA, and a .906 Save %. That's hardly spectacular, but considering the situation he was in, it was good enough to get the respect of Canadiens fans. He has earned the backup spot behind Huet this season, and the two should make a formidable tandem.

Carey Price. If you haven't already heard that name, get ready to hear it soon folks. This kid is the future of the Canadiens organization, and maybe even the future of the Canadian National program. He was the goalie who led Canada to gold in last year's World Junior Championships, played great for a below-average Tri-City squad of the WHL. After he was eliminated from the playoffs there, he came to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL and won the Calder Cup, picking up the MVP along the way. He's calm, cool, and has a beautiful butterfly style. He never seems to be out of position, and has excellent lateral movement. He's big, strong, and a good work ethic. What else could you ask for in a goalie? He has everything going for him, and is ready for the next step, the NHL. He played a total of 82 games last year, and proved that he can handle it, right to the last game, putting up remarkable stats along the way. Now, Price will be invited to training camp, and he will have a shot at an NHL job, whether Habs' fans like it or not. Bob Gainey has said that if Price does make the team, he will need to be the #1, he won't be backup. That is not entirely impossible. If he does make the team that would mean Huet is on his way out, somewhere, somehow. It will be an interesting situation, and all eyes will be on the Habs' camp when it begins. The other guy in the picture is Yann Danis, who is a great goalie in his own right, but doesn't really get a chance on a team with such good goaltending depth. I expected him to leave, seeing how he was a UFA this offseason, but he must've liked his situation in Hamilton, as he re-signed and will be back this season. Huet, Halak, and Price will be competing for two NHL spots this upcoming training camp, and if Price makes it, that means Huet is on his way out. If Huet makes it as the starter, it'll be a Huet/Halak tandem for the Habs, and a Price/Danis tandem for the Bulldogs.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Filling the Holes in Swiss Cheese - Part Two

The year that started all wrong... then went downhill

Over the off-season Clarke traded Michal Handzus to Chicago for Kyle Calder, both players were going into the final years of their contracts, followed by pending UFA status. Although Keith Primeau was still under the effects of post concussion symptoms and would eventually retire, Clarke felt that he could still move 'Zeus' for a promising center/winger with a huge upside... Clarke, in an attempt to sign a potential long term shutdown center to replace Primeau, made an Offer Sheet to Vancouver's Ryan Kesler for three years at $1.75 million per year; this got him nothing but hard feelings, and another notch on his reputation as a hard nosed GM, as Vancouver begrudgingly matched the Offer Sheet and paid much more than they were prepared to pay... The Flyers now had no viable option for that all important shut down center in coach Ken Hitchcock's system. Without Primeau and Handzus the forward slots were hurting. Forsberg was to miss a couple of months as he was recovering from surgery to re-form his congenital malformed feet, but it was determined that only one foot's correction was required. Foppa would again be in and out of the lineup, yet another year, and his drama was detrimental to the team on many fronts... Simon Gagne was to play hurt for a part of the season and didn't have Forsberg around as much to feed him; he still did very well considering everything... Mike Knuble, after playing all 82 games the year before suffered two freak accidents and was not able to put up the points he would have with a full season... Calder was a total bust the first half of the season and was a fan whipping boy the entire season... Petr Nedved who was brought in at the Trade Deadline the prior season was Hitchcock's designated project to replace Primeau as the SD center... Geoff Sanderson was brought in by Clarke to provide speed and points off that speed... Turner Stevenson was bought out due to the deteriorated health which rendered him almost useless for a great part on the prior season... Sami Kapanen was brought back and provided energy, though his scoring touch was no longer a major factor in his game... The great duo of prospects, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, were back, but still on a learning curve, as was RJ Umberger. Clarke also filled in the team with the likes of Randy Robitaille, Niko Dimitrakos and Boyd Kane.

