Showing posts with label New York Islanders. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Islanders. Show all posts

Monday, December 17, 2007

NHL Suspensions: Chris Simon Attack on Jarkko Ruutu

NHL logoIslanders logoPens logoIt's hard to commit an act of violence in the NHL that receives universal condemnation. A player can pour every ounce of energy into an explosive, premeditated, pivoting two-handed slash to the face of his opponent and someone, nay, a legion of people, will come screaming to the defense of the piece of filth.

It doesn't take much to provide the basis for such bizarro world rationalization. Any questionable action by the player who's been attacked is all it takes. A genuine foul or perceived slight that went unpunished, either earlier in the game or months previously, justifies the retribution that flows his way.

A barely concealed glee at injuries resulting from cheap shots is not a difficult-to-find sentiment amongst hockey fans. To be fair, it's the kind of bald-faced sociopathic ranting usually seen in the discussion board trenches, where the normal societal division of those who love to play the callous lunatic and those who love to be outraged is magnified a thousand times.

In the "public face" discourse of such incidents, the mainstream hockey media voices all the appropriate outrage, calls for punishment from the league and uses it as a segue to demand that the game be cleaned up. No doubt they are sincere in most cases.

But there are just as many references to the importance of "consequences" and that nebulous "code" that has never really been adequately articulated by anyone, ever. The proper and expected responses come when the glare of exceptional occurrences transcend the game and everyone is at their politically correct best.

So it is a rare instance that gutlessness is distilled into its purest essence and a moment of clarity is shared by all fans, including those of the offending player's team and those who normally take pride in celebrating cowardice and cruelty.

Chris Simon's insane stomp onto the ankle of Jarkko Ruutu's ankle seems to have achieved that rarest of unanimous loathing amongst hockey fans. Simon of the Islanders, in what was a clear and deliberate move, drove his skate blade into Ruutu's ankle, as Ruutu was lying prone on the ice.

That it was planned and Ruutu couldn't even see the attack coming makes it even more insidious and unforgivable. Add in the potential for the seriousness of the injury that could have resulted as well as Simon's track record and he is in for one record-setting suspension.

The odd thing about the incident is that, while it was obviously intentional, it almost seemed like an afterthought by Simon as he made his way through the gate onto the Islander's bench.

Here is the YouTube video of the attack

He wasn't involved in a fast moving, intense game situation. The "fog of battle" defense, that points to the speed and the near impossibility of pulling up in some cases, is irrelevant here. And yet it seemed so casual and pointless. The term "banality of evil" comes to mind (only the second Nazi reference I've made in the past week.)

And so the guessing game begins about the length of suspension the NHL will hand down to Simon. I really wanted to avoid checking in at Bob McKenzie's blog over at TSN because after doing so it's almost impossible not to be derivative of whatever he has to say on such issues.

He has an uncanny ability of putting his finger on the pulse of the league after every suspension-worthy incident and accurately predicting, within a few games, just how long the sentence will be. However, he hasn't commented on this most recent episode yet.

Following the attack with his stick on the New York Ranger's Ryan Hollweg last season, I believe Simon will get hit hard.

The rest of the season, with a less than subtle hope on the part of the NHL and many fans that he decides to call it a career.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

NHL 2007-08: Game Day Previews November 3rd

Leafs logoHabs logoThe Leafs skate into Montreal on Saturday, continuing one of the greatest rivalries in NHL history in terms of length, passion and polarizing effect. At least in Canada. More than just two hockey clubs playing each other, in many ways the rivalry is symbolic of the dual nature of Canada's founding and the ongoing struggles that involve Quebec and the rest of the country.

Earlier in the week there was another reminder of just how important the language issue is in Quebec when Habs' captain Saku Koivu was criticized for not learning how to speak French. The comments against Koivu came from a Quebec lawyer during public hearings about religious minorities in the province.

It's always ironic that any group feeling threatened (Quebec within Canada in this case) will usually end up taking out their frustrations on other minorities that have even less power in society. There have long been questions about how new immigrants to the province are treated and these hearings are looking at how new-comers are being discriminated against based on religion.

In an obvious attempt to shift the focus, the grand-standing lawyer launched a public attack on the Canadiens' Finnish captain.

Koivu took note and delivered the pre-game announcement of players mainly in French (albeit taped...he had done opening night's all in English which provided the kind of opening the language fascist lawyer was looking for) in the game against the Flyers on Friday.

He then promptly served up another response in the "actions speak louder than words" manner as he had a solid game and received well-deserved cheers from the Montreal crowd for both efforts.

