Showing posts with label Anaheim Ducks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anaheim Ducks. Show all posts

Saturday, December 15, 2007

First Major Trade of the 2007-08 NHL Season: Doug Weight for Andy McDonald

Blues logoDucks logoThe first significant trade of the NHL season and not a single online fabulist even hinted at it before it came down the pipes.

The St. Louis Blues send Doug Weight, Michal Birner (an up-and-comer currently in the AHL) and a 7th round pick in the 2008 draft to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Andy McDonald. It's hard to argue anything other than the fact that the Blues got the better of the deal. Of course, there are people doing just that. The appeal of occupying the contrarian role is irresistible to many in such a situation.

McDonald's numbers are down significantly this year and some will attribute that to no longer playing alongside Teemu Selanne. His age and durability (he leaves the Ducks as the current team leader in consecutive games played at 276) still outweigh what the Ducks receive in return.

There is the apparent desire of many pundits and fans to attach Machiavellian-like qualities to Brian Burke. Once a GM has enjoyed some success in the NHL and won at least one championship, they are forever considered geniuses regardless of what their subsequent records show.

The first caveat mentioned when dissecting this trade by those wanting to be generous to Burke and the Ducks, is that it's all about managing team salaries in the cap era. Here there are some valid claims.

A Stanley Cup winning team naturally possesses more than its share of quality players who deserve to be rewarded with healthy contracts when the time arises. Ryan Getzlaf slurped up a well-deserved multi-year deal a few weeks ago and Corey Perry is in line for a fat pay increase before he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

So McDonald's contract was unloaded in preparation for signing other more important players and freeing up room for the return of Scott Niedermayer. But that explanation disregards the blunders made by Burke in the pre-season.

His failure to re-sign Dustin Penner before he became a free agent--at a cost that would no doubt have been significantly less than what he received from the Oilers--meant that he had to bring in another player to fill that hole. That resulted in a bloated contract offer for Todd Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi has been a minor contributor at best when he's been in the lineup.

In perpetuating the idea that Burke has mythical powers and nothing is ever as it seems regarding his actions, many are speculating that this is only the first step in a well thought out multi-staged plan. That well might be true.

But if the goal was freeing cap space, picking up prospects and getting some added experience for the rest of the season with an older player who can still contribute, surely the Ducks could have gotten an even better return by bundling Ilya Bryzgalov together with McDonald. Of course, Bryzgalov was put on waivers and snapped up by the Phoenix Coyotes earlier in the season.

The Downside of No-Trade Clauses

No-trade clauses have increased in prevalence in the past few seasons. They are ultimately a burden for teams and provide a false sense of security for players.

Doug Weight had such a clause, refused to waive it at first and then eventually agreed. Which leads a person to think that they're just a recipe for some unpleasant psychological games and the kind of pressure that can turn a person's guts just enough to say to hell with it.

Some cryptic hints from Weight as to what went down in discussions with Blues' management leading up to this trade.

I suppose you can spin such tough actions from a team in two ways. The kind of hard-nosed pragmatism that does whatever it takes to win. Or, the type of behaviour that turns off at least a few players and makes them question what will happen when they are in the same situation.

Without any emotional stake in either team, unjust treatment of a player makes me hope he goes beyond any reasonable expectations and proves everyone wrong.

And that's one of the great things about trades. Regardless of how many people weigh in about who "won" the deal, it usually isn't until at least the end of the season that any real conclusions can be drawn.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Regular Season: Quarter Pole Standings and Review

nhllogo.gifWith most teams in the NHL having played 25% of their schedule, it's time for a look at how things have played out so far.

Eastern Conference

The Ottawa Senators are in a class by themselves in the Eastern Conference and show no sign of letting up. On the few occasions the team have played poorly, they have quickly bounced back and returned to their winning ways.

The Washington Capitals are about the only team whose season is already looking close to an unsalvageable disaster. That they haven't made some kind of move yet is perhaps a testament to the lack of other clubs willing or able to shift players. You've got to think that head coach Glen Hanlon will be walking the plank any day now. A coaching change can jolt a team in the right direction as demonstrated by the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Thrashers have gone 10-4 since sacking Bob Hartley and are suddenly a tough team to beat. They are now nipping at the heels of the hapless Leafs and within a few points of the 5th to 8th place glut in the Eastern Conference.

More than just trying to turn around their season, the Capitals have got to be thinking about Alexander Ovechkin and his looming free agency that will become a reality at the end of the season. No doubt the Caps' potential in the next few seasons will affect his decision about where to play.

Ovechkin will be a Group 2 free agent, so if he does accept an offer from another team and the Caps don't or can't match, at least Washington will get four first round draft picks in return from the organization who lures him away (the prescribed compensation for the salary range Ovechkin will no doubt command.)

Regarding a change behind the bench, what exactly have the Caps got to lose besides more games?

Speaking of the Leafs, they offered up another classic third period collapse in the game against the Bruins last night. The fans at Air Canada Centre had to feel a bit queasy at the sight of goalie Tuuka Rask performing at least as well as his Finnish compatriot in the Leafs net. Most importantly, he got his first start and win in the NHL against the team who traded him away for Andrew Raycroft.

