Posted on: January 30, 2012 12:30 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 1:06 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Less than a month away from the NHL trade deadline and rumors are quickly starting to fly.
One of the busiest teams this year is expected be the Carolina Hurricanes, as they're currently near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and have a number of players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. One of those players is forward Tuomo Ruutu, and he could be on the move as early as this week according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun and TSN's Darren Dreger.
Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford has always been aggressive when it comes to making moves, and has already made a couple this season. A couple of weeks he sent upcoming free agent Alexei Ponikarovsky to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Joe Sova and a fourth-round draft pick, which came just weeks after he shipped disappointing defenseman Tomas Kaberle and the remainder of his contract to the Montreal Canadiens for Jaroslav Spacek. And there could soon be more where that came from.
Ruutu should be able to bring the Hurricanes a better return. In 51 games this season he has 15 goals and 11 assists, and over the past four years has scored at a rate that would average out to nearly 20 goals per 82 games. Any team that trades for him will be on the hook for the remainder of his salary cap hit, which for this week would come out to about $1.3 million for the rest of the season.
There is no shortage of contenders that could be interested, but keep an eye on Pittsburgh, Nashville or Boston, all teams that would Ruutu seem to be an excellent fit for given his aggressive forechecking and the fact at least two of those teams, Pittsburgh and Nashville, could use some an upgrade when it comes to secondary scoring on the wings.
Still, at this point it just seems to be a matter of when and where rather than if. Once that shoe falls the focus will then surely shift to Carolina's other upcoming free agents.
Also at Eye On Hockey
Gleason signs four-year deal with the Hurricanes
More Carolina Hurricanes news
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:43 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 2:25 pm
On Monday night, the NHL season went over the hump and the second half officially began.
The league has been a Wild ride through only half a season as the Maple Leafs fell from the trees and onto your lawn. Stars have been dropping all over the place, too. Some teams have been singing the Blues as they’ve gone down in Flames while others have been surprising high Flyers as if they were in Jets. You'd almost think they made deals with the Devils or something.
OK, enough with the ambiguous team-name puns, time to get our Ducks in a row here.
In the first half of the season alone the NHL has seen seven head coaches fired, plenty of surprises, has memorized the introduction to a Brandon Shanahan video and had a memorable Winter Classic (we can thank NBC for that, right Torts?).
Now comes the fun part where everybody and their brother has their own candidate for each award, but here are the Eye on Hockey midseason awards as handed out by myself, Brian Stubits and my colleague Adam Gretz.
See that commentary space at the bottom? That's for your write-in candidates. Don't be shy (as if you needed the encouragement).
Hart (Given to the Most Valuable Player)
Stubits: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux has had absolutely no problem filling the scoring void left by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in Philadelphia. His 48 points are 11 better than the next highest on his team (Scott Hartnell) despite missing four games with a concussion and he has the Flyers in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
I know the history. I know that goaltenders don't generally win this award, and that you can probably count on one hand the number of times it's happened, at least over the past 30-40 years. But we're talking about MVP's of the first half of the season, and I'm not sure where the Rangers would be without him at this point. He faces a heavy workload and he's their best player every night.
Vezina (Given to the most outstanding goalie)
I had a tough time here with him and Henrik Lundqvist. Considering Quick has carried more of his team's load and has twice as many shutouts clinches it for me. As for Tim Thomas? Hard when Tuukka Rask's numbers are even better. Brian Elliott has been splitting too much. Jimmy Howard another close call. Hard to make a bad pick for Vezina this year.
Gretz: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
The last four goalies to win the MVP (Jose Theodore, Dominik Hasek -- twice -- Jacques Plante) also won the Vezina Trophy that same season, so if I have Lundqvist as my mid-season MVP, it only seems fair to give him the Vezina as well. Boston's Tuukka Rask has better numbers at this point, but he's also only appeared in 14 games.
Norris (Given to the top defenseman)
Offensively speaking, he's one of the best you'll find in hockey. Defensively speaking, he's one of the best you'll find in hockey. What else could you want in a defenseman? Zdeno Chara comes in a close second for me with Brian Campbell a surprising third.
Gretz: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
He's one of the leading scorers among defensemen in the NHL and one of the guys Nashville leans on to play heavy minutes (among the toughest in the league), which makes his ability to put up points even more impressive.
Calder (Given to the top rookie)
As of now, that's not a terribly tough call, I don't think. Nugent-Hopkins has been great for the Oilers this season, particularly on the power play. He's on pace for around 75 points if he were to play 82 games (which he won't). It will get more interesting as the season wears on and Nugent-Hopkins remains sidelined. Watch for Adam Henrique in New Jersey.
Gretz: Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
Offensively, his numbers are nearly identical to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton with seemingly far less fanfare. I give the edge to Henrique because he's played in tougher situations and is a regular on New Jersey's penalty kill, which happens to be the best in the NHL. He's tied for the league lead (among all players, not just rookies) in shorthanded points.
