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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dave Nonis and the Toronto Maple Leafs Have Mishandled Cap Space

Dave Nonis and the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in an interesting predicament. With just over a week till training camp there remains two key players who have not been re-signed- Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson. Arguably the Leafs best defenceman and most promising prospect remain un-signed as the Leafs try and find a way to keep both on the roster under the cap.

It's hard to feel sorry for the Maple Leafs who have poorly mismanaged their cap space this offseason. They currently have just under $4.9 million left in cap spca, but they've spent and waisted a lot of money this offseason. It all started with Tyler Bozak who was demanding first line money despite not being worth first line money. The Leafs knew they would have to give Bozak a decent pay day and were determined not to over pay for him, but they ended up handing him a 5 year $21 million deal.

Next we move to David Clarkson. I'm still not entirely sure why the Leafs needed a player like Clarkson, but he can be a valuable comodity and the Leafs decided they wanted that comodity. Problem is they massively overpayed giving him a 7 year deal worth $36.75 million. A $5.25 million cap hit (same as Joffrey Lupul) is a lot for a guy who's likely to be policing the third line and has only scored more than 20 goals once in his career.

 Finally we move to Jonathan Bernier, the goaltender who was brought in to rescue the Leafs Ben Scrivens but a cheap veteran would have done just fine. Instead they went out and acquired a young goaltender, virtually telling James Reimer he's not good enough and in the process screwed themselves with the cap. Without acquiring Bernier the Leafs would have $6,758,433 in cap space, which would have been enough to sign both Kadri and Franson. Instead they have just $4,895,833 left in cap space, not enough to sign both RFA's.

Also don't forget that Phil Kessel will need a new contract after this season, things are about to get real hot for Dave Nonis. The Leafs spent big money to rescue the goaltending which really didn't need rescuing. The Leafs had absolutely no reason to go out and acquire another number one goaltender, yes they needed an upgrade over Ben Scrivens but a cheap veteran would have done just fine.

In a perfect world the Leafs would want to sign both Franson and Kadri, but unless they buyout a contract or one of them caves to accept a horrible contract they won't be able to retain both.

Kadri is looking for deal around 6 years worth roughly $5.5 million a year, while the Leafs are looking at a bridge contract similiar to P.K Subban; roughly 2 years for $2.8 million. Kadri would be wise to accept the bridge contract in order to build up his resume and then demand more money in two years and if he has another year like last season he won't have to worry. But you can't exactly blame Kadri for his asking price. He sees the Leafs hand Bozak, nothing more than a glorified third line centre, $4.2 a year and since Kadri believes he's a better talent than Bozak he believes he's worth more. Truth be told neither player right now is worth anywhere near $4 million a year, but because Nonis has handed out some poor contracts others want the money.

The troublesome thing for the Leafs is they don't seem to even be in the same ballpark when negotiating with Kadri. Franson on the other hand is looking for a 4 year deal at $4 million a year, while the Leafs are looking for a 2 year deal worth $3 million a year. At least the Leafs are a little closer in terms with Franson, but it's looking like both players will want to play hardball.

Both Kadri and Franson played a pivot part in the Leafs return to the playoffs last season. Kadri burst onto the scene and has his best year putting up 18 goals and 26 assists, while Franson was a solid and
reliable defenceman all year long scoring 5 goals and adding 24 assists.

While the Leafs are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now, this was a completely avoidable problem. Nonis threw money around like there was no tomorrow during the offseason and now he's realizing that the money supply is running out and players won't play for nothing. Both Kadri and Franson deserve a respectable salary around $3 million, but the Leafs don't have the room.

With training camp looming closer and closer don't expect both to be there. The Kadri situation smells of what happened with Subban and a holdout may be imminent for Kadri. The Leafs, thanks to Nonis' loose wallet, don't have enough money to make both Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson happy which means a trade will be on the horizon.

Too bad Nonis didn't spend all that money this offseason on a viable upgrade all around. Locking up Kadri and Franson should have been first priority (after Bozak) for Nonis. If the Leafs do end up losing Kadri, they have no one but Nonis to blame for mismanaging the cap.







Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Season Preview: Anaheim Ducks

With NHL pre-season just over 30 days aways and the regular season just under 50 days away, it's time to gear up for the 2013-2014 NHL season. This will be the first instalment in the new "Season Preview" series, where we'll be teeing up the season for all 30 NHL teams. Our first stop will be in Anaheim, as we take a look at the Ducks upcoming season.

The Ducks are coming off a solid 2013 campaign that saw them back in the playoffs after a disappointing 2012-2013. Unfortunately, the Ducks didn't stay long in the postseason, as the Detroit Red Wings eliminated them in the first round.

Much like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Ducks were also able to ride their hot start right through to the playoffs. The Ducks opened the season winning 13 of their first 16 games. But with a full training camp and pre-season games, catching teams sleeping early on wont be easy. The good news is the Ducks will get their first training camp under Bruce Broudreau and have time to adjust to his fast-passed offence right off the bat.

Heading into next season there are three crucial questions the Ducks must answer. Who will play on the top line, will Teemu Selanne return and who starts between the pipes?

After sending Bobby Ryan to Ottawa this offseason, the Ducks must now find someone to step up and Dustin Penner, Jakob Silfverberg and the Ducks x-factor from last season Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri saw some time on the top line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf during the playoffs and may be able to spark the top line again. After putting up 10 points last season and having some experience on that line, Palmieri may get the first chance to crack the top line. Jakob Silfverberg would be another player who could slide up the line-up. He was acquired in the Bobby Ryan deal and also put up 10 goals last season. Dustin Penner could be reunited with his linemates who helped bring the Stanley Cup to Anaheim in 2007, should he get a chance to play on the top line. Penner, Silfverberg and Palmieri will be fighting it out to gain chemistry and a chance to anchor the Ducks top line.
fill his spot. There are three players who could easily fill in on that top line;

The great Teemu Selanne's future is once again up in the air. The Ducks have said that if Selanne wants to return they would leave a spot for him on their second line. Selanne now 43, is an unrestricted free-agent, but has made one of the greatest late career resurgences with the Ducks over the past 8 seasons. Does Selanne have one more season in him? He scored 12 goals and put up 24 points in 46 games last season with the Ducks, pretty solid numbers for someone in their 40's. If Selanne does decide to come back for one more season, it will no doubt help solidify the Ducks roster.

The Ducks don't have a goaltending controversy, they have a goaltending blessing right now. Both Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller are playing stellar hockey and they get along perfectly. Last season the John Gibson. Gibson burst onto the national scenes last season for his performance during the World Junior Championships, in which he not only lead the USA to a championship, he was also named MVP. In all likely hood Gibson will start the season in the AHL, but it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine him finishing the season with the Ducks, especially after he turns some heads at the US Olympic evaluation camp. If Fasth or Hiller, go down with an injury Gibson will be ready to step up to the plate. I'm not sure there is a team in the NHL with a better goaltending future than the Anaheim Ducks.
Ducks rode both Fasth and Hiller for various stretches and it worked, plus they both got along great off the ice. Hiller is entering the final year of his contract and Fasth is looking to take over the crease after signing his two-year extension. Both goalies will battle hard and likely split time for the majority of the season. Waiting in the wings is almost NHL ready goaltender

Player to Watch-
Ryan Getzlaf
After a rough season in 2011-2012, Getlaf bounced back putting up 49 points in 44 games last season. Has Getzlaf re-found his game? Can he lead the Ducks back to the post-season in 2014?