The Leafs now sit in ninth place in the conference. All the teams above them in the standings have at least one game in hand on Toronto and most of those clubs have played two or fewer matches. No sense of urgency seems to grip the organization at the moment.

The Philadelphia Flyers have flattened out a bit after their strong beginning. After going 6-1 with 28 goals to start the season, they have followed up with a rather mediocre 5-6-1 with only 29 goals during that stretch. To this point it has still been an impressive turnaround from last year. The Flyers have a tough run in front of them in their next 8 games as they play the Senators, Bruins, Wild, Avalanche and the Hurricanes (twice), amongst others.

The two most disappointing teams in the East are the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sabres plummet is not as much of a surprise since their team scoring was gutted in the off-season with the departure of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. But most fans didn't expect their drop-off to be as sharp as it has been. Head coach Lindy Ruff has built up loads of capital with the Sabres and despite the team's woes, I can't see his position being in jeopardy any time soon.

The Penguins on the other hand, have got to be the biggest under-achievers of the season. They could be in the market for a number one goaltender or a new coach in the next little while. Rammed with talent and coming off last year's impressive regular season, it will be a bit hard for fans to tolerate the losing much longer.

Two other teams that have swapped places in the standings as compared to last year are the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes. The Devils are getting hammered this season. They have yet to win more than two games in a row and the last time they did that was in mid-October.

The Canes on the other hand are off to a great start after their disappointing campaign in 2006-7 and have scored more goals than any other team in the league with 71.

Western Conference

The Western Conference is even more of a mash-up, with the Detroit Red Wings at the top, the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes at the bottom and every other team clogging up the middle. A whopping four points separates 2nd place from 12th.

The grouping at the bottom looks similar to the end of last season with the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks who have exited the cellar. The Blackhawks are a rejuvenated club with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews off to good starts. The ongoing restructuring of their front office is a positive sign for Chicago fans as well.

The biggest non-story of the season is still the expectant Calgary sports writers waiting for Mike Keenan to blow a gasket as the Flames continue their underwhelming start. The standard lament from everyone who follows this team closely is that they seem to have a talented club with all the potential pieces to do well but they continue to offer up sub-par efforts. Keenan's got to be wondering if he should shelve his new milder approach and once again start throwing wild haymakers (metaphorically) in the dressing room.

It's been frustrating so far for the Edmonton Oilers, though their fans at least can take some solace from the fact that they're not too far behind the Flames in the standings. It's safe to say that Dustin Penner is the biggest bust of the off-season free agent signings.

On pace for only 16 goals, that's far from what the Oilers were probably expecting from the lumbering forward. Most fans of the team will say that it's a signing whose worth can only be accurately judged after Penner's 3rd or 4th season with the team. Fair enough. But in the short term, it's certainly not looking too good.

The Detroit Red Wings keep blazing along with consistent play and plenty of offense. Second in goals scored in the league and second in goal differential (with 19 more tallies than they have given up), the Wings are still one of the toughest teams in the league to play against.

The Anaheim Ducks have put together six wins in their last eight starts after a dismal start to the season. The Vancouver Canucks have been improving lately but are still having trouble with consistency. The Columbus Blue Jackets have come back to earth with only two wins in their last nine games (and three shootout loss points) after their impressive beginning.

The St. Louis Blues are in the midst of their second four game winning streak of the season. Though they are a bit lean in the scoring department they have found ways to win. The goaltending from Manny Legace has been solid if unspectacular, though he has only faced 389 shots. Based on play in 15 of the Blues' games, the number of shots directed at him is lower than for most other goalies in the league with comparable minutes played.

A definite sign of good defense and also borne out by the fact that St. Louis have allowed only 40 goals. This has also been helped by having had the lightest schedule in the league so far. With only 18 games played to this point, they have at least two games in hand compared to all other teams above them in the conference standings.

As much as I dislike that qualifier "It's still too early/close to count anyone out," it has a lot of merit for most teams with three quarters of the season yet to play.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

NHL Player Profiles: Teemu Selanne

Heading into the NHL's Hockey Hall of Fame weekend, it's a good time for many fans to look back at their favourite retired players of all time. Joe Pelletier at Greatest Hockey Legends came up with the idea to get as many hockey bloggers onside in posting profiles and memories of NHL players from the past.

My entry is in the de facto retired category. While Teemu Selanne may still end up returning to the NHL, he is already considered one of the game's great players.


Teemu Selanne exploded into the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1992-93 season at the age of 22. Though a 10th overall pick by the Jets in the 1988 entry draft, he played in his native Finland for four seasons after being selected by Winnipeg.

SelanneHis record setting year was something to behold for fans in Winnipeg. Playing on a line with Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk, Selanne started filling the net early on and just kept scoring as the season progressed. He was also helped out by the play-making ability of defenseman Phil Housley.

I took in a handful of regular season games that year in Winnipeg. The one that stands out for me was a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the season.