Back to the Leafs/Canadiens game tonight. The Canadiens have been playing extremely well over the last seven games or so, earning at least a point in each of those contests. The story with these two teams is the contrast in special teams.

The Habs' power play is on fire at the moment, with a league wide best when it comes to converting extra man chances. When opposing teams are taking loads of penalties it usually is indicative of team speed and effort for the club being given the man advantage. A huge 21 goals on 68 chances for Montreal when on the power play.

The Leafs on the other hand are still having some problems when their opponents have a player in the box. They are at the bottom of the league when trying to make use of their chances. They have converted a measly eight out of 64 opportunities.

Add to that woeful stat the fact that the Leafs are worst in the NHL for coughing up short-handed goals with four. They gave up one against New Jersey on Friday night. The goal broke a tie, shifted the momentum towards the Devils and helped them to win 3-2 against the Leafs. Second loss in a row for Toronto after previously winning two consecutive games on the road. The Buds are taking plenty of bad penalties as well.

If those trends hold up tonight, it won't be good for the Leafs.

Bruins logoSens logoThe game in Ottawa could be an interesting match-up. While the Senators have been rolling along, they did let up the other night against the worst team in the league (Atlanta Thrashers) and the game ended much closer than it should have.

With the exception of the shellacking the Bruins absorbed from the Canadiens 12 days ago, they have been playing well and winning some close games, with an overtime win against Buffalo on Thursday.

However, Boston hasn't fared too well against teams higher than them in the standings and obviously this will be the best team they have faced this season.

An all important divisional game will make this a close one I believe.

Zdeno Chara versus Brian McGrattan in the fisticuffs department perhaps?

Devils logoRangers logoTwo disappointing under-achievers in the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils meet in the Big Apple. Both clubs have equally mediocre 5 and 6 records with the Rangers holding the dubious honour of being the lowest scoring team in the entire league.

The Devils have been putting the puck in the net at a better pace than the Rangers but have still been blanked three times this season. One of those shut-outs was delivered by the Rangers in a 2-0 win in the teams' first meeting of the season.

Maybe they should skip the preliminaries. Just head right to overtime instead of playing what's likely to be a bland, scoreless regulation.


Some other interesting match-ups amongst the eight other games being played on Saturday night. Phoenix coming off a big win against Dallas could highlight just how far the Ducks have fallen if they can handle Anaheim at home.

The Canucks must be thankful to get back on the road after they continued their dismal play at home in a loss to the Nashville Predators. Regardless, they'll still have to ratchet up their shots on goal (though they did manage 29 against the Preds) or they won't fare too well against a strong Colorado Avalanche team who are unbeaten at home so far this season.

The Sharks and Kings finish off a home and home series in Los Angeles tonight with the Kings winning the first leg 5-2 on Friday. Battle of California has some insight on that match-up and a preview of the Ducks and Coyotes game as well.

Pittsburgh travels to Long Island hoping that the re-energized Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can keep scoring the way they have in the past few games. Though they'll want a better result than they had in their loss to the Avalanche on Thursday.

Florida in Carolina, Atlanta at Tampa Bay, Calgary in Minnesota and Chicago visiting St. Louis are the other games being played.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Predictions: Eastern Conference

Sens logoPens logoTampa logoDevils logoSabres logoRangers logoThrashers logoLeafs logoFlyers logoCaps logoBruins logoHurricanes logoPanthers logoIsles logohabslogo.gifOK, here's the requisite prediction post wherein I make studied and reasoned comments (offer up a bundle of paraphrased rationalizing) on why I've placed various teams in my projected final standings. In the end I'm going to make at least some wild assed guesses with the knowledge that many well articulated forecasts are no more accurate than the looping swings in the dark variety. Regardless of how someone arrives at their choices, at least a few teams will surprise and insanely over-achieve while one or two clubs will disappoint.

I'm going with conference predictions for the simple reason that they're a helluva lot easier to post. But because of the heavily weighted intra-division play, the only way to make any kind of pick is to look at those groupings first and decide who improved the most and proceed from there. Of course, by working backwards, you could ultimately determine what my picks would look like if sorted into divisions.

You may have read an article I posted last month in which I described the various teams I have cheered for over the years. After a fairly long absence away from regularly watching games (which could continue this season depending on how the online viewing situation plays out) I come to this season as a hockey fan with relatively few biases. Some of you may consider this unthinkable, a bland, second-rate way to watch the game. I'm perfectly content to watch the season unfold in this way and I think it will make me a better observer who is relatively uninfluenced by emotion. At the same time, I'm looking forward to being drawn in by certain teams and situations and will no doubt have some favourites by the end of the season.

