Showing posts with label Edmonton Oilers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edmonton Oilers. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

NHL 2007-08 : Spinning the Season

Sens logoFlyers logoLeafs logoFlames logoOilers logoThe Ottawa Senators are winless in seven games but have collected three points in that span and still sit atop two of the three standings' categories. They've got a decent lead within the Northeast division, though the New York Rangers are now nipping at their heels for the top spot in the Eastern conference. And with the Sens in the midst of this slump, the Detroit Red Wings have the best record in the league with a nice fat 40 points after 27 games played.

While it's been a difficult string of games for Ottawa, it's a testament to their early season dominance that they are still statistically the best team in the East. In fact, it's probably good for the team to encounter some adversity early on, have the chance to overcome obstacles, realize that it's going to take a huge effort to reach the next level and...

Ah, spin! You really take whatever you want from any particular situation, match-up or stretch of games.

Take the handful of Leafs' fans who are actually bemoaning the fact that their team has gone on a mini-tear with three wins in a row. The thinking on their part is that a few more dismal performances would have guaranteed some kind of change while this delusional burst simply lulls many into the false sense that a significant turnaround has occurred.

I say take wins any way you can and let everything else sort itself out.


A widespread rage against the Flyers from opposing teams' fans is apparent on most NHL discussion boards. The bland refrain from Philadelphia supporters when the wrath and threats flow their way? "I love being hated! It's a great feeling!"

I suppose that's the only way to deflect and spin the anger that is being directed at them as a result of the cheap-shots and the accompanying suspensions levied against five separate Flyers' players. It would be hatred well-earned if the team actually benefited from these tactics but it's hard to argue they have gained anything tangible.

Most of the illegal hits took place after the games were out of reach and they have now called so much attention to themselves that they are unlikely to receive the benefit of the doubt in any future incidents.

On the other hand, they haven't lost much either. Mainly marginal players delivered the hits and their absences haven't affected the team's chemistry. And in the most recent situations they've only had to sit out a handful of games.

While they have injured opposing teams' players and likely carved out some room for themselves on the ice through intimidation and fear, that too comes at a cost. As other teams look at the pros and cons associated with the style of play euphemistically classed as "on the edge," at some point they will consider payback in kind. A fist, stick or elbow named revenge could be directed at some top Philadelphia players just in time for the playoffs.

No doubt the perpetrators of such acts will argue, just as the Flyers organization and fans have, that it was unrelated to anything and took place in a kind of vacuum that repeatedly induces these odd coincidences. No, there's no pattern, culture or strategy evident here...


Spinning the battle of Alberta is all about expectations. Despite a nice win against the St. Louis Blues last night, the Calgary Flames have to rank as one of the biggest disappointments in the NHL so far this season. Bringing in the worn-out, outdated Keenan is looking like a bigger blunder by the day as the Flames continue to underwhelm.

The Edmonton Oilers on the other hand, have improved as of late with a 5-3 record in their last eight games and three wins in a row for the first time this season. And in the "looking for positives to build on" department, they are now one point up on their provincial rivals and lead the league in shootout victories with an insanely good 7-1 record.


Interesting article on goalie masks at USA Today.

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.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

NHL 2007-08: Week Four Headlines

JFJ Tries to Entice Tavares, Tlusty Tallies Two

Ferguson is thankful for the distraction that Tlusty's early pair provided. The Leaf's GM tries some creative coercion to improve his credibility.

Are Jerseys a Joke? RBK offers Patch, Pleads Patience

Still being discussed whether remainders from factory to be used.

Oilers Fans Push Penner to Produce

Does a lummox like Penner simply appear lethargic? Or is the "lazy" tag legit?

Visor Usage Vaults

50% of players now wear them. (When this son-of-a-bitch laced on skates in his first organized game at seven, shield use was scattered and still optional.)

Modano Yearns to be Top Point Scoring Yank of All Time

Needs five more to accomplish feat.

Two Swedes on Top in Scoring Race

Sundin at 36 is stunning.

Boys from Broad Street Head into Boston

Flyers and Bruins put their identically respectable 6-3 records on the line Saturday night. Two of the most improved teams so far this season, they've both shown toughness and determination in surpassing early predictions.

