USA

The holidays have proven to be a busy time for me, and unfortunately, I haven’t found time to write nearly as much as I may have hoped about the selections of the Olympic rosters, and the World Junior tournament. Since there is a party at the Morgus household tonight, alas I won’t have time to write any sort of extended USA Olympic roster prediction column. Despite that, I feel the need to go on record with my picks for Team USA before the official squad is revealed tomorrow in Boston.

These are my picks for who should be on the team (in order of how strongly I feel, but not necessarily in lines), in Vancouver. I concede that it may look a bit different from the actual roster, and I wish that I had the time to write a defense of my selections, but unfortunately it will have to be retroactively if I do. At any rate, here are my picks for Team USA.
Forwards
Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)
Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils)
Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche)
Tim Connolly (Buffalo Sabers)
Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks)
Bobby Ryan (Anaheim Ducks)
David Booth (Florida Panthers)
Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks)
Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)
Blake Wheeler (Boston Bruins)
Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey Devils)
James Van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia Flyers
Defensemen
Ryan Whitney (Anaheim Ducks)
Ryan Suter (Nashville Predators)
Paul Martin (New Jersey Devils)
Jack Johnson (Los Angeles Kings)
Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues)
Mike Komisarik (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings)
Goaltenders
Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabers)
Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins)
Craig Anderson (Colorado Avalanche)

Taxi Squad (Reserves)
Zach Bogosian (Atlanta Thrashers)
Drew Stafford (Buffalo Sabers)
David Backes (St. Louis Blues)
Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders)
Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Happy New Year, and Go Red, White and Blue tonight against Canada.

All Things Hockey, December 21st, 2009

Well, the Board of Governors Meetings are wrapping up not far from my usual Santa Clara residence (although I am not there currently) in the beautiful Monterrey, California area. The Board of Governors is going to go over quite a bit of ground, but there appear to be a number of salient issues that they need to figure out.

The central issue seems to be the Phoenix Coyotes, as clearly the league cannot continue to run the team at a loss to other franchises. Unsurprisingly, the owners will be eager to do something about a situation that costs them significant money. My opinions on this are unambiguous, but they are covered later.

Phoenix will likely be sold to IceEdge, since the league still thinks (mistakenly) that the Phoenix market is viable. They are being asked to put in $70 million towards projected loss, as an insurance policy against loss (which all teams carry), but it is unclear that they can afford it, and on top of that, the 70 probably isn’t enough. Unfortunately, the Coyotes are in all likely hoods going to be put into this situation once again. It will be interesting to see what they do when they try once again to move in 3 years, after IceEdge fails, or at least grows sick of the Phoenix market.

After Phoenix, the other financial/business issue at stake will be the salary cap. Whispers are that the cap will go up, but very little. A cap increase has interesting implications, since some teams having serious financial issues with no support (Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta, Colorado, to name a few) have to be bleeding money. Since the NHL doesn’t have a very extensive revenue sharing system, going instead with the cap, any increase signals an advantage for the markets that continue to sell out (the Canadian teams, San Jose, Chicago, Pittsburgh etc). One or two million dollars would be a small increase, but that is one extra player that the teams with revenues exceeding the cap figure will have the luxury of paying. In simple Econ 101 terms, the salary cap is an effective price floor only for some teams. For others, it has no effect, because their equilibrium player salary figure is well below the cap. While this increase isn’t that significant, it may have a small effect on the free agent market next July.

On the ice, like on the gridiron, head shots and concussions are en vogue. A 2010-2011 rule change may be in order, as the league may put in a head shots penalty. Although USA Hockey has already done this, I would be against this. If a hit is rough, or dangerous, it will be a roughing, charging, boarding etc penalty. Automatic penalties that don’t give one team an advantage like delay of game for shooting the puck out don’t improve the game. If a headshot penalty is implemented, all it would do is make hits that should be clean, but happen on a play where the head is involved, something that can’t really be avoided with penalty incentives, into frivolous penalties that skew games.

Most, if not all goaltenders seem to have adjusted to one of the previously more effective moves that a player could do in a shootout. A little fake shot, stickhandling to the backhand then bringing it back to the forehand was, a couple of years ago, a way to get more or less as much net as you need, like such:


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQi3GH02i9k]
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeUtDzCtXXQ]

This move has now become commonplace. Rarely does a shootout go by without seeing it, and other than shooting, it is the most common thing on a breakaway (or penalty shot) when the shooter has time. No longer, though, does this work nearly as much as it used to. Granted, the former London Knights teammates (Kane and Gagner) are somewhat more adept at performing the move, but that isn’t the only reason. Check out all three of these saves, and notice the difference in how they are played.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ED0kw4YaHA]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ED0kw4YaHA

http://www.nhl.tv/team/console.jsp?hlg=20092010,2,427&event;=NYR326

All three goaltenders in these clips (all from this year, while the goals were from 2007) do the same thing. They seem to see the move coming, which is not surprising given how common it is these days, and the fact that they do study film on the shootouts. Back in 2007, on the first two clips, they played the backhand, creating an empty net for the shooter when he went back to the forehand. Now, they don’t play the backhand nearly as hard.

They can’t completely cheat to the forehand side, since that would leave an easy goal for any shooter with his head up, which is what creates the problem for goaltenders on the move in the first place. Rather, what they have started to do is pretty simple. In both saves, and indeed at a rink near you in pretty much every shootout, when the shooter goes towards the backhand, the goalie will give it a bit of respect, but not too much. While he is doing this, he will get ready to react to the forehand.

The way in which the forehand is then played seems to now be common as well. It is impossible to cover enough net to play both shots, so the goalies do their best to play the percentages. They are pushing back towards their net, and spreading their legs as much as possible. This puts the onus on the shooter to lift the puck, which is difficult in that close, and with that much stick handling going on.

Compare that to the way it was played just a year couple of years ago, with goalies on their knees, flopping around and just generally out of position and you can see why the move has been much less successful. I may be the only one (though I doubt it), but to me it is a really interesting copy cat, counter development that wouldn’t have happened without the shootout.

Roberto Luongo is a better goaltender than Evgeni Nabokov. This isn’t to take anything away from Nabokov, who might be the best athlete on the ice in the league, but rather to recognize that Luongo, maybe the most skilled netminder in the world. Despite this, Nabokov has not just a better GAA, but also a better save percentage. I think I know why.