Kim Johnsson was coming off a season ending concussion with its Post Concussion effects and was still looking for a huge contract; Clarke allowed him to leave... Eric Desjardins was retiring after another injury plagued season; his decade of being the Flyers anchor on defence, as well as their puck carrying offensive D-man, was now at an end. The Flyers were now greatly hurting on the blue line... Clarke signed a career minor leaguer in Nolan Baumgartner as the potential replacement for Johnsson, who was to be the successor to Desjardins. He was signed at $1.2 million and was expected to follow up his one decent NHL year with a new career as the Flyers puck carrier... Lars Jonsson was brought over from Sweden to also carry the puck from the back end. He had a good upside but a propensity for turning over the puck through indecisive puck handling... Also on the horizon was Jussi Timonen, the younger brother of NHL star, Kimo. He was an unproven, raw commodity with some talent but nowhere near that of his brother's.The main cog in the Flyers future at D was Joni Pitkanen who was coming off of a mixed season; all star quality the first half, and not so much the second -- the half were Peter Forsberg was out so often -- Also returning were Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, Freddy Meyer and Randy Jones; not a defense without some talent... but hardly a good one with any depth.

Between the nets were Robert Esche who had displayed flashes of a real nice NHL career in the past, and second year goalie, Antero Niittymaki who had a brilliant stretch when Esche was hurt during the last year, but he was ran to the ground and played injured until he had not much left. 'Nitty' was counted on to be the main go-to goalie in the duo in '06-'07 but during camp he was injured with a torn labium on the left side, the opposite side from the one last year which was repaired in the off season. He ultimately was to play the entire year with cortisone shots to ease the inflammation.


The season did not get off to a remotely decent start with a 4-0 shutout loss to the Penguins on the road, followed by a home shootout loss to the Rangers... The return match at the Garden in New York proved to be a better result with a 4-2 win... They then returned home only to find their offense again letting them down in a 3-1 loss to the Habs... On the road again, they were defeated by the Devils 3-2.
Then came the game that would set the wheels in motion that would forever change the course of the Forty-Plus year franchise... The Fly-Guys traveled up to Buffalo to play the team that beat them the previous year's playoffs in a six game series that was nowhere near as close as the number of games would lead one to believe. The Flyers were soundly defeated by the much more talented and speedier Sabres; Hitchcock left Esche in goal to be humiliated as he was hung out to dry... It was a total team loss with much blame to spread around and no praise to be shared by anyone.
Back in Philadelphia, Ed Snider was not happy in the least -- to make a colossal understatement -- Armed with information only he knew, which I will discuss a little later, Snider took the team in his irate hands and through assistant GM, Paul Holmgren, waived three players and sent them down to the AHL Phantoms; Petr Nedved, a veteran and one time star player in the NHL... Nolan Baumgartner, Clarke's great hope on D... and Niko Dimitrakos.

The following Sunday morning, after two more road losses to Tampa bay and Florida, the Flyers called a press conference that shocked the NHL and the City... It was announced that Bob Clarke was voluntarily stepping down from his positions with the Flyers and would no longer be the GM. It was decided that Paul Holmgren would be the interim General Manager and that there would also be a Head Coaching change; Assistant Coach, John Stevens, who had coached the AHL Phantoms to the Calder Cup during the Lockout year was tapped to replace Ken Hitchcock who they did not lay blame upon; it was also, at that time, on an interim basis... Stevens was very familiar with the young players on the squad and had a good relationship with them as well as the veterans, many of whom he coached the prior year with the Flyers. He was a highly regarded head coaching prospect throughout the NHL.

What was not known before was that Clarke had come to Snider and told him that he had lost his desire for being a GM in the NHL -- he was burned out -- He felt that he was no longer able to perform his duties as Flyers GM... Snider asked him to go home and sleep on it for a while before he made an official decision. Snider and only Snider was aware of this situation when he waived the three players; he was essentially the GM in Clarke's mental absence.

It is my humble opinion that Clarke was no longer able to handle the NHL as it now was; it was now a hard hearted 'business' where management must forget the personal aspects of the game, the players' situations, and work only on a bottom line basis... that is not Bobby Clarke the former player who played with his heart on his sleeve, but even more so not the Bob Clarke who managed with his heart and had his players as his top concern, right next to winning.

Soon after this, Mike Rathje's game went totally south with all his lower back pain; the top veteran Shutdown D-man was lost for the season... The D-partner who made Joni Pitkanen able to play like a future star. 'Homer' as GM was faced with a major task ahead and no commitment of a job in the future; he pushed the uncertainty aside and rolled up his sleeves and began to get down to business.

