Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where will Brad Richards sign?

Free agency is just days away, and there's little question about who the big name is. Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars is easily the best player available, and is expected to receive substantial offers from several big market teams. Where will he end up signing? It's all a mystery.

Or maybe not. Fans that have paid attention to recent free agent patterns may already have a sense of how all this will turn out.

In fact, Bloge Salming and I can picture it now...

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You can find more Bloge Salming videos at Houses of the Hockey and at blogesalming.com.

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Winners and losers at the 2011 NHL draft

I'm not saying it was a weak draft, but at #8
overall the Flyers took a kid with no arms.
This year's NHL draft turned out to be one of the busiest in recent memory. The days leading up to the event saw several blockbuster trades, and the wheeling and dealing continued over the weekend as teams exchanged picks and players.

In between the trade announcements, there was also a draft going on. While most of the 211 players chosen won't make an NHL impact, it's probably safe to say that each team walked away from the weekend thinking they've improved. Of course, only time will tell which ones were right.

How much time? Three days sounds about right. So let's start the evaluation process now, with a look at which teams came out of the weekend ahead and which ones may have taken a step back.

Winner: Florida Panthers - General manager Dale Tallon went into the draft with a roster that was short on top-tier talent and well under the NHL's salary floor, and acquiring Brian Campbell certainly helps with one of those problems.

Loser: Colorado Avalanche - Winger Gabriel Landeskog had been widely heralded as being mature beyond his years, which unfortunately was proven correct fifteen minutes after the draft when he announced that he was retiring to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Winner: Ottawa Senators - By trading for Nikita Filatov, filled that glaring "enigmatic Russian that Senator fans will dramatically over-rate for three games before permanently turning against" void.

Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 NHL Draft Preview

Drafted second overall? Ha, enjoy
years of finishing in last place, kid.
It's NHL draft weekend, with the first round taking place tonight from the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota. And while the consensus is that there aren't any surefire superstars in this year's crop of prospects, most experts seem to agree that it's a deep pool of good young players.

In recent months the prospects have been scouted, interviewed, analyzed and subjected to the rigors of the combine. There's been no shortage of opportunity for teams to do their homework, and at this point the teams know these guys about as well as they ever could.

But what about the fans? As we prepare to settle in and watch the intrigue unfold, let's take one last look at some of the prospects who can expect to hear their names called tonight.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Hockey fans should make an effort to get to know this exciting offensive force from the Red Deer Rebels before the draft, since he's probably going to be picked by the Edmonton Oilers and then never heard from again.

Adam Larsson - The Swedish blueliner has been repeatedly compared to Victor Hedman. So watch your back, anyone in this year's draft who has been repeatedly compared to Sidney Crosby.

Johnathan Huberdeau - Raised some eyebrows during the interview portion of the combine when, on the advice of his agents, he spent his entire interview with New York Islanders management nervously denying that he had ever played hockey before.

Gabriel Landeskog - Achieved the top possible score in the infamous Wingate endurance test when, after 30 second of furious pedaling, the bicycle vomited and passed out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Offseason to-do lists from around the NHL

If you're going to ruin some team's long-term
cap situation this summer, raise your hand.
While celebrating Boston Bruin fans may want to pretend otherwise, the 2010-11 season is already a fading memory. The NHL schedule doesn't allow much time for dwelling on the past, and all eyes are already focused on next year.

We're just three days away from the draft and ten days away from the start of free agency. That means that just two weeks from today, almost every NHL team will look significantly different than it does right now. That's good news for the majority of teams who expect to be significantly better next year. But how will they do it?

That's where the offseason to-do list comes in. Many teams have already made a list of their summer priorities and determined a plan of attack. I reached out to sources embedded with several teams, and they revealed some of the strategies they plan to be executing in the weeks and months to come.

Ottawa Senators - Meet with scouts and coaches to prepare an in-depth analysis of the various strengths in Craig Anderson's game; work on a detailed action plan for destroying them.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Remember last year when we signed Clarke MacArthur at a discount and he turned out to be a reliable everyday contributor? Just do that another seven or eight times, and we should have almost four full lines next year.