There are actually two reasons. The first is obvious, that Nabokov has better team defense. The Sharks are a big, strong fast team, who consistently puts their backup goalie atop the standings for non-qualifiers. The effects on GAA are obvious, but by keeping shots to the outside, controlling rebounds/screans etc, save percentage is helped by team D as well.

The second reason is more interesting. Luongo has little to no faith in his defensemen. He feels obligated to play the pass across, at a given time, rather than play the shot aggressively. His fears are somewhat justified, as the Canucks have given up more than their share of backdoor goals, but this has translated into problems even when the back door is covered. One clip doesn’t really justify it, but perusing the goals Luongo (who hasn’t been bad lately, just not exceptional as he should be) has given up lately, two things come through.

First of all, Luongo’s mistrust of his D, who are missing Matts Ohlund badly, is justified, as a lot of goals are indeed scored on cross ice cross crease passes. The second, though, is that Luongo’s mistrust leads him to let in some shots he would normally stop. Luongo isn’t challenging the puck, but rather hanging back in his net. Fearing the need to slide across, he isn’t cutting down angles, rendering him less effective. He is getting beat on shots a lot of times while he could literally reach back and touch the post.

Now watch Nabokov. Most saves he makes, even when he is fighting screens, or playing a shot from the point, he is at the bottom of the circles, at least. Watching games in the arena, this comes through even more than it does on TV. It is amazing how many times you see Nabby hold on to a puck out towards the hash marks, with 4 or 5 players closer to the net than he is. He can only do this because he has an undying trust in his D to tie up sticks so he doesn’t get beat in passes. In fact, most of the time he gets beaten, fir being overly aggressive, it is because the shooter is given time and makes a move a la Ryan Getzlaf in the Sharks last game, rather than on a backdoor pass.

Inspired by the shorter hockey thoughts, here are the top 10 reasons to move the Coyotes

1. There is no hockey history there. Sure, there isn’t any in markets like Dallas, who has done fine, or the southeast, which has at least one too many teams, but can support a bit of professional hockey, but unlike those markets, Phoenix has proven it can’t support an NHL franchise. There is absolutely no reason to make excuses for their failures as a location.

2. The demographics don’t exactly line up with the prototypical NHL fan. I don’t want to say anything offensive, but compare this to this, and do the math yourself.

3. Other owners, not the Phoenix owners, but the owners OF OTHER TEAMS lose $6 million to keep hockey in a city that doesn’t want it.

4. I have had a lot of disagreements with Gary Betteman, but to be honest, for the past couple of years I think he has done a pretty good job. Until now. Jim Balsille is sitting there as one of the most wealthy men in the world. He wants the team. But for whatever reason, Gary found the “ICE EDGE” group (note- that originally said “these ‘ICE EDGE’ clowns, but after listening to what they have to say a bit, they appear to have a legitimate ownership strategy, and they are a legit group, but they are delusional if they think it can work in Phoenix) who likely don’t have the capitol to sustain the Coyotes.

5. The ICE EDGE people only need long term capitol, in the first place because IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE MONEY ON HOCKEY IN EFFING ARIZONA.

6. I’m bias on the whole issue, since I find the entire state of Arizona offensive anyways. Yes, this counts as a reason.

7. It is a desert, for Christ sake. (These are getting flimsy, I’ll go back to real reasons now)

8. I was going to write out an entire list of teams that do almost as well as the 9000 and change that can be bothered to go to a Coyotes game, but it was extremely tedious and boring to write, and probably equally boring to read. Suffice to say, Indiana, Oklahoma, Southern Ontario, and Manitoba, among others, with comparable attendance for Minor League and Junior teams.

9. If the only way you can make it work in Arizona is by having 5 games in Saskatchewan in order to fund the indifference in Phoenix, it can’t work in Phoenix.

10. You can get season tickets for as low as $9 a game, the lowest price in the league. Despite this, they can’t get 10,000 a game. Did I mention that all of this futility from the business end is taking place while the team is in contention? Because that makes it worse.

I’m with Bruce Boudreau, who pointed out that the notion of enforcers may be a bit dated. It is a waste of a roster spot, especially when you can only dress 18 guys, to have someone who is going to spend 3 minutes on the ice and 5 in the penalty box, then call it a night. By my count, there are 17 teams who are wasteful with the 18th spot (Anaheim- George Parros, Tampa- Zenon Konopka, Ottowa- Matt Carkner, Colorado- David Koci, Minnesota-Derek Bougard, Philly- Daniel Carcillo, Columbus- Jared Boll, Islanders- Tim Jackman, Los Angeles- Raitis Ivanans, Toronto- Colton Orr, Boston- Shawn Thornton, Calgary- Brandon Prust, Dallas- Krys Barch, St. Louis- Cam Janssen, New York- Donald Brashear, Montreal- Georges Laraque). All of those guys have played the vast majority of their team’s games, are towards the top of the league in fights, and have virtually no production.

I’m not suggesting that fighting doesn’t have a place in hockey. I am always quick to reject that notion out of hand when the debate crops up. Hockey is a physical, emotional game and fighting is a necessary, embedded part of it. That doesn’t mean that you should have a guy collecting dust on your bench until you need the gloves dropped. Look at the hit on Green. As Boudreau said, the Caps don’t have a goon, rather, Tomas Fleishmann, a guy who can contribute to a hockey team, not just fight, stuck up for his teammate. Plenty of guys can fight and play, why not let them take the bulk of the enforcement that does, and should, go on in hockey?

That is one thing that I have been really happy with the Sharks about this year (and in the last few weeks at least, there hasn’t been all that much). The last two years, the role of enforcer has been filled stereotypically (and well, for that matter), by Jody Shelly. Any visit to the tank saw a plethora of 45 jerseys, and the crowd went crazy every time he ran a defenseman and got in a fight, making him a fan favorite, even if he was completely ineffective. It annoyed me that he was so popular, while more subtle players (some of whom were German and wore #10, and ARE SECOND IN THE NHL IN +/- I EFFING TOLD YOU SO YOU STUPID-collecting myself-…sorry) but it was par for the Sharks fan course, to be honest.

