Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pavol Demitra criticized by 'The Province'

Throughout the province of British Columbia, the newspaper 'The Province' is known to be fraught with sensationalism and questionable journalism from time to time. Look no further than Ben Kuzma's article about Pavol Demitra and his wife's condition.

In case you're late to this story, Pavol Demitra missed some time earlier this year due to a serious health condition that his wife was struck with. Pavol took a little bit of time away from the game to look after his family - what any respectable person who values his priorities would do.

Unfortuantely for Pavol and the rest of the Demitra's, his wife's condition has returned.

"We had 911 on the speed dial and she was in the hospital a couple of times," said Demitra. "Obviously when you have to call 911, you're very scared."

While Demitra wouldn't provide ailment details, his wife was also hospitalized in early February with a reaction to a prescription that initially looked like she may have a heart problem.

Certainly anyone with a family would recognize the valor in Demitra's actions. In life, work comes second behind family.

"It was very tough and very hard on the family," said Demitra, who has a son, Lucas and daughter, Zara. "They're still young enough, but they know mommy is sick and they don't understand how serious. When it came back the second time, you start thinking that it's more serious and you have to take the time.

The Canucks clearly understand this. "I think everybody understands," Demitra said. "It was very serious, I'm glad I'm playing for a great organization and they understand our family issues. They sent food and flowers and they took care of everything. I'm glad I'm playing for these guys and hopefully I can get back to my hockey and help — especially in the playoffs."

Everyone understands, right? Not Province writer Ben Kuzma:

As much as the Canucks need Demitra to return to Olympic form after granting him time to deal with the crisis, his absence could have sparked scrutiny. It may seem harsh, but if his wife was having the proper medical attention, why couldn't Demitra turn his attention to the Canucks?

Or how about Tony Gallagher, who appeared on the TEAM 1040 yesterday, mocking the Canucks saying that Shane O'Brien was getting scrutinized and controlled while Demitra was allowed to come and go as he pleased lately.

Maybe he had a good reason.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Henrik Sedin's Case for Hart Trophy

Sure, Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby would be the expected picks. Poster boys for the NHL since their entry into the NHL a few years ago. But neither of these two are leading the league in scoring. Nope.

That honour - at least for now - belongs to the Vancouver Canucks' Center Henrik Sedin. Should Henrik be considered for the Hart Trophy? Let's make the case for him.

Henrik leads the league with 104 points after 76 games, three points ahead of Alexander Ovechkin.

Henrik has points in 59 of 76 games this year.
Henrik has 33 multi-point games this year.
Henrik has 13 three+ point games this year.
Henrik's longest scoring drought was 4 games, and he has only one 3 game drought.
Henrik has 75 assists - 9 more than his closest competitor - Joe Thornton.
Henrik plays at least 2 minutes per game less than everyone else in the top 10 in NHL Scoring
Henrik is third in the NHL in Plus/Minus

Enough stats for now, let's look at his contributions to the team. Sedin has carried the Vancouver Canucks offensively. Before the season began, questions arose as to how the Vancouver Canucks will score goals. They lost Mats Sundin, Pavol Demitra was injured for over half the season, and Daniel Sedin missed 6 weeks due to injury. Despite this, Henrik Sedin posted impressive numbers and vaulted the Canucks into an offensive powerhouse, second only to the Washington Capitals.

When we look at his likely competition, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, they too have had tremendous seasons and are amazing players. This year however, it is hard to imagine anyone having a greater impact on their team than Henrik Sedin.

Sidney Crosby for example, has an astounding 47 goals this year. No one else on his team has 25. Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal are the only Penguins to have over 20 goals and neither routinely play with Sid. His linemates traditionally have been Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz - who combined have only 32 goals.

Crosby's contributions have been immense to his team's offensive output, but having said that, the Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and they've had a decent season that has them about where everyone expected them to be. While Crosby has carried the Pens on his own, I don't think it can be argued that he's made everyone around him better this season as he has in the past.

Nevertheless, Crosby deserves full marks for a tremendous year in keeping the Penguins atop their divsion.

Let's turn to Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin's fans would point to his points per game output, his team's success on the ice, (especially offensively) and how he is widely regarded as the league's best, most dominant player.

However, the Capitals are widely regarded as having an embarassment of riches offensively. In fact, in the nine games that Ovechkin has missed this season due to injury or suspension, the Capitals have a record of 7-2 and have managed to score 43 goals - almost 5 per game.

The Caps have scored at least seven goals in a game five times this season, and three of those games were in the nine without Ovechkin. The other two times, he didn't figure into the scoring. I'm not suggesting that Ovechkin is not an amazing talent, but I am suggesting that the Capitals are a powerful team even without him in their lineup.

One criticism of Ovechkin that should play in Sedin' favour is his suspensions. Not to suggest that his style of play should be held against him, but wouldn't a reliable player who is durable and does not get dinged for suspensions throughout the year be more valuable to an organization than one who misses games for irresponsible acts on the ice?

In any job, you would figure the more 'valuable' member of the team would be the player who demonstrates consistency and reliability. When Ovechkin is in the lineup, he certainly is reliable, and consistently a threat every night, but he is a bit unpredictable.

What's more, Henrik Sedin and his twin brother Daniel have long been credited with being strong defensive players who can control a game with their puck possession and ability to cycle the puck in the offensive zone.

When you add it all up, Crosby offers leadership and offense and Ovechkin offers dynamic offense and passion.

This year however, it is hard to deny Henrik Sedin's impact. Henrik's incredible vision on the ice has him leading the league in assists and posting career high numbers in goals. Not only are his statistics impressive, but he has created two first time 30 goal scorers in Mikael Samuelsson and Alexandre Burrows, and has led his twin brother Daniel to an amazing season as well.

Henrik Sedin has been magic on the ice this year, with a great example coming in tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes, in which he had a short-handed goal and two assists.

His no-look behind the back pass has kept defenders honest all year.

With so much media attention on the stars of the Eastern Conference, hopefully Henrik Sedin obtains some recognition for the fairly complete package that he offers. Whether it's a time sapping shift late in the game, a clutch goal in the third period, quarterbacking the power play, or taking a key faceoff, Henrik Sedin has done it all this year. Looking like the Steve Nash of the NHL, no player this year has done a better job of making the players around him better. Henrik should be a favourite for the Hart Trophy this year.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reason to Panic in the Windy City?

The Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the best stories in sports during the last two seasons. From perennial bottom feeder to a Western Conference championship appearance last year. Patience and high draft picks, including Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, have not only sky rocketed the Hawks to the top of the standings but have also filled the seats at the United Center. It has been an almost meteoric rise for one of the NHL's most storied clubs. The Blackhawks have not just been good this year, at times they have looked almost invincible, dominating teams with speed, puck possession, and a transition game that looks like blitzkrieg on ice.

However, Chicago has floundered since the Olympics going an unimpressive 5-6-2. That does not seem like a record fit for a Stanley Cup contender, and with only eight games left for the Hawks it is a bad time to go on a slump. So what is wrong with this young, highly skilled, Cup contender?

