Evaluating Cody Hodgson’s Rookie Campaign

Vancouver Canucks rookie Cody Hodgson has been labeled everything from the heir apparent to Trevor Linden to a total bust. But so far, 24 games into his rookie campaign, he has settled nicely under a more realistic label, a promising young NHLer.
 
When he was first drafted there were immediate comparisons to the Canuck great #16 Trevor Linden. Having never played an NHL game this was optimistic but also unfair.  But as I watch Hodgson play, I don’t see another Linden in the making, I give that distinction to Ryan Kesler, instead I’m reminded of a young Henrik Sedin.  
 
Hodgson is still young and has some deficiencies to improve upon such as body checking, it’s one comparison with a Sedin I wouldn’t want to covet. He’s not the strongest player, but he’s still growing into a man’s body. He at times makes rookie mistakes in his positioning, and he’s just adequate in the faceoff circle.
 
But there are also some efficiencies, a package of skills that Canuck fans are excited about.  Efficiencies that have Canucks fans asking how good can Hodgson get? He has incredible hands, a great shot, his skating has improved dramatically, he has amazing vision and can thread a needle with his pass, much like Henrik. 
 
To date he has 12 points through 26 games, while being shuffled around various lines, regularly getting the lowest minutes of ice time of all the top 9 skaters. These 12 points project to about a 40 point season. A very good total for a rookie. When I compare those numbers to the Canucks current 3 stars when they were 21, it is very encouraging.  
 
As 21 year olds Henrik had 36 points, Daniel had 32 points, and Kesler had 23 points. So far, Hodgson’s in good company.  But I’m not too concerned with points at this stage in his career. I’m more interested in how he thinks the game, adjusts to the game, with how he physically holds up. And it’s these areas where I find great optimism.
 
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HBO’s 24/7 Winter Classic Coverage Begins

It’s not TV, it’s HBO. Anyone who has watched The Sopranos, The Wire, Game Of Thrones, etc. knows that when HBO commits to a show, it’s down right awesome.
 
Last year I convinced my wife, not a hockey fan, to watch the first episode of HBO’s 24/7 series following the Penguins and Capitals. I can’t get her to watch a game with me as she has no interest, but by the end of the first episode, she was hooked.
 
The production value, the insight of the players and coaches at home, in the locker room, in rehab was engrossing. It really did something that is hard to do when following the NHL season from regular sports feeds, it humanized the participants.
 
We got to see Sydney Crosby watch his own highlights in his hotel room with the appreciation of a kid. We saw what the players go through to rehab injuries. We saw how coaches breakdown video and communicate with their players. We got to look behind the curtain and found something so much more fulfilling than a charlatan playing tricks.
 
This year HBO will follow the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers as they build up to the Winter Classic being played in Philadelphia. Two interesting teams with a great rivalry to exploit. My wife is looking forward to it already.

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Leafs Win In NY

The Leafs beat the New York Rangers 4-2 tonight, ending their fathers/sons road trip with a 1 – 1 record.  They played a solid game against the Rangetrs who are one of the suprise teams in this early NHL season, sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. 

Recent Leafs acquisitions Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, and Joffrey Lupul scored for the Leafs while David Steckel added an empty netter.  Franson has had a frustrating start to the season spending a lot of time in the press box, but with a few injuries on the back-end, he has now been given an opportunity and has played well. 

This is one of the key differences this year for the Leafs.  They have NHL caliber players sitting in the press box where as the last few years they had AHL calibre players playing significant NHL minutes. 

On Saturday Ron Wilson told the media that Gustavsson would be playing that night against the Bruins, but at game time James Reimer got the start, causing a bit of a radio, twitter, media rift.  Burke threw his 2 cents in defending his coach to what is essentially a non issue.  So when Ron Wilson said  that Gustavsson would be starting today, it was a surprise to the Toronto media when Gustavsson actually got the start.  The Monster had a solid game and came up with 30 saves. 

The Leafs will try and build off this win when they suit up versus the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at the ACC.

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NHL Approves Re-alignment

It took the NHL board of govenors an hour to discuss and approve league re-alignment where there will be four conferences and no divisions.  As posted yesterday, here’s what the new Conferences will look like:

West

Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose, Los Angelas, Anaheim, Colorado, Phoenix

Central

Winnipeg, Nashville, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Dallas, St. Louis

East North/South

Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Buffalo, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida

East Central

New York Islander, New York Ranger, New Jersey, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina

Teams will play a heavily weighted schedule within their own conference and then have home and away games against the rest of the teams in the league. 

For the Canucks this means playing a lot more games in their own time zone as they will face LA, Anaheim, and San Jose up to 7 games a season. This year, the Canucks will only play 6 road games in their own time zone, the toughest road schedule in the NHL. 

This will also ensure that they play Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg twice a year.
This is great for the Canucks, the other teams currently in the Western Conference, and as a whole, for the NHL.

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Luongo Has Success In Return, But Won’t Find Redemption Until Playoffs

It’s December 4th, 2011.  The Canucks are playing the hated rival Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena.  Roberto Luongo skates onto the ice with his team taking laps before the singing of the Canadian National anthem.  It is his first star since the middle of November.  What had started out as time away from the ice due to an injury has turned into a goalie controversy that has seen Luongo as a patient and supportive teammate to friend and backup Cory Schneider. 