My room-mate at the time was a student from Ontario who had reluctantly come to Winnipeg to study at the only law school in the country that would accept him. He was a rabid Leafs fan and so we bought tickets for the game, one of two they played against the Jets in Winnipeg that year.

One thing that resonated for me during Selanne's rookie season was not only his speed and scoring but his ability to, on occasion, lay some crushing body checks against opponents. Though I was unable to watch him during most of his post-Winnipeg NHL career, I doubt that trend continued beyond his first few years in the league.

Selanne had a serious injury early on in his career and scoring was of course his real strength but boy did he hammer some opposing players in that first season.

During that game against Toronto, Selanne leveled two Leafs players in a single shift, sending most of the fans into a frenzy. As we looked down on the action in the Jets' end, Selanne took out a Toronto skater just as he sent the puck around the boards and behind the net to another Leafs player on the opposite side of the rink. Selanne flashed across the ice to crush the unlucky player as he touched the puck. The Jets went on to win the game 5-3.

The Winnipeg media seemed as thrilled as anyone that this good-natured, instant NHL superstar in the midst of setting a rookie scoring record was also willing to get involved in the physical side of the game. I still remember Selanne, who spoke with slightly accented English at the time, responding to a post-game question from a reporter who asked about his hitting. With his usual big smile and understated tone, Selanne responded that "when they kick you, sometimes you have to kick back."

Despite a great season for Selanne personally, the Jets were mediocre as usual and exited the playoffs in the first round. Selanne wouldn't see post-season action again in Winnipeg and not for another five years until he was playing with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Nor would he play another complete slate while with the Jets due to a torn achilles tendon in his second season, the lockout shortened 1994-95 campaign and the trade near the end of '95-96.

SelanneSelanne is probably the most talented NHL player ever to be dealt in two separate such lopsided trades. The first time was when he was shipped out of Winnipeg to Anaheim with Marc Chouinard and a fourth round pick in exchange for Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a third round pick.

Panned as one of the worst NHL trades ever, it was near the end of the Jets' last season in Winnipeg in 1996 before moving to Phoenix. Perhaps a colossal snub to the new owners who would take over the following year or more probably just a panic move from a group that was struggling financially and trying to lessen some of the damage.

Selanne had some hugely productive years in Anaheim playing alongside Paul Kariya. In 2001 when it appeared as though his career was on the decline, he was shipped out to the San Jose Sharks for Steve Shields, Jeff Friesen and a draft pick. With the Sharks he had some steady seasons, if unspectacular compared to his earlier efforts.

Teemu was being bothered by a wonky knee and that contributed to his worst output in 2003-04 while playing with the Colorado Avalanche, who he had signed with as a free agent before the start of the season.

He underwent knee surgery in the off-season and didn't play any professional hockey during the lockout 2004-05 season, which he had initially planned to spend with Jokerit Helsinki in Finland. He re-signed with the Mighty Ducks for the 2005-06 season and that marked the beginning of possibly the most impressive late career resurgence ever by an NHL player.

After that stunning rookie season, Selanne tallied 100 points or more on three other occasions, all coming during his first six season stretch with the Mighty Ducks (most of the '96 campaign spent with the Jets.)

He came the closest to reaching that level again in his final two seasons with Anaheim. The surgery, a year spent recovering and practicing hard and the effects of the league trying to eliminate interference in the NHL resulted in point totals for Selanne that were near his peak years.

SelanneIt would be hard to script a better finish for the Finnish Flash than the 2006-07 season. The newly christened Anaheim Ducks (no more "Mighty") won the Stanley Cup and Selanne was 11th overall in regular season points at the age of 36 and third in goals with 48.

The Winnipeg Jets had no real playoff success during their existence as a franchise. They made it to the second round of the playoffs only twice and never beyond that stage. A handful of good seasons, well played games and series and great players are the memories that fans of the former team hold on to.

The history of the Jets is also absent any major player awards with the exception of two Calder trophies for the NHL rookie of the year, presented to Dale Hawerchuk in 1982 and Selanne in '93.

So that rookie season by Selanne is without a doubt one of the highlights in the history of an ultimately disappointing and failed organization. His relentlessly upbeat and positive personality and his on-ice performance will have Jets fans reminiscing for years to come.

While already having financial difficulties and trying to look forward to ways to keep the team in Winnipeg, many fans probably saw that great season by Selanne as a sign of good things to come for the club but of course it wasn't to be.

Though still pondering a return to the NHL, if Selanne never plays another game in the world's premier league, he would be one of the few who went out at the very top.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NHL 2007-08: Game Day Previews October 23rd

Avs logoOilers logo

Colorado Avalanche at Edmonton Oilers

Prodigal son returns with a fistful of dollars and burning desire to massage his lagging reputation in his hometown. Loads of post-playing appearances, endorsements and perhaps even a future with the Oilers organization to be considered.

The Mulleted One, Ryan Smyth, spurned Edmonton for a shot to perhaps win a Cup with Colorado and at least slurp up another four and a half million dollars over the course of his contract as opposed to what he would have earned with the Oilers.