This year, it has been different. Shelly has been sidelined for much of the season with injury, but that doesn’t mean that the Sharks have shut down the enforcement game. Rather, Frazier McLaren has picked up the slack by dropping the gloves. While McLaren only gets 6 or 7 minutes a game, and usually spends at least 5 in the box, the difference between him and the aforementioned list of goons, or Shelley, is that McLaren brings something in those 6 or 7 minutes. While McLaren’s point totals aren’t impressive, he has good hands, and great size, enough so that he has potential as a power forward, or at least a decent grinder, unlike the guys who rack up the minuses but drop the gloves at a potent pace.

Sharks/Homer Note of the Weeks / What I Love About…

To take nothing away from Seto, who finishes with authority, this play is why I love Patrick Marleau. This play is why Patrick Marleau is one of the best players in the NHL. This is why he might be the MVP (although the 22 goals don’t hurt). This is why I hate it when he is criticized in the playoffs. Because this is a play that winners make. This is refusing to get beat. This sort of play is why the Team Canada brass needs to take notice and make sure he is on the team.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf

Marleau makes a physical mistake. It is one that the best players in the world make once a week, suffice to say it happens. He fans on the pass, in an extremely noticeable way. He blew an obvious break in for Devin Setoguchi on what should have been a simple pass. Rather than being defeated, you can see Marleau make a statement to himself, that is my puck. Marleau needs to make up for that mistake, and he does. He gives everything he has to make up for what he did. He holds himself accountable, and sure enough, he steals the puck making the play possible for Joe Thornton and Setoguchi, who is no Swedish on this one, but rather all finish.

It is easy to recognize the shot by Seto, just like it is easy to recognize when Marleau wins a race and gets a breakaway goal. It is harder to recognize when he doesn’t win the same race cleanly, but draws a penalty (like he does almost every game), or when he makes up for his mistake and turnis it into a scoring chance. This happened at the tail end of a 3-1 game, but often times that is the difference between a W and an L in the standings, and it is the kind of play that winners like Patrick Marleau make.

(I think I will make the above a running feature—“What I love about…” where I just write a few paragraphs about one thing I really like about a certain player. This week it will also serve as the “Homer Point,” but it will probably become its own thing.)

Goal of The Weeks

No one stood out in terms of brilliant goals, so I am giving it to a fluky play, and assuming that he meant to do it (this is because I want to think he tried to, not because I think he did). The goal of the week was scored by Dallas’s Louie Eriksson. The Swede was parked in front of the Atlanta net at the tail end of a wild affair in Atlanta that 36 people (mostly friends and family) saw in person, judging by the look of the stands. With an empty net, Stephane Robidas steped into one, and sent it at Ondrej Pavelec, who, despite the 4 goals against, had made a few saves to keep the Thrashers in it already. Eriksson and James Neal were parked in front, but Ron Hainsey got a stick on the shot and sent it what appeared to be out of harm’s way. In a fit of brilliance and desperation, Eriksson channeled his inner Ronaldinho, drawing from his days growing up a soccer player on the pitches of Sweden, and executed a perfect header into the net, tying the game at 5. It cost Eriksson a $50 half-shield, but while the Thrashers won it in OT, the header earned Dallas a key point.

(Disclaimer- I am well aware that Eriksson had absolutely no intention of doing what he did. The puck was coming at him way to fast to have time to actually attempt a move like that, he even tried to get out of the way. Also, I have no idea if Eriksson has ever played soccer, although I am pretty sure he is Swedish. It is way more fun to think that it was premeditated though…right?)
http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf


Hit of the week

Luke Schenn got this one for laying out Jon Sim (why waste words…that’s what happened).
http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough to keep him in the lineup, but Schenn’s play has been physical, to say the least, while he has been out there.


Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- Buffalo appears to have a franchise defenseman in the making in Tyler Myers. He has the size and reach to be a shutdown guy on the defensive end, and they can comfortably play him on the power play thanks to his good hands (for his size at any rate) and cool poise with the puck. It’s too bad I have to hate him and call him Tyler “Benedict Arnold” Myers because he was born in Houston, Texas, which, to the best of my knowledge, is not in Canada, yet he dons the Maple Leaf rather than the Stars and Stripes in international play.

- Speaking of Buffalo and international play, I feel better about the United States’ chances each time I watch Ryan Miller play.

- I somehow neglected to mention this when I was writing the Center Ice rankings, but the Coyotes color guy is absolutely abysmal. He is obnoxious, clearly has no idea what is going on, messes up basic hockey lingo and sees everything in the Coyotes favor , which is to be somewhat expected (and hardly unique, all color guys on local channels fall into favoritism, and at least five or six do to a fault, but a lot of times his views aren’t so much subjective or biased as much as they are just wrong. I think this makes reason 209,381 why they need to JUST MOVE THE DAMN COYOTES ALREADY.

- I hate it when announcers claim that guys turned their back when they get hit from behind, because a. of course he did, that is the only way you end up facing the boards, you don’t start a faceoff staring at the glass and stay there until the puck comes. Yet they always break down 5 second replays, and point out that it was partially their fault for turning and facing the boards, even if they weren’t even pressured when they did so, and b. it doesn’t matter when they turn, if you hit someone from behind 2 feet from the boards, that should be a boarding penalty. Despite this, it is never the guy’s fault who saw the numbers and followed through, presumably because the guy wasn’t standing still with his back to the play for 30 seconds. I know the two offenses aren’t comparable, but as far as defenses go, isn’t this basically the erroneous “she was asking for it” defense for rape?

- Robby Schremp has to have broken the record for time between becoming known as a NHL ready prospect and actually scoring his first goal. It seems like years ago that we saw him doing ridiculous stuff with a puck in Edmonton. You know why that is? It was years ago, more than three to be exact. Having said that, while I haven’t watched much of the Isles, he is playing hard and a good role for New York, and his teammates looked absolutely thrilled for him. So in honor of his first goal (and since I’ll take any excuse to post it), here is a clip of Schremp defying physics with a hockey puck.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGssn-RLcEg]

- I have watched the play at least 10 times, and I still can’t figure out if Marian Hossa knocked the puck out of the air like a punt, or just timed it perfectly when it hit the ice. Either way, a great and creative goal.

