Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kings vs Devils: The 2012 Stanley Cup preview

Dustin Brown attempts to confused Martin Brodeur with
a rarely seen trick play he calls "remaining upright".
It took an eight-month regular season and three rounds of playoffs, but we're down to arguably the most unlikely Stanley Cup final matchup of all-time. With the presumptive favourites all on the sidelines, the #6 seed New Jersey Devils and the #8 seed Los Angeles Kings will take to the ice tomorrow to begin the battle for the Stanley Cup.

How did we get here, and who has the edge? Let's compare the two finalists by breaking down the key matchups.


Devils: Peter DeBoer became involved in a heated screaming match with John Tortorella in the conference finals but that probably won't happen again this series, according to the five Sutter brothers cracking their knuckles behind the Devils bench.
Kings: Darryl Sutter is trying to draw on the experience of losing in the 2004 finals, according to players who are starting to get tired of the constant "make sure you shoot the puck as far over the goal line as possible" drills.


Devils: Team officials have enjoyed watching Zach Parise play the best hockey of his career, although they admit they could do without his post-game ritual of immediately sprinting up to Lou Lamoriello's luxury box and scrawling another zero at the end of his free agency contract demands.
Kings: Struggling star Jeff Carter is having a miserable playoffs and probably wishes he wasn't even there, Rick Nash keeps telling himself bitterly.


Devils: They focus on using their speed to create turnovers in the transition game and attack with an aggressive forecheck that pins the other team inside its own zone. Or, as everyone will spend the next two weeks calling it out of force of habit, "the neutral zone trap".
Kings: While they acknowledge that he's a great player who plays in all key situations, the team's other five defencemen still say it's not cool how they all have to wear jersey nameplates that read "Not Doughty".

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Kerry Fraser Day

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the Kerry Fraser game, which long-time readers may vaguely remember me mentioning once or twice. If you live in Toronto and were born the night of that game, today's the day you can legally start trying to drink away the pain. (Spoiler alert: It won't work.)

If you missed it on Friday, I did a post over at Grantland about the game, why it still stings for Maple Leafs fans, and while it always will: Why Won't Toronto Fans Get Over Kerry Fraser's Missed Call?

(While I don’t repost most of my Grantland stuff here, I’ve been writing there fairly often during the playoffs. You can find the full list here. I also post links on twitter and facebook, so considering following me there if you don’t already.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Take the quiz: How well do you know the LA Kings?

While the Rangers and Devils were continuing their battle for Eastern Conference supremacy last night, the team they were competing to face in the Finals was enjoying some time off. The Los Angeles Kings wrapped up their series with the Coyotes on Tuesday to complete a stunning 12-2 run through the Western Conference, and will likely enter the Finals as the consensus favorite.

That's a shocking development, considering they barely made the playoffs and were considered a team in turmoil only a few months ago. Combine their lackluster season with their status as a West coast franchise that typically doesn't get much coverage in the rest of North America, and it's likely that many hockey fans don't know as much about the team as they'd like.

How well do you know the Los Angeles Kings? Take this quiz and find out.

For their debut season in 1967, team owners chose the colors purple and gold for the Kings' first uniforms because:
a.) They were considered traditional colors of royalty.
b.) They were the same colors worn by the Los Angeles Lakers.
c.) They wanted to use up at least one eye-gougingly awful color combination before the mid-90s expansion teams arrived and took them all.
d.) Hey, nothing says intimidation like a mildly bruised banana.

In the late 1970s, the line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor was known as "The Triple Crown Line" because:
a.) There were three of them, and the Kings' logo was a crown.
b.) The phrase "triple crown" is frequently used in various sports to denote excellence.
c.) The long-time NHL employee in charge of naming lines by just taking each player's initial and making it spell something was apparently sick that day.
d.) They wanted to save the name "600 lbs of unstoppable force" for future use by Dustin Penner.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Martin Brodeur vs. Henrik Lundqvist: An in-depth comparison

"Do you think they'll eventually stop
trapping and blocking shots long enough to
notice we stopped playing ten minutes ago?"
The Eastern Conference finals between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils continues this week, and in a series dominated by defensive play and low-scoring games, no two stars are getting more attention than goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist.

