1. NHL players in or out of the next Olympics?
There is no reason the NHL should not send players to the 2014 Olympics. The amount of attention the tournament gets worldwide is nothing but a positive thing for the NHL. Even for teams like Germany Latvia (among others) who were unlikely to win a medal at the games it gives them exposure and a gateway to getting more people interested in the game which results in better teams as the years go on. That is also true for countries that were unable to qualify for the Olympics this time around. The more countries that participate in hockey the better the talent pool, as a result the level of play in the NHL will continue to go up making a better product to market.
Secondly, the amount of people who watched the Gold Medal game in the United States was reportedly close to 30 million. The NHL (and NBC for that matter) is always looking for ways to better market the game in the U.S. and to gain greater viewership across the country. The Olympics (the Gold Medal game in particular) provided that to the NHL as everyone on the ice is currently playing for an NHL team. Not only that but it got people who ordinarily would not care about hockey to tune in; of that group of people—let’s say 5 million don’t care about hockey generally—if even 200,000 people (that’s only 4%) grew an interest in the game that makes it completely worth it for the NHL to participate in the Olympics. That is 200,000 more people to buy tickets and merchandise or possibly compete in hockey tournaments of their own and perhaps expose the game to other people.
Granted, the U.S. team will not always make it to the Gold Medal game, nor will that game consist of all NHL players and there is also the time zone issues when the games are not held in North America. There is also the issue of the NHL gaining no money from these games directly while also having to halt their season for two weeks, sacrifice its own all-star game, and subject NHL players to injury that could cause them to miss regular season time. But in the end the exposure they get is priceless and they do not have to invest a dime to get that. Players are not being paid for their participation in the Olympics –at least not by the NHL—so there is no salary issue for NHL owners. Not to mention the fact that it is only two-weeks once every four years for something that most agree ultimately helps the NHL much more than it hurts if it hurts the league at all. Some have suggested it’s just a bargaining tool by the NHL to use when negotiating the next CBA, no matter the case the NHL players should be in the Olympics so enough nonsense already and let them go.
2. Touch Icing:
For whatever reason there has been a debate for many years about whether to institute automatic icing in the NHL like they do in international and NCAA hockey. It should be a no brainer, END TOUCH ICING. I have given my piece on this before so I won’t say a whole lot. This past week on Coach’s Corner on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada Don Cherry did a great segment on getting rid of touch icing, go to the following link to see the piece (http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/Sports/CBC%27s_Hockey_Night_in_Canada) , then click on Coach’s Corner (on the left side of the screen) then watch the March 6th video, it is one of the last things Cherry talks about toward the end of the video and I could not agree with him more.
3. Shootouts, why do home teams always choose to shoot first?:
I will never understand why the home team always decides to shoot first giving the road team the last chance to score. Some say it’s because they want to put pressure on the other team by scoring first. Quite frankly that logic is garbage and inherently flawed. Ask any athlete in any sport and when it comes down to it they want to have the ball in their hands/at their feet, or the puck on their stick with the game on the line witch a chance to win. Consider baseball, the oldest game in America for years and years has always given the home team a marked ADVANTAGE by giving them the last chance to score in the game (i.e. the bottom of the ninth). If any manager went up to the umpire before a game and said “I know we’re the home team but today I’d like to bat first instead and give them the final at-bat in the ninth. Yeah this way we can put pressure on them from the get-go.” he would be fired almost immediately. The only time I can see this logic being reasonable is if your goaltender is your best player, then of course you went to give your greatest asset in the best position possible to win the game for you but 99% of the time that is not the case. I do not profess to know more about hockey than coaches or professional players generally but in this case the decision to shoot first is asinine.
A week ago today the world saw one of the best hockey games in quite some time and certainly the best game of the Olympic tournament. Despite tremendous tenacity expressed by the Americans it was hockey king Canada led by Sidney Crosby who left the Vancouver games with the Gold Medal. Crosby’s overtime goal marked the end of a fantastic two weeks of hockey that produced a plethora of unpredictable moments. While it was the Canadians who climbed to the top of the mountain, in the end the real winners were hockey fans the world over. So I take this time to congratulate the Canadians on their victory, to salute the game of hockey generally, and to bid farewell to what was an awesome two weeks of hockey.