- As I write this, I am watching the Sharks-Ducks game on NHL Network, and NHL on the Fly is functioning as the intermission report. In case you aren’t familiar with NHL on the Fly, it is the no frills highlight show that serves as the network’s Sportscenter. There is minimal transition dialogue, they show 15-20 clips from each game, and they spare you the catchphrases and time filling that can be good on ESPN, but annoying when done by those less talented than the Dan Patrick’s of the world. It is probably the best intermission show I have ever seen, not involving Don Cherry. Seriously, I see highlights, enough to get a good feel for the game (at the very least see every goal), of pretty much every game. What more could you ask for?

- The Rangers started 7-1, but since then they are on a (what’s the opposite of torrid?) 7-17 pace. They have too much talent, in my opinion, to be this bad, but John Tortorella’s squad clearly has issues.

- I hate to admit it, but Bobby Ryan has a better power, to the net from the wing move than anyone in the game.

- The standings look a bit tricky, LA is in first in the West as of 12/15, but the Blackhawks have all of 5 games in hand.

- In the playoffs- Phoenix, Nashville, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Florida, Ottawa, Colorado, Buffalo

- Out of the playoffs- New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus, Detroit, Anaheim, Edmonton

- The entire first list was out of the playoffs last year, all of the second list was in. I have been preaching that it is a bit early to read too far into the standings, but it is getting cold outside, and that is a lot of turnover. The only ones that don’t surprise me are Buffalo and, oddly, Atlanta.

- Every time Cory Perry gets a point, or even a plus, I lose a little faith in the hockey gods. Osama bin Laden could where 10 and play Getzlaf’s wing for the Ducks, and it really wouldn’t change my opinion on the position. His name is on the Stanley Cup. I’m going to vomit.

- I get the same feeling when a great, classy, hard working player like Sidney Crosby ties the game after a dumb play and a penalty by a punk like Scott Hartnall, eventually costing the Flyers a point. The same feeling, except exactly the opposite.

- I get it, Robert Nilsson’s father Kent was a good NHL player, and may even have born a resemblance to his son on the ice. Thank you, every announcer in the league, for informing me of this, you can now stop mentioning it every time the Jr. Nilsson does something well.

- Non-Hockey

o As if the Bill Simmons bus/underwear story and the ensuing Jimmy Kimmel live appearance weren’t enough, the latest entry on Ron Artest’s blog, an open letter to Tiger Woods, have convinced me that he is the most delightfully insane athlete alive. This guy needs a reality TV show. If it were just cameras following him around, that would suffice, but it would be the hardest editing job in the world. I’m sure you could get 4 hours of entertaining footage a day. I say we let him try to run companies that are failing. Chrysler, newspapers, Blockbuster are going down anyways, and I can’t think of a more worthwhile way for them to go.

o We have reached the fourth of six stages of the coverage of the Tiger Woods scandal: the media talking about how the media is covering the scandal, and entering an inexorable hellish vortex of unwatchable programming. Fortunately, now all we need is another story to take over the airwaves.

o RIP Chris Henry, nothing else to say, other than if your team isn’t in it, the Bengals just replaced the Saints as the team that you have to root for if you feel human emotions.

o Darko is going back to Europe! I’m speechless, since this wasn’t a forgone conclusion 6 years ago. But hey, Carmelo, D-Wade, Bosh….at least the Pistons didn’t pass anyone up.

o A lot of people have said it was stupid for Chris Gamble to call out Randy Moss’s effort against the Panthers last Sunday. I disagree. Gamble did shut Moss down, and whether he quit or not, Gamble has no reason to be afraid of Moss. I can think of a few people who would have appreciated it if Gamble had kept his mouth shut though. The first is my friend Brendan, facing Moss and my brothers team in week 1 of our Fantasy Football playoffs, and the other is the Buffalo Bills secondary. Seriously, if Moss has even a little bit of competitor in him, there is no way he doesn’t work as hard as he ever has against a mediocre defense in the Bills this week. Look out.

TOP 8/bottom eight

This is especially difficult. I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that Los Angeles is better than Chicago or San Jose, or that Toronto isn’t one of the worst teams in the league, or that Philly is. That, though is what the standings tell us, and the 35ish games that teams have played is a pretty good sample size. Anyways, I am going to go with gut over numbers, but I am definitely giving strong consideration (for the first time this season) to the teams that I would have considered fluky before.

8. Boston Bruins- I trust them more than the Thrashers, and the Sabres are feeding off of a weak division, leaving the Brus to round out the nice list.

7. Los Angeles Kings- I’m not ready to take them seriously quite yet. Impressive point total, but they have games in hand. This is a good spot for them.

6. Calgary Flames- They are a small step behind the top 5, which make up the top tier, mainly because it is hard to trust their scoring once you get past Jokinen and Iginla.

5. New Jersey Devils- Obviously very good, but they just don’t look quite as talented as the teams that make up the next 4.

4. Washington Capitals- The top 4, in my opinion could pretty much go any way 1-4. These are the contenders in the league right now.

3. Chicago Blackhawks- Hossa back makes their scoring propensity absolutely scary.

2. San Jose Sharks- I was ready to drop them to 4, but they looked like the best team in the league, which I still believe they are, for the first time in a few weeks on Thursday.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins- Right at the top of the standings, and as the defending chanps, they get the nod in a crowded top 4.

On the Down

23. New York Islanders- Too bad, they are a few years away.

24. Toronto Maple Leafs- Playoff hopes from Toronto media are unfounded.

25. Edmonton Oilers- Toothless attack minus Hemsky, and their goaltending situation isn’t exactly formidable.

26. Anaheim Ducks- The most talent on the bottom 8 list.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning- Lack an identity.

28. Philadelphia Flyers- Last weeks, they were here because they had just fired their coach and needed to be included. This week, they are here because they have legitimately been one of the worst teams in the league. What a mess.

29. St. Louis Blues- They have a lot of young talent, but they need to cut ties with the past and commit to youth.

30. Carolina Hurricanes- Injuries have plagued them, but they have earned the bottom spot in the standings.

Award Watch

Calder

Still Tavares, he has shown up all year long and been consistently one of the best players for the Islanders. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a good start for a rookie.

HM- VanRiemsdyk, Myers, Duchene

MVP

Hockey’s golden boy, Sidney Crosby, is emerging, finally, in his fourth year as a top tier goal scoring threat. He has been the best playmaker, and the guy you would want on your team if you were playing for our life for three years now, but for the first time in his life, he finds himself in the hunt to lead the NHL in goals. To be honest, I haven’t seen all that much of the Pens, but knowing how much little stuff Crosby brings, with him near the top of the scoring race, he has to be MVP right now.