Outlook
Things are looking bright in Anaheim next season. They have a steady mix of young players who are desperate to prove themselves and veterans who want to prove they've still got game. Riding either Fasth or Hiller throughout the season will help give the defence a little added boost. Look for the Ducks to make another trip to the postseason.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Why Having Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer Is Great For the Leafs

For many it came as a surprise that the Toronto Maple Leafs traded for goaltender Jonathan Bernier, after James Reimer helped propel the team back to the playoffs and nearly upset Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins. But it's really not that surprising that the Leafs were still looking to upgrade their goaltending after they were rumored to be looking at both Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff during the season.

James Reimer proved himself to be a solid goaltender, but there are still a lot of questions surrounding the Leafs crease. What happens if, and based on the past, when Reimer goes down with an injury? In the two seasons Reimer has been the Leafs starter, he's been injured for periods of time in both. Can Reimer continue to shine when the Leafs don't? And most importantly can he perform in the playoffs? Reimer is a young goaltender trying to find his way in the NHL. He doesn't play many back-to-back games and can't really be counted on to start more than 50 games. The Leafs needed a better, more reliable and proven second goaltender other than Ben Scrivens, to help when Reimer needs a break.

Whether Reimer or the Toronto fans like it or not, the Leafs needed an update behind Reimer. Sure they didn't have to go and acquire another young goalie looking to become a bonafide number 1, when they had Reimer, but they did. While it may seem like acquiring Bernier was a deterrent for Reimer's confidence, it was actually a brilliant move by the Leafs.

When you look at the goaltending situations around the league you start to notice a trend; goalie tandems. Last season saw teams such as the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins,  Anaheim Ducks and Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, use both their goaltenders throughout the season. All five of the teams listed above not only operated with a 1A, 1B goaltending system- they also all made it to the postseason.

But let's focus on the Chicago Blackhawks use of the goalie tandem. After two rocky seasons with Corey Crawford at the helm and two first round playoff exits, the Blackhawks decided to bring in another goaltender to not only mentor Crawford but to also give him a break. The plan worked perfectly as Crawford led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup Championship.

Obviously the Leafs didn't go with the veteran back-up route, but they got a young goalie who will help push Reimer to perform his best. If you're looking for someone to compare Reimer to you can look across to Crawford. Both are fairly young, in-experienced goaltenders with just 3 NHL seasons under their belts, have very similar career numbers, and both still have a lot to prove. It helped Corey Crawford to have another goaltender behind him, and it wouldn't hurt to give Reimer some motivation.

Is Jonathan Bernier an immediate upgrade over Reimer? No. It's too early to tell just how good Bernier
is. He's only played in 62 NHL games and while he's shown flashes of greatness during those games, the sample size is too small. Any half-decent goaltender can post solid numbers through 15 games, but until a goalie starts 30 games in a season their numbers don't say much.

With Bernier the Leafs don't know what they have yet, with Reimer on the other hand they know exactly what they have. A solid goaltender that is capable of bailing the team out and backstopping a team to the postseason. Based on experience and Reimer's play last season he should get the key to the crease to start off the year, but with Bernier bitting at his heals Reimer will be forced to play his best hockey. Besides, what's so bad about a little competition for the starting job?

Having both Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer battling for the right to claim the crease is a win-win for the Leafs. Both are solid young goaltenders, which want a starting role in the NHL and will have to play their best to get between the pipes. The Leafs now have two capable goalies that can step up to the plate anytime they're called upon. If Reimer get's hurt, goes through a rough patch of games or needs a rest, they can throw Bernier in without any worries and vice versa.

Having two capable starting goaltenders is a great move by the Leafs and a great strategy to capitalize on the latest NHL trend. If the season starts and both goaltenders are playing well it will also give the Leafs the edge over their competition by not having to ride just one goaltender all the time. If Randy Carlyle plays his cards right and allows both goaltenders time to prove themselves and keeps the media circus away from the goaltenders, the Leafs could ride their goaltending tandem back to the playoffs once again.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Top 10 NHL Goalies From the 2013 Season

It's the constant debate; Who is the best goaltender in the NHL? The answer changes every season and if you lined up 100 people you're likely to get 100 different lists. The lockout-shortened season gave fans the opportunity to watch some fantastic hockey right through to the final buzzer. There were some tremendous goaltending performances and a lot of goaltenders really started to turn heads. Here's my list of the top 10 goaltenders from the lockout-shortened NHL season.

10. Braden Hotlby
Braden Holtby edged out Carey Price for the 10th spot in the countdown based on his numbers and Alex Ovechkin's resurgence. Holtby won 23 of his 35 starts posting a .920 Save Percentage and 2.58 Goals Against Average. Braden Holtby is a goaltender on the rise; he's earned the rights to the Capitals crease and shows no signs of giving it up. If he continues improving he'll climb up the NHL netminder ranks in no time.
playoff success. Holtby had a great season between the pipes for the Capitals and helped keep the team afloat before

9. Jimmy Howard
Jimmy Howard had a tremendous season between the pipes for the Detroit Red Wings and he had to do so without Nicklas Lidstrom on defence. Howard passed the test and made the Red Wings blue line look better than it was. Howard has really elevated himself to the front line of NHL goaltenders. He should battle for a spot to represent team USA at the 2014 Olympics.

8. Corey Crawford
It's tough to put a goaltender who backstopped his team to a Stanley Cup Championship so low on this list, but no one is sure which Corey Crawford is the real one as of yet. He split time this season with Ray Emery and if the veteran Emery hadn't gotten injured there's no guarantee Crawford would have started the playoffs. Once in the playoffs Crawford elevated his game and out-duelled some of the best goalies in the game today; the spotlight is now on Crawford, will he deliver again next season?

7. Craig Anderson
If not for an ankle injury which derailed his season, Anderson would have likely skated away with the Vezina after posting a 1.69 Goals Against Average and .941 Save Percentage after 24 games. Anderson was lights out during the regular season and helped backstop the Senators to the playoffs. At times last season Anderson looked Hasek-esque.

6. Sergei Bobrovsky
After last season how badly are the Philadelphia Flyers kicking themselves for getting rid of Bobrovsky? Bobrovsky had a career year, which earned him the Vezina and made him a finalist for the Hart trophy. But the biggest question is whether he'll be able to perform at that elite level again. Despite his career year, Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets fell just short of the playoff; Is Bobrovsky bound to be another great goalie on a non-playoff team?

5. Tuukka Rask
Don't look now Leafs' fans, it appears Tuukka Rask has finally solidified himself as an NHL starter, Tim Thomas return to Boston. Rask is a goalie who's knocking on the door of the NHL elite and if he can have another solid season or lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup he may just step right through that door.
and a pretty good one at that. After another solid season between the Bruins pipes, leading the team to the Stanley Cup Finals, Rask appears to have wiped away any thoughts of a

4. Pekka Rinne
Pekka Rinne has established himself as an elite goaltender in the NHL. He had a tough 2012-2013 season but his team didn't help him with their goal scoring or lack there of. With the acquisition of Seth Jones, the Predators blue line should be fine for years to come which should help get Rinne back to the top 3.

