Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm A Nice Guy! Retire My Jersey Number!

I'm sure those of you who live outside the Vancouver Canucks' realm are baffled as to why Markus Naslund got his jersey retired.

Let me explain to you what Vancouver Canuck hockey fans are all about since the late '90s. Think Tarrana Make Belief fans only the West Coast version of such. There has been such little
on-ice success (just two trips to the Finals in 40 seasons) that any player who hangs around long enough, well, they get as overrated as Wendel Clark is in the Centre of the Universe. These are the same fans who think that the current team, without a Norris Trophy level defenceman, is a Stanley Cup contender. Just leave them be in their Luuuuongo world. For the rest of you confused about the Canucks way of doing things, read on.

Almost irregardless of what a Canuck does on the ice, if he's a nice guy, plays most of his career in Vancouver, does charity work in the community and is the captain, odds are he'll get his jersey retired here. To wit, the three retired numbers of Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden and now Markus Naslund. (I would add you could also die suddenly but Wayne Maki's number 11 was unretired so Mark Messier could make a bucketload of dough here . . . so I guess Luc Bourdon is out of luck.)

Stan "the Steamer" Smyl was a honest, workmanlike winger in the '80s who had a terrific junior career going to three Memorial Cups and winning two with the New Westminster Bruins. He was the Canuck captain chipping in 18 points in 17 playoff games on the very lucky (assist to the LA Kings' Miracle on Manchester eliminating the Air Hockey Oilers to clear the track, Eddie Shack) '82 Cup Final run. Upon his retirement he was the Canuck leader in career goals and points (it also helped he played five more seasons as a Canuck than his centerman for most of those seasons, the vastly underrated Thomas Gradin).
Yet he had just three 30-goal seasons and only two point plus per game seasons in a 13-season career that spanned the goal-glut '80s.

Trevor Linden--oh, where do we begin? Another terrific junior star helping the Medicine Hat Tigers to two Memorial Cup titles. He also captained the Canucks to the '94 Final, but it's his nice guy (and the good looks) in the community that wins people's hearts here. It sure isn't his play on the ice that can possibly be the reason he's so beloved as what were people watching from 2001 onwards? Linden is probably the biggest enigma in Canuck history. Weirdly, few people have ever bothered to investigate how a player who looked like the second coming of Cam Neely (well, maybe a slightly lesser version of such) through the first half of his career turned suddenly from age 26 to a player with hands of stone.
Six of his first eight seasons he cracked the 30-goal mark (even in the strike season of '94/5 he was on a 30-goal pace so technically seven out of eight). He had 80 points in 79 Canuck playoff games in that first half of his career. The following 11 seasons he never even hit the 20-goal mark in any season. Forget even looking at his playoff scoring record as a third liner over those seasons. But, boy, he's a great guy in the community. Big kudos for that!

Markus Naslund follows pretty much the same pattern. He, along with a true hockey great in Peter Forsberg, helped Modo to two junior hockey championships in Sweden. In his first nine full seasons in a Canuck uniform, Nazzy three times cracked the 40-goal mark and three-times the 30-goal mark. Many suggested he mailed it in his last two seasons averaging 58 points a season. I'd argue he mailed it in much earlier as he was an incredibly poor playoff performer. Maybe it was his milquetoast style or just his lack of fire, but Naslund had just 33 points in 45 career playoff games with the Canucks. He had two decent playoff years but neither amounted to much as in his time in Vancouver, the team lost in the first round three times and the second round twice (once after holding a 3 games to 1 lead on the Minnesota Wild).

Apparently, Markus also "mentored" the Sedins. Well, maybe that explains the twins taking ages to finally become superstars at age 30 (how old was Sidney Crosby again when he first led the league in points?) and so far that lack of any discernible playoff success mirrors Naslund's career.

Now if you were the most exciting player in Canuck history (and arguably up there as the only player in the '90s who had you on the edge of your seat like Alexander Ovechkin does now) who averaged the most goals and points per game in Canuck history and should have been in the Hockey Hall of Fame by now BUT demanded a trade out of Vancouver...well, you may never get your jersey retired. His nickname alone--the Russian Rocket--is deserving of a banner on its own as one of the coolest in NHL history. What better describes his mad dash rushes up the ice.
Sadly, management and ownership of the Vancouver Canucks hold grudges and act like jilted lovers.

Those of us who are a little more savvy hockey-wise know what Canuck stands head and shoulders above the three amigos whose jersey numbers hang from the rafters of Rogers Arena.

Your honor, I ask you: "Does Markus Naslund have a top ten on You Tube? Do people write songs about the man Sweden dropped from their national team?" I rest my case here and here. Ladies, gentlemen, children, aliens from other planets and small animals, I present the one and only--Pavel Bure.

From Russia With Bags O' Goals

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Fallen King

Although the Bruce McNall's autobiography came out in 2003, it's been good summer reading especially given the state of the NHL today.

Reading it you're first blown away by how McNall was able to go years on end playing one bank loan off against another; all of this done well before his purchase of the Los Angeles Kings. OK, so he wasn't caught, tried and convicted until even more years passed and he fooled many others but it goes to show just how little the NHL digs into owners' backgrounds. The other owners even ended up making McNall chairman of the board of governors! It was during this time that McNall looked at the NBA as the model to follow which led to a failed attempt to get David Stern to replace Gil Stein before settling on Gary Bettman from the NBA offices.

Anyway, you can read the book (Fun While It Lasted) for yourselves for all the details on not just McNall's NHL life, but some hockey-related nuggets are well worth repeating here. McNall was no hockey neophyte. He was a fan well before he purchased the team and often used to scoop the best seats off scalpers during the days of the Triple Crown Line.

The Wayne Gretzky trade at the time and even later people question exactly how much influence the Wayner had on engineering it. Now it really was something McNall planted in the mind of Edmonton Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington yet Gretzky did meet with McNall a few times well prior to the trade. McNall also openly to #99 himself had told him he wanted to trade for him.

Just prior to the trade going down, McNall told Wayne that if he really rather move to his childhood team, the Detroit Red Wings, the Kings would setp aside and let Wayne go there. That apparently was when Wayne made up his mind to trust McNall would have his interests at stake over the backstabbing that Wayne felt Peter Puck did to Gretzky's reputation.

When McNall and Wayne got together to negotiate a contract, Wayne said, "Just pay me what you think I'm worth." McNall figuring Gretzky was equal to the Los Angeles Lakers' Magic Johnson as far as the local sports market went offered Wayne the same $3 million a year Magic was earning. Wayne considered that too much and eventually McNall asked Wayne to write down a number he was comfortable earning. Wayne wrote down $1 million but McNall ended up making that $2 million a year which made him the highest paid NHLer at the time. McNall also guaranteed from then on that Gretzky would always be the highest paid player in the league so Wayne's contract would increase if another player's new deal was higher than his.

McNall also takes us behind the doors of league meetings with the most hilariously weird factoid to come out of that was Gil Stein's poetry. The NHL commissioner between the reigns of John Zeigler and Gary Bettman, Stein was mainly known as a sort of do-nothing commish. This passage sort of sums up what planet Stein was on:
"At every league meeting he [Stein] rose before the final gavel and recited an epic-length poem that recounted every thing we had accomplished with plenty of humor."

I guess you had to be there or maybe someone has recorded those Homeric poems on their Victorola for posterity.

Hockey-wise Maple Leaf fans recall the whole fuss over Wayne Gretzky high sticking Doug Gilmour in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and not getting suspended. What is forgotten in all this are two significant previous incidents. In the '92/93 regular season Gilmour broke Gretzky's right wing linemate Tomas Sandstrom's arm with a slash. Then in Game 1 of the series, Marty McSorley put a well-placed elbow to Gilmour's jaw as retribution. The funny thing is after McNall mentions all this, he doesn't even mention the Game 6 incident between the Wayner and Dougie.

Lastly, when McNall's bail is set by a kind judge at a very low $100,000, ex-Kings' GM (and all-time great Kings goalie) Rogie Vachon posted bail in the form of his vacation home given McNall was so massively cash-poor he couldn't cover the bail amount.

The purchase of the Toronto Argonauts is also great food for the sports fan's plate. Those freaked out by the Buffalo Bills push to get regular seasons games played in T.O. and the possibility of the NFL moving in on the CFL Argos' market should know McNall had a similar idea. His purchase of the Argos was with an eye towards putting an NFL team in Toronto although it was kept very hush hush at the time.