HM- Marleau, Ovechkin, Marian Gaborik

Vezina

Ryan Miller is, if anything strengthening his campaign. It has been a phenomenal season so far for the former MSU Spartan, who leads the league in just about everything.

HM- (a long way back from Miller), Ilya Bryzgalov, Tukka Rask

Norris

Mike Green is no longer on the torrid scoring pace he started with, and he is no longer on pace to surpass the 82 point mark, as I alluded to last time, but he is still the best offensive defenseman in the league, and his numbers back that up.

HM- Thomas Kaberle, Christian Ehrhoff, Drew Doughty

Adams (best coach)

We all love Wayne Gretzky. I am no exception, and I was disappointed when he was pushed out in Phoenix. Having said that, I don’t think that they are where they are without Dave Tippet’s leadership this year. They have the least talent of anyone in contention, and the only difference from last year is the coaching change. Add that to the chaos surrounding the franchise, which has yet to be a distraction on the ice, and Tippet is the coach of the year so far.

All Things Hockey, December 6th, 2009

There really isn’t that much to talk about right now. Seriously.

Sure, there are a few things going on in the world of hockey, with Olympic tryouts being played out across the first half, contenders stepping up, the Maple Leafs playing above themselves to prove me wrong, and posturing for the stretch run starting to take place. While all of these things are worth talking about, it really isn’t the right time for them. The Leafs will start losing again (I think), the Olympic teams won’t be put together for another month, and any examination of the standings (apart from outliers, surprises, etc), is a bit premature.

On the other hand, I was back at home in Idaho last week where at least until Cox “what is HD?” Cable notices, the NHL Center Ice package is hooked up. This is great news, since it allowed me to do more or less nothing every day between 5:00 and 11:00, other than sit on the couch, watch some puck, and occasionally get up for food.

Browsing through the channels, I would consistently think a few things:

1. My house has an HD television. The games are broadcast, and available in HD. We have an HD cable system. I cannot watch the games in HD. I am not the first to make this point, but it never ceases to be frustrating, especially when the Sharks-Oilers game looks like it was filmed in 1978.

2. 8-10 hockey games a night is great. Seriously. It might be the best thing in the world.

3. While the game that is on, not in commercials and close is the choice by default, there are certainly teams that I gravitate towards.

The last point, to me, is the most interesting. Sure, like I said, the point where a given game is certainly has a large impact on the level of intrigue, but simply by browsing the matchups, you can tell a lot about how interesting the game will be. Certain teams are just more interesting than others.

It isn’t just the standings, either. The Islanders suck. They have virtually no chance of making the playoffs. They have a lot of young talent, most notably Jonathan Tavares, though, so they are way higher on the list than some teams, like Nashville who sits in 6th in the West, but just isn’t that interesting.

I know what your thinking after reading that last sentence. That’s right. There is a list (I’m about to make one anyways). A lot of things go into it. Jerseys are a factor. How good a team is definitely counts. Star players or story lines help. Most of it comes down to feel. However they are made, here are my inaugural NHL Center Ice Power Rankings;

“IS THERE FOOTBALL ON?”

30. Carolina Hurricanes- This one corresponds to the standings. At least with the injuries they have, Matt Cullen is the most compelling reason to tune in. Yeah.

29. Dallas Stars- Sure, they have 31 points (9th in the West), so technically they have a shot, but it is more depressing than anything to watch the greatest American player of all time (Modano) now that he has lost a step.

28. Minnesota Wild- Higher if Havlat and Burns are healthy.

27. Edmonton Oilers- Rexall place is the fastest rink in the league, but it also has the worst lighting. That makes it tough to watch, but not as tough as your third leading scorer being Lubomir Visnovsky makes it. (Spelled that right on my first try. I had to look 3 times before I could believe it.)

26. St. Louis Blues- Would be higher if it was 1999, they have Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya on their powerplay for Christ sake. Then again, in 1999 Erik Johnson was a squirt.

“BETTER BE PLAYING SOMEONE GOOD”

25. Anaheim Ducks- Probably the most surprising, but I really am not that interested in the 2009 version, even in an “I’ll usually watch Yankee games,” sort of way.

24. Colorado Avalanche- Starting an avalanche down the standings (3 wins in their last 10), they will be higher a couple of years from now. They are actually irrelevant anyways for me on center ice. Their games are blacked out, because they are the “local” team, even though we haven’t gotten their games for at least 5 years.

23. Nashville Predators- I had Sharks-Preds tickets a few weeks ago. Shea Weber was hurt and Colin Wilson was scratched, meaning there was not one player on the visiting team that I wanted to see. That has never happened before.

22. Florida Panthers- They move to #1 if they just got scored on.

21. Montreal Canadians- They really should be lower, but the jerseys, the crowd and the chance that the game might be in French bump them up at least 4-5 spots.

“THE OTHER GAME IS ON COMMERCIALS”

20. Phoenix Coyotes- A spattering of young talent, but they don’t score much, and are a few years away. Probably higher if their building wasn’t so dead.

19. Ottawa Senators- Only interested if the Michalek-Spezza-Alfredsson line is out.

18. Los Angeles Kings- The highest of the Sharks four division foes, and they don’t crack the top half. Suffice to say, I am confident.

17. New York Islanders- Johnathan Tavares is the sole reason that they aren’t about 10 spots lower. It isn’t because Garth Snow signed 5 different goalies in the past year.

16. Detroit Red Wings- They are 2 years removed from a championship. They have been in the finals two years in a row. They are old and slow. There I said it.

“THIS WILL DO IF THE TEAMS I WAS LOOKING FOR ARENT ON”

15. Toronto Maple Leafs- A few weeks ago, they would have been in their own section, “the car crash…terrible but you can’t look away.” They are high because of that, but also because I really enjoy Darren Dregger, and his radio show is about the Leafs, so I know a lot about the team. I never claimed this made sense.

14. New York Rangers- Apart from Gaborik, they are a fairly boring team, but the fact that I spent 5 years in Rangers country, and have a lot of New Yorker friends makes them slightly more interesting.

13. Columbus Blue Jackets- A lot of young talent, although you don’t know what you are going to get really. Rick Nash is always a threat to do something worth watching though.

