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Tag:Mikko Koivu
Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:17 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 10:29 am
 

Morning Skate: Stars keep playoff push going

The Stars go searching for a fifth straight win. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Dallas (NBC Sports Network)

The teams in the Atlantic Division (excluding the Islanders) are in an interesting spot here. Barring a miracle, they aren't going to catch the Rangers but none of them is fighting for their playoff lives either. Maybe New Jersey has to worry if they lose a few more -- maybe -- but they're six points up on ninth-place Winnipeg. So they're left playing big games seeing that it's playoff push time and all, but nothing all that impactful.

But you find ways to make them meaningful. For example, only one non-division winner is going host a first-round playoff series as the four seed. That's no doubt worth playing for. And that's what the Penguins are going after right now.

Their opponents on Wednesday night, however, have a lot greater sense of desperation. That's because the Stars enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the West (holding the tie-breaker with a game in hand). Dallas would be thinking about hopping into the division race if the Coyotes weren't hotter than the Phoenix summers. They have won four straight games and have gained no ground on the Coyotes.

Now none of the above means the Penguins are going to come coasting into the game while the Stars come guns a blazin'. They wouldn't be in the position their in if they did that ever. In today's NHL you can't do that against any team. It's just something to remember if you notice a difference in "compete level."

It also marks, by the way, the first time that James Neal has come back to Dallas to face his old team (and Matt Niskanen, of course). Seeing the season that Neal is having with his brand new contract extension has to be a little painful for the Dallas faithful thinking of what could have been.

Oh and don't forget about Evgeni Malkin. He has five goals and two assists in his last three games. I hear he's good.

8 ET, Toronto at Chicago

This game should be sponsored by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Free Falling could be the theme song.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tail spin that Chuck Yeager would have a hard time pulling out of. They've lost five in a row, most in ugly fashion. They've lost nine of their last 10 games. The fans are chanting for the coach to be fired. They are on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff race, going into tonight's game four points behind eighth-place Washington. The Leafs are as close right now to 14th in the East as they are eighth.

Well OK, I guess it's a pretty typical end of February in Canada's biggest city.

But let's not forget about America's Second City here and Chicago. They are going through their own swoon. They have only four wins in their last 16 games and bring a three-game losing streak into the battle with the Leafs.

If they were to get no points tonight, the Blackhawks would legitimately have to start worrying about being on the playoff bubble. Right now they are only three points up on teams 8-10 and will have played more games than all of them. When teams come into Chicago this out of sorts, the Blackhawks need to be able to deliver the next blow.

I'm not sure who is more desperate for the two points tonight.

Others worth watching

9:30 ET, St. Louis at Edmonton: The Blues are in fight for the Central Division crown with the Red Wings and have finally found their form on the road. They've won three straight away from home but the Oilers seem like a perfect team to play spoiler the rest of the way.

10 ET, Buffalo at Anaheim: To be frank, but of these teams is all but done in the playoff race. It would be remarkable if either made it in. But I'm still going to dub this a "loser leave town" match. Don't win this game and you can definitely forget about it.

Your promised miscellany

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

Posted on: January 16, 2012 9:13 am
Edited on: January 16, 2012 9:24 am
 

Report: Mikko Koivu could miss month

KoivuBy: Adam Gretz

The Minnesota Wild have been falling fast in the Western Conference standings, and now they could be facing a critical stretch in their season without the services of their best player, Mikko Koivu. According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Koivu could miss the next month of action due to a shoulder injury that he suffered on Saturday night during Minnesota's 3-2 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Even with Koivu, the team's leading scorer with 33 points (9 goals, 24 assists in 41 games), the Wild are one of the NHL's lowest scoring clubs, entering the week with an average of just 2.22 goals per game, the second-lowest mark in the league. Only the Los Angeles Kings average fewer. Obviously, this could be a big blow to a season that could already be starting to slip away from them.

Along with being Wild's leading scorer, he's also their best defensive forward and a legitimate Selke Trophy contender, so it's not just the offense that's going to be missed in his absence.

Since starting the season 20-7-3 and owning the best record in the league in early December, the Wild have lost 13 of their past 15 games, with only one of the wins coming in regulation (a 4-3 win over Edmonton back on December 29). As of Monday morning they occupy what would be the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, holding a one-point lead over the Colorado Avalanche and a two-point lead over the Dallas Stars. After facing Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Wild have four games (two each) against the Avs and Stars over the next two weeks. That's an important stretch of games.

Koivu isn't the only injury facing the Wild right now as the team is also without forwards Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who is out with concussion-like symptoms.