Part Three will address how the bleeding was halted and the tailspin was corrected... and how the foundation was formed for '07-'08.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Minnesota "Wild" Over Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom came into last season as a relatively unknown goalie from Europe, but ended the season as the Wild's undisputed #1. They are so confident in him, that they decided to trade away Manny Fernandez to Boston. It's the same old story with critics, any goalie who plays with Jacques Lemaire as their coach will have their stats skewed, but anyone who has seen Backstrom play knows that he is there whenever the Wild need him most. He has a very relaxed style, and seems to never be out of position. He would love to rival Miikka Kiprusoff for the best goalie from Finland title. Josh Harding should be the backup. He spent most of the season in Houston of the AHL, but when Fernandez sprained his ankle in late January, he got a call up and went 3-2-1 with a 1.16 GAA in that limited time. He is still young and has potential to be a #1 sometime down the road. I believe he has finished his stay in the AHL, and I bet he hopes so too.

The Wild signed Nolan Schaefer in the offseason, and he should be their AHL starter. He has immense talent, but struggles with consistency. If he was able to fix the consistency problem, he would be able to start in the NHL, but unfortunately for him, it's a fairly big issue. There's no doubt he has talent, and he will try to prove himself playing for Houston. Miroslav Kopriva should battle Schaefer for playing time in Houston. He spent time last season between Houston and Texas of the ECHL, but most of the time (19 games) with Texas. He is only 23, but hasn't shown anything special since becoming pro. He'll certainly get a chance with Houston, but Schaefer should get the bulk of the load. Backstrom will be manning the net in Minnesota for the foreseeable future, with Harding as a possible future starter. Schaefer and Kopriva will battle it out for the third-string job.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day Ramblings

Oh what a busy week I have had and it shows no signs of slowing down! Hey all, Psy reporting from my laptop up in Niagara Falls, Canada where I am having a few cold ones with friends and family!

Enough about me, to the NHL! Bravo to the Sharks for resigning Marleau. Maybe now we will stop seeing his name everywhere in trade rumors. Joining Bryan Berard in the Islanders training camp will be Gord Dywer, who I personally am not thrilled about being at camp.

The Nashville Predators new ownership deal is coming along nicely. It's good to see that they will be staying down in there. I spent a night down in the area and was able to take in a game last season and enjoyed myself immensely.

More and more uniforms are hitting the scene and I am liking most of what I see. Not a fan of a few jerseys, but all in all, if it's good for the players and helps them perform better, I am all for it.

For now that is it, I seem to be out of Labatt Blue! Enjoy your holiday all, I know I will! Cheers!

Cloutier and LaBarbera Fight to be King in LA

It's safe to say that last year was a bust for Dan Cloutier. Coming over from Vancouver, with coach Marc Crawford, he only played 24 (miserable) games, and was plagued by injuries throughout. Mathieu Garon stole Cloutier's job with his solid play, but Garon has since moved on to Edmonton. Jason LaBarbera should have been up in the NHL last season, but since he started the year in the AHL, if he was called up by the Kings, they would risk losing him off of waivers. A risk they weren't willing to take. Instead, they chose to leave him down in Manchester for the whole season, where he played great, and let him try to make the team out of training camp this year, thus sidestepping waivers. He has a good shot at the starting role, but will have to out-duel Dan Cloutier in training camp. LaBarbera is just coming into his prime, and should be able to put up good numbers on an improved Kings squad. Cloutier, on the other hand, is looking to bounce back after the mess that was last season. His fiery attitude, and willingness to improve himself gives him a good shot at doing that. The Kings also recently signed J.S Aubin to a contract. He will provide the Kings with a third NHL-ready goalie, and will have a shot in training camp, but will most likely be playing for Manchester.

This offseason, the Kings signed a goalie out of HV71 of the Swedish Elite League named Erik Ersberg, and he will most likely step in for Labarbera in Manchester. He's no Lundqvist coming out of Europe, but does have some promise. He will likely be paired up with J.S Aubin as a tandem. Young Jonathan Quick will be entering his first year of pro hockey, coming out of college. He was first thought to be playing for Manchester, but with the signing of Aubin, that means the only place left for him is Reading of the ECHL. We'll have to see how it plays out in training camp in order for this to all be settled out, since there are so many unknowns. The King's main goaltending prospect is Jonathan Bernier. He is on the roster of the Canadian team in the "Super Series" that is going on right now. He started game two, and won 3-0, getting the 23-shot shutout. He will be invited to training camp, and unless he makes the team right then and there, which is unlikely, he will go back to the QMJHL and will play for the Lewiston Maineiacs. He has great lateral movement, and is the future for the Kings. They are only killing time with LaBarbera and Cloutier until he arrives.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Vokoun Looking to Turn Panthers Around