Montreal Canadiens - Communicate to fans that the bar has been raised, the competition is working harder than ever before, and that a few isolated car-burnings just isn't going to be good enough anymore.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A period-by-period look back at the Stanley Cup finals

The Canucks grew to hate the way Thomas
practiced lifting the Cup during goalmouth
scrambles "just to make it challenging".
The 2011 NHL season has ended, with the Boston Bruins crowned champions after Wednesday night's seventh game win over the Canucks. And with the draft just a week away, it feels like the league has already moved into offseason mode.

But before we set our sights on the road to the 2011-12 season, let's take a moment for a look back at this year's Stanley Cup finals. Here's a period-by-period review of one of the most memorable series in a generation.

Game one

First period: In an effort to appeal to a younger demographic, the NHL announces that the role of the brooding but misunderstood vampire will be played by Alex Burrows.
Second period: As a neutral fan, you feel vaguely comfortable with the idea of one of these teams winning the Stanley Cup for the last time in the series.
Third period: Raffi Torres fools the Bruins' defence to score the game-winning goal by using a trick play he calls "Shoot the puck like a normal player instead of launching your elbow into somebody's temple".

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A detailed look back at game seven, which due to a scheduling error had to be published twelve hours early

After a stunning game seven, Roberto
Luongo can barely contain his emotions.
Editor’s note: Due to a scheduling error that is too complicated to explain here, this analysis of the June 15, 2011 game seven between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins had to be published twelve hours early. If the game hasn’t happened yet, please close your browser now and come back tomorrow. Thank you for your cooperation.

So here we are. After a six-month season, four rounds of playoffs, and seven gruelling games, the NHL has crowned its champion. The Stanley Cup has been awarded. One fan base is devastated, while another will celebrate late into the night.

In the moments after a thrilling game seven, I’d like to take a moment to address you directly, fans of the winning team.

It seems like only yesterday that your team was struggling through a first round series against your bitter rivals who historically dominate you in the playoffs. But you survived, just barely, thanks to an overtime goal in game seven. Remember the excitement when the winning goal was scored, by that particular player? Little did we know the controversy that awaited them weeks later.

Your team waltzed through the second round against Peter Forsberg’s old team, then beat that non-traditional warm weather team in the conference finals. And there you were, back in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in a generation. Who can forget that last time you played for Lord Stanley’s mug, back in the early 90s? I bet you can still picture your team competing furiously, proudly representing those black and yellowish-gold uniforms that they wore then and perhaps still do, before finally going down to a bitter defeat. Damn you, Mark Messier!

But a generation later you were back, and this time the opportunity would not be wasted. It wasn’t easy. It was a vicious series, in which your team persevered despite several sickening cheapshots by the opposing team. You endured your team being taunted with immature finger waves. You watched devastating hits on Nathan Horton and Mason Raymond, 50% of which you thought were unquestionably dirty. The entire hockey world outside of your particular city was united against your team, you told us, incessantly. And let’s not even mention those shameless homer announcers on the other team’s broadcast.

And then game seven. The series had seen it all, from overtime thrillers to lopsided blowouts to everything in between, and game seven certainly fit into one of those categories. All eyes were on Roberto Luongo. Many thought he would rise to the occasion while others thought he would crumble, and in the end we now know they were right. Without question, this game will be his defining legacy.

The end of the game must seem like a blur to you now. There was that goal scored by that one guy, and then that big hit with that other guy, then that other thing done by some other guy, and then the Conn Smythe won by Tim Thomas.

And then, the magic moment you’d been waiting on for four long decades, give or take a year. What fan among you will ever forget the sight of Gary Bettman passing the Stanley Cup into the waiting arms of good old #33? And who says Europeans can’t make great captains? Certainly not anyone who has had the pleasure of watching your team’s leader, a truly unique talent. He certainly is one- or at the very most two-of-a-kind.

