Archive for May, 2011

A Crying Shame

Posted: May 31, 2011 by JoeyD in Atlanta Thrashers, Gary Bettman
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“It’s such a tired game
Will it ever stop
How will this all play out
Out of sight, out of mind”

 –Jack Johnson “Crying Shame”

All of us have been following the latest NHL news du jour of the ever increasing guarantee of the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg that has now become a reality as of today.  As disappointingly long as the Phoenix Coyotes situation has been, the Thrashers own has been disappointingly short.

Personally, I am very let down with this news that has come out today. As you know I am a Penguins fan, and ever since the Penguins’ near decade long arena issue and the subsequent relocation rumors that accompanied it, I have always been supportive of all franchises with any issues that bring about a relocation or contraction question. Have a team with arena, lease, financial issues and are worried you may someday lose your franchise? Well, you have a friend in me. Simply put, it’s because hockey should never be taken away from anyone.

I have attended two Penguins games in Atlanta in recent years. The first one happened to be the infamous “Crosby nut punch” game. And let me tell you honestly, Penguin or Thrasher fan, no one had a clue that happened. Welcome to our new world of things going viral via the internet.  That game had an official attendance of 15,184 but I very much doubt that only 20 percent of the seats were empty.  I was in the, I believe, second row of Section 307 and a few rows behind me I could see full rows of empty seats and there were more than a few of them. However one thing that I do recall that I cannot get out of my head today is a family of 6 with all four kids, two boys and two girls, fully decked out in their Thrasher gear having a fun family Friday evening even if the Penguins won the game 6-3. Two and a half years later I can only imagine what those kids are feeling today. And quite frankly it makes me upset. I am glad I don’t have to shatter some kids’ hearts today.

The second time was the following November in 2009 which was another Penguin win but this one was a near sellout and the number of people did match the number of seats sold. While there was a strong as always Penguins contingent there. The crowd was quite electric for both teams both for when the Pens scored three goals in the first two periods as well as in the final ten minutes where Atlanta scored twice and Ilya Kovalchuk flipped his lid on number 24 in your programs but number 1 on your Kill On Sight list, Matt Cooke.  After that game while waiting for our MARTA train, we had a conversation with someone talking mostly about how jumping it was when Atlanta hosted the All-Star Game while giving us a little insight to the sports landscape and that it was, in fact, a bit more popular than it may seemed at times.

I found both of my trips to Atlanta fun experiences. It is interesting to enter a sports stadium through the food court of CNN Center. I have had a pleasant time as well both times. One thing I recall is with the types of promotions, team videos, interactions from the mascot to the forever amazing Bad Commercials By Hockey Players PSA (first thing I think of when I hear Ron Hainsey) I have always found the Thrashers a good organization that worked hard to promote the game. In fact, the one of the best things about the Thrashers is the job they did in preserving the memory of Dan Snyder. While it is easy to expect a franchise to do that period, when your a much maligned non traditional franchise it shows that they may have more of a clue than being given credit for or at least showing how unfair such distinctions can be. Such things made me feel that the growing attendance issues, and thus revenue/profitability issues, were more of a sign of discontent with the management of the team from Don Waddell much more than the image of professional sports in Atlanta.

All they needed was time to return to winning ways. Even if winning ways would be described as one playoff appearance, two playoff home games, and three seasons where they were above .500 in percentage of points gained. Time of which, in addition to the fans, Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsey are not being given, at least in Atlanta, Georgia.  This is a failure of ownership much more so than any management that relates to the on-ice product and even moreso than the fan reluctance to walk thru the turnstyles.

This city has now lost two NHL franchises. The Flames were born inAtlanta due to some unforseen expansion in junction with beating the WHA to Long Island and the need for a team to balance the schedule. The team ended up moving to Calgary because of what was described as a Godfather deal, a then record $16 million purchase price to relocate to Calgary. Even though the attendance and profitability slipped in Atlanta the first go and new ownership was sought doesnt necessarily make it a ‘hockey does not belong in the South’ failure.