Could it be an Olympic hangover? This could be accurate as many players who played in the Olympics have struggled including top net-minders Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo. The San Jose Sharks led the NHL in Olympians with seven, and despite winning four straight games, they lost six in a row before that, bringing their post Olympic record to 7-6-1. Also not a great record. The Blackhawks were tied for second with six Olympians and all six players were in the medal rounds of the hockey tournament. Perhaps it is nothing more than coincidence, after all, not every Olympic hockey player has struggled since the tournament. However, it seems that the teams with more players in Vancouver for those long two and a half weeks have had a more difficult time. It could not have been easy going from the intense, emotionally draining Olympics where every game is like a game seven, to the grind of regular season NHL hockey.

Injuries have also taken their toll on the Hawks. Losing Brian Campbell for what is likely the rest of the season, as well as Kim Johnsson who still has no time table for a return as he battles a concussion. The Hawks were also without Brent Seabrook for a few games. All these players are top four defensemen.

The Blackhawks play a very similar style of game as their divisional rivals in Detroit. This is a system built on puck possession and quick transition and it all starts with the defense. It is no fluke that Detroit went through an eerily similar slump at the beginning of the season when they were dealing with injuries to the back end. Now that Detroit is healthy they are flying up the standings. Not that anyone should be surprised.

The hard truth is that the Hawks are finding it tough to replace not only the skill and speed of Campbell, but also the fact that he plays between 23 and 24 minutes a night. Dustin Byfuglien, the defenseman turned forward turned stop gap defenseman, has been the silver lining to all this. He has been terrific and is improving every game. However it may not be enough. Keep in mind that Brian Campbell and Kim Johnsson are the only top four defensemen with more than one year of playoff experience and it is easy to see why panic could set in.

The post-Olympic Blackhawks have become a much easier team to play against than we are used to seeing. The disciplined defensive system has faded into a free flowing mess where forwards are getting caught up ice and very few Hawks seem willing to sacrifice their bodies. As good as big Byfuglien has been on defense he has been missed in front of the net and in the corners on the forecheck. This needs to be addressed and can easily be solved by a more collective effort.

With the huge losses on the point Chicago may be forced to change their system. Instead of the long passes and fancy passing the Blackhawks may want to simplify things. Short passes, protecting the puck, winning puck battles, hitting, and hard work for an entire 60 minutes. It might also be a good idea to get back to the line combinations that gave the Hawks success earlier in the year.

As much as I like Dave Bolland, he has been struggling. It may be because of the major back surgery that kept him out of the lineup for most of the season, and he is not yet 100%. Or it could be a complete lack of confidence. Either way, he has not been able to find any chemistry with Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp. The second line of Sharp, Hossa, and Versteeg was great at the beginning of the year and should be an option going forward. However I am not a coach and thinking up NHL line combinations is very easy from an arm chair. Coach Joel Quenneville and hockey guru Scotty Bowman have all brains and experience necessary to solve these problems.

There is a saying in Chicago which goes something like, "the most popular person in Chicago is whoever is the back-up quarterback for the Bears." This can now be applied to the Hawks goaltending situation and Antti Niemi. I think it is fair to say that Niemi has taken over the starting job, and not just because of the catastrophic play of supposed #1 Crisobal Huet. Antti Niemi has emerged as a legitimate NHL goaltender and has played above expectation. He has the potential to be a star in the NHL, I just doubt the Hawks expected him to be their starting net-minder in the playoffs this year. Both Huet and Niemi have proven they can play, it is now a matter of getting them hot at the right time. At least one of them.

Lastly, let's understand that slumps happen in professional sports, they always have and they always will. I am sure Blackhawk nation is pushing the panic button as we speak, because after all, this is a franchise that has been without a Stanley Cup since 1961. That is a long time and this 2010 Blackhawks team has arguably the best shot at breaking the Cup drought in Chicago.

So before people are eager to write off the Blackhawks, keep in mind that the 2007-2008 Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings went a horrible 1-8-2 in February and things worked out just fine. The 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins looked a sure bet to miss the playoffs entirely until Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therien as coach on February 15th, and the Penguins went on a tear and eventually won the Stanley Cup. Even the best teams do not dominate entire seasons, especially in the salary cap era, and the Chicago Blackhawks are no different.

Will the Blackhawks end Chicago's 48 year drought and hoist the Stanley Cup this year? Who knows, but do not count them out because of a few off weeks.

Like always thanks for reading, and have a happy stretch drive and playoffs.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Abbotsford Heat Coach Jim Playfair Explodes

Jim Playfair, the coach of the Abbotsford Heat in the AHL went absolutely nuts in a game after a questionable penalty call in a 4-0 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs this week.

Heat forward JD Watt received a major penalty and game misconduct for intent to injure on what appeared to be a relatively harmless (or at very least routine) interference penalty.

Upon hearing the news of the penalty call, Playfair began berating the AHL Official, the son of former NHL Official Don Koharski. Playfair used profanities and then grabbed a stick from the bench and proceeded to smash it repeatedly over the boards until it broke, he then ripped his jacket off and stared ominously at the stunned officiating crew before grabbing another Heat stick and smashing that over the boards.

Koharski doled out an additional penalty to Playfair, who slowly made his way from the bench to watch the rest of the game in the back.

Below is a video of the incident - the incident begins at the 2:45 mark of the game's video highlights.

Koharskis are no strangers to livid coaches. You might remember Jim Schoenfeld's infamous 'Have another donut you fat pig' incident from May 6, 1988.

Playfair has a case on the penalty, but it's hard to imagine anything warranting that kind of childish tirade. Nevertheless, makes for great television!

ESPN NHL Player Poll

Who is the NHL's best player? How about dirtiest player? The best referee? A recent poll of NHL players has revealed some interesting responses. This ESPN Player Poll remained anonymous - and that elicited some great responses.

Of interest, Roberto Luongo was voted the most overrated player in the league, Derek Booggard and Rick Rypien the toughest fighters, Chris Pronger the dirtiest player, Vancouver Canucks' fans the most knowledgeable, Kerry Fraser the league's best official, and Stephane Auger the worst.

1. Who's the NHL's best player?
This was a two-person race -- reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin vs. Pens star Sidney Crosby -- but not a particularly close one. Of those who picked one or the other, 73 percent chose Ovi. "He's powerful, skilled and exciting to watch -- just what our game needs," says one Eastern Conference player. On the other hand, 15 guys got votes for most overrated, led by Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (6 percent).

2. What is the best franchise?
More players said the Red Wings (60 percent) than all other teams combined. "They have a history of winning and a fun building to play in," offers one Western Conference center. Worst franchise went to the league-owned Coyotes, who grabbed 28 percent of the vote. "Games feel like practice when we play there," says a conference rival.

3. Who's the smartest coach?
Players like Caps coach Bruce Boudreau and Pens Dan Bylsma (each received 16 percent). But they love the Wings' Mike Babcock (22 percent). When asked about the last coach they'd want to play for, Rangers coach John Tortorella took the dubious title (18 percent). "He's always yelling and calling out guys in the media," says one Western Conference wing.

4. Should the NHL eliminate some teams?
Even with job security at stake, players aren't so sure. Many (48 percent) voted against the notion, but a whopping 38 percent saw its merits. And 40 percent (yeas and nays alike) favored relocating a floundering crew to "Anywhere in Canada."

5. Which team has the best ice?
Stunner: The cooler the climate, the slicker the sheet. Edmonton (average temp: 37 degrees Fahrenheit) edges Montreal (44 degrees Fahrenheit), 28 percent to 24 percent, for best ice. Worst? Florida (75 degrees Fahrenheit), with 24 percent. "It's mush after a few minutes, then gets worse after that," says one star of the Panthers' surface.

