Tag:Martin Havlat
Posted on: December 24, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 4:33 pm
 

Top NHL stories and moments in 2011

By Brian Stubits

There was a lot of good in 2011, but also a lot of bad. By bad, I really mean tragedy. It was an unforgettable yet forgettable year all at the same time.

As we hit the heart of the holiday season, here is a look back at the year that was in hockey with the top 10 moments/storylines of 2011.

10. Summer acquisitions -- This is when the magic happens in the NHL's salary cap world and franchises are made or destroyed.

It was over the summer that two teams in particular built the nucleus for their surprising starts this season, the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers. Minnesota was the host for this year's NHL Entry Draft and really did leave an impression. Not only did they come away from the draft with a few new prospects in their system but they also swung a deal to land Devin Setoguchi from the San Jose Sharks for Brent Burns. The Wild swung another deal with the Sharks that landed them Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. Of course their biggest summer acquisition might have been the hiring of head coach Mike Yeo.

The Panthers meanwhile continued to use the draft to make their system better and also swung a big trade, taking on Brian Campbell's big salary from the Blackhawks in exchange for Rostislav Olesz. That kicked off a wild spending spree that lasted through free agency and the core of the team that's in first in the Southeast was built just like that. Like the Wild, they also found themselves a new coach who has returned big dividends early in Kevin Dineen.

The unrestricted free-agent class was led by the pursuit of Brad Richards, who eventually signed with the New York Rangers after a day of courting, including from the Maple Leafs while GM Brian Burke was in Afghanistan. But the most intrigue was on the restricted front where Steven Stamkos' future was wildly speculated before re-signing with the Lightning and Shea Weber stayed with the Predators after the biggest arbitration award ever.

A couple weeks in the middle of the year set up the last couple of months in the year and even with what was perceived as a weak free-agent class, this year was no different.

Look back: Free-agency tracker

9. Winter Classic -- As sad as it is to think about, games hardly ever are the top stories in sports any more. But in hockey, the Winter Classic will always matter, it's that big of a showcase and spectacle for the NHL.

As is the case with every Winter Classic -- as fans of all the less-fortunate teams will remind you -- it was a marquee matchup of two high-profile teams from the East with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps eventually prevailed in a game that might be the most memorable Winter Classic thus far for a variety of reasons, one of them makes an appearance later on this list.

But first of all the lead up to the game featured the first 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic series on HBO and it was riveting. While technically most of it aired in 2010, it is tied in with the Winter Classic so it counts. It left fans anticipating the next version like a kid awaits Christmas, this year's version featuring the Flyers and Rangers.

Mother Nature also left her mark on the game. It was the first Winter Classic thus far that the weather was so uncooperative that they had to delay the start of the game. Unseasonably warm temperatures and rain in Pittsburgh led to the game being pushed to the night and it did provide a pretty memorable setting at Heinz Field. 

Look back: Caps win Winter Classic 3-1

8. Realignment -- While the fruit of this labor will be seen starting in 2012, it was a large conversation for the entire second half of the year, spurred by a development that appears further up this list.

I don't know if there was a person in hockey -- both within the game and covering it -- that didn't have their own idea for how the realignment should be done. In the end the six-division format was blown up, an effort that was from all accounts led by Gary Bettman himself.

The biggest drama in the whole saga revolved around the Detroit Red Wings' desire to move to the Eastern Conference. Well, without an Eastern Conference to move to any more, I guess you could say that was taken care of.

Look back: NHL announces realignment

7. Lokomotiv plane crash -- The KHL is to the NHL as the NHL is to ESPN. That is to say the only time we ever seem to hear about the KHL is when something bad happens.

Unfortunately, that was the case this summer when the airplane carrying the KHL's Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team barely got airborne before it crashed, killing everybody on board except a member of the flight crew.

The tragedy was already tough enough for the hockey community in North America simply for the fact sheer sadness of the lethal error. But what made it really hit home in the NHL was the number of former NHL players who died in the crash.

Among those who died in the crash were Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and head coach Brad McCrimmon, all of who were in the NHL at some point in their careers. In the case of McCrimmon he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff as recently as last season before he took the chance to be a head coach in Russia.

Nothing from the ordeal was more chilling than the sad, sad story from a professional driver in Dallas who was tasked with picking up the family of Skrastins to drive them to the airport hours after the tragedy. Honestly, I'm getting emotional just thinking about it again. It was truly a horrible day for hockey.

Look back: Lokomovit team plane crashes

6. Vancouver riot -- For the second time in as many Stanley Cup trips for the Vancouver Canucks, the hockey-crazed city erupted into a violent storm following its team's loss in the decisive Game 7. A similar eruption happened in 1994 after the Canucks fell to the New York Rangers.

The night began with a massive gathering in the streets of Vancouver for the fans to all watch the game together on a big screen. Many saw that as an ill-fated moment from the start and boy were they right. Soon after the game and season were finished, the hooligans of Vancouver were just getting started.

Looters took to the streets to cause mayhem, and cause mayhem they did. The result was a night full of rioting embarrassing to the city, a lot of videos to live on in YouTube glory (like this classic), at least 25 people being charged (including Miss Congeniality) and the romance, sports and maybe general photo of the year, the "riot kiss" seen up above.

The unfortunate part (OK, one of them) was the fact that the riot completely overshadowed what was really a great postseason and season for the Canucks. Vancouver was the best team all regular season long and as fine of a year as they ever have.

Look back: Riot erupts after Stanley Cup Finals

5. Brendan Shanahan takes over -- There has been no bigger overarching story in the second half of the year than what Shanahan has been doing as the new head of player safety having replaced Colin Campbell. His arrival on the job has coincided with the attempt to expand and clarify Rule 48.1, the one dealing with headshots. The focus has also been ramped up on boarding.