On the surface, Brodeur and Lundqvist are similar players: Elite goaltenders for Atlantic Division powerhouses who’ve racked up plenty of all-star appearances, rewritten franchise record books and built stellar international resumes. But look deeper, and you’ll find some subtle differences between these two stars.

Brodeur – Turns away NHL shooters by employing a hybrid style that combines aspects of the butterfly technique with a more traditional stand-up approach.
Lundqvist – Turns away NHL shooters by lifting his mask and gently saying “Look at this face, would you really want to be responsible for making it frown?”

Lundqvist – Developed a reputation for quickness early in his career by frequently diving across the crease to stop sure goals.
Brodeur – Developed a reputation for quickness early in his career by frequently diving across the crease to avoid the incoming severed heads of forwards who hadn’t noticed that Scott Stevens was nearby.

Brodeur – Has scored a goal into the other team’s empty net in both the playoffs and the regular season.
Lundqvist – Would love to score a goal, but every time he tries a Rangers defenceman sprawls out to block the shot and then mumbles “Sorry, force of habit”.

Lundqvist – Spent his early years playing hockey in local rinks in his native Sweden, where he was frequently mistaken for his identical twin brother Joel.
Brodeur – Would often accompany his photographer father to Montreal Canadiens practices as a small child, where he was frequently mistaken for Mats Naslund.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Each side's major sticking points in the upcoming CBA negotiations

In anticipation of the next round of CBA negotiations, Gary
Bettman began a schedule of daily evil laugh practices.
The first shot in what could be a long and ugly labor battle was fired this week when the NHL gave notice to the NHLPA that it wants to modify or terminate the existing collective bargaining agreement in September. The decision was bad news for fans who were hoping to avoid another extended work stoppage.

Or maybe not. After all, everyone already knew that a renegotiation of the existing deal was coming, so the league's move amounted to a mere legal formality. The real action won't come until the two sides sit down to bargain later in the summer.

How will those negotiations go? Nobody knows yet, but sources tell me that the two sides are already hard at work compiling their lists of demands. According to insiders, here are some of the key issues that the NHL and NHLPA will be taking to the bargaining table over the next few months.

NHLPA - While we always realized that the odds of the Raffi Torres suspension being reduced on appeal were low, it still would have been nice for Gary Bettman to let Torres complete at least one sentence without immediately banging a giant gong.

NHL -We all agree that we absolutely must do something to discourage teams from signing players to extremely long-term contracts, so could you guys ask Ilya Bryzgalov to send us a nice photo we could make into a poster to hang in every owner's office?

NHLPA - Several of our members insist that we revamp the draft lottery system so that the Edmonton Oilers don't win every year, although come to think of it everyone who told us that looked an awful lot like a 17-year-old prospect wearing a fake mustache and beard.

NHL - Yes, having large markets play deep into the playoffs increase television ratings and yes, it's important for overall league revenue that the sport do well in the southern US, but we still can't shake the nagging feeling that at some point someone will notice that the LA Kings' net has been two feet smaller than everyone else's for the last month.

NHLPA - Mike Komisarek says it would be super-awesome if we could have just one conversation about an amnesty buyout period without everyone in the hockey world awkwardly turning and staring at him.

NHL - Everyone is clearly fed up with the current discipline system where some suspensions are too long and others are too short and there's never any consistency, so let's just go back to having every suspension consistently being too short like it was a few years ago.

NHLPA - We've still been unable to get any feedback on CBA issues from any members of the New York Rangers, since whoever keeps answering the phone when we call their dressing room just grunts monosyllabic answers at us like a sullen teenager and hangs up.

NHL - Look, all those "lazy Russians don't want to win in the playoffs" narratives took a lot of work for the hockey world to build up over the years, so we'd really appreciate it if Ilya Kovalchuk could stop singlehandedly ruining them.