6. Who's the top ref?
He started skating at 15 months, reffed his first game at 15 years and hit the NHL before Reagan hit the Oval Office. Kerry Fraser, the most senior whistle-blower in the game, is the players' fave (26 percent). "He's consistent and listens to guys," says one wing. Not such a fave? Stephane Auger, who received 20 percent of the worst-ref vote. "He's terrible at everything," says one Eastern Conference center. "Nobody likes him."

7. Who has the best visitors' locker room?
Players can't wait to visit the Steel City -- next season. Right now, the Pens roll out the shoddiest welcome mat (62 percent). "You can't even fit everyone in there; goalies and rookies sit in another room," says a wing who has played for and against Pittsburgh. "I hear it's going to be unreal next year, though." Until then, Minnesota (42 percent) boasts the most hospitable quarters. "It's big, spacious and pretty -- and it smells good," says one Western Conference aficionado.

8. Who has the best groupies?
Again, many answer "Anywhere in Canada." You want specifics? Okay, 42 percent zero in on Montreal. "There are always fans, always autograph people, always ... those kinds of lovely ladies," says one wing who has played for three different franchises.

9. Who's the best fighter?
Derek Boogaard of the Wild is 6'8" and 257 pounds and has scored two goals in the past five seasons. But he's mustered 500-plus penalty minutes over that span -- and now he has 46 percent of our premier-pugilist vote. "There are a lot of tough guys, but Boogaard is the last one I want to mess with," says one Western defenseman. The No. 2 recipient, though, doesn't quite fit the profile. Rick Rypien (20 percent) goes 5'11", 190, is the cousin of former NFL QB Mark and once took a leave of absence because he was struggling mentally with the strain of fighting through injuries. Apparently, fighting other guys is less of a problem. "He has boxing skills, quick hands and protects himself well," says a former first-round draft pick. "Pound-for-pound, he's toughest in the NHL."

10. Who's the dirtiest player?
Although there was no clear-cut choice, 22 percent named Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. Another 10 percent fingered Ovechkin for his grabbing and hitting from behind. And 12 percent called out Ranger Sean Avery -- some of them, grudgingly. "He's probably happy to get my vote," one Eastern Conference player admits.

1. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers: 22 percent
2. Sean Avery, New York Rangers: 12 percent
T3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; Steve Ott, Dallas Stars: 10 percent
5. Jarkko Ruutu, Ottawa Senators: 8 percent
T6. Patrick Kaleta, Buffalo Sabres; Cam Janssen, St. Louis Blues: 6 percent
T8. 13 players: 2 percent

11. Who has the hottest spouse?
"Tough one," says an Eastern Conference vet. "Many of us are good-looking guys with charm, so there is a lot to choose from. I'll take Mike Fisher's fiancée, though." You may know her as Carrie Underwood; she grabbed 48 percent of the envy. Others with high approval ratings: Mike Modano (10 percent), who is married to model Willa Ford, and Mike Comrie (6 percent), the future Mr. Hilary Duff.

12. Do you think you have any gay teammates?
Many (42 percent) think yes. "Statistics say there should be two in each locker room," says one defenseman. "They may go after girls, but they prefer guys."

13. Grade Gary Bettman, A through F, on the job he's doing as commish.
Mr. Bettman is barely passing. He gets zero "A" grades -- and a few "F" grades (16 percent). His GPA, in fact, is a just-getting-by 1.88, somewhere between a D-plus and a C-minus. "He doesn't give guys enough money, and he needs to have more teams in Canada -- that's what drives our league right now," says one recent All-Star.

14. Who has the smartest fans in the NHL
One player wouldn't budge from "Anywhere in Canada," but others were more forthcoming about followers of teams up north. The Canucks faithful get the most praise (32 percent). And in the no-surprise-here category: 42 percent say the City of Brotherly Love has the meanest fans.

15. Do you think any of your teammates are taking PEDs
Some think maybe (4 percent), others don't want to say (12 percent). An overwhelming 76 percent say no. Only a small bunch (8 percent) assume that in a sport of 739 players -- more or less -- a few have to be on the juice.

16. Are goalie pads too big?
Guess who doesn't think so. Every goalie we spoke with said their pads are just right. "You try standing in front of a slap shot going 100 mph!" one says. Overall, 62 percent said the pads of Martin Brodeur and others are just fine. Of course, a fair amount of their skating brethren disagree.

17. Have you ever been approached about fixing the outcome of a game?
No player said yes, but three refused to say no. One nay had an interesting take: "I don't play enough minutes to affect the outcome of a game."

18. True or False: Hockey players are missing a lot of teeth.
Dentures-down, this question was the player-favorite. A whopping 98 percent agree with the premise (average loss per player: 1.5 per mouth). We asked one player who didn't bite if he'd lost any teeth: His answer: "Oh yeah -- seven."

19. What one change would help the NHL's popularity the most?
Players think the game needs more TV exposure (52 percent). "We need something like "Hard Knocks" on HBO," one 10-year vet says. "It shows players are real people, and the drama of getting ready for the season. If we had that, we'd see the impact right away in the stands."

20. Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?
The league's points leaders in mid-March, the Sharks and Caps, claim 16 percent of the vote apiece. But that makes them only second runners-up. The defending champ Penguins get 18 percent. And the hands-down winner? With 32 percent, your Chicago Blackhawks! Says a previous Cup-holder: "They remind me of Pittsburgh from a year ago."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Raycroft to start in place of Luongo

Roberto Luongo struggles after the Olympics continue. Luongo looked very pedestrian in a 3-2 loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers last night, despite only facing 22 shots. It wasn’t so much the number of goals he let in, but when and how.

Oilers’ D Tom Gilbert scored on a weak shot from the corner where Luongo simply should have been against the post. That goal put the Canucks down 1-0 early in the first, and was quickly followed by an equally weak short-side shot from Robert Nilsson to make it 2-0 before the Canucks really found their legs. As the Canucks notched up their play and scored a goal to narrow the gap to 2-1, Luongo struggled again, as a shot from Andrew Cogliano from a few feet inside the blueline hit a Canuck stick shortly after follow through and dribbled through Luongo. While goals that are tipped or deflected are normally forgiveable for a goaltender, this one was harder to stomach as the re-direction happened so far away, and the shot was hardly a howitzer.

Luongo remained in the net, as he did against Colorado a couple of weeks ago when they allowed 3 first period goals. Those two poor starts do not include the "I got to find the consistency in my game that I had before," Luongo said. "You have a bad game every 12 games, now it seems every two or three games I'm not at my best. I just got to find that consistency level back and make sure game in and game out I have that swagger that I typically have."

That is definitely true, and while Canucks fans perhaps should not be ringing alarm bells yet, Luongo will need to be at his best when the playoffs roll around. Luongo’s struggles to start seasons have been documented and are now almost expected. On the other hand, the Canucks goaltender is usually unstoppable in November and heading into the playoffs. The past few years Luongo has finished the season strong, and has been out-of-this-world in the first round, whether it be against Dallas or St. Louis. Luongo was also stellar in the second round against Anaheim in 2007, but struggled against Chicago last season.