First, the Eastern Conference:

1. Ottawa Senators
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Buffalo Sabres
6. New York Rangers
7. Atlanta Thrashers
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
9. Philadelphia Flyers
10. Washington Capitals
11. Boston Bruins
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. Florida Panthers
14. New York Islanders
15. Montreal Canadiens

The Senators haven't done much in the off-season but really, they had no need to. Coming off a season in which they surged in the last half and were dominant throughout the playoffs with the exception of the finals, they have every right to leave things as they are. Bryan Murray as GM will no doubt be looking to add the final piece before the trade deadline and John Paddock behind the bench as coach could provide a nice jolt. Ray Emery had his wrist and a new contract sewn up in the off-season but I wouldn't be surprised if Martin Gerber plays a more prominent role this season. A 52 save shut-out, regardless of whether it's in the pre-season, bodes well for his potential in 2007-08. Emery still has some technique issues to sort out before he's ranked as one of the league's elite netminders. He also has a tendency for off-ice antics and any further melodramas involving him together with average play could see his stock plummet.

Many have picked the New York Rangers as the most improved team in the entire league with the signings of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. And the addition of Brent Sutter could improve the perennially solid and well-disciplined Devils. But I'm still going with the Pittsburgh Penguins to take the Atlantic Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference for no other reason than I like to be a contrarian son-of-a-bitch on occasion. But really, it's not much of a stretch to think they will in fact finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. The explosive talent they have, has, in my opinion, the greatest potential for further improvement this season. Another year of playing together under their belts and the disappointment of an early playoff exit will spur them on to greater heights.

The Buffalo Sabres are going to see their "goals for" numbers take a hit with the loss of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and that will cause them to slip somewhat but not as much as many are predicting.

I see Tampa Bay leapfrogging Atlanta for the Southeast crown and thus being positioned 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Just like last season, I believe the mediocre Southeast will field only one other playoff team with Atlanta taking the 7th position. I well may have ranked them higher but my research on the team has been abysmal. That lack of recognition factor alone is why I have slotted them in based on a quick look at last season's final standings. Sad, I know, but I'm doing this for kicks and can afford shameless admissions such as that. (Imagine one of the well-paid hacks at the Globe and Mail's sports section dropping a line like that?)

I must admit that I've bought into the rationalizing regarding the improvements made to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the off-season and have thus awarded them the last playoff position at 8th in the conference. Despite the 2 poor performances so far by Vesa Toskala in net during the pre-season, I can't help but feel they will see an improvement overall at the position, whether it's with shared duties or perhaps with the unexpected development that sees Andrew Raycroft step up. They have added some scoring with Jason Blake despite having been quite strong in that area last season. Unfortunately, they've already been hit with some pre-season injuries though it's unlikely things could be as bad in that regard as during the 06-07 campaign.

I can't see the Leafs missing the playoffs for a 3rd straight year, not only because of their mild improvements but more for the fact that there will be hell to pay if it even looks like a possibility approaching the midway point of this season. Pressure in the nasty pit of hockey insanity in which the Leafs lurch wildly about is surreal and larger than life.

At least 2 key individuals, GM John Ferguson Jr. and Leafs icon Mats Sundin, will be riding hell bent for success in their respective off-ice and on-ice roles this year. Ferguson will orchestrate at least one final Hail Mary if his job looks like it's in jeopardy and Sundin will haul the team into the playoffs alone even if he's jacked up on enough cortisone to kill a buffalo. Surprisingly, not much has been said as of late (relatively, relatively) by the Toronto media about Sundin's final quarter season slump in 06-07. It could either be painful or inspirational to see how Sundin winds up his career in Toronto this year.

The columnists and journalists who weigh in on all things Leafs related have been braying loudly about everything else though. I believe the sports writers on the hockey beat at Canadian papers, especially the Globe and Mail, are so conscious of being branded as having a pro-Leafs bias, that they go ricocheting in the opposite direction as a way to compensate. Sure there are many informed and often prescient views offered up on the Leafs but so often it's a skewed picture that is presented in the sports sections in many rags. The shrill pronouncements are already flowing from some on the demise of the Leafs this season with the regular season not even underway. They are so extreme in some cases that a person can only lean at least slightly in the other direction and be confident that that is a more likely possibility.

And finally regarding the Leafs, I do buy into the argument that they were hammered beyond normal limits in the injury department last season. Look at where they were at about a month into the campaign in 2006-07. Sure they had some games in hand, but still, they were off to a fairly good start. If anything, I see a reverse of last year with them having a slow start and then improving during the final stretch.