Jack Adams (Given to the best coach)
Stubits: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues
How can your choice be anybody else? The Blues were 6-7-0 before he was hired, 18-5-5 since. St. Louis has allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL behind the Rangers and Bruins. Paul MacLean is my second choice. Kevin Dineen and Mike Yeo slipped with sluggish Decembers.
Gretz: Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators
Nobody had any preseason expectations for the Ottawa Senators other than that they would be competing for the No. 1 overall pick. Did anybody have them competing for a playoff spot at the halfway point? Or at any point? He also wins the Lanny MacDonald award for best mustache in the NHL.
Selke (Given to the best defensive forward)
Stubits: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
There are some great choices, but you can't go wrong with Bergeron. The Bruins defense is outstanding and he's part of that. Guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews have arguments here too but the best defense should be rewarded in some fashion.
Gretz: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Bergeron has been climbing up the Selke voting in recent years, slowly but surely, and he's the best defensive player on one of the best defensive team in the league. Even though he plays some of the toughest minutes on the team, he's only been on the ice for 10 goals against at even strength. He kills penalties, wins faceoffs ... he does it all. One of the best two-way players in the league.
Stubits: Florida Panthers
The Panthers have been in first place of the Southeast Division for almost two months running. Let those words soak in. Sure, the division hasn't been very good as a whole, but this team was ripped pretty mercilessly for the offseason overhaul and here they are. Other good choices: Jets, Senators, Wild.
Gretz: Ottawa Senators
For the same reasons I have Paul MacLean as mid-season coach of the year. Nobody expected anything from the Senators this season other than for them to be terrible.
Stubits: Buffalo Sabres
They aren't the worst of the candidates -- Ducks, Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Lightning -- but they had some very high expectations and have been incredibly pedestrian. They just aren't scoring much, their 107 goals the second fewest in the East. Very big things were expected of them, a point-per-game pace doesn't fit the bill.
Gretz: Columbus Blue Jackets
Well, this seems easy. Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski were supposed to be difference makers at two spots they needed the most help at, and while I didn't think they would be any sort of contender, I at least thought they would have a shot at the playoffs. At the halfway point, they're the worst team in the league.
Best offseason acquisition
Stubits: Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
It was very close for me between him and another Brian, Campbell down in Florida. But Elliott, an afterthought on the goalie market this offseason, has been sensational in St. Louis, even before Hitchcock came aboard. He'd be my favorite for the Vezina if he weren't splitting so much with Jaroslav Halak.
There were questions as to how the Red Wings would replace Brian Rafalski on the blue line, and Ian White at an average annual salary of $2.75 million over two years has been a bargain for the production and quality of play he's provided.
Worst offseason acquisition
To be honest, I was looking for somebody other than Ville Leino, who is likely the runaway choice for this. But Kaberle was almost as bad, the only difference was that his contract isn't the long-term commitment that Leino's is. That didn't stop 'Canes GM Jim Rutherford from fixing his mistake before the All-Star break by trading Kaberle to Montreal. Under the radar pick: Re-signing Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay.
Gretz: Ville Leino, Buffao Sabres
This seemed like a dubious signing from the start. Buffalo gave Ville Leino six-years and $27 million based on one full season of production in the NHL. In 30 games this season he has 10 points.
Tags: Adam Henrique, Boston Bruins, Brian Elliott, Brian Stubits, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Claude Giroux, Columubus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Henrik Lundqvist, Ian White, Jonathan Quick, Ken Hitchcock, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, NHL Midseason Awards, Ottawa Senators, Patrice Bergeron, Paul MacLean, Philadelphia Flyers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Shea Weber, St. Louis Blues, Tomas Kaberle, Ville Leino
Posted on: December 15, 2011 10:17 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2011 10:18 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The highlight of Carolina's impressive come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night was the diving, desperation glove save by Cam Ward with six minutes to play in regulation (which you can see above), robbing defenseman Keith Ballard from right in front of the net, and in the process tossing his name into the "save of the year" discussion.
Honestly, everything about that play was amazing. Had Ward not been there to make the save, it still would have been a play for highlight reels on the Vancouver side thanks to Mason Raymond's incredible individual effort to deke his way through the offensive zone and set up Ballard. Ward stopped 33 shots on the night, and that was definitely his best.
The Hurricanes fell behind 2-0 in the first period, but rallied with four consecutive goals, including a pair from Drayson Bowman, and the eventual game-winner from Jaroslav Spacek, the defenseman that was recently acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Tomas Kaberle.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 9, 2011 1:11 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2011 1:52 pm
This could be interesting. For people who like boring hockey, this Saturday's game in Philadelphia could be just for you.
Now that we've really sold the game, let me clarify. This weekend the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers will meet for the second time this season. And for some reason, the first game was a bit memorable -- or forgettable, depending on your viewpoint.
Who can forget when the Flyers refused to play into the Lightning's 1-3-1 trap and the Lightning refused to forecheck? What resulted was the biggest stalemate heard 'round the hockey world. Since then there have been discussions about the validity of Tampa Bay's defensive system. Should it even be allowed?