Their signing of the college football star Raghib "the Rocket" Ismail made a big splash but wasn't revealed at the time was a secret arrangement that McNall made with the NFL Raiders' owner Al Davis. McNall figured they'd release Ismail after two years in the CFL looking at him only as a short-term fix to get the Argos into the Grey Cup and boost the value of the team. So the Raiders drafted Ismail realziing they wqere not going to sign him anyway comforatble in the knowledge that McNall would let him jump to the Raiders in two years' time.

Also, Ismail, although a pretty good player at the CFL level was a disaster as a PR guy. He was uncomfortable in front of the media and fans so endorsement deals and promo appearances were few and far between for the supposed star of the Argos.

All in all, the book comes across as a cautionary tale as it does go right into his jail term, years after being convicted on bank fraud charges among other things. From a sports perspective, though, McNall is so upfront about what goes on behind the scenes in not only the sports of hockey and football but also horse racing that this really is a must-read for anyone interested in that side of the business.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kovalchuk Signs New Pact With The Devils

With the NHL striking down the historic(-ally stupid?) 17-year contract of famous man of the kilt Ilya Kovalchuk that New Jersey were using to circumvent the salary cap hits, general manager Lou Lemon-jello (no relation to this guy) has solved the problem.

When questioned by the Jersey Shore's Snooki, Lou explained his unique solution: "Since Kovalchuk's hero was the famous '70s Russian hockey star Valery Kharlamov he honors him by wearing the same #17 as the man whose ankle Bobby Clarke massaged in 1972 wore. This is why we decided on a 17-year deal to honor Ilya's honoring of Valery.

"I have since convinced Ilya to change his number to something that will work under the current CBA. We considered lowering it to maybe #15 but that's our new coach John MacLean's old number. Frankly, it would be wrong to involve Johnny in any of this for fear of a Commissioner C. Montgomery Bettman suspending him to start the season via the seldom used guilt by association clause.

To Newark . . . and beyond!

"After talking to our capologist, Ilya has agreed to wear the symbol for infinity rather than the #17. This solves all problems over his contract. Whatever amount we pay him in any given year, division by infinity results simply in an unknown number. That way the Devils take no cap hit at all, and we also can pay him out until infinity. Plus imagine the 'new' jersey sales. It would almost be as good as getting Miroslav Satan to sign with us. "

Next week, Lou Lemon-jello solves the ongoing conflict in Central Africa via his new math.

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup Myths...Exploded!

It's funny how a lot of journalists become even lazier when they report on the World Cup Finals. Then again we all shouldn't be so surprised when they've had six months or so to bone up on the players and still we get BBC match commentators mangling names (it's "Kay-soo-kay" Honda not "Ka-zoo-key" Honda).

Speaking of bones, those of contention are World Cup soccer myths journalists seem intent on perpetrating every four years.

Myth #1
Italy "Always" Start Off Slow

Now, I believe this myth can be traced back to 1982. This is because Italy did start off very slow with three draws in its group stage and barely qualified for the 2nd round by the fingertips of Dino Zoff's hands. The fact that they Paolo Rossi-ed their way to the 1982 title and also shocked the world by knocking off the in-form and magical 1982 Brazil squad cemented this so-called "fact" that Italy starts any World Cup Finals slow. This all follows with reams and reams of cybertext and on-air babbling about how we should all watch out for Italy as they "always" start off slow at these tournaments.

Well, since 1982, Italy has started off four of the seven World Cup Finals campaigns that have followed with a win in its opening game. Their records in these "first" group games is 3W 3D 1L. In its second game of those seven campaigns they have exactly the same record.

So, in simple terms, in those 14 World Cup games they have lost exactly twice since 1982.

Three of those campaigns ('90, '98 & '06) they got 4 or 6 points from their first two matches, topped their group and ended up going to a semi-final ('90), a quarter-final ('98) and won it all ('06).

A better argument about Italy's chances is to look at their top strikers. The 2010 version of Italy really had no world-class striker. When Italy does well they have a striker who can get them that vital goal when needed (Angelo Schiavio and Raimundo Orsi '34, Silvio Piola '38, Luigi Riva '70, Paolo Rossi '82, Toto Schillaci '90, and Roberto Baggio '94). Only in 2006 did they really not have striker of true quality as Luca Toni is, frankly, not going to go down in the annals of Italian soccer as anything other than being tall.

Myth #3
Cameroon Are Africa's Best Shot
This was established in 1990 after they became the first African team to get past the group stage and managed to make it to the quarter-finals before losing to a Gary Lineker-led England.
Since then Cameroon have consistently qualified for the World Cup Finals and only missed out in 2006.
Their record at these four World Cup Finals since that glorious run in 1990 has been:
1W 4D 6L
9 GF 24 GA
Their lone win came in 2002 1-0 vs. the world soccer "powerhouse" of Saudi Arabia.

So, let's just say, Roger Milla might be more right than Samuel Eto'o in his assessment of the Cameroon national team.

Since 1990, Nigeria in '94 and '98 went through to the knockout stages and now Ghana in '06 and '10 have done the same. Let's just put it this way, soccer goes in cycles nation to nation. Just don't expect Cameroon, as cool as their uniforms look, to be the flag bearer of Africa's faint World Cup hopes.

Myth #3
Germans Play Like Robots
Well, if this is how robots play, let's get more robots into the World Cup as at least we'll see goals, come-from-behind wins, huge upsets and controversy. In other words we won't be bored to death by unimaginative and uncreative England.

Call the Germans "ruthlessly efficient" but I'll take the 1970 semi-final extra time thrilling 4-3 loss to Italy (arguably greater than the much ballyhooed 4-1 Brazil win over Italy in the Final) or even the now forgotten (except in Austria) match where the Germans got Krankl-ed 3-2 by their neighbors in 1978.

Every decade sees at least two to three classic matches involving Germany (and don't forget they were only "half a Germany" as West Germany up to 1998!) at the World Cup Finals. In 1982 there was the Soccer Anschluss vs. Austria and the Toni Schumacher Micahel Peca-like hit on Patrick Battiston in yet another wild semi-final. In 1986, for my money, the best World Cup Final ever with a come back from 0-2 down only to lose 3-2 thanks to a magical pass from Diego Maradona to free Jorge Burruchaga for the Argentinian winning goal.

Even in the very poor 1990 Finals, the Germans were the lone bright spot blitzing through their first two matches with 9 GF and 2 GA. The round-of-16 2-1 win over Holland with the spit heard all across Europe was again a match for the ages. Then there was the semi-final that brought Gazza to tears.

Although 1994 would be a failure by German standards they played three thrillers: the Jurgen Klinsmann show in the 3-2 group stage win over South Korea featuring, a 3-2 round-of-16 win over Belgium and the huge Letchkov-ian 2-1 upset of the Germans by Bulgaria in the quarter-finals.

I won't even mention 1998 other than Davor Suker really put the nail in a dull German team that year.

In 2002 goalkeeper Oliver Kahn became a cult hero in both Germany and host nation Japan but other than smoking Saudi Arabia 8-0 the fact that a goalkeeper was their star pretty much sums up the entertainment value of Germany that year.

As hosts in 2006 they impressed in the group stages despite many German fans belief this team was not good enough for prime time. It showed in the knockout stage as they struggled to score. So although making the semi-finals, lost quite as expected lost in extra time 2-1 to Italy.

Basically, the English-language media (meaning the English tabloids) hate the fact that the Germans, of all possible nations, are better at the English national sport (you mean whining about anything and everything isn't their national sport?).

All I know, you watch a German match, since 1982 when England finally returned to the World Cup Finals, and you'll see an average of 2.68 goals per match. You'll fall asleep watching England's attempt to out-Italian teams as their matches average just 1.82 goals per match. I don't know about you but I'll take German robots over the blood and guts thunder of the humans that play for England.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World Cup Tiebreakers Explained

As we are well into the last matches in each group the permutations of what results will result in which teams going forward is almost as confusing as the NFL's playoff tiebreakers.

Actually, the World Cup tiebreakers are fairly straightforward.

1st tiebreaker: Cuisine
Just not Gouda-nough

If teams are tied in the standings it goes to cuisine. The country with the better cuisine always advances.