With the Olympics now behind us we transition from one set of great hockey to another as the NHL stretch run goes into full swing. As it stands today spots 6 through 11 in the Eastern Conference are separated by a total of four points while the battle for the 7th and 8th spots in the West is an even tighter race. Over the next few weeks we’ll find out who made the right moves at the trade deadline and who should have done more. We’ll see if upstart Phoenix can Colorado (back to glory days depicted above?) can keep their level of play high enough to maintain playoff positions as it is a new concept for both of these teams as assembled today. Can the Detroit Red Wings manage to solidify a playoff spot or will they be left out for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth? Did the Pittsburgh Penguins add enough new faces to their lineup to sure up any deficiencies they may have had to put them into the team to beat in the East? Have the Washington Capitals finally addressed their defensive woes enough to catapult themselves into the category of serious cup contenders? Why didn’t Boston—who was top seed in the East last year—not do more to address their inability to score? All the while who will score more goals before season’s end Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby? Each of these questions will be answered over the next month and that means hockey fans are going to be spoiled from now until the end of the Stanley Cup Finals in June. So gear up puckheads because this is going to be awesome!
The Winter Olympics were officially opened on Friday and starting Monday the NHL takes a backseat to the biggest hockey tournament in the world. With that in mind we’ll preview that tournament and let you know who the medal contenders are and of course give a prediction.
The tournament consists of 12 teams split into three groups of four as follows:
Group A – Canada; United States; Switzerland; Norway
Group B – Russia; Czech Republic; Slovakia; Latvia
Group C – Sweden; Finland; Belarus; Germany
Each team in a given group plays the other teams once in a round-robin after which the top team from each group plus the fourth best team remaining are given byes into the quarter-finals while the remainder of the teams play a preliminary playoff round to determine who will play those four top teams. Conventional wisdom says that only six of these teams has any real shot at the podium namely Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Russia, and the United States (perhaps Finland can slip in their too but it’s unlikely). In a tournament like this where every team qualifies for the elimination round it only takes one good game from a “lesser” team to upset the balance which is part of what makes this such an exciting event. With that said we’ll focus on the six, possibly seven, teams who are likely to be in serious medal contention starting with the hosting Canadians.
Considered by many to be the favorites to win the gold in Vancouver the Canadians have an incredibly talented roster (see http://proicehockey.about.com/od/olympichockey/a/2010-canada-roster.htm for full roster) and will be sound in every facet of the game. With a team this strong there is really no meaningful technical analysis that can be done to assess how they will finish. For Canada their biggest issues will be staying healthy and more importantly handling the pressure from the home crowd and media because they will be fully expected to win the gold medal with anything less being considered a failure. I think Canada’s greatest advantage will be their biggest downfall in that the crowd will be with them and that’s always helpful but if things do not go exactly as planned the pressure is going to mount big time and likely lead to Canada cracking under the pressure. It’s not so much because the players can’t handle the expectations as much as the pressure will cause them to play cautiously at times and the Russians (who I think will win the gold) will not have the same pressure on them so they can play loosely and seize the moments Canada plays tight resulting in disappointment for the whole country as they take the silver medal.
As for Russia they too have such a great roster together that technically there is little to speak of but there are some weaknesses for Russia. First off the biggest head-scratcher for them is that they have so many KHL players on their roster who were chosen over some NHL guys who could have (and perhaps should have) been on the team. Not only will these guys have a tough time adjusting to the North American ice size and style of play but in the opinion of most simply are not as talented as their NHL counterparts. Despite possibly diluting their talent pool the Russians still have a ton of fire power on their s squad (see http://www.2010tracker.com/2009/12/25/russia-announces-olympic-mens-hockey-team-roster/ for full roster) which can certainly outscore anyone at even strength but also results in them having an incredibly good power play unit. Teams will have to be concerned with every penalty they take because the Russians are likely to make you pay for almost any power play opportunity given to them. Their goal scoring prowess along with some great play in net will likely lead Russia to the Gold medal in this tournament. (It also doesn’t hurt that they have won two World Championships in a row).
The remainder of the top six are likely only going to be in contention for the Bronze medal (as long as the match-ups work out so that Russia and Canada end up meeting in the final).