In his attempts to assuage the feelings of fans in the Alberta capital, he mentions that his heart is still in the city and he will bring the Cup back if he ever wins it with the Avalanche.

How soon do those kinds of comments start to grate on Colorado team-mates and fans?

With the Oilers continuing to struggle to score goals and the injuries mounting, the fans could have a lot to boo about in tonight's game.

Thrashers logoLeafs logo
Atlanta Thrashers at Toronto Maple Leafs

With a 1-1 record after former head coach Bob Hartley was sacked, Atlanta will be playing against another team in Toronto whose coach is starting to feel the heat. Look for the Leafs to ratchet up their effort a few notches in hopes of reversing the early season 3rd period disintegrations. Or not.

As the abuse rains down on the team while the "Maybe it's the coach?" narrative also starts to pick up steam, perhaps the players begin subconsciously latching on to that easy out and let up even more in hopes of a fresh beginning.

Rangers logoPens logoNew York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins

Relatively slow starts for both of these clubs. Especially the Rangers, who were widely touted in the pre-season as the most improved team in the NHL. It's far too early to label their free agent signings as busts but there has been little scoring from Scott Gomez or Chris Drury so far. Only three goals between them and a combined total of nine points.

The Ranger's Marc Staal in his rookie season in the league and his brother Jordan of the Penguins will get their first chance to play against each other in the NHL.

Overall, it's a game of potential breakouts, with Jaromir Jagr of the Rangers and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins all looking to get back to a scoring pace they have been accustomed to in previous seasons (with Crosby and Malkin only in their 3rd and 2nd years in the league respectively.)

B Jacks logoHawks logoColumbus Blue Jackets at Chicago Blackhawks

One of the most exciting stories of the season so far is the play of Chicago rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane at 18 and Toews at 19 are rare examples of teen-aged players entering the league and being able to immediately adapt to the pace and style of NHL games. It may not continue all season but they're helping the Blackhawks get off to a good start in the the post-Wirtz era.

Columbus have been up and down this season. They have blanked the opposing team in all three of their wins, been close in two others and dropped two lopsided contests. By many accounts they seem to be putting in a solid efforts on most nights and have benefited from the return of Mike Peca after he started the season injured.

Ducks logoBlues logoAnaheim Ducks at St. Louis Blues

A bit of an early season reversal of fortunes for these two teams as compared to last year. The Ducks have been struggling while the Blues have been showing improvement. Anaheim have played four more games than St. Louis but only have one more point in the standings.

The Ducks are having problems putting the puck in the net and only have one player in the top 50 for scoring league wide with Ryan Getzlaf at 18th place with ten points.

Remember also that the Ducks have played more games than any other team in the NHL.

Predators logoKings logo Nashville Predators at Los Angeles Kings

Two teams that have started poorly. Both have experienced five game losing streaks with Nashville still in the midst of theirs. Los Angeles started the season in London against Anaheim and like the Ducks have played more games than other teams in the league.

They are not nearly as disappointing as Anaheim have been this season but perhaps there is some credence to the claim that the overseas traveling and early schedule have somewhat accounted for the poor start.

The Kings at least rebounded with a win against Vancouver on Saturday while the Predators are continuing to let in boatloads of goals. It doesn't look as though that trend will change any time soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bloody Chiclets: Some Early Stats and Online Games

NHL logoDucks logoSens logoLeafs logoNiedermayer decision coming soon? Five games into a less than fantastic start for the defending Stanley Cup champions and Nidermayer is soon going to fill us in on whether or not he's going to grace the Ducks with his presence? And therein lies the answer to this increasingly self-serving display of procrastination.

Niedermayer simply wants to convince his teammates and the rest of the league that he, in fact, is not expendable. The longer the Ducks struggle, the greater his loss is felt and the more his stock rises. At the merest hint that Anaheim is returning to form, he will slide back into the line-up and ride the wave with them, undoubtedly bolstering their fortunes even more as they improve beyond what these first few games suggest.

More likely, he's doing a stint of scouting his current/former team to see if it really is worthwhile to return for another year. Without the assurance of another competitive season with a reasonable shot at repeating as champs, it may seem like a redundant uphill slog to someone like Niedermayer who already has four Cup rings and a barnful of other hardware.

Or, he could just be enjoying the experience of not getting hammered into the boards (and doing a good deal of hammering himself) in October for the first time in almost 20 years.


Hard to start crunching numbers or establishing trends with only a handful of games played by most teams, but here's an interesting stat. The Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs are currently the most penalized teams in the NHL (discounting the Ducks, who have played two more games than the Buds and the Sens, though their per game average is still lower.) Ottawa and Toronto have 31 and 30 minutes in penalties respectively while both have been short-handed 20 times over the span of three games.

The difference between Ottawa and Toronto is that the Senators haven't allowed a single goal while killing penalties while the Leafs have given up two. Ottawa has actually fared even better than that, scoring two short-handed goals. Toronto has allowed a short-handed goal but scored none of their own.

With the man advantage, Ottawa has scored two goals and Toronto just one (the game winner in overtime against the Canadiens yesterday.)