His impact has been felt from the get-go. In the preseason he was very busy and then really sent some shock waves through the league when he suspended Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski for eight games.

It's at the point now that every questionable hit is immediately scrutinized and I'm still not sure if that's good or bad. Obviously the good is that it continues to put a microscope on bad hits in an attempt to rid the game of them. On the bad side, some clean hits get more attention than they should and the consistency of punishment applications has been a bit bedeviling, just ask the Sabres fans.

However Shanahan has done something that I've yet to find a person complain about and that's making videos for each and every suspension wherein he explains exactly what the thought process was that led to the decision. The first one he made in the preseason was a breath of fresh air and welcome transparency. All season he's been a busy, busy man.

You know you've watched a lot of Shanahan suspension videos when you can recall that he has done videos in front of three different backdrops and you can tell when he gets a haircut.

Look back: A look at Shanahan's handy work

4. Winnipeg Jets return -- At one point, it looked like the old Jets -- the Phoenix Coyotes -- were going to be the team to move to Winnipeg. Fans were elated as it seemed that with a clear potential ownership group and new, albeit small, arena, the NHL would be coming back to the 'Peg after 15 years.

Then they pulled a little switcheroo on everybody when the Coyotes announced they were staying in Phoenix for another year, so attention turned to the Atlanta Thrashers. A few transactions later and hockey was back in Manitoba (and the NHL had to realign -- Winnipeg in the Southeast?).

The push was one to rename the team the Jets like the old franchise in town and after much debate, the fans won out, although a new logo would be introduced. Not lacking in flair, the Jets showed off their new uniforms in an unveiling at a military base with the players wearing the new duds walking out of a cargo plane.

The first game of the Jets. 2.0 came in their new home at the MTS Centre and they fell in defeat to the Montreal Canadiens, but you couldn't tell. The great hockey city that is Winnipeg was happier than a pig in you-know-what just to have the NHL back. When Nik Antropov became the first player to score for the new Jets, the roar was deafening. Maybe the best way to measure the city's appreciation and love for having hockey back would have been with decibels.

After a slow start (again, they were the Thrashers) the Jets have really come to find a comfort on home ice, as many thought they would. With a 12-6-1 record at home this season, the Jets have the best home mark in the Eastern Conference next to Boston's 13-6-1. It seems that a little excitement really can go a long way.

Look back: Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg

3. Sidney Crosby's concussions -- This was the biggest development to come out of the aforementioned Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby caught an elbow to the head from the Capitals' David Steckel that rocked the game's best player pretty good. He certainly appeared out of sorts but was back in the lineup a few days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A check from Victor Hedman led to Crosby experiencing another concussion and he didn't play again for the rest of the season. He finally did return to game action in November, playing eight games before being shut down again for post-concussion symptoms.

Before he went down, Crosby was on pace for one mammoth season. To illustrate how good he was playing before the injury, he still finished the season as the Penguins' leading scorer by a whopping 16 points despite playing only 41 games.

For literally almost a year, the hockey world sat and waited for word on Crosby returning. There was speculation he could come back for the Penguins' playoffs games. There was talk that he might retire. None of that happened, but what did do was bring another reminder of the seriousness that are concussions.

It's not good business for the NHL when the top players aren't on the ice, let alone the best player. I'd like to think it isn't the case, but you have to wonder if Crosby's absence didn't go a long way in facilitating the NHL's actions on trying to remove bad hits as well as enacting strong concussion protocols.

The way the Penguins have handled the Crosby situation has been one of the best parts of all -- or maybe the only good part, depending on your point of view. They have been incredibly patient the entire time, insisting they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize Crosby's health and future.

But because of his most recent setback, Crosby Watch 2011 will move on into Crosby Watch 2012.

Look back: Crosby's recovery efforts

2. Deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak -- The NHL's summer of sorrow began in late spring when the tragic news came down of New York Rangers and former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard's death. The autopsy concluded he died of a lethal mix of alcohol and Oxycodone.

Later in the offseason the NHL was then shook by the news of deaths of Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, separated by only two weeks. Both players were fighters themselves, each suffered from depression and both apparently committed suicide (Rypien's was classified as such, Belak's death treated as such by Toronto PD).

The news of their deaths was sad and shocking in their own right. These were all players 35 or younger who all shared a role in their hockey careers. It was also a catalyst for the discussion of fighting in hockey. No tie can be drawn between each of their deaths and fighting, but it at least begged the question.

Since the three players died, the conversation has picked up. It was really spurred along by the New York Times' in-depth piece that looked at the life of Boogaard and the study of his brain. The findings of the Boston University lab found Boogaard's brain was already showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a deterioration of the brain due to repeated blows to the head.

Look back: Boogaard | Rypien | Belak

1. Bruins win Stanley Cup -- If he didn't already have the designation by all before, Tim Thomas certainly earned it in the playoffs. He is the best goalie in the world.

Thomas pretty much put the Bruins on his shoulders and carried them past the Vancouver Canucks in a great seven-game series that led to the Bruins hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Of course Thomas topped it off with a shutout in Game 7 and took home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP, an incredibly well-deserved award.

But in addition to Thomas, it was one heck of a series. The first six games were won by the home team. We had one game ending a few seconds into overtime. Who can forget the man that scored that goal, Alex Burrows, was caught biting Patrice Bergeron in a scrum and the resulting taunts at Burrows from the Bruins later on.

There was Nathan Horton getting leveled and concussed in Boston in a moment that some feel changed the series. The Bruins responded to that by running the Canucks out of their building in Games 3 and 4. Horton made another impression when he was seen pouring TD Garden ice on the rink in Vancouver before Game 7, a superstitious move that will live in Bruins lore.

We had Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo pumping Thomas' tires after critiquing his aggressive style in net. Then of course item No. 6 on this list, the post-series riot in Vancouver.