Here's a refresher on what that looked like.
Of course that's all silly talk. It obviously isn't hurting teams from scoring against the Lightning. The Bolts enter the weekend have surrendered the third-most goals in the Eastern Conference.
I highly doubt we'll see a replay of that ugly display in Tampa Bay from earlier this season, especially if Peter Laviolette wises up and remembers he has arguably the most explosive offense in the game. It's not the time to over-coach when you have Claude Giroux on your team.
There were a lot of questions about the Flyers entering this season. Would Ilya Bryzgalov be the missing piece? Can Jaromir Jagr still perform at a high level? (The answers are still undetermined and unequivocally yes).
But the one that everybody wondered about the most was who, exactly, was going to replace the scoring load that was carried by Jeff Carter and Mike Richards? Some assumed it would be James van Riemsdyk, others thought Danny Briere. I think the most popular answer, though, would have been Claude Giroux.
Well those folks were right, but I'm not sure they knew how right they would be.
Not only is Giroux leading the Flyers in points (by 14, no less), he leads the entire NHL in that category, passing early leader Phil Kessel.
It's a bit insulting to call this a breakout season for Giroux, after all, he did have 76 points last season, but it is just that. His 16 goals through just 27 games already brings him within 10 his career-best 25 one season ago. He's on pace for close to 100 points.
Oh, and he's only 23 (he turns 24 in January).
So here's a bit of a plea to Laviolette: let your offense go. Teams aren't having trouble scoring against the Lightning (the goalies share a good chunk of that blame, too). That's a particularly good idea with Giroux around.
Then again ...
"We might sit there for four or five minutes at a time," Laviolette was quoted as saying.
Be prepared for another night of non-action.
Oh my Michalek
Phil Kessel has received a lot of the early season headlines for his goal scoring. Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos haven't been getting the same amount of pub, but people know about their scoring prowess too.
Alex Ovechkin has received a lot of talk too, but for his lack of goal scoring.
Maybe it's because he plays all the way up in Ottawa. Perhaps it's because the Senators had such low expectations this season. Whatever the reason, the player the Senators acquired in the Dany Heatley trade is blossoming into a major player and there's little attention being paid to him.
Michalek gets a bigger stage to make an impression on Saturday when the Sens will host the Vancouver Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada.
How Wild is this?
The Minnesota Wild are the best team in the NHL based on the standings. It's impossible to give them enough credit right now.
Especially when they head to Phoenix having won six games in a row and completing the California sweep for the first time in franchise history.
Before the season began, how many people really, truly believed that when these teams met on Dec. 9, they would both be in first place in their respective divisions? That's simply ... wild.
Is there any doubt who the front-runner is for the Jack Adams Award in the NHL right now? Sure, Kevin Dineen of the Panthers has to be in the conversation, but as of this moment it's clearly Mike Yeo on the Minnesota bench.
Not even injuries have been slowing his team down. Lose two goaltenders? No problem. Just call up Matt Hackett from the AHL to make his NHL debut and watch him go more than five periods before allowing a goal. Have a defense few people outside of Minnesota can't recognize? No worries. The Wild are still incredibly stingy when it comes to giving up goals.
Pretty soon, people won't be able to ignore the Wild, no matter how much they might try.
Return of the matinee (and Kaberle)
Now that the college football season is done -- seems as convenient a reason as any -- Saturday matinees are returning to the NHL schedule. Last week it was the Canadiens visiting the Kings. This week it's again the Canadiens, this time visiting the Devils.
The game will also be the debut of Tomas Kaberle with the Canadiens. After being traded to Montreal on Friday for Jaroslav Spacek, this will be Kaberle's first opportunity to change the minds of fans of his new team: that he doesn't stink.
That's going to be a hard task, considering the view of Kaberle league-wide is so low. You know it's bad when a GM who signed you a few months ago essentially admits to it being a mistake.
It's also big for Jacques Martin, the Habs coach. The talk surrounding his job security had died down after the Habs had appeared to right the ship, but it's starting to leak again. And with that, people are wondering about Martin's status once anew. Beating the Devils, a team they are battling with at the bottom of the playoff picture right now, would be a helpful start.
We're going streaking!
These are your streaks at play going into the weekend.
Flyers: The Flyers enter Saturday's game with the Bolts having won four straight.
Florida Panthers: People are still stunned by them, and they take a three-game run into Buffalo and then, if it survives, Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Winnipeg Jets: Yes, another Southeast Division team. The Jets are starting to make a push to stay relevant all season and have won three in a row. Their weekend consists of a game vs. the Hurricanes and at the Red Wings.
Wild: No team is playing better than Minnesota in the NHL. None. As mentioned, they head to Phoenix with a six-game win streak in hand.
Vancouver Canucks: Don't look now, but the defending Western Conference champs are starting to roll. Their streak is three games going into Ottawa.
