Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Future Is Blinding

With Washington's untimely demise at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, a chance to have an entire franchise's affiliations win championships went out the window. However, the AHL's Hershey Bears and the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays held up their end of the deal by winning their leagues' respective championships. There were some notable contributors that made a difference for the Capitals this season, and there appears to be a very healthy farm system looking to reinforce the troops in DC. Today, we look at the farmhands of the Washington Capitals, and why I consider this group to be the best minor-league system of all the NHL teams. And there are a number of reasons why.

Goaltenders

Simeon Varlamov: Varlamov showed entirely why he was selected by the Capitals in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in this season's NHL Playoffs. While his record of 7-6 wasn't all that indicative of how well he played, Varlamov was the reason why the Capitals advanced past the New York Rangers after trailing in the series 3-1. He sported a 2.53 GAA and a .918 save percentage in 13 NHL Playoff Games - great stats for a rookie with only six regular season NHL games under his belt. His international experience combined with his time playing for Yaroslavl in the Russian Super League has Varlamov set for what looks to be a long NHL career.

Michal Neuvirth: Neuvirth was selected in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, shortly after the Capitals took Varlamov. Neuvirth was a standout with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, leading them to the Memorial Cup Championships as the OHL Champions in 2007. This season, after Varlamov was called up to Washington with Brent Johnson being injured, Neuvirth went 9-5-2. However, in the Calder Cup Playoffs, Neuvirth took his game to another level. He went 16-6 with four shutouts to help the Hershey Bears win the Calder Cup over the Manitoba Moose. Neuvirth also played for the South Carolina Stingrays this season where he was 6-7 with a 2.28 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Clearly, Neuvirth has the ability to elevate his game, and may have an opportunity to tandem with Varlamov in Washington in the future.

Daren Machesney: Machesney seems to have slipped slightly with the emergence of Varlamov and Neuvirth, but the fifth-round pick in 2005 is still highly regarded in the Capitals' system. In 36 games with the Hershey Bears this season, Machesney went 19-12-1, but had an inflated GAA of 3.24 along with an .876 save percentage. Machesney's stats aren't NHL-calibre yet, but the young goalie is producing at the AHL level for the Bears. Machesney does need some work on positioning, but he will play for Hershey next season as he has produced good results over the last two seasons with the Bears.

Defencemen

Karl Alzner: Alzner was a first-round pick for the Capitals in 2007, and he is developing into a steady, reliable, hard-hitting defenceman. He played in pressure situations in 2007 and 2008 for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, helping them to gold medals in both years. He captained the 2008 team, showing that he is a leader on the ice and respected by his peers. While he's only logged 30 games in the NHL with Washington, scoring one goal and adding four assists, his 48 games in Hershey showed that he is advancing at a solid pace. His four goals and 16 assists, combined with his excellent defensive play, could make Alzner the next captain of the Capitals.

John Carlson: Carlson was taken in the first-round in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and is showing signs of being cut from the same mold as Mike Green. He moved from the USHL to the OHL's London Knights this past season, and scored at an incredible pace. In 59 games, Carlson notched 16 goals and 60 assists. He added another seven goals and 15 assists in 14 OHL Playoff games this year. While there is some concern that Carlson's defensive zone coverage is a bit of a liability, having a second Mike Green-type player on the blueline will only help the Capitals' forwards in time. And if he continues to play under the Hunters in London, his defensive game should improve.

Josh Godfrey: Godfrey was drafted in the second round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and his calling card is his booming slapshot. In 37 games with the Stingrays this season, Godfrey potted five goals and added 20 assists in 37 games. He spent time with the Bears as well, recording six assists in 13 games with the AHL club. Godfrey looks like a bonafide blue-chipper, but still needs some work in improving his defensive zone coverage. However, his instincts appear to be sound, and he looks NHL-bound sooner rather than later.

Sasha Pokulok: Pokulok was taken in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft at 14th overall. Pokulok looks like an NHL defenceman already in terms of his size, measuring in at 6'5" and 230 lbs. He spent 44 games with the Hershey Bears last season, recording one goal and six assists. However, his season this year was derailed by injuries, and he only appeared in eight games with the Bears and 23 games with the Stingrays. He still recorded two goals and nine assists in the ECHL, but Pokulok will need to work hard to regain his pre-injury form. If he does, however, he's a big-body defenceman much like John Erskine, only with more offensive potential.

Keith Seabrook: Seabrook was taken in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and appears to be working his way up the depth chart nicely. He spent one season with Denver in the NCAA before transferring to Calgary to play WHL hockey with the Hitmen. In 2007-08, his first with the Hitmen, Seabrook seemed a little hesitant on the offensive side of the puck, only recording four goals and 13 assists in 59 games. However, he showed great improvement this season as he put up 15 goals and 40 assists in 64 games. Seabrook looks to be the best two-way defenceman behind Karl Alzner, and should be with Stingrays at least for the 2009-10 season.

Forwards

Oskar Osala: The Finnish left winger might be the best all-around forward in the Capitals' system right now. Osala was drafted in the fourth-round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and has benefitted from the experience of playing in the Finnish Hockey League with the Espoo Blues. Osala made the jump from Finland to the AHL this season, appearing in 75 games with the Hershey Bears, scoring 23 goals and adding 14 assists. In watching this young man play, he has a quick release, and understands his role defensively. While his vast offensive potential has yet to be tapped, he plays well in his own end and still has room to grow. He should be playing in Washington within a couple of years.

Chris Bourque: Bourque was a second-round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, and has really begun to come into his own as a player. This is his fourth year in the Capitals' system, having only played 12 games for the NHL club. However, he has steadily improved each year in the AHL, posting an increase in points every year. In 2005-06, he scored eight goals and 28 assists in 52 games. In 2006-07, Bourque scored 25 goals and added 33 assists in 76 games. In 2007-08, he played in 73 games, scoring 28 goals and adding 35 assists. And last season, he played in 69 games, scoring 21 goals and recording 52 assists. Bourque is one of the fastest players on the ice as well, making him a threat every time he gets some open ice. Bourque should be an NHL fixture with Washington by the 2010-11 season if he continues to produce in the AHL.

Anton Gustafsson: Gustafsson was taken in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but his progress has been hard to follow. He remains in Sweden, playing for a Tier-1 Swedish team where he scored six goals and four assists in 25 games. The problem is that the Tier-1 Swedish League would be equivalent to the ECHL in some regards, so it's hard to tell if Gustafsson is improving. A move to North America where he can adapt to the game would be helpful. Some scouts have indicated that Gustafsson could be a good second-line centerman, while others have indicated that he'll be no more than a third-line checking centerman. The jury is still out on Gustafsson, but he's young and has great potential, so there's still time for him to impress.

Mathieu Perreault: Perreault was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Perreault was a bonafide scoring threat with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL, but there was some concern about his defensive responsibilities. How a player who scored 119 points in 2006-07, and 114 points in 2007-08 in the QMJHL slipped to the sixth round is beyond me, but the Capitals benefitted greatly. In his first season with the AHL's Hershey Bears, Perreault really came on in the second half of the season, and ended with 11 goals and 39 assists in 77 games in his first pro campaign. Perreault looks like he will remain with Hershey for next season, but he could be a future second-line centerman for the Capitals. He dishes the puck well, and his defensive responsibilities really improved this season, particularly in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Andrew Gordon: Gordon was selected in the seventh round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but is the only right winger on the list that I can see having a future with the Capitals. Gordon is hard-working, grinding forward who doesn't shy away from a hit, and can put the puck in the net. In 2007-08, Gordon only appeared in 58 AHL games with the Bears, but scored 16 goals and added 35 assists. This past season, Gordon's production dropped off a little as he scored 21 goals and 24 assists, but he was better on the defensive side of the puck. Gordon appears to be a third-line winger, but if he can bring his offensive game to the forefront, he would the power forward that Washington would need with all their skill up front.