Im sure there are people celebrating today for today’s news. However, I am not one of them. I hope for nothing more than to see it work in Winnipeg, I would hate to see this have to take root 6-10-15 years from now again. Pittsburgh, Nashville, temporarily Phoenix, and seemingly in Long Island and Edmonton have been saved and I guess you cant bat 1.000 all the time. While many are happy for what ever reason they choose, today I am down and defeated and feeling a little bit stung. What the Thrasher fan is feeling today could only be exponentially worse. And that, is a crying shame.

(note: Andy chooses not to pick series his team is involved in.)

In year’s past we have seen goaltenders steal the show in games of the Stanley Cup Finals, from names like Antti Niemi and Cam Ward, to Marc-Andre Fleury, and the many who have come before them, goaltending plays an important role when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup. This year, goaltending will be the key to winning the series, and that pressure lies on the backs of two men, Boston’s Tim Thomas, and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo.

This could be the closest cup finals we have seen in years (PHOTO: Nhl.com)

This year is a story of two similar teams, The Vancouver Canucks, and The Boston Bruins. Both teams put up similar point totals throughout the playoffs (Boston has 159, Vancouver has 140)  Both have similar goal totals (Boston with 58, Vancouver with 50) and both are close in total shots on goal (Boston with 573, Vancouver with 562) And they share the same number of blocked shots(262). The only real difference being the powerplay percentage (Vancouver at 16.7% and Boston at 11.4%). This shows just how important goaltending is going to be for both teams in this what should be a very close series.

Tim Thomas (PHOTO:AP)

For Tim Thomas, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing to get to the finals. He has let in multiple goals in 12 of 18 games this postseason, but has managed to make a playoff leading 560 saves along the way, as well as maintain a .930 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average. So this is by no stretch a bad playoff for Thomas, but there have been some goals, some by fault of defense, some by his own doing, that he would have liked to have had back. Thomas has stolen multiple games this playoff season (Game 5 Vs. Montreal, Game 2 Vs. Philadelphia, Game 2 Vs. Tampa Bay)

Against Vancouver, he will need to be on the top of his game, as he is looking at one of the most dangerous duos in hockey (Daniel and Henrik Sedin), as well as one of the hottest scoring centers and shotblockers in the playoffs (Ryan Kesler). He needs to not be as aggressive as he was last round against Tampa Bay, they lit him up when they got him moving out of the crease. And when Vancouver gets on the powerplay, Thomas will have to be their best penalty killer, bar none. If all of this comes together for Thomas, the biggest prize in hockey could be his.

Roberto Luongo looks to give the Canucks their first cup win. (PHOTO:AP)

For Roberto Luongo, the name of the game this playoff season has been consistency. Luongo has maintained a 2.99 goals against average and a .922 save percentage making 487 saves along the way. He, like Thomas, has had games he would like to forget, including the series vs. Chicago in which he was pulled 2 times after rough starts. But after that first round, he has caught fire making at least 20 saves in each game since, including brilliant performances in game 2 against Nashville (46 saves), and games 4 and 5 against San Jose ( 35, 56 saves).

Against Boston, Luongo will face shots from all angles, especially from snipers Nathan Horton and David Kreijci. Not to mention he will have to face Zdeno Chara’s bombs from the point, this is where one of his best assets, his shot blockers, will come in handy. Luongo needs to stay calm under pressure as Boston has a habit of bringing offense in waves, if he can ride out their offensive storms, he will give his team the best chances to win. He also needs to work on rebound control, multiple times he has lost the puck on simple shots he should have covered, and those have turned into scoring chances, and goals. If Luongo can do these two things, the Canucks will have the best chance to end their 41 year cupless drought.

(PHOTO: NHL.com)

We see in the ads “History will be made”. Every year, that sentiment rings true, but this season, the men in the pipes will be the ones who will hold the key to changing that history. Will the Bruins win their first cup in 39 years? Will the Vancouver Canucks win their first cup since coming into the league 41 years ago? The answer lies between the pipes.