After the crippling Luongo-to-Vancouver trade that left them with an Alex Auld/Ed Belfour duo in net, it was Jacques Martin's job this offseason to find a new starting goalie. He did that and more, landing Tomas Vokoun in a draft-day deal, which saw only draft picks go the other way. Vokoun is in no way the saviour for Florida, he should provide them with above-average goaltending, and will give them a shot at the playoffs. Craig Anderson, who has bounced around from team to team, will be promoted from the AHL to backup Vokoun. Anderson has played well when given the chance to start at the NHL level, and performed even better in the AHL. He is still young, is about to reach the height of his potential, and should be a strong second-stringer these next few years. Both starters from last season are gone, Auld to Phoenix, and Belfour to Sweden, I think that a Vokoun and Anderson combo will be better.

The Florida Panthers share their AHL affiliate with the Buffalo Sabres in Rochester, and as a result can only have one goaltender on the team. The job will either go to David Shantz, who played in the ECHL last season, or Tyler Plante, who is coming out of Brandon of the WHL. Shantz was an all-star at the ECHL level, and may have the inside track on the AHL job, but only training camp will decide that. Plante is still untested, as this is going to be his first year of pro hockey, so the Panthers may send him to Florida of the ECHL to get accustomed. Plante is the future goalie for the Panthers, and has tremendous potential, so that scenario is not 100% etched in stone. Plante may very well steal the job in training camp, and they could send Shantz back to the ECHL, but we'll just have to wait and see. Vokoun should be a great asset to this team, and Anderson will be a solid backup this year. Shantz and Plante will have to duel it out in the minors these next few seasons, until the Panthers get an affiliate of their own.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Rollie the Goalie Has Company

You can't blame Dwayne Roloson for the Oiler's woes last season. The Oilers started to build for the future once management realized they were out of it, and as a result, traded away their leader, Ryan Smyth. Roloson played a lot of games last season, 68 to be exact, and looked a little tired at times. Roloson is getting older and may need more breaks to stay sharp throughout the season. Oilers management picked up on that, then went out and signed 29-year-old ex-King Mathieu Garon. Garon is out to prove he can be a starter after a few sub-par seasons in LA. Look for there to be more of a battle than expected for playing time come training camp, as I believe that Garon can and will make a push for the starting role. If Roloson gives way to Garon for over 20 games, he will improve on his stats from last season. Also, having some competition in Garon may force Roloson to work a little harder, because there's nothing better than a little healthy competition to get a goaltender going.

Edmonton's prospects have found another new home in the AHL, moving over to Springfield this season. The two goalies that should be there come opening day are Jeff Deslauriers who played in 40 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, and Devan Dubnyk who played for Stockton of the ECHL. The lack of an AHL affiliate for the Edmonton Oilers stunted Deslauriers' development, as he bounced around with the Edmonton Roadrunners, Greenville Grrrowl, Hamilton Bulldogs, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins all in his first 3 years of pro hockey. Hopefully having a solid spot in Springfield will let Deslauriers play some more games, and develop faster. He's already 23-years-old and needs to make an impression, quick. Devan Dubnyk was a hot prospect coming out of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, getting drafted 14th overall in 2004 added to people's anticipation, but the lack of an AHL farm team has stunted his development as well. He was stuck playing for the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL last season. As you can imagine, he had a great season and was named to the all-star team. He moves extremely well, and you can't argue about his size, at 6'5 he takes up a lot of net. Although he did get called up for a 4 game stint in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he spent almost all season in the ECHL. He will most likely compete with Deslauriers for the starting job in Springfield this upcoming season. Look for Dwayne Roloson to play less games this year in Edmonton, as mathieu Garon should be able to handle more games than Jussi Markanen could, and watch for an AHL starting role battle between Jeff Deslauriers, and Devan Dubnyk.

