Posted on: October 14, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 5:29 pm
By: Adam Gretz
We're a little over a week into the regular season which means it's only natural to start jumping to conclusions based on a small sampling of games or head coaching decisions, and we're all guilty of it. Sometimes your initial knee-jerk reaction is accurate, and teams or players are as good or bad as they appear this early in the season, and other times it proves to be way too soon for such a judgement.
What about the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the three teams in the NHL that has yet to win a game this season as of Friday afternoon. After an exciting summer of big-name acquisitions (Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski) is it still more of the same for an organization that has known nothing but losing since entering the NHL a decade ago? Or is it just a slow start hindered by the fact that one of those players (Wisniewski) has yet to appear in a game?
Is there really a goaltending controversy in Washington because Michal Neuvirth started the first game of the season instead of Tomas Vokoun? And is Vokoun really thee guy the Capitals can trust after struggling through his first start? Is Brendan Shanhan's early season run of suspensions going to be overkill?
In the spirit of Tom Symkowski and his Jump To Conclusions Mat in Office Space, we're going to jump to our own conclusions on those -- and more -- early season storylines .
1) New Look, Same Old Blue Jackets
Our Conclusion: Too soon
A lot of the Blue Jackets success (or lack of success) this season will depend on how well goaltender Steve Mason plays, and so far, it's been a less-than-inspiring start for Columbus and its young goaltender.
But it's too soon to think these are the same old Blue Jackets.
For one, Wisniewski is still serving his suspension that runs through the first eight games of the regular season, and that has definitely been a big blow to the Jackets' lineup. Wisniewski is expected to be -- and will be -- one of Columbus' top-defensemen and anytime you're playing without that sort of presence in your lineup it's going to have a negative impact. The biggest issue for Columbus so far, and an area Wisniewski should certainly help improve once he returns to the lineup, has been its dreadful power play, which is currently off to an 0-for-20 start. This should get better when Wisniewski returns, and while the playoffs still aren't a given this season, the Blue Jackets are going to improve and take a step forward.
2) Tomas Vokoun Isn't The Answer For Washington/Capitals Goaltending Controversy
Our Conclusion: Crazy talk. And Way Too Soon
When Michal Neuvirth received the opening night start over free agent acquisition Tomas Vokoun it started the discussion as to whether or not the Washington Capitals had a goaltender controversy on their hands. When Vokoun earned his first start of the season in game No. 2 and struggled during a shootout win against Tampa Bay, allowing five goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were concerns that he's not the answer in goal for Washington.
Traditionally Vokoun has been a slow starter throughout his career. Tim Greenberg of the Washington Post, for example, recently pointed out that October has been the worst month of Vokoun's career from a save percentage perspective, and generally plays better as the season progresses. He already rebounded on Thursday during the Capitals' 3-2 win in Pittsburgh with a strong performance that saw him make 39 saves, giving his team a chance to pick up two points in the standings.
Vokoun has been one of the best goalies in the NHL in recent years, and even at 35, should have enough left in the tank to help form one of the better goaltending duos in the NHL with Neuvirth. And both will get the fair share of starts throughout the season.
3) Buffalo is a Stanley Cup contender
Our Conclusion: Probably Accurate
The Sabres were already a playoff caliber team with plenty of excitement around them heading into the regular season, and a pair of impressive wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the season in Europe did nothing to hurt that. The Sabres have one of the NHL's best goalies in Ryan Miller and boosted their defense over the summer with Christian Ehrhoff and, perhaps their best offseason addition, Robyn Regehr, to go along with Tyler Myers.
They were already a top-10 team a year ago offensively -- even with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford missing extended time due to injury -- and only added to that firepower up front by signing Ville Leino to help complement their already impressive group of forwards.
With that type of scoring depth, a trio of defensemen like Myers, Regehr and Ehrhoff, and a goaltender like Miller the Sabres should be one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
4) Ilya Bryzgalov Will Be Philadelphia's Savior
Our Conclusion: Too Soon
The Philadelphia Flyers finally have their No. 1 goalie and in his first two starts managed to allow just one goal. Problem solved, right? Maybe.
I'm still not sure he's going to be enough to get Philadelphia it's long-awaited Stanley Cup, and for as much as the Flyers revolving door of goaltenders was criticized last season, they were still in the top-half of the league in save percentage and not that far below what Bryzgalov put up in Phoenix's tight defensive system.
It's not that Philadelphia isn't a good team defensively, but I have some concerns over the age -- and and durability -- of their top-two defensemen, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, I'm just not sure Bryzgalov is going to be enough of an upgrade to make up for what Philadelphia lost up front this summer.
5) Brendan Shanahan Will Be Too Quick On The Suspension Trigger
Our Conclusion: It's simply been the adjustment period.
