Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Great moments in all-star weekend history

Yeah but he only wore the glasses when he
was Clark Kent so it doesn't actually make
sense for you to... you know what, I'll shut up.
Another all-star weekend has come and gone, with the game's annual showcase wrapping up Sunday evening in Ottawa. By all accounts the various events were a rousing success, with hockey fans being treated to several memorable moments.

From Patrick Kane's Superman routine and Zdeno Chara's record-breaking slapshot at the skills competition to Marian Gaborik's hat trick and Daniel Alfredsson's highlight reel goals during the game itself, the weekend provided plenty of thrills that fans won't soon forget.

Those moments can be added to a growing list of all-star weekend memories that fans have filed away over the years. Here are a few more of the notable performances from the past 25 seasons that have left their mark on the game's history:

1988 - Mario Lemieux sets an all-star mark that still stands with six points including the overtime winner in a 6-5 victory. Experts agree that the record-breaking performance may have been even more dominant if the NHL hadn't chosen that year to debut its new format called "Everyone in the entire league against Mario Lemieux".

1990 - The skills competition makes its first appearance, although under a slightly different format that sees the entire three hours devoted to one hotly contested event known as "fluffiest mullet".

1993 - Al Iafrate sets a skills competition record with a 105.2 mph shot that's considered especially impressive given that he was using an old-fashioned wooden sticks, although in fairness it's also true that back then the "radar gun" was just an old man who'd get hit in the ribs with the shot and then yell out a random number.

1994 - After over a decade of mass confusion caused by impossibly obscure terms like "Wales" and "Campbell" the league switches to an East vs. West format that finally allows hockey to explode in popularity, according to Gary Bettman's imagination.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Things overheard backstage at the NHL all-star fantasy draft

Meanwhile, Dany Heatley and Wade
Redden watched at home in awkward silence.
Thursday night saw Ottawa play host to the second annual NHL all-star fantasy draft. The spectacle of players drafting each other has already become one of the most anticipated nights of the year, and this year’s edition didn’t disappoint. Between speculation over who’d go first, the sight of teammates being split up and the drama of who’d be the unfortunate last player picked, the night had plenty of entertainment value.

Fans watching on television were also treated to microphones on several players to record the conversations that happened off-camera. But due to time constraints, the broadcast couldn’t show everything that was being said behind the scenes. And according to sources, viewers missed out on some interesting sound bites.

Here’s a collection of some of the comments that were overheard over the course of the all-star draft.

  • I guess Dion Phaneuf must be really interested in land titles and property rights, since the first thing he asks every player he meets is whether they’ve done any surveys lately.

  • Well, Pavel Datsyuk went first overall, so I guess we can all go home. If there’s one thing Ottawa hockey fans know about drafts, it’s that no one remembers number two.

  • So both captains seemed to be building their rosters without any sort of solid plan or even putting the minimal amount of actual thought into what they’re doing. So, just wondering… are either of you guys looking for a job, and can you speak French?

  • For the last time, Zdeno, when you make a pick you have to wait for the player to walk down the hall from the backstage area. Please stop reaching in and grabbing them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The all-star fantasy draft preview (Grantland)

The NHL’s annual All-Star fantasy draft is the undisputed highlight of the NHL’s All-Star weekend, in the same way that reading magazines in the waiting room is the undisputed highlight of a colonoscopy.

After last year’s generally well-received debut of the concept, this year’s draft takes place Thursday night in Ottawa. This time around, the captains are Daniel Alfredsson of the Senators and Zdeno Chara of the Bruins, and they’ll alternate picks as they divide up the 42 players who were picked for the game in a 19-round draft.

The league has also named an assistant captain for each squad. Alfredsson gets Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist because he’s an elite player from a first-place team who is recognized worldwide. Chara gets Joffrey Lupul because apparently everyone else said no.

The assistants will presumably help the captains with their picks, though that might not be necessary. Both captains are known for being eminently knowledgeable and meticulously prepared, so it’s not like either of them would ever get blindsided.

What can fans expect? Here’s my best guess as to how it could all play out.