And now it’s all over but the riot cleanup. Your boys are champions. A Stanley Cup banner will be raised in your arena next year. After an agonizing, debilitating, gut-wrenching test of your endurance as a fan, it was all worth it.

But at least you’re not like those fans of the other team. Imagine how devastated they must feel right now. Serves them right, those losers. Thank god you have nothing in common with them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How to present the Stanley Cup

Worst karaoke party ever.
Monday morning, TD Garden, Boston.

OK people, can I have your attention? Everyone listen up. You too, Mr. Bettman. This is important.

As you know, tonight's game marks the first time in this year's finals that a team is one win away from taking the series. That means that the Stanley Cup will be in the building, and there's a chance it will be awarded after the game. It's a big moment, and we all need to be on the same page, so let's go over the game plan.

When the series ends, it's going to be chaos. Fans screaming, players hugging, linesmen stealing pucks. Everyone stay professional. And please, make sure the game is really done before you let all the media storm onto the ice. Neither of these teams is the Buffalo Sabres, so it's important to make sure the series is actually over. And remember, if there's a particularly controversial play, give the officials time to consult with Brian Burke.

OK, once the game is done then the first order of business is the handshakes. They usually go pretty quickly, but this year we've booked an extra fifteen minutes into the schedule for all the finger taunts and guys diving as soon as an opponent touches them. Plus, it will probably take at least that much time to have Maxim Lapierre's gloves surgically removed. Everyone be patient.

Once the handshakes are done the Cup will be brought out by the two guys who carry it everywhere, the guy who's never in any commercials and the guy who's in every commercial. Are they here? Great. You two will bring it out from the back hallway where it's been during the third period, being shown on television every fifteen seconds. Set it up on the little pedestal at center ice, and then go back to doing whatever it is you do the other 364 days of the year.

OK Gary, once the Cup is out on the ice that's your cue to make your way over. Let's walk through it right now. Great, great, you're here, one hand awkwardly on the Cup, ready to go. Pause for booing. Booing. More booing. Still booing. Hey, have you ever considered letting someone else handle this? It's just that the fans all really seem like they'd prefer it if … you know what, you're the boss, I'm not here to tell you how to do your job.

So anyways… booing. More booing. Now Gary, while all this is going on, you're going to want to be wearing the proper facial expression. I'd recommend a smirky mixture of glib condescension and bemused annoyance. Do you think you could… hey, wow, that's really good. Have you been practicing?

Really? Permanent, you say? As in 24-hours-a-day? Hmm. Wow. OK, well, it's perfect, so don't change a thing.

So now some of the fans have given up on booing and are starting to hiss. That's a good time to start the presentation, so you're going to need to call over the captain of the winning team. Hold on, not yet. Wait until he's just started his interview with Hockey Night in Canada. And… now!

OK Gary, remember, this guy has literally spent the majority of his life focused on getting his hands on the Stanley Cup. He's bled for it, sacrificed, missed his children's birthdays, all for this one exact moment. So before you hand it over to him, make sure you force him to pose for photographs with you. He won't mind at all. That's right, be sure to hold the pose just long enough for it to feel awkward. Fantastic.

OK, now the winning team is going to pass the Cup around. There's an established order here, so let's make sure they follow it. First, the captain. Second, the captain's twin brother, if applicable. Next, the sympathetic old guy on the team who's never won the Cup before. Next, any players who they feel have been unfairly singled out for criticism by fans and media. In the case of the Canucks or Bruins, this should take care of the rest of the roster.

Now listen up everyone, because once the players have the Stanley Cup we all have our most important job of the evening: We get out of the way. The NHL does a lot of things wrong, but this is the one moment we get exactly right. No owners grabbing the trophy. No corporate shills. No television personalities screaming into a microphone. Just twenty or so players who've endured two months of hell, together, for this chance to share the Cup. They've earned this. It's their moment. Let's all just stand back and absorb the positive energy.