Sens Finish Siesta, Skate into Jersey Saturday

In the inaugural game at the new home of the New Jersey Devils, the Senators will play for the first time after a juicy seven day break. Will the Devils christen the Prudential Center with a win or will the Sens improve their league-wide best record?

Buds on Broadway

Two struggling teams with different problems tangle tonight as the Leafs take on the Rangers in New York.

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 21, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Week Three: Results, Changes and Stats

Habs logoOilers logoFlames logoYotes logoJets logoThrashers logoLeafs logo50 years since Maurice Richard became the first player in the NHL to score 500 goals. And with the commemoration comes that inevitable parlour game: would he have fared as well in the current NHL? Such discussions are interesting and yet another way for fans to rank their knowledge against one another.

Of course, it's totally hypothetical and rather meaningless. But because of the passion some invest in these "what if" scenarios, I'm always surprised that the most obvious qualifier of all is rarely mentioned.

If Richard were to have played in this era as opposed to in the past, he also would have come up at a different time and thus benefited from better conditioning, nutrition, coaching and competition. So, all other things being equal, he probably could have been a very good player in today's NHL.


The first battle of Alberta is in the books and it wasn't even close. Apparently the two teams are headed in the opposite direction with the Flames overcoming some early season collapses and the Oilers dropping most of their recent games except against other bottom feeders like the Phoenix Coyotes.

"It's still early yet," but Dustin Penner hasn't produced much offense during the first eight games. Which generally goes to show that most players are not of the impact variety and instead see their fortunes rise and fall depending on who they are playing alongside.

On the bright side, if Penner does become the largest and most expensive pylon ever, at least those dire predictions of overpriced offer sheets for restricted free agents might not come to pass.


Speaking of the Coyotes, has there ever been an NHL team that has experienced so many years of futility, first as the Winnipeg Jets and now in their current existence?

It's a bit ironic for Wayne Gretzky, considering the amount of regular season and playoff misery he inflicted on the team when they were located in Winnipeg.

Who would have believed it all those year ago? Imagine if someone had approached Gretzky in the visiting team's dressing room at the Winnipeg Arena after the Oilers had once again eliminated the Jets from the playoffs and said to the Great One,

"Hey, this is all well and good but one day you will be saddled with the very team that you've just beaten. While they are currently mired in this northern wasteland, at that distant point in the future they will be located in a desert."

Gretzky: "You don't say? That's interesting...Hey Mess! Ya got an extra bar of soap?!"

Strange how things play out in life. With Gretzky's partial ownership of the Coyotes and his iconic status in the hockey world, he has stayed on far longer as head coach than most others would have.

Kind of a conundrum for Gretzky since he essentially can decide for himself how long he remains as coach. Remove himself and some will label him a quitter. Stay on and the frustration mounts. Fair play to him for sticking with it.

Looks like another painful season of "rebuilding" ahead for him and the Yotes. I’m sure he’s not taking bets on his team making the playoffs…


The Atlanta Thrashers sacked their coach Bob Hartley and then quickly got their first win of the season against the Rangers the next evening with GM Don Waddell behind the bench. A coaching change often results in at least a temporary jolt of momentum, though as Atlanta demonstrated following their lone win of the year when they got back to their losing ways against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, it often takes far more to turn a season around.


The Thrashers will slump into Toronto on Tuesday for a game against the struggling Maple Leafs. If the Leafs can't put up a win against Atlanta or are listless and offer up another abysmal 3rd period, the winds of change are going to be blowing a lot stronger in the Big Smoke.

The Leafs 3rd period collapses only eight games into 2007-08 have been shocking. It's a carry-over from last season where they had one of the worst 3rd period team plus/minus records. Many people point to potential conditioning problems when such late game fades become a trend. But if you look at this season's 3rd period stats for the Leafs, it's probably more because of discipline than anything else.

So far this year the Leafs have a 3rd period team plus-minus rating of minus 2. But more importantly, they have taken 21 third period penalties that have resulted in six power play goals for their opponents. Add in another four overtime penalties with one game winner scored with a man advantage for the opposing team and it's not surprising Toronto are 1-2 in the extra frame.

Losing to the worst team in the league on Tuesday would not bode well for the fortunes of either GM John Ferguson Jr. or head coach Paul Maurice.

