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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Pittsburgh Penguins Preparing for Stanley Cup Run

The Pittsburgh Penguins are amongst the elite in the NHL, with some of the best talent in the NHL they are often the standard by which opposing teams measure themselves. They took home the Stanley Cup in 2009 but have since failed to advance past the Conference Semi-finals. A large part of their lack of playoff success lately has been due to injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But with a healthy Sidney Crosby playing arguably the best hockey of his young career - the Pittsburgh Penguins are serious about winning the Stanley Cup this season.

The last two seasons saw Crosby battle through his concussions and as a result he wasn't able to play at the level many had come accustomed to seeing him play. He put up 103 points between the two seasons (66 and 37) but wasn't the same leader, he couldn't carry the Penguins on his own. So the Penguins went and acquired James Neal to help add depth and aid Evgeni Malkin in leading the Penguins while Crosby wasn't playing like Crosby.

Sidney Crosby is now back playing at the pace- if not slightly better than before his concussions, averaging 1.6 points per game through the first 33. With Sidney Crosby back as the best player in the world and a 12 game win streak the Penguins are in a "go for it" mode, and who can blame them?

Penguins GM Ray Shero has decided to get his playoff shopping list done a little early by acquiring Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars and Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks. While both Morrow and Murray have seen better days, they will add tremendous depth to the star-studded Penguins.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Shero's wheeling and dealing is the fact he didn't give up a single roster player in either trade. The losses to the Penguins were prospects and draft picks- and when you have Crosby, Neal, Malkin, Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett all locked up- the Penguins don't need to worry much about the future for now.

Back to the present, by going out and acquiring solid depth players who will make an impact in a playoff run the Penguins have solidified that they are serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. 
"With the makeup of a young team, having a healthy Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby -- which we haven't had in a couple years, we feel we have a nice good team and we're trying to do what we can to strengthen it. ~ Ray Shero

Morrow leaves his captaincy with the Stars to join his former Olympic teammate Sidney Crosby and Stars teammate James Neal. With Chris Kunitz and Neal0324_brenden_morrow07 playing bigger roles this season for the Penguins, Morrow will also become a lethal weapon and provide more secondary scoring. With Morrow being paired with Malkin and Neal look for him to up his scoring production and help the Penguins become the most well-rounded offensive team in the NHL.

In addition to secondary scoring Morrow will also add veteran leadership which will be vital for a deep playoff run. Brenden Morrow is the perfect player for the Penguins to acquire for them to make a valid run at the Cup and frankly they couldn't afford not to.

The Penguins have only won one playoff round since their Cup win in 2009, Crosby is finally healthy again and once again the best player in the world and the Penguins are atop the Eastern Conference. Everything is going right and this is their best chance at winning another Stanley Cup.
We want to win, It's up to us as players to do our part, but the organization and management is giving us every opportunity to do that. As a player, that's all you can ask for -- and we'll definitely try to do our best." ~ Sidney Crosby

Knowing how competitive Crosby is and his will to win, one Stanley Cup isn't enough- he wants several and now is the perfect time to add his second. douglas_murray

In addition to the great leadership and secondary scoring from Morrow the Penguins are also adding a solid defenceman in Douglas Murray. While the 6 foot 3, 240 pound defenceman wont be a star on the blue line like Kris Letang, he will add size, toughness and grit to the Penguins blue line. Murray is a solid shut-down defenceman who is used to going up against the oppositions best players.

But the most important attribute for the Penguins is the fact that Murray is a stay-at home defencenman. They don't need anymore high scoring defenceman, who like to jump up in the rush. They need someone who is strong in front of the net and clear the opposition out of the crease.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are making it clear they are in it to win it right now and with the season they're having there's no better time to make a run. If you thought the Pittsburgh Penguins were good now, just wait till they hit the playoffs with a healthy Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brenden Morrow, James Neal, Douglas Murray and Kris Letang.

The Penguins now have four forward lines full of depth, veteran leadership and all the right pieces to make a run. I don't see too many teams able to de-rail the red-hot Penguins.

Friday, 22 March 2013

All the Columbus Blue Jackets Had to do Was Ditch Rick Nash?

Has anyone checked to see how the Columbus Blue Jackets are doing this season? After getting rid of Rick Nash for what many called mere peanuts, it was expected that they wouldn't even be able to compete in the NHL this season. But they're currently sitting in 10th place in the West just 2 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot- with a game in hand. Yes the Columbus Blue Jackets are just 2 points out of a playoff spot- see for yourself.

A team who was ripped off for the All-Star Game because of the lockout, that's been a miserable joke for years and is supposed to be in rebuilding mode is only 2 points out. Who saw this coming? With this being a shortened season it was expected that even the worst teams would be in the mix till near the end of the season but this isn't the case with the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets (12-12-6) are currently riding a franchise record 11 game point streak and three of those games involved them beating the Detroit Red Wings, who have always had the Blue Jackets number. Earlier this month on March 3rd the Blue Jackets held the worst record in the NHL after going 5-12-4, but after going 7-0-4 in their last 11 games they're right back in the playoff hunt.
"It's so great in team sports when the players all of a sudden start to believe in themselves and each other." ~ Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen

After losing Nash to the New York Rangers the Blue Jackets were a team left without an identity, the had no superstars and people joked they were more of an AHL team. But after a GM change that saw Scott Howson get the boot and Jarmo Kekalainen take over, the Blue Jackets have had their "No names" step up.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been the driving force behind the Blue Jackets success as of late. He was named the first star of the NHL last week and hasSergeiBobrovskyUnderrated been solid between the pipes. In the month of March he's been a perfect 5-0-1 with a 0.83 Goals Against Average and a .970 Save Percentage, allowing just 5 goals on 166 shots.