Starting with team Sweden; although the Swedes are the defending Olympic champions their team looks good on paper but is an aged group of players and it is unlikely they will be able to keep pace with Canada or Russia but those teams aside the Swedes can make some hey against everyone else and that is why they are my favorite to take the Bronze.
Perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum is team USA who has a very talented team but are very young (see http://proicehockey.about.com/od/olympichockey/a/2010-usa-roster.htm for full roster). It is unlikely that a team so lacking in experience can make a serious challenge for Silver or Gold but the strength of the rest of the field puts them squarely in the middle of the race for the Bronze medal. All team USA needs is to have their guys play reasonably well and have Ryan Miller steal a couple of games for them in the medal round to have a legitimate shot at the Bronze medal. Although the Bronze medal would be great for the Americans a fourth or fifth place finish would be quite an accomplishment for this upstart squad.
The Czech Republic has a very formidable roster assembled with a number of NHL players led by former NHLer and current KHL all-star Jaromir Jagr (see http://bleacherreport.com/articles/123948-2010-olympic-hockey-outlook-team-czech-republic for full roster). With the nice mix of young and veteran players the Czech Republic have to be considered co-favorites along with Sweden to grab the Bronze medal. The reason they are unlikely to make a push for the Gold is because they have a solid roster but no one really stands out on their team. Tomas Vokoun is probably their biggest star and while a goaltender can steal a game or two for you it would take that along with a star or two to carry the team any further than that and the Czechs simply do not have that.
The Slovakian team also has a fairly solid line-up just a step below the Czechs (see http://bleacherreport.com/articles/126346-2010-olympic-hockey-outlook-team-slovakia for full roster). And much like the Czechs the Slovakian squad lacks in big stars which hurts their chances to even compete for the Bronze medal. Their roster top to bottom is very solid but it’s pretty underwhelming with Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa being their best players but Chara is a defensemen and Hossa is certainly not the player today he was even three years ago. So while a Bronze medal is a reasonable goal for this team they will likely not even be able to get that far and should probably be ready to accept a preliminary round win and that’s about it.
Those are my predictions but in such a short tournament just about anything can happen so it will be very exciting no matter what. Enjoy the games everybody, we’ll see you next time.
The 2010 Winter Classic by all accounts was a big time success and I agree completely. The magic of the day was not tarnished by anything; the weather was great, the ice held up extremely well, the fans were fired up, and the game itself was spectacular. Three cheers for everybody who helps make this game happen because it’s certainly a treat for everyone and congratulations to the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers for putting on a great show leaving us all wanting for more.
In the meantime the other big news to come out over the holidays was the announcement of the various Olympic team rosters set to take the ice next month. At the moment the easy favorites to win the Gold Medal are Canada and Russia with the Canadians possibly holding a slight edge over Russia because the tournament will be held on the smaller North American size ice along with the fact that the games will be held in Canada which instantly gives them a boost. On the other hand, one might say that the games being held in Canada yields a slight advantage to the Russians because Canadians traditionally have a ton of pressure on them to win the Gold Medal anyway but now that pressure is intensified since Team Canada will be playing on home ice. Although there is a fair amount of pressure on the Russians as well there will no doubt be a lot less on them than on the Canadians which will allow them to simply relax and play hockey without worrying about any other distractions. Despite those factors it is still a virtual toss-up between the two teams in trying to pick the favorite but you can’t really go wrong either going for gold and everyone else likely battling for the bronze.
On the rest of the NHL front there are a number of teams streaking in both the right and wrong direction. The San Jose sharks are currently the hottest team in the league as the smoked Edmonton 4-1 on Saturday to improve their win streak to eight. Despite the streak the fans in San Jose are cautiously optimistic as they’ve been down this road before. In each of the last three years the Sharks have posted over a hundred points—winning the President’s trophy last year—and faltered come playoff time. This year’s teams is by far the best they’ve ever had but the question is can they finally carry over this success into the post-season.
Another team enjoying recent success is the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite losing to Boston in the Winter Classic on Friday, the Flyers have won four out of five and have earned at least a point in five straight. There is a long way to go for the Flyers who have dug themselves quite a hole but it seems they have managed to turn things around and make a legitimate push toward the playoffs almost overnight.