At least some part in why Ottawa has the maximum six points after three games and Toronto just three. Special teams are a huge part of any team's success and this year will be no different as it appears the obstruction and stick penalties will be called as tight as ever.

The numbers aren't that far apart of course, and most importantly, the three games make it all the more lacking in significance. Still, I'm dying to start seeing the trends develop so I thought I'd get some early practice. After ten games things will warrant a far closer and more relevant look.

As for the stats themselves, I've relied on Yahoo! sports for the above numbers. I have seen at least one discrepancy elsewhere regarding the number of times Ottawa has been in a penalty killing situation, with the Globe and Mail quoting 19.

Speaking of stats, there is a satcheful of online sites that cater to those who love the numbers games. The NHL site is a good starting point and also includes links for all the individual team sites. Hockeydb provides some great individual player numbers and details that span over their entire careers. I like ShrpSports for the snapshots they provide of previous seasons including the standings as they were at any particular date in the past.


The attempts to watch games online have proven fairly useless so far. What happened to those glorious, uninterrupted stretches of streaming during last season's playoffs? No doubt it's down somewhat to my internet connection though there are limits to what I can do to improve that. Radio is a weak alternative but still provides some respite.

I like the feature from that gives you the real-time scoreboard of individual games on your monitor together with a pretty good ticker of all the action. The detail in the ticker is impressive with surprisingly intricate play by play that includes shot type, blocks, hits, penalties and of course goals.


To access the scoreboard for a particular match-up, go to Scores and then click on the "Real Time" link that appears next to a game that is currently in progress.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hockey Radio: HNIC Hits the Airwaves

Oilers logoDucks logoThe new CBC produced Hockey Night in Canada weekday radio broadcast was definitely the hockey related media program I was most looking forward to this season.

The most surprising aspect of the new production is that it was so long in arriving.

The Hockey Night in Canada telecast is the biggest money maker for the national broadcasting corporation. The drive-time hockey show has the potential to increase the popularity of the weekly television match-ups even more. Think of it; a full week of hyping the upcoming games, discussing issues surrounding each team and in general just catering to the huge appetite that Canadians and many others have for discussing all things hockey.

Of course, I was excited about all that until I discovered that the radio broadcasts will only be available on Sirius satellite radio. As far as I know, their package is only offered within North America.

Though I'm sure there is a logical explanation as to why even listeners in Canada have to cough up for the satellite subscription, I haven't come up with one yet. CBC is a publicly funded organization. Without taxpayer dollars it wouldn't exist. So what is the rationale? Is it produced in CBC studios? I believe so. The daily hockey discussion show uses the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada brands which were both created and built using government funds, and yet it is only available with a monthly fee on a commercial satellite radio station.

Obviously there are aspects of CBC which are commercial in nature, such as the television arm. But while Saturday night hockey telecasts rake in advertising dollars which can be plowed back into maintaining and developing other program areas at the Ceeb, anyone in Canada with a TV can tune without paying a surcharge. That's not so with the new radio program (assuming I'm reading this correctly.)

The satellite station, Sirius, is apparently now partly owned by the CBC. Perhaps that factor is what makes the deal compliant with CBC guidelines. If in fact there are such guidelines. I'm probably basing my assumptions on some idealized notion of what a publicly funded broadcaster is actually obliged to do.

I don't want to come across in an "I'm gonna get to the bottom of this," kind of way. I would just like to know so that I understand the media business and the workings of such agreements better. I've sent a few e-mails to the CBC asking about the arrangement but they haven't responded so far.

For those in Canada and the U.S. who don't normally tune into the CBC and are considering the possibility of subscribing to Sirius for this show alone, I urge you to do it. If you're a regular listener of radio talk shows I have no doubt you will be impressed with the production values and the overall quality of a CBC program. I'm betting they will offer more than the ranting, raving, listener call-in formula offered by many of the other syntactically challenged hosts on various radio sports shows (though many of those are entertaining as well.) I wouldn't be surprised if you also get some of the in-the-field, mini-documentary type features that the CBC does so well.

I would sure like to listen to the 2 hours of daily hockey talk but it doesn't look like it will happen. Anyone who has had the chance, please leave some comments detailing your impressions. Or if you would like to write a full review of Hockey Night in Canada's radio show, let me know and I will be happy to post it here.


Radio Interview with Kevin Lowe

Speaking of hockey and radio, an Edmonton radio host named Dan Tencer recently interviewed Kevin Lowe, general manager of the Edmonton Oilers. Spanning a full 45 minutes, Lowe goes over the strengths and weaknesses of the 07-08 Oilers, addresses the repeated dissing from Anaheim GM Brian Burke and covers a wide range of other topics.

Some have suggested in the past that Lowe has a tendency to publicly rip people who have passed through the Oilers organization and left on less than the greatest terms. It's the kind of habit than can create uneasy feelings in current employees for the simple reason that they've got to wonder if the knives will be out for them once they move on. Take a listen and decide for yourself.