Stefan Della Rovere: Della Rovere was selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Della Rovere is a feisty agitator. He starred with the Barrie Colts of the OHL this past season where he 27 goals and 24 assists in 57 games. He was an agitating presence who showed flashes of goal-scoring brilliance with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships this past year, helping the team win the gold medal. While Della Rovere only played in two games with the Stingrays this season, he appears to be on the right path for a professional career.

Make no mistake that other organizations have blue-chip prospects. What makes the Capitals' system so good is their depth, their drafting and scouting, their commitment to winning, and their development system. They have blue-chip prospects at every position, and all of them have won at various stages of their careers.

With a future this bright, the Capitals are at the dawn of greatness.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Booked On Monday Night

If there is one story that all kids should grow up with as hockey fans, it's Roch Carrier's phenomenal story called Le Chandail de Hockey. The story revolves around a young boy named Roch who is enamoured with Les Canadiens and their superstar winger, Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Everyone is a Canadiens fan in town, and the kids lace their skates like Richard, comb their hair like Richard, and play like Richard. When Roch outgrows his beloved Canadiens sweater, his mom writes to Timothy Eaton, owner of the famed Eaton's Department Store, for a new sweater. When the sweater finally arrives, well... the beauty of the National Film Board of Canada is that they have the story online.

The National Film Board has the story of Le Chandail de Hockey online in movie form. Directed and animated by Sheldon Cohen and narrated by author Roch Carrier, The Sweater is the story put to film. Produced in 1980, it is still a classic short that has stood the test of time. Here is, in its entirety of 10:21, the story of The Sweater:


For more information on The Sweater, please check out the National Film Board of Canada's official site. There are some other brilliant films available on the site as well. If you have a few moments to poke through the site, I recommend checking out The Cat Came Back, an Oscar-nominated short by Cordell Barker, or The Log Driver's Waltz, a short vignette directed by John Weldon.

Those three shorts used to be shown on Canadian TV as filler during commercial breaks, and they really take me back to my childhood. I love Le Chandail de Hockey, and the short is just as good.

I'm off to a gathering tonight as a few friends who I haven't seen in a while are getting together for a few frosty beverages and some laughs. Take care, everyone, and I'll have more to post tomorrow.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Launching Rockets

We've checked out some of the major hardware that is handed out in the NHL. So far, we've learned the history and some facts about the Stanley Cup, the Hart Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy, the Lester B. Pearson Trophy, the Norris Trophy, the Vezina Trophy, and the Calder Trophy. In each case, there has been some interesting history behind each of the trophy in terms of how and why it was donated. Today, we look at one of the harder trophies to win in the NHL simply due to the fact that everyone is trying to stop you from winning. The Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy is the newest trophy in the history of the NHL, and is awarded "annually to the goal-scoring leader during the regular season". Where did the Richard Trophy come from? How did the NHL obtain it? Who has been the most prolific goal-scorer thus far?

The trophy was donated in 1999 by the Montreal Canadiens to the NHL to honour the life of one the NHL's best scoring threats. Richard spent his entire 18-year career with his hometown Canadiens, and set numerous scoring records while playing in the NHL. However, it was almost as if his path had been chosen for him before he ever embarked on a professional hockey career.

Joseph Henri Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Sr. was born in Montreal, Quebec on August 4, 1921. He was an exceptional hockey player as a child, and worked hard on being the fastest skater as a young player. However, in 1939, he applied to become part of Canada's military with the outbreak of World War II. He was denied twice by the military as a com,bat soldier, citing him "unfit for military duty", after x-rays showed that his previously broken wrists, ankle, and femur had not healed properly. These were injuries suffered in junior hockey.

He applied with the military again as a machinist, but the military again denied his application. This time, he was turned away due to not having a high school diploma or technical school diploma. Richard had dropped out of school at age 16 and worked in a local factory to help out at home. Because he had not graduated, the military would not accept him.

He enrolled in Montreal Technical School as a machinist, and worked hard to earn his degree. However, the war ended before Richard completed the four-year program, and he was no longer needed in the Canadian military. This disappointed Richard greatly as he was fiercely patriotic and wanted the opportunity to serve.

Richard almost had his rights traded by the Canadiens prior to joining the team. The Canadiens viewed him as too injury-prone after having suffered the various ailments above. However, they did like his speed and tenacity, and decided to give the kid a chance as a left winger, an unnatural position for Richard considering he had played right wing most of his life.

When Richard joined the Canadiens in 1942, he was given #15 as a rookie. As you may know, numbers were assigned by sleeping cars on the train, and the rookies always got the highest numbers. Coach Dick Irvin watched him struggle in 16 games as a rookie, only scoring five goals and adding six assists. It was questionable whether or not Richard would even be back with the Canadiens in the following year after he failed to make an impression on the Canadiens' management staff.

However, Irvin stuck to his intuition, and moved Richard back to the right wing to start the 1943-44 season. Richard also made a personal request to Irvin - he wanted to wear #9. The reason for the change was due to the birth of his first daughter, Huguette, who weighed nine pounds at birth. Irvin granted the number change, and the Canadiens would see incredible changes from Richard after these two minor adjustments.

Richard played in 46 games in the 1943-44 season, collecting 32 goals and 22 assists as part of the "Punch Line" with Toe Blake and Elmer Lach. His 32 goals at that time was fourth-highest in Canadiens' history, and the fans were drawn to him due to his speed, scoring, and toughness. In nine games in the playoffs, Richard added 12 more goals and another five assists en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Montreal's son had brought home the Stanley Cup to La Belle Province for the first time since 1931.

Irvin's moves paid off in spades in 1944-45 when Richard set an NHL scoring benchmark. Richard was scoring goals at an unreal goal-per-game pace, and it became apparent that he may become the NHL's first 50-goal scorer before the season ended. By Game 48, Richard has scored 49 goals, leaving him with two games to achieve this then-unparalleled mark. While the media called him "The Comet", Ray Getliffe, a Canadiens left winger, likened him to a rocket, and the new nickname stuck.

He was blanked in Game 49 against the Blackhawks despite Montreal winning the game. With 49-in-49, Richard needed a big effort in Boston against the Bruins at the hostile Boston Garden. Richard managed to dent the twine in a 4-2 victory over the Bruins to give him his 50th goal in his 50th game, the only player to ever achieve the 50-goal mark in a 50-game schedule. And your trivia answer is Harvey Bennett. That's the goaltender who Richard beat with his 50th goal of the season. Ironically, the 1944-45 season would be the only season Bennett would play in the NHL, going 10-12-2.

Richard would win another Stanley Cup in 1945-46, and led the league in goals another two times before the infamous 1954-55 season. The Canadiens were simply dominant this season, led by Richard goal-scoring abilities. However, a common tactic to keep him off the ice was to goad him into a fight. Richard's temper was legendary at this point, and teams would simply chip away at him until he snapped on the ice and engaged in a fight. Having the NHL's best goal-scorer off the ice outweighed any other factors, so Richard found himself in the penalty box more times than any other season in 1954-55.

On March 13, 1955, the NHL would spark a battle like no other. Richard had been suspended numerous times throughout his career at this point for stick-swinging and abuse of officials. The game against the Bruins on this night would alter what could have been incredible history. Instead, it became ugly NHL history.

Boston defenseman Hal Laycoe high-sticked Richard above his eye, cutting the star's head open. This was a common tactic to ignite Richard's fiery temper, and it worked. Referee Frank Udvari allowed the play to continue as the Canadiens controlled the puck, and finally blew the play dead a few seconds later. Richard charged at Laycoe, who already had his gloves off and fists up expecting the enraged Richard to come after him. Richard swung his stick like a baseball bat at Laycoe, and caught him along the back and side of his face.