Los Angeles Kings: They are the only team who come into the weekend with a losing streak in the works. They'll have a chance to snap that against the Stars on Saturday.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Alex Ovechkin, Brian Stubits, Claude Giroux, Florida Panthers, Guy Boucher, Jacques Martin, Kevin Dineen, Los Angeles Kings, Matt Hackett, Mike Yeo, Milan Michalek, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Peter Laviolette, Phil Kessel, Philadelphia Flyers, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tomas Kaberle, Vancouver Canucks, Weekend Preview, Winnipeg Jets
Posted on: December 9, 2011 11:58 am
Edited on: December 9, 2011 2:26 pm
Fast forward to December and the 'Canes have traded Kaberle to the Montreal Canadiens -- as first reported by Darren Dreger -- ending a very short-lived but painful era for the folks in Carolina and, presumably, Kaberle. In return, the Habs sent defenseman Jaroslav Spacek to Carolina.
“This deal brings a solid, veteran defenseman to our team for the remainder of this season and allows us more flexibility with our roster moving forward,” Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. What he didn't say there was how happy he was he could find a taker for Kaberle.
That's a big burden off Carolina's back, $12.75 million over the next three years that the Canadiens are now on the hook for. Of course, Montreal is no stranger to bad contracts (ahem, Scott Gomez).
When discussing the deal that was signed this summer, Rutherford was about as honest as a GM can get, telling Chip Patterson of the News & Oberserver, "I should have known better." Ouch!
Meanwhile in Spacek, the 'Canes get a player making slightly less money ($3.83 million), and maybe more importantly get a contract that expires after this season.
In the end, you have to like this move from Carolina's perspective, don't you? The marriage of the two couldn't have been annulled quicker for 'Canes fans. To say that Kaberle has been a disappointment would be an understatement. In 29 games played, Kaberle is goal-less and has nine assists while sporting a hideous minus-12. One of his big responsibilities, moving the puck on the power play, hasn't been going swimmingly, either. The Hurricanes are 26th in the NHL in power play percentage.
So sending him out of town is a nice move for Carolina, regardless of what they net in return. Quite honestly, the return isn't all that much but another bad contract. Spacek, 37, has been limited to just 12 games this season and has just three points to speak of. Still, the deal doesn't seem bad for Carolina at all.
"I think that trade is good for me," Spacek was quoted by Renaud P. Lavoie of RDS. "I hope it will be a good one for the Hurricanes."
From a Montreal perspective, however, I'm left scratching my head a bit. What do the Habs stand to benefit from taking on my payroll for a longer commitment for a player that is, even nothing else, past his prime?
"There are no dangers, only opportunities," Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier said about the skepticism of landing Kaberle. No dangers? Really?
It should have been warning enough that this now makes four teams in the last calendar year for Kaberle having begun last season with the Maple Leafs before being traded to the Bruins and joining them for the Cup run. He then signed this offseason with the Hurricanes, who couldn't wait to undo the move.
I'm sure he'll be welcome with open arms by the Montreal faithful hoping the team can turn things around (where's that damn sarcasm font button?).
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: December 2, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 8:42 pm
It's tough to find a position in sports that lends itself to streakiness more than goaltender in hockey. For some reason, most of them fail to maintain an even balance throughout the course of a season -- Tim Thomas' consistently spectacular play notwithstanding. There season charts resemble roller coasters tumultuous enough to turn even the heartiest rider's stomach.
L.A. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick isn't immune to the turbulence. In the opening month of the season, Quick was absolutely phenomenal. He turned in three consecutive shutouts in mid-to-late October. For his work, he was given a day off on Oct. 25 and that good mojo seemed to vanish.
In his next seven starts and nine of 11, he surrendered at least three goals. Instead of being a large part of why they were winning early in the season, he became a large part of why they were losing. It was a quick reversal of fortunes, if you'll pardon the pun.
But like any streaker -- we're still talking goalies here -- he has reversed course again. Entering Saturday's matinee against the Montreal Canadiens, Quick comes in on a tear. Thanks to a shutout of the Sharks and a nearly flawless 41-save showing against the Panthers, Quick has stopped 74 of the last 75 shots he has seen. Go back a little further and he has actually saved 84 of the last 85 shots.
Here's what Pierre McGuire told an Ottawa radio station about how good Quick was in Thursday's win. "If the kings don't have Quick Florida wins that game. Kevin Dineen's team dominated with speed game".
Yes, he's back on his game. It really is no coincidence, then, that the Kings enter their game against the Habs having earned points in seven of their last 10 games.
They really need him to be the good Quick this season. The Kings have high hopes for this season. Many, myself included, saw them as legitimate threats in the Western Conference race this season. Despite the addition of Mike Richards to some other talented offensive players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, the Kings aren't going to do a whole lot of scoring. As of now, they are 24th in the league in goals per game with 2.32.
So much more than other goalies, when Quick is playing poorly it shows.
Assuming he'll get the start on Saturday, he'll have a chance to extend his already league-high shutout mark of four. The Canadiens haven't been very good this season, that's obvious. But moreover, they have really struggled on the road. You have to go back four weeks to Nov. 4 to find the last time the Habs won a road game in regulation.