3. Antti Niemi
Everyone remembers Niemi as the goalie who stumbled his way through the playoffs with the Chicago Blackhawks and won a Stanley Cup before promptly heading to San Jose. But since leaving Chicago, Niemi has quietly become one of the top goalies in the NHL. He put up solid numbers through the regular season playing 43 games and improved his game in the playoffs posting a 1.87 GAA. Has Niemi finally arrived or is he finally earning the respect he deserves?

2. Jonathan Quick
Since bursting onto the NHL scene and winning the Stanley Cup last season, Quick has quickly become one of the best puckstoppers in the NHL. Quick and Lundqvist are the two best goaltenders in the NHL and differentiating between who's better is like asking a parent which of their children are cuter. Quick has a bright future between the pipes and will look to lead team USA in 2014.

1. Henrik Lundqvist
As evenly matched as Quick and Henrik Lundqvist are, the King was slightly better through the
lockout-shortened season and get's the nod as the best goalie from last season. When king Henrik is on he is truly unbeatable. Lundqvist is the standard for all other NHL goalies, if you're going to be the best you have to beat the best. Maybe Lundqvist and Quick can battle it out in the Olympics?

Here's my list, who's in your top 10? Let me know who I missed!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

10 Can't Miss NHL Games in 2013-2014

It may only be July but now that the 2013-2014 NHL schedule has been released the countdown to October 1st for hockey fans is on. It's time to start planning the road-trips, making excuses to miss family gatherings and making a list of available dates when you're not watching hockey to give to family and friends. Before marking your NHL life in stone, here are 10 games you wont want to miss this upcoming NHL season.

After the lockout-shortened 2013 season the 2013-2014 NHL season will return to normal and there will even be a few bonuses for hockey fans. The 2013-2014 NHL season will feature 34 more games for each team than last season and as a special bonus fans will once again get to see NHL action in October! With a full 82 game season and an Olympic break thrown into the mix the 2013-2014 NHL season is sure to be a good one; Here's 10 more games that you'll want to be in front of a television for.

October 8th 2013- New Jersey Devils vs. Vancouver Canucks

Finally the goaltending saga between Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider is over- at least in Vancouver. After much debate that the Canucks had lost faith in Luongo and were ready to move forward with Schneider, the Canucks dealt Schneider on draft day to the New Jersey Devils. Schneider will return to Vancouver to see his former teammates in the first week of the season; the only question is whether he'll be between the pipes or not. But a Schneider/Luongo match-up would be a must watch game and could be a possible Olympic match-up.

October 28th 2013- Dallas Stars vs. Buffalo Sabres

For Buffalo Sabres fans, seeing former head coach Lindy Ruff behind the bench of another team is going to be tough. On October 28th Ruff will be behind the bench of the Dallas Stars as he makes his return to the First Niagara Centre as the Stars and Sabres square off. It'll be an emotional night for both parties, as Ruff returns to the place where he called home for 16 years and plays the role of the villain.

November 9th 2013- Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game SevenHey leafs, remember that time you almost eliminated the Boston Bruins in the first round but then collapsed? Well on November 9th the Leafs will be heading back to the scene of their historic collapse to face off against the big bad Bruins. There's a growing divisional rivalry between the Bruins and Leafs, but a rivalry of which the Bruins always seem to win. The Leafs came to within 10 minutes of slaying the Bruins, but a blown 3 goal lead with half a period left is something that will hollow in the minds of Leaf players forever. 180 days after the collapse the Leafs will once again have to face the Bruins, that may be a good game to start Jonathan Bernier.

November 30th 2013- Vancouver Canucks vs. New York Rangers

The Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers took part in a coach swap this offseason as John Tortorella moved from New York to Vancouver and Alain Vigneault moved from Vancouver to New York. While neither coach will step onto the ice or score any goals the media circus that will be around both- specifically Tortorella will be something to see. Will we see another classic John Tortorella press conference? 

December 1st 2013- Detroit Red Wings vs. Ottawa Senators

In a move that surprised many, long-time Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson signed a deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Alfredsson was the longest serving captain in the NHL before he jumped ship because he felt the Wings gave him the best shot at a Stanley Cup. Will the Senators faithful boo their former beloved captain or will some "Alfie" chants breakout?

January 1st 2014- Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings

082212wings_leags1It may be a year late but on January 1st the Leafs will square off against the Wings in the annual Winter Classic game at Michigan Stadium. Even with the NHL capitalizing on 6 "out-door" games next season, the Leafs and Red Wings Winter Classic will be a game you wont want to miss as the centre of the hockey universe takes on hockeytown. Plus there's finally a Canadian team playing in the Winter Classic- it's sure to be a classic.

January 11th 2014- Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins

After one of the most exciting and nail bitting Stanley Cup Finals the NHL is going to make fans wait until January 11th for the first re-match between the Bruins and Blackhawks.

January 22nd 2014- Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings

With the Red Wings being moved into the Eastern Conference the Blackhawks will only see their former rivals twice next season. On January 22nd the former Western Conference rivals will square off for the first time and renew the rivalry between the two original six squads.

January 24th 2014- Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings

It's not the Winter Classic and it may just be a lame attempt for the NHL to milk money and ruin something classic but the Ducks and Kings will kick off the NHL's new "Stadium Series" by playing an outdoor hockey game in LA. An out-door hockey in LA, yeah I'm looking forward to seeing that as well.

March 20th 2014- Minnesota Wild vs. New Jersey Devils

You can't but help feel sorry for the New Jersey Devils. They lost Ilya Kovalchuk after he bolted to the KHL this offseason and lost Zach Parise last offseason. Parise will finally have a chance to visit his former team in New Jersey for the first time since game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.

Although hockey fans will once again be able to enjoy an 82 game season, the 2013-2014 season will be a big change for a lot of teams and fans. There will be many "Home-comings" after one of the biggest off-seasons for players looking to chang scenery. Fans will also be treated to 6 out-door NHL games; Will the novelty quickly wear off? When the puck drops on October 1st another memorable NHL season will get underway as the Chicago Blackhawks look to defend their Stanley Cup title.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Chicago Blackhawks: 2013 Stanley Cup Champions

17 seconds. Take a moment and think of everything you can accomplish in a mere 17 seconds; now imagine scoring two goals within in 17 seconds to lay claim to the Stanley Cup. That probably sounds like a dream that every young hockey player dreams at night, but for the Chicago Blackhawks that dream became a reality on Monday night. The Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals as they wrapped up their historic season with a Stanley Cup.

GET-171460497-620x413In an ending that couldn't have been written any better, the Blackhawks managed the unthinkable. Trailing 2-1 with just over a minute left in the third period it seemed that the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks were destined to square off in a game 7 for the ages. Cue Bryan Bickell; Bickell quickly buried the puck to notch the tying goal after a pass from the corner by Jonathan Toews left Tuukka Rask tangled with his defenceman. Then just 17 seconds later Dave Bolland gained inside position in front of Rask and tipped home a Johnny Oduya point shot which won the Chicago Blackhawks the Stanley Cup.