With the Atlanta Thrashers’ inevitable move to Winnipeg, the NHL will undergo its’ first major realignment since 1998.  The Winnipeg team will likely play as a member of the Southeast Division during the 11-12 NHL season, before the league realigns in 2012.  The Thrashers, Jets, or whatever their name is, will move from the Eastern Conference to the West.  So a Western team will have to move East to balance out the conferences.

There are three logical possibilities to take Atlanta’s spot in the East.

Detroit has wanted to move East for a while now, citing travel and TV viewership.  But, with the Red Wings as a huge draw for Western Conference teams, a Detroit move seems unlikely.  Columbus would benefit by moving to the East.  They’ve struggled with attendance; it’s hard to grow a fanbase of a young franchise with a quarter of the team’s games starting after 9:00.  Out of the three, Nashville makes the most geographical sense.  Even in  the Central time zone, they’re the closest team to the other four currently in the Southeast.

One of those three will likely move into the East; but who will replace them in the Central?  There are a few possibilities. (more…)

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Penguins offseason is what will happen with Tyler Kennedy. After the Penguins lost both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to long term injuries, it became time for the remaining players to pick up their pace. Tyler Kennedy was one of those that improved his game finishing the season with career bests in goals (21), assists (24), and points (45).  After the last game that Crosby played on January 5th against the Lightning, Kennedy had 15 goals and 12 assists.

So the offseason question becomes, has Tyler Kennedy played himself out of Pittsburgh? Kennedy earned his promotion to the big club early on in the 2007-08 season and played well enough from the get go that it turned struggling Mark Recchi expendable.  Kennedy’s first season in the NHL had a bit of a derailing with a bout with Mono and had a hard time scoring the remainder of the season. Since then, he has played well on a very cohesive third line with Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal with the occasional top-6 duties sprinkled in.

TK’s cap hit for the past two seasons was $725,000 and with GM Ray Shero’s penchant for not overpaying (for both term in addition to salary) for role players, it can shape up to be either a contentious negotiation or one that’s pretty much non-existent. Despite being an RFA, I don’t forsee the Penguins extending a Qualifying Offer as Kennedy won’t be taking that raise and that it may not be worth the retaining of Kennedy’s rights as a potential compensation package wouldnt be much more than one may trade his rights for if it came down to that.  In addition to the potential of the Penguins walking away from any arbitration award that would be favorable to Kennedy.

Early indications are that the Kennedy and Penguins camps are far apart with word that Kennedy may be looking at upwards of $2 million per year. Which isn’t terribly outlandish for a 45 point a year player, however, that is typically not Kennedy’s role. And with the Penguins top-6 shaping up to be Neal-Crosby-Kunitz-Malkin-Staal-and a sixth to be named later, depending on potential UFA (Vrbata or Kobasew perhaps??) or organizational options (Dupuis or Tangradi) available can keep Kennedy in a third line role with the Penguins. Even if you double his salary to the $1.4 million range, I wouldn’t forsee Kennedy agreeing to that. Early indications are the Penguins internal UFA priorities have begun around Dupuis and Mike Rupp.

The iron is hot and I am sure Kennedy will like to strike while he has his opportunity, and he has earned it as well. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that his stretch from January to April would occur and could have possibly ended his career in Pittsburgh.

Two American NHL veterans are hanging it up after long careers.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski is walking away from a contract that had one year and $6 million remaining. The 37 year old defenseman’s decision was helped by his current injuries. He reportedly played without an ACL in this year’s playoffs.

Rafalski played 833 NHL games with the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings. In his 11 years, he scored 79 goals and 515 points. He was a member of three Stanley Cup teams (’00 Devils, ’03 Devils, ’08 Red Wings). He’s also won an Olympic silver medal twice with USA, in 2002 and 2010. In 2010, he was named to the all-Olympic team, as well as best defenseman, after finishing the tournament first in defenseman scoring (8 points). Rafalski was a two time all-star, in 2004 and 2007.