This worked to great effect in 2006 when Argentina and Holland were level with 7 points in their group. Argentina got to top the group as their inexpensive and tasty steaks just narrowly beat out the Edam and Gouda of the Land of the Nethers.

2nd tiebreaker: Music
Hate to say we told you so

If taste buds cannot discern between two national teams, it will go to music. This can be a difficult tiebreaker given the English-speaking world has little, or no knowledge, of Third World music unless Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, Paul Simon and Sting tell us about it.
Often the judges have to revert to traditional musical forms (i.e., tango, Peruvian pan flutes, etc.) to decide on a winner.

In 2002 Sweden and England had to battle it out this way. Now, normally, England would have walked away with this given its New Wave history but, remember, this was 2002. New Wave or punk had long been over. Even the Stone Roses and Oasis were old news by then. Sweden was rising a musical wave of itself in bands like the Hives, Sounds, Caesars and Cardigans to pip England as winners of their group.

3rd tiebreaker: Hotness
The winners--no contest

Once we get to the 3rd tiebreaker it gets much easier to separate the teams. It basically comes down to a selection of women determining how hot the respective players are on each team (this gives the Italians a decisive edge and shows us why they've won 4 World Cups).
If the male soccer player hotness quotients are level, it goes to the dreaded hotness ratings on female supporters (Brazil also uses this to huge advantage hence its 5 World Cups).

4th tiebreaker: Culture
Well, it is the "Whirl" Cup, isn't it?

This is an even tougher category to judge. Judges are often swayed by one odd yet unique aspect of a nation's culture.
In 2002 Turkey advanced to the knockout stages thanks to its whirling dervishes and fez hats over Costa Rica's eco-tourism which the judges felt was a stretch thinking this was more a Costa Rican fluke of geography than culture.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

World Cup Previews: June 21

Battle of B Teams
(Portugal vs. North Korea)
Harro, Cristiano Ronaldo!

Brazilians often derisively refer to Portugal's national team as Brazil's B team. Well, that insult holds up well with Brazil-born Pepe (#15), Deco (#20) and Liedson (#9) on this uninspired Portugal national team in 2010. North Korea's national team you'd expect to be exclusively filled with North Koreans but even they have cast their net across a body of water. Jong Tae-se (#9) and An Yeong-hak (#17) come from "communist" families who escaped to Japan after the Korean War. It's a long story you can read here as to why this politically charged group of families were not booted back to North Korea way back in the '50s and live in the West.

Does the Teacher Have a Nickname?
(Chile vs. Switzerland)
Chile should win this match on nicknames alone. There's backup goalkeeper Miguel "Kryptonite" Pinto (#12), Matias "Matigol" Fernandez (#14), Gary "Pitbull" Medel (#17), Rodrigo "Little Clown" Millar (#20), Jorge "the Magician" Valdivia (#10) and the goal scorer in their first match Jean "Frenchman" Beausejour (#15). Should the Swiss want to get the game under control they should bring defender Ludovik Magnin (#3) off the bench. He's a registered primary school teacher and given the youthful Chileans could put those skills to good use in controlling their forwards.

Colonizers Take On the Colonized
(Spain vs. Honduras)
You'd think the Hondurans would take advantage of that historical connection but not a single member of their squad plays their club soccer in Spain. Of the Honduran national team members playing outside Central America, three members play in the English League, two in Italy and two in China. Spain won't feel too slighted as they know they have the divine on their side in Saint Ilker in goal. Now all they need is the Davids (Villa and Silva) to come through with some goals.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Cup Previews: June 20

We Have Liftoff!
(Slovakia vs. Paraguay)
The Soccer Is Out There

Slovakia have an alien playing forward in Martin Jakubko who hails from Saturn--Saturn Moscow Oblast of the Russian League that is. Paraguay counters with the superhero duo of Hulk (defender Carlos Bonet who strangely plays wing for his club team Olimpia in Paraguay) and Bird (forward Edgar Benitez)

All Immigrants Welcome
(Italy vs. New Zealand)
It Does Takes Two To Tango

Italy won two World Cups by stealing top Argentine players and getting them to play for the Italian national team back in the 1930s. Mauro Camoranesi continues in this tradition being born in Buenos Aires. New Zealand, on the other hand, stole an English player in Tommy Smith. He represented England at the youth level having been born in the town (Macclesfield) that 9-foot 7-inch England forward Peter Crouch hails from. Smith did grow up in Auckland so switched allegiance given he no longer wanted to be associated with the most boring team in world soccer--the Land of Eng. Smart move on Smith's part and Camoranesi has not done too bad choosing Italy over Argentina given his 2006 World Cup winner's medal.

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother
(Brazil vs. Cote d'Ivoire)

For Cote d'Ivorie, you can't tell your Toures without a program. Kolo (#4) is the oldest brother and is a defender with Manchester City. Yaya (#19) is the younger brother and a midfielder with Barcelona. Ibrahim is the one in the stands cheering them on and plays his club soccer in Saudi Arabia.
Now Brazil's defender Luisao, or Big Luis in English, (#14 and whose "real" name is Anderson Luis da Silva) is the the older brother of Alex Silva who did not make the Brazil squad this time around and is not related to Gilberto Silva (#8) who did. Gilberto Silva has no brothers playing pro soccer but he does have an anteater at the London Zoo named after him. Thiago Silva (#15) is also not related to the other Brazilian squad Silvas but he has played in Portugal where Luisao now plays his club football.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup Match Previews: June 19

The Unusual Suspects
(Holland vs. Japan)
A three-time champion
There is a strong Dutch connection on the Japan squad and it's an imperial one. Scorer of the winning goal in Japan's first match and current top Japanese soccer hottie, Keisuke Honda, was known as Keizer Keisuke during his playing days in Holland with VVV Venlo. Keizer being Dutch for "emperor." No word on whether now playing for CSKA Moscow if he's in line for "czar" status.
The Dutch, though, have their own three-time champion "sexiest babe of the year" Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen, who is midfielder Wesley Sneijder's girlfriend.
Hopefully, this is a good omen for a beautiful match.

Centers for Disease Control
(Cameroon vs. Denmark)
African teams supposedly have an advantage as far as being acclimatized to playing on the continent. Don't tell that to Pierre Webo. Four years ago he contracted malaria on a visit to Cameroon.
On the Danish side manager Morten Olsen has come down with a fever heading into this match.

A Fez of The Church
(Ghana vs. Australia)
A match covered in milk chocolate

It's Istanbul not Constantinople! Ghana's #1 in goal is Faruk Gursoy--a naturalized Turkish citizen. Richard Kingson moved to Turkish club Galatasary in 1996 and renamed himself after the club's president Faruk Gursoy and chairman Ergun Gorsay.
Faruk's got nothing, though, on Australian forward Joshua Kennedy. Known as "Jesus" for his ability to walk on water...or maybe it's the long hair, Aussie supporters often shout, "Call your dad, Jesus!" to Josh when the team needs divine intervention.

Match Previews: June 18

Work And Play Safe
(Slovenia vs. USA)

It's a medical condition, ref!

Slovenian forward Zlatko Dedic lost the tip of his middle finger while go-karting at the start of this soccer season. The US of Eh features a goalkeeper (Tim Howard) with Tourette's syndrome.
Watch for this match to be filled with some interesting hand gestures and inappropriate swearing.

Goalkeeping The Dream Alive
(England vs. Algeria)

Glove, Glove Me Do!

Just in case the Land of Eng need inspiration in net, be assured David "Calamity" James was named the "15th" greatest player in Portsmouth history.
Robert Green (of the Hamburger Helper Mickey Mouse gloves) was the first keeper to be red carded while wearing an England shirt so he has that going for him. And at least he's consistent as seen by this clip.
Lastly, Joe Hart has spent the last three seasons on loan to three different clubs unable to crack through and take the #1 job at Manchester City who actually are paying his salary.
So, looks like you're in good hands, Ingerlund, in goal.

Over in the land of Algeria their choice in net comes down to the guy who had his suspension lifted (Faouzi Chalouchi), the guy who was suspended (Lounès Gaouaoui) or some other guy who actually has never been suspended (Raïs M'Bolhi).

So, to paraphrase, you're also in good hands with the nation state of Algeria.

Schweinsteigering The Former Yugos
(Germany vs. Serbia)
Cultural diversity is what the World Cup is all about. From the melodious sounds of the vuvuzelas to Germany's child labor laws--German keeper Manuel Neuer has been with his club team, Schalke 04, since the age of five.
Look for Serbia to try to out-Crouch the Germans with their (1/2-inch taller than England's Robot Dancer Peter Crouch) skyscraper of a striker in 6' 7 1/2" Nikola Zigic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can Anybody Score?