For Toronto Maple Leaf Fans there was a sense of vengeance seeing the Boston Bruins, who tore out their hearts with a last minute third period comeback fall to the same fate. Of course the two losses' were completely different; For the Leafs it was a complete collapse, for the Bruins it was a hard fought battle right to the end and just so happened the Stanley Cup was at stake. Either way you look at it, both the Leafs and Bruins fell short of claiming the greatest trophy in all of sports and the Blackhawks proved that sometimes a hot start isn't a bad thing.

An 82 game season is so long, that that the first 10 games really aren't a huge deal; throughout the season you see multiple versions of the same team, some good and some not so good. But when you chop that 82 game season in half, the start becomes that much more important. When the puck dropped on the 2013 NHL season the Blackhawks didn't waste anytime, going 23-0-3 in their first 24 games, breaking the record for the longest NHL point streak to start a season. That start helped the Blackhawks dominate the West and win the Presidents trophy.

Heading into the playoffs, the Blackhawks were one of the favorites to end the season by hoisting the Stanley Cup. They survived a scare in round 2 and knocked off the defending champs to earn a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Once in the Finals, the Blackhawks were set to square off against every teams nightmare; the Boston Bruins. If you're looking to see just how good the Bruins can be in the postseason just ask the Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple, all of whom are still trying to pick up the pieces from their crushing defeats at the hands of the Bruins. Needless to say, beating the Bruins- and Tuukka Rask was not going to be an easy task.

In an attempt to generate more offence Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were separated for the first three games in the Finals, but in game four the Blackhawks put the two back together and never looked back. In the next three games Toews and Kane along with Bryan Bickell combined for 6 goals and 7 assists to help the Bruins win the Cup.

Despite not having a goal in game 6, Patrick Kane won the Conn Smythe for his efforts in the playoffs. Kane entered the playoffs with a slump scoring just 2 goals in the Blackhawks first 15 games, but as the Blackhawks went further Kane lit up. He scored 4 goals in the final two games of the Western Finals, including a hat-trick that helped eliminate the Kings. Kane finished the Stanley Cup run with nine goals and 19 assists and joins his partner in crime Toews having both won Conn Smyth's.

chicago-blackhawks-stanley-cupFor the Blackhawks this season was one to remember. From a record breaking start, to a comeback series victory against the rival Red Wings, to their 2nd Stanley Cup in four years. Ironically the Blackhawks closed out both their Stanley Cup victories in game 6. The Blackhawks appear to have built themselves a modern day NHL dynasty, which could reign throughout the NHL for years to come.

The final buzzer has sounded and the 2013 NHL season has come to an end. Up next is a long and painful offseason for hockey fans, but at least next season will start on time. Hats off to the Chicago Blackhawks, the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Why the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Win in 6

Before the Stanley Cup Finals began many predicted the series to go 7 games as the teams were so evenly matched. But if you’re the Chicago Blackhawks, the last thing you want is to go to game 7 against the Boston Bruins. Why? Because the Boston Bruins just know how to win in game 7 situations.

The best opportunity for the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup is in game 6. Yes, they’ll have to do so in Boston, but if they can win game 5 at home and gain momentum they’ll have a chance to close it out on the road and history is on their side.

Coming into the finals both the Blackhawks and Bruins were pretty evenly matched. The Blackhawks have more skilled players but the Bruins blue chip forwards certainly know how to get the job done. Both teams know what it takes to win the Cup, coming off recent Stanley Cup victories in 2010 and 2011.

Ironically, both teams survived major scares on their journey to the Finals; The Boston Bruins had a little more trouble disposing of the Toronto Maple Leafs than they’d like to admit. The Leafs forced a game 7 and had the Bruins trailing 4-1 before… well you know what happened. Following the hard fought battle with the Leafs the Bruins sailed through easily eliminating both he New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks got tripped up in round two at the Hands of the Detroit Red Wings and ended up down 3-1 before they battled back to win in game 7.

It’s really difficult to pick a favorite in this series; both teams know what it takes to win and have battled back from elimination in this post season. Either team could easily take home the Cup, but if this series goes the distance, the Bruins track record shows they know how to win in game 7’s.

In the last three years of playoff action the Boston Bruins have played in 5 game 7’s and have won 4 of those 5. One of those game 7 victories was their Stanley Cup win in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks, where they shutout the Canucks 4-0. Going back to the Bruins Cup win in 2011, they had to survive 3 game 7’s. Surviving game 7 three times in the same playoffs is unheard of. When everything was on the line, in a one-game winner take all- the Boston Bruins elevated their game to another level.

Then of course fast-forward to this years playoffs and take a look back at the first round. Ask the Leafs what happens when you have to face the Bruins in a game 7. Even when you’re beating the Bruins in the 3rd period, there’s still no quit in their game. Name another team in the entire league that would have been able to mount the comeback the Boston Bruins did in game 7 of the first round.

There is just something about the Bruins and game 7’s. To win a game 7 a team needs solid goaltending, physical play and depth; the Bruins possess all three of those things. They trust in Tuukka Rask, have solid D to help him out, play the best brand of physical hockey and have depth throughout the line-up. There’s no hero’s on the Bruins, they don’t turn to one guy to deliver like most teams; they have a bunch of hard working players who battle hard and can become the hero at any given moment.

Another key aspect about game 7 and the Bruins is they are fantastic at drawing a team off their game plan. Both the Rangers and Penguins stopped playing their game and started playing Bruins hockey. When you’re playing Bruins hockey and you’re not the Bruins you’re going to have a bad time and the Bruins will end up winning. When the game 7 rolls around the Bruins know what they have to do to get their opponent frustrated, and off their game just long enough for the Bruins to capitalize.

toews-940Just like the Bruins had a key number when they won the Cup, the Blackhawks also had a key number; that key number was 6. The Blackhawks closed out 3 of their 4 series’ back in 2010 in the 6th game. They have yet to close out a series this year in 6 games but the Stanley Cup Finals would be a great time to do so.

The Bruins have played chicken with game 7’s and have had great success doing so: a Stanley Cup Championship. They’re not afraid of game 7’s and elevate their game becoming a much more difficult team to play against. The Blackhawks like to make quick work of their opponents and finish things before game 7.

The best shot for the Blackhawks is to finish off the Bruins in game 6. Don’t let it get to a game 7 where the Bruins can virtually do no wrong. I’m not predicting a Boston Bruins win, all I’m saying is that the Blackhawks will want to end this in game 6. If it goes 7 the Bruins may be too much for the Blackhawks to handle.

Can the Blackhawks keep their lucky streak of winning it all in 6 or will the Bruins continue their game 7 dominance?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Stanley Cup Preview: Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins

Another season, all be it a shortened one, has come and gone in the NHL once again. In January, 30 teams took to the ice with the same goal in mind: to be the last team standing and lay claim to the Stanley Cup. After 48 games and three grueling playoff series', we’re down to the final two who will leave it all on the ice for a chance to life the Cup.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins will be renewing original six rivalries when they square off in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. The powerhouses’ of the West squaring off against the underdogs of the East; it’s bound to be one heck of a series.

