Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: An NHL year in review

Is it over yet?
This is the time of year when anyone who writes about hockey feels obligated to come up with a year in review piece. But 2011 seems different. After all, is it even worth looking back at a year that was largely marked by tragedy, concussions, franchise instability, and over-the-top violence?

Well, my mother used to tell me that "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". But my editors currently tell me that "If you don't say anything at all, we don't have to pay you". So apparently we'll be doing a 2011 year in review after all.

Here's a look back at some of the NHL's most memorable moments of the past 12 months.

January 1 - In a request that he will later wish he had worded slightly differently, Gary Bettman prays to the hockey gods that the millions of fans tuning into that night's Winter Classic will get to see Sidney Crosby have one of his best games of the entire year.

January 28 - Phil Kessel is picked last in the all-star draft while Alexander Ovechkin makes a show of taking his photo. Ovechkin later apologizes and promises that he won't take a photo when Kessel is drafted for the 2012 all-star game, since he'll probably just hit pause on his DVR while watching from his living room.

February 28 - In arguably the biggest deal of trade deadline day the Washington Capitals send David Steckel and a draft pick to the Devils in exchange for Jason Arnott, a player so old that he can actually remember a time when trade deadline day was interesting.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scouting the World Junior Championships

While the NHL enjoys a holiday break over the weekend, hockey fans will be gearing up for the traditional Boxing Day start of the World Junior Championships. Ten of the world's top hockey nations will convene in Calgary and Edmonton for a two-week tournament to determine which country's teenagers will bring home the gold.

Let's take a look at the teams competing for medals in this year's tournament.

The good: Have spent the last few days paying inspirational visits to the less fortunate, such as children's hospitals and also the prison camp where last year's silver medal team is kept.
The bad: Are expected to make it through at least one playoff round, and it will probably get annoying having to constantly explain to Alberta hockey fans how that works.

The good: Every American kid on the roster has been dreaming of winning this tournament ever since the moment they realized they weren't good enough to play football, basketball or baseball.
The bad: Dominant goaltender Jack Campbell returns for the third straight year, and you have to think one of these years somebody's going to take a closer look at that fake ID.

Czech Republic
The good: Scouts agree that top player Martin Frk looks just like an NHL superstar, in the sense that he won't be playing because of a concussion.
The bad: For reasons nobody can quite figure out, have spent the weeks leading up to the tournament arguing over whether their coach should have to be able to speak French.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let's make a deal: A look back at this season's biggest trades

After sending the overpaid underacheiver
to Ottawa, the Coyotes understood what
it felt like to be a Canadian voter
The Phoenix Coyotes finally made the long-awaited Kyle Turris trade over the weekend, dealing the disgruntled center to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for young defenceman David Rundblad and a draft pick.

The trade was a rare early-season blockbuster in a league where most trades seem to happen at the trade deadline or in the offseason. It will also be the last NHL deal for a while, since the league-wide holiday trade freeze went into effect on Monday.

So while NHL general managers step away from the negotiating table for a well-deserved break, let's take a look back at some of the significant trades the league has seen since the end of training camp.

The trade: The Devils send David Steckel to the Leafs for a fourth-round draft pick.
The view from Toronto: Steckel gives the team a faceoff specialist who can take the first draw after a Maple Leaf penalty, which is always in the defensive zone, as well as the second draw after a Maple Leaf penalty, which is always at center ice.
The view from New Jersey: Steckel's main role last year with the Capitals was being the guy who'd go up to Alexander Ovechkin before every game and remind him to occasionally score a goal or two, although I'm sure someone else will remember to do that.
Final verdict: The deal saw the Leafs acquire an above-average fourth line center, which I think we all agree was their only major weakness heading into the season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A brief history of Teemu Selanne

NHL scoring dropped dramatically after
the league outlawed the lens flare stick.
Teemu Selanne will be wearing an away jersey tonight in Winnipeg, but he won't be hearing many boos. In fact, Jets fans are likely to give him a hero's welcome.