12. Calgary Flames- If this were a power rankings, they would easily be higher. The problem is, they are as good as they are because of the best core of defensemen in the league. Hardly makes for exciting action.

11. Boston Bruins- They should be 2 or 3 in the league. They have so much going for them, great uniforms, Jack Edwards, and I have plenty of Bruins fans friends. The thing is, it is tough to get excited for a team, even a contender, who is 26th in goals/game.

“APPOINTMENT TELEVISION”

10. Buffalo Sabers- Stafford (though inconsistent), Connolly and Roy are all fun guys to watch. They also earn this spot based on having the best jersey in the NHL (their third).

9. Philadelphia Flyers- Another team I saw in person this year. They have a lot of good players I feel like I don’t know anything about.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning- Vinnie Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and all of a sudden Steven Stamkos, are all great to watch. The way he is playing, Stamkos is fast becoming #1 of those three.

7. Vancouver Canucks- A defensive team, but I miss watching Christian Ehrhoff night in night out. Guys like the Sedins and Ryan Kessler make them fun to watch as well.

6. New Jersey Devils- Not your fathers’ trapping Devils of the 90s. This version has some serious offensive talent with guys like Zach Parise and

“EVERYTHING ELSE CAN WAIT”/ “WHAT FAMILY?”

5. Chicago Blackhawks- Hossa, Kane Teows. Great looking unis. Sold.

4. Atlanta Thrashers- An offensive juggernaut, they score over about 3 and a half goals a game. There are a few guys in the league who you aren’t changing the channel when they are on the ice, and Ilya Kovalchuk is one. Young guys like Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian make them even more intriguing.

3. Washington Capitals- As for guys you aren’t looking away from, this #8 character probably qualifies. In fact, no one has as many guys I would pay to see (Green, Backstrom and Semin making 4 superstars).

2. Pittsburgh Penguins- Two more of those here guys. I am talking, of course, about Craig Adams and Mark Eaton. Crosby and Malkin aren’t bad either. They get the slight edge over Washington because of that shiny goblet in the locker room.

1. San Jose Sharks- SURPRISE!

Alex Ovechkin is an aggressive player to a fault, but I really can’t get on board with the opinion that he is a dirty player. I am none too eager to defend someone for sticking out a knee, as anyone who has taken a knee-to-knee, or knee-to-thing hit will agree. Quite simply, it sucks. If you get run over and concussed, you should have had your head up. If you go into the boards awkwardly and sprain an ankle, it is an accident; you weren’t injured by another player. If you pop out a shoulder on the boards, it is mostly a matter of how you go in that leads to the injury, but the hit itself is a legitimate play. When you are kneed it is, along with being hit from behind, really the only thing that happens in the course of play that you can’t do anything to defend against (short of not going into traffic), can lead to serious injury, and is the result of another player’s actions. Those two things really are as much of an attack on a defenseless player as exists in hockey. The thing is, there are two types of knees.

The first is the vicious one, which serves only as an attack, and should be met with a severe suspension. The hit thrown by Georges Laraque was the first kind.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHXsYBXy1Lw]

Laraque never makes an attempt to hit the player squarely, Kronwall thinks he is past the hit, and Laraque blatantly sticks out a leg to trip him, with the injury being the only possible outcome of the action. Kronwall never leaves his course, not needing to because of the apparent bad angle taken by the defender Laraque. Laraque is by most accounts a good guy, but this is a blatant cheapshot and he deserved a suspension at least as severe as the one he got.

The second kind is the kind that Ovechkin has been criticized for throwing. Both the hit on Gonchar in the playoffs last year and this hit on Gleason were of this variety.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwxTrxESWjI]
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCH2S1ve1xg]

The problem is, they are no less dangerous, and can frequently lead to injury, even though to the trained eye, the difference between those two hits and the one on Kronwall should be obvious, in my opinion. Both were equally dangerous and seemed to have a victim, the puck carrier. The difference is in two areas.

The first is what would be described in legal terms as co-negligence. Particularly on the Gonchar hit, but also on the Gleason hit, the puck carrier, unlike Kronwall in the Laraque example, swerves, just before impact, in attempt to avoid the hit. In both cases, Ovie is coming hard, and cannot avoid making contact. To his fault, he makes no attempt to avoid making leg to leg contact, but on the Gonchar hit he has absolutely no hope of avoiding contact, and would only have risked hurting himself had he pulled away.

The second difference, and in my opinion the most important one (which makes Ovechkin aggressive, rather than cheap) comes down to intent. In both instances, Ovechkin has absolutely no intent of making leg on leg contact. In both cases, Ovechkin doesn’t come in at an angle, he doesn’t aim to make contact from the side, but rather, in both cases, he comes straight at the puck carrier, trying to line him up for a direct hit. Furthermore, on both hits Ovechkin, as impact approaches, attempts to throw his shoulder into the puck carrier. Unfortunately, Ovechkin is going all out at the puck carrier, so when the swerve occurs, he has absolutely no control over what happens.

On both hits, Ovechkin comes up and attempts to throw a shoulder in to his opponent. In order to do this, his knee does stick out a bit, but if you look at his body as a whole, it doesn’t appear that he is trying to throw around his knee. The view from the corner camera sunk Ovechkin in the court of public opinion on the Goncahr hit, because you can’t see Ovechkin leading in with his shoulder, only Gonchar jumping around and making contact with a seemingly outstretched knee. Clearly though, Ovechkin is attempting to throw a shoulder, but simply misses, and the result of the player attempting to avoid him is the knee on knee collision. The Gleason hit was more Ovechkin’s fault than the Gonchar one (he threw his shoulder way to early, which resulted in the knee contact even though Gleason didn’t really wait till the last possible second to avoid the hit like Gonchar), but neither play was the result of Ovechkin throwing around knees, as has been insinuated by many a hater.

You could argue that he should play under more control but even that doesn’t make him dirty, just reckless. Ovechkin is a much bigger and stronger player than many people realize. This combined with the unmatched aggression with which he plays the entire game, but particularly that which is demonstrated on the forecheck creates situations in which dangerous situations occur. I reject that having no control of a situation he creates, as is the case when he flies in without abandon to a defenseman makes him dirty, because to be dirty intent to injure needs to be present. For Ovechkin, his intent is to do whatever he can to disrupt the play, not hurt the defenseman.