Read the full preview at Grantland.com.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An optimist's guide to the non-playoff teams

"C'mon ref, you're taking forever. Step on it!
Oh... uh, sorry Taylor, poor choice of words."
The all-star break is typically seen as a good time to start look ahead to potential playoff scenarios. And while no team has officially clinched a spot, several are all but locked in and others are slowly but surely starting to cement their post-season invitations.

Of course, that also means there are 14 teams on the outside looking in - some more outside than others. And while it would be tempting to kick those teams while they're down, that's not our style around here. We prefer the power of positive thinking.

So instead let's focus on some good news for each of the 14 teams that found themselves outside of the playoff picture heading into Monday night's action.

Edmonton Oilers - Could end up picking first overall in this year's draft for the third straight year but there's absolutely zero chance of it happening again in 2013, according to the league's policy on rigging draft lotteries after cancelled seasons.

Minnesota Wild - Should keep believing in themselves because this is the NHL and anything can happen; for example, at one point this year the Minnesota Wild were in first place and they're completely terrible.

Buffalo Sabres - While it may seem wrong to react to a rough season by throwing long-time franchise player Ryan Miller under the bus, it's nice to know that at least you wouldn't have to worry about any teammates trying to fight the bus driver.

Toronto Maple Leafs - May finally be able to get a win against the Bruins this year, now that they know that Tim Thomas will refuse to show up if you just crowd enough left wingers around him.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Daniel Alfredsson vs. Zdeno Chara: An in-depth comparison

"My little buddy here says I can have the first
pick. Right Daniel? RIGHT DANIEL?"
The NHL has named the two captains in next weekend's all-star game in Ottawa, and they aren't big surprises. Hometown hero Daniel Alfredsson will lead one squad, while Bruins' defenceman Zdeno Chara will head the other.

The two players are similar in many ways. Both are well-respected veterans. Both play in the Northeast division. And both have plenty of history with the Senators and their fans, which should add some spice to the weekend's events.

But while they share some characteristics, these are still two very different players. And since they'll both be in the spotlight all week, let's take a closer look at the two all-star captains.

Alfredsson: Was born in 1972, on December 11.
Chara: Was born in 1977, from March 13 to 18.

Chara: Has a wingspan of over seven feet if he spreads his arms out.
Alfredsson: Has a wingspan of over seven feet if we're counting his hairstyle from 2003.

Alfredsson: Once infuriated Maple Leaf fans by pretending that he might throw his stick into the stands before revealing that he was only kidding.
Chara: Continuously infuriates Maple Leaf fans by pretending that he might let Phil Kessel get a shot on goal that night before revealing that he's only kidding.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Red Wings vs Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic: The pros and cons

This year's Winter Classic was by all accounts a rousing success, featuring another solid season of HBO's 24/7 series, an entertaining alumni game, and a riveting showdown between the Flyers and Rangers that included a last-minute penalty shot.

After so much excitement, it's only natural that fans have already started wondering about next year's game. The NHL hasn't made any official announcements so far, but according to reports that may simply be a formality. Media speculation has been all but unanimous that it's already a done deal: The Detroit Red Wings will be hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Is that a smart matchup for what's quickly becoming the league's marquee event? It's tough to say. Here are some of the pros and cons of going with Detroit and Toronto at next year's Winter Classic.

Pro: The Maple Leafs would probably do great in the middle of a stadium, since their games at the ACC have given them extensive experience playing in rinks where there aren't any fans seated within 100 feet of the ice.

Con: For one night it would feel like both teams were back playing in the old Norris Division, which technically counts as realignment so Donald Fehr would just show up and ruin it.

Pro: Ron Wilson has indicated that he'd enjoy being part of the Winter Classic, so it's probably safe to assume that whoever is coaching the Leafs this time next year would feel the same way.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A look at the NHL's all-star snubs

The NHL unveiled the full list if participants for the upcoming All-Star game on Thursday. And now that we know the names of all 42 players who've earned a trip to Ottawa in two weeks, we should take a moment to recognize them for their success.

We should, but we won't. Because while talking about the players who made the roster is nice, the real fun for hockey fans comes in complaining about the ones who were left off. So it's no surprise that the annual debate over which players were snubbed has already begun.

Here are some of the players who fans may have been hoping to see on All-Star Weekend who didn't quite make the final cut.

Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit - The 41-year-old Red Wing veteran apparently asked the league not to include him, which is a shame because at this current age and rate of performance this was our last chance to see him play in an all-star game until next season and the six more after that.

James Neal, Pittsburgh - The Penguins winger has recently been carrying the team, literally, since all the other players on the roster are currently too injured to move on their own.

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington - Teammate Alexander Ovechkin criticized Backstrom's absence to local media, adding that it was almost as if his spot had been given to a far less-deserving player solely for marketing reasons before furrowing his brow and then trailing off awkwardly.

Kris Versteeg, Florida - It was unfortunate that there wasn't room to include Versteeg since it would have been fun to see him reunited with his recent former teammates, every other player in the league.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winners and losers at the NHL's midseason mark

"Jarome, what would you say is the absolute best-
case scenario for the Flames' record this year?"
The NHL will officially cross the midway mark later this week, with all 30 teams having played their 41st game of the season. And while a lot can change over the next few months, it's fair to say the first half has been kinder to some teams than others.

A handful of elite teams are already looking ahead to the possibility of a deep playoff run. Others are left to contemplate trade deadline fire sales and wonder where it all went wrong. Here's a look at the winners and losers from the first half of the season.

Winner: Calgary Flames - The struggling franchise continues to draw comparisons to the 2008 Maple Leafs, which is great news since it means they're only a few years away from being able to trade all their worst players to the Calgary Flames.

Loser: Pittsburgh Penguins - Have had to deal with a ridiculous string of significant injuries, we think, although it's hard to say since their guy in charge of reporting injuries is currently injured.

Winner: St. Louis Blues - Goaltender Brian Elliot has put up outstanding numbers ever since new coach Ken Hitchcock broke down film of his time with the Senators and suggested he try the slight adjustment of turning his goalie mask around so that the eyeholes are in the front.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Other Montreal Canadien fan complaints

Montreal Canadiens fans aren’t very happy these days. The team has been a disappointment all season, with a combination of injuries and lacklustre play leaving them well outside of the current playoff picture.

But apparently that's not even the biggest problem facing the franchise. That honor would be reserved for interim Canadiens' coach Randy Cunneyworth, who's hiring generated controversy because he can't speak French. Tension over that issue may be taken to new heights today, when Canadiens fans (or at least groups claiming to represent them) are reportedly planning a pre-game protest outside of the Bell Centre.

But while the language-based outrage is getting all the attention, it's actually only one of several demonstrations planned for today by fans in Montreal. As it turns out, Canadiens fans are fed up and they're not going to take it anymore.

So forget about which language the coach is speaking. Here are some of the other issues that Montreal Canadiens fans are currently upset about.
  • Whenever you call Montreal's 911 emergency line, the automated attendant doesn't get to "report a Boston Bruins body check" until like the third or fourth option.

  • The team has refused to release details of team captain Brian Gionta's recent health issue beyond calling it a lower body injury, which on that guy doesn't really narrow it down.

  • While it was nice to see them borrow our patented "stuff the ballot box to elect all your mediocre hometown players to the All-Star Game" move, foolish Senator fans forgot the part about including an unrestricted free agent for Brian Burke to overpay in the offseason.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Inside Gary Bettman's New Year's Eve party

The balloon didn't stop floating all night,
so they nicknamed it "Ovechkin".
Scene: Saturday night, shortly before midnight, in a spacious home in New York. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is welcoming guests for his annual New Year's Eve party. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly arrives.

Bill Daly: Hi Gary… thanks for the invite. How's the party going?

Gary Bettman: So far so good. It got off to a rough start when Ilya Bryzgalov tried to convince everyone that it was a waste of time to celebrate the passage of a single year from within the unfathomably vast history of the cosmos. But we had Milan Lucic take a run at him, and ever since then it's been smooth sailing.

Daly: Nice. Mind if I help myself to some punch?

Bettman: Of course, be my guest.

Daly: Thanks pal. Uh, do you have any ice?

Dan Craig (appearing suddenly): I'm on it!

Craig reaches into a container with a small pair of tongs and selects several immaculately formed ice cubes, which he proceeds to inspect with a jeweler's eyepiece.

Daly: So… do you just make the ice for every NHL event?

Craig: It's in my contract.