It's been over 15 years since Selanne last played an game in Winnipeg, but fans there haven't forgotten the magic moments he created as a Jet in the early 90s. Once the NHL announced the return of a franchise to Winnipeg, fans circled tonight's game on their calendar for what's sure to be an emotional reunion.

So as Winnipeg prepares to give Selanne a long-awaited ovation, let's take a look back at the career of one of hockey's most beloved superstars.

June 11, 1988 - Selanne is drafted with the 10th overall pick by Winnipeg Jets general manager John Ferguson Sr., who must then explain to his confused son why he's not immediately trading him for a terrible backup goalie.

October 8, 1992 - Veteran Jets defenceman Randy Carlyle refuses Selanne's request for his jersey number 8, then wonders why the rookie is walking away mumbling something about "payback" and "revenge" and "Bruce Boudreau in 20 years".

March 2, 1993 - Selanne breaks Mike Bossy's rookie goal-scoring record and then famously mimes shooting his glove out of the air, while a young Artem Anisimov watching at home imagines how everyone would probably think it was really cool if he did something like that too someday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A look at this year's top rookies

Nugent-Hopkins has been lighting up
NHL goalies and also Roberto Luongo.
With a third of the season in the books, there's no question that one of the best stories of the early season has been rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.

With 32 points in 30 games, Nugent-Hopkins isn't just running away with the Calder Trophy but is staying within striking distance of the Art Ross. That seems far-fetched, of course, but there's no denying that the 18-year-old Oiler has been a revelation so far.

But while Nugent-Hopkins is a fantastic story, he's not the only rookie making an important contribution this year. Several young players are exceeding expectations in their first NHL season. Here's a look at some of the rookies making an impact around the NHL this season.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton - Is undoubtedly the best young player the Oilers have had in this lifetime, according to the kid tending bar who just made you feel incredibly old.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto - By playing a regular shift for the Maple Leafs, is gaining invaluable experience in what not to do while killing penalties.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado - Is currently second in the entire league in the "games worth of Andy Sutton suspensions caused" category, although most experts assume that several players will pass him by the end of the season.

Luke Adam, Buffalo - Has been working hard since the season opener, since he knows the Sabres need to know you've had at least a dozen above-average games during your career before they'll throw a salary cap-destroying contract your way.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to be an NHL ironman

One of the NHL's ironman streaks came to an end on Thursday when Lightning forward Martin St. Louis missed the team's game against the Rangers after being hit in the face with a puck during practice.

That snapped St. Louis's string at 499 games, which was good for third among active NHL streaks. But St. Louis was still well back of Doug Jarvis's all-time record of 964, a mark that no NHL player has managed to so much as get close to in almost 20 years.

Will anyone ever again challenge Jarvis's mark? Maybe not. But if you're an NHL player hoping to start your own ironman streak, here are some common sense tips that could help you get started on the road to the record book.

DO: Stay healthy by avoiding collisions that would increase your risk of suffering an injury.
DO NOT: Worry about collisions that carry absolutely no physical risk, such as running Ryan Miller in front of the entire Sabres roster.

DO: Hit the gym often to make sure you're in peak physical condition.
DO NOT: Bother working out any body parts other than "upper body" and "lower body", since those are the only ones that anyone ever injures.

DO: Feel confident that the NHL's recent changes to Rule 48 will drastically reduce the risk that you will suffer a serious head injury.
DO NOT: Attempt to actually understand how the league applies Rule 48, as this will cause a serious head injury

DO: Follow the example of current league ironman Jay Bouwmeester by focusing all of your energy on training and conditioning that will allow you to continue your streak.
DO NOT: Allow yourself to become side-tracked by frivolous distractions, such as playing in postseason games.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Take the quiz: Should you fire your coach?

"Hey, why does that guy watching practice
with Feaster look like Bob Boughner
wearing a fake mustache and glasses?"
The NHL's coaching ranks were shuffled last week, with three head coaches losing their jobs. That's an unpleasant reality of the business, and ideally we'd all just move on afterwards to focus on some better news.