In Kings terminology, that was near the beginning of the bad Quick days.
As a bonus for L.A., if the Kings are victorious, coach Terry Murray will have his 500th career victory.
The Bryz is back in town
When the Flyers visit Phoenix on Saturday Ilya Bryzgalov's arrival will be highly anticipated by the local crowd for the second time this season. Earlier this year he made his first trip to Winnipeg, a city he wasn't too fond of possibly moving to once upon a time. He didn't play in that game.
Now Bryzgalov returns to Phoenix, the city where he did play and left this past offseason. It was with the Coyotes that Bryz built up his reputation as one of the better goaltenders in the league before taking a bigger pay day with the Flyers.
This will be the second time Bryzgalov has faced his former team this season. Before the first meeting in Philadelphia, some of his former teammates had some less-than-kind things to say about Bryz. Derek Morris even admitted to being glad that Bryzgalov was gone.
Everybody knows the Coyotes don't draw a lot of butts to the seats. But this game should have a few more tickets purchases not only because of the abundance of Flyers fans who will be there -- rest assured, they will be -- but likely from a few of the Coyotes fans who just want to boo. Or thank Bryzgalov for his time there. Take your pick.
Welcome back, Bruce
We hardly forget ye.
Anaheim Ducks' coach Bruce Boudreau (looks weird) will make his debut with his new team on Friday with the Philadelphia Flyers in Southern California. One thing we know we'll see, at least to start the game, will be the reunion of Bobby Ryan with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf on the top line.
In his final days as coach, Randy Carlyle had been trying to mix and match, trying to find the best results and cure the woes the lack of depth was causing his team. Boudreau, however, restored the top line to its old self and will try to make due.
Remember, when he arrived in Washington he didn't inherit a Caps team with a lot of depth. It was a very similar situation, actually, with some highly skilled forwards. They soared under his leadership. Will the same happen in Anaheim? We'll get the first glimpse on Friday when the Ducks host the Flyers.
Too bad HBO hasn't begun the 24/7 filming yet and depriving us a chance of more Boudreau, if only in a very small sampling.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
In this case, the ranch would be Washington, Boudreau's old stomping ground.
The Capitals enter the third game of the Dale Hunter era still searching for their first win. If the third time's the charm, it will have to come at the expense of the Ottawa Senators, who visit the Caps on Saturday.
They are badly in need of a win, for their confidence if nothing else. The Caps have lost four games in a row and seven of their last nine. They have fallen -- get this -- five points behind the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division, and that's even with the Panthers leveling off in recent weeks.
There has been a whole lot of difference so far for Washington, but they do appear to be focusing more on defense again and the effort has appeared to be better. But right now they just need a win.
Still searching Part II
Carolina Hurricanes new coach Kirk Muller is in the same boat as Hunter, 0-2 in his NHL career behind the benches. His task, on paper at least, looks a bit tougher than Hunter's.
That's because the 'Canes will host the high-flying Penguins on Saturday night. Not exactly the team you want to see when trying to bust out of a slump.
It has to start with getting the defense squared away. In the Hurricanes' current five-game losing streak, they have given up at least three goals in each game. Tomas Kaberle isn't working out, that's no secret. But that's only part of the defensive woes. The unit continues to leave Cam Ward high and dry in net behind them.
Nobody told Muller this was going to be easy.
More to prove
The St. Louis Blues have been ridiculously good since Ken Hitchcock came aboard. They are 8-1-2 under his leadership.
But Hitchcock is still delaying his excitement for the team's play until their next stretch of games. Starting with the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, they will begin playing teams for a second time. That's when you can start to draw some conclusions.
"We're going to get a push," Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You can surprise a team, but we're now playing a second wave. When we start playing the Chicago's and Detroit's again, now we'll have a look. They'll be ready for us. They won't be surprised by our game
What's shocking about it all is that by the end of the weekend, the Blues -- 14th in the West when Hitchcock was hired -- could be leading the Central Division. With their crisp and disciplined play, that's certainly a possibility.
We're going streaking!
New York Rangers: It took them a few games to get going at the beginning of the season, but when they got going, boy did they. John Tortorella heads back to Tampa Bay with the Rangers having won four in a row.
Blues: In addition to Saturday's game against Chicago, they play the Avalanche on Friday night. That's where they take their four-game win streak.
Detroit Red Wings: All this team does is streak. No seriously, look at their schedule. Like the Blues, they have two games over the weekend, Friday in Buffalo then Sunday at Colorado.
Canadiens: Already mentioned, the Habs go into Los Angeles on Saturday having lost four straight.
Capitals: See above: Caps have lost four in a row headed into Saturday date with Senators.