Linesmen jumped between the two players, but Richard was a raging bull. He hit Laycoe two more times with his stick using one-handed swings. Linesman Cliff Thompson restrained Richard again, but he managed to get away from Thompson. Richard grabbed a stick and again struck Laycoe across the back with a baseball swing.

Thompson tackled Richard to the ice, attempting to pin the enraged star until he calmed down. However, a teammate knocked Thompson off Richard, and, as the two were rising, Richard punched Thompson twice in the face. With his rage starting to waver, the Montreal trainers escorted Richard off the ice under a chorus of boos.

Police arrived at the Canadiens dressing room to charge Richard with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, but coach Dick Irvin barred the door. The officers only agreed to leave after Bruins President Walter Brown and General Manager Lynn Patrick assured the officers that the league would handle this situation accordingly.

On Wednesday, March 16, Richard, head coach Dick Irvin, and assistant GM Ken Reardon met with Clarence Campbell, NHL President, to discuss the events that occurred on March 13. Laycoe, Lynn Patrick, the game officials, Referee-In-Chief Carl Voss, Campbell, and the Canadiens' delegation met for three-and-a-half hours. At 4pm, Clarence Campbell addressed the media:

"An incident occurred less than three months ago in which the pattern and conduct of Richard was almost identical. Consequently, the time for leniency or probation is past. Whether this type of conduct is the product of tempermental instability or wilful defiance doesn't matter. It's the type of conduct that cannot be tolerated. Richard is suspended from playing in the remaining league and playoff games."
With that last sentence, Clarence S. Campbell turned the hockey-mad city of Montreal into a mob. Death threats were issued by Montrealers towards Campbell. Demonstrators waited outside the Montreal Forum for Campbell to arrive for Montreal's March 17 game against Detroit as the top team in the NHL would be crowned that night.

Campbell arrived midway through the first period, and sat at the south end of the rink behind the goal judge. With Detroit leading 2-0 when Campbell arrived, the fans were already unhappy. However, it only got worse. Detroit scored two more times in the first period, staking them to a 4-1 lead, and each time that Detroit scored, a deluge of items rained down on Campbell: programs, toe rubbers, eggs, tomatoes, assorted vegetables, and picked pig's feet. The pig's feet were particular in that Campbell had been portrayed as an "English pig" for his condemnation of the French superstar.

During the first intermission, a man crushed two tomatoes against Campbell's chest. Another man faked a handshake, and slapped Campbell across the face twice. Someone set off a smoke bomb, and the fans poured out of the arena as the thick smoke filled the interior. And then all hell broke loose.

Young men threw bottles and chunks of ice at windows. A side door to the Forum was torn off its hinges. Pieces of brick and concrete from a nearby construction site were launched through windows of nearby businesses. Police estimated there were 10,000 people in the mob outside the Forum at 11PM. By 1AM, the mob had dispersed, but the damage had been done: 15 blocks in Montreal had been trashed and looted. All because of Campbell's decision to suspend Richard.

Montreal forfeited the game to Detroit that night, and, three nights later, lost to Detroit again, giving Detroit the best record in the league. Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, who had battled with teammate Richard all season for the scoring lead, overtook Richard and won the Art Ross Trophy by one point in that final game. He was booed mercilessly by the Montreal fans.

To add more fuel for the fire, the Canadiens lost in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. It was a stinging reminder for everyone in Montreal of Clarence Campbell's decision. However, the lesson had not gone unlearned. Richard would never finish with more than 89 PIMs after his suspension.

Richard would retire from the NHL after the 1959-60, having helped the Canadiens win five straight Stanley Cups in the previous five seasons. He would end his illustrious career having scored 544 goals, becoming the first player to break the 500-goal plateau. He won eight Stanley Cups, seven as a player and one in 1965 as Assistant to the President of the Canadiens, one Hart Trophy in 1947, and was an NHL All-Star each season from 1947 until 1959. He led the NHL in goals five separate times during his career.

Richard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, having the customary three-year waiting period waived in his honour. In 1967, he was inducted as an Officer in the Order of Canada. 1992 saw him appointed to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, ensuring that he would be referred to as "The Honourable" for life. In 1998, he was made Companion in the Order of Canada. This last honour is normally reserved for members of Cabinet, Chief Justices of Canada, and other dignitaries who require access to classified documents. His recommendation came directly from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

The city of Montreal showed him just how important he is to them when he stepped onto the ice at the Montreal Forum before the final game in the arena's history. The fans in attendance gave him a 16-minute standing ovation, causing the legend to cry over the outpouring of admiration for him. The normally humble and private Richard mouthed the words "thank you" over and over as he wept on the carpet - a moving tribute to Montreal's most controversial hockey icon.

In 1999, the Montreal Rocket began play in the QMJHL, named for Maurice Richard. While the Rocket moved to Prince Edward Island in 2003, the logo, prominently displaying Richard's #9, remains the same. In 2001, Richard was added to Canada's Walk of Fame.

Maurice "Rocket" Richard passed away from an inoperable form of abdominal cancer on May 27, 2000, and there was an incredible turnout for the viewing of Richard at the Bell Centre. It is estimated that more than 115,000 people came through to pay their respects to Mr. Richard and his family. After his passing, the Montreal Expos wore a #9 on their sleeve to honour his life and memory. Richard was given a provincial state funeral, the first time such an honour has gone to an athlete in Quebec.

Without a doubt, Maurice Richard was larger than life in the city of Montreal, and the admiration shown by the fans proves that he was loved for his abilities. As much as he enjoyed scoring goals, his private life remained private, and the media in Montreal respected that wish - something that rarely happens in today's society. Due to his idolization of Richard while growing up, Canadiens President Ronald Corey created the Maurice "Rocket Richard Trophy in honour of the legend, and donated it to the NHL to be awarded to the league's top goal-scorer each season.

While there have only been a few players to win the trophy since 1999, let's take a look at a few interesting facts:
  • Teemu Selanne was the first winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy in 1999. Selanne scored 47 goals for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim that year.
  • Pavel Bure was the first back-to-back winner of the award when he won in 2000 and again in 2001 as a member of the Florida Panthers. Bure scored 58 goals in 2000 and 59 goals in 2001.
  • There was a three-way tie for the Maurice Richard Trophy in 2004. Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, and Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers all scored 41 goals that season to lead the league.
  • The 41 goals scored by those three players is the lowest total to win the award in the nine times it has been awarded.
  • Alexander Ovechkin currently holds top spot for the most goals scored by a Maurice Richard Trophy winner. In 2008-09, Ovechkin scored 65 goals, breaking Bure's mark of 59 goals.
  • There has not been an American-born player who has won the Richard Trophy yet. By nationality, there have been four Canadians, three Russians, a Finn, and a Czech.
  • Bure and Iginla have won the most Richard Trophies in their careers with two each.
So there's some history on the newest trophy in the NHL's trophy case. Honestly, the history of Maurice Richard is amazing, and he literally carried French-Canada for a long time. There's no denying, however, how important Richard was to the Montreal Canadiens, the city of Montreal, and the game of hockey.

He is deserving of an award in his name and his honour.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Selecting The Future

For all the reported trade talk at this year's NHL Entry Draft, there was one major trade on Day One. For all the secrecy that the New York Islanders hid behind, they eventually took the best player at the first overall position. For everyone who said that this draft may not offer up a lot of surprises, you get half-marks. There were a few players who might have been selected earlier than thought, and a couple who slid down the board. I'm not going to predict winners and losers after the opening round of the draft, but I'll go through each team's selections with my own opinion.