New rules (or new wording of one of the rules -- rule 48) and a new person in charge of handing out discipline led to a sudden spike in suspensions during the preseason and sky is falling fears that hitting and all physical contact will be removed from the game. It's no different than when we came out of the lockout when the league put an emphasis on eliminating clutch-and-grab hockey and we saw a sudden spike in penalties, which eventually started to regress once players adjusted to the rules. The same thing will happen with Shanahan and the suspensions. The hammer will be dropped early as players figure out what they can and can not do, and once they adjust, business will go on as usual.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Adam Gretz, Brendan Shanahan, Buffalo Sabres, Chris PRonger, Christian Ehrhoff, Columbus Blue Jackets, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Ilya Bryzgaov, James Wisniewski, Kimo Timmonen, Michal Neuvirth, NHL Discipline, Philadelphia Flyers, Robyn Regehr, Ryan Miller, Steve Mason, Tomas Vokoun, Tyler Myers, Ville Leino, Washington Capitals
Posted on: October 8, 2011 1:54 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2011 2:14 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Every team in the NHL says they want to build through the draft, and like any other aspect of the sport, some have done a better job than others, not only based on the number of home-grown players they have on the roster, but also the quality of said players.
It's always been an important part of constructing a roster and has taken on an even greater level of significance in the salary cap era where teams need to get quality production for an affordable price. There are few things more damaging to a team in the cap era than overpaying a free agent and handing out a large contract for a second-or-third tier player.
Looking across the league at every team's opening night roster and you get an idea as to which teams have done the best job at building from within. Here are the three teams with the most homegrown talent on their opening night rosters.
1) Nashville Predators: No team in the NHL has more drafted-and-developed players on its opening night roster than the Predators' 18. Their group ranges from core players like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, to role players like Jordin Tootoo, to young prospects Craig Smith and Blake Geoffrion.
The farm system has always been the lifeblood of the Predators organization, and it has to be. They don't have the resources to acquire superstars in free agency -- and may struggle to keep their own -- and must rely on their own system to continue to produce talent. The concern has to be whether or not Nashville will ever be able to take the next step as a championship contender, or if the organization has hit its peak with this current strategy.
Other teams across the league are not only able to draft and develop same type of core players, they are also able to re-sign them and keep them long-term once they're eligible for free agency and add complementary pieces from outside the organization.
2) Buffalo Sabres: There's a ton of excitement in Buffalo right now thanks to new owner Terry Pegula. He proved over the summer with his spending that he's committed to utilizing every possible resource he can to make sure the Sabres a contender.
The signings of Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, as well as the trade for Robyn Regehr, made all the headlines, but the Sabres roster is made up of 15 homegrown players. And we're not just talking role players and and roster-filler. Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers, Derek Roy, workout warrior Drew Stafford and their newest captain, Jason Pominville, were all drafted and developed by the Sabres front office.
3) Detroit Red Wings: While teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, Edmonton and the New York Islanders have collected multiple lottery picks at the top of the draft to rebuild their franchises, the Red Wings have managed to do it by routinely picking near the bottom of the draft, and finding impact players after the first two rounds. Whether or not it's great scouting ability or great player development is a chicken-or-egg debate, but the Red Wings open the season with 15 players they drafted. That list includes Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetteberg and Tomas Holmstrom, taken in the sixth, seventh and tenth rounds respectively, as well as third-rounders Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom.
In the pre-lockout NHL, before the salary cap, some of the Red Wings' best teams were built largely with big-money players from outside the organization, whether it be Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille or Brett Hull. Today, their roster is made up almost entirely of players they brought up themselves, and whatever players they've managed to acquire through trades or free agency are mainly role players (Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller) or players they managed to pick up on the cheap and developed into productive players (Daniel Cleary).
Posted on: October 6, 2011 12:16 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 12:56 pm
The Buffalo Sabres have made their selection for the new team captain, and it might come as a surprise to some. Wearing the C this season for the Sabres will be Jason Pominville, entering his eighth season with the team. Assistant captains will be Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy.
He takes over the spot vacated by Craig Rivet, who had been Sabres captain since 2008 before leaving town.
The thing about coach Lindy Ruff's selection was that it was tough to make a bad choice. The Sabres have done a remarkable job of keeping a core together for many years now. There are nine players on the roster that have played in Buffalo for at least the past five seasons. That's a lot of continuity.
Buffalo clearly has a good thing going on as hopes are very high under new owner Terry Pegula. The hope is that the additions to the core of Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr are enough to put them into the upper echelon.
As for Pominville, well he's been as big a part of that core as anybody. He's actually coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie campaign, and he still had 52 points (22/30).
Plus, he might have a future as a camera man ... if he can find the on/off button. He shot this 24/7-esque video from the team bus in Europe. In this episode, Luke Adam left his bag in Buffalo and Tyler Ennis debates who gets credit for a nickname.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 10:43 am
Edited on: September 23, 2011 10:49 am
By: Adam Gretz
Meet Drew Stafford, forward for the Buffalo Sabres, and owner of a developing Fu Manchu.
He scored 31 goals in just 61 games last season and signed a four-year, $16 million contract extension this summer. Good news all around. The secret to all of that success appears to be his, um, unorthodox summer workout as featured in this humorous team video.
As best I can tell, the following things are happening here: 1) Stafford is wearing a cut-off Paul Gaustad t-shirt jersey, obviously because he's a fan of Gaustad's dominance in the faceoff circle. 2) "Yakub," as he's referred to, has a striking resemblance to Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. 3) The Flash workouts are superior in every way to Superman's workouts. And really, who can disagree with that?