Before we dive into the Stanley Cup Preview, let’s take a look at each teams journey to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Chicago Blackhawks

After a late start to the season the Blackhawks stormed out of the gate getting points in their first 24 games before a single regulation loss. The Blackhawks were the kings of the hockey world and finished first in the West and also taking home the Presidents.

blackhawks-trophy_620-thumb-620xauto-303689The Hawks disposed of the Minnesota Wild fairly easily in the first round, winning the series in 5 games. But in round two they ran into the 7th seeded Red Wings, who proved the only thing that matters is what happens in the playoffs. The Red Wings gave the Blackhawks everything they could handle and looked to have the Blackhawks on the ropes, but a resilient Blackhawks team not wanting their regular season effort to be for not, battled back and forced a game 7.

In game 7 the Blackhawks outlasted the Wings as Brent Seabrook scored the OT winner that sent the Wings packing. After narrowly defeating the Red Wings, the Blackhawks had a date with the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Once again the Blackhawks made fairly easy work of their opponents taking the series in 5 games to win the West.

Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins narrowly escaped their first round match with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs forced a game 7 and had the Bruins on the ropes up 4-1 with 10 minutes left in the third period. Cue Milan Lucic. Lucic put the team on his back and helped them mount a comeback that will go down in history as not only one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history but also as one of the worst collapses in NHL history. The Bruins tied the game to force OT and Patrice Bergeron scored the OT winner that drove the dagger into the hearts of Leaf fans everywhere.

74107961The second round proved to be much easier for the Bruins as they disposed of King Henrik and the New York Rangers in 5 games. If not for a rough outing from Tuukka Rask a sweep may have been order in the second round.

In round three the Bruins met up with the talented Pittsburgh Penguins. At first glance this series seems like a talent mismatch but the Bruins proved that depth and character can beat talent and no leadership any day. The Bruins finally earned their sweep as they easily dismantled the Penguins in 4 games.

Teeing up the series

Due to the shortened 48 game season the Blackhawks and Bruins didn’t meet in the regular season. This is the first time since 1979, the Stanley Cup final will be between two original 6 teams. Despite their rich history, this is only the 7th time the Blackhawks and Bruins have met in the postseason and the first time since 1978. The Blackhawks finished first in the West and want to prove their historic start wasn’t just a fluke and bring home the Cup to validate their effort. The Bruins came into the playoffs in 4th place and since clawing back from the ropes of defeat in round one, have picked up steam each round appearing nearly unstoppable.

Key Factors:

Goaltending

Statistically speaking Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask have been the two best goalies throughout the playoffs. Perhaps that’s the reason the Blackhawks and Bruins are the final two-left standing.

Earlier this postseason I wrote about how I hadn’t been impressed with Tuukka Rask through he first 2.5 rounds. He barely outdueled James Reimer and his team was more responsible for the wins than he was. But in round three he proved just how good he is and why he is an elite goaltender. Through the first 3 rounds Rask is 12-4 with a 1.75 Goals Against Average and a .948 Save Percentage, those numbers are even better than Tim Thomas’ after the first 3 rounds in 2011.

Corey Crawford is a goalie that always seems to fly under the radar. No one gives him any credit and no one is sure if he’s good enough to win the Blackhawks the Cup. Heck before the playoffs started people were hoping Ray Emery would get the nod. The Finals could be a breakout for Crawford, a chance to prove that he can perform in the playoffs. He’s outdueled Jimmy Howard and arguably the best goalie in the world in Jonathan Quick, so Crawford isn’t off to a bad start.

Can the Bruins continue to shutdown stars?

Los Angeles Kings v Chicago Blackhawks - Game FiveIt’s no easy task to shutdown the offence the Pittsburgh Penguins boast. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal coming full tilt that’s enough power to make a team run and hide until the onslaught is over. But the Bruins managed to stop the Penguins big three as all three were held without a point in the series. Jonathan Toews has been rather quiet so far in the playoffs scoring just 1 goal. Now would be a good time for Toews to step up and join Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp in scoring goals. Can the Blackhawks big players step up and beat Tuukka Rask? Or atleast score a goal?

Special Teams

Not only did the Bruins do the unthinkable by keeping Crosby, Neal and Malkin off the scoreboard, they also kept the lethal Penguins powerplay from scoring. The Bruins killed off all 15 penalties they took against the Penguins and have an amazing 86.5% penalty kill through the playoffs.

The Blackhawks also haven’t done too poorly while down a man. They have a near perfect 94.8% penalty kill and the defence blocks almost everything making life on Crawford pretty easy.

One of these teams will let their penalty killing guard down, even a little, and it may well cost them.

Players to Watch

Brent Seabrook

Since being reunited with Duncan Keith, Seabrook has been on fire on the blueline. The Blackhawks will need him to match the Bruins physical play but also to help spark the offence.

Brian Bickell

The reason the Blackhawks are having success without Toews scoring is in large part due to Brian Bickell. The upcoming free agent has 13 goals through 17 games and is looking to cash in on a major payday. If Bickell can keep up his play the Blackhawks should be just fine on offence, even without Toews.

Torey Krug

T-KrugHeading into the season all eyes were on rookie defenceman Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton showed flashes of brilliance and had times were he certainly looked like a rookie. Through the first three rounds of the playoffs the Bruins have been getting production from a young defenceman, but his name isn’t Hamilton, it’s Torey Krug.

Krug has 6 points in 9 playoff games and has become a key member of the Bruins blueline as he’s climbed up the depth charts. Krug isn’t the type of player who carries a team but it the type of player that all championship teams have. He finds a way to contribute while flying under the radar and steps up when his team needs him. Torey Krug is the biggest X-factor in the Stanley Cup Finals.

David Krejci

Has there been a player throughout the playoffs who has elevated his play more than David Krejci? In 47 regular season games Krejci recorded 10 goals and added 23 assists. In the first 16-playoff games Krejci already has 9 goals and 12 assists.

He’s become a key component for the Bruins offencive success. If Krejci can keep scoring and helping Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton find the back of the net, the Bruins offence will be nearly unstoppable.

The Blackhawks and Bruins have arguably the two best coaches in the NHL in Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien. Both coaches have a Stanley Cup to their names and have been put through the paces in the NHL and despite both coaches remaining with their teams for at least 5 years, neither coach has lost his players respect or attention. Just ask John Tortorella how well that works.

The two best goalies in the playoffs, two of the best and most respected coaches and arguably two of the best-built hockey teams in the league. From the first line scorers to the fourth line role players, everyone knows their role and they work together to fill any holes.

The Blackhawks and Bruins will kick off their battle on Wednesday night and this may turn into one of the closest Stanley Cup Finals we’ve seen. Both teams match up so evenly.

hawks2010Prediction: These teams are so evenly matched it’s difficult to give a leg up to either team. It will likely come down to whichever goalie can remain hot or make that key save. My Pick- Chicago Blackhawks in 7 games. Remember what happened last time the Blackhawks finished 1st in the central?

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pittsburgh Penguins Lack Leadership

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a team filled with veteran leadership. From Sidney Crosby to Jarome Iginla, the Penguins are filled with players who have been to the dance and learned all the moves. Yet somehow in that room full of leaders there is a lack of leadership and it's costing the Penguins in the playoffs.