John Tavares - London Knights (OHL). It was said that Islanders fan would burn down Nassau Memorial Coliseum in search of GM Garth Snow's head had he passed over Tavares. For a team desperate for scoring, Tavares will provide that in spades provided he has willing teammates who will feed him the puck. His hockey sense is incredible, and his skating is fine. He will need to get stronger when battling in front of the net, but Tavares is a player that the Islanders desperately need to keep their dwindling fanbase from turning rabid.

Victor Hedman - Modo (Sweden). Since the Lightning operated their defencemen on a revolving door last season, Hedman might be the first defenceman since Roman Hamrlik who earns a spot on the blueline based on how high he was drafted. Hedman has experience after playing in the Swedish Elite League against men who are stronger and more experienced than he. However, the mess in Tampa Bay won't be solved by Hedman overnight. As it has been seen, it takes defencemen 3-4 years before they become big-time NHL defencemen. Hedman could be an exception, but he still looks a little lean to me. The skill level he possesses, however, makes him an all-world talent.

Matt Duchene - Brampton Battalion (OHL). While everyone is hunting for the next Steve Yzerman, Duchene may very well be the next Joe Sakic. Sakic is solid scorer, but doesn't shy away from playing defence either. Duchene is cut from the same mold. While he may not have Sakic's wrist shot, the heart, desire, and leadership is there, and that's an exceptional foundation to build upon. Oh, and that scholastic award he won in the OHL this year? The kid is wicked smart too.

Evander Kane - Vancouver Giants (WHL). Kane is the kind of player that every coach loves. He forechecks like a demon, can score goals in bunches, and loves to hit. While he's still a little undersized for the NHL, he will grow into 6'1" frame. What most people don't talk about is his determination and character. This is a guy who was cut from the Canadian World Junior team, only to be asked back after an injury. And what did he do? Show the world that he was a big-time performer. Alongside guys like Kovalchuk and Little, Kane should be a fan favorite in Hot-lanta.

Brayden Schenn - Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). If Los Angeles was looking for another wrecking ball to play alongside Dustin Brown, Schenn would be him. The kid is "Charlie Hustle" personified, and he knows how to score. He plays the game with his heart on his sleeve, and is a phenomenal character guy. He has soft hands, doesn't mind passing the puck over shooting, and loves to hit guys. Schenn might have the ability to crack the Kings' lineup next season if he continues to work hard this off-season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Leksand (Sweden). There's no mistaking that the Coyotes need a solid, puck-moving defenceman after trading away Derek Morris last season. While it may be a couple of years before Ekman-Larsson matures into the foundation of the Coyotes' blueline, he has shown the flashes of brilliance to warrant his pick at sixth-overall. He has been described as a "poor man's Nicklas Lidstrom" as he plays both sides of the puck at a high level. Anytime you can be compared to a legend like Lidstrom has to be a major compliment in terms of what you bring to the table.

Nazem Kadri - London Knights (OHL). With GM Brian Burke unable to move in the draft to get Tavares, why not take the player who some scouts felt was a better player in the OHL Playoffs this season? Kadri didn't have the greatest season in the regular season, and that's the knock on him: consistency. However, he'll be playing in familiar territory in Ontario, and should settle into the Leafs organization fairly well in my view. Kadri brings all the elements to the table that you want: scoring, hitting, solid forechecking. He just needs to make a habit of bringing his lunchbox to work with him each and every night.

Scott Glennie - Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). Glennie was the knife that buttered Schenn's bread for Brandon this season. Glennie has remarkable skill and excellent playmaking vision. The one knock on him is that sometimes he's too finesse with the puck, and makes one too many moves. Glennie will be successful is he can simplify his game, and that's something the Stars can teach him. If he gets a chance to play with Jamie Benn in Austin next season, we may see the next "Hull-and-Oates" combination where they lit up the scoresheet. Glennie-and-Bennie, anyone?

Jared Cowen - Spokane Chiefs (WHL). The big defenceman proved he could overcome the knee injury he suffered in January by skating on Wednesday. It remains to be seen, though, if he rushed back. However, he is a Memorial Cup winner, and he's an enormous 6'5" frame. Bigger defencemen take time to mature and develop, especially after a knee injury, so I'm guessing he'll be in Binghampton for a year or two before getting to the NHL. However, his size and nastiness in the defensive zone remind me of one of the most despised defencemen of today's NHL in Chris Pronger. And Ottawa can certainly use a player like that.

Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson - Timra (Sweden). MPS, as I'll abbreviate him, went from a timid 16 year-old at the World Junior Championships to a budding superstar. His speed and soft hands make him a dangerous threat to score every time he touches the puck, but I believe it is his size that will make him a dangerous threat. In the same way that Forsberg could turn it on as he turned a corner, MPS appears to have that same blazing acceleration and deft scoring touch while having a bigger body to protect the puck. There is no way that Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini could pass up on Paajarvi-Svensson at the 10th pick.

Ryan Ellis - Windsor Spitfires (OHL). If there is any team that has a stable of exceptional young defencemen at this point, it has to be the Nashville Predators. Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter already anchor that group, and adding an offensive threat from the blueline like Ellis may give Nashville the extra boost they need. Watching him play this season felt like watching Paul Coffey again. He skates like the wind, he has exceptional vision, and he has a solid shot from the point. Barry Trotz and the staff in Nashville will develop his defensive game, but the offensive package he brings to Music City will wow the fans in Nashville.

Calvin De Haan - Oshawa Generals (OHL). In what seems like a step backwards after drafting John Tavares, the Islanders pick up a bit of a project in defenceman De Haan. Don't get me wrong: De Haan can move the puck and skates fairly well, but he won't be NHL-ready for at least 2-3 years. De Haan has incredible offensive upside, but he routinely was beaten down-low in his own zone, and needs to get bigger physically. His 6'0", 165 lbs. frame won't stand a chance in the AHL or NHL, especially when battles for the puck are won and lost along the endboards. And for the Islanders, there was better talent still on the board at this point.

Zach Kassian - Peterborough Petes (OHL). In two years, there will be teams who will not want to play against the Buffalo Sabres. Last year, they drafted 6'6" Tyler Myers who seems to enjoy crushing opponents into the boards when given the chance. This year, they draft Zach Kassian, a gladiator of a hockey player. Scoring? Yes. Hitting? Absolutely. Fighting? Damn straight. Kassian was built in the same fashion that Milan Lucic was, and he doesn't back down from anyone. Surprisingly, he was still on the board at #13. Unsurprisingly, the Sabres upgraded their toughness in one fell swoop.

Dmitry Kulikov - Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL). In picking Kulikov, the Panthers are getting a potential first-line defenceman. Kulikov isn't afraid to play physically, and brings a solid offensive upside to the Panthers. While far-less offensively-minded than the comparisons to Sergei Zubov was when he entered the league, Kulikov will offer a tremendous upgrade in the defensive department. Kulikov was the best defenceman available at #14, and the Panthers made an excellent choice.

Peter Holland - Guelph Storm (OHL). Holland comes into the draft with stats similar to those of third-overall pick Matt Duchene, but there are questions about his determination and doggedness. Holland will bring a solid skill package to the Ducks, and should line-up as a second-line centerman as long as Ryan Getzlaf is still in SoCal. However, he doesn't quite fit head coach Randy Carlyle's hard-work, hustle system yet, and that will have to be taught to the young man. If he reaches his potential, however, it would be worth the work in teaching him to how to play harder.