Previously at Eye On Hockey

The Wild have a puck possession problem
Pierre-Marc Bouchard out with concussion
Bouchard injured on hit
More Minnesota Wild news

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 7, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 4:51 pm
 

Top defensive forwards so far this season

sobotka

By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at three of the top defensive forwards in the NHL this season.

One of the toughest individual awards to win in the NHL over the past four years has been the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which is given annually to the best defensive forward in the league. In each of the past three years two of the three finalists have been Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, while Datsyuk has won it in three of the past four years going back to the 2007-08 season. Kesler won it last season, snapping Datsyuk's run of three consecutive victories.

Whether it's intentional or not, the award almost always seems to go to a player that scores a lot of points. As I pointed out before the season started, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo even acknowledged that fact when discussing Mikko Koivu's chances for the award, saying, "In order to do that [win the award], you have to get a lot of points."

It's kind of like how a lot of Gold Glove winners in baseball are also excellent hitters and run producers, even if there are superior defensive players at the same position. If that seems backwards to you, that's probably because it is.

That's not to take away from the past winners. Players that score a lot are obviously going to get noticed more and have their names in the spotlight more often because of their offensive ability, and that is obviously going to make their other qualities stand out and help influence voting. Still, there are a lot of excellent defensive players in the NHL that, while limited offensively, quietly shut down their opponents and keep them off the scoreboard.

Defense in hockey is still pretty subjective, and a lot of it can depend on your linemates/defensive partners. That said, you can get a pretty good idea which players are strong defensively when taking into account who they're playing against, the situations they play in, and how often they get scored on. For example: If you have two players that are on the ice for a similar number of goals against, but one of them plays against significantly tougher opponents and starts more shifts closer to his own goal, it's a good bet that player is the better defensive player, because even though the goal totals may be similar, he's playing in tougher situations.

We're over a quarter of the way through the season at this point, and here's a look at some of the top defensive performers that have stood out to me so far, taking into account a few of the aforementioned variables: 1) the level of competition they face every night during 5-on-5 play (Corsi Rel QOC), 2) the number of offensive zone starts they get (the lower the number, the tougher the assignments) and 3) the number of goals that are allowed per 60 minutes played when they are on the ice.

(Statistical data via BehindTheNet.ca)


vladimirsobotka1) Vladimir Sobotka, St. Louis Blues

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.243

Offensive Zone Starts: 40.6%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.13

The Blues have been one the best defensive teams in the NHL this season, especially since Ken Hitchcock has taken over behind the bench, allowing the second fewest goals per game and the fewest shots per game in the NHL.

Leading the way has been the 24-year-old Sobotka, a player they acquired from the Boston Bruins in June, 2010, in exchange for David Warsofsky. Sobotka isn't going to light up the scoreboard, and in 224 career games has tallied just 61 points, including only 10 (two goals, eight assists) this season. But nobody scores against him, despite playing the toughest minutes on his own team and some of the toughest minutes in the NHL.

He's also the Blues' best center in the faceoff circle, winning over 54 percent of his draws. His defensive game has improved dramatically so far this season, and he's currently one of the top defensive players on one of the top defensive teams in the league, which is mighty impressive. Even so, he's unlikely to get much attention in the voting because he doesn't score enough to get noticed.

PatriceBergeron2) Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.351
Offensive Zone Starts: 43.8%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.22

My preseason pick to win the Selke, and every year over the past two years he's taken small steps in the voting, finishing fifth two years ago and fourth in 2010-11. If his play through the first two months continues, he should finish even higher this season.

Sometimes it feels like Bergeron has been around forever, but he's still only 26 years old and doesn't turn 27 until July. His career was nearly ruined by concussions, and he's not only rebounded from those early setbacks to once again become a regular in the Boston lineup, he's one of their core players and one of the best defensive centers in the league.

Bergeron dominates the faceoff circle, and as I pointed out on Tuesday, plays in the tough situations against the other team's best players to open the scoring opportunities for Boston's other top forwards, such as Tyler Seguin, to be put into situations where they can focus on offense. There isn't a forward on Boston's roster this season that has a tougher combination of defensive zone starts and consistent ice-time against the other team's best players. And he's still been one of the toughest forwards in the league to score against.

MikkoKoivu3) Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.261
Offensive Zone Starts: 42.1%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.53

If the Minnesota Wild are going to continue to win games and stay at the top of the Western Conference they're going to have to do it with defense. I'm still not entirely sold on them long-term, mainly due to their lack of offense, but what I am sold on is that Mikko Koivu is one of the better two-way centers in the NHL, and nothing about that has changed this season.

The Wild still use him in the toughest spots against the best players, and along with out-of-this-world goaltending, he's been one of the driving forces behind their surprising start.