For a team that technically has three captains on the roster; Crosby, Iginla and Brandon Morrow, the Penguins aren't playing with veteran experience and need someone to step up and calm the team down.

It was a lack of leadership combined with mental mistakes that saw a completely different Pittsburgh Penguins team take to the ice in games one and two of the Eastern Conference Finals. They got away from their game plan and led by their captain, started playing Boston Bruin hockey.

There's a reason it's called Boston Bruin hockey, because the Bruins are the best at it. They know how to play physical between the whistles, how to get under opponents skin and most importantly what they can get away with. The Bruins like to get involved physically to draw their opponents off of their game plan and strike while their opponents are trying to play "Bruins" hockey. If you're trying to beat the Bruins at their own game you're not going to win period.

Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game SixIn the first two games the Penguins were annoyed. You saw Evgeni Malkin wrestle Patrice Bergeron to the ice and Crosby take a shot at Tuukka Rask. Crosby wears the "C" and is the leader of the Penguins, he also happens to be the best hockey player in the league. But Crosby isn't playing like the best hockey player, we should be talking about his sick goals and great passes to Chris Kunitz.

Instead we've seen Crosby whine and complain to the refs, commit an awful turnover in game 2 and attempt to take on Zdeno Chara in game 1. This is not the Crosby or the captain the Penguins need to lead them to a Stanley Cup, this is the Crosby who is being completely shutdown and frustrated by the Bruins.

What makes matters worse is the fact Crosby doesn't even have a point in this series and has been virtually invisible. In the regular season Crosby is virtually the best player on the ice every game, he has no problem scoring goals and elevating his game to the next level when he wants to. But the playoffs are a different story. In the playoffs, especially in the later rounds everything gets's tighter. There's less space and time and Crosby is forced to make decisions much quicker than in the regular season. Throw the Bruins into the mix and not only do you not have any space or time, but you're also getting hit every time you touch the puck.

The Physicality in this series has thrown Crosby off his game and hasn't given him a chance to be Sidney Crosby. Since the Penguins aren't winning and Crosby is frustrated the frustration goes throughout the entire line-up. What the Penguins have right now is a team that has too many superstars. It's great to have the likes of Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jarome Iginla in the line-up, but what happens in a situation like this is players take it upon themselves to save the team. The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't playing like a team while the Boston Bruins are.

Crosby needs help. He may be the best player and have a solid character but that's not helping the Penguins win right now. What everyone forgets is Crosby is still a rather young player. Iginla or one of the other veterans needs to take Crosby under their wing and teach him how to get through a rough series because he doesn't know how. Crosby knows how to score goals but does he know how to play when the goals aren't coming? The rest of the team is following the example Crosby is leading and right now it's not a great example.

Now as much as people want to flog Crosby to death it's not all his fault. He needs to step it up, but so do other players. Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow have turned out to be major disappointments and Kris Letang has looked lost on the backend. Crosby, Neal, Malkin, Iginla and Kunitz all have a combined 0 points in this series and the lethal Penguins powerplay is a dismal 0-12.

The Penguins offence has been shutdown on every level, even when they're up a man they have failed to capitalize. Someone in the dressing room needs to step up. Tomas Vokoun has fixed their goaltending issues; now it's time for someone to step up score goals, show the team discipline and how to win.

The Pittsburgh Penguins backs' are up against the wall, it's now or never. We're about to see the character and leadership of Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Why Tomas Vokoun Should Start Game 3 For the Penguins

After a 6-1 loss in game two, in which neither Tomas Vokoun nor Marc-Andre Fleury could stop a beach ball, the Pittsburgh Penguins are at a crossroads with what to do with their goaltenders. Do they go back to Marc-Andre Fleury who has won them a Stanley Cup but is showing more recently that he can’t handle the playoff pressure or continue down the road with the veteran Tomas Vokoun?

8466092The goaltending decision ahead of game three is the biggest decision of Dan Bylsma’s coaching career. If he chooses the wrong guy, the Penguins’ hopes of lifting another Stanley Cup will end at the Conference Finals.

Going into the Conference finals, no one expected this series to be high scoring. Sure the Penguins have superstars that when they’re on can make any goalie look like a house league call-up, but they were facing the hard-hitting, physical Boston Bruins who have a stellar goalie in Tuukka Rask between the pipes. And oh yeah, Rask is playing for a new, multi-year contract.

Remember last time the Penguins faced a physical team in the playoffs? They were eliminated in the first round because they got coaxed into the physical play. After game one it appeared that would be the case again.

Heading into this series all questions surrounded the goalies. Would the Penguins continue with Tomas Vokoun and would he be good enough to lead them to a Stanley Cup? Would Tuukka Rask be able to withstand the Penguins offence?

With 9 goals in the first two games, it’s clear the Penguins goaltending isn’t getting the job done. While all the blame isn’t just on Vokoun or Fleury as the whole Penguins team needs to be better, the Penguins also need a goaltender in net who is going to come up with a big save to keep them in the game.

Penguins goalie Vokoun makes a save against the Senators during the first period in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in PittsburghWhile it wont be an easy decision naming a starter for game three, considering neither goalie stopped anything in game 2, the Penguins need to keep going with Tomas Vokoun.

The time to put Fleury back between the pipes has long passed; this is Tomas Vokoun’s Penguin team right now. Not saying the Penguins will go forward with the 36 year-old veteran next season, but this is turning into a similar situation that the Canadiens went through in 2009 with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.

This is the second straight post-season where Fleury has faltered, he arguably played himself out of the starters role and Bylsma chose to run with Vokoun. It’s too late for Bylsma to run back and catch the Fleury bus while he’s riding full speed ahead on the Vokoun train.

The time to put Fleury back between the pipes was immediately after he was pulled in round 1 or the beginning of round two, not when you’re down two games in the Conference Finals. The Penguins have asked Tomas Vokoun to step up and carry the Penguins; he’s done that and now deserves a chance to get the Penguins out of this hole. If not for Tomas Vokoun the Penguins would have been eliminated in round 1.

Going back to the fragile Fleury for game three would be a major mistake. It doesn’t matter how good he’s looked in practice while riding the bench; that’s practice, against his own teammates, not a playoff game against the Boston Bruins. Fleury has proved he doesn’t have what it takes to perform in the playoffs lately. The Penguins need to go with the goalie that gives them the best shot at winning and that goalie is Tomas Vokoun.

There’s no question the Penguins offence needs to step it up in game three. Just three goals through the first two games with all the star power they have is inexcusable. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal all need to be better, they’re counted on to lead the Penguins and right now they’re not doing that. For whatever reason Crosby isn’t living up to the “C” on his chest and the Penguins are lacking some serious leadership.

While the offence needs to pick up the slack, the goalies need to make key saves. Throwing Marc-Andre Fleury into game three reeks of desperation, Tomas Vokoun has been fine since he took over, he had a rough game but so did the rest of the team. If you’re going to replace Tomas Vokoun with Fleury in game three you may as well put Matt Cooke on the first line instead of Sidney Crosby because Crosby had a rough game.