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.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

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!!!!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Pre-season Review

NHL logoLeafs logoOilers logoIsles logo"It's meaningless," is the standard cry regarding preseason games, especially when your team is on the losing end of a good old down home whooping. But beat a hated rival in an exhibition match-up and it's reason to look forward to the regular season with anticipation.

The cliche that no meaning should be attached to what is essentially hockey's version of "friendlies" is pretty valid. It appears there is no standard number of games, with some teams playing as many as 9, while others suit up for a measly 5 (this based on last year's preseason.) While the outcomes themselves aren't much to get excited about, individual players can showcase their conditioning and potential for the beginning of the season. The result is line combinations heavy on experimentation with many skaters on the ice for the tryout of their lives. Of those, some will be long gone by the time games have any meaning.

With that belief firmly in mind for most fans, there's still an awful lot of scrutiny and a kind of faux significance that goes along with each meeting. As if it's a warm-up for the kind of reasoning and signature arguments fans plan on using with their fellow spectators once the goals and hits really matter.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Vesa Toskala's guts must have been percolating with bile during and after his debut with the Leafs. A first time appearance by a goalie in the Leafs nets demands a response from the Toronto media because of the insane interest surrounding the team. Especially for the type of event that can be classified under "first" "best" "last" "most" or "worst."

The result is an odd balancing act between knowing that the analysis will be devoured and delivering a kind of "hip to the absurdity of trying to extrapolate from one performance but doing it anyway because that's what everyone expects." I thought David Shoalts did a pretty decent job in his column about Vesa Toskala's first game as a Leaf, providing a specific critique of the netminder's performance while comparing it to a former Leaf goalie's (Ed Belfour) initial start.

Shoalts seemed conscious of the fact that his breakdown of Toskala's mediocre start would grate on some fans and spun a pretty interesting angle to make it more palatable. What, did you actually expect him not to address the play of Toskala?

Another article on the same Leafs game seemed to do just that. With a headline of "Toskala Shaky in Leafs Debut" the report by Tim Wharnsby went on to mention the goalie by name exactly zero times and instead concentrated on the new dehumidification system that has been installed at Air Canada Centre (to be fair, editors often write the headlines for stories.)

Edmonton Oilers

Though most people aren't paying attention yet, the ones who are want as much information as possible. Minor things take on huge import (as long as it's not anything as insignificant as final results.) Take for example the utterances of Ryan Smyth last week and the response from Edmonton fans. Prompted by some local reporter, Smyth put a clever twist on an old nick he once had and this caused a minor eruption over at the Oilers forum on HFboards.

I understand the loss of a player who was part of your team for so long. One who worked hard, never gave up, represented the pride of the organization. Maybe it also has something to do with him being a local boy. The mullet, the unique syntax, the fact he actually liked to live in town as opposed to the litany of players who have been slagging off Edmonton as of late. Hell, if he wasn't a pro hockey player, he'd just be another mulleted working class stiff. He would likely own a muscle car and on occasion would get into staring matches at traffic lights with mulleted individuals named Mike in other muscle cars. Sometimes they would get out and fight each other (I know all this because I grew up in Winnipeg which is similar in many ways, except that Edmonton is richer and has more people.) All these things endeared Smyth to Oilers fans and now that he's gone they're having a hard time letting go. Just remember that old cliche, "the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference."

The best way to get Smyth off their minds is with a strong start to the season. Dustin Penner running interference in front of the net and Sheldon Souray's big shot should go some way towards making that a possibility. Penner has probably enjoyed a more unlikely and whirlwind past few years than any other pro hockey player in recent memory. This article on Penner still ranks as one of the best off season hockey stories.


Are there more injuries this preseason or is it just down to the lack of other news making those instances stand out? I've got no statistical evidence but it seems like there are an above average number this year. You've got to think that some players are either lacking in their conditioning, had lingering health issues or are just going balls out after the layoff. Perhaps the increased size, strength and overall fitness level as years go by has the inevitable effect of more bones, joints and ligaments giving way under the strain of collisions.