Hurricanes: Currently at five losses in a row, the Penguins visit next. Ouch.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Anze Kopitar, Bobby Ryan, Brian Stubits, Bruce Boudreau, Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Corey Perry, Dale Hunter, Derek Morris, Detroit Red Wings, Dustin Brown, Edmonton Oilers, HBO 24/7, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jason Chimera, Jonathan Quick, Ken Hitchcock, Kirk Muller, Los Angeles Kings, Mike Richards, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Randy Carlyle, Ryan Getzlaf, St. Louis Blues, Terry Murray, Tomas Kaberle, Washington Capitals, Weekend Preview
Posted on: November 30, 2011 8:08 pm
Edited on: November 30, 2011 8:28 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The slow start for the Carolina Hurricanes has resulted in a change behind the bench with Kirk Muller taking over for Paul Maurice earlier this week, and it could soon lead to some changes on the blue line if free agent acquisition Tomas Kaberle doesn't start to play better. That's the message general manager Jim Rutherford sent on Wednesday evening when he appeared on XM Home Ice and was asked about the slow start for his big offseason addition.
When asked if he's seen anything that makes him think Kaberle, who signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract over the summer, can return to the level of play he demonstrated throughout his career, mainly with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rutherford was brutally honest.
"He hasn't played up to what we would have hoped he would play," said Rutherford. "He came into camp and he didn't prepare himself properly. He came in like the Boston Bruins did, they won the Stanley Cup, he enjoyed his summer and quite frankly he hasn't caught up."
"He's still a real good player," Rutherford continued. "I don't know what's going to end up happening with him here now cause we have the young kid, [Justin] Falk, the 19-year-old that we're real happy about. We like young players like [Derek] Joslin, and he may very well get lost in the shuffle here and I don't know where it goes from there. I know there are some teams that are interested in him but they're not quite sure they want to take on all the money so that becomes a little more complicated. But he got off to a slow start, totally by his own doing, and now he has to figure out a way to get out of it or he won't be playing with the Hurricanes long."
The veteran defenseman has struggled so much this season that he was a healthy scratch during the team's 4-3 loss in Ottawa on Sunday.
In 25 games this season he's yet to score a goal and has been credited with just five assists. Throughout his career he's typically been a 40-50 point producer over 82 games, with a career-high of 67 during the 2005-06 season. Last season, which he split with Toronto and Boston, he scored four goals to go with 43 assists during the regular season and added 11 assists in 25 playoff games for the Stanley Cup winning Bruins.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 29, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 4:27 pm
For the first time since the 1993-94 season began, the reigning champion resides in the Northeast Division after the Bruins ended their Cup drought with a thrilling run through the postseason. The even better news for Boston (but not so awesome for the rest of the division) is that the Bruins are back almost completely intact.
No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings in 1997 and 98. Only two other teams have made it back to the Finals a year after winning in that time, the Stars in 1999 then 2000 and once again the Red Wings (2008, 09). There's a reason for it, the fabled championship hangover.
But in hockey, I think it plays a bigger part than any other sport. The offseason is as short as it gets, the playoffs as long and grueling as any of the major sports. The Bruins lifted the Cup in the middle of June and reported back to camp in early September. All the while they were enjoying a whirlwind of a summer that included plenty of partying and celebrating a title. The Blackhawks admittedly struggled with it last season (although the roster being ripped apart didn't help matters). If only getting rid of it were as easy as taking a couple Tylenol and drinking Vitamin Water.
If they do look sluggish and lethargic to start the season then the Buffalo Sabres will be ready to pounce on the opportunity. They are hockey hungry in Buffalo these days with hope their Sabres can become power players in the East. As for the other three in the division, the East's Canadian coalition? Well they will all be hoping to resurrect their glory days.
Now we'll just have to wait and see how the Bruins respondin their quest for another Cup.
Northeast Division (predicted order of finish)
Boston Bruins: Why mess with a good thing? That's an easy philosphy to live by when you are coming off of claiming the Stanley Cup. Really, the only new additions they have to work into the fold are Benoit Pouliot as a bottom-six forward and Joe Corvo on the blue line. With the solid support all around them of a close-knit group, they should be able to seamlessly slide in and fill the voids left by Tomas Kaberle, Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder, the only pieces to the championship puzzle missing.
One thing I'm not sure many people realize, but this team is very young in addition to being super talented. There are still five players just among the forwards who will be restricted free agents when their contracts run out. The defense is a bit more grizzled, however, and that's where a good chunk of the leadership comes from, of course including captain Zdeno Chara.
There might be a slight sense of urgency for the B's to repeat as champs as they will have a lot of work to do to keep the team together as 10 of their regulars don't have contracts beyond next season. But GM Peter Chiarelli seems to be preparing for that well, saving the B's cap space to maneuver.
Strengths: What's not to like? They are very balanced as 10 players had more than 40 points a season ago, although two of them have departed (Kaberle and Ryder). Defensively they have plenty of veteran presence and have been a very good unit under Claude Julien. Plus, you know, they have that fella named Chara.
Oh, and how can we make it this far without discussing the team's best player, Tim Thomas? He was simply superb last season and through the playoffs, posting the highest single-season save percentage in league history. It's not as if his backup is chopped liver, either, as Tuukka Rask will be expected to shoulder more of the load for the 38-year-old Thomas this year.