Part of his success as of late is really understanding how to play goal and use his 6 foot 2 frame to his advantage. Earlier in his career he'd rely on quick feet but had a deep crouch and leaned too far forward on his skates allowing him to fall victim to "weak" goals. Now he understands the angles and is playing a much more centred game allowing him to have more control on the initial shot and standing much taller in the crease instead of shrinking.

But it's not just Bobrovsky that has elevated his game as of late.Vinny Prospal is the Blue Jackets leading scorer with 9 goals and 18 points followed closely by Mark Letestu with 7 goals and 16 points. Prospal and Letestu have been the best players this season for the Blue Jackets leading the team offensively.

Jack Johnson has been holding down the fort on defence eating up 26 minutes a night and putting up 14 points. Johnson has been playing so well he's garnered a lot of attention from other teams looking to acquire a defenceman for the playoffs and could be excellent trade bait should the Blue Jackets chose to 2012-World-Ice-Hockey-Championships-Columbus-Blue-Jackets-Jack-Johnson-to-lead-Team-USA-NHL-News-151706trade him. Should the Blue Jackets chose to keep the defenceman he could become an excellent choice to become their next captain and perhaps even franchise player- he certainly talks like one.
"We have to play to win, not play to not lose. There is a huge difference. It’s an exciting brand of hockey that brings people to games, and that is the only way we can start to grow the fan base back up."

Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon have been great additions to the Blue Jackets and while they may not have the star power as the player they were traded for, they're doing their part to help the Blue Jackets. Anisimov has 6 goals and 8 points while battling through injuries while Erixon has 4 assists and plays just over 16 minutes a night on the blue line.

Mix in 24 points from Nick Foligno and RJ Umberger and you have a solid team that is only 2 points out of the playoffs. The fact that they're without a superstar or big first line center doesn't seem to be bothering the Blue Jackets and their quest to make the playoffs. When you have a whole bunch of players that are willing to do whatever they can to help their team win good things are going to happen. The Blue Jacket players are all committed to blocking shots, penalty killing, bailing each other out and most importantly sticking up for each other.

Not having a captain to "lead" the team seems to be working for the Blue Jackets as the team has great chemistry and is playing well together. Rick Nash left so he could have a chance to win but his New York Rangers aren't doing so well while the Blue Jackets are climbing up the standings- maybe Rick Nash was the problem in Columbus.

While it remains unknown if the Blue Jackets will actually make the playoffs at this point, I like their odds. They need to continue their hot play and prove they are for real, keep working together as a team and get solid goaltending from Bobrovsky for them to squeak into the playoffs in the West.
“We expect to be in the playoff picture." ~ Mark Letestu

On paper the Blue Jackets are a talented playoff team but on the ice they're playing a like a solid team that isn't afraid of anyone. Right now the Blue Jacket players are playing for the name on the front of their jersey- part of not having any stars- and when you have a team of players sold out to the success of the team, ore than their personal success it's a difficult team to beat.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Anaheim Ducks Had to Give Corey Perry More than Ryan Getzlaf

Not only are the Anaheim Ducks making a splash with their play on the ice, they've also made a rather large splash off the ice by spending a quarter of their cap space on two players. Those players are captain Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both players likely to be Ducks for the rest of their careers inking 8 year deals.

Captain Ryan Getzlaf was the first to sign his 8 year extension with the Ducks after making it clear he didn't want to go anywhere else. Getzlaf's deal was worthAnaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings a whopping $66 million working out to around $8 million a year- a tough contract for the captain who's never scored 30 goals to live up too. After news broke of Getzlaf'signing, it was immediately assumed that his teammate and good freidn Corey Perry would not be coming back due to cap space.

There was lots of speculation that Corey Perry was anxious to test the free agent market at the end of the year and that the Ducks would try to shop him at the trade deadline. Up until the wingers suspension it didn't look like a deal was to be reached- but with a little extra time to think and some advice from Bob McCown advising him "Not to chase after money if you're happy already," Perry changed his mind and resigned an 8 year deal with $69 million.

Two of the biggest things weighing on Perry were being closer to his family and getting the money he felt he deserved. After the Ducks agreed to terms with Getzlaf it looked like they wouldn't be able to keep Corey Perry at a price that was some what fair to his skill level and what he brings to the team, if they planned on keeping Bobby Ryan.

After a horrible year last season and then bursting out of the gate winning their first 20 of 26 games it became obvious there's a bright future in Anaheim under Bruce Boudreau. But that bright future needed the skill of Corey Perry in order to continue being bright.

While the name Corey Perry may not have the same bang that Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane or Evgeni Malkin have- he's one of the young elite in the NHL. Turning 28 fairly soon he's just entering the prime of career which scary- scary good for Ducks fans.