The Penguins have made their bed with Tomas Vokoun, now it’s time for them to lie in it.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Just How Important is Goaltending in the Playoffs

Now that we're down to the final four, it's time to start taking a look at the  masked men between the pipes. They're only players on the ice for a full 60 minutes and the ones who continually jump in front of flying rubber missiles but when things go wrong they receive all the blame. Being a goaltender is a tireless and thankless job, you're either the hero or the goat. So far in these playoffs we've seen our fair share of goats and hero's between the pipes.

Regular season success has absolutely no baring on the postseason. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks who found themselves trailing the Detroit Red Wings 3 games to 1 in their Western Conference Semi Final. In the same sense goaltending in the regular season is a completely different ball game than goaltending in the playoffs. Just ask Marc-Andre Fleury who is growing roots on the bench in Pittsburgh.

The pressure on a goaltender in the playoffs is surreal. One wrong move, react half a second to late, lose the puck in a scramble, allowing a goal that zaps your teams momentum and you're getting boo'd off the ice. Mix all those worries with; rebound control, defencive errors and some insanely talented forwards and you have everything that's going on inside the mind of a goalie. There's so much to think about and roughly a 10th of a second to react.

No matter how many goals a team scores or how skilled that team may be, without a solid goalie that team will not succeed. Goaltending is key for a long playoff run and for any team who's mission is the Stanley Cup

It's been a roller coaster ride for goalies throughout these playoffs. Jonathan Quick went from being the goat in game one to statistically being the best goalie through 2 rounds. Then you have a goalie like Tuukka Rask who's really showing he belongs and has been making people forget Tim Thomas. But then Rask wipes-out giving the Rangers an easy goal and unfortunately costs his team the game, which turns Rask into the goat.

Goaltending can help solidify a teams chances at a Stanley Cup or be the flat tire on that road. Sometimes all a team needs is to change it's goalie. We're going to look at the goalies who are making a positive impact on their team and some other goalies who are holding them back these playoffs.

Jimmy Howard

Jimmy HowardIf the Detroit Red Wings built Howard a statue it wouldn't be enough to thank him for his efforts between the pipes this season. Coming into the postseason as a 7th seed and upsetting the number 2 seed and nearly upsetting the number one seed. Howard has outdueled both Jonas Hiller and Corey Crawford and as a result the Wings have been winning. Howard went 7-7-2 through the first two rounds and ranked 3rd with a GAA of 2.22 amongst goalies who had played 11 games.

Upon taking a 3-1 stranglehold on the Blackhawks, Howard and the Red Wings had won 5 of their last 6 games and the goaltender had them at the doorstep of a Conference Final birth. Unfortunately defeating the Blackhawks is a lot easier said then done and they came back from their 3-1 deficit to beat the Wings in 7 games. Despite the second round elimination, Jimmy Howard came up big for the Wings.

Jonathan Quick

In all honesty has there been a better, more clutch goalie through the playoffs? When you look at the statistics the answer is no. Howard is 8-5-2 through the playoffs sporting a 1.50 GAA and a .948 Save Percentage. And oh by the way he also has 3 shutouts. This may only be Jonathan Quick's second season leading a team in the playoffs but he's quickly turning into a clutch playoff goalie.

The way the Western Conference Finals have shaped up, we'll see proven playoff goalie Jonathan Quick square off against Corey Crawford who has yet to prove himself in the playoffs. Which goalie will elevate their team to the Finals?

Henrik Lundqvist

It's hard to watch the New York Rangers and not feel bad for Henrik Lundqvist. He is such a skilled goaltender but his team can't do anything to help him win. Makes one wonder if the Rangers are wasting the best years of the "kings" career. Despite his team virtually not showing up through the playoffs, Lundqvist has continually come up big time after time. When the Rangers needed him most in round 1 he stepped up posting back to back shutouts in games 6 and 7.

With his team down 3 games to the Boston Bruins, Lundqvist came out ready to play in game 4 and made 37 stops to help his team get their first win of the series. While Lundqvist stood tall the Bruins proved to be too much for the Rangers as the King was eliminated in game 5. With the lack of success in New York will Lundqvist stay there?

Tomas Vokoun

If not for Tomas Vokoun coming off the bench and stepping up after Fleury's meltdown, the Pittsburgh Penguins would probably be at home instead of the Eastern Finals. Vokoun has been shinning between the pipes and helped the Penguins focus on what they're good at; scoring goals.

No one knows if the Penguins will put Fleury back in again but with the way Vokoun has been playing, it would be tough to pull him. This may be Vokoun's Stanley Cup run from now on.

Tuukka Rask

Tuukka RaskIt's hard to criticize a goalie who's won 8 games but watching these playoffs I haven't been impressed by Tuukka Rask. The only reason he has these wins is because his team has bailed him out time after time. In game 7 of the first round against the Leafs, he allows 4 goals and his team ends up down 4-1. Since the Bruins came back no one showed to much concern but his play in the first round was alarming. He wasn't stellar and didn't look much better than James Reimer.

Rask has just 1 playoff run under his belt and it didn't go very well. He's fairly in-experienced, this is his year to show that he can carry the team and perform in the playoffs. Despite his 8 wins he's posting a rough 2.22 GAA and a .928 Save Percentage, not fantastic numbers. He's getting by because his team is scoring. When the Bruins had a chance to close out the series in New York, Tuukka didn't bother to show up. He'll need to stay on-top of his game in order for the Bruins to make it to the Finals, especially if he comes up against the Penguins. If you don't agree name 1 game Rask has "stolen" for the Bruins, these playoffs.

Craig Anderson

Craig Anderson is another goalie who is hard to criticize. He's been the backbone of the Senators team and dominated in the first round. But in the second round he just hasn't been good enough. It's tough for any goalie to stop the likes of Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla, but Anderson needed to find a way to stop the Penguins offence.

Anderson ranks last with 5 wins and a 3.01 GAA amongst all goalies who have gone 2 rounds. The Senators weren't able to get the goaltending they need to take down the Penguins.

Corey Crawford

Want to know the one reason the Chicago Blackhawks wont win the cup? Their goaltending. Splitting the season with Ray Emery really benefited Corey Crawford. Now that Crawford has been relied on to play on his own and steal some games for the Blackhawks, he hasn't been able to. With the kind of slump the Blackhawks are in they needed their goalie to steal a game or two for them and Crawford has failed to do that.

The Blackhawks want Crawford to be their goalie of the future but if he continues to bomb in the playoffs that future may be over in a hurry. It may be time for the Hawks to allow Crawford to learn during the playoffs, much like the Bruins did with Rask.

A goalie either becomes a hero or a goat in the playoffs, there's no room for average goaltending. The goaltenders who are turning heads and coming up big for their teams will be the ones who go far, while the others will fall into the shadows.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Has Raffi Torres Put the Final Nail in his NHL Career?

With the NHL changing the rules to cut down on head-shots and concussions, players who like to make big impact hits had to redefine their game or get left behind. Players like Matt Cooke, Dan Carcillo and Steve Downie have all had to change the way they play to stay on the right side of the law. But one player who hasn't been able to adjust his game successfully is Raffi Torres.