Interview with Kevin Lowe

Here are a few quotes from the interview. On Jason Smith being named captain a few years ago compared to the most recent naming of Ethan Moreau as the new team leader:

"It was kind of irritating to me a few of the guys got their noses out of joint at the time. It was appalling. I can safely say that's not the question this time around..."

Oooh, I wonder who he's referring to?

On Brian Burke and the signing of (then) restricted free agent Dustin Penner:

"People need to know that he (Burke) really thrives on this stuff. He's a little bit of a media junkie and loves the attention...I suspect through all this, the barbs he's throwing at us and me, he's sort of insinuating that Dustin Penner's not a very good hockey player. Time will tell. I hope that Dustin Penner's reading between the lines and wants to use that as motivation to shove it you know where...He's (Burke) known for going over the top, being a bit of an egomaniac. He's just further proving that that's the case...I suspect it will come to a moment where...there's gonna be confrontation...but it's difficult to do because this is a public business..."

"I've had many calls, from New Jersey, New York, Columbus, Carolina, Florida, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto...conversations I've had with managers in the last week alone and I haven't sensed anyone doesn't want to do business with us anymore...I sense Brian Burke left himself exposed, he went out and signed some big name players who have some injury risks and gave them a lot of money and as a result he had used up a lot of his cap room and whether he wanted to match our offer to Dustin Penner or not he probably eliminated his chance."

Well worth a listen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NHL 2007-08: the Year of the Hockey Fight?

NHL logoDucks logoBruins logoA hockey journalist made the astute point recently (I believe it was in the Globe and Mail's hockey blog) that the amount of fighting in an NHL game is commensurate with exactly how important the game is. In other words, pre-season games are littered with clutching and flailing while the playoffs are almost completely free of fisticuffs.

That is demonstrably true as shown by the 2006-07 post-season but there are some compelling indications that this year may in fact see a rise in skate-to-skate punch-ups during the regular season.

First, the Anaheim Ducks were the most penalized team last year and also had the most fighting majors. There is a half-baked theory that states the rest of the league will look to emulate the most recent Stanley Cup champions in terms of what style of play led them to the post-season title. As seen by recent Cup winners, this does not alway play out. An easily identifiable single aspect that resulted in Cup glory for a particular team may not always be present. Also, when there is one or two team strengths that can be pointed to, they may not alway be so simple to implement in the short term.

Not only are intimidation and fighting far easier to integrate into a team that may have been lacking such elements previously, but many decision makers on NHL clubs feel those aspects are highly important to winning. Fighting has been marginalized somewhat in recent years due to rule changes, with much talk about the possibility of token fighters becoming obsolete. This shift has created resentment for those who came up through a system where fighting was more prevalent and accepted. The success of the Anaheim Ducks will once again validate the belief for many that fighting plays an important role, albeit a limited one, in icing a winning team.

The potential for penalties and suspensions may now no longer outweigh the benefits of making fighting a green-light option for certain players on a team. Another factor may also have tipped the scales for some teams in terms of deciding to make intimidation and fighting part of their overall strategy. Two years after the rule changes in the NHL that have somewhat altered the flow of the game, injuries in general, and especially to the head, seem to be on the increase. The grey area of head shots, which the NHL hasn't exactly figured out how to eliminate or even adequately defined in terms of legality, has resulted in important players missing plenty of games.

This is even more reason for NHL clubs to cut loose a few thugs and let it be known that if there aren't sufficient preventative measures in place to protect their players then they will take matters into their own hands. When a swift and brutal response is guaranteed, it is certain that there is at least some moderating effect on other teams.

The Boston Bruins, among others, have shown during the pre-season that they plan on making intimidation a more important part of their game plan this year. Bruins Insider has been going into some detail regarding the new/old face of the Bruins as they seem determined to return to the tradition that brought them success so many years ago. Here's a small excerpt:

"The Bruins then showed off the most improved aspect of their game this preseason, displaying both their physical play and willingness to stick up for each other. After Brendan Witt went knee-on-knee on Krejci, Andrew Alberts immediately dropped the gloves with Witt. It was a solid showing for Alberts, who has struggled in past bouts. He landed several punches and scored the takedown, though he was given an instigator and had to sit for 17 minutes..."

Some of the better first-person descriptive accounts of hockey fights to be found at Bruins Insider.

Indications from many pre-season games is that the increased fighting is league wide. As mentioned, fighting is usually more evident during exhibition games as players desperate to make the team show what they are made of and the consequences from penalties hold no real weight. However, if only the same degree of drop-off occurs heading into the regular season, there could be more bouts for those who enjoy a scrap or two as part of their hockey viewing experience.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bloody Chiclets: First Game of the Season and some Odds and Ends

NHL logoKings logoDucks logoSens logoFlyers logoI caught the first game of the NHL season online last night. A relatively poor connection meant I didn't see much uninterrupted action of the match-up between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks but it was still good to see live hockey being played again. Initial reactions from the game are that Kings' goalie Jonathan Bernier could end up making the team far better than I (and many others) had expected. The Ducks looked fairly listless and are going to feel the loss of Selanne and Niedermayer.