In his 7 years with the Ducks he's scored 30+ goals 4 times and has never had a season under 50 points (aside from his rookie year), he won the Hart Trophy as the MVP in 2011, Rocket Richard Trophy, already has a Stanley Cup to his name and an Olympic Gold Medal. Not bad for a kid who isn't even 28 yet!

When you look at the offensive side of things Corey Perry brings more to the table than Ryan Getzlaf. In Getzlaf's 7 seasons with the Ducks he's never scored more than 25 goals. While he may not score as much as his teammate he's a huge reason Perry enjoys the success he does- Getzlaf has hit the 50 point mark every year but his rookie year, a large part of that is assists.

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are not only teammates but also good friends and it's that chemistry and friendship that helps them have success on the ice. That chemistry is also a major reason why Perry chose to resign with the Ducks. hi-res-134861942_crop_exact
" It definitely helps having Getz and I signed here for a while" ~ Corey Perry

The two young stars who are about turn 28 (birthdays are just days apart) have formed a remarkable chemistry, meshing well and forming arguably one of the best tandems in the NHL. Having both young superstars resign for the long-term is great news for the future of the Anaheim Ducks. Not only does the team have a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup this season they will be competitive for several more years.

Perhaps what makes Corey Perry so lethal is the fact he's already had a slump. Last year was an off-season for Perry, despite scoring 37 goals he only recorded 60 points the first time he's had a slump in production. Every young player goes through slumps, Patrick Kane is coming out one, Claude Giroux is going through one, Alex Semin had one with the Capitals and even Crosby went through a bit of a slump due to injury. Slumps in production happen to the best of them and the good thing for Perry and the Ducks is he's already had a slump.

With 24 points in 25 games this year Perry seems to be back to his old form and with Bruce Boudreau now coaching the Ducks things look good for Perry's production in the future. When push came to shove there was no real reason for Corey Perry to leave Anaheim. He got more money for staying (8 years instead of 7), Boudreau will let him focus on offence, he stays with Getzlaf and is on a team that has potential to win another Stanley Cup.

Back to the original question- why does Corey Perry deserve more money than Ryan Getzlaf- because of his resume. While both players have Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medals, only one is a consistent 30+ goal scorer and has won individual NHL awards. When you look at the stats Perry deserved a little more money than Getzlaf, he's done more to contribute to the teams success, the Ducks couldn't afford to lose the skill of Perry he is arguably one of the best young players in the game.


Monday, 18 March 2013

Chris Kunitz is the Perfect Winger for Sidney Crosby

Let's forget all the debate for a moment- Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world, period. As Crosby is the best player in the world many believe he should be playing with better wingers than Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. The Pittsburgh Penguins have taken a lot of flack for not having an all-star winger like James Neal playing on a line with Crosby, but Kunitz is doing just fine on the first line.

A lot of people are crediting Chris Kunitz's success this season- 18 goals and 40 points- to playing on a line with Sidney Crosby. But Crosby see's it differently;
"Anyone who has played with him will tell you that he does so many little things. He makes us all look good by putting the puck in the back of the net." ~ Sidney Crosby

Chris Kunitz currently sits 2nd in NHL scoring with 18 goals and 40 points, behind his linemate Crosby. He's on pace to set a career high with 66 points and 30 goals despite this only being a shortened season. Heck there's even talks the un-drafted winger has a shot of winning the Art Ross trophy. It would be hard to look at the success Kunitz is enjoying this season and not relate it to Crosby, who has assisted on 14 of his 18 goals and has the ability to make all his linemates better.

There's no doubt he's benefited from playing on a line with the best player in the world but in all fairness to Chris Kunitz you have to look at what he brings to the table and his track record. While Kunitz was playing with the Anaheim Ducks he played on lines with Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Andy McDonald and put up at least 50 points in all 4 seasons with the Ducks. He also won a Stanley Cup while in Anaheim and was given the role of alternate captain in his final year before being traded to Pittsburgh.

Last year while Crosby was out with a concussion Kunitz played on a line with Evgeni Malkin, ironically Malkin won the Hart trophy. This season Kunitz has been reunited with Crosby and guess who's one of the leading candidates to win the Hart- Sidney Crosby. Perhaps Chris Kunitz is a little more valuable than people think.

When watching Chris Kunitz play this season there's two things that stand out. His confidence and his willingness to go to the tough areas. The most important thing for Kunitz is that he understands his game. He knows he doesn't have a menacing shot like James Neal or the play making ability of Crosby ChrisKunitzbut he does have speed, grit and an ability to make life miserable for opposing goaltenders as he camps out in front looking for the tip. He plays a north-south game, keeping things simple and hunting for loose pucks always waiting to pounce.

When the Penguins faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week there was a play by Kunitz that really stuck out to me and showed how much confidence he has in his game. He carried the puck into the Leafs zone put the breaks on and skated back towards the blue line where he was greeted by two Leafs and there was a third not far behind. Kunitz didn't panic and passed the puck to Dupuis alone in the slot.

He has so much composure when carrying the puck into the oppositions end, he doesn't automatically look for Crosby he waits and tries to make a play. His play this season has turned himself into a solid first line winger who the team can count on and most importantly he has earned the trust of Crosby. 