For now though, the focus remains on the Anaheim Ducks, who visit GM Place tonight. The Vancouver Sun is reporting that Canucks’ head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters this was a planned Raycroft start.

“We planned that a long time ago and we just decided to stick with the plan,” Vigneault explained. “Louie was the guy we wanted to play in Edmonton, the first game of a back-to-back, and it's as simple as that.”

Elliott Pap reports that when asked about his level of concern with Luongo's play, Vigneault stickhandled through that one like Kyle Wellwood did in the Edmonton zone Tuesday night. Luongo allowed three goals on the first 10 shots he faced against the Oilers, none of them screened and all of them stoppable.

“If I'm going to be honest, if I was concerned, I wouldn't tell you,” Vigneault replied. “If we were concerned as an organization, to be honest, we wouldn't tell you. But we're not concerned. Yes, he is having some consistency issues but you've got an athlete there who takes full responsibility for his performance. You've got an athlete who knows when he's not on top of his game, or it's not where he wants it to be, and he does everything within his power to get it where it needs to be. As a coach, that's all you can ask from a player and an athlete.”

NHL Considers Implementing New Rule Without PA Approval

On March 23rd the NHL's Board of Governors voted on a new rule prohibiting "a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact." They voted and it was unanimously approved.

The rule was proposed a month ago by the NHL's 30 general managers and it was originally supposed to be implemented at the start of next season. However, due to a rash of ugly incidents, including Marc Savard and Brent Seabrook being injured, the league is looking to have the new rule implemented for this year's playoffs.

However, on Tuesday the NHLPA released a statement in regard to the unanimous vote.

"Under the CBA, the League's proposal cannot take effect until it first receives the support of the joint NHLPA/NHL Competition Committee, and then is endorsed by the NHL Board of Governors. To date, the Competition Committee has neither agreed on a proposal, nor forwarded a proposal to the Board of Governors for its vote."

NHL deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, wasted no time in responding to the NHLPA.

"Our Board can enact rule changes at any time with or without Competition Committee approval. To the extent the Competition Committee has approved the rule change in advance, it is entirely insulated from PA challenge."

Daly goes on to say " We have been attempting to work through the PA and the Competition Committee for 10 days now on what the League considers to be a very important issue. To the extent we do not receive NHLPA or Competition Committee sign-off or approval, we will consider all available options and make a decision in the best interests of the League and the players."

This is when Daly's comments get good. "In that event, and regardless of what we decide to do with this rule, the process, unfortunately, will lead many to the conclusion that the Competition Committee overlay and structure has failed to realize the vision that created it, and will necessarily have to be revisited in collective bargaining."

Wow, sounds like fighting words. Whether it is the actual rule that the PA has issue with, or just the fact that they want to be a larger part of the decision making process in this instance, still remains to be seen. I believe the PA also does not like the fact that this rule would give the NHL more power in supplementary discipline, suspensions and such, on a play that is still open to differing interpretations.

The League is expecting to hear from the NHLPA today at some point and obviously the hope is that the two sides can work together for a change for the betterment of the game. This is a rule that should have been created long ago, and after all, we are only in this situation because of the players lack of respect for each other.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are the Phoenix Coyotes for real?

With this weekend's action in the record books, the Phoenix Coyotes now stand tied with the Chicago Blackhawks atop the Western Conference - one point up on the San Jose Sharks.

Much has been made of the amazing year the Phoenix Coyotes have had. They deserve full marks for being anything but bottom feeders this season. Aside from Peter Mueller, it seems as if every single one of their young players is having a strong season.

Shane Doan has been his usual tenacious self, Radim Vrbata has rebounded, Ed Jovanovski has rebounded (apparently they've nicknamed him Ken Daneyko these days for his new-found defensive prowess), while Scottie Upshall, Martin Hanzal, Keith Yandle and Ilja Bryzgalov have demonstrated to the world that they can play.

All of this achievements this year begs the question:

Are the Phoenix Coyotes for real?

Let's first analyze the question. "For Real" could mean at least one of two things. I could mean racking up a lot of points in a regular season against stiff divisional and conference competition, or, "For Real" could mean 'a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup' once the post-season rolls around.

Let's go with the latter definition since that is the only thing that really matters.

So, are the Phoenix Coyotes for real?

Not yet. Here's why.

Looking at their results this season, they perhaps would be more aptly named Phoenix Coy-OT's. As they have secured an additional 17 points from the extra frame. No, not including their 'loser points' for losing in overtime or the shootout, and no, not including the single point you automatically receive for making it past 60 minutes in a tie.

The Coyotes have a 5-1 record in four-on-four overtime, and the 12-4 record in shootouts. That's right. 12 additional points from shootouts!

By comparison, the San Jose Sharks have 6, the Chicago Blackhawks have 8, and the Vancouver Canucks have 3.

There is something to be said for coming through in the clutch, but there are no shootouts in the NHL Playoffs.

What's more, they have scored fewer goals than any team in the Western Conference playoffs with the exception of the Detroit Red Wings (8th seed at present). If they played the now-healthy Detroit Red Wings in the first round, bet on Detroit.

Their defence is led by Ed Jovanovski, Keith Yandle, Zybnek Michalek, Adrian Aucoin, and Jim Vandermeer/Mathieu Schneider. Really?

Many of these blueliners are solid players, but it certainly is an unassuming bunch. Mathieu Schneider has walked on and played 22 minutes a night, so as well as the group has played, there are some interesting notes that should raise some eyebrows.

Do any of those defensemen have the ability to shut down a Pavol Datsyuk / Henrik Zetterberg onslaught in the playoffs? How about Patrick Kane / Jonathan Toews, or the Sedin twins? It is entirely possible, but we haven't seen it yet.

On the other side of things, their forward corps is rather lackluster on a stat sheet. They have one 50 point getter (Shane Doan), and one 20 goal scorer (Radim Vrbata). Are they going to get goals from Vrbata in the playoffs?

Compare that to the Blackhawks. Doan would be fifth in team scoring, and only ahead of Marian Hossa as well due to injury. The Hawks also have five 20 goal scorers.

How about the Vancouver Canucks? They have six 20 goal scorers, and a plethora of weapons - like the Blackhawks and Sharks who can score on any given night.

While the Coyotes deserve all the credit in the world for not only surviving - but thriving in their unfortunate ownership circumstances, and for achieving on-ice success beyond the sum of their parts, let's balance some of that elation and not get too carried away.

Emotionally, the Coyotes will have a lot of new-found fans supporting them, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. They are showing a lot of heart and determination - great signs of a winner. However, they are not winning any games running away and they have no game breaker in their line up. Kudos on a great regular season. Underrated? you bet. Unheralded? not any more. Unproven? Definitely.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blackhawks Regain Top Spot in the West

Despite a horrific week that felt like a bad Twilight Zone episode, the Chicago Blackhawks have regained the top spot in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks are tied with the San Jose Sharks with 96 points, but the Hawks have the tie breaker because of more wins.

Both teams have struggled since the Olympic break, with the Sharks losing their last three games and the Hawks having won only one in their last four. The Western Conference is now a four horse race with the Coyotes just three points behind and the Vancouver Canucks just five points behind.