The affect of him playing so recklessly is that he does put other players in danger, and people have drawn comparisons to penalties for inadvertent high ticks to say that Ovechkin should be responsible for his body, just as players are responsible for their sticks. This is true, and Ovechkin should be responsible for his body when his aggressiveness creates illegal hits, like the one on Kaleta. The thing is, he is made responsible for these hits, as he received a penalty for the boarding penalty against Buffalo, and a kneeing penalty (although I disagree with the call) for the hit on Gleason, but while these are penalties, they are things that occur during the course of a hockey game, and don’t break any sort of code, which is suggested when people refer to Ovechkin, or anyone else, as “dirty.”

Goal of the Week

I’m cutting down the descriptions this week (time…sorry), just watch the clips if you don’t like it.

The goal of the week was from David Perron. Anytime you make a somewhat original move as good as that and finish the play, you are at least in the conversation. This time it was enough to beat out Kessel’s beaut from last week.

Pass of the Week

This is an absolutely fantastic play by Stephen Weiss. He took the puck into the zone, drew three defenders to him, spun and was not only to find Horton, but thread the pass through three defenders. Forget about the fact that I want to keep it short, I don’t even know if there is anything else I can say to do this play justice.

Just watch.

Save of the week

A great save on an underrated player to get an extra point.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ED0kw4YaHA]

(clip)

I still think Jaroslav Halak should be playing.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts, Randomly Scribbled throughout Two Weeks of Watching Hockey

- Watching the Bruins/Thrashers game in Atlanta on 11/19 is actually borderline depressing. It is two interesting teams (Atlanta because of a stable of young talent and these jerseys that everyone hates, but I like, and Boston because they should be a good team, even with their injuries), and yet there are so many things wrong. It just isn’t what you expect from NHL hockey. The level of play really looks a lot like teams going through the motions (makes sense, the “dog days” seem to come earlier in hockey, then a longer stretch run). There are a lot of people not moving their feet, little physical play and not a lot of forechecking. It isn’t a bad or poorly played game, just seems to be low intensity. On top of that, there are about 3000 people in the stands. Hockey isn’t driven by the crowd quite as much as basketball or football, but the fact that the stands are empty (and we are talking Florida Marlins empty) definitely makes the atmosphere on the ice a little bit duller.

- Building on that, the Phillips Center (home of the Thrashers), really is a terrible situation. They are reportedly getting 73% attendance, but that seems high looking at their highlights. There are entire sections in the upper deck that seem to be empty, and even the lower bowl seems to be about half full. Colorado and Phoenix are reported to be lower percentage wise, but at least from what you can see, this can only be because of inflated numbers by the Thrashers’ front office. The Denver building, by the eyeball test at least, looks to be twice as full as that in Atlanta. Watch highlights from the two buildings, and there is absolutely no way that more people are going to games in Atlanta than Denver. They were last in the league drawing last year, and despite what is being reported, I refuse to believe that they aren’t once again.

- Ryan Miller is the clear cut starting goaltender for the United States Olympic team. Not only that, he may be the best goaltender in the tournament, should he continue to show what he has this season. As of this, he is leading the league in save percentage and goals against, and has the Sabers at 5th in the east, despite being 21st in the league in scoring. What looked to be a point of uncertainty for the Americans now appears to be perhaps their greatest strength.

- It bears repeating. I love watching games on RDS (in French).

- Speaking of languages, after watching the Canadians games, I decided that the best way to study for my German final was to try to find DEL clips and just hope that somehow helps. I went on to Youtube, and as is to be expected, it was mostly montages. This was fine, and still interesting, but the funny thing was, every single one used classical music. The first was O Fortuna, which was fine, and kind of worked. The second? Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I like classical music, and that is probably my favorite piece. It has absolutely no place in a hockey montage. Crazy Euros.

- Did anyone have the Flyers as the first team to make a coaching change this year? Don’t think so.

- I do agree with the above dismissal of John Stevens on one front. A couple of weeks ago, I had the fortune of taking in a Sharks-Flyers game in San Jose. For the Flyers, the best player on the ice wasn’t Richards, Carter, Briere or even Pronger. As far as I could tell, their most impressive player was James VanRienmsdyk (spelling note number 2…after mentions in three straight columns, I finally have that one down). JVR was flying every time he was on the ice. He was around the puck a lot, and when he got it on his stick, good things were happening for the Flyers every time. Naturally, then, at whistles and line changes, me and my buddy Andrew would look for #21 in white. We rarely saw him. VanRiemsdyk’s ice time was, for whatever reason, limited to around 13 minutes that night. Even that number surprised me when I looked it up the next morning. Looking at his stats (http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8474037&view;=log&season;=20092010), while he would get second line ice time occasionally, only once did Stevens play him 20 minutes. The Flyers don’t have the luxury of doing this. VanRiemsdyk not only passes the eyeball test, but his production in the ice time he gets is outstanding. He is 14th on the team in ice time, playing less than 14 minutes a game, but third on the team in scoring, ahead of guys like Simon Gagne and Danny Briere. The Flyers, who are built to win now, shouldn’t have taken the luxury of babying VanRiemsdyk into the NHL when he was capable of producing immediately. I haven’t seen enough of the Flyers to say that Stevens did or didn’t deserve to be fired, but he definitely made a mistake in that regard.

- One more note on the Flyers. I love the Peter Laviolette hiring. I like it because he is a good coach. I like it because they can win this year, and he has won a Stanley Cup (2006 in Carolina), I love it because if there is a coach who looks exactly like Rocky Balboa in the NHL, it should be in Philadelphia.

- Marian Gaborik has always been one of the more explosive and exciting players in the NHL, but two things this year have allowed him to blossom into one of the most consistent goal scorers in the league. First of all, he is staying healthy so far for the Rangers, something he was never able to do in Minnesota. He had one minor injury, but for the most part he has been in the lineup. Unsurprisingly, he has been producing, something he was always able to do while in the lineup for the Wild. While he is playing though, there are two things that have changed for him that may account for his jump to one of the premier goal scorers in the world. First of all, he was liberated from the trap and hang back, offense last system of Jacques Lemaire. Playing with the Rangers, even though Tortarella is still a fairly defensive coach, he allows Gaborik to realize way more of his potential that Lemaire did. Secondly, Gaborik has improved his own game. He could always score the breaking away, open space pretty goals. This year, he has done what anyone who wants to be atop the league in scoring needs to do. He is getting his nose dirty, going to the front of the net and scoring ugly (the two against Pittsburgh on Monday night for example). Unfortunately, the Rangers have gotten little production from the rest of the team, and Lundqvist has been good, but not great, and the Rangers are, as of now, out of a playoff spot.