"Tor" blimey, score with the Germans!

Whether it's the vuvuzelas, the Jabulani soccer ball, the mixed natural grass/artificial turf pitches or the altitude, South Africa seems to be the World Cup Finals where goals go to die.

The last World Cup Finals got off to a similar poor start with 12 "clean sheets" among the first 16 matches. So far in 2010 there have been 11 teams held scoreless.

Only one team (thank you Germany!) has scored more than 2 goals. Only two other teams have scored at least 2 goals (South Korea and Brazil).

In '06 we had scores of 4-2, 4-0, 3-0, 3-1 and 2-2 in the first round of matches.
In '02 we had an 8-0, 3-2, 2-2 and 3-1.
In '98 we got a couple of 3-1 and 2-2 each matches.

If you're not PVRing and skipping straight to second halves of games you really are a glutton for watching paint dry.

Here's hoping Spain and Chile both come out with many barrels a blazin' to save these World Cup Finals from possibly being the worst in the modern era.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

To Hab Or Habnot

If the Habs manage to somehow win the Stanley Cup it will be almost the worst trend in the game since the 1995 New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup win.

Look, I get the whole Jaroslav Halak conjuring up images of '71 Ken Dryden and '86 and '93 Patrick Roy (why no respect for '84 Steve Penney?), but there is a HUGE difference between those teams and the current Habs one.

This notion that the Habs were some huge underdog in the Dryden and Roy years is a myth to some extent.

The 1971 upset was one of the biggest in NHL history from a shock standpoint but look at both the standings and the Habs' lineup in '70/71. The Habs were the 4th best team (.622 winning pct) in the NHL. Beyond Dryden their defence was an all-star and Hall of Fame cast and crew of J.C. Tremblay, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Laperriere, Serge Savard and Terry Harper. Throw in serviceable Pierre Bouchard and Bob Murdoch into the mix and that's not too shabby a D to battle the offensive juggernaut that was the '70s Big Bad Bruins.

The 1986 Habs had their pathway to the Final cleared for them thanks to upsets galore. The Habs had home ice advantage handed to them right up until the Final. The top two teams in the East (110-pt Philadelphia Flyers and the 107-pt Washington Capitals) were in the Patrick Division and both were knocked out by the time the Eastern Conference Final came about.

Out West, Calgary (thanks to Oiler Steve Smith's own goal) knocked off the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in rd. 2 in possibly the biggest upset of the '80s ('82 Miracle on Manchester LA Kings object!).

So the 7th-placed Habs beat the 6th-overall Flames for the 1986 Cup. That was the only series the Habs pulled a de facto upset in.

The 1993 Habs also had only one series where they were the "underdog" and that was in rd. 1 vs. their bitter provincial rivals, the Quebec Nordiques. There's also some misinformation about this being an "underdog" Habs team despite its .607 winning pct. which placed it at 6th overall in the NHL. Anyway, thanks to Tom Barrasso not being able to stop a beachball in the seven-game series vs. the New York Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had one of the greatest regular season teams of all-time, were gone in rd. 2. Thank you, David Volek.

So, in much the same way, thanks to the 2010 Habs offing both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have cleared the path much like other teams did for them in '86 and '93. Which gives me hope that the Philadelphia Flyers can knock off the Habs.

Because, you and I both know should this 19th-placed overall Hab team actually make the Final that would make them THE worst team ever to make a Stanley Cup Final. Not that the 18th-placed Philadelphia Flyers are any great shakes either but let's look at the alternative. If the Habs actually win the Stanley Cup, all these obnoxious Hab fans we all know will be even more insufferable.

That's not the worst. NHL teams tend to be copycats. If an 18th-placed team coached by Jacques Martin (a man who blew numerous opportunities at Cups with the underachieving yet offensively gifted Ottawa Senators) turns out to be champions, hockey is going to undergo as drastic a change as what the New Jersey Devils inflicted on the game in the '90s.

Everyone loves upsets but sometimes you have to live with what you wished for. If you like seeing your team's regular season rendered completely meaningless by a hot goalie and opportunistic scoring, then cheer on the Habs. If you want hockey to return to being a game where defence rules, then embrace Jacques Martin's lucky ties.

If not, hope and pray no matter what team comes out of the West that they smoke the Eastern rep in the Stanley Cup Final.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just Livin' the Nightmare

If you've been a Canuck fan (or, let me rephrase that--"follower") since at least the '80s, the 2nd rd. loss to the Chicago Blackhawks should not have come as a surprise there, Keith Magnuson. We all know of the Canucks' incredibly poor playoff record--only twice making it out of the 2nd rd. and both times coming off very average regular seasons.

The '82 King Richard and his Court team were 11th overall in a 21-team NHL and had a record of 3 games under .500. The '94 Oh So Close crew were 14th overall in a 26-team NHL and managed to break .500 by a single game.

Now, if you're a recent Canuck fan (we know who you are wearing those Luongo and Sedin jerseys as well as those of you in the Linden Free Willy jerseys), your delusional loyalty to this mediocre franchise just seems bizarre to us from the '70s and '80s. Maybe it was the hazy crazy run in '94 led by the most exciting player in the game in Pavel Bure plus a fine slew of characters that got you hooked. That's all well and good, but the Burke to Nonehead through Gillis era has been noted for its lack of character. After all, the time to put Roberto Luongo up for sale on craigslist was ages ago not after Game 6 in year three of his annual playoff meltdowns.

So where does this team go from here?

Unlike, say, Boston who had the guts to bench their overpriced Vezina winner in Tim Thomas and go with Tuukka Rask, Vancouver is stuck with Luongo like it or not. If the team truly believes he is the man to lead the Canucks to the Cup, certain things have to change. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they could strip him of the captaincy, but more importantly he needs rest. In an Olympic year no Olympic goalie was really going to take it to the house except if their regular season workload was reduced.

To wit, Jaroslav Halak played just 45 games in the net for Montreal + 7 for Slovakia at the Olympics. He's also just 24 so has less mileage on the goalpads.

In 2008/09 Luongo played just 54 games and had a save percentage of .920. He still melted down in Game 6 vs. Chicago but up until then he was pretty darned good.

In 2009/10 the 31-year-old captain played in 68 games + 5 more in the Olympics and his save percentage was the lowest of his Canuck career at .913. All season long he struggled with his catching glove, covering up pucks, pokechecking and an inability to actually cover the net with his big body. It caught up with him in the playoffs.

Of course, the Canuck penalty killing was horrendous throughout the playoffs but Montreal's is much worse when you actually see the chances Pittsburgh and Washington got on the PP. Having a much hotter goalie, who is always your best penalty killer, is what can turn a PK unit around from horrific to Halak-ian.

Which brings us to a supposed Canuck strength--the defence.
Once the D corps was referred to as the NHL's best by equally delusional journalists here in Vancouver. What became obvious during the playoffs is no matter the complaints about the depth on the Canuck D, Alexander Edler and Christian Ehrhoff, as well as they played, are not Norris Trophy level defencemen. Pretty much no team really (Carolina '06 aside) in the history of the NHL playoffs can win a Cup without that Norris Trophy type stud on the blueline.

So what to do on that score? If Edler or Ehrhoff can raise their game to Duncan Keith or Dan Boyle (except for the shooting the puck into your own net) levels then the Canucks can be considered legitimate contenders. If not, the main objective of the Gillis regime has to be to obtain that type of defenceman. This probably means offloading those guys with expiring contracts. So, sorry, 32-year-old Willie Mitchell's concussed head and 34-year-old Sami Salo's damaged testicle, you and your body parts have to go. Leaving 28-year-old Kevin Bieksa who becomes a UFA in a year, like Salo will become, great trade bait. That is if some team wants a defenceman who looks like an All-Star one game out of every ten.

Upfront, although, they flopped badly the Canucks are stuck with the return of the easy-to-shut-down-in-the-playoffs Sedins. So let's get rid of any notion of trading the Sedins for Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta. The Swedes' regular season linemate, Alexandre Burrows, is a bargain at just $2 million a season and he's sewn up for the next three seasons. He's not going anywhere if the team wants cap flexibility and a decent 30-goal scorer.