"He's just so dependable and that's contagious. When a guy is that responsible, you want to make sure you're following that up. You build that trust" ~ Sidney Crosby.

Chris Kunitz has certainly won over both his teammates and coaches for his skill and versatility;
"Chris does a lot of little things well to be a good complementary guy to play with."He goes hard to the net, forces turnovers, is a physical guy, but maybe more so this year than other he has moved into that slot area and been a weapon with his shot." ~ Dan Bylsma

The thing that makes Chris Kunitz the perfect winger for Crosby is the fact he doesn't like the spot light, he's perfectly fine being over looked. As Penguins GM Ray Shero said "he flies under the radar." When the opposition thinks about defending the Penguins they think of Crosby, Malkin, Neal and even Kris Letang but Chris Kunitz is an after-thought.

Perhaps his humbleness and willingness to do the dirty work is what helps his chemistry with Crosby, whatever it is the two just seem to connect becoming onehi-res-161628209_crop_exact of the best duo's in the league. Being an un-drafted, underrated player is likely one of the key reasons to his success. The opposition doesn't play him as hard as Crosby and he's usually left un-guarded when Crosby is working his magic with the puck.

Once thought to be an NHL journeyman traveling from team to team finding a brief stay on third lines Chris Kunitz has found a home in Pittsburgh playing on the top line along with Sidney Crosby. Not bad for a kid who played tier 2 college hockey and was un-drafted. Kunitz has turned himself into a consistent scorer netting 20 goals in 6 of 7 NHL seasons and now at the age of 33 it appears Chris Kunitz is making a name for himself and emerging from the shadows.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Anaheim Ducks Quietly Making a Splash

While everyone was focusing on the Chicago Blackhawks remarkable 21-0-3 start the Anaheim Ducks were quietly winning hockey games and making their way up the NHL standings. The Ducks lead their division and are 2nd in the NHL just four points behind the aforementioned Blackhawks. If not for the Blackhawks breaking records and eating up all the attention the Ducks would be the hottest team in the NHL.

The Ducks are 19-3-3 and while those may not be Blackhawks numbers, it's still quite impressive and it may be time for fans to start jumping on the Ducks bandwagon as the Blackhawks are reeling and the Ducks are flying. The Ducks are currently riding a 4 game wining streak and have the leagues best power play capitalizing on 26.7%, proving they are a force to be reckoned with in the West.

When looking at the Ducks success one thing you can't overlook is the affect of Bruce Brodreau. Here's a coach who was almost carried out of Washington by fans, media and even the players for not being able to get Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin to play up to their potential. He was made to be the joke of the NHL and after Brodreau fell from grace in Washington he found a new home in LA with the Ducks.

It wasn't exactly smooth swimming at first as the Ducks finished last in the division and 25th in the entire NHL. But to start off 2013 Brodreau seems to have them all on the same page, starting the year off 3-1-1 and turning that into a 19-3-3 run to 2nd in the NHL. Amazing what a coach can accomplish when he finds a bunch of players that are willing to listen, play hockey and aren't entirely self focused- heck there's even some talk of Brodreau being a frontrunner for the Jack Adams award. So how are the Capitals doing with Dale Hunter, oh right they had to make another coaching change since he didn't have any luck either. Having fun Adam Oates?

Bruce Brodreau deserves a ton of credit for turning the Ducks back into contenders. But the coach can't take all the credit as the product that takes the ice is what determines the out come and captain Ryan Getzlaf has been one of the Ducks best players right from the start. Getzlaf who isn't normally a "quick starter" started off the year on fire putting up two goals and three assists through the teams first five games.
"This year, he’s done a great job of leading by example on the ice. That’s probably the best way to be a captain: Lead on the ice, not just talk." ~ Bruce Brodreau on Ryan Getzlaf

The captain has not slowed down leading the team in scoring with 10 goals and 21 assists, he's put up 31 points which is good enough for 5th in the NHL. His strong play to start off the year earned him an 8 year $66 million bonus, a contract that will be tough for the captain to live up too but another Stanley Cup can only help.

Getzlaf's partner in crime Corey Perry has also stepped up to the plate and is 2nd on the team in scoring with 9 goals and 15 assists for 24 points through the first 24 games. This is a big year for Perry who is looking to test the free agent markets, putting up big points and helping his team win can only help his value- so the Ducks are benefiting from that. Bobby Ryan got off to a bit of a slow start this season with only one goal up to Feb. 1, which was a little troublesome as he's been their guaranteed 30 goal scorer over the last four seasons. Ryan has picked it up as of last with eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points.

Any team that plans on winning in the NHL, whether it be a streak like that Blackhawks, the Ducks or even a 5 game win streak, needs 2 things- Goaltending and secondary scoring. The Ducks have been getting solid secondary scoring from Saku Koivu (21 points), Teemu Selanne (17 points), Daniel Winnik ( 13 points) and Andrew Cogliano ( 16 points) which have helped make up for Ryan being cold early on.