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

Posted on: November 1, 2011 11:37 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 11:48 pm
 

Did Koivu interfere with Kronwall on game-winner?

By: Adam Gretz

The Detroit Red Wings lost their fifth straight game on Tuesday night, dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to the Minnesota Wild thanks to a Devin Setoguchi power play goal 1:33 into the extra period, just 24 seconds after Johan Franzen was sent off for goaltender interference. Setoguchi was standing just outside the crease to bang in a rebound for his fourth goal of the season to end the game, but it's what happened just prior that has Red Wings fans  a little upset.

To the moving pictures!

After Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu, who scored his first goal of the season earlier in the game, attempted a one-timer from the top of the circle that was blocked, he and Detroit's Niklas Kronwall were involved in a race for the puck that ended when Koivu delivered a hit that left the newly signed Red Wings defenseman a bit stunned. But was it interference?



You can check out the entire Interference rule (Rule 56) in the NHL rule book right here. Do Red Wings fans have a legitimate gripe? Or is this is a good non-call and a good hockey play by Koivu? I'll say this: I've seen it called for less.

In other news, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports, via Twitter, that Kronwall was injured on the play and will be reevaluated on Wednesday. Rough night for the Red Wings.

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

Posted on: October 29, 2011 12:51 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 1:00 pm
 

Frans Nielsen: A bargain on the Island -- for now

Fn1By: Adam Gretz

This past week the folks at BusinessWeek put together a list of what they called the "smartest" spenders in sports. Simply put: the teams that spent the fewest amount of dollars per win.

In theory, it's an interesting premise, but it seemed to produce some very flawed results. For example, while the Nashville Predators topped their list, a team that definitely gets the most bang for its limited buck, some of the other teams in the top-10 included the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Thrashers, and New York Islanders. Were these teams smart about which players they signed, or were they simply not spending money on any players of any value? After all, when you think of front office efficiency the Pirates or Thrashers (now the Jets) probably aren't the first teams that come to mind.

The Islanders, on the other hand, are a little more intriguing. At least potentially.

A team in transition, stuck in a rebuild that's been going on for about five years now, The Islanders are probably not quite ready to return to the postseason this year. But they are building something interesting on Long Island, and do have quite a few bargains on their roster for this year and in the future. The quartet of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, for example, are all signed through at least the 2013-14 season for a combined cap commitment of just around $14 million. I've said this before, but for all of the criticisms the Islanders front office has taken for handing out bad contracts in the past, those look to be examples of very smart spending going forward.

One of the often times most overlooked members of this Islanders team, and perhaps one of their biggest bargains this season at a cap hit of $525,000, the lowest on the team, is Frans Nielsen, their checking center that finished in the top-six in voting for the Selke Trophy last season as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. It's not uncommon for him to be one of their best players on any given night.

Usually playing on a line between the speedy Grabner and Okposo, Islanders coach Jack Capuano seems to use the trio in somewhat of a defensive role and more often than not sends them out there against the other teams top lines whenever he has a chance, especially during home games when his team has the last line change before faceoffs.

So far this season Nielsen's line has drawn regular assignments against players like Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan from the Rangers, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos from the Lightning, and Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg from the Panthers. Through the first eight games of the season the Islanders have allowed 14 goals during 5-on-5 play, and Nielsen has been on the ice for just three of them (two of them were scored by Stamkos in separate games, the other was a goal scored by Brandon Prust during a 5-2 Islanders win). If you're a believer in plus/minus, he's finished as a plus-player in each of the past two year on a team that's been outscored by 35 and 42 goals during the season while playing against the other teams best players.

Following a 3-2 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Capuano told me he was probably their best player on the ice that night. It was a game that saw him score a goal, create two chances on two different penalty kills, block three shots, record a takeaway and win a couple of defensive zone faceoffs. And that's pretty much just another day at the office for him.

"He's played a strong game throughout the year for us," said Capuano. "Obviously the numbers haven't been there but he's been pretty strong for us."

He also referred to Nielsen as "dominant" and commented on how he's always positionally sound when he doesn't have the puck.

With one of the smallest salary cap hits in the NHL this season, Nielsen is a tremendous bargain for the Islanders, but that could soon change as he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency following this season. And there should be no shortage of teams lining up to give him the rather large pay raise he's earned over the past three years if something doesn't get worked out with the Islanders. There's a ton of value in a matchup center that can chip in around 40 points (while playing a defensive role and being put into mostly defensive situations) and play Selke-caliber defense.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: September 23, 2011 2:14 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 2:43 pm
 

Mike Yeo knows what it takes to win the Selke

Selke

By: Adam Gretz

Mike Yeo is entering his first year as the head coach of the Minnesota Wild and he's already starting the PR push for his best player, Mikko Koivu, to take home one of the NHL's top individual awards -- the Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's best defensive forward.