From his hit on Jordan Eberle in 2011 to his hit on Marian Hossa in last years playoffs, Raffi Torres just can't seem to figure out a way to play within the "rules". There is a fine line that a player like Torres must toe, but he continually crosses that line. Torres is the type of player who can't find a permanent home, he's bounced around between 6 different NHL teams. His job is to bring something to each team he plays for to convince them to keep him and thats usually physicality. But Torres keeps crossing the line and after his last hit on Tuesday night in the second round of the playoffs, it may be time for teams to start crossing him off their team.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei5UkHL0oNM

We'll start with his latest hit of Jarret Stoll. Was it a dirty hit or a head hit? It was not a dirty hit but rather an illegal hit, the principal point of contact appears to be the head. The tough thing about this hit is that Stoll leaned forward to get the puck and by that point it was virtually to late for Torres to stop. Had this been a player not named Raffi Torres, they probably get a phone hearing and 1 or 2 games max. Since this hit involves the controversial Raffi Torres, an in-person hearing is called and there's a lengthy suspension.

What's really startling about Torres is his MO. He seems to be aiming to take star players out of the game and that's exactly what the NHL is trying to get rid of. He hits Jordan Eberle one of the Edmonton Oilers best young players, Marian Hossa a key member of the Chicago Blackhawks offence and Jarret Stoll another key player on a Stanley Cup contending team.

Big hit's with unfortunate outcomes happen in the NHL, look at the Eric Gryba hit, but continually going after key players is something the NHL can't continue to allow.

When you look at the Stoll hit it's a really grey area that the NHL needs to make clear. Torres doesn't extend his elbow or leave his feet, but he did finish his check on an angle that targeted Stoll's head on the play. Basically what the NHL is saying is Torres took a "bad route" to finish his check, as he skated east-west. Torres also hits upwards into Stoll's body forcing his head backwards instead of hitting through Stoll. Had this been anyone else, I think they get the benefit of the doubt with this hit, but it's not it's the infamous Raffi Torres.

raffi-torresThe consensus online is that Torres shouldn't be suspended for this hit and that the only reason this is such a big deal is because of Torres' history. A team can no longer get the benefit of the doubt when Torres hits somebody, anytime anything is borderline with this guy you know Brendan Shanahan will be calling. Which is why teams are going to start to give up on him. No team wants a player that can't get away with anything, he's become a liability on the ice.

Whether people like it or not and despite his best efforts, Raffi Torres is a dirty hockey player. The book is out on him, he likes to take star or impact players out of the line-up. If a 25 game suspension in last years playoffs didn't deliver the message clear enough to Raffi Torres what's it going to take?

With the 6 game suspension, could this be the final hit of his career? Raffi Torres will be an un-restricted free agent this coming offseason and if the San Jose Sharks don't resign him, where does he go? While his hit on Stoll wasn't malicious, it was a dangerous play and it may cost him a lot more than 6 games.

Also be sure to check out my Gillette Drafted Audition

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

What We Learned From the First Round of NHL Playoffs

The first round of the 2013 NHL playoffs is in the books. For the Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins the dream is still alive as they advance to the second round. But for the teams that fell just short, it's going to be a long offseason and for some the first round will have left a bitter taste.

The first 4 wins are in the books, now it's just the final 12. So what did we learn and what can we take away from the first round of the 2013 NHL playoffs?

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't as good as everyone thought.

This was supposed to be the Penguins year. A healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined with James Neal and the addition of Jarome Iginla. The Penguins made a statement, their goal in the playoffs is nothing short of the Stanley Cup. While they still have a shot at that goal, some weaknesses have been exposed in their team and the road is only going to get tougher. Until the Penguins figure out their goaltending issues, they wont be able to lay claim to the Stanley Cup. Looks like Pittsburgh isn't the big power-house everyone believed.

  • 8th seed don't care

940-senators-celebrationRemember when Brian Burke was the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and he said he didn't want to just squeak into the playoffs in 8th only to be clobbered in the first round, then the LA Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup from the 8th seed? In the first round, especially in the East, what seed you finished didn't mean much. Look at the Islanders giving the Penguins all they could handle, The Senators as the 7th seed upsetting the 2nd seeded Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings following along the Senators path by upsetting the Ducks.
Once you make the playoffs it's a whole new ballgame, throw out the regular season as it means nothing. In a best of 7 series, anything can happen- it all depends what team shows up.

  • Never underestimate your opponent

After the Bruins closed out their series with the Leafs in game 7, Milan Lucic admitted that the Bruins kind of underestimated the Leafs.
"I think after Game 4 we did. I don’t think once the series started we underestimated them. That’s why we had a 3-1 lead after four games, but after that it just seemed like it was almost like a bit of we did underestimate them a bit and when it felt like we deflated them in that Game 4 overtime goal that wasn’t the case at all."

Underestimating the Leafs almost cost the Bruins the series as the Leafs showed no quit and a lot of heart, battling back from a 3-1 series deficit.

  • Goaltending is kind of important

You can pretty much say every team that was eliminated in round one, didn't get the type of goaltending they needed. Look at the New York Rangers, when they needed a big game Henrik Lundqvist stepped up. In fact "the King" stepped up with shutouts in both game 6 and 7.  Look at the at the Canadiens and Canucks, both teams didn't get the goaltending they needed and as a result they're out. Goaltending nearly cost the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first round series but instead it cost the Islanders. Had the Islanders had someone other than Evgeni Nabokov between the pipes, they may very well have upset the Penguins.

  • Despite no experience and having the odds against, the Leafs actually played pretty solid playoff hockey

Yes, everyone in Toronto is disappointed and so are the players, after coming within 11 minutes of moving on to the 2nd round, but they really shouldn't be. This series for Toronto was a win-win. They gained valuable playoff experience and now know what it takes to win in the playoffs. The Leafs did far better than anyone expected and nearly pulled off the unthinkable, that is a huge plus for the Leafs and will only help them going forward.

alexxwebSigh, yes another disappointing first round exit for Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. I really thought they would advance this year and Ovechkin would finally find the playoff success that has eluded him, but sadly that was not the case. Ovechkin was held scoreless for the last 5 games of the series and most importantly in game 7 when his team needed him the most. Ovechkin scored just 1 goal and added 1 assist, a far cry from his dominance during the regular season. It's been 9 seasons since Ovechkin joined the Capitals and they've failed advance past the 2nd round in any year.

Interesting stats

  • The Kings and Blues played in the closest series. The teams spent 98.8 either tied or within 1 goal of the other. Through 6 games there was only a 5 minute span where the was a 2 goal cushion. Talk about some close, nail-bitting hockey.

  • Carey Price is 4-11 in his last 4 playoff appearances and hasn't made it out of the first round.

  • How close were the first round match-ups? Well a staggering 17 games needed extra time to decide a winner, which breaks the previous record of 16 in just one round.

  • Remarkable all 6 "original 6" NHL teams made it into the playoffs and 4 of them are still alive.

Round two begins tonight. Get ready for even more exciting hockey as teams look to add 4 more wins on route to the Stanley Cup.

Also check out my audition for Gillette Drafted --> http://apps.facebook.com/pg-drafted?app_data=audition%28301%29