Weaknesses: Despite all of their success when five-on-five, Boston's special teams weren't up to snuff. Without much change in personnel, they are going to have to find a way from within to improve the 20th-ranked power play and 18th-best penalty kill units. The power play was a growing concern in the playoffs, which included an 0-for-21 streak in the opening round win over the Canadiens. They tried all sorts of remedies to fix it, including parking Chara in front of the net, but they found their groove late in the playoffs when Chara and his booming shot returned to the point. Their hope is that success will roll over.
After that, we're just getting picky here. There just aren't too many holes from a team that ranked in the top five both offensively and defensively last season and was the NHL's top plus/minus team. They will have the talk of a championship hangover looming over them for much of the season and they will have the proverbial target on their backs as the champs. Those are hurdles that will be new.
Buffalo Sabres: I'm not sure what fans in Buffalo are more excited about right now: the Bills' 3-0 start or the first full season under Terry Pegula? The Sabres' biggest (and richest) fan ushers in a new era that the fans are still trying to get used to, in a good way: Buffalo is a big spender now. Pegula will make sure of that as he is willing to put his money where his mouth is. And his mouth has expressed some awfully high expectations ... multiple championships.
On that note, the Sabres were active in the offseason, most notably signing Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino to augment the core group that Buffalo has built. But possibly the biggest acquisition they made was the less-heralded of them all, and that was bringing in Robyn Regehr. The stout defenseman should prove to be a great addition as he brings a lot of toughness and all-around defense. Not to mention he will serve as a good influence for assumed partner Tyler Myers, who is in line for a nice bounceback season with more talent with him on defense.
It almost feels like an acquisition, but the return of Derek Roy will be a big boost, too. The front-line center missed the second half of last season due to a quad injury.
Welcome to Pegulaville. Buffalo still can hardly believe it.
Strengths: There is obviously a strong leader, for one. That's a very nice asset to have an owner so willing to win. But beyond him, there's a reason why Buffalo has moved into the conversation to crack the home-ice equation in the East, the new faces likely will make a very good group even better. In particular, the addition of Ehrhoff to the league's ninth-ranked power-play unit will make the special-teams unit a real asset for the Sabres.
Like their division rivals in Boston, as talented as they are all over the ice, their best player probably sits in the blue paint all game long. Ryan Miller didn't have the greatest of seasons last year for Buffalo, but that tends to happen when you come off a Vezina-winning season ... there's only one direction to go. He's still one of the absolute best in the game.
Oh, and the slug logo is gone, wiped away for good. That's positive for everybody.
Weaknesses: The cap situation is a bit troubling. With Pegula's desire to spend, the Sabres actually exceeded the salary cap over the summer, so they will have to be extra diligent with how they manage the roster. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave them much room to try and make any improvements midseason if need be.
Overall, it's not a roster with many holes in it whatsoever. It will just come down to how talented the team proves to be as there are multiple players capable of 50-plus point seasons.
Montreal Canadiens: Last season, without Max Pacioretty or Andrei Markov, the Canadiens captured the six seed in the East and took the eventual champions to the brink. I'm sure this team, almost al of it remains in town, is still stewing over blowing a 2-game lead to its bitter rival in Boston.
I definitely like the signing of Erik Cole in July, he is a solid (and physical) forward who could prove to be one of the bigger acquisitions of the summer for any team. He adds to a good, but not great group of forwards. They are capable, but need to be better than 23rd-best in the league like a season ago.
Where the success of this team will likely hinge is on the blue line. They have a couple of excellent young talents in P.K. Subban and Markov and some solid players behind them like Josh Gorges and Hal Gill.
A few steps toward a return to form for Scott Gomez (just seven goals last season) wouldn't hurt eiher.
Strenghts: Special teams. Under Jacques Martin, the Habs have been good in both departments of special teams, ranking seventh in both phases a season ago. If Markov remains healthy, the power play remains lethal as Subban and him both are excellent with the man up.
It's pretty Wild the goaltending this division features. Like both teams above them here, the Habs have an oustanding man living in the crease. It took fans a while in Montreal, but they finally warmed up to Carey Price, who finally lived up to his expectations last season. Playing a 72-game work load, Price posted a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage. The trick will be doing it again, but the safe bet is that he turned a corner and an encore shouldn't be a problem.
Weaknesses: Let's be honest, having to rely on Gomez to anchor a top-six line after a 37-point season doesn't have overwhelming talent. It showed in their scoring totals from last season when they averaged 2.60 goals per game. Cole will help as he not only brings a power game (among the league leaders in hits for forwards) but he can score. They would love to see him at least match his 26 goals from a season ago, that would have been good for second on the team.
A major concern all season will rest on the blue line and the depth there. Adding Chris Campoli after camp began was a nice addition to help with the concern, but they still can't really afford for injuries to set in, particularly for Markov. They just invested in him with a rich contract this offseason, so they are counting on him returning at full strength from the ACL tear and remaining that way.