The series was about as memorable as it gets. The ratings were as good as they have been in decades, too. And the Bruins' post-championship romp back in New England became a legend with a reported $156,679.74 bar tab that included one Amstel Light. It kicked off a great summer tour with the Cup for the Bruins, Michael Ryder's Cup mishap included.

There is no disputing the Bruins earned the right to lift Lord Stanley's Cup after one great Final.

Look back: Bruins win Stanley Cup

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: December 21, 2011 9:45 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 9:54 pm
 

Martin Havlat out after hamstring surgery



By: Adam Gretz

Martin Havlat simply can't catch a break. He's the type of player that has a reputation for being a really good, productive player, but only when he's healthy. Unfortunately for the teams he's played for throughout his 11 year career (Ottawa, Chicago, Minnesota and now San Jose), that hasn't really happened as much as they would like.

He's played more than 70 games in a season just five times, and has topped the 80-game mark just once. That came during the 2008-09 season with the Chicago Blackhawks, a year that saw him set career highs in nearly in every offensive category.

That's not going to happen this season as the Sharks announced on Thursday evening that he is going to miss  an "extended period" of time after undergoing surgery for a partially torn hamstring.

He was acquired by the Sharks over the summer in the trade that sent Danny Heatley to Minnesota, and in his first 26 games with San Jose he scored two goals to go with 13 assists.

He was injured during a game on Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers, a game the Sharks won 3-2, as he attempted to jump over the boards (as seen in the video up top) to start his next shift. He had to crawl off the ice and was not able to return to the game.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 18, 2011 3:11 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Selanne returns, but Jets take off

By Brian Stubits

Saturday night in Winnipeg was just a little bit louder this time. That's because the Jets fans were more than eager to welcome back Teemu Selanne, a one-time favorite son in the 'Peg under the Jets 1.0.

He didn't leave Winnipeg in a bad fashion (he was traded to the Ducks). He didn't burn any bridges or ever say anything negative about Winnipeg and the fans there. Oh, and he was pretty damn good when wore the red, white and blue of the old Jets, too.

As good as Selanne has been throughout his career, he was never better than he was in his first season in the NHL, playing for the Jets. He set career highs that season with 76 goals and 132 points, marks that he really hasn't come even close to seeing since.

So it took an awful long time (try 15 years) for the Jets fans to get their chance to welcome him back, and they took it.

When Selanne's Anaheim Ducks took to the ice, the crowd was already cheering for the hometown team. The cheer was almost doubled when Selanne came out and the ovation continued through Selanne getting a standing ovation. It was a great moment.

That was well and good, a highlight of the weekend to be sure.

But then came the hockey game. And with that came another Jets home win, 5-3 over Selanne's Ducks.

Yes, the Jets are playing some pretty good hockey these days, especially at home. Coming into the season, the assumption was easy to make that the Jets would be a much better home team, but I still don't think many believed that would translate into Winnipeg having the best home record in the Eastern Conference a week before Christmas.

As things stand right now, the Jets are the closest competitor to the Southeast-leading Panthers. They got off to a bad start, but have flipped the script. The Jets have won six of their last eight games and are just one point behind the Sabres and Maple Leafs in the East playoff picture.

It's essentially the same team that was playing in Atlanta as the Thrashers this time last season, so we can still draw comparisons and warnings from that team. So I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everybody that the Thrashers were leading the Southeast Division this week one season ago. How did that turn out for them, exactly?

Still, it's hard not to believe this team is taking strides, as small as they might be. Evander Kane is beginning to break out and become the player the franchise thought he could be. The young sharpshooter has a team-high 15 goals, five behind the league-leading pace from Steven Stamkos. Dustin Byfuglien, for as rough of an offseason as he had, is still playing well ... offensively at least.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

Ondrej Pavelec has been good enough in goal. His numbers are hardly stellar, but that's pretty much the goalie that he is. He won't compete for any Vezina trophies, but he is good enough to hold the Jets in a lot of games.

If the ship continues to take on water in Anaheim -- and really, at this point it seems like the holes won't be patched this season, even with a new coach in there -- they will have decisions to make with the roster. Talks about Bobby Ryan were already a hot topic. But the Ducks might consider doing more.

At this point in his career, Selanne made it very clear that he was going to only play in Anaheim if he were to play this season. He likely wouldn't waive his no-movement clause if asked. But maybe, if there were one place he would consider it, perhaps it would be Winnipeg. At his age, the Ducks obviously don't have Selanne in the long-term plans, so if they were able to get a player/players or picks for Selanne, they probably would love it at this moment.

That's all pure speculation and the chances of a Selanne trade are awful at best. But wouldn't it be great if Selanne had another return to Winnipeg later this season?

Wish finally granted

For months, Kyle Turris made it clear that he didn't want to play for the Phoenix Coyotes any more. His contract negotiation was long and contentious. During that time, Coyotes GM Dan Maloney was insistent he wasn't trading Turris, no matter what teams offered for the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick. He held firm and eventually got Turris under contract or two years and $2.8 million.

But the calls didn't stop and Turris certainly didn't seem to be secure in his position with the Coyotes. He had to be under contract or risk sitting out the entire season. So this weekend Maloney found a deal to his liking for Turris from Senators GM Bryan Murray. In exchange for Turris, the Coyotes received young and promising defenseman David Rundblad and a second-round draft pick.

I had long held the notion that any return in the trade that netted the Coyotes even a decent return would be a good deal. This would qualify as at least a decent return.

I have just never understood the drooling over Turris from a lot of teams. There was reportedly a lot of interest on Turris from numerous teams, both before he signed the contract and after. And just as he should have, Maloney was playing hard to get and making it obvious that it was going to take a lot for him to trade Turris.

Who knows, maybe Turris will find the environment suitable enough to become the player that everybody seems to think he can be. Maybe getting more of a chance to play and being in a less-regimented system will allow him to put up the best numbers of his career. If he does, I'll eat my crow.