Ryan Kesler's $5-million-a-year contract kicks in next season and the team has him signed through until 2013/14. It was a bold move to lock him up, but he could be a huge bargaining chip. After all, as strong a player as Kesler is, is he the next Mike Richards? If he is, hang onto him. If not, I'm sure a Green Day lead singer lookalike type is just as effective.

It really hinges on what prospects Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder can add to the Canucks and when.

What the Canucks need upfront without a doubt is a sniper. Everyone can see what a Cammalleri can do for you when you need a goal against the run of play. Hopefully, Michael Grabner turns out to be that player but in the near future, the Canucks need to make a play for Ilya Kovalchuk. They won't, but they should much as they should have done for Marian Gaborik last off-season.

I know. I know. The salary cap. How can the Canucks afford a sniper? They can afford a lousy goalie who costs the team $7.5 million in salary so someone better figure it all out somehow as no Reggie Leach, no Cup for you.

Look at the difference Dany Heatley has made to San Jose? He's hurting yet he still has 11 points in 10 playoff games so far. Imagine if he was healthy. He may not be scoring like a Joe Pavelski but his 5 assists on the powerplay certainly are nothing to laugh at.

Lastly, coaching. Two playoffs in a row Coach Yogi Bear panicked.
In rd. 2's Game 4 the rope-a-dope ultra defensive strategy ended up costing the Canucks a commanding 3-1 lead vs. the Blackhawks who had the Canucks on their heels and took the game in overtime. We all know the rest of that story culminating in the Game 6 7-5 loss.

This year saw him panic again and react rather than act logically. After the Holmstromesque Dustin Byfuglien's hat trick in Game 3, he created a "make him pay" atmosphere around the team that led to dumb penalties in Game 4. The real leader of Chicago, Jonathan Toews, pots his own hat trick and it's a 3-1 series lead for the Blackhawks. I could get into the whole benching of Pavol Demitra that game but why bother? We all know that was a mistake, too.

So best guess is Alain Vigneault is on a very short leash next season. When you look at what a change in coaches has done in past few seasons in San Jose, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Montreal and Chicago (remember Denis "Commit to the Indian" Savard?), sometimes all a certain group of players need is a push in the other direction.

Given the type of players the Canucks have and the goals the team scores with the type of goalie the Canucks are supposed to have, how about just opening up the play? Instead of this mishmash of trying to play a Detroit puck possession game mixed with some sort of "fall into a defensive shell when you have the lead yet give up breakaways" style, why not go the full '80s Oilers? If Luongo was such a Grant Fuhr fan, why not let him prove he can handle that sort of hockey? Release the offensive hounds and force Luongo to learn how to come sliding out of his net and pokecheck guys on breakaways. Isn't Dominik Hasek ready to become a goalie coach?

Throw in a Dave Semenko, Dave Hunter, Dave Lumley and any other Dave type you like as your grinders and maybe, just maybe, the Canucks might Air Hockey Oiler it to a Cup.

It's certainly worth a try unless you honestly think that predictable cycle play by the Sedins is the key to hoisting the Cup. Then be my guest and enjoy your delusions of Stanley Cup parades. In fact why not rename your fan base Maple Leaf West Nation?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rounding Off Round Two

The last blog posting filled you in on the Canucks but just for predictions sake, I'm saying the Luongos over the Mullets in six games.

The rest of the rest is shaking out maybe like this:

San Joe Chokers vs. Red-Hot Wings

San Jose's hump to get over is not round one despite what happened in the 2009 playoffs, it's this round where they have failed three out of the last four playoff years.
It's not looking all that good for 2010 either.
Now maybe you can get by with the other Joe (Pavleski) being your leading scorer vs. the Avs, but against the Red Wings, the No. 1 Joe (Thornton) is going to have to pick up his game.
With a hobbled Dany Heatley, I'm not betting on that.

Also, could we please get off Evgeni Nabokov's back. He may not be the second coming of Vladislav Tretiak, but he is not the most guilty party in San Jose's playoff flops.
His save percentage was .918 and .932 the last two second rounds (Vesa Toskala played in 2006's round two vs. Edmonton).

The Zetterburg Datsyuks in six games.

Champ Crosbys vs. Jarosaves

Is Jaroslav Halak set to lead the Habs on a Dwayne Roloson Oilers '06 type run to the Final? Betting against him right now might not be the way to go but here's some food for fodder.
The Habs are actually an 18th-placed team.
The only times a team lower than 16th-overall pulled off a first round upset, they subsequently lost in round two.
In 2002 the league MVP (he used to be good?) Jose Theodore helped the 18th-placed Habs (is this a pattern or what?) knock the East's number one seed Boston Bruins off in round one. They proceeded to lose to Arturs Irbe and the 16th-placed Carolina Hurricances in round two.
In 2009 the 17th-placed Anaheim Ducks of Orange County knocked off those Sharky Sharks in round one and lost in seven games in round two to Detroit.
In 1994 the 17th-placed San Jose Sharks upset the number one seed Red Wings and then lost in seven in round two vs. the Make Beliefs.

So let's get some perspective here. Halak was outstanding on a terrible team (face it, getting outshot 41 to 27 on average per 60 mins of play is not a sign of a competitive team...opportunistic maybe but the Halak won that series not the Montreal Habnadiens).

Even so you know Halak is going to give the Pens fits but I like the Pens' far more creative offensive skills over Alexnader Ovechkin's predictable "bomb down the wing, cut to the middle and try to fire a wrist shot through Hal Gill's legs" move.

Take the Pens in seven.

Tuuuuuukka vs. Bouuuuuuucher

If these teams were healthy, this might be a terrific series. It still might be but both teams are running on fumes. Philly lucked out in round one getting a New Jersey team that they dominated in the regular season which carried over into the playoffs.
Boston's victory over the Sabres was probably the bigger upset given the B's injury woes and not having their playmaker Marc Savard.

I'm calling it a tie. No team wins. Neither advances. We just send the Pens straight to the Final.

Otherwise, can you imagine Boston of all teams in the Conference Finals? How is that possible?

I'm going to say, despite no Jeff Carter's shot, Ian Laperriere's face and whomever else the Flyers don't have, they do have Mike Richards and Chris Pronger (as well as the vastly underrated Alexandre Giroux and Kimmo Timonen).

Flyboys in five again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Beware the Mullet

Despite the crisis over the penalty killing, once again it's not exclusively how you do on special teams that determines a series winner. As it is never emphasized in the media, the majority of most hockey games are played at 5-on-5, and funnily enough that's where series are mainly won and lost.

So, bye bye, LA and the vaunted D-crew of Drew "-5" Doughty, Jack "-5" Johnson and Rob "-4" Scuderi. We enjoyed your appearance. Please come back next year and next time wear your retros.
Butchy Boy rockin' the original look

It's now a rematch of that 1982 Towel Power series . . . I mean, last year's horror show with the Chicago Blackhawks. We all remember that, don't we?

So as we head into the Blackhawks vs. Canucks playoff version post lockout 2.0, let's look at the big questions:

Which Roberto shows up?
Roberto Luongo (of the .893 save percentage vs. LA) must be able to outplay the rookie Antti Niemi (who despite giving up this wacky goal here) was very solid with a .921 save percentage vs. Nashville in rd. 1.

Will Alexandre Burrows ever score again?
Yes, it's fantastic Mikael Samulesson is currently leading the NHL playoffs in goal scoring and that Steve Bernier seems fresh after suffering through an injury-plagued season and bagged 4 goals in rd. 1, but this rd. the Canucks are going to need Burrows' goal scoring.

Is Duncan Keith alive?
In rd. 1 the best defenceman on Chicago was the shifty Niklas Hjarmalsson (pronounced Byfuglien style as Son of Sharmal). Keith who was the NHL's second leading point getter among d-men had a paltry 2 points in the series vs. Nashville and was a -4. Then post-Olympic hangover that Luongo suffered from seems to have affected the man with two first names (or two last names, if you prefer).

Will the Nux go to the rope-a-dope?
Last playoffs the Canucks had a chance to put Chicago away. The Vancouverites were up 2-1 in the series and in Game 4 decided to sit back and defend a 1-0 lead. It almost worked as Chicago tied the game up with less than three minutes left on the clock. The Blackhawks then won the game in OT.
Total shots on goal over almost 63 minutes of hockey by the locals--15.
The Canucks then proceeded to lose Games 5 and 6 and the series slipped through their fingers.
Jacques Lemaire retired. Enough with the rope-a-dope, Coach Yogi Bear!