Toronto Maple Leafs: How much longer will the fans in Toronto put up with a team that can't make the playoffs? The postseason drought stretches back to the lockout as the Leafs have been on the outside each season since. The only other team in the same boat is Florida, and let's just say the fans in Toronto take their hockey a touch more seriously than those in the Sunshine State. There's hope that this could be the season where they break through and return to playoff hockey, but that's a tall order for this group still.
Over the summer, GM Brian Burke really coveted center Brad Richards, but his staff was unable to convince the top free agent to head to Toronto. So as a backup plan he signed Tim Connolly from Buffalo to anchor the team's top line. If healthy, a very big if, Connolly can prove to be a good addition, the Leafs had to get deeper at center. Also, I really liked the quiet addition of John-Michael Liles to the defense.
But not much else will matter if the goaltending situation isn't solved. That has been the achilles heel for years in Toronto, but they think -- or hope -- the answer lies in James Reimer in his first full season in the NHL.
Strengths: As you'd expect for a team built by Burke, they have become a physical bunch in Toronto. The team captain, Dion Phaneuf, is one of the toughest hitters in the league. But there is obviously a danger of that being a weakness if the team is getting sent to the sin bin (or being Shanabanned with the new emphasis on safety) too often.
The second line is probably good enough to be Toronto's No. 1 group. The combination of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin placed second, third and fourth in the team scoring, respectively. Each had at least 21 goals.
Weaknesses: The problem is, the skill on the team doesn't go much deeper. Only six players on the team last year reached double digits in scoring. The fact is the Leafs have two lines that can hold up with most in the league, but the third and fourth lines are where they feel the drop.
The center position remains a concern. Sure, Connolly was brought in to help that and same with Matthew Lombardi, but you can't be sure what you are getting from either guy from a health standpoint. As mentioned, Connolly has a history of injury issues. He has only played more than 70 games once (2009-10) since the 2002-03 season. With Lombardi, he's coming off a concussion that cost him all but two games last season. If either or both goes down, then Toronto is right back to being razor thin down the middle.
Ottawa Senators: This is odd territory for the folks in Ottawa. Never in the franchise's history have they had to actually rebuild. Since originally building the team in the early 90s, the team had a long, successful run that included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006-07. A couple of the members from the old guard are still around -- Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, but the majority of the team is in place to win in the future, not necessarily now.
Expect to see a lot of the kids getting burn this season. It appears as though the team's top draft pick this summer, Sweedish center Mika Zibanejad, is going to make the team out of camp. Another coveted prospect, Jared Cowen, is also making a bid for the roster and join David Rundblad among the defensive corps. Nikita Filatov, who hadn't lived up to his perceived potential in Columbus, will also be given a shot to show what he can do. If he fits in and focuses on his game, his addition could prove to be a steal for Ottawa.
While new coach Paul MacLean and GM Bryan Murray are saying all the rights things about this team being competitive this season, it will serve as a good opportunity to get a glimpse of the future.
Strenghts: They didn't score much at all or play defense particularly well, but they were alright on special teams, particularly on the penalty kill, which ranked ninth in the league. Sergei Gonchar can help keep that ball rolling. That will qualify as a positive here.
We'll also throw goaltender Craig Anderson into the category. He wasn't spectacular last season split between Colorado and Ottawa, but he's shown before what he is capable of when he starred for the Avalanche two seasons ago. And his stint with the Sens was encouraging as he was 11-5-1 with his new team.
It speaks well for what is in the system that the team's AHL affiliate in Binghamton won the Calder Cup.
Weaknesses: This says a lot: No player that participated in more than 30 games for the Senators had a plus-rating last season. Chris Phillips was the lowest of them all at minus-35.
This team struggled mightily to score last season and that is unlikely to get easier this time around. Right now there just isn't a heck of a lot of talent to talk about. Spezza was the only player to top the 20-goal mark last year and he barely did so with 21.
The youth is a weakness for now as it will be error prone and show it is green, but the hope is that it turns into a strength down the line.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Andrei Markov, Benoit Pouliot, Boston Bruins, Brad Richards, Brian Burke, Brian Stubits, Bryan Murray, Buffalo Sabres, Carey Price, Chris Campoli, Chris Phillips, Christian Ehrhoff, Clarke MacArthur, Claude Julien, Craig Anderson, Daniel Alfredsson, David Rundblad, Derek Roy, Dion Phaneuf, Erik Cole, Hal Gill, Jacques Martin, James Reimer, Jard Cowen, Jason Spezza, Joe Corvo, John-Michael Liles, Josh Gorges, Mark Recchi, Matthew Lombardi, Max Pacioretty, Michael Ryder, Mika Zibanejad, Mikhail Grabovski, Montreal Canadiens, Nikita Filatov, Nikolai Kulemin, Northeast Division, Northeast Division Preview, Ottawa Senators, P.K. Subban, Paul MacLean, Peter Chiarelli, Robyn Regehr, Ryan Miller, Scott Gomez, Terry Pegula, Tim Connolly, Tim Thomas, Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Myers, Ville Leino, Zdeno Chara