Philadelphia could well be one of the most improved teams this years. It will definitely be a fight for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and if it isn't the Leafs, I'm sure the Flyers will be right there. The Flyers shipped out their favourite whipping boy (at least he was for some of the fans and a columnist or two) Joni Pitkanen in exchange for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul from the Edmonton Oilers. A big unrestricted free agent signing saw the addition of Daniel Briere. He should provide a boost to their scoring, which was horrid last season. The Flyers also grabbed another pair of players from Nashville who were set to become UFAs, when they inked forward Scott Hartnell and defenseman Kimmo Timonen. If not the most improved, the Flyers have at least altered the face of their team more than any other club.

However, they absorbed a bludgeoning in that pre-season game with Ottawa a few days ago, losing four players to injuries. It looks as though Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul both damaged their wrists though only Upshall's injury is serious enough to require surgery.

Washington and Boston are 2 teams that have people throwing around that catchall phrase "You'll be surprised." Having been a Bruins fan many years ago, it would definitely be nice to see them break out of their years long average to terrible play. They've got a new coach in Claude Julien who has made it clear the Bruins will be a more physical team. For some real in-depth parsing of the Bruins at every position and the kind of substance and minutiae that can only come from years of following a team, check out this excellent blog.

Well, that's it for my Eastern Conference predictions. I'll offer up my Western Conference forecasts within the next day or two.

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 8, 2007

NHL Team E-Mail Bulletins

NHL logoIslanders logoflyerslogo.gifSo I've signed up to all the NHL team e-mail bulletins in the hopes of maybe getting a heads-up on breaking news as soon as it becomes available.

As far as I know, all the teams have some version of these e-mail updates, with the exception of: the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild. A few of these teams may have something available through registration with their booster clubs which I'm not going to join. Unless I've somehow overlooked the sign-up form on their respective websites. For the Sabres, I was definitely surprised as they have a reputation for being very responsive and considerate of their fans. If anyone reading has any any info on e-mail updates provided by these teams, please let me know.

Many of the e-mail bulletins are informative and contain info you likely wouldn't have heard about otherwise (unless you scour each team's website on a regular basis.)

After having received the updates for the past few months I can say that there are definitely a few stand-outs. This should of course be taken with the possibility that the quality of some team's updates may improve once the season begins. First of all, The New York Islanders. They send out a regular and informative e-mail regarding player movement, promotional events and other information related to the upcoming season. Most importantly, many of the e-mails are single articles of decent length that are well written and could easily appear in the sports section of any number of mainstream media publications (a good example was the recent e-mail with a piece on Brian Berard being invited to training camp.)

A good variety of different types of articles from the Islanders, with a lighthearted tone when it's warranted and a solid sports reportage style when it's appropriate. Easily the e-mail that I now open with more expectation than those from many of the other teams. These photos of Christie Brinkley that showed up in a recent bulletin are one of the reasons you feel you are actually getting something worthwhile that involves a bit of time and effort:

ChristieChristie 2

A nice slick banner from the Islanders rounds out what ranks as the best team e-mail updates so far.

Some other very worthy e-mail bulletins include those from the Flyers, Senators and Penguins. A recent Flyer's update included the info that they will be opening an All You Can Eat section in the new season where for a premium ticket price fans can plug themselves full of unlimited hotdogs, soda, popcorn chips and salsa. I also liked the slogan that they included in some e-mails a few weeks ago: "Back with a Vengeance." It had seemed like that would be a kind of ongoing theme for the season but I haven't seen it again in recent updates. The Flyer's also add a nice touch in that some of the article intros include links back to sources other than their website.

Many other team e-mails are blighted by far too many offers and promotions (could have sworn I ticked the "no" option on those) as well as a mere few sentences and then a link back to their websites. The writing style on many sites is flat, humourless and reeks of advertising copy.

There's only one e-mail bulletin I'm going to bash outright. This is done knowing there's a distinct possibility it could well improve once the season begins and also with the knowledge that it appears a few teams don't even make the effort.

San Jose Sharks, if you're reading this...your e-mail newsletter absolutely sucks. Essentially it is nothing but a banner with the Sharks logo, a small headline in the middle of a huge white space and a link.

I definitely recommend hockey fans sign-up for the e-mail bulletin offered by the teams they follow. Many of them provide good inside info on the various organizations and their players. You're not going to get anything beyond the most positive spin but still well worth it and an indication the NHL seems to be be making more effort than most other pro leagues to reach out to their fans in cyberspace.