The cliched narrative making the rounds this morning? No doubt it's "Cup hangover," in reference to the Ducks having less time to rest before starting this season.

Loads of penalties for each team, with the first 4 goals coming on the power play and the final tally a short-handed open netter from Los Angeles. Todd Bertuzzi had the first penalty of the game which could be a foreshadowing of things to come. Mike Cammalleri had two of the goals for the Kings.


Feeling a bit of empathy for Dean McAmmond as I mashed my head on a low hanging pipe a few days ago. Didn't really hurt my melon but felt my neck compress as I stepped up and into the pipe.

The 20 games levied against Steve Downie for his hit on McAmmond seems fair enough to me. The sociopathic lovers of all the borderline nastiness in the NHL are up in arms throwing around the usual cliches and empty rhetoric. You know, the type who gets a thrill out of issuing threats by proxy and can't fathom that without some restrictions and lines which shouldn't be crossed, it ceases to be a sport.

There is one mantra that has been thrown about for years has always bothered me. "He got caught admiring his pass." This is an effective line that helps youngsters playing the game learn about the dangers of keeping their heads up. But far too many literalists toss it around in reference to big league games under the belief that a player like McAmmond who got hammered, truly was admiring his pass. No, he wasn't actually congratulating himself with an internal conversation along the lines of "man, you're one smooth son-of-a-bitch, look at the visuals on that..." WHOOMPH!!

No, he was actually looking at what happened after he passed the puck to determine where exactly he would next position himself. Unwise, yes, but let's add some nuance to these tired bromides and make the whole discussion a tad more interesting.

As for the debate over whether he actually left his feet, is it really unclear to some people? And does the nonsensical qualifier that he only left his feet right before the hit actually rate any credibility? Does anyone launch themselves 5 feet away from an opponent they want to demolish? No, leaving your feet directly before a hit is the way to maximize the added upward force. In fact, would physics even allow such an aftermath as saw Downie sail through the air if he hadn't left his feet at all before the hit? Any hockey physicists out there?


Still on the Downie hit, I liked this quote from Tim Panaccio writing over at

" Don't kid yourself because you sit in Section 101, sipping on Sonoma Valley chardonnay between periods."

A less than subtle dig at people who just might attend games more for the status it affords than the actual pleasure of watching the action on the ice.

Yes, I do check in at hockeybuzz for the some of columnists, such as Panaccio and Howard Berger. Panaccio especially offers great insight on the Flyers and Berger pens a pretty entertaining column about the Leafs. I glance at the small box on the left with Eklund's lead-in but never go beyond that (I've heard that you have to pay to get complete access to his online acid trips...can this be true?) Always interesting to see if he can ram some skewed syntax and a few malapropisms into those few lines.

Speaking of Berger, man does that guy engage in some hyperbole. That's probably half the reason his articles are worth reading but sometimes I get the feeling he's just been snubbed regarding an interview or otherwise denied access to the Leafs and has stormed off and spewed some vitriol. This rant about Toskala is a classic example.

NHL 2007-08 Predictions: Western Conference

Sharks logoWings logoWild logoNucks logoDucks logoStars logoFlames logoBJacks logoAvs logoOilers logoPreds logoBlues logoKings logoHawks logoYotes logoFar less rambling to accompany my Western Conference predictions. Just a few notes on why I see various teams improving or regressing compared to last season.

1. San Jose Sharks
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Anaheim Ducks
6. Dallas Stars
7. Calgary Flames
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
9. Colorado Avalanche
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. Nashville Predators
12. St. Louis Blues
13. Los Angeles Kings
14. Chicago Blackhawks
15. Phoenix Coyotes

First, with the relative stagnation of Detroit I don't see them repeating as conference champions, though they will still quite easily capture the Central Division title. When I say "stagnation" I am only considering the moves made by division and conference rivals as compared to the lack of action by the Wings in the off-season. What the Wings have is still solid and in some cases spectacular, including players such as Nicklas Lidstrom on defense and Pavel Datsyuk as the top line centre. Time will catch up with netminder Dominik Hasek and defenseman Chris Chelios at some point, though we'll have to wait and see whether that's evident this season.

You might think that with softer competition from their division rivals, Detroit would have an even easier time of walking away with the most points in the conference. I'm going to hammer a knuckle ball into that theory and say that the lack of strong clubs in the immediate vicinity will be a disadvantage for the Wings as they drop more games with stronger teams from other divisions and may even let up with their Central division competitors. It's the old, "play golf with skilled players and your own game improves" theory.

At least one intangible as well regarding the Wings. Though Scotty Bowman has professed otherwise, I still believe that he has been playing footsie with Toronto and any further developments on that front during the season could be a distraction.

I see the San Jose Sharks stepping up a notch this season. They still have one of the best top 2 line centers in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau respectively. Thornton especially should continue to be a huge points producer as he goes for his third straight 90 point plus campaign. On defense, the Sharks lost Scott Hannan to the Avalanche but they also gained Craig Rivet late last season and with the added off-season and training camp to become even more familiar with San Jose's system, their defense corp. should be as strong as ever. Evgeni Nabokov is now the undisputed no.1 goalie as Vesa Toskala was shipped off to Toronto along with potential headache Mark Bell. As long as Nabokov stays healthy, this team is as solid as they come.