But the hockey world being the tough place that it is, it didn't take long before all eyes turned to the remaining coaches of teams that aren't meeting expectations. Would there be more teams making changes in the near future? Who might be the next to go? And most important of all, would it be the right call?

Surveys have shown that the majority of DGB readers are active NHL general managers, so I know this is an important topic. So if you're in charge of a struggling NHL team and you're wondering if now is the time to fire your coach, here's a simple quiz that can provide the answer.

After a tough loss a few weeks ago, your coach retreated to the privacy of his office. From outside, you could overhear him:
a.) Angrily smashing furniture at the realization that the team won't go 82-0.
b.) Calmly reassuring his assistants that it's OK to lose the occasional game, as long as it doesn't happen more than once a month.
c.) Excitedly phoning Gary Bettman to ask if this is one of those losses where the league magically give out a bonus point for no real reason.
d.) Wondering why the Anaheim Ducks keep calling his cell phone every time his team loses.

When some were calling for you to make a coaching change earlier in the season, you resisted because:
a.) You have absolute confidence that he's the right man to lead your team to the Stanley Cup.
b.) You think it's only fair to give him until at least mid-season to right the ship.
c.) The coach showed you the section of the rulebook that says that teams from Ohio can't fire anyone mid-season no matter how bad they are, although come to think of it that part was scrawled in the margins and seems to be in his handwriting.
d.) You want to have a frank discussion with the coach in an appropriate setting, and have so far failed to find a suitable barn available for rent.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Is Alexander Ovechkin a coach killer?

The struggling Washington Capitals fired head coach Bruce Boudreau last week. And while Boudreau landed on his feet almost immediately in Anaheim, there are still plenty of questions about what went wrong in Washington. Most of the fingers are pointing at franchise player Alexander Ovechkin, who's numbers have dropped significantly over the past two seasons.

Is Ovechkin hurt? Has he already peaked? Or, perhaps worst of all, did he quit on his coach in an attempt to get him fired?

As it turns out, that last question came up recently at one of new coach Dale Hunter's first practices in Washington. And Bloge Salming was there with cameras rolling.

You can download an mp3 of this song at Backhand Shelf.

Full lyrics below:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A fond farewell to the NHL's fired coaches

"Wait a second," thought Getzlaf, "Why do
I have to be the baldest guy on the bench?"
It's been a bad week for NHL coaches. After a relatively stable first two months of the season, NHL teams apparently decided it was time to start handing out pink slips.

Both Carolina's Paul Maurice and Washington's Bruce Boudreau were fired on Monday, and they were joined on the sidelines a few days later by Anaheim's Randy Carlyle. Or at least Maurice was; Boudreau was busy taking Carlyle's job.

The week's action brings this season's total number of fired coaches to four once you count Davis Payne, who got a head start when he was fired by the Blues three weeks ago. No doubt they'll be joined by others as the season wears on, but for now the latest round of coaching musical chairs seems to have ended.

But before we all move on, let's take one last fond look back and the four coaches who've been shown the door since the season began.

Davis Payne, St. Louis Blues

Previous experience: Was a virtual unknown in the hockey world when he was hired to coach the Blues in 2010, but things are much different these days because it's now 2011.
Career highlight: In one of those crazy little bits of trivia that nobody ever remembers but that's still technically true, was once the head coach of the St. Louis Blues.
Eventual downfall: Like other coaches who've lost their jobs to Ken Hitchcock, just couldn't win back the fans once they'd grown tired of watching vaguely entertaining hockey.
Future outlook: Is apparently working on a long-term deal with Calgary, according to hockey experts overheard mumbling something about Flames fans being in for another decade of constant Payne.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New at Grantland: November's NHL's Three Stars of Comedy

November's three stars post pays tribute to one GM's high-concept performance art, one head coach's NHL 95-based strategy, and one player's ability to dodge a mid-air spinning slash attempt.

You can read the post here.

And if you missed it last month, the October stars can be found here.