Can the crowd make a difference?
It sure can as we saw from Game 3 in LA. This is where the rich folks and the freeloaders who snagged the corporate ducats have to bring it. You just know the Madhouse on Madison in Chicago will be rocking and making a difference a la the days of the old Chicago Stadium. It's up to Canuck fans to stop waiting for the scoreboard to tell them to "Make Some Noise" and to rachet and clank it up to get this team to attack, attack, attack!

If last year's Byfuglien of a series is anything to go by, hang on to your hockey helmets as this year's could be even better.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Whiteout the Whiteout

Last night saw Pens fans wearing white and their team subsequently lost in triple overtime to the Sens. The Phoenix Coyotes are another of these "Whiteout" teams continuing the Winnipeg Jets' tradition of the whiteout for reasons beyond me given the Jets never did anything in the playoffs.

The Sens whiteout the Pens and their fans in Game 5

On a similar yet better note, last night the Oklahoma City Thunder's first ever playoff game resulted in a win over the defending NBA Championship team, the L.A. Lakers. The crowd in Loud City was wearing all blue. This reverse take on the Whiteout began with the final home game of OKC's inaugural season and has been revived for this year's playoffs.

First of all, I'm confused. Back when the Whiteout was started in Winnipeg, the home teams in the NHL wore white uniforms at home. Now they don't.

In the NBA white is the predominant home uniform color (Laker and Noew Orleans Hornet yellow aside) yet the OKC fans chose not to wear white but went with blue . . . and won the game!

NHL fans take note.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Sedin Shows Emotion

The best thing to happen out of Game 4 was not that the Canucks managed to kill off two powerplays, but Henrik Sedin's reaction to scoring the winning goal. The playoffs do feed off emotion and when you see a reaction like that, it says something. It hopefully says Henrik has realized that to win you cannot be a milquetoast Joe Thornton and need to be a fired up Alexander Ovechkin.

After all, through four games we have Sidney Crosby with 11 points, Ovechkin with 8 points, Henrik Zetterberg with 7 points and the NHL's regular season scorer leader lies tied for 14th overall in playoff scoring.

Meaning in Game 5 and 6 it's Henrik's time to show the hockey world why he's the leading scorer in the NHL as Roberto Luongo (of the .871 save percentage through Game 4) is not exactly reminding anyone of a Patrick Roy despite a few highlight reel saves. Hey, Roberto, that glove on your left hand is for catching the puck!

Also, apparently I have heard that having a great powerplay is now so important to winning in the playoffs that it usurps how the majority of the game is played at 5-on-5. Please inform the 1 for 19 on the PP Washington Capitals that leading their series 3 games to 1 is not good enough.

I'll also call Pens Coach Dan Bylsma to tell him having the second-worst PK unit in the playoffs that the Pens are heading nowhere with their 3 games to 1 lead over the Sens.

Last I looked the game is primarily played 5-on-5 and it will still come down to that as far as winning the Cup. Sure, LA can win a series on the PP as the Dallas Stars did in upsetting the Ducks of the Mighty Anaheim in '08.

So, let's simplify, a good powerplay will win you a series if your team is lousy 5-on-5. Vancouver can survive this series even if LA's powerplay remains at this redhot .563 pace as long as the Canucks can dominate at 5-on-5.

Have a look at LA's powerplay game by game
Game 1
2 for 3 on the PP in a 3-2 OT loss

Game 2
2 for 6 on the PP in a 3-2 OT win

Game 3
3 for 3 on the PP in a 5-3 win

Game 4
2 for 4 on the PP in a 6-4 loss

Also, despite this mass panic over the number of penalties the Canucks are taking, they are taking no more than they did in the regular season where they were shorthanded an average of just under 4 per game.

So PK woes be damned. Just make sure Henrik brings it Crosby-style in Games 5 and 6.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Return of CuJuongo

Game 3 proves a few things. Kings fans were dying for eight non-playoff seasons because that crowd was the possible difference in the game. You can talk about the Canucks taking deserved penalties (or that that was no kicking motion on the goal disallowed) but don't tell me the refs were not influenced by the crowd. Hey, it's called home-ice advantage for a number of reasons.

Roberto Luongo is proving the curse of the gold medal winning Olympic goalie is not going to change. Make up any excuse you want for his mediocre play and I'm with you on that. The main problem I see is where Florida had him in his prime, the Canucks now are stuck with him CuJo-like where he'll be just good enough to tempt us but not enough to lift Lord Stanley's mug . . . and I'm talking 2011 and onwards. The Canucks may come back and take the Kings down but they aren't going to the Final based on the play of other goalies' (hello, Craig Anderson!) play in the 2010 playoff mix.

Which brings me to the current hot topic: Short overtimes and how great the playoffs have been.
The Hockey News has the story here and is all a twitter about this "great" start to the playoffs.
Were they watching tapes of the 1986 playoffs? The 1994 playoffs? Last year's Caps vs. Pens series? Because we are barely 3 games into the 2010 playoffs, and I've seen more snooze inducing games than jump out of you seat end-to-end stuff so far.

Through game 3s, I can only find two series really worth watching:
Caps vs. Habs
Mainly because the Jaroslavs (Halak in net and Spacek pokechecking Ovechkin into submission) stole Game 1 and Tomas Plekanec mouthed off about Jose Theodore (and he's been proven right given Semyon Varlamov for the second straight playoffs has come off the bench and is now the Caps #1) scored the OT winner.
Game 2 saw an unreal comeback thanks to the Caps' Nicklas Backstrom.
Then Alexander Ovechkin opened his mouth and shot back about Halak being nervous and the Caps proceeded to destroy the Habs 5-1 in Game 3 running Halak from the net.
So we've got both teams' #1 goalies being pulled in games, two overtimes, a superstar being shut down by a couple of Jaroslavs, a Backstrom proving that a sidekick can be a difference maker plus electric crowds in both arenas. That and the yin-yang of an offensive powerhouse playing a defensive team (albeit one with a small group of pretty good snipers).

Pens vs. Sens
This series has been fun because Ottawa stole Game 1 thanks to some wonky bounces. Then Sydney Crosby took over and has made some plays that'll remind us of how good the guy really is. I wouldn't rank it as nearly as fun to watch as the Caps vs. Habs sries as it's the Blandawa Senators but for Crosby and Malkin, tune in. Just flip to the Punjabi channel when it's broadcasting to avoid Bob Cole.

The rest of the series have been middling to dull. The Canucks vs. Kings series is not good hockey bar bits of Game 1 and its OT. The Sharks vs. Avs is a mismatch and the Avs are only leading thanks to goalie Craig Anderson. The Yotes vs. Wings has shown promise but as they're still the Yotes. (When Shane Doan is your most recognizable star, frankly, who cares?) Blackhawks vs. Preds--the big story is Patrick Kane's mullet and a funny bounced goal by JP Dumont that was spun into some goalie crisis that's non-existent as Patrick Niemi shut out the Preds the very next game.

In the East you can forget the Sabres vs. Bruins unless you like watching after-whistle scrums. The Devils vs. Flyers series has seen one team win a game (Flyers in Game 1) despite having only 14 shots on goal. The Devils show up for the first road game of the series and manage all of 19 shots in 63:35 of play. At least Mike Richards is playing well with 6 pts in 3 GP because that's about all there is to watch in this series so far.

So, yeah, OTs have been quick as thank the hockey gods as who wants to sit through more periods of nothingness in most series so far. Maybe the OTs have been quick not only because teams are going for it early and penalties are being called in OT but the goaltending in general has been inconsistent across all series (bar you, Mr. 51 Saves Anderson).