A kind of palpable rage develops within teams that are stocked with talent but have faltered come playoff time. This added motivation of showing everyone what they are really capable of should turn the Sharks into a wrecking crew to be reckoned with this season.

The Anaheim Ducks will still be a strong team this year, but not to the same degree as in their Cup winning campaign. Teemu Selanne and Scott Nidermayer are nowhere to be seen and without those two, the team chemistry will be markedly different. Add the enigmatic Todd Bertuzzi to the mix and the potential is there for a nasty brand of thuggery delivered by him and Chris Pronger. Without the regulating force of the departing vets discipline could be a problem.

I'm taking the Minnesota Wild to win the Northwest division and thus place third in the conference. The Wild haven't done much in the off-season but they were already exceptionally strong in 06-07 and they have a lot of young players that will continue to improve. Rock solid defense and the goaltending duo of Manny Fernandez and Niklas Lidstrom will help them to beat out Vancouver in the improved Northwest division this year.

Vancouver Canucks' goalie Robert Luongo is roundly hailed as the best player between the pipes and there's no argument here. The problem is that the lack of offense wasn't really addressed by the Canucks in the off-season, though they did pick up Ryan Shannon and Brad Isbister. No doubt GM David Nonis will try to address that lack of scoring at some point during the season. That the Canucks are still a solid team is a testament to the skill of Luongo and Vancouver's good defense.

Logic and a modicum of common hockey sense would dictate that the Columbus Blue Jackets won't make the playoffs, especially ahead of the Nashville Predators and even the improved Edmonton Oilers. But if I were to take the popular route, my picks would only be derivative of every other half-baked, two-bit prognosticating son-of-a-bitch out there. Columbus has to make the playoffs eventually, so this season's as good as any. Well, no...actually it's not. But, I'm sticking with my "to hell with it" pick.

In fact, Columbus did make some improvements to their team, the most notable being the signing of Mike Peca. Now, a 33 year-old centreman coming off a nasty season-ending injury might not be the player you would think could help push the B Jacks into the playoffs for the first time. But he is the type of individual who can have an immediate effect on a team, not just in terms of the skill he brings to face-offs and the penalty killing unit but also the motivating force he can have on younger players.

Ken Hitchcock in his second season as the Blue Jacket's coach together with the addition of new GM Scott Howson are both pluses in my opinion. Like most new GMs, Howson will likely look to make his mark with at least a few moves throughout the season.

Nashville has been gutted to some degree and together with the collective venom from Canadian fans clogging up their karma and hindering their mental game, they will fall completely out of the playoff picture. Kimmo Timonen, Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun and Scott Hartnell are all gone this season and that will hurt them. Rate both the Predators and Blue Jackets as my wild cards thrown in the mix for the sake of making things more interesting, though I think both picks could come to fruition.

I fought against my visceral dislike of Mike Keenan and slotted the Flames in at 7th place. The Flames were considered some of the biggest underachievers in 06-07 and Keenan's brand of nastiness could be just what they need. A shared loathing of their new coach could be a unifying force for the Flames and may spark them to more wins and some success in the playoffs.

I like the changes the Oilers have made but it's just a matter of the moves of other teams and mitigating factors conspiring to squeeze them out of the playoffs once again this season. I always like an underdog and the disrespect the Oilers have been absorbing from around the league makes me want to see them over-achieve. I just don't quite see the additions they have made being enough to result in a huge improvement over last year.

Again, my lack of familiarity with some teams means they are getting short shrift and for that I offer no apologies. That's just the way it is.

Now that we have the predictions out of the way, on to the REGULAR SEASON!!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Scott Niedermayer Situation

Ducks logo

Gets stranger and stranger.

The Anaheim Ducks have now suspended stalwart, iconic, legendary very good defenseman Scott Niedermayer pending his decision to either return for the coming season or retire.

It's to the point where you've got to start wondering what else is at play in this rather odd situation. Well, you don't have to, but it's a great jumping off point to offer wild conjecture, start rumours and insinuate the kind of conspiratorial possibilities that can rush in to fill the void when people are eager for information but have been provided with little.

Often people will avoid facing down situations where a hard decision has to be made. There may be subconscious machinations at work that are too difficult or awkward to consider. This happens very often in personal relationships where one party doesn't have the stomach to just come out and say they've had their fill of the other for no good reason except that they want to sample someone else's wares. It can be much easier to push things to a confrontation (consciously or otherwise) and use that as an escape hatch.

Just for the sake of totally unsubstantiated speculation, perhaps Niedermayer is motivated to return and try to add to his crate full of trophies, awards and accomplishments...with another team. Sometimes the easiest way forward for some people is to burn bridges, if only for the reason that the last remaining possibility is then to move forward.

Or maybe, as many have suggested, he would simply like a free pass regarding the strains and exertions of training camp.