Must be a sickly feeling for any player after the anticipation and likely work they put in during the off-season. A signed player who has a history with the team and can expect to recover and see further play over a number of years is one thing, but for someone trying to make the cut, this must be like a kick to the guts (or the head.) That might have been a couple million dollar hit for Anson Carter, though according to reports on his off-season training (or lack thereof), he probably has to take some of the blame himself. Funny how often I feel sympathy for some of these characters who have already raked in millions and had some great experiences as players.

Kissing Babies

There's always some time for glad-handing and publicity work for players in the pre-season, as they play games in locations whose local residents will never get to know the experience of having their own NHL team. The result is the kind of situation that played out in Moncton, New Brunswick. Just as many cities end up taking their pro team for granted until it's too late, those without the ready access to big league games savour these kinds of opportunities to witness the competition live and interact with some of the players.

As for me, I'm still trying to see my first (online) pre-season game of the year. The life of an overseas hockey fan (especially in Asia) is not easy in terms of finding ways to see NHL games. I will be looking for every online opportunity to check out the action and with the time difference, it will be Hockey Morning in Thailand when I get the chance.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Links Page

Leafs logoOilers logoI've added a new static links page that will be an archive of various blogs that I read on a regular basis.

The first entry is a relatively new blog called He Score, He Shoot! It concentrates on the Leafs and Oilers but also has a lot of other great content related to the game of hockey. And content is the key word.

When a blog is new, the novelty factor spurs many people on to post at a frenetic pace, though the test is whether it will be around for the long haul. Some new bloggers can't even make a strong showing out of the blocks and quickly succumb to the biggest downfall of writer wannabes: lack of production.

That nasty cliche that goes something like "I'll only post when the notion strikes me," is a sign a blog will likely die an early and un-noticed death. Many bloggers don't seem to understand that writing begets writing. Set aside time every day and before long the content you churn out will begin to extrapolate itself, ideas will lead to more ideas and develop into other half-baked theories and topics will present themselves at an unstoppable clip.

The posters at He Score, He Shoot! are off to a good start, though the Leafs posters are contributing the most content and are trying to badger the others into adding their fair share. Many good article length posts that include hockey video game reviews, nostalgia pieces and NHL news.

Hopefully they will keep posting at the current rate.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hockey is the New Politics

NHL logoOilers logoSomething that sports writers have been alluding to for some time now is the fact that professional teams of today have a far stricter and more disciplined organization "line" regarding the approach to an entire season and in response to specific incidents than they did in the past (I also wrote about this in a post a few days ago: Sports Propaganda.)

Nowhere is this more evident than in the run-up to the current season. Not a day goes by without some coach, GM or player stepping up to the mic and letting loose with a bland, emotionless statement that their team has as much chance as anyone to win the Cup.

While I haven't seen any of these claims on video, I can only imagine that they are delivered with the same vapid, blank-eyed zombie stare that seems to afflict government workers and bureaucrats the world over. That look that says they have long since given up trying to think for themselves.

The strategy can't be faulted. To even stray slightly from the scripted line results in a firestorm of criticism such as was launched at Saku Koivu for daring to add nuance to his comments about the potential fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens this season.

Every owner, GM, coach and player wants to win. But to muse publicly for a moment about the issues your team needs to address or the fact that you don't have the best chance of winning it all, is considered a weakness. When the reality of the regular season takes over and the hollow pre-season utterances drift into the mist, the disconnect will be stark. If players were given at least some leeway to voice their true feelings, a more realistic and interesting storyline would take form.

What's said in the dressing room and what's presented to the public will always vary to some degree but something less packaged would result in a more entertaining and compelling narrative for everyone involved. If teams were allowed to come up with something less cliched, it may even take on a life of its own and act as a motivating factor.

The Edmonton Oilers have got their season's narrative off to a good start. Based around an old classic, "the rag tag bunch of mavericks written off by everyone but still ready to take on the world," their story-line is at least built on some reality and should appeal to many of their fans.

Most teams have a far more bland and predictable pre-season offering, designed to instill hope in fans and to avoid giving enemies (journalists and other teams) any ammunition. For those teams whose predictions are at best overly confident and at worst fanciful, the average fan with a shred of optimism can respond with the similarly cliched "well, anything can happen..."

As pronouncements from teams become more and more like those made by politicians, how long before a player or coach claims that a loss is actually a win?