Posts Tagged #NHL

Chicago Blackhawks Maintain Excellence Amid Roster Purge

The Chicago Blackhawks were one of the worst NHL teams for nearly a decade. This poorly run franchise did just about everything wrong on and off the ice and lost a once rabid fan base. But if a team is going to be bad long enough, it’ll eventually earn enough top draft picks to build a solid core of young players upon which to build a contender. The Hawks built this core just as the owner of the team passed away, allowing new management to establish a new business model where they could capitalize on the strengthening product on the ice.

Two years later they were Stanley Cup champions. But the following summer the team was met with overwhelming salary cap issues. A lot of those younger players contracts expired at the same time and when you’re on a team that has just won the Cup, you’re going to want a raise.

This forced management to fire the GM, Dale Tallon, and expert at evaluating talent but sub par at negotiating contracts. They brought in Stan Bowman to fix the salary cap issues. He did so by trading away 13 players from his Stanley Cup roster and focussed on rebuilding the team around Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharpe, Marion Hossa, Brian Campbell, and Dave Bolland, as good as any core in the NHL. They brought some young rookies into the lineup, including goaltender Corey Crawford, who has played liked a 10 year veteran.  They relied on young talent and the young talent responded. 

The main reason they’ve been able to maintain this success is because of the man behind the bench. Joel Quenneville is a master at developing young players and putting them in a position to succeed. He builds their confidence and makes sure they know that they can compete on a daily basis in the NHL. And they’ve responded. It’s refreshing to see a coach have so much confidence in players who are just learning the game.  And as long as that core stays intact and Quenneville continues to do his magic, the Blackhawks will continue to contend for the Stanley Cup.

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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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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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Leafs Lose To The Bruins…Again

The Leafs have had strong start to the NHL season so far. This is not suprising after some very strong moves Brian Burke made over the past year to add solid depth to the lineup. What is surprising is their inability to put up any resistance versus the Boston Bruins in four games this year.  In these four games the Leafs have been dominated, absent of any confidence when playing the defending Cup champs.  

I expect the Leafs to continue to play well this year and make the playoffs, they have the defence, scoring, and goaltending to get there, but what does thei inability to compete against the Bruins say about their character? About their abiliry to win the big game? It says they still have a ways to go until they can be considered contenders.

These two teams don’t play again till March. During this time the Leafs are going to have to build enough character that when they do meet the Bruins, they won’t be intimidated, overwhelmed, or unfocused. They need to put up a better preformance against Boston as it will build their confidence going into the playoffs, especially if they happen to meet Boston in the playoffs. They have the horses, they just need the will.

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Flames Feaster Causes Future Famine?

When Jay Feaster got the general manager’s job for the Calgary Flames last year it was on an intern basis. He was to guide the Flames through the rest of the season and then provide management an outline of how he was going to turn the team into a winner.

His presence and the lack or Darryl Sutter’s presence seemed to be all the teamed needed to turn things around. This late rally charge came across to the fans, management, and the team itself as a true reflection of the team. To every one else it was no more than a hot streak after the Flames were left way out the playoff picture. 

After having the intern removed from his title and becoming the team’s full time General Manager Feaster had a press conference. He was asked about where Jerome Iginla fits in with the team and he said Jerome would be a fixture with the team, he was not going to be traded regardless of how the team faired. 

I don’t know how Flames President Ken King accepted this intransigent attitude regarding their best asset. Make no mistake about it, the Calgary Flames are about as bare an organization there is in terms of talent in the NHL. And the talent they do have is old. 

To makes matters worse, they have no high end prospects waiting in the minors to give the team a boost. They remind me of the Leafs the year Sundin refused to waive his no trade clause. It’s taken the Leafs 4 years to turn the team around from that failure to manage its assets. 

Today Feaster met with the media again today and told them he hasn’t asked Iginal to waive his NTC, that Iginla hasn’t asked to be traded. Feaster spoke to the media as if they were his enemy. As if they were responsible for the teams lack of success. 

Feaster has to be smarter. Not trading Iginla is a mistake based on an emotion weakness. How can Feaster think he can rebuild this team without moving a aging player. It’s his responsibility to trade Iginla and get good young assets back. They need to get a good young roster player and a high draft pick in return. They need to get younger, get more draft picks and draft better. Letting their emotions dictate their actions won’t help.

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