But at this point in his career, he has been underwhelming, for sure. Heck, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett had made Turris a healthy scratch in his final two games as a member of the Coyotes. The interest in him still surrounds that potential tag, and I don't know how many seasons a player gets to play while still holding onto that tag.

Rundblad, meanwhile, has that potential tag, too. But he's a rookie in the NHL, so the sample size is much, much smaller. And with the way Erik Karlsson has developed this season for Ottawa, it made Rundblad a bit more expendable. However it is never an exciting prospect when you give up a young defenseman with loads of potential, those are pretty solid commodities.

My immediate reaction is that I don't like the deal for Ottawa. But like any trade, you can't truly judge it for another five years or so.

Give the Devil his due

The New Jersey Devils are starting to play some pretty good hockey. With their 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens and interim coach Randy Cunneyworth, New Jersey has run off four wins in a row and has two points in six of their last seven games. They have moved into sixth place in the East, joining Atlantic foes the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers in the top six.

The line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and rookie Adam Henrique has been spectacular. Henrique is the name that sticks out like a sore thumb in that trio with two perennial All-Stars, but he has been just as terrific. Any time this line is in the game right now, you get the sense that the Devils are on the verge of scoring.

But there is still some secondary scoring coming right now, including two goals from Patrik Elias in Saturday's win. Why is that noteworthy? Because the two goals allowed Elias to tie then surpass John MacLean as the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer.

Also on the minds of the Devils is the status of this year's top draft pick, defenseman Adam Larsson. He took an elbow to the head from the Canadiens' Erik Cole behind the net, a hit that Brendan Shanahan didn't deem worthy of a suspension.

Outside of that, things are going pretty well for the Devils these days.

Tip of the hat

Without Sidney Crosby on the ice, it's a lot easier for Evgeni Malkin to get the spotlight and attention that he deserves. That's easy when you have a game like he did on Saturday, with or without Crosby playing.

Malkin had a hat trick and two assists (of course I'm going against him in Fantasy this week) as the Penguins drilled Ryan Miller and the Sabres, 8-3. That brings Pittsburgh's goal total to 107 this season, behind only the Flyers and Bruins for the most in the league.

What makes it even all the more amazing is this gem of a stat from @PensInsideScoop.

"#Pens salary of their 20-man roster Sat was $38.9 million. That's 25 mill under cap (64.3) and 9 bellow cap bottom (38.9) missing $25 million in salary w injuries 2 Crosby, Staal, Letang, Martin, Michalek. That doesn't include 5 other hurt guys"

Speaking of injuries ...

This won't surprise too many fans out there, but San Jose Sharks forward Martin Havlat appeared to injure himself pretty badly in San Jose's 3-2 win on Saturday night.

When he was hopping onto the ice in a line change, Havlat seemed to get stuck for a second on the boards and immediately came right back off the ice in pain, seemingly in his leg.

It comes just when the Sharks appear to be finally piecing things together a little bit. For the first time this season, San Jose has won three games in a row at the shark Tank and is now in first place in the Pacific, tied at the moment in points with the Stars while having a game in hand.

For Havlat, though, maybe a break could give him a chance to revitalize himself. It's been a big struggle for him since being traded to San Jose this summer. He has just two goals and 13 assists through 26 games, well off his 22-goal, 40-assist season he had with the Wild last year.

Quote of the weekend

"The Leafs have always been a team I hated as a kid. For some reason it feels good to play here -- it's a great building, the fans are great, it's nice to play. I know a lot of fans in Vancouver don't like this team. ... It just makes it extra special." -- Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks.

Burrows, who hails from Quebec and grew up a Canadiens fan, finds it awfully easy to hate the Maple Leafs for that reason alone.

So for him, scoring the game-winning goal in Toronto is always special, particularly when it's on Hockey Night in Canada.

And with the 5-3 win, the Canucks keep climbing back to where people expected them to be this season. They are now 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have climbed to within five points of the Wild in the Northwest Division.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 16, 2011 1:13 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 1:31 pm
 

The best NHL All-Star Game write-in candidates

By Brian Stubits

The NHL All-Star voting has commenced on NHL.com and as usual, there are some fan campaigns trying to take the process over.

The first attempt to stuff the ballot boxes was launched well before the season even began. Considering this year's game is in Ottawa, some Maple Leafs fans (specifically a blogger from Pension Plan Puppets) had the idea to mock the Senators for their mismanagement over the years and to vote in all of the ex-Sens around the league. Names like Dany Heatley, Martin Havlat, Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa -- each with a good shot to make the All-Star Game to begin with -- are the targets. Even Sens fans are getting behind it.

But the second, most recent campaign that has been launched is from the New York Rangers fan base. They want to see their shot-blocking extraordinaire defenseman Dan Girardi get an honor they feel he so richly deserves. Thus, the #VoteForGirardi hash tag was born.

The New York Rangers Blog has been the driving force behind the movement, begging all the Rangers fans to use up their 30-ballot allotment and do their best to get Girardi an All-Star nod.

Girardi was so far off the radar when the ballot was put together, Girardi isn't even on the list to vote from. If he is going to make the ballot, it will be on a write-in basis.

It's not all that surprising, but Girardi has the support of his coach John Tortorella in his All-Star worthiness.

"This league," Tortorella said. "It's because he's not pedigree. There's no pedigree there. Our league is so ass-backwards when it comes to that.

"It's not just this year that he's underrated. This guy has been a really good player, but if you don't have the pedigree in this league, they don't look at you."

I might say he's not in the running because defense isn't something that translates to All-Star status very well except in the case of goaltenders, but I digress.

The Girardi ballot snub got me to thinking: What is the best starting six you can build out of names that didn't make the ballot cut? Here's my write-in submissions.

Forwards

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins: No-brainer, right? The kid has been on fire and is two behind Phil Kessel for the league lead in goals scored. His plus-15 is also tops in the NHL.