The Blackhawks are facing some tough adversity at the moment with three of their top four defencemen out with injury. Most notably Brian Campbell, who will miss the next 7-8 weeks after a reckless check from behind from Alex Ovechkin. Just one game later Brent Seabrook was on the receiving end of a check that saw Ducks defencemen James Wisniewski suspended 8 games. Seabrook appears to have a concussion. Kim Johnsson is also out with an upper body injury and it is not yet known how long both Seabrook and Johnsson will be out.

Despite all of this adversity the Blackhawks blanked the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 in convincing fashion on thursday night. The Kings were only able to muster 17 shots against Hawks goalie Antti Niemi. Hawks forward Dustin Byfuglien, who is a former Whl and Ahl defencemen, was back on defence and played so well he earned the 3rd star of the game. It is great news for the Hawks that Byfuglien can come in and play so well on defence.

After the game Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville talked about Byfuglien saying " I'm very happy with his game. A nice little diamond in the rough we've found."
This stretch drive in the Western Conference is sure to be a wild one. Stay tuned.

Canucks re-sign Ryan Kesler to six-year deal

The Vancouver Canucks have solidified their Center position for years to come. The club announced Friday that they have re-signed Ryan Kesler to a six year, $30 million extension.

The announcement comes amidst another career year for Kesler, as he had recorded three straight 20 goal seasons, and a career high 66 points in only 71 games so far this year.

When drafted, Canucks fans may recall he was touted as a lock to make the team, but was deemed to not have very much potential to be anything more than a third-line checking forward. Fans and media criticized the Canucks for not taking a chance on a flashier European forward at the time, citing the team's poor draft record as an indication of the future for Kesler.

Despite the criticism the selection drew, Kesler was a consummate professional, dedicated to improving his game and becoming a star in the NHL. Unlike his former college teammate R.J. Umberger, he signed a contract with the Canucks almost immediately and showed determination in making the NHL.

Kesler struggled to find his consistency the first couple of years in the league, in part due to being hampered with various injuries, but he has really come into his own in the past couple of years.

Criticized last year for setting a personal goal of 80 points in a season, many laughed at Kesler, who's career high at the time was only 37. He improved greatly however, registering 59 points last year, and he is on pace for 76 this year.

This year is proving to be very fruitful for Kesler. In addition to the new 6-year $30 million contract, he was also named 'Cover Athlete' for the NHL 2K11 video game, and won a Silver Medal with Team USA in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games last month.

With the Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows locked up long term, the Canucks promise to be a solid team for the next few years.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 3 - Sharks 2 - F

Just like against Calgary on the weekend, the Vancouver Canucks dominated the first period, creating a multi-goal lead, and never looked back.

On powerplay goals by Alexander Edler and Ryan Kesler, the Canucks held a 2-0 lead after one. After Ryan Johnson scored to restore the two goal lead, (3-1 after two), the Sharks closed within a goal but still fell short 3-2.

The Sharks were attempting to rebound from an embarassing 8-2 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Stars, while the Canucks were looking for redemption after a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders at home on Tuesday night.

The Sharks play in Calgary tomorrow while the Canucks await the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday evening.

Puckwatch's Take: The Canucks played a solid game, especially against one of the elite teams in the league. If this game was a mesuring stick, the Canucks measured up. The Sharks look a bit lost and Evgeni Nabokov appears to have lost his game since the Olympics. Sharks need to get on track, Canucks need to keep a consistent level of play and have the Blackhawks and Sharks within sight for the conference crown.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blackhawk's Brent Seabrook shaken by Wisniewski

Former Blackhawk and current Anaheim Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski took a run at former Chicago teammate Brent Seabrook Wednesday night in a game between the Blackhawks and Ducks.

Shortly after Seabrook hit Corey Perry, Wisniewski skated in from the blueline at full speed, charged a surprised Brent Seabrook - who did not have possession of the puck - and went for a high hit that slammed Seabrook into the boards, essentially knocking him out on his feet, before he fell to the ice and left the game.

Thankfully Seabrook left the ice under his own power, but he definitely did not appear to be all there after the hit.

James Wisniewski is definitely playing with fire and may be hearing from the league regarding supplemental discipline. The hit appeared to be predatory and vicious, and thankfully also beyond the NHL's rules which admittedly may not be sufficient in addressing headshots. This hit comes amidst a flurry of discussions amongst NHL Officials and steadfast criticism from players, media, and fans who feel the one ice product has become far too dangerous as players are not being held accountable for their opportunistic and predatory hits (of which there have been many this year).

While Wisniewski did not leave his feet, he was tagged with a 2 minute charging minor on the play. Call it interference, charging or roughing, Wisnieski's hit was beyond an average minor penalty and likely should have been a 5 minute major.

Wonders will never cease how some obvious penalty calls go uncalled and suspensions or fines result later, while others are dealt with appropriately during the game.

As always, PuckWatch will keep you posted.

Mikael Samuelsson out - Grabner recalled

Vancouver Canucks' winger Mikael Samuelsson will be out two to three weeks after taking a bump late in the Canucks 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders last night.

Samuelsson, the reigning NHL player of the week had been on a tear lately with 10 points in his previous 4 games.

As a result of the injury, the Canucks have recalled Michael Grabner from the Manitoba Moose. TSN reports that Grabner has spent the majority of his time this year with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, where he has 15 goals and 11 assists in 38 games. The 22-year-old also has two goals and three assists in nine games with the Canucks this season. Below is his first NHL goal scored against the Blackhawks as part of a big win early in the season for the Canucks.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ovechkin Suspended Two Games for Campbell Hit

The NHL has ruled - and Alexander Ovechkin will be suspended for two games for his hit on Chicago Blackhawks Defenseman Brian Campbell.

Maxime Lapierre from the Canadiens received a suspension for hitting San Jose's Scott Nichol in a similar play last week - so why not Ovechkin too?

Thankfully, the NHL got this one right. Ovechkin has gotten away with a few questionable hits this time in the league. The NHL has long been accused having a set of standards for the Rory Fitzpatrick's of the world, and a separate set of rules for the Alexander Ovechkins.

You might remember Ovechkin's unpenalized knee on knee hit against Sergei Gonchar...

In addition to his hit on Gonchar, Ovechkin previously was not disciplined for his hit on then-Sabres forward Daniel Briere.

This article is not intended as a character assassination of Alexander Ovechkin. He plays the game hard and gives 100% all over the ice. Perhaps he could or should be forgiven for occasionally stepping over the line that he rides so finely, but what is inexcusable is the NHL's inability to suspend players appropriately.

Their stance on repeat offenders is ridiculous. In last year's playoffs, Colin Campbell stated that he could not suspend Flames' Mike Cammalleri because he was not a repeat offender. How does one become an offender in the first place if they are not suspended?

How about last week when 'repeat offender' Matt Cooke was NOT suspended? Well then all of a sudden it's not the individual's record that matters, but the incident itself (being compared to the non-suspension on Mike Richards).

Well two wrongs don't make a right, and you do not confound one poor decision with a half dozen others. But this is not a recent development.

Go back to 2003 when Todd Bertuzzi punched Steve Moore. Bertuzzi had the book thrown at him, while Steve Moore's own teammate, Bob Boughner, sucker punched an opposing player weeks later and did not receive a game.

If Colin Campbell is seeking consistency, he's found it. Consistently bad.