[caption id="attachment_2609" align="alignright" width="195"]Anaheim Ducks forward Daniel Winnik Anaheim Ducks forward Daniel Winnik[/caption]

Daniel Winnik got off to the best start of any of the Ducks forwards, putting up five goals in the first five games and is already half-way to his career high 11 goals. Not bad for a guy who was expected to be a healthy scratch.
“Probably the biggest thing about scoring goals is believing you can, and he’s got the confidence that he can score. I don’t think he believes he’s pigeon-holed into a checking forward." ~ Bruce Brodreau on Daniel Winnik.

The Ducks have benefited from an un-sung hero between the pipes- Viktor Fasth. Fasth has been able to provide the Ducks with solid and consistent goaltending while Jonas Hiller has either been injured or inconsistent. Fasth has played in 13 games for the Ducks and is 10-1-1 with a 1.92 Goals Against Average and .929 Save Percentage.

The 30 year-old rookie earned himself a 2-year contract extension with the Ducks. He's been a major reason why the Ducks have been able to climb up the NHL standings and quietly become one of the best teams in the NHL right now. When both Fasth and Hiller are healthy and on their game they have potential to be the best goaltending tandem in the league.

Add productive forwards and solid goaltending to Francois Beauchemin, the Ducks best defenceman, who is having a fantastic year leading all Ducks defencemen with 16 points and eating up 23 minutes a night. But perhaps the best thing about Beauchemin is the fact he's not a liability on defence with a +/- 17, when he's on the ice the opposition isn't scoring often.

When everyone from the coach down to the goaltender is doing their job it makes a recipe for success and the Ducks are enjoying that success. The Anaheim Ducks are arguably the best team in the NHL right now and a real threat in the Western Conference. But perhaps what makes the Ducks more of a threat in the post-season than the Blackhawks is the fact that despite their strong play they've lost a few games. They're more accustomed to losing and now how to react next game to insure it doesn't happen again. The way the Ducks are coming together a run to another Stanley Cup isn't out of the question.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Toronto Maple Leafs Will Make the Playoffs in 2013

Take a deep breath you're not seeing things, the title really says that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs this season. If you listened to the debut episode of "Caitlin's Corner" around the 20 minute mark, I said that the Toronto Maple Leafs will end their playoff drought this season.

Through 24 games the Leafs sit 6th in the Eastern Conference 1 point up on the Ottawa Senators and just 4 points behind the Boston Bruins. With 15 wins and 31 points the Leafs have started off the shortened season on fire and look to be poised to end their long post-season drought. Despite the great start to the season for the Leafs, there's still not a lot of optimism surrounding this team yet and a major reason why is last seasons major collapse. The Leafs went from playoff contention before the all-star break to a top 5 draft pick by the end of the season- the good news this season, there's no all-star break!

As Steve Dangle points out saying the "P" word is almost too difficult for Leafs fans who have suffered through so many close calls. But because of the fantastic start by the Leafs (and the 48 game season) the Leafs just need to play .500 hockey to have a valid shot at being in the top 8 in the East and thus entering the playoffs. Now that Brian Burke is no longer controlling the Leafs and Randy Carlyle has taught them how to play hockey there's a different feel to the 2013 Leafs than past teams. They don't seem to be as fragile- they've yet to lose back to back games, they've survived injuries to Joffrey Lupul, Jake Gardiner and James Reimer and most importantly they never seem to be out of a game. Despite losing 5-4 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the shootout, the Leafs never gave up in the game being down 3-1 after 1 period and then 4-2 later on. They showed great grit and determination and managed to drag out a point in a game they were badly outplayed.

What the Leafs and their fans should be proud of is the fact that other teams are finally starting to consider them a legitimate team.
"They've difinitely tightened up their game. I'm one of those guys who believe they are a legit contender!" ~ Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien.

To get a complement like that from a divisional rivals head coach is huge and speaks volumes for how far the Leafs have come under Carlyle. Now when teams are getting ready to face the Leafs they no longer think it's an "easy 2 points" they know it's going to be a hard fought battle right to the end. The Leafs have a shot to win against any team in the East right now and are no longer getting blown-out by powerhouses like the Penguins and Bruins.

Perhaps what's most remarkable about the Leafs 15-10-1 record, is the fact Phil Kessel hasn't hit his stride yet! Kessel has just 7 goals through the first half of the season but because Nazem Kadri (11 goals) and James van Riemsdyk (14 goals) have picked up the slack the Leafs don't have to worry. Even Matt Frattin who has only played 11 games is tied for 4th on the team in scoring with 7 goals.

The Leafs have been getting production from everywhere. Tyler Bozak has 6 goals and has been winning face-offs like a mad man winning 54.5% of his face-offs. Kadri has 25 points in 26 games, JVR is turning into a great power forward playing on the first line, Clarke MacArthur has netted 7 goals and Colton Orr has put up 3 points and 62 penalty minutes proving he's still a valuable player. Michael Kostka and Mark Fraser have both been solid on the blue-line combining for 12 points after making the team after starting the year with the Marlies.

On top of the offence stepping up to the plate and doing their job you also have to credit the goaltending. Coming into the season everyone thought the tandem 8060804of Ben Scrivens and James Reimer would be weak and the downfall of the team. But through the first 24 games both have been solid between the pipes, giving the Leafs a chance to win every night. Even though Reimer was a little shaky against the Penguins, he got his game under control and came up big late in the game for the Leafs.