One of the underrated defensemen of his generation, Rafalski’s sudden retirement leaves the Red Wings with $6 million to play with in the offseason. That number could grow if his blueline mate Nicklas Lidstrom also decides to hang up the skates.

Rafalski’s teammate on the 2002 US silver medal team, Doug Weight, is also expected to announce his retirement this week. Unlike Rafalski, Weight has made his way around the NHL, playing 1238 games with the Rangers, Oilers, Blues, Hurricanes, Ducks and Islanders. Weight tallied 278 goals and 1033 points in his 21 year career. In addition to his 2002 silver medal, he’s represented USA in the 1998 and 2006 Olympics. Also in 2006, Weight got his named etched onto the Stanley Cup as the Hurricanes beat the Oilers.

The four time all-star picked up his 1000th point with the Islanders, an assist on a Richard Park goal in a game on January 2, 2009 against the Coyotes. He became only the eighth American and 73rd NHLer to hit the 1000 point mark. His 1000th career game came with St. Louis against the Oilers on November 16, 2006.  Weight was the 25th American to reach the mark.

Hats off to great careers, guys. Here’s to happy retirement for the both of them!

Blue Jackets and Rangers fans tried to warn me.  I wouldn’t listen.  I thought the Flyers picking up Nikolay Zherdev could be a solid signing; giving depth to their scoring, without tying too much into the future if it didn’t work out (1 year, $2 million deal).  They kept telling me that I was going to get aggravated with his one-dimensional play, and trying only when he felt like it.  I thought his stint in the KHL could have set him straight (as it did for former Flyer Ray Emery).  I thought he’d be motivated by playing on a Cup contender.

He started off pretty good, too. By Christmas he had 13 goals and Paul Holmgren looked like a genius.

Then he started playing like the Nikolay Zherdev that NHL fans knew. He wound up scratched for most February.  Flyers fans started to sour on him and realized a tiger never changes his stripes.  He only had three points in 13 games after the All-Star break.

In game in Carolina, Mike Richards fell ill after a ceremony for Rod Brind’Amour.  The team needed a replacement for Richards, and looked for Zherdev.  But he was nowhere to be found.  Jody Shelley eventually filled in for the Flyers’ captain in that game. Four days later, he was placed on waivers, but nobody picked him up.  It was rumored that the Flyers might try to dump him at the trade deadline.  Nobody bit and the Flyers were stuck with him for the remainder of the year.  He played a couple games before being scratched most of March.  When Jody Shelley got hurt, Zherdev got back into the lineup for the final five regular season games, and played seven out of the team’s nine playoff games.

He actually played decent in the playoffs, even though he only picked up three points.  The team as a whole failed, losing in the second round to the Bruins.  This led some fans to believe Holmgren might give him a second chance, but most felt he wouldn’t return.

The team seemed to play better when he was not in the lineup.  Without him in the lineup, the team went 18-4-2 (including playoffs).  When he played, the Flyers went 33-25-7, a winning percentage of .561.  To put that in perspective, the Rangers (who finished 8th in the East) had a winning percentage of .567.  The team scored a bit more goals (3.11 to 3.07) when he was dressed, but their defense suffered.  The Flyers had a goals against of 2.34 when he wasn’t in the lineup, as compared to a 3.02 GAA when he was.  His time on ice also seemed correlated to the team’s win-loss record.  When he played more than his average of ~13 minutes, the team was 12-11-3.  The Flyers record was 21-12-2 when he played less than his average.  However, his stats were about the same (14 points when playing 13+ minutes; 11 points when playing less).

Zherdev wasn’t likely to come back with the club next year, but new developments may have pushed those chances to zero.  Reports are surfacing that Zherdev attempted to beat his wife after an argument at a restaurant. The early reports are conflicting, but who will offer him a contract with his past attitude problems and any pending legal issues?

Philadelphia bids you adieu, Nik Zherdev.