Kris Versteeg, Florida Panthers: Nobody is talking about Versteeg, but he has to be in the conversation for biggest surprise. His 20 points (9-11=20) tie him for the fourth most in the league.

Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings: Hard to believe the Mule isn't on the NHL-generated ballot list, so he makes the cut here. Sixteen points in 16 games (9-7=16) and a plus-6 gets the third nod.

Defensemen

Girardi, Rangers: Considering this is the genesis of the idea, Girardi gets a spot. His 42 blocks are tied for the sixth most in the NHL. And his offense is showing this season with three goals and five assists in 16 games.

Jason Garrison, Panthers: Many people don't even know the Florida blueliner, but he leads all defensemen in goals scored with seven. His booming blast from the back has been a revelation for the Panthers.

Goaltender

Jimmy Howard, Red Wings: There are a lot of great candidates here (Brian Elliott, Jhonas Enroth, Mike Smith) but I give the nod to Howard based on the fact that he's been the best of the true starters (Elliott and Enroth have split) with a .935 save percentage and 1.69 goals against average.

How'd he make the list?

R.J. Umberger, Columbus Blue Jackets: Unfortunately, somebody has to be the standout face that makes you say huh? The token choices of Marc Staal and Sidney Crosby jump out considering neither has played a game this season. But I'm going to go with Umberger considering he has one goal and four assists and is a minus-6 in 17 games.

So do your civic fan duty and vote. Just don't forget about that write-in section!

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 9, 2011 6:51 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 6:52 pm
 

Brent Burns wants to see the Wild lose

Burns1By: Adam Gretz

For San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, his former team, the Minnesota Wild, are like the ex-girlfriend that "you really don't want to see get the white-picket fence." In other words, you want her to fail because she dumped you for somebody else. At least that's the message he seemed to give to Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday as his new team gets set to have its first meeting of the season with his former team on Thursday night. 

If nothing else, it was going to be an interesting matchup for no other reason than the two clubs were involved in a series of trades over the summer. One involved the Sharks sending Dany Heatley to the Wild for Martin Havlat, while the other saw Burns get shipped to San Jose in exchange for Devin Setoguchi.

Burns, of course, was a first-round draft pick by the Wild back in 2003 and spent six productive seasons in Minnesota prior to the trade. Now that he's no longer a member of the team he told Emmons that he wants his former team to lose every game. It should be pointed out that Emmons said Burns "didn't speak with any bitterness," and even had a smile on his face while the interview was taking place. But still, the comments, via Working the Corners...
... “I want them to lose every game,” Burns said Wednesday. “You think I want them to do well?”

... “I’ve been watching how they’ve been doing, hoping that they would lose every game,” he continued. “You have to be competitive to reach this level and I’m a pretty intense guy. And when a team doesn’t want you, you sure don’t want them to go 82-0.”

...  “I have a lot of friends there and you want them to score six goals and lose.”

... “Now it’s like an ex-girlfriend. You really don’t want her to get the white-picket fence and the great job. It’s like a good country song.”
So he's probably not thrilled the Wild have won five games in a row, while only allowing three goals in the process, and currently own an 8-3-3 record, just one point out of the top spot in the Northwest Division.

Given that Emmons, again, said that Burns had a smile on his face it's hard to gauge just how much dislike, if that's the word you want to use, Burns has for his former team. But it's probably safe to say there isn't as much anger in this situation as there was back in 2008 when Barry Melrose said he hoped the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that fired him after just 16 games, didn't win a game the rest of the season. That was a truly bitter situation.

Still, it is something to keep an eye on for when the Sharks make their first visit to Minnesota (Thursday's game is in San Jose), which will not happen until Jan. 10.

After scoring a career-high 17 goals with the Wild last season, the 26-year-old Burns has three goals and two assists through the first 13 games for San Jose.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 21, 2011 12:39 am
Edited on: October 21, 2011 12:58 am
 

Heatley, McDonagh with buzzer-beater goals


By: Adam Gretz

The Edmonton Oilers were less than one second away from securing a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Well, technically speaking it was more like half of a second.

Just before the final horn sounded to end the game, Wild forward Dany Heatley picked up a loose puck along the side of the net and somehow managed to find enough of an opening to slip it in past Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to send the game to overtime. Neither team scored in the extra period while Minnesota was able to secure the 2-1 in the tie-breaking shootout thanks to a goal from Matt Cullen and a couple of misses by Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (he shot the puck over the net) and Eric Belanger (he had Niklas Backstrom beat, but fired the puck off the post).

The fact it was Heatley that scored the goal for Minnesota to ruin Edmonton's night had to make it even worse for Oilers fans. Heatley has been public enemy No. 1 in Oil Country for a couple of years now due to his refusal to waive his no-trade clause when he was traded by the Ottawa Senators. After refusing to go to Edmonton the Senators eventually traded him to San Jose where he spent the past two seasons before being traded to Minnesota over the summer in exchange for Martin Havlat.

Elsewhere in the Province of Alberta, the New York Rangers managed to secure a 3-2 overtime win against the Calgary Flames when defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored his second goal of the season when he happened to be in the right place at the right time to play a random bounce off the board and deposit it into an empty net, also with less than a second remaining on the clock.

Rough night for the teams in Alberta, and another reminder that it only takes less than a second to score a goal.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 5, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 12:43 pm
 

50 things to know, ask and watch for this season

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By: Adam Gretz


The biggest thing we're watching as the NHL gets ready to drop the puck on the 2011-12 season is when will Penguins captain Sidney Crosby be able return to the lineup?

The only answer to that question, of course, is simply "when he's ready," and not a moment sooner.