As I mentioned earlier the Leafs just need to finish off the year playing .500 hockey and in all likely hood they wont, they'll finish above .500. This is a proud Leafs team, they know the skill that they have, they've become more accountable and they're not going to limp into the playoffs. Carlyle will keep them focused and accountable, if they start to slack he'll replace them with players who really want to battle hard.

Everything seems to be clicking for the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs and with Lupul returning from his injury soon they're about to get another offencive weapon back. It seems that despite the hockey crazy market of Toronto not giving the Leafs much credit yet, (picking apart their every move), the Leafs are able to keep rolling on- almost like they play better when people have no faith in them. The Toronto Maple Leafs embrace the roll as the underdog and this year their never give up attitude will earn them a spot in the playoffs.

Friday, 8 March 2013

NHL Realignment Gets The Pass Until 2014-2015

Something rare happened in the NHL on Thursday evening and no it has nothing to do with the Chicago Blackhawks remarkable 21-0-3 record. The NHLPA actually agreed to something the NHL presented! I mean if they did this more often we could have avoided the whole lockout! The NHLPA gave the green light on the NHL's presented realignment which will see the Eastern Conference now hold 16 teams to the Western Conference's 14.

Despite some teams and players being concerned over having 16 teams in the East and some of the added travel, the NHLPA decided to play night and say yes to NHL realignment with the understanding that they will re-visit it after the 2014-2015 NHL season.

Here's a link at the new conferences. (They have yet to be named so for now it's just conference 1,2,3,4)

Conference 1                                                                       [box]

  • Carolina Hurricanes

  • Columbus Blue Jackets

  • New Jersey Devils

  • New York Islanders

  • New York Rangers

  • Philadelphia Flyers

  • Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Washington Capitals


Conference 2


  • Boston Bruins

  • Buffalo Sabres

  • Detroit Red Wings

  • Florida Panthers

  • Montreal Canadiens

  • Ottawa Senators

  • Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Toronto Maple Leafs


Conference 3


  • Chicago Blackhawks

  • Colorado Avalanche

  • Dallas Stars

  • Minnesota Wild

  • Nashville Predators

  • St. Louis Blues

  • Winnipeg Jets


Conference 4


  • Anaheim Ducks

  • Calgary Flames

  • Edmonton Oilers

  • Los Angeles Kings

  • Phoenix Coyotes

  • San Jose Sharks

  • Vancouver Canucks


Take a long hard look at the new "Divisions," the Eastern Conference just got a lot more difficult as we welcome Pavel Datsyuk and the Detroit Red Wings.

Of course the new format makes the old playoff format null and void, but we will still see a West vs. East Stanley Cup final. Here's how the new playoff format will play out- the top 3 teams from each division will earn a playoff birth, the final 4 spots will be "wild cards" which will go to the teams that weren't the top 3 with the best records from each Conference. The playoff format will then have the 1st place team play the lowest wild card in their division and the 2nd face off against the 3 seed. The playoffs will be based on division and not conference, meaning the Canadiens and Bruins would have to face-off as well as the Flyers and Penguins in either the quarter-finals or the semi-finals.

If you're confused here's an example, the Los Angeles Kings who were the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions would have missed the playoffs last season under the new format despite having more points than the Blackhawks who would have made it. Basically all that matters is your place in your division.

The great thing about the new realignment and playoff format is it will add so more fuel to a lot of rivalries- perhaps the biggest one at the moment Flyers vs. Penguins, who's battles will be even more important under the new format. We're in for some exciting hockey with the new NHL realignment plan, but the Eastern Conference got the a raw deal and if there is no expansion coming soon I can't see it lasting past 2015.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Has Marian Hossa Had the Most Underrated NHL Career?

On the weekend Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa played his 1000th career NHL game and on Tuesday night the Blackhawks organization honoured Hossa with a ceremony before their game. All his Blackhawks teammates wore #81 jerseys in warm up and to put the night over the top Marian Hossa scored a goal in a night all about #81. Playing in 1000 career NHL games is quite the accomplishment in a career that has lasted 15 NHL seasons, so it begs the question Is Marian Hossa a Hall of Fame Player? But in addition to the discussion of him being a Hall of Famer, has Marian Hossa had the most under-rate career in the NHL?

While watching the Blackhawks/ Wild game last night one of the broadcasters was talking about Hossa and his 1000th game accomplishment and he said; "Success just seems to follow this guy around, he's one of the most successful players but he doesn't get a lot of credit." That got me thinking. When you think about some of the best players in the game, especially ones who have been around as long as Hossa you think of guys like Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur but Hossa isn't exactly the first name to pop into one's head. Heck Hossa isn't even the first name you think of when talking about the Chicago Blackhawks, those honours go to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

But when you really sit back and look at the numbers Marian Hossa has had a career that many would envy. He's hit the 70 point plateau 7 times, reached the coveted 100 point plateau in 2006-2007 (with the Atlanta Thrashers of all teams) and has hit the 80 point plateau twice.  Although remarkably he's never hit the 50 goal plateau. He's reached the playoffs in 12 of his 15 NHL seasons, helped the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years and age 34 shows no signs of slowing down.