My advice to Canuck fans, save yourself some heartache. Stick to watching the Caps or Pens. Tune back into the Canucks if the series gets to a Game 6 or 7. Until then they'll just take more stupid penalties, give up more powerplay goals which throws the whole flow out of the line shifts. That more than anything has rendered the Sedins pretty much non-factors. It's not just the powerplay goals against, folks, that have done in the Canucks. The more the game is played 5-on-5 the better the Canucks chances period of swinging the momentum of the series. Flat out, the Kings cannot win this series at 5-on-5 no matter how great Drew Doughty is.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bingo Bango . . . and Bozo

How to not take a stranglehold of a series:

1. Play a 6th string defenceman (Andrew Alberts) enough to take more dumb penalties.

2. Allow powerplay goals to a team who seem unable to play 5-on-5.

3. Score an own goal in overtime (hey, Roberto, the knob on the end of your stick is there for a reason).

Not that I'm whining as this will maybe reduce the hype over the Nux Cup hopes and these so-called fans will get a more realistic perspective as there are 15 other teams in the playoffs still.
One big worry is the Sedins were shut down and wasn't that the problem in the past? Keep an eye on the two road games because ultimately no matter how much secondary scoring the Nux get, it comes down to the Sedins as far as going on a Cup run let alone surviving rd. 1.

So onto more entertaining series ans issues. First off, tune in to TSN's pre-game show today as ex-Canuck, current-Yotes Taylor Pyatt opens up about last season's sudden death of his girlfriend. Pretty good preview here.

Then watch some real hockey as Detroit and Phoenix do battle. For my eyeballs, this has been the series with the most flow with no dreadfully dull stretches. Hard to believe with Dave Tippett coaching the Yotes but maybe the Wings just bring that skating out in other teams.

Throw in four other games and it's a hockey fan's day in heaven...albeit I have to get outside and play some tennis and let the DVR work OT or I'll become a real potato rather than just a couch one.

Friday, April 16, 2010


With Alexander Edler channeling Scott Stevens, it goes to show the best player on the ice does not have to collect points or make saves to have an impact on the game. If you wondered where those hits were all season long, I have a theory: Edler is smart.

Why waste energy hitting guys in 82 meaningless regular season games? Save all that energy up and release it when needed--in the playoffs.

Overall, a great effort even if Roberto Luongo looked like a fish out of water on the Anze Kopitar half-chance, he more than made up for it with his Hasek impersonation on the Jack Johnson shot earns him big Luuuuuu's!

Thank you, Mikael Samuelsson for scoring in the 1st overtime as I was having '07 5-OT vs. Dallas Stars flashbacks the way Jonathan Quick was playing the the Kings' net.

As far as the rest of the Game 1s, not a very good start to the NHL playoffs. The only watchable hockey was the Habs upset of the Caps and the Yotes-Wings game. The rest were comical (Ottawa-Pittsburgh and the bouncing pucks), farcical as well as boring (Philly get 12 shots on goal and beats New Jersey), too chippy after the whistles (Buffalo vs. Boston), a snoozefest (does San Jose realize the playoffs started?) and funny (the Harlem Globetrotters apparently showed up for Game 1 in Chicago. Needless to say the Washington Generals lost yet again).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bestern Playoff Preview

Team Choke vs. New Generation Avs
Obviously, the Sharks are under huge pressure to get to the Final after last year's playoff collapse in rd. 1 to Anaheim. The thing is San Jose tend to fumble over themselves in rd. 2 or 3. Not saying the Avs cannot pull an upset but looking at last year's mess the Sharks were beat by a team just two seasons removed from being crowned champions. But unlike '09 when they had to face the wiles of Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, the Avs no longer have Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg or Patrick Roy. So let's cut the Sharks some slack in rd. 1.

After that it's up to Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton to prove they are da men!

San Jose takes it in 5 1/3 games

Toews Kaners vs. Barry Trotz-kyites
Nashville are a funny team. Consistently overachievers in the regular season, they have yet to win a playoff series in four tries. They should be due, but then again they still do not have enough offence on paper. You can make a case for Pekka Rinne being good enough to steal a series but before him it was Dan Ellis (who was sensational in the '08 first rd. six-game series vs. the eventual Cup champion Detroit Red Wings), Chris Mason and Tomas Vokoun (also fantastic the first playoff series the Preds played back in '04 again vs. Detroit). All were good enough to keep the Preds in series but without help on offence, this team goes nowhere.

Thanks to the Buffalo Sabres' breaking the curse of the losing Conference Finalists (and not only getting past rd. 1 but going deep two playoffs in a row in '06 and '07). we seem to be in a new era. That bodes well for Chicago in '10.

Blackhawks in 6 2/3 games.

Hollywood North vs. Hollywood

It all falls on Roberto Luongo's shoulders now. The Canucks have the offence . . . finally, so no excuses. Also, Luongo (flameouts in NHL playoff elimination games aside) has been terrific in rd. 1 matchups. Whether he can crank his game up after an Olympic run is the big question and the post-Olympic break showed otherwise. Throw in the fact this team looks defensively suspect whenever one of their big three defencemen gets injured (currently Willie Mitchell; previously Sami Salo or Mathias Ohlund).

With so many question marks with the Canucks D and in net, the Kings are primed for an upset. Sure Jonathan Quick has been nearly as average as Luongo post-Olympics. Maybe sitting in the crowd as Team USA's third goalie at Vancouver 2010 wore him out mentally.
Throw in the fact LA led by Dustin Brown hit a ton the Vancouver D is going to get worn down. Add in the other fact that the LA D not only has all-star youth in Drew Doughty but Stanley Cup rings in Rob Scuderi and Sean O'Donnell, and I'm leaning upset.

Then again Coach Yogi Bear could do a ballsy Cam Ward '06 move and put Andrew Raycroft if Luongo continues letting in softies. Hey, backups sometimes do wonderful things come playoff time.

El Lay in 9 1/2 games

Phoenix Reinsdorfers vs. Winged Wheelers
Has there ever been a series where the higher seed was not the favorite? In this case it's based on how hot the Red Wings have been since the break, but take that with a grain of salt. New Jersey going into one playoff year was on an 11-game winning streak in '06 going in, extended that to 15 by sweeping the Rangers them promptly lost in rd. 2 in five games to the Hurricanes. So, yeah, pencil the Wings in to get through this round unscathed but any further, you're on your own there.

What you should pin your money on is the overtime/shootout record of the Yotes. They won a league record 19 games in OT or the shootout. Playoff teams that top this bizarre stat have lost [almost] every time in rd. 1 as they no longer can rely on a quick 4-on-4 OT or the shootout to chalk up easy wins.

Here's your OT/SO leaders and how they did in season with real OT:
'06 Dallas Stars 15 OT/SO wins were upset in five games by Jose Theodore and the Avycats.
'07 Minnesota Wild 17 OT/SO wins lost in five games to the Ducks.
'08 New Jersey Devils 15 So/OT wins were upset guessed it, 5 games by the Rangers.

Now I did cheat a little as in '07 the Canucks also had 17 OT/SO wins and managed to beat Dallas in about 9 games (yep, there were almost two full games of overtime in that low-scoring series) so let's just say the Yotes have a one in four chance of escaping rd. 1.

Old Wings in six.

Leastern Playoff Preview

Everyone on Planet Hockey has made their predictions and analyzed and reanalyzed each series so it's time to hopefully shed some new light (if that's possible) on each series. Remember, in the words of TMQ, "all predictions wrong or your money back."

Team Ovechkin vs. Steve Penney's Ghost
With Jaroslav Halak channeling Dominik Hasek (albeit from a Slovakian perspective) that is the only hope the Habs have of pulling off what would be an upset to at least match Dwayne Roloson's stoning of the Red Wings back in '06. Given it's an Olympic year again, it's possible.
The problem is unlike, say, the grainy images of a '71 Ken Dryden who, I might mention being a bitter B's fan at the time, had an all-star defence in J.C. Tremblay, Jacques Laperriere, Guy Lapointe and Terry Harper to help him out. The erudite one also had Jean Beliveau, Frank and Peter Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire and even the still spry enough Henri Richard to score enough goals to beat the Big Bad Bruins.
Halak has, well, Mike Camalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez and a now healthy Brian Gionta. I rest my case.

Capitals in 8 games (factoring in overborings)

Team Trap vs. Team Pronger
Philly signed the now slower Chris Pronger for one reason alone and that was to do playoff battle with the star forwards of the East. Ilya Kovalchuk better bring his wood chopping best to the rink. Now there is a lot of text online about how Martin Brodeur gives the Devils the edge. Maybe back when the two Scotts (Niedermayer and Stevens) were patroling the Cloven Hoofed Ones blueline, but Brodeur has not gotten to the Conference Finals let alone the Final since the dynamic defence duo no longer were together on Team Lou. I would also add that Jacques Lemaire-coached teams (we're talking Minnesota Wild) have not done much playoff damage of late (one lone Conference Finals appearance in '03).