But when will that be? That's the question we've been asking since January, and even though it appears to be getting closer, and optimism about his return is higher than it's ever been since he was knocked out of the lineup on Jan. 6, he's not going to be on the ice when the Penguins open up in Vancouver on Thursday night, and he isn't likely to be cleared for contact until Pittsburgh returns from its season-opening trek through western Canada.

Perhaps just as important as when he returns, is whether or not he'll be the same player he was before he left. Prior to the injury Crosby's game had evolved over the previous two seasons to the point where he went from being a great set-up man to the Penguins' go-to goal-scorer, as well as their No. 1 option in the face-off circle. When he left the Penguins' lineup last season he was in the middle of the best year of his career and was on a pace to shatter just about all of his previous career highs.

Not only due to the length of his absence from the game and from contact, but also because of the nature of the injury, there has to be a question of how quickly he'll be able to be that player again.

So that's the big story we're watching this year, and here the other 49 of our 50 things to know, ask and watch for during the 2010-11 season…

2. CBA Talks: This likely won't be settled during the season, but it's still going to loom large and is the giant elephant sitting in the living room ready to make a huge stinking mess all over the couch and floor if you don't feed him on time. The NFL had its lockout come and go, missing only a couple of weeks of training camp and a meaningless preseason game, and the NBA lockout continues to roll on. And soon it will be the NHL's turn. The last time the league was in this situation we lost an entire season, so there's that to keep in mind. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball continues to have labor peace. What a strange world we live in.

3. Brendan Shanahan: The first question we have is whether or not Brendan Shanahan will get tired of making those videos? (We hope the answer is no; because they're great). The second question is whether or not the suspensions will continue at the same torrid pace we saw in the preseason, or if that was simply the "message sending" phase? And if so, will the players get the message?

4. Player safety debates: After a disturbingly dreadful summer that saw the untimely deaths of three young players, all of whom were fighters, the fighting debate reached an entirely new level, even though we don't know how -- or if -- the two were connected. Should all hits to the head be banned? Is no-touch icing long overdue? Crosby's concussion is the one everybody is talking about, but there's also Matthew Lombardi in Toronto and his recovery. Marc Staal, the top defenseman for the New York Rangers, is still having problems following the concussion he suffered late last season, and there's concern as to whether or not Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins will ever play in an NHL game again.

5. Winter Classic: The highlight of the NHL's regular season schedule takes place in Philadelphia between two bitter rivals, the Flyers and Rangers, on Jan. 2. It's the first time a New York team has appeared in the game, and the Flyers host it for the first time after losing to Boston in overtime back in 2010. Last year's game in Pittsburgh featured unseasonable warmth and rain, forcing a delay and some miserable ice conditions. Here's hoping Eastern Pennsylvania gives us better weather.

6. Winnipeg Jets return: The playoffs would be great for no other reason than to see a return of the Winnipeg Whiteout, but even though that seems like a long shot at this point their first taste of the NHL since 1996 should make every game at the MTS Centre have the feel of a Stanley Cup Final game.



7. Bruins repeat attempt: Over the past 20 years we've only seen two teams repeat as Stanley Cup Champions -- the 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1996 and 1997 Detroit Red Wings. The Bruins seem to have what it takes to return to the top of the NHL mountain.

8. Realignment decision: The NHL hasnt gone through a divisional realignment in over a decade but it appears to be coming. Detroit wants to go to the East and claims that it's been promised that it will happen, and Winnipeg should be headed to the west.  What other changes -- if any -- will we see?

9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The No. 1 overall pick in the June draft is starting the season with the Edmonton Oilers after a strong preseason effort. Is it simply a nine-game look before he gets sent back to his Junior team, or does he make it through the entire season with the big club? Recent history is on his side for making a full-season stay with the Oilers.

10. The NBA lockout: No, this isn't specifically an NHL issue, but if the NBA lockout rolls into the regular season will the NHL gain more exposure because of it, and, perhaps more importantly, will the league be able to take advantage of that opportunity?

11. Life in Philly without Richards and Carter and with Bryzgalov: After a revolving door of mediocre goaltending and an endless list of questions about the position over the years, the Philadelphia Flyers went all in on Ilya Bryzgalov. And now there are some questions about how they'll be able to score after trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

12. Capitals' offensive/defensive balance: Last season the Washington Capitals went from a run-and-gun offensive juggernaut to a defensive-minded team that went from 15th in goals allowed per game the previous season all the way up to fourth. Can they find the happy medium this season and finally get over the playoff hump?

SW313. Nashville negotiations: It took the arbitration process to get Shea Weber signed to a one-year deal, and he's up for restricted free agency again this offseason. Even worse for the Predators is the upcoming unrestricted free agency of Ryan Suter. And don't forget starting goaltender, and last year's runner-up in the Vezina voting, Pekka Rinne. Two big-time defensemen, a top goalie and three massive contract questions for one of the NHL's most efficient franchises.

14. Doughty's new dough: Drew Doughty is now the third highest paid defensemen in the NHL on a yearly basis, and that means he's going to be expected to play like one of the top defensemen in the NHL. He's shown he's capable of it in the past, but his production regressed a bit last season. When you're making over $7 million a year that can no longer happen.

15. Sales of Dallas, Phoenix and St. Louis: We're still waiting for some sort of resolution to the three ownership sales that have dragged on for quite a while.

16. Year two of Boucher in Tampa Bay: In his debut season Guy Boucher took the Tampa Bay Lightning to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals, and that surely has expectations high for his second year on the job.

17. New-look Sharks: Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi are gone. Martin Havlat and Brent Burns are in. Either San Jose and Minnesota are swapping rosters one trade at a time, or the Sharks feel these are the moves that can finally get them to kick through the door that has been the Western Conference Finals.

18. Perry's encore: OK, let's be honest, nobody had Corey Perry scoring 50 goals and leading the NHL last season, right? He's always been an excellent player -- and a frustrating one to play against, and an easy player to, let's say ... dislike, when he's not on your team-- but prior to last year he only topped the 30-goal mark once in his career. Logic says he returns closer to the 30-goal player he's always been. But logic also said he wouldn't score 50 goals last year.