While Hossa has found success with virtually every team he's played for and reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice in a row- once with the Pittsburgh Penguins and then with the Detroit Red Wings the following season, his best success has come with the Blackhawks. Last year (before his concussion) he wasStanley Cup Blackhawks Flyers Hockey lighting things up with the Blackhawks as he had 77 points in 81 games and of course he finally won the cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, after falling just short the two previous seasons. Although Marian Hossa has only been with the Blackhawks for four seasons he will go down as one of the best Blackhawks the franchise has seen. He's an elite forward who puts in work at both ends of the ice, a unique player by today's standards when you look at Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos primarily focused on offence. Much like Kane, Marian Hossa has the ability to make the impossible seem possible and while he doesn't play with the same type of style or intensity of Kane, there's no doubt Hossa is just as passionate about the game and winning. Heck he switched from the Penguins to play for the Red Wings because the Wings beat the Penguins in the Stanley Cup final- Hossa is the type of player who wants to win and he's found a team capable of winning.

With the way the Blackhawks and Hossa are playing right now, there's a very real possibility that he could win his 2nd Stanley Cup. Since only a few great players ever win the Stanley Cup wouldn't the chance to win his 2nd put him in the elite category? Heck wouldn't the fact he's been to 4 Stanley Cup finals put him in the elite category alone? So why is Marian Hossa still a player who get's forgotten about when talking about the best players in the game?

Is it because he's 34 now and is playing behind 2 superstars on the Blackhawks? Or the fact he seems to be "injury prone?" My guess is it's a bit of both, it's hard to steal headlines away from Kane and Toews and unless you focus on the Blackhawks he's kind of an after thought even with his 10 goals and 18 points this season. But Hossa has had a difficult time staying healthy during his lengthy NHL career and went 5 straight season playing less than 75 games from 2007-2011. The majority of his injuries have been because of his knee's, but he's also had shoulder surgery and a neck injury. But the most drastic was perhaps after a devastating concussion on a dirty hit from Raffi Torres that put his NHL career in jeopardy.

So why is Marian Hossa who is still among the NHL's elite so underrated? With 1001 NHL games under his belt with 427 goals and 922 points he is among Philadelphia Flyers v Chicago Blackhawks - Stanley Cupthe NHL elite. With at least 3 more seasons in the tank, a possible shot at another Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks , and the 2014 Sochi Olympics around the corner there's not telling how much Hossa will be able to accomplish before he hangs up the skates.

So back to the original question- Does Hossa belong in the Hall of Fame or Hall of very good? As of right now Marian Hossa belongs in the Hall of very Good- heck maybe even the Hall of incredibly talented, but not the Hall of Fame. In 15 seasons he hasn't once hit the 50 goal plateau and has only hit the 100 point plateau once. Despite being one of the best right wingers in the NHL he doesn't have any individual awards to his name and with him being 34 he's probably not going to win any scoring awards. Saying that if he is to win another Stanley Cup and reach 1000 or 1200 points he may get in, but not a first ballot Hall of Famer. As of right now Marian Hossa is in the Hall of Very Good only time will tell if he can make it into the Hall of Fame.

Now to decide on whether Marian Hossa has had an underrated NHL career. A large part of his game that is underrated his is two-way play, he's a phenomenal offencive talent but just as good in his own end. He'll block shots and kill penalties which a lot "stars" wont, yet he'll still score you close to 30 goals a season. He's always been a key player on every team he's played for, but usually doesn't get a ton of credit for that teams success- which is why Marian Hossa is an underrated player.

What do you think?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Is Patrick Kane the Best Goal Scorer in the NHL?

When you think of some of the best players in the NHL today you immediately think about Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk but it's rare that people think of Patrick Kane as one of the best players in the game. Maybe there are better all around players than Kane, but there are few players that have the ability to score goals the way Kane does. He leaves goalies scratching their heads and fans in awe of his jaw-dropping moves, as he proved in the Blackhawks shootout win against the Red Wings, when you need a goal late in a game you want Kane on the ice. Which begs the question is Patrick Kane the best goal scorer in the NHL right now?

After being drafted 1st overall in the 2007 draft Patrick Kane has a had a roller coster kind of career. He won the cup in 2010, was a member of the silver medal American team at the 2010 Olympics and won the Calder trophy in 2008 after putting up 72 points. Everything on the ice was going great until the 2011-2012 season which saw him score a career low 23 goals and he failed to score a single goal in the Blackhawks first round playoff match with the Canucks. That offseason some embarrassing photo's of the Blackhawks winger went viral and with controversy both on and off the ice trade rumours started to swirl around the young star.

But after starting the lockout shortened season in the Swiss Elite league Patrick Kane is on pace for his best season in the NHL. While playing in the Swiss league alongside Tyler Seguin, Kane was one of the most exciting and electrifying players to watch, he made everything look so easy and effortless on his way to putting up 23 points in 20 games. Coming back with the Blackhawks and captain Jonathan Toews, Kane hasn't lost a step at all putting up 26 points in 22 games, helping the Blackhawks to a 19-0-3 record. Not only has Kane been able to score timely goals, he's also been one of the most consistent players recording at least a point in 18 of the Blackhawks 22 games. If this was a full NHL season and Kane was able to keep up the pace he's at right now he would hit the 100 point plateau.