- Thoughts from the entire hockey world have to go out to Jonas Gustafsson. A possible heart condition is no laughing matter. Here’s hoping it won’t affect a promising young career.

- 3 non-hockey things

o I root against Derek Jeter. I can’t stand the Yankees. Even I can’t argue with the choice of Jeter as the sportsman of the year.

o Now that Tiger seems to be healthy, I’m torn between “Tiger’s having driving accuracy problems again” jokes and “If Elin had been trying to help, she would have used a Rescue club” jokes.

o The BCS requires its own column. Thoughts on that this week.

TOP 8 / bottom eight

On The Up

8. Atlanta Thrashers- Ondrej Pavelec has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NHL this year filling in for Kari Lehtonen. It helps having scary offense in front of you, but they have stayed in contention without Kovy for a portion of the season.

7. Boston Bruins- Got a lot of scoring back, even if it is a few years before they will get it back from the spot that was Phil Kessel. Fortunately for the Back Bay crew, it will come in the form likely of Cam Fowler, Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin in the 2010 Draft.

6. New Jersey Devils- The Zach Parise for MVP chatter is starting earlier this year.

5. Calgary Flames- Said it before, best D core in the league. Jokinen is picking up Camalarri’s slack at least adequately.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins- Healthy, the Kid is on a tear, the Penguins are in great shape to defend, even if there are a few teams that have been more impressive so far.

3. Washington Capitals- Best team in the East when Ovie is playing. One of the best even when he isn’t.

2. San Jose Sharks- I honestly think they are the best team but…

1. Chicago Blackhawks- …the Hawks earned the top spot for one week with the statement last week.

On The Down

23. Philadelphia Flyers- Moved from on the up to on the down in one issue, thanks to an 8-2 trouncing in Laviolette’s first game at the helm.

24. Montreal Canadiens- Not how the envisioned celebrating their centennial, I would imagine.

25. Edmonton Oilers- Again, Visnovski, their third leading scorer. Especially bad when you don’t have a goalie in the top 30 in GAA.

26. Minnesota Wild- Hampered by injuries. Also hampered by not being that talented or deep.

27. Florida Panthers- Somehow not last in the league in attendance.

28. Toronto Maple Leafs- Not Last!

29. Anaheim Mighty Ducks- The mighty is ironical. (I’m approaching 5,000 words here, so keeping it short)

30. Carolina Hurricanes- I just had an urge to grab a drink of water, looked up at my cup on the other side of the room (all of 10 feet away), and decided it wasn’t worth it, before turning back to my computer screen. I’m assuming this same phenomenon is responsible for Paul Maurice still being coach of the Canes.

AWARD WATCH

MVP

The suspension and injury of Ovechkin, coupled with a slight slowing down has actually pushed him out of the top spot for now. It would shock no one if he got right back up here, but for now he is out. That leaves me with Patrick Marleau. Is that a homer pick? Probably, but it is definitely justifiable. He is tied for second in the NHL in goals, and third in points. The fact is, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Marleau, who has been plagued by inconsistency his entire career, has brought it every night and developed into a player you notice every shift. Gaborik’s numbers are better, but since the Sharks lead the NHL, and the Rangers would miss the playoffs if the season ended today, I’m going with Patty.

Honorable Mention- Marian Gaborik, Sidney Crosby (quietly scoring a ton lately), Ovechkin

Vezina

Since he took over the spot of favorite last time, Miller has actually strengthened his case. In my mind, he has to be the clear cut favorite at this point.

Calder

Tavares still has the edge, but he has hardly been tearing the league up with 22 points (6 goals in his last 10 games, but only 2 in his last 7). James VanRiemsdyk is a close second though.

Honorable Mention- JVR, Michael Del Zotto

Norris

Nicklas Lindstrom is often, and justifiably, considered the premier offensive defenseman of the last whatever (I really don’t know how to finish that…of the last since Ray Borque’s prime I guess), particularly by the people who keep giving him Norris Trophies. Lindstrom has never scored more points than his team has played games. In fact, no defenseman has hit 82 since Brian Leetch, 14 years ago. With that in mind, Mike Green has 30 points in the Capitals 29 games. Clear cut favorite, perhaps for the next 5 years.

Non-NHL Update-

Knowing players in leagues you follow can change the way you look at the league. I don’t know if this would be the case with the NHL, should some of the players I have grown up around make the jump, but it certainly has been with NCAA Hockey. Time was, when I went on USCHO.com (by far the most comprehensive college hockey website), the teams I would check up on would be Dartmouth (and by extension, the ECAC/Ivies), my Dad’s alma mater whom I had seen play in person a few years in a row, and the usual powers, the Wisconsins, Michigans, Denvers, Boston Colleges and Minnesotas of the world. Now, I have at best a passing interest in the top 20. I rarely visit the team pages for Miami (OH), who sits atop the rankings, or Dartmouth, my former “favorite team.” Instead, stop number one is unquestionably Northeastern, the owner of a 5-6-1 record and 7th place in Hockey East, but also the squad featuring former Kent School standouts Justin and Drew Daniels. After that, it is the Army page, to check up on fellow Kent class of 2008 member Dan Colvin. After that, I may look around to get an idea of who the contenders are, but I am just as likely to move on to D-III, the BCHL, the EJHL, or to check up on more Kent Alums, or else move on from USCHO.

WHAT I’M WATCHING FOR

Follow Up

Most importantly, the Wings sit in 11th in the West. I couldn’t be happier.

Team

Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s right. Sure, I have told many a person that I don’t think they could win the Calder Cup (AHL), and I’m not sure they could. The thing is, though, they are 4-4-2 in their last 10. That doesn’t sound impressive, but with their talent, it really is. I make fun of them a lot, but I am genuinely intrigued and interested to see if they can keep it up.

Player

I have already mentioned him twice, but I am interested to see if James VanRiemsdyk’s ice time is boosted under Peter Laviolette, and how his production will respond.

Matchup

This Saturday night, the Flames come to San Jose. The Sharks and Flames are both in the running for the top spot in the West. I will be in attendance. Good enough.