19. Thomas, the Vezina and the Hart Trophy: Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has won the Vezina Trophy two of the past three years, and would have to be the early season favorite to win it again. He's also set his sights on another major NHL award: The Hart Trophy. That one is going to be tough simply because goalies don't typically win that award. It's only happened seven times in the history of the league, and only three times since the league expanded beyond six teams -- Jose Theodore in 2002, and back-to-back wins for Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998.  

20. First-year coaches: Is there a Guy Boucher rookie success story among the NHL's new head coaches, including first-year guys like Minnesota's Mike Yeo, Florida's Kevin Dineen, Winnipeg's Claude Noel and Ottawa's Paul MacLean?

21. Pegula-ville: Buffalo has always been a great hockey town, but these people are absolutely stoked about their new owner, and he went on a summer spending spree that topped just about every other team in the league. But will it pay off?

22. NHL starts in Europe: The Ducks, Sabres, Rangers and Kings are all opening their season in Europe. Will one of these teams lift Lord Stanley's Cup at the end of the season? Fun fact: In each of the past three seasons a team that started its season overseas ended up winning the Stanley Cup -- Pittsburgh in 2008, Chicago in 2009 and Boston in 2010.

23. Brodeur's last hurrah? Martin Brodeur has accomplished just about everything a goaltender can accomplish as a hockey player, but will this be his final year in the NHL? Back in April he hinted that it could be.

BR124. Rangers have a new star: Hello, Brad Richards. You're the latest free agent savior of the New York Rangers! Actually, after so many free agency failures over the years this might be one signing that really does pay off for blue shirts in a big way.

25. Islanders arena situation: What will come of the Islanders quest for a new -- and needed -- home? Is Brooklyn the answer?

26. Sophomore slumps: Do you believe in the Sophomore jinx? Personally, I don't, but I am curious to see what Carolina's Jeff Skinner and San Jose's Logan Couture have to offer in year two.

27. New Panthers ... new results? No team was busier this summer than the Florida Panthers, completely overhauling their roster, in part because they had to spend an obscene amount of money just to reach the NHL's salary cap floor. It's definitely a new team, but is it a better team? I guess that depends on how much faith you have in Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and Scott Upshall.

28. How bad are the Senators? On paper, it looks like it's going to be a long season for Ottawa as it celebrates its 20th year in the NHL, but how bad are we talking here? Simply on the outside of the playoff picture, or are we looking at a team that's competing for the worst mark in the NHL?

29. Breakthrough year for Kings: After acquiring Mike Richards the Kings went from being a playoff team in the Western Conference to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender with the type of depth down the middle (Richards, Anze Kopitar and Jarett Stoll) a team needs to win it all.

30. Hiller's recovery from vertigo: Jonas Hiller says the vertigo symptoms that robbed him of a good portion of his season -- and the playoffs -- a year ago are gone, and the Ducks need that to be the case if they're going to make a push in the Western Conference. Hiller is one of the best goalies in the league and if he's 100 percent healthy can be a difference maker for Anaheim.

31. Heatley back on a top line: Coming off one of the worst goal-scoring seasons of his career Dany Heatley gets a fresh start in Minnesota, and he's going to be relied on to be a top goal-scoring option for the Wild. Was last year the start of a decline in Heatley's career, or does he return to the 40-goal form we're used to seeing?

32. Will Detroit's defense be good enough? The Red Wings defense has declined a bit in recent years, and this year they're looking to replace Brian Rafalski following his retirement. Nicklas Lidstrom still scores like a champ, but he's not getting any younger back there.

33. Is Matt Cooke a changed man? Penguins agitator Matt Cooke claims he's a changed man following a season that saw him earn two suspensions, including a 17-game ban following a hit on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. It's one thing to say it, but we have to see it.

34. Varlamov gets another shot: The Avalanche need the Semyon Varlamov gamble to work out, not just because they desperately need an upgrade in net, owning the worst save percentage in the league last season, but also because their first-round pick in 2012 -- perhaps a very, very high selection -- now belongs to the Washington Capitals as a result of the trade that brought him to Colorado.  

35. Benn will star for the Stars: The Dallas Stars have done a nice job developing forwards in recent years, and Jamie Benn looks like he's ready to become a 30-goal scorer.

36. Bryzgalov will be missed in Phoenix: The Coyotes will struggle to return to the playoffs for a third consecutive year as they try to replace Ilya Bryzgalov with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera. Smith is familiar with coach Dave Tippett, but Bryzgalov was a big part of their success the past two years and he won't be easy to replace.

37. The Blue Jackets will be more entertaining: Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski fill huge needs and Ryan Johansen can be a contender for the Calder Trophy. The playoffs are a real possibility in Columbus, and even if the Jackets fail to qualify, they will at least be a more interesting team to watch this year.

38. Patrick Kane at center: Simply put, how long will this experiment last?

39. Vokoun/Neuvirth/Holtby trio of goaltenders in Washington: An experienced veteran signed for way below his market value and two extremely talented youngsters. Michal Neuvirth still thinks the job is his, and when combined with his talent that level of determination has to be an exciting prospect for the Capitals. Vokoun, though, is no slouch and has been one of the best goaltenders in the league the past few years playing on one of the league's worst teams.

40. Malkin's return to the top of the scoring race: For most players, simply averaging a point-per-game is a success. For a player with Malkin's ability it's considered a disappointment. This season he looks poised to return to the top of the NHL's scoring race and contend for the Art Ross Trophy. Speaking of which...

Sedins

41. Will somebody other than the Sedin's win the scoring title? The past two years two different players from the same family have won the NHL's scoring title. Is it a three-peat for the Sedin twins?