Where Alexander Ovechkin is concerned, players like Alexandre Burrows and others have their play criticzed. Well, Burrows has never been suspended in the NHL, which puts him well behind Alexander Ovechkin.

Controversial Ovechkin Hit May Have Ended Campbell's Season

Two of the best teams in the NHL met on Sunday morning as the Capitals battled the Blackhawks in Chicago. Although the game featured a dramatic three goal comeback by the Capitals, who won the game 4-3 in overtime, it is making headlines for the wrong reasons.

With 7:44 left in the first period Ovechkin pushed Brian Campbell from behind into the end boards after Campbell had reversed the puck to his defense partner. Campbell was in a very vulnerable position when the much bigger Ovechkin made contact. Both men were traveling at high speeds when Ovechkin needlessly pushed Campbell from behind who then flew very awkwardly into the boards. Ovechkin received a five minute major and a game misconduct on the play.

Not only did the Blackhawks blow a three goal lead going into the third, they also lost in overtime putting an end to a hellish weekend for the young team from Chicago. Unfortunately for the Hawks it appears the news just got a lot worse.

TSN is reporting that Brian Campbell may miss the rest of the season due to a broken clavicle and broken ribs which were suffered as a result of Ovechkin's hit. Ovechkin said after the game that "it was not a hard hit. He just fell bad." In truth however, it was a dangerous, selfish, and reckless hit on a player who was in a vulnerable position and who did not have the puck.

Maxime Lapierre received a four game suspension for a very similar hit on Sharks forward Scott Nichol on March 4th. There was no penalty assessed to Lapierre on the play and Nichol missed about a week with an upper body injury.

The NHL has come under scrutiny recently after Matt Cooke was not suspended after his blatant head shot on Marc Savard. It will be interesting to see how the NHL handles this recent Ovechkin hit, and a good chance for the league to ease the perception that certain players are held to a double standard. After all, Alexander Ovechkin is not a first time offender, so just how many chances will the NHL give him before he is disciplined?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 3 - Flames 1 - F

Playing their second game in two nights after the longest road trip in NHL may have taken its toll on the Canucks in the third period, but certainly not at the outset.

Despite not recording a shot in the third period of tonight's game against the Flames, the Canucks outshot the Flames 18-4 in the first period, and out-scored them 3-0 to take a commanding lead that they would sit on and ride home for the victory.

Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, and Henrik Sedin all scored in the first period, and they could have had many more were it not for the short-lived heroics of Miika Kiprusoff.

Calgary's Robyn Regehr got the Flames within two as the third period wore on, but the Flames never seemed to challenge the Canucks, who definitely could have been accused of sitting back for the last 20 or 30 minutes.

Nevertheless, the Canucks improve to 6-1-1 in their past 8, and now sit at 89 points, only 5 behind the struggling Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Western Conference.

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 5 - Senators 1 - F

The Vancouver Canucks returned from the longest road trip in NHL history with a very convincing, lop-sided victory over the Ottawa Senators.

Pitted as the matchup between the two best Canadian teams this year, it really was a showing of how Canada's Stanley Cup hopes (if any) rest upon the shoulders of the Vancouver Canucks.

Ottawa's defence appeared dreadful as they gave up four or five breakaways during the game. Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire actually kept the Senators in the game with a few miraculous saves early, before the dam broke and the Canucks opened the flood gates.

Mikael Samuelsson scored twice, notching his 29th and 30th of the season, while Alexandre Burrows potted his 31st of the season, his 5th short-handed goal (tying the league lead with Chicago forward Marian Hossa). Sami Salo and Daniel Sedin also scored as the Canucks outshot the Senators 35-14.

The Canucks move to 87 points on the year, five ahead of Colorado for the Northwest Division lead, and to 5-1-1 in their past seven games.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Flush With Excitement" over Men's Olympic Hockey

As Pat's Papers in Edmonton reports, "What if everyone flushed at once?"

Not sure what I'm talking about?

The company EPCOR released some incredible findings on water consumption during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Men's Hockey Gold Medal game last month between Canada and USA, in which Sidney Crosby scored in overtime for Canada.

Water consumption during the game plummeted while everyone was glued to their seats. However, during intermissions, there were incredible spikes beyond normal levels.

What this statistic shows is that Canadians love their hockey... and that argument holds plenty of water.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NHL meets on headshots

Fresh off the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard, the NHL's General Managers met in Boca Raton, Florida to discuss headshots. The outcome? a new rule that gives officials the ability to hand out a penalty for questionable hits.

Chief Disciplinarian Colin Campbell explained that Matt Cooke's history as an offender cannot justify a suspension in this case, as technically a shoulder to head it is legal. He is correct in saying that, but that still created a stir across the league, as Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis spoke out about Matt Cooke and his history of opportunistic and predatory hits.

As a result of their meetings, the following language was agreed to unanimously by the group:

"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

Many in the league might argue that this rule came seven years too late. Remember Steve Moore's hit on Naslund?

Steve Moore on Markus Naslund

Many infamous hits over the years have been called into question, as they are obviously predatory, not necessarily a 'hockey play', and have resulted in serious injuries. Especially in Markus Naslund and Eric Lindros' case, the players were never the same.

If you recall what Brian Burke said when Bertuzzi retaliated against Steve Moore, it is an interesting predicament that the players find themselves in. Players are taught to react and not think too much out on the ice. The game is too fast to ponder. It's all about reactions and quick decision making. Moreover, everyone asks players to play on the edge and not to ease up on the opposition. Terms like 'Killer Instinct' are sought after traits. Having said that, most players play their careers never involving themselves in such acts. Players like Chris Pronger, Matt Cooke, Jordin Tootoo, Steve Ott, even Alexander Ovechkin have a history of opportunistic - dare we say predatory - hits.

Here is the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard, and a recent history of some of the other more notorious plays.

Matt Cooke on Marc Savard

Mike Richards on David Booth

Doug Weight on Brandon Sutter

Scott Stevens on Eric Lindros

Scott Stevens on Paul Kariya

NHL Daily Picks

Stars @ Sabres
Rangers @ Devils
Hurricanes @ Capitals
Kings @ Blackhawks
Canucks @ Coyotes

Last night: 5-2-2
Overall Record: 67-29-17

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Comeback Canucks"?

For the NHL-leading 10th time this season, the Vancouver Canucks have rallied to win a game when trailing after two periods.

Tuesday night's win in Colorado was especially impressive. Trailing 3-0 after one period, and 4-1 in the second period, the Canucks tallied five straight goals to win 6-4.

This comes amidst their record 14 game road trip, and a 19 game stretch where the Canucks have gone a very impressive 14-5 in an equally impromptu manner.

Check out these stats:

Since January 16th, when the Canucks pummeled the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Canucks have gone 14-5, despite only scoring the first goal in 5 of those 19 games.

During this run the Vancouver Canucks are:
5-0 when scoring first
9-5 when opponent scores first

4-4 when going down 2-0
2-3 when going down 3-0

4-0 when leading after 2 periods
3-0 when tied after 2 periods
7-5 when trailing after 2 periods

While it is certainly a non-traditional and risky way to obtain wins, it may give them the confidence entering the playoffs that they can come from behind. This is definitely a refreshing change from old NHL games and dare I say old Canucks games where the style of play, and offensive potential of the group did not allow for such comebacks to occur.