NHLPA - While we realize that it's become tradition for the Stanley Cup winning captain to pose for a photograph with the commissioner before being handed the trophy, it's still kind of creepy how Bettman always takes that moment to whisper "I've been sitting in this all day without pants".

NHL - Even though he did somehow obtain all of the proper licenses and permits first, it's still not cool how David Booth keeps leaping out of our grandkids' closets and gunning down all their teddy bears.

NHLPA -While we can appreciate that the league would like to increase offense by encouraging forwards and defensemen to refrain from blocking shots, there has to be a better way than just mailing us all a "What Would Marc-Andre Fleury Do?" bracelet.

NHL - Despite consistent profits since the last lockout and record revenues that have increased by almost one billion dollars, it's vitally important that we get further concessions from the players to ensure the ongoing health of the… oh man, we came so close to getting all the way through that with a straight face, let us try it just one more time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hidden playoff injuries revealed

Jordan Staal is informed of the trade
rumors linking him to the Maple Leafs.
It’s the time of year when hockey fans see something they’re not used to on NHL injury reports: honesty.

By now fans have become used to teams being as vague as possible when it comes to health issues. Many injuries to key players are never acknowledged at all, and those that are mentioned are cryptically referred to as upper or lower body injuries and nothing more.

But that all changes one a team has been eliminated. There’s no point in keeping up the charade once the season is over, so teams finally let the public know what sort of medical challenges the players were dealing with. Sometimes the news confirms fans’ existing suspicions, and sometimes we’re all caught completely off-guard.

Here are some of the hidden injuries that teams have recently revealed after being eliminated from Stanley Cup contention.

Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators – His teammates say he was obviously dealing with some sort of major injury that will require him to meet with a specialist in Detroit, since he spent the past few months constantly whispering into his cellphone about some sort of appointment there at 12:01 on July 1.

David Backes, St. Louis Blues – Along with several teammates, suffered abdominal injuries from laughing at that moronic advance scout who kept insisting that the best way to score on Jonathan Quick was to take slapshots from centre ice.

Ed Jovanovski, Florida Panthers – Keeps saying that he thinks this year’s first round loss will help the Panthers when they’re back in the playoffs next year, which has led to facial trauma from all the people who keep pinching his cheeks and telling him he’s being just adorable.

Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks – Will be out for six months after surgery to repair an injured labrum that has confounded local experts, in the sense that they haven’t been able to figure out how to blame it on Roberto Luongo.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A fan's guide to handling the pressure of Game Seven

The series turning point came when Ovechkin
started using the "slide the goalie out
of the crease" move from NHL '93.
Tonight, hockey fans will get to hear two of the most ominous words in sports: "game seven". The Washington Capitals will visit the New York Rangers for the conclusion of their series with a trip to the conference finals hanging in the balance.

For most fans, that makes the game something to look forward to. But if you're a diehard Capital or Ranger fan, maybe not. After all, seeing an entire season come down to a single winner-take-all contest can be excruciating. And let's face it, some fans handle this sort of situation better than others.

So whether you're a nervous fan or will have the misfortune of spending time around one, I'm here to help. Here are some tips on how to handle the day of a crucial NHL playoff game.

DO: If you'd prefer to watch alone, plan to take in the game someplace where you know you'll never have to worry about running into any hockey fans at this time of year.
DO NOT: Be rude if the Rexall Place security guard doesn't agree to let you in right away.

DO: Try your best to ignore that one guy watching the game with you and your friends who doesn't seem to be a hockey fan, know what's going on, or have even the slightest understanding about the NHL and how it works.
DO NOT: Be surprised when he casually mentions that he's in the process of buying the Phoenix Coyotes.

DO: Apologize immediately if the stress of the situation causes you to lose your temper with your children by snapping at them with one-word answers every time they try to talk to you.
DO NOT: Make the situation worse by explaining that you were simply trying to talk to them "Tortorella-style".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Some positive thinking for Canada's NHL teams

If I use them as the photo, maybe Habs and Jets
fans won't complain that they got one fewer joke
than the other teams," thought the weary blogger.
The second round of the playoffs is underway, but fans may feel like something's missing. An entire country, to be specific, since for the first time in a generation not a single Canadian team made it out of round one. And that's lead to a seemingly never-ending parade of negativity and speculation about what's ailing the nation's franchises.