Nick Leddy - Eden Prairie High School. With the impending loss of Marian Gaborik, it was almost a given that Minnesota would draft home-grown Jordan Schroeder with the #16 pick. Minnesota did go home-grown, but selected defenceman Nick Leddy instead. GM Chuck Fletcher insists that Leddy is the perfect "new NHL" defenceman who can skate, move the puck, and play soundly in his own zone. While there is no denying Fletcher's intuition, we'll get to see how he plays at the next level when he moves to the USA Hockey program next month.

David Rundblad - Skelleftea (Sweden). The Blues are increasing their skill from the blueline forward. With Erik Johnson last year, the Blues have two outstanding defencemen waiting in the wings. Rundblad is highly-skilled, and brings an excellent two-way game to the Blues. The one thing that really stands out in his game is his breakout. He skates extremely well, and appears to be one of the better players to start a rush with his passing. If there's one thing that was exposed in their series against Vancouver this year, it was that the Blues had trouble getting the puck out of their zone. Rundblad could be a major part of the solution to that problem.

Louis Leblanc - Omaha Lancers (USHL). Montreal drafted a home-grown boy as their potential number-one centerman. Leblanc has soft hands and a true ability to avoid hits while with the puck. While he's still a little lean at 6'0", 178 lbs., he packs a lot of power behind his shots, and fires the puck from anywhere. He is a ball of fiery energy as he plays with a lot of emotion, and will stand-up for a teammate when he can. He forechecks well, he finishes hits, and he plays the game hard - something the Canadiens haven't seen for a while. He'll have to learn to play disciplined, though, if he wants to crack the Canadiens' line-up in a year or two.

Chris Kreider - Andover High School. Kreider has a big body, and uses it to dig hard in corners for the puck. He has a solid shot, and can really skate. The major knock on him, however, is that he is being compared to other high school students. While the potential is high, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to develop against players in higher-level hockey. For all intents and purposes, though, he's a solid, hard-working player, and that can only deliver good results.

Jacob Josefson - Djurgarden (Sweden). Josefson has been compared to Zetterberg, but he's clearly not as proficient in the offensive zone as his Swedish counterpart. However, he is a responsible two-way player and a playmaker, and that's entirely what Lou Lamoriello looks for. He has good strength, and is tough to knock off the puck, especially along the boards. The problem is that he's smaller in stature, and has minimal speed. Some have called him predictable since he is a pass-first player, so the coaching staff of the Devils will need to work with him to make him a more complete player offensively.

John Moore - Chicago Steel (USHL). Moore has the skill and talent to light up the scoreboard as a defenceman, and has drawn comparisons to Mike Green. However, the jump from USHL to the next level will determine Moore's real value. Moore skates incredibly well, and has exceptional acceleration to add to his ability. His defensive zone coverage needs work, but coach Ken Hitchcock and his staff will preach defence in Columbus. Moore has vast potential to be an exceptional offensive catalyst. The only question is whether or not he'll reach that potential.

Jordan Schroeder - University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA). The highly-skilled right winger was the top scorer as a freshman in the NCAA this season. For the Canucks to grab Schroeder at 22nd-overall is a huge payoff for a franchise desperate for scoring stars. After selecting Cody Hodgson, a gifted playmaker, last season, the Canucks get a fast, strong winger who can put pucks in the net. At 5'8", however, the thought is that he lacks the size of a power forward, pushing him to pass when he should shoot. The Canucks will look to break that pass-first trend to make him into the youthful scorer they need in the coming years.

Tim Erixon - Skelleftea (Sweden). Erixon looked extremely good at last season's World Junior Championship, and he was a solid defenceman in the Swedish Elite League. Erixon won't wow anyone with his offensive or defensive prowess, but he gets the job done. And for coach Brent Sutter, that's exactly the kind of no-frills defenceman he appreciates. He may not be a #1 or #2 defenceman, but he'll be the rock-solid guy sent out to do the dirty work for the Flames.

Marcus Johansson - Farjestad (Sweden). First there was Nicklas Backstrom. Then there was Anton Gustafsson. Washington adds a third quality centerman through the draft from Sweden in Johansson. Johansson isn't the most prolific scorer, but GM George McPhee stated that he is "[v]ery good in almost every area of his game - quick, smart, competitive, good hands". The one thing that prevented Johansson from being ranked higher than he was in the pre-draft reports was the series of concussions he suffered. He had two last season, but it appears the Capitals were happy with his health. He'll need a little work, but Johansson appears to be a solid prospect.

Jordan Caron - Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL). The 6'2" centerman fits the mold of the big, bad Bruins. He has great mobility, good hands, and a keen goal-scoring sense. Scouts feel that his skating needs to improve, and that he is slightly one-dimensional. Coach Claude Julien will add a defensive aspect to his game, and that should help Caron move through the ranks as a big, strong centerman.

Kyle Palmieri - US Under-18 Team. The Ducks make their second selection on Palmieri, a 5'10" speedy winger. He works extremely hard and always seems to be moving. It's these two traits which have propelled him to higher levels. Along with his work ethic, he has a big-league shot, and his competitive nature should drive him to be better. Under a watchful eye from coach Randy Carlyle, Palmieri could become another winger in the mold of current Duck Bobby Ryan.

Philippe Paradis - Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL). Paradis could be the next hard-nosed centerman to line up on the second line for the Hurricanes. Paradis mixes a healthy dose of grit and tenacity with scoring touch, something that the Hurricanes were lacking in their series against the Penguins. While some scouts have stated that he may be nothing more than a third-line centerman, with a little refining he could be the next Rod Brind'Amour. And that's something that Hurricanes' fans would love to see.

Dylan Olsen - Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL). The 6'2", 205 lbs. defenceman shone with the Canadian Under-18 program this past season, and looks to be a complete defenceman despite only playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He likes to throw the body around, and could compliment the solid offensive defencemen in Chicago by being the bruiser on the blueline. There's almost no doubt that Olsen will crack an NHL line-up in 3-4 years, but his development will rely on his physical condition as he moves from junior hockey to the professional ranks.

Carter Ashton - Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL). Son of former NHLer Brent Ashton, Carter is a scoring threat like his dad was. Typically, however, he is scoring from just outside the crease with his bid body parked in front of a goaltender. It's strange to think that the Lightning signed Ryan Malone to a long-term contract to do the same job, but Ashton was selected anyway. Scouts are begging for him to be more physical as a presence on the ice in the way that Tim Kerr was, but he's played soft thus far. That will have to change for him to be a contributor at the NHL level.

Simon Depres - Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL). The Penguins opted to go with a defensive defenceman with the last pick in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Depres literally is willing to do anything - block shots, eliminate players along the boards - and his positive attitude doesn't waver in his job. There is some concern amongst scouts that his play away from the puck might be his undoing, so head coach Dan Bylsma will have to get Depres to stay in the system when he's not battling for the puck. If Rob Scuderi leaves this summer, this might be next Scuderi for Pittsburgh. The only problem? He's about 3-4 years away.

There were three teams who didn't have a pick in the first round: Detroit, San Jose, and Philadelphia.

Landon Ferraro - Red Deer Rebels (WHL). Son of former NHLer Ray Ferraro, Landon was selected 32nd overall. The 5'11" winger is fast, but doesn't possess the overdrive gear that scouts look for in blue-chip prospects. However, his hockey IQ is extremely high, and he finds open ice regularly. He's a solid goal scorer, and should be a Red Wing one day. He would benefit greatly from linemates who can feed him the puck in the slot with his quick shot, and Detroit has those types of players in spades.

William Wrenn - US Under-18 Team. Wrenn was selected 43rd overall, and is heading to the University of Denver next season. San Jose couldn't resist the defensive defenceman at their draft position. At 6'2", he's still tall and lanky, but Wrenn is expected to fill out and be a bruising defensive in his own zone. While already defensively responsible in his own end, he could use a touch more offence to compliment his game. However, he skates well and a leader on his team, traits that all defencemen need.