While Head Coach Alain Vigneault obviously desires better starts to their games, he certainly cannot complain about the heart shown in turning many of those poor starts into wins.

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 6 - Avalanche 4 - F

The Vancouver Canucks have had a habit in recent years of not showing up to start big games. Whenever you might expect the team to come out flying, they seem to often come out flat. Look no further than the big matchup against the Blackhawks last week, where they were down 5-1 by the end of the first period.

Canucks fans were getting that similar feeling this game, as they trailed 3-0 after one period. A defensive breakdown on the first goal by Matt Duchene, following by a pair of goals Roberto Luongo would like to have back (to put it mildly) and the Canucks dug themselves a considerable hole.

Apparently however, that is right where the Canucks wanted the Avs.

Down 3-0 and then 4-1, the Canucks rallied and came back to win 6-4.

Mikael Samuelsson got them on the comeback trail with a hat-trick in the second period, with all three goals coming near the goal, either putting home a rebound, or a tap in. The comeback appeared to be stalled after Samuelsson's first goal when Mason Raymond made a horrendous giveaway right as the last man back. Raymond tried to throw the puck up the middle but wound up on newly acquired Avalanche forward Peter Mueller who made no mistake in beating Roberto Luongo.

After that goal however, Luongo shut the door. He struggled early and would likely wish to have the second and third goals back, but made important saves at important times off of Kyle Cumiskey, Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, and Peter Mueller to give the Canucks a chance.

The Canucks tied the game at 4 on a Christian Ehrhoff shot that was screened perfectly and tipped by Alexandre Burrows. Then, with only a couple of minutes remaining in the game, Jannik Hansen drove to the net and the puck pinballed off Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson, off Hansen, back off Anderson and into the gaping net for a 5-4 lead.

A Post-game interview with Jannik Hansen garnered the appropriate response - "Lucky" - as Hansen records his second straight game winning goal after spending much of the season in the press box. Hansen is definitely making the most of his chances late in the season.

Coach Alain Vigneault should probably receive some recognition for sticking with Roberto Luongo rather than putting Raycroft. Leaving Luongo in likely set the tone for the team and sent a message that putting your feet up and keeping it close with Raycroft giving Luongo the rest of the night off would not be acceptable. Vigneault's message that a 3-0 deficit did not mean 'game over' was obviously well received.

No rest for the weary though as the Canucks take on the Coyotes in Phoenix tomorrow night.

NHL Daily Picks

Bruins @ Maple Leafs
Predators @ Thrashers
Flames @ Red Wings
Islanders @ Flyers
Lightning @ Canadiens
Panthers @ Wild
Canucks @ Avalanche
Senators @ Oilers

Last Night: 1-0-1
Overall Record: 62-27-15

Monday, March 8, 2010

Canucks' Kesler to appear on NHL 2K11

TSN is reporting that Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler will be featured as the cover athlete on Vision Concepts NHL 2K11 game later this year.

Perhaps a curious selection, Kesler definitely appears to be a drop in star appeal from their previous cover athlete - Washington Capital's sniper Alexander Ovechkin. Kesler will likely set a career high in points this year, somewhere between 70-80 points, whereas Ovechkin is a perennial 100 point player. Kesler, it could be argued is a better two way player, one of the better faceoff men and penalty killers in the NHL, but what likely justifies his selection is his personality on and off the ice.

Before last season, Kesler was publicly criticized by some Canucks fans for daring to dream or suggest that he could get 70-80 points in an NHL season. With his previous career best being 37, he was definitely thought to be a bit of a dreamer.

It was nice to see him set his goals so high and the 2008-09 season saw him register career numbers with 26 goals and 59 points, playing alongside some more offensively minded linemates for the latter half of the season alongside Pavol Demitra and Mats Sundin.

Last year, Kesler was also a finalist for the NHL's Selke Trophy, awarded to the league's best defensive forward.

This year, Kesler has quietly demonstrated that last year was not a fluke, as he has led the Canucks second line with Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson and through 65 games has already tied his career best of 59 points - putting him on pace for a 73 point season.

In addition to his offensive performances, Kesler's heart and determination has endeared him to Canucks fans and frustrated opponents - and never was his determination and work ethic more evident then during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games when he represented the USA to a Silver Medal.

Kesler was arguably America's best forward throughout he tournament. He won an amazing number of draws, leading the tournament with an unheard of 75% faceoff winning percentage. He tallied the Americans lone goal in the gold medal game against Canada, shut down opposition forwards, and scored one of the more exciting empty netters you will ever see.

Clinging to a late lead against Team Canada during round robin play, Kesler pursued Canadian Corey Perry into the Canadian zone, positioned himself at Perry's side, and make took a diving swing at a puck that appeared beyond his reach. Kesler's stick knocked the puck from Perry's stick and into the empty net, securing a 5-3 win for the USA, enabling them to obtain a medal.

Kesler has also demonstrated a penchant for candor (whether warranted or not), calling Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd a 'coward' for a hit he received from Ladd in last year's playoffs, and he also drew the ire of Canadians for some misquoted comments about 'hating Canada' - which to Kesler's credit were taken out well out of context.

Nevertheless, perhaps while Canadian hockey players are classified as modest, selfless and reserved, perhaps Ryan Kesler appears to be following in the footsteps of Jeremy Roenick, Brett Hull and some other more recent American players who aren't shy about speaking their mind and sharing their opinions, no matter how controversial they may be.

While Andrew Ladd is no coward, Kesler's comments were undoubtedly undeserved but also great for the game's exposure. The Blackhawks / Canucks rivalry is quickly becoming one of the best in the NHL and Kesler has played well enough these past few years to deserve an opportunity such as NHL 2K11.

NHL Daily Picks

Stars @ Capitals
Blue Jackets @ Kings

Last night: 5-3-1
Overall Record: 61-27-14

Sunday, March 7, 2010

NHL Daily Picks

Red Wings @ Blackhawks
Bruins @ Penguins
Canucks @ Predators
Flames @ Wild
Hurricanes @ Thrashers
Sabres @ Rangers
Maple Leafs @ Flyers
Devils @ Oilers
Canadiens @ Ducks

Last night: 6-3-1
Overall Record: 56-24-13 (67.2%)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

NHL Daily Picks

Stars @ Penguins
Bruins @ Islanders
Maple Leafs @ Senators
Rangers @ Capitals
Hurricanes @ Panthers
Thrashers @ Lightning
Ducks @ Coyotes
Blues @ Avalanche
Canadiens @ Kings
Blue Jackets @ Sharks

Last night: 2-1-2
Overall Record: 50-21-12

Friday, March 5, 2010

NHL Daily Picks

Flyers @ Sabres
Predators @ Red Wings
Canucks @ Blackhawks
Devils @ Flames
Wild @ Oilers

Last night: 7-2-0
Overall Record: 48-20-10

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Canucks to sign D Dan Hamhuis in off-season?

According to Hockey Buzz's 'Eklund', the Vancouver Canucks were close to landing Dan Hamhuis from Nashville, but could not make it work or were unwilling to pay the price for him that Philadelphia may have been willing to pay.

a Smithers, B.C. native, Dan Hamhuis is a solid defenceman who has played his entire career with the Nashville Predators, posting a career high of 38 points. Hamhuis is reliable as well, as he has never played fewer than 80 games in his five complete NHL seasons.