Enough is enough. As longtime readers know, if there's one thing this space is committed to it's a sense of unrelenting optimism. So let's focus on the bright side, and come up with as many positive things as possible to say about each of Canada's seven teams.

Montreal Canadiens - The upcoming collective bargaining agreement should make it possible for the team to finally recover from the Scott Gomez trade, assuming it ends up including some sort of "get Ryan McDonagh back" clause.

Winnipeg Jets - While they put up a disappointing season in terms of wins, points, and goals for and against, they did have their best season in 16 years in the all-important "actually existing" category.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Many experts insist that a good NHL rebuild takes five years, and if that's true then the Leafs should be ready to contend for a title sometime in the next negative three years or so.

Calgary Flames - The likely offseason trade of Jarome Iginla will eventually allow Flames fans to enjoy a championship, assuming they all switch allegiances to whichever team acquires Jarome Iginla.

Vancouver Canucks - Have indicated that they'll be trading Roberto Luongo, which is great, because trading that guy away has always worked out so well for other teams.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

2012 World Championships preview

The new "Canada has to play without sticks
to make it fair" rule got mixed reviews.
Hockey fans never seem quite sure how to feel about the World Championships. On the one hand, international hockey is always entertaining. On the other, it can be difficult to get too excited about a competition that takes place right as the NHL playoffs are kicking into high gear.

This year's tournament, which got underway yesterday, is being co-hosted by Finland and Sweden. And as always, most of the coverage has focused as much on the intrigue around which players would accept invitations to represent their countries. With the roster still in flux even after the tournament starts, it can be tough to separate the also-rans from the contenders.

Here's a closer look at the six countries favored to take home the medals.


Team outlook: While the roster does feature Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Dastyuk, experts agree that the lack of a third-line center could be a major issue for the 30 or 40 seconds a game that they'll need one.
Key player: Team officials can't figure out why Ilya Bryzgalov hasn't shown up yet, since based on a look at his stats from the first round the Flyers clearly lost in four straight.
Prediction: While the players acknowledge that being under a microscope is just part of playing for Russia internationally, they're still not sure why Barry Trotz keeps showing up at their hotel and asking the front desk if he can have a look at their key cards.


Team outlook: As always, the players will focus on the three tenets of Swedish international hockey: a high-tempo offense, a team-wide commitment to defense, and skating by their goaltender every few seconds to yell "Hey, just making sure but you're not Tommy Salo, right?"
Key player: Pekka Rinne, since he was kind enough to make sure the entire Detroit Red Wings roster was available.
Prediction: Daniel Alfredsson finds himself hoping for a matchup against Canada in Stockholm, since it would be a nice change of pace to play a home game against a team wearing maple leafs without being booed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A look at the nominees for the NHL's annual awards

"No, seriously, I used to get nominated for
the Hart all the time. Why are you laughing?"
The NHL has spent the last week announcing the nominees for this year's various awards. The league revealed a new set of nominees every day, culminating with yesterday's announcements of the candidates for the Jack Adams.

The hardware will be handed out on June 20th in Las Vegas during a televised ceremony that you were planning to watch right up until you found out Nickelback was playing. So instead, let's just run through the nominees in the major categories now and be done with it.

Here's a look at the contenders for some of the league's most prestigious awards.

Norris Trophy (best defenceman)

Erik Karlsson - Many voters have already acknowledged casting their ballots for the Senators' talented young blueliner, citing his high point totals, his dynamic offensive game, and the presence of Matt Carkner cracking his knuckles while grunting "You make little Erik sad, big Matt make you sad".

Zdeno Chara - The Bruins' undisputed franchise player should be absolutely unstoppable in the voting, unless the ballots end up being counted by some unheralded rookie goalie.

Shea Weber - They say that a defenceman has had a great game when you don't even notice anything he did, so we can assume that Weber has Brendan Shanahan's vote.