Now you can argue all you want about Brian Boucher not being in Brodeur's league but he has played well in the second half, has beaten NJ (by a 5-1 score) and has actually gone deep in the playoffs but that was way back in '00 (Conference Finals where a returning from injury yet again Eric Lindros got TKO-ed by a Scott Stevens hit in Game 7).

Throw in the fact Philly took five of six off New Jersey and the fact when one team dominates another in the regular season, it's usually curtains for the other team (i.e., Habs 8W 0L in '08 vs. Bruins = 1st rd. loss for B's even if it took 7 games).

Philly in 6 1/2 games.

Buffy the Playoff Sabres vs. Boston Injureds
The only hope for the B's is Ryan Miller suffering from the post-Olympic curse. That and Tuukka Rask has to play as well as he did in the regular season. Without Marc Savard, though, the B's are up against it as winning four 2-1 games is a stretch but not beyond the realm of possibility. Having said that people are dismissing this series and saying it will be boring. Maybe these teams don't score enough but the games between the two feature plenty of scoring chances. Of their six regular season games, four of them had over 60 shots with each team firing 40+ in one of the games. The Sabres are a fast exciting team with plenty of firepower and, if (big IF) Tim Connolly is healthy, the Buffalonians should fire plenty of pucks at Rask.
I'd like the B's if Savard was playing but since he isn't, Sabres in 5 3/4 games.

Crosburgh Malkguins vs. Ottawa Centurions
First, let the record state that the Sens logo is not a Roman senator but a Roman centurion. Now onto the obvious logic: Stanley Cup champions do not lose in rd. 1. OK, aside from '04, '06 and '08 but details, details. In Pittsburgh's favor, unlike '04 Jersey, '06 Tampa and '08 Anaheim's is the fact that the Pens did not fall in the standings (plus not having a lockout year wipe out any good post-Cup season mojo as in the Bolts' case). They stayed right where they were last year--8th overall.
Throw in the fact Alexei Kovalev . . . oh, wait, never mind, subtracting him from the Sens' lineup would be a positive. OK, Filip Kuba being out hurts being a defenceman and having let the force we call Zdeno Chara go to Boston four years ago, well, the Sens are no longer the underachieving playoff flops they were known for (OK, they made the '07 Final, but it's not like they actually "competed" given how unmemorable they were vs. Anaheim).

Flightless Birds in 5.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Release the Kraken! Let The Real Season Begin!

Before the playoff party can get started let's have a look at a few things that'll maybe help you in your playoff pool.

The Olympic Effect
We curse your playoff chances!

This is a tough one. When the Olympics were held overseas (Nagano '98 and Torino '06) it had a HUGE effect.

In '98 five of the eight 1st rd. series were won by the team with fewer Olympians).
In '06 same story, five out of eight.

The previous time the Olympics were held in North America (Salt Lake City '02), four of the eight 1st round series were won by teams with fewer Olympians and all four were in the Eastern Conference.

(To the fact backcheckers: If the two teams matched up in any series had an equal number of Olympians I went with the higher seed as the "pick" which only happened twice and both in '98--Detroit vs. Phoenix in rd. 1 and Washington vs. Buffalo in rd. 3)

If we take this two steps further along the playoff trail, here're the results through round three (or Conference Finals) each Olympic year for the teams with fewer Olympians:
'98 10 of 14 series won
'02 5 of 14
'06 9 of 14

So use the following info as you like:
'06 Olympians per playoff team
Washington (5 players) vs. Montreal (6 players)
New Jersey (5 players) vs. Philadelphia (4 players)
Buffalo (5 players) vs. Boston (7 players)
Pittsburgh (5 players) vs. Ottawa (5 players)

San Jose (8 players) vs. Colorado (3 players)
Chicago (6 players) vs. Nashville (6 players)
Vancouver (7 players) vs. Los Angeles (6 players)
Phoenix (3 players) vs. Detroit (8 players)

I could go further and show you how the teams with fewer players in the Final Four of the Olympic tournament did, but there's virtually no difference statistically so let's move on.

So, how would you call it in '06? I think you have to look at '02 and figure the weaker conference will see the "fewer Olympians" theory hold true. In '02 that was the Eastern Conference and in '06, it's the same so I think we can all see the Capitals, the Flyers (who have beaten the Devils 5 of 6 this season), the Sabres (beating Boston without Marc Savard) and the Penguins going through, can't we?

Out West, well, will it mirror '02 and the teams with more Olympians reverse the fatigued Olympic roster curse? That's the '08 R.J. Umberger third-liner turned playoff goal scorer question.

Beating The Conference Final Curse
Commit to the Indian!

Teams that lose in rd. 3 usually follow up the next season by either missing the playoffs (say hello to the Carolina Hurricanes '09/10 season!) or lose in rd. 1.
Since '95, of the 28 teams who went to the Conference Finals, only 9 made it back there (or even went one better and made the Final or took the Cup). Fifteen teams missed the playoffs altogether or lost in rd. 1.

The glimmer of statistical hope for the Blackhawks is teams that improved (or at least did not drop in the league standings) from the previous season have a pretty terrific record:
'99 Dallas Stars finished 1st overall in '98 and again in '99 and went on to win the Cup that season.
'02 St. Louis Blues finished 6th in '01 and '02 and won their 1st rd. series before bowing out in rd. 2.
'07 Buffalo Sabres went from 5th to 1st overall and got back to the Conference Finals.
'07 Anaheim Ducks jumped from 12th to 4th and won the whole kit and kaboodle (1930s' translation: the Stanley Cup).
'08 Detroit Red Wings went from 2nd to 1st overall and took their fourth Cup in the Nicklas Lidstrom era.
'10 Chicago Blackhawks moved from 6th in '08/09 to 3rd overall this season so will they float down the Mississippi like St. Louis in '02 or will they follow the pattern of the vast majority of these other teams in question?

A Hat Trick of Curse Busting
The Crosby-era Penguins have become Cup champions without even having to go through the stupendous upset loss. Yes, even the Detroit Red Wings had to suffer not only one shocking upset (the '95 Devils sweep in the Final) but a few more both before and after as favorites before winning in '97. The Penguins may have lost the '08 Final, but they went in as underdogs so the loss as tough as it was could not have been unexpected.

Then the Pens destroyed the the losing Cup Finalist curse. You know the one where every losing Cup Finalist since 1994 has never made it back to the Final the next season. In fact 10 of the last 14 "losers" actually missed the playoffs or lost in the 1st round the season after.

Well, now the Crosburgh Malkguins are attempting to do what no team has done since '98, repeat as champions. Would you bet against them?

Wither Bingo Bango Bongo?
Is it too late to change Canuck colors to red?

Roberto Luongo has played extremely well (.930 career save percentage) in the playoffs but not well enough in elimination games ('09 Game 6 vs. Chicago and '07 Game 6 vs. Anaheim). We all know he has played well for Canada in a pinch hitting role subbing in the '04 World Cup semi-final and this past '06 Olympics.

This isn't international hockey though so there's the rub. I'll leave you to speculate on how you think Luongo will play in the '10 playoffs but reserve judgment even if the Canucks get past the Kings. It's winning two rounds of playoff hockey that puts you in at least the '06 and '07 Ryan Miller category.

Are You Experienced?
I didn't need no stinkin' long playoff resume!

Why year after year do you hear the media go on about this? Isn't it their job to follow hockey year after year? Do they not notice how little it matters that a goalie has any playoff experience? Did they not grow up in the rookie Patrick Roy wins Cup in '86 or sophomore Martin Brodeur wins Cup in '95 eras?

Aaaargh! I'm tired of hearing this.

You do not need an experienced playoff goalie to go deep in the playoffs.
Prior to Marc-Andre Fleury helping the Penguins get to their first Final in '08, he had a grand total of 5 NHL playoff games.
Cam Ward who led the 'Canes to the Cup in '06 had zero playoff games under his belt given he was a rookie . . . and a backup behind Martin Gerber going in to that year's playoffs!

I could go on and on but, if you want to go deep in the playoffs, more times than not, you're better off with a fresher, healthier, less mileage on the goal pads goaltender.

Plus forget looking at regular season save percentage otherwise no one would ever think Jose Theodore could consistently win at least one round year after year.

So take all that for what you will and make your picks.
Tomorrow a look at the scorers to take in your playoff pools.

Why am I not invited to this year's playoff party?