What you have with Patrick Kane goes beyond the score-sheet. The 24 year-old winger possess so much skill and talent you at times wonder if he's human. He has a unique mixture of elite speed, goal scoring ability, phenomenal vision and arguably the best play-making ability, which make him one of the most elite players in the NHL. Kane is able to do things with the puck that most can't even dream about, he's so skilled the ice is like his canvas and he's painting his master piece. He came into the 2013 season as a more focused player, like he had something to prove and isn't going to quit until he accomplishes his goal.

One thing that often goes un-noticed with Patrick Kane is his passion for the game. Of all the things you can criticize Kane for, passion to win is something nib-patrick-kane-r_jpg_600x345_crop-smart_upscale_q85you can't. You can see his passion by simply looking at his eyes, so focused, wanting to be the game changer and wanting to be the best player on the ice. His passion is what drives his creativity, his quick hands that leave both defenceman and goalies lost as he skates or buries the puck past them. His passion for the game that drives him to want to be the best player on the ice and the best that he can be and that's what separates him from some of the other elite players in the league. Another unique thing about Kane is the fact he has fun when playing. The smile he gets after he scores a goal, he's just a happy guy who's playing the game he loves for a living.

Patrick Kane is arguably the best American-born player in the NHL today and looking ahead to Sochi 2014 he will be the best player for the Americans. Right now this 2013 season you're seeing a player who is determined to become the best he can be, he wants to lead the Blackhawks to several championships and he has all the skill and ability to become the best forward in the NHL.

So what do you think is Patrick Kane the best goal scorer in the NHL?

Friday, 1 March 2013

Why Signing Ryan O'Reilly to an Offer Sheet was Dumb

The new NHL CBA is a complex thing and as a result not all general managers have every little clause figured out yet. But you know when someone says you better read the fine print, well thats extremely important if you're an NHL GM about to make a massive move that could change the state of your franchise. Young forward Ryan O'Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche were having trouble coming to terms on a new deal that would keep O'Reilly, a RFA, in Colorado. Since there was no new progress between the two sides the Calgary Flames and Jay Feaster decided to step in signing O'Reilly to a 2 year $10 million offer-sheet.

By inking O'Reilly the Flames would be sending a first and a third round draft pick back to the Avalanche as compensation should they have chosen not to match the offer-sheet. Pretty hefty compensation for a young, unproven player and a team that is soon entering a "re-building" phase. But now on top of being out two potential great draft-picks and using up $10 million in cap space, it appears a new ruling in the CBA states the Calgary Flames would have lost their rights to Ryan O'Reilly as soon as he joined their roster.

Due to the fact Ryan O'Reilly played in 2 games ( January 21st and 23rd) with the KHL after the lockout had ended O'Reilly has to go through waivers before returning to NHL action should he not re-sign with the Avalanche. Confusing no? Here's the rule we're talking about in the new CBA-
Rule 13:23 "In the event a professional or former professional player plays in a league outside of North America after the start of the NHL regular season, other than on loan from his club, he may thereafter play in the NHL during that playing season (including playoffs) only if he has first cleared or been obtained via waivers."

Think about the drastic measures of this for a moment, the Calgary Flames would have given up 2 draft picks and still lost Ryan O'Reilly because he played in PC_121207_ai9x0_ryanoreilly_sn635the KHL past the end of the NHL lockout. If the Avalanche had not done the Flames a massive favour by matching the offer-sheet, Jay Feaster would probably be out of a job right now! Thankfully for Feaster the Avalanche matched the offer sheet or this might have been the biggest gaffe in NHL history, the fact that Feaster didn't do his homework or at least ask Gary Bettman what the repercussions of signing O'Reilly would be is mind boggling. This would have been a huge move for the Flames signing for a top young player to help their team win now while they still have Jarome Iginla, yet would have had O'Reilly snatched away by the Columbus Blue Jackets or perhaps even the Colorado Avalanche for nothing.

For anyone who is doubting Ryan O'Reilly's status or the fact that the Flames would have been forced to put him on waivers:

The NHL much like Feaster also needs to learn to do their homework and keep track of their players. A slight oversight by the NHL had them believing that Ryan O'Reilly did not play in the KHL past the end of the NHL lockout- a slight oversight that would have had catastrophic measures for the Flames organization and Feaster's career.

Right now the Calgary Flames and Jay Feaster are thanking their lucky stars that the Avalanche matched their offer sheet for O'Reilly. But for all you conspiracy theorists out there, there is the possibility that while Feaster is taking the brunt and being made to look like an idiot, was working with the Avalanche GM Greg Sherman to insure that the Avalanche didn't lose Ryan O'Reilly. But in saying that the Flames aided a divisional rival by giving an offer-sheet to O'Reilly forcing the Avalanche to match and thus bolstering their lineup.

Would losing a 1st and a 3rd round draft pick in an attempt to steal away a young player, yet having to lose that player anyways be the biggest embarrassment in NHL history? After this near mishap, the Flames need to take a step back and ownership should consider replacing Feaster before he drives this franchise into the ground. There are better ways to improve your roster than risking 2 draft picks for nothing!

Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames are extremely lucky that the Colorado Avalanche matched the offer sheet for Ryan O'Reilly.