Adam Morrison - Saskatoon Blades (WHL). Philadelphia selected Morrison with the 81st pick in the draft. Morrison didn't play much last season as he was platooned behind Braden Holtby, but the Flyers saw enough potential to pick him up with their first pick in the draft. He went 9-1-1, proving that a reliable backup is important. Morrison will start for the Blades this season with Holtby graduating to the pro ranks, so there will be more eyes on him this season as he prepares for a future with Philly.

Lastly, the trades from the couple of days have seen some players moved, and some players keeping their current residences.

The Anaheim Ducks shipped out defenceman Chris Pronger and forward Ryan Dingle to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenceman Luca Sbisa, forward Joffrey Lupul, two first-round picks and a conditional third-round pick in 2010 or 2011. The Ducks would have been seriously over the salary cap limit next season with Niedermayer and Selanne telling the Ducks that they want to come back. Francois Beauchemin is still a free agent, so the Ducks had to make room. Lupul adds another scorer to the Ducks line-up, and Sbisa adds some more young talent to their blueline.

Philly, of course, gets tougher and meaner on the back-end, meaning teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston will need to avoid someone's rather large elbows. A good trade for both teams, but the Flyers are starting to remind me of the Bullies again with the pick-up of Pronger.

Brandon Prust is on his way home. Calgary, the team who originally drafted Prust, traded defenceman Jim Vandermeer to the Phoenix Coyotes to re-acquire Prust.

Edmonton Oilers' forward Kyle Brodziak and a sixth-round pick were dealt to the Minnesota Wild for their fourth- and fifth-round picks.

The Florida Panthers dealt the negotiating rights to defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to the Calgary Flames for the negotiating rights to defenceman Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick. Bouwmeester's camp has already indicated that they are interested in the free agent market, but Calgary must want Bouwmeester badly for them to make this trade.

Dany Heatley was not traded, and, from what GM Bryan Murray said, it sounds like there were a few teams who kicked the tires, but wouldn't ante up the players and picks that Murray wanted. Unless something dramatic happens before Wednesday, it sounds like Heatley will be a Senator next season. Murray has stated that if the Senators are required to pay the $4 million bonus due to Heatley on July 1, he would remain a Senator.

So there's the recap. I'm off for some fun and excitement tonight as I'm going to check out The Hangover. I need a few laughs, and, from what others have told me, it's definitely worth it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Canada's Hockey Factory

If you're a hockey fan, you're completely aware of the hockey factory known as Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota. SSM has produced a vast number of NHL stars including Joe Corvo, Patrick Eaves, Jack Johnson, Zach Parise, Jordan Parise, and, of course, Sidney Crosby to name a few. While Canada is viewed as hockey's homeland, there really isn't the same credence given to the few schools or major junior teams that have produced a wealth of NHL talents like Shattuck-St. Mary's has. Today, however, I want to bring light to one of those major junior teams: the Notre Dame Hounds of Wilcox, Saskatchewan. They are based at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.

The Hounds joined the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 1970, but didn't really make an impact in their first few seasons. However, records and game reviews are somewhat harder to come by on the Internet for a major junior team from the 1970s, so I can't really give you any information other than their best standing from 1970-76 was 5th in the SJHL.

However, after the 1976 season, they left the SHJL. Not being affiliated with a league for a while will negatively-impact records for a team, and there is little to no information on the Internet for the team until the 1986-87 season when they returned to the SJHL. However, it appears that the Hounds were operated as a "AAA" minor league hockey team from 1976-86.

During that 1985-86 season, the Hounds possessed one of the most lethal scoring lines in all of junior hockey when Gary Leeman, Wendel Clark, and Russ Courtnall lined up alongside one another for the Hounds. Later on, their illustrious careers would take them into the NHL, and all three would play on the "Hound Line" for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Hounds, during that season, were dominant, but ended up losing the Air Canada Cup at the Canadian Midget Championship to a team from Quebec.

After the 1986-87 season, the Hounds jumped directly into Tier II Junior "A" hockey with the SJHL for the 1987-88. The Hounds found the competition they were searching for as they played through season with close scores in each and every game. They qualified for the SJHL Playoffs as they finished first in the SJHL in their first year, and went on to win the Credential Cup as the SJHL Champions.

They moved on to play the Winnipeg South Blues for the Anavet Cup. The winner would have a chance to represent the Western region in the Centennial Cup, a tournament to determine the best Junior "A" team in Canada. The Hounds made short work of the series, sweeping the Blues with little effort in four games. They advanced to the Abbot Cup Championship against the Calgary Canucks. The Canucks overwhelmed the Hounds, and led the best-of-seven series 3-1 through the first four games. However, two big wins in Games Five and Six by the Hounds evened the series for a dramatic seventh game. With a 3-2 lead in the third period, future NHL goaltender Curtis Joseph shut the door on the Canucks, and the Hounds won the right to represent Western Canada at the Centennial Cup.

At the Centennial Cup Tournament, the Hounds played the Halifax Lions in their first game, and defeated them by a 6-5 score. They won their second game against the Thunder Bay Flyers by a 9-7 score. They lost their third and final game in the round-robin in triple-overtime by a 4-3 margin to the Pembroke Lumber Kings from Ontario. The semi-final would match the two teams up again, and the Hounds hammered the Lumber Kings in this second game by a 7-3 score to advance to the Centennial Cup Final.

The Centennial Cup Final would feature the Halifax Lions against the Notre Dame Hounds. Early in the third period, with the teams tied at 2-2, future NHL centerman Rod Brind'Amour connected with future World Junior Championship hero Dwayne Norris for the Hounds' third goal. Curtis Joseph stonewalled the Lions the rest of the way, and the Hounds won the Centennial Cup.

Adding a few honours to their championship season, Brind'Amour received awards for being the Top Scorer, Top Centerman, and Most Valuable Player. Teammate and future NHL defenceman Joby Messier was named as the tournament's Top Defenceman.

Since that time, the Notre Dame Hounds have been producing quality players that have gone on to play professional hockey in a variety of leagues. Some of the more notable NHL talent that got their starts at Notre Dame include Wendel Clark, Gary Leeman, Russ Courtnall, Curtis Joseph, Rod Brind'Amour, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Tyler Myers, Dave Karpa, Kent Manderville, Lawrence Nycholat, James Patrick, and Braydon Coburn (on the right).

Here's a quick clip of some of the current players and administration talking about how important hockey is to the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, and how the Hounds have become an institution of winning:


The Notre Dame Hounds are one of the better grassroots hockey programs in Canada, and they have a pretty good lineage of players who have gone on to bigger and better stages. While this type of school may not be for everyone as Athol Murray College of Notre Dame is a Catholic school, what the school has done in preparing the young men and women attending the institution is good for hockey and good for their future lives.

And that's exactly what a school should do.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

**Huge thanks to BJ Vicks of RadarDDB for the heads-up about the video!**

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Get Your Suitcase

It wouldn't be an off-season without major changes in the world of hockey. Specifically, there are a few professional teams that are changing addresses or building new as they prepare for the 2009-10 hockey season. The AHL has two teams that have moved into new cities while another team has been accepted as an expansion franchise for next season. No longer will the Dallas Stars be sending their draft picks and young players out into the unknown with a map. Instead, they'll have a team of their own they can build. Today, we look at the new locations, jerseys, and teams of the AHL: the Abbotsford Heat, the Adirondack Phantoms, and the Texas Stars.

It has been announced some time ago that the Calgary Flames were moving their AHL franchise from Moline, Illinois to Abbotsford, BC in order to have their farmhands closer when needed. They allowed the fans in Abbotsford to select the name of the team, and the Abbotsford Heat were born. Shortly thereafter, Jim Playfair, former head coach of the Calgary Flames, was named as the first head coach of the Heat. Today, the team unveiled their jerseys and logo at a corporate breakfast for local business owners.

Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed to find out that the Heat's logo was actually their full-time, everyday logo and not just a wordmark. With the history of the Calgary Flames' franchise beginning in Atlanta, it's hard to fathom why they wouldn't attempt to use the old Atlanta Flames logo. Especially when you consider how good this looks. In fact, I wouldn't have any clue that the Heat were a hockey team if that puck wasn't part of the logo. It's such a generic logo that it may be better suited for roller hockey than ice hockey.

Their jerseys are nothing more than a copycat of their NHL franchise with the exception of the switch in accent colour and shoulder flag. The Flames go with yellow, but the Heat will go with gray as their accent colour, and the Heat will wear the British Columbia flag instead of the Alberta flag for obvious reasons. Nothing too radical here, but nothing that endears me to the Heat either. If you aren't a fan of the way Calgary looks, you more than likely won't like Abbotsford's look.

Overall, nothing too exciting in the fashion and branding departments. So what about their home? Well, the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre will seat 6653 fans along with 12 boxes, 20 private suites, and 2 party suites. The arena's total seating can expand to 8500. In this writer's opinion, the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre is probably the perfect size for the AHL for a new team in a new location.

From Abbotsford, British Columbia, we cross the continent to Glens Falls, New York where the Adirondack Phantoms will play this season. The Phantoms were formerly a minor-pro team in Philadelphia, but, with the Wachovia Spectrum being demolished this summer, the Phantoms needed a new home. So they packed their bags and headed north into New York. This is the second AHL franchise for Glens Hills, NY as the Adirondack Red Wings used to call the city home from 1979-1999.

The Phantoms are keeping their logo as it is, so that's a positive. It's a fairly recognizable logo... even if no one can explain what it is. However, they have eliminated the purple out of their jerseys, opting to go with black, white, and orange in the same fashion as their NHL affiliate in the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Phantoms will make their home in the Glens Falls Civic Centre, a 4806-seat multi-purpose arena. The arena itself really has an old-time feeling to it with its natural brick exterior and old-time box office. While the arena's seating capacity seems small, the Phantoms should attract fans so that they play near capacity each night. And that's precisely what any franchise wants.

From the Empire State, we head to the Lone Star State where the Dallas Stars are laying ground for their AHL franchise. The Texas Stars will set up shop in the suburb of Cedar Park located in Austin, Texas in the brand-new Cedar Park Center. The Cedar Park Center is a beautiful, 6800-seat arena being completed over this summer that will house the expansion AHL franchise for the 2009-10 season.

No surprise here in that the Texas Stars' logo takes the same colours and design as their NHL parent franchise. If the trend is followed, the Texas Stars will most likely wear the same jerseys as the Dallas Stars, except the logo will be that of the AHL franchise.

So there are the three franchises who have moved and/or put down roots in a new community. For more information, please check out each team's respective website: Abbotsford Heat, Adirondack Phantoms, and Texas Stars.

In other major moving news, soon-to-be NHL free agent Sergei Fedorov has signed a deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. Fedorov signed a two-year deal worth a reported $4 million per season. After taxes in the Siberian city, Fedorov will bank approximately $3.8 million per season, far more than what he was guaranteed here in North America.

The three-time Stanley Cup winner with Detroit will suit up alongside his brother, Fedor Fedorov, in Magnitogorsk next season.

"I spoke with Sergei this morning," agent Pat Brisson told The Canadian Press. "He's indicated to me that he is finalizing everything in order to join his brother in the KHL this summer.

According to reports, having both Fedorov boys playing for the same professional team was a wish their father always wanted to see, and now it will happen.

Call this a victory for the KHL as they get a big-name Russian player to come home in the same way that Alexei Yashin returned to Russia to play. While his leadership will definitely be missed in the Capitals' dressing room, there was no guarantee that he was going to be re-signed either. Good luck to Sergei Fedorov next season in the KHL!

That's all for me tonight. Tomorrow, I'll post a quick video as there are a number of things going on in my life that will limit my computer access. Don't worry - lots of draft recap action on Saturday, and I'm working on that Bears-Stingrays profile for Sunday. Make sure you check back for these features!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Wednesday Chatter

Congratulations to the four men to the left. They represent the 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees as players. Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Brian Leetch were icons during their years in the NHL, and all four men are certainly worthy of the accolade. Lou Lamoriello was inducted in the builder's category, and he certainly has done yeoman's work in building the New Jersey Devils into legitimate contenders each year as well as contributing to the success of hockey in the United States. All five men are the upper echelon of the hockey world, and all are worthy of their Hall of Fame appointments.

  • Steve Yzerman was named captain of the Red Wings at 21, and was a scoring sensation the moment he arrived from Peterborough in the OHL. He won three Stanley Cups as a player, the 1998 Conn Smythe Trophy, an Olympic gold medal in 2002, the Lester B. Pearson Trophy in 1989, the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 2003, and the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2000. Not to be forgotten in all this, Yzerman also scored 1755 points to rank sixth all-time in scoring.
  • Brett Hull has to be considered as one of the most lethal scoring threats of all-time. Hull ranks third all-time in NHL history with 741 goals, and won two Stanley Cups - 1999 with Dallas, and 2002 with Detroit. He also has a Lady Byng Trophy to his name (1990), a Lester B. Pearson Trophy (1991), a Hart Trophy (1991), and is one of five men to score 50 goals in 50 games. Hull represented Team USA on a number of occasions as well.
  • Luc Robitaille is the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history with 1394 points. Robitaille won the 1987 Calder Trophy, and picked up the only Stanley Cup in his career in 2002 with Yzerman and Hull. Selected 171st overall in the ninth-round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, his 125 points scored in 1993 is still the highest single-season total for a left winger in NHL history. Of course, Luc and his wife, Stacia, founded and run two excellent charities: Shelter For Serenity, and Echoes of Hope.
  • Brian Leetch was long considered one of the NHL's best defencemen during his time. He won the Calder Trophy in 1989, a Norris Trophy in 1992 and 1997, the Lester Patrick Award in 2007, a Stanley Cup in 1994, and the Conn Smythe Trophy in the same year. He was the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe in NHL history. His 23 goals as a defenceman in his first year are still an NHL record.
  • Lou Lamoriello has built the New Jersey Devils franchise into a rock-solid organization. Under his leadership, the Devils have amassed a record of 873-601-208, and won three Stanley Cups. Lamoriello was also a key player in Team USA's successes with the World Cup of Hockey win in 1996 being the pinnacle thus far.
  • Some unhappy news out of Los Angeles where it appears that the wedding planned by Jarret Stoll and supermodel Rachel Hunter is off. Perhaps for good. According to the World Entertainment News Network, the 27 year-old Kings' forward has left their relationship with no reason just two months before they were scheduled on August 14 to tie the knot, and Miss Hunter has been left devastated. Some are calling it a case of "cold feet". No clue as to what may be happening here, but this is definitely some not-so-good news.
  • Brent Sutter was hired as the head coach of the Calgary Flames yesterday, ending weeks of speculation as to whether or not he would take the job. The not-so-secret secret of him returning home was already confirmed when he stepped down as coach of the Devils, but now it's a family affair as big brother/GM Darryl will help little brother/head coach Brent as he mentors Darryl's son and Brent's nephew/Flames forward Brett. There's also a belief that bringing Brent Sutter into the fold will allow Dion Phaneuf to grow as a player as Sutter coached him through his junior career.
  • After meeting with Gary Bettman yesterday, the circus known as the Tampa Bay Lightning will be run from the top by Oren Koules as CEO, and Len Barrie will continue to serve as GM of Hockey Operations. With Koules reportedly hemmorhaging money with the sad-sack Lightning, the "Vinny to Montreal" rumours will be non-stop until July 1 when Lecavalier's no-trade clause kicks in. And we thought this franchise was a mess last season. Can you imagine what it will be like after trading away your best player?
In keeping with yesterday's Sabermetric calculations, I wanted to take a look at Pierre McGuire's selections for defencemen for Team Canada's Olympic Team. McGuire went through and selected 12 players who could potentially suit up for Canada in Vancouver in 2010. Here are his selections, followed by my numerical rating system based upon last season's play:
  • Brent Burns of the Minnesota Wild - 0.760
  • Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks - 2.954
  • Jay Bouwmeester of the Florida Panthers - 1.345
  • Mike Green of the Washington Capitals - 3.982
  • Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks - 1.920
  • Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames - 1.254
  • Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators - 1.809
  • Chris Pronger of the Anaheim Ducks - 1.682
  • Robyn Regher of the Calgary Flames - 0.633
  • Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks - 3.292
  • Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks - 2.102
  • Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings - 0.324
I've bolded the players who are the top-seven defencemen in that grouping. Do you think those seven should make the team based upon the "Player Value" system? Is there anyone else that you think should be there? Name anyone else in the comments, and I'll run them through the Player Value calculation.