Koivu, Minnesota's captain, is entering his seventh season in the league and has become one of the NHL's best two-way centers -- and probably an underrated one, too -- and will be playing the first year of a seven-year contract extension that pays him $6.7 million per season. He plays in all situations for the Wild and has finished as the clubs leading scorer in each of the past three seasons.

In an article that appears in Wednesday's Star Tribue, via PHT, Michael Russo spoke to Yeo about his expectations for Koivu this season as the Wild attempt end a frustrating three-year playoff drought. Yeo admitted he has high expectations for the 28-year-old forward, and said he's going to make a push for him to win his first Selke Trophy. He didn't crack the top-20 in voting this past season, but did finish 11th back in 2009-10.

Said Yeo, via Russo:
"One thing I already started talking to Mikko about is I'm going to push for that guy to win the Selke Trophy [NHL's best defensive forward]. I don't know if he's going to win the Hart [MVP] next year, but I believe he can win the Selke. In order to do that, you have to get a lot of points, but you also have to be great defensively."
Emphasis mine. Yeo, of course, is not wrong with that comment.

Even though the Selke is awarded to the NHL's best defensive forward, there is no way to avoid the fact it generally goes to a player that also scores. A lot. Winners of the award have averaged over 60 points per season the year they've won it, and since 1990 there's only been one winner -- John Madden in 2000-01 -- that finished with fewer than 40 points. The finalists for the award over the past four years alone have finished with the following point totals, lowest to highest: 43, 49, 59, 59, 70, 73, 75, 76, 80, 92, 97, 97.

That's not to say that any of the recent finalists -- and winners -- haven't been deserving, as the list usually includes Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler (as it has in each of the past three years), two exceptional defensive players. But scoring does help get you noticed, which can only hurt players like Blair Betts, Samuel Pahlsson or Martin Hanzal, players that are excellent defensively, but don't score a ton of points. Koivu can certainly score, having reached the 60-point mark in each of the past three seasons. The problem will be finding a way to crack the top-three, when two of the spots have gone to the aforementioned Datsyuk and Kesler in each of the past three seasons (Datsyuk has been there the past four seasons, and deservedly so).

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: September 22, 2011 10:00 am
 

Daily Skate: A new Islanders plan; Yashin to KHL

By Brian Stubits

ANOTHER ISLAND IDEA: Hope is not lost for the Islanders to not only stay on Long Island, but to remain in Nassau County. Since being turned down by a public vote, the team has been solicitin proposals for the land and they unveiled one on Wednesday that calls for a minor-league baseball park, outdoor ice rink, shopping and renovations to the Nassau Coliseum that would include raising the seat capacity. (Newsday)

BACK TO THE U.S.S.R.: Or at least Russia. After a summer of flirtation and rumors about rejoining the New York Islanders, Alexei Yashin will be returning to the KHL this season. Once he passes a physical, Yashin will be the newsest member of HC CSKA Moscow. (The Score)

DEEPER LOOK INTO ENFORCERS: This summer has illuminated the life of enforcers more than ever before with former fighters coming forward to tell their stories. Here's another player sharing his experiences as Brent Severyn. One of the most interesting parts for me is how no matter if he won or lost a fight, he was upset, either by his own embarrassment or knowing the embarrassment the other fighter is going to endure. (SI.com)

CHANGED MAN: Jordin Tootoo was once an up-and-coming prospect for the Predators who surprised everybody when he checked himself into the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program in December. Now he's back in Nashville camp and looking like a brand new player. (The Predatorial)

MIKKO READY TO WIN: This summer Mikko Koivu got a taste of winning, seeing his native Finland win the world juniors resulting in a massive party in Helsinki. Now the Wild captain is looking forward to bringing that same kind of success to Minnesota, where they haven't been to the playoffs since 2008. (Star-Tribune)

SIGNING SEAN: The Philadelphia Flyers got what some considered a gift when Sean Couturier fell to them in the NHL Draft, a top-5 talent slipping to No. 8. On Wednesday they gave him a gift of their own, signing him to a three-year entry-level contract. (NHL.com)

YEARNING FOR THE OLD DAYS: One of the best parts about franchises taking a turn for the worst is the hilarity that can come from grieving fans. Returning to their successful days at the beginning of last decade, a couple of Senators fans channel their inner Backstreet Boys below. (Senators extra via Puck Daddy)

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