The Calgary Flames are also in the midst of a four game winning streak after coming from behind to defeat Toronto 3-1 on Saturday. This is a team in a situation similar to San Jose in that they have had a decent amount of regular season success that they have not been able to translate into the post-season. Strong goaltending has always been there for Calgary but what separates them from last year’s squad is a much stronger blueline with the addition Jay Bouwmeester in the offseason who is a plus 13 to date. It is his presence that has helped Dion Phaneuf up his game a bit and also takes some pressure off of Kiprusoff which is why this year is probably Calgary’s best chance they’ve had in years to advance deep into the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are streaking as well but in the wrong direction. With their 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon the Penguins have lost four in a row, scored only one goal in two games, and blew a 3-0 lead to the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the week. In a long season there are many ups and downs but the alarming thing for Pittsburgh is the way they’ve been losing. There is a long way to go and the Penguins have too much talent for such a streak to continue but they’ve got to find a way to score more consistently and protect leads when they get them.
The worst of the losing streaks belongs to the Atlanta Thrashers who have lost 8 games in a row after a great start to the season. There’s really no surprise it’s simply Atlanta being Atlanta until they show me otherwise.
Well that’s a run around the league a little bit. I hope everyone enjoyed the Winter Classic and have a great time ringing in the New Year! Have a great 2010 everybody!
Greetings puckheads, hope everyone in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving (and to you as well Canadian friends, although I’m about a month late eh?). I am back from my break and have a lot to cover so let’s get started.
Saturday night Sidney Crosby and the Penguins opened up a can on the New York Rangers with an 8-3 win vaulting Pittsburgh back into first place in the Atlantic Division (at least for the moment). Crosby netted his third career hat trick on free hat night in Pittsburgh (the ice was covered) while Sean Avery put up big numbers of his own jumping Ruslan Fedetanko midway through the third period yielding a 7 minute power play for Pittsburgh as Avery got two for instigating, five for fighting and a ten minute game misconduct penalty. Quite a turn of events for Pittsburgh who just a short time ago had most of their starters sidelined with injury, and now they can focus on defending their title as most everyone returns to the lineup.
There is also a certain level of delight in three Eastern Conference cities who have not seen (or had much success) in the playoffs the last few years. As I write this the Ottawa Senators, Atlanta Thrashers, and Tampa Bay lightning occupy the final three playoff spots which few expected. Most new Ottawa could be good but not be able to put things together so well so quickly as they have. We all knew Atlanta could score with Ilya Kovalchuk, but now he has a supporting cast in Rich Peverley, Maxim Afinigenov, and Nik Antropov. We also knew that there was a ton of talent in Tampa but it never produced anything last year so there was little reason to think otherwise this year but so far so good. It is my contention that NONE of these teams (that’s right zero) will make the playoffs, simply because there is too much talent in the East; but all of these teams can hang their hats on the amount of success they’ve had to date and possibly parlay that success into a playoff run proving me wrong.
The news is not so good in Edmonton as the team continues to struggle they have officially lost their second leading scorer Ales Hemsky for the year with a shoulder injury that will require him to have surgery to repair. It has really been tough going for Edmonton since making it to game 7 of the finals in the first year after the lockout. Mediocrity has plagued this hockey crazed city and this year was finally supposed to be different. There was a new coach, a seemingly a brand new Dustin Penner , and they went out to get a big time netminder in Nikolai Khabibulin, all of which coming together nicely for the Oilers. Despite their great start to the season the month of November has been a disaster where Edmonton has only been able to muster three wins in 13 attempts dropping them not only out of a playoff spot but into 14th in the conference ahead of only the Minnesota Wild. With Ales Hemsky the Edmonton Oilers had a chance to rebound from this rough stretch, but with him out they will need more than just Penner to push this team into playoff contention and I simply do not believe they have the fire power on their roster to do that as it stands today. As a result the mediocrity will probably continue in hockey crazed Edmonton.
There is so much more to talk about but so little time. But I will say that the season has been incredibly entertaining so far and it’s only going to get better with the Winter Classic and Olympics right around the corner!