I'll have another history of a major NHL trophy later this week, and I plan on finishing the book review I have on-tap as well. If I ever get some free time, I'll finish working on the profile of the Capitals' farm system and post that. That may happen after the NHL Entry Draft, but it will still happen. I'm off for now. Have a great Wednesday, everyone!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Double-Dip Tuesday

I've been intrigued with an idea lately thanks to a blog called The Phoenix Pub. Basically, the writer, known as First Derivative, wanted to find a way to evaluate NHL defencemen in a similar vein to baseball's Sabermetric system. At first, I was skeptical that this may work based upon the number of variables that hockey has - giveaways, takeaways, hits, and odd-man rushes as a few examples. However, it occurred to me that defencemen are paid primarily to keep pucks out of their nets. If a defenceman contributes offensively, that's a bonus for the team as they are responsible less for offence as they are for defence. Of course, there are lots of offensive defencemen in the NHL, but I also had to consider the defensive defencemen - the guys who don't appear on the scoresheet often, but play a big role in their teams' successes.

In trying to figure this out, I had to determine what statistical evidence I could use. After all, Sabermetrics is based upon information available, and not some arbitrary statistical analysis. I went to the NHL stats page for analysis.

First off, defencemen are tracked according to points and plus/minus primarily. Points is fairly self-explanatory as to what that means to a team, but plus/minus is a little more difficult. Some people have discredited plus/minus as a "useless stat" since it's more of a reflection of the people on the ice than the player himself. I fully disagree with that since it is a team game, and not an individual effort. Players are sent over the boards in waves, and, if a line doesn't work for whatever reason, everyone pays for the mistakes made. Therefore, plus/minus would be an important part of this equation. After all, teams give up goals, not individuals. Good teams don't give up many goals, and good lines usually have a solid plus/minus for every player on that line.

Secondly, there had to be a way to level the playing field based on the number of games-played per season. Players get injured, can be scratched, or sent to the minors, and all of these affect the total number of NHL games played by the player. Instead, I went with shifts-per-game. A player is counted on to be out on the ice for his team in certain situations, and these situations don't change very often without some sort of major event. It also reduces the variation in games-played between players since the number of shifts per game is relevant to the player's role on the team.

With these major factors out of the way, the next thing needed was a formula to evaluate the players. I decided that all points scored by a defenceman would be offset by his even-strength play. In that regard, points scored could go up or down based upon the addition of that player's plus/minus rating. Coaches talk about the importance of strong five-on-five play, so if a player can keep their opponents off the board while playing even-strength, he would be more valuable to his team than someone who wasn't very good in even-strength situations.

Since all defencemen are paid to keep pucks out of their net while contributing offensively, I also factored in the team's total goals-for and goals-against for each player. This takes into account all situational play: shorthanded, powerplays, and even-strength. If a player doesn't get out on the penalty kill, he is still part of the team if it allows a goal, and he is relied upon to equal the score or prevent it from happening again. Therefore, all goals are factored in.

Here is my formula. I am open to suggestions on this, so don't think this is written in stone. After all, Einstein needed some time to perfect his Theory of Relativity, and I'm not Einstein by any means.

Now let me be clear here. The "Player Value" is not a hard statistic. It will change over time based upon the statistics associated with that player. If, for example, a player has a stretch of two weeks where losses are piling up, his value will decrease. However, if a player has a career year, his value will go up accordingly.

With this in mind, let's take a look at some of the examples I'm working with to give you a better idea of how representative this formula is.

  • Brendan Witt, long considered the worst defenceman in the NHL this past season due to his lack of production and terrible plus/minus of -34, is valued at -0.759. In other words, he didn't have a very good year. In fact, only Thomas Pock of the New York Rangers valued lower than Witt with -0.777.
  • The top player I have found thus far in my examples is Boston Bruins' defenceman Dennis Wideman. Wideman had a phenomenal season with Boston, but was overshadowed by defensive partner Zdeno Chara who won the Norris Trophy. However, Wideman's value is 4.284 as compared to Chara's 3.772 according to the formula.
  • The three finalists for the Norris Trophy - Chara, Nick Lidstrom, and Mike Green - rank as follows: Green (3.982), Chara (3.772), and Lidstrom (3.763). Pretty good values on all three players meaning they were excellent players on both sides of the puck. And isn't that what the Norris Trophy is about?
  • Some of the more intriguing free agents this off-season may not deserve the truckloads of money being discussed for their services. Scott Niedermayer's value last season was 1.920, Jay Bouwmeester's value was 1.345, yet Rob Scuderi's value was a solid 1.878, and Rob Blake was valued at 2.824. Out of those four, I'll assume Scuderi will get the smallest payday.
  • Mark Streit, defenceman for the Islanders and seventh in NHL scoring for defencemen, was valued at 1.621 this past season, yet he came in eighth in Norris Trophy voting. Andrei Markov of the Canadiens was valued at 2.217, and came in seventh in the voting. Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks was valued at 3.292, and came in sixth. And Shea Weber of the Predators was valued at 1.809, yet he finished fourth in voting. Who do you think was the best all-around defenceman this season out of those four players?
  • What's worse about the voting is that Boston's Dennis Wideman finished 11th. Do the Professional Hockey Writers not watch Boston games?
  • Some of the more surprising values are as follows: (1) John-Michael Liles, who finished 30th in defencemen scoring, valued in at 0.603 due to his poor defensive play; (2) Mike Komisarek's poor offensive production valued him at a measly 0.419; (3) Kevin Bieksa, praised for his defensive ability and toughness all season long, only scored a 1.666 value based upon his negative plus/minus. He was slightly better than Mark Streit, even though Streit patrolled the blueline for the worst team in the NHL last season.
  • It is almost a given that Brian Rafalski is important to Detroit's system, but his value of 3.304 shows how important. Lidstrom and Rafalski's average of 3.534 put their defensive pairing right behind Chara and Wideman's average of 4.028 as the best pairings in the NHL.
  • For all the complaining about Brian Campbell's lack of defensive responsibility, Campbell's value was 2.803. That is a better value than Scott Niedermayer, Sheldon Souray, Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, and Andrei Markov this season.
So there's a little math work today for anyone who wants to have some fun. Granted, it's not a scientific way of proving one's value, but the idea is that it takes into account both sides of the puck when attempting to give a numerical value for rating players based on their statistics.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!