Schneider played with the skill of the all-star he is and not the backup he’s labelled as, making it near impossible for Coach Vigneault to sit him out.  Luongo understood, finding more frustration in his talks with the media about the situation than about the situation itself.  Now, after Schneider faltered on Friday night, Luongo finally gets a start in net.  And performed well only allowing one goal while making 21 saves, with the crowd chanting “Luuuuu” for each and every one of the 21 saves. 

Sure the one goal he let in was a weak one, but he made up for it with some solid saves allowing his team to get going.  The Canucks finally got their legs going and ended the night with a 5-1 win.  Another beating of the hapless and floundering Calgary Flames.  What once was a heated rivalry has become a one-sided affair. 

The win was good for the club, for Luongo who showed no rust.  But this win won’t mean anything, not to Luongo, not to the team, not to the fans, not concerning Luongo’s legacy.  What Luongo needs is to have a strong playoffs to cement that. 

Over the past three years the Canucks have been obliterated in elimination games in the playoffs with Luongo being the chief culprit among a group of poorly performing teammates.  Weak goals have seemed to deflate the Canucks with leadership nowhere to seen.  This isn’t Luongo’s fault alone, but he seems to be the gravitational force receiving most the criticism.  The problem being that he is the goalie, he is the focal point of the team’s poor performances. 

Sure Luongo was excellent in the Canucks three wins versus Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals last June, probably the Canucks best player, but he was also arguable their worst player in their four losses.  A contrast that makes stability for a team near impossible.  As I’ve stated before, this probably is just as much Vigneault’s fault for mismanaging Luongo as it is Luongo’s fault.  But overall he needs to be more consistent, especially when it matters most.  He needs to be better in the playoffs, he knows he needs to be better in the playoffs, and his legacy as a great Canuck will only be established when that happens.

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The Hypocracy Of The Trade

General Managers regularly call up other General Managers and discuss trade possibilities.  They’ll throw players names about to gauge the market for what they have and for what they’re looking for.  It is a natural corse in trying to better their teams.  This is accepted by fans and media.  These discussions at times lead up to trades which add intreage and dimension to the league. 

So why is it so taboo if a player tells his GM that he wants to be traded?  It is a reciprocal appeal met without reciprocal acceptance.  If a player asks to be traded, for any reason, the media label him as unprofessional, the fans call the player a trader, a bum.  In Chris Pronger’s case, after he was traded from Edmonton, the fans went as far as burning his baby’s crib (fortunately without the baby in it). 

GMs want to find the right pieces for their teams, and players want to find the right fit for their careers.  These two situations should be judged in the same light, but because fans are loyal to their team and don’t want to see that team or city slighted in any fashion, they get jaded towards a player who wants a fresh start after not fitting in with the team.

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NHL Considering Re-alignment

The NHL is considering re-alignment to even its teams’ travel schedules.  As it sits now the Western Conference teams log thousands of miles more than the Eastern Conference teams.  Few teams are happy with the current alignment and many of the Western teams bordering the Eastern Conference want to be moved to the East.  But with the uneven balance of having so many teams situated in the Eastern time zone, moving just one team will not settle the issue. 

So there is a proposal to make 4 new conferences void of inner divisions.  This move would create a much greater balance of travel for every team and would also allow every team to have at least a home and home series between each team. 

You’d think this would be universally accepted by owners as it is not only good for the league, but also fits in with the league’s push for “parity”, a stance they’ve been promoting since the end of the lock out. 

The proposed new “Conferences” will be divided up as follows:

West

Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose, Los Angelas, Anaheim, Colorado, Phoenix

Central

Winnipeg, Nashville, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Dallas

East North/South

Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Buffalo, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida

East Central

New York Islander, New York Ranger, New Jersey, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina

Here is a map of the new proposed conferences:

Nhl-realignment-map_2011-12-03_medium

Upon looking at the reconfigured league above it seems to be a perfect solution.  But this is not the case.  While seeing support from the Western Conference teams, this plan has little support from the Eastern Conference teams.  They currently have an incredible advantage over the Western Conference teams in terms of travel fatigue and cost and this is not an advantage they are willing to give up without a fight.  They’ve stated that their biggest concern is the cost of the additional travel.  The Eastern teams traveling expenses will rise under this new alignment but will still be significantly less than that of the Western teams travel expenses.  

So is the league truly for parity, or are they only for parity when it gives certain teams a competitive advantage?  It appears to be the latter.  Any team on the East complaining at a new travel schedule should look at the where Vancouver lies on the map.  Their annual travel schedule is absurd, but it is the price to pay for its location.  This new alignment will also have each team play a home and away game against each other team in the league.  Giving the season ticket holders the opportunity to see each of the games stars on an annual basis should be enough to get the owners to approve this decision, but when have the owners ever done anything that would better benefit their fans. No instead they’re looking at their own unenlightened self-interest. So to all the NHL owners out there I ask you this on behalf of your fans, do the right thing. Get this re-alignment passed.

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