42. Jaromir Jagr: Does he have anything left? The summer of Jagr was certainly interesting, especially if you were following the #jagrwatch on Twitter, but how much does the 39-year-old forward have left in the tank? Philadelphia might need a lot.

43. How big of an issue is Markov's knee? Andrei Markov is still Montreal's best defenseman and he's still fighting through some problems with the knee injuries that have plagued him over the past two years. After losing Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik the Canadiens need him to be healthy.

44. Will Detroit need an upgrade on Jimmy Howard? The Red Wings say they're happy with their goaltending situation, but twice in the past seven months they've tried to add a veteran goaltender, signing Evgeni Nabokov last season only to lose him on waivers before he could report to the team, and making a run at Tomas Vokoun this summer. That's not a coincidence.

45. Center of attention in Toronto: The Maple Leafs have been searching for a true No. 1 center for quite some time, and after missing out on Brad Richards over the summer went with Tim Connolly on a two-year deal. The good news is he's not a bad player, but the bad news is he's constantly injured. Matthew Lombardi is in the mix if he can overcome his concussion problem, but after that it's a relatively thin group. Heck, even with them it's a thin group.

46. Edmonton's defense: The Oilers have loads of potential at the forward positions but their defense is a mess after Ryan Whitney. Who will step up on their blue line?

47. How many games for DiPietro? Like the Oilers the Islanders hope rests with their collection of forwards while serious questions about their defense and goaltending will haunt them all year. For the Islanders the yearly question (as it will be through 2020) is how many games will the oft-injured Rick DiPietro be in the lineup?

48. Bouwmeester: big money, little offense in Calgary: When the Flames gave Jay Bouwmeester over $6 million per year three years ago they were probably expecting way more offense than this. He's averaged just around 27 points per season since signing with Calgary after averaging over 40 during his finals three seasons with Florida, primarily because his goal-scoring ability has suddenly disappeared. Sixty-eight defenseman recorded more points than his 24 last season.

49. Parise's return: Not only his return to the lineup for the full-season, but also his return to being one of the top left wings in the NHL, will go a long way toward helping the Devils in their effort return to the playoffs after a disappointing season a year ago. In a contract year, Parise needs a big season on a personal level to strike it rich next summer.

50. How many 50-goal scorers will we see? During the 2010-11 season we saw one 50-goal scorer (Perry), down from the three we had the previous season. The preseason favorites have to be Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, and Crosby might be able to get into that mix if he returns to action early enough.

Photos: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 5, 2011 10:00 am
Edited on: October 5, 2011 10:01 am
 

Daily Skate: Leafs' Franson not pleased with role

By Brian Stubits

FRANSON FRUSTRATION: The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Cody Franson in a trade with the Predators presumably because they thought he could play on their blue line. So did he. Well as they break camp in Toronto, Franson is still on the roster, but is the seventh defenseman. "Right now I'm not too thrilled with it," Franson said. This will be worth watching. (Globe and Mail)

DEBUT DELAY? Martin Havlat is ready to begin his tenure as a member of the San Jose Sharks, but it might have to wait just a little longer. The former Wild forward acquired this summer in a trade flew to Cleveland to meet with a shoulder surgeon hoping to gain clearance for Saturday's first game. Havlat had his shoulder operated on in the offseason after getting hurt in the World Championships. (Working the Corners)

LESSON LEARNED: In September, Milan Lucic made his way into some negative publicity when he was involved in a slight confrontation with his girlfriendand pulled the "Do you know who I am?" card. The young Bruins scorer says the whole incident taught him a major lesson. As far as the "DYKWIA?" card? He says it wasn't to get special treatment, but to ask the police to think of why he, with so much to lose, would do anything to jeopardize it. (CSN New England)

CHARITABLE RIVALS: When the Capitals and Penguins get together in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13, they will be wearing commemorative patches on their jerseys for the KHL's Lokomotiv team. After the game, they will autograph then auction off the jerseys and donate all the proceeds to the families of the players killed in the plane crash. (CBSSports.com)

STILL NO. 1: TSN put out their list of the Top 50 players in the NHL for this season, so who is No. 1? It's still Sidney Crosby, even if there's no guarantee as to when he'll return from post-concussion symptoms. No surprise that he comes in just ahead of Alexander Ovechkin. (TSN)

LUCKY LINEMATE: The winner of the Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards linemate sweepstakes with the Rangers is ... Brandon Dubinsky. He'll start the Rangers' game on Friday manning the left wing spot on the top line and coach John Tortorella will "see where it goes" from there. (@thenyrangers)

NOT A SAAD STORY: The Blackhawks are loaded with talent. It's why many see them as a Stanley Cup contender this season. So that gives you an idea how much second-round pick Brandon Saad impressed as he not only has earned a spot on the roster, but is slated to start on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. Not too bad for a player whose draft stock slipped. (CSN Chicago)

COUTURIER A CATCH: Saad isn't the only player who slipped in the draft that is looking like more than a player on an extended tryout. Sean Couturier was once seen as maybe the best prospect in the draft but fell to No. 8 where the Flyers were waiting with open arms. GM Paul Holmgren is willing to give up a season of control of his contract if Couturier continues to make an impact. (Philadelphia Sports Daily)

HUBYMANIA ENDS: Not all the top draft picks are going to get that extended look. The Panthers elected to send No. 3 overall draft choice Jonathan Huberdeau back to his junior team on Tuesday despite the forward leading the Cats in scoring this preseason. Interesting that a team so desparate to win and attract fans is willing to let their top prospect develop. (NHL.com)

BOUDREAU MIC'D AGAIN: This time it's clear of profanity ... because it's bleeped out. Bruce Boudrea, the Capitals coach who drew plenty of attention for his actions (and words) in HBO's 24/7 last season, was mic'd up for the Capitals' first preseason game held in Baltimore and let's just say he didn't like getting shut out.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com