Rumour has it that Hamhuis, an unrestricted free agent (UFA) as of July 1st, is 'likely' to sign in Vancouver. Were this true, it would be a solid signing for Vancouver as Willie Mitchell's status as a pending UFA remains up in the air.

Hamhuis could join Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, and Christian Ehrhoff as a formidable top four, with Sami Salo and Shane O'Brien rounding out the group with Andrew Alberts.

The Nashville Predators appear poised to be comfortable with losing Hamhuis in the off-season, as they have both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter anchoring their corps, the recently acquired Denis Grebeshkov from the Edmonton Oilers, former Hab Francis Bouillon, along with a bevy of solid young defenders such as Kevin Klein, Cody Franson, Alexander Sulzer, Jonathan Blum, and Ryan Ellis.

The Vancouver Canucks have a recent history of luring free agents based on their desire to play in Vancouver. Pavol Demitra and Mathieu Schneider reportedly only wanted to play in Vancouver (with mixed degrees of success obviously). GM Mike Gillis has undoubtedly done a good job of selling the city and capitalizing on its appeal.

NHL Daily Picks

Maple Leafs @ Bruins
Senators @ Hurricanes
Penguins @ Rangers
Lightning @ Capitals
Islanders @ Thrashers
Kings @ Predators
Blues @ Stars
Avalanche @ Coyotes
Canadiens @ Sharks

Last night: 2-4-0
Overall Record: 41-18-10

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

HIGHTLIGHTS - Canucks 6, Red Wings 3 - F

The Vancouver Canucks looked outstanding tonight, defeating the Detroit Red Wings 6-3 at Joe Louis Arena.

Ryan Kesler scored a beauty to open the game, and tipped home a powerplay goal, while Kyle Wellwood continued his strong play of late with a lovely breakaway goal.

The Sedin twins recorded three assists each as well en route to the surprisingly easy victory over the finally-healthy Wings.

NHL Daily Picks

Capitals @ Sabres
Canucks @ Wings
Flyers @ Panthers
Oilers @ Blackhawks
Wild @ Flames
Avalanche @ Ducks

Last night: 8-4-0
Overall Record: 39-14-10

Trade Deadline Preview: Western Conference

It truly is a wonderful time to be a hockey fan. The last three weeks have felt like Christmas with the brilliance of the Olympic hockey tournament and now the excitement of the trade deadline. You can thank the Olympics, or the incredible amount of parity across the Nhl, but it is becoming very difficult to figure out the buyers and sellers in this years trade deadline. These are the potential buyers in the Western Conference.

1. San Jose Sharks. Is any team under more pressure than the Sharks this year? This is a team that is becoming known as the biggest playoff choke artists in the league, and one more early post season exit could mean a complete overhaul in the off season. Gm Doug Wilson has put together another great team, they lead the Western Conference with 89 points, and are in the running for the Presidents trophy, but still playoff question marks arise. The recent addition of Niclas Wallin will help solidify blue line depth and help take some pressure off of workhorse Dan Boyle. I wouldn't expect the Sharks to be major players on Wednesday, but they could be in the market for a reliable back up goalie and experienced forwards. Players like Martin Biron from the Islanders and Raffi Torres from Columbus have been mentioned.

2. Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are one of the leagues youngest teams, but also perhaps the most skilled. This is a franchise that has not one a Stanley cup in almost fifty years and they are very hungry. Chicago is looking to do even better than their trip to the Western Conference finals last year, and it appears that they have the team to do it. Besides inexperience there is one very large question mark for the Hawks....Goaltending. Despite having the lowest goals against average in the league, it is hard to feel firmly secure in Cristobal Huet. It seems that Huet has been surpassed by rookie Antti Niemi as the starter in Chicago. Although Niemi has played very well this season, does Chicago really want to rest their lofty Stanley Cup aspirations on a rookie goaltender? The Blackhawks are rumored to be very interested in Thomas Vokoun and have the assets to acquire him, though it is unsure if Vokoun will waive his no-trade-clause. Another possibility is Dwayne Roloson but the real prize for the Hawks is Vokoun. Chicago appears to be willing to part with skilled young winger Kris Versteeg if the right deal comes along, but the real trick will be getting rid of Huet's inflated contract. If Chicago cannot find a good goalie I am told they may make a strong pitch for a veteran blueliner like Scott Niedermayer.

3. Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks appear poised to make a strong run in the post season with Roberto Luongo fresh off a gold medal performance at the Olympics and the phenomenal play of the Sedin twins. The Canucks have had great production from their top two lines with Burrows playing with the Sedins, and Ryan Kesler with Mason Raymond who has emerged as a legitimate 25-30 goal scorer. Vancouver is lacking a good shut down third line center, as Kyle Wellwood has not done the job so far. Vancouver has been linked with Jeff Halpern from Tampa Bay as well as, surprisingly, Nathan Horton. Horton would obviously not be the third line center but could thrive in a top six role with the Canucks. The largest hole Vancouver has is on defence. The good news is that Kevin Bieksa is returning from a tendon laceration sometime in the next six games, the bad news is that Willie Mitchell has no time table for a return and may even miss the rest of the season with his concussion and back issues. The Canucks would love to get their hands on B.C. boy Dan Hamhuis from Nashville but the asking price may be too high. Pavel Kubina could also be a fit if Vancouver can shed the necessary payroll to fit his five million dollar contract. Kubina also becomes a UFA at years end so Atlanta's asking price would be lower than Nashville's for Hamhuis. The Canucks do have assets to deal in the form of Ahl goaltender of the year and former first round pick Corey Schneider. There is also talk that Vancouver could deal blue chip prospect Cody Hodgson if the right deal comes along, but I still do not believe this will happen as he is still very much in the Canuck's long term plans.

These are the top three teams in the West but look for the Kings, Phoenix, Anaheim to also be active. No matter what happens it is sure to be an exciting day.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 4 - Blue Jackets 3 F/OT

Christian Ehrhoff scored the winner in overtime as the Vancouver Canucks overcame 2-0 and 3-2 deficits after the first and second periods en route to a 4-3 overtime victory.

The Canucks came out hard in the first period and generaed plenty of chances, directing 22 pucks towards the Columbus net, while the Jackets only direct 10 towards Vancouver's. Despite their torrid pace to start the game, the Canucks found themselves down 2-0 after one.

Alex Burrows tallied on a nice feed from Kyle Wellwood and Pavol Demitra scored on the powerplay to tie the game at 2.

Kyle Wellwood was a part of the tying goal in the third period as well. With just over five minutes left to play, Mason Raymond stole the puck deep in the Columbus zone and placed a beautiful pass through the Columbus defender's legs - right on Wellwood's stick, leaving him with a tap in to tie the game.

In overtime, Ehrhoff converted a tap in attempt by Ryan Kesler that went wide of the net off an Alex Burrows pass during the 4-4 session.

The Canucks improve to 5-4 on their mammoth road trip.

NHL Daily Picks

Canadiens @ Bruins
Blackhawks @ Islanders
Hurricanes @ Maple Leafs
Panthers @ Thrashers
Canucks @ Blue Jackets
Rangers @ Senators
Sabres @ Penguins
Flyers @ Lightning
Oilers @ Predators
Kings @ Stars
Blues @ Coyotes
Devils @ Sharks

Overall Record 31-10-10