Hasek Getting Better With Age

Dominik Hasek will be 42 years old when the season begins, and the Detroit Red Wings aren't worried one bit. Last year he was able to stay away from the groin injuries that have plagued him late in his career. His work load was very light, playing in only 56 games behind an air-tight defense, but he was there in every key moment when the Red Wings needed him most. He had a sparkling 2.05 GAA, and posted 38 wins. Hasek proved that he was still able to produce in the NHL, and signing another 1-year-deal in Detroit this offseason shows that he still wants to win. Having a backup like Chris Osgood, who can spell him for 20-25 games, is very important as Hasek gets older. Osgood played so well last season that the Red Wings saw almost no drop-off when he played instead of Hasek. Osgood is a seasoned veteran who clearly still has some gas left in the tank, and actually plays a part in the team's success, which most backups don't, due to the amount of games he plays.

The two goalies who played in Grand Rapids last season were Jimmy Howard, and Stefan Liv. Howard should be back again next season as the starter, and has proven to be a solid netminder at the AHL level. It's his job to step it up some more, as the Red Wings management hope he can one day start for them. He has been called up a little bit, and should see some more time this season at the NHL level, but he will likely be sent to Grand Rapids at the conclusion of training camp. Stefan Liv on the other hand, will not be back this season, as he signed a 3-year-contract to play for HV71 of the Swedish Elite League. His rights are still owned by the Red Wings, but he will continue to develop overseas. His unorthodox style has been compared to Dominik Hasek, and only time will tell if he makes it back to North America. After the Red Wings management heard the news that Liv would be leaving, they went out and signed Adam Berkhoel. Berkhoel played for Atlanta a few years ago when they were having injury trouble with their goaltenders, but has mainly bounced around in the AHL and ECHL. Last year he started for Dayton of the ECHL, and played well enough to earn a spot as the backup to Howard in Grand Rapids. The Wings also have a solid Swedish prospect named Daniel Larsson. He played for Djurgardens IF Stockholm of the Swedish Elite League, and continues to develop nicely. He was drafted in 2006, and we shouldn't see him here in North America for a couple of years. If he continues to improve, he should challenge for an NHL job down the road, but there is still plenty of work to do and games to play before we start making assumptions about his future. Dominik Hasek wants to win another cup before he re-retires, and with the roster the Red Wings have, he very well may, but he has nothing else to prove and will retire when he feels he's done. Chris Osgood should back him up nicely, and Jimmy Howard will be in Grand Rapids, waiting for his chance.

Turco Overcomes Playoff Woes... Kinda

Marty Turco has been haunted by his play in the playoffs ever since he received the starting role for the Dallas Stars in 2002. Last offseason he aimed to change that. He made changes to his diet and exercise plan, and even shied away from group activities within the team, all in hopes of changing his luck in the postseason. The result: a first round playoff exit by the hands of the Vancouver Canucks. It was not at all his fault though. He had 3 shutouts, and led all playoff goaltenders with a 1.30 GAA. He played very well for the Stars in that series, the problem was that they just couldn't score for him. If Turco continues these routines, he will be doing what every goalie wishes to do, and that is give your team a chance to win. With the talent Turco has, he should be able to do that, and more. 06/07 was a very good year for goalies in the big D in general, as first-year backup Mike Smith stepped in unbelievably, playing 23 games, and posting a 2.23 GAA. He should continue to improve, and be a solid backup for Turco for years to come. He may even be able to step in for Turco, sometime down the road.

In terms of prospects, the Stars have a Swiss netminder named Tobias Stephan. He spent his first year in North America last season with Iowa of the AHL. He only played in 27 games, but proved that he could handle more, and now that he's accustomed to the different style of play, he should continue to make strides at the pro level. He's a calm, cool, and collected butterfly style goaltender, and rarely seems to panic. He has excellent size and great reflexes, a good combination. He is criticized for having a weak five-hole, and has some consistency issues, which could be due to lack of endurance. Those are all things that can be fixed, so Stars fans should not be worried. He is certainly a name to watch this upcoming season, because if he continues to get better, he may be called up sooner than we all thought. Other than Stephan the Stars are very weak in the depth charts at goaltending, mainly due to their confidence in Turco, so they haven't been drafting any young goalies. Turco should be the man between the pipes for the Stars in the foreseeable future, with Mike Smith waiting in the wings, and Tobias Stephan in the background.