Well, all of us except for Gary. The fans are still booing him. Great smirk, though.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why hockey fans should learn to love the Bruins and Canucks

Well, nobody's biting, diving or
unconscious, so I guess that's a start.
It seems like nobody likes the Canucks and Bruins these days. Vancouver defenceman Aaron Rome's devastating late hit on Boston's Nathan Horton was only the latest in a long string of controversies featuring the two teams. From questionable hits to taunting to diving to biting, both teams have spent the post-season racking up negative headlines.

The result has been a growing backlash from hockey fans, many of whom are now openly rooting against both teams. Based on their on-ice behaviour, the thinking goes, neither team deserves to have their names engraved on the Cup.

Nonsense. While it's true that both teams have had a few regrettable but isolated incidents, that's no reason to turn against them. Today's fans are so cynical that they've lost sight of all the good things about these two teams.

So before you jump on the negativity bandwagon, please take a moment to consider the many positives we've seen from these teams during the first four games of the series.

Canucks - Roberto Luongo knows that playing in the Stanley Cup finals is the dream of every young hockey player from the very first moment they lace up the skates, and so he was nice enough to make sure every member of the Bruins got to score a few goals at home.

Bruins - Admit it, it would be cool to see Bruins' captain Zdeno Chara receive the Cup from Gary Bettman, thrust it triumphantly over his head, and accidentally smash a giant hole through the roof of the arena.

Canucks - You may not like him as a player, but when it comes to finger-biting jokes Maxim Lapierre is basically the Bill Hicks to Milan Lucic's Denis Leary.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hidden NHL playoff injuries revealed

I'm gonna make someone's upper body
bleed for super fan 99 over here.
Injuries are a touchy subject during the NHL playoffs. After a gruelling regular season and the unmatched intensity of postseason action, it's inevitable that many players will be banged up. But good luck getting that confirmed by anyone associated with an organization.

At most, we may hear the old hockey cliché about a player having an injury to their "upper body" or "lower body" -- and that's only if team acknowledges the injury at all. Even when players are obviously hurt and have missed games, coaches still insist that everyone is day-to-day.

Of course, it's a different story once a team has been eliminated. When their season is over and there's no further reason to protect a player's status, teams will often reveal a long list of injuries and other health problems - many of which fans hadn't even suspected.

This year has been no different, as several star players revealed that they'd been playing hurt during the postseason. Here are some examples of what we've found out about each of the eliminated teams.

Washington Capitals - Nicklas Backstrom had various bumps and bruises from everyone accidentally walking into him all the time, which was to be expected given that he became invisible as soon as the regular season ended.

Philadelphia Flyers - In a strange coincidence, all three of our goalies had badly torn rotator cuffs in their "fishing the puck out of the net" shoulders.

Chicago Blackhawks - Chris Campoli was playing through some sort of problem with whatever part of the eyeball it is that's supposed to tell the difference between white and blue uniforms in overtime.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The other former star players interviewed for Colin Campbell's job

My very own copy of the flowchart? Awesome!
The NHL surprised fans on Wednesday when they announced that controversial disciplinarian Colin Campbell would resign his post and be replaced by Brendan Shanahan.

Shanahan is a natural choice for the job, but sources tell me he wasn't the only candidate. It turns out that several other star players from Shanahan's era were interviewed, and I've managed to obtain a top secret transcript of the proceedings.

Scene: Gary Bettman's office.

Gary Bettman: Well Brendan, that wraps up the interview. And I think Colin and I can agree that you completely nailed it.

Brendan Shanahan: Hey, thanks guys.

Colin Campbell: You're a perfect fit for this job. But before we can make it official, we do have some other candidates to interview.

Bettman: Yeah, you know how it is. We need to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak with us. After all, you're not the only former NHL star who might be interested in the job.

Shanahan: Oh. OK, I guess that makes sense.

Bettman: Great, thanks for understanding. (Into phone intercom): Send in Jeremy Roenick.

Female voice on intercom: Right away, sir.