Posted on: October 5, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 12:43 pm
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?
13. 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.
24. 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...
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
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Adam Gretz, Andrei Markov, Boston Bruins, Brendan Shanahan, Brent Burns, Corey Perry, Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Drew Doughty, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Sedin, Ilya Bryzgalov, James Wisniewski, Jamie Benn, Jaromir Jagr, Jay Bouwmeester, Jeff Carter, Jeff Skinner, Jimmy Howard, Jonas Hiller, Marc Savard, Martin Brodeur, Martin Havlat, Michal Neuvirth, Mike Richards, NHL Discipline, Nicklas Lidstrom, Patrick Kane, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Suter, Semyon Varlamov, Shanaban, Shea Weber, Sidney Crosby, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, Zach Parise
Posted on: September 26, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:54 am
By: Adam Gretz
The San Jose Sharks have comfortably controlled the Pacific Division the past four seasons, winning it each year by an average margin of about 11 points.
Regular season success hasn't been much of an issue for the Sharks, reaching the 100-point mark six of the past seven seasons. The issue has always been whether or not they can avoid what seemed to be an annual early exit from the playoffs. They've done some work to help break their negative postseason reputation the past two years, reaching the conference finals each year before ultimately losing to Chicago and Vancouver respectively.
Will this be the year they finally break through and win the Conference? Will they be able to continue their dominance within the division, or did their four divisional rivals do enough to catch up this summer?
The Pacific was the only division in the NHL last season to produce four playoff teams, as Anaheim, Phoenix and Los Angeles joined the Sharks in the postseason. The Ducks boast the NHL's reigning MVP in Corey Perry, while the Los Angeles Kings made what was perhaps the biggest addition in the Western Conference by acquiring Mike Richards in an offseason blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Pacific Division (In order of predicted finish)
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks avoided disaster in the second round of the playoffs last season by escaping with a Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings after watching a 3-0 series lead slip away, advancing to the Conference Finals for the second year in a row where they lost to the Canucks in five games. General manager Doug Wilson made a few significant changes to his roster this summer by sacrificing a bit of offense (Devin Setoguchi) to get a defensive upgrade in Brent Burns, while also sending Dany Heatley, a player that is coming his worst goal-scoring season since his rookie year, to Minnesota for Martin Havlat.
Strengths: Even after trading Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi the Sharks still have two outstanding lines with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Boyle, Burns, Marc Eduard Vlasic and Douglas Murray is a strong top-four on the blue line that combines offensive ability (Boyle and Burns) and strong defensive play (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray, who also happens to be one of the biggest hitters in the league). They have an outstanding power play that should still be a force even with the loss of Heatley and his 11 power play goals from a year ago. Burns (eight power play goals a year ago) gives them another weapon on the point to go along with Boyle.
Weaknesses: The third and fourth lines aren't great, and the injury questions surrounding goaltenders Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki should be a concern early in the season, but should go away once Niemi returns to the lineup, and may be as early as the season opener. Penalty kill was a major problem last season -- can the addition of Michal Handzus make a difference?
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings haven't advanced beyond the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in over a decade, and have only won one playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals all the way back in 1993. This roster, on paper, looks to be their best chance for postseason success -- assuming they finally work out something with unsigned defenseman Drew Doughty. For years we've been waiting for the Kings to make a big move given their tradable assets and cap space, and they finally pulled off the blockbuster trade this summer by acquiring Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Strengths: If you believe championship teams are built down the middle, then the Los Angeles Kings should have a great foundation. Already having Anze Kopitar on the roster, the Kings added Richards, one of the best two-way centers in the NHL, back in June in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a draft pick. Combine those two with Jarret Stoll, and the Kings top-three centers should be able to match up with just about any team in the Western Conference. Thanks to steady stay-at-home defensemen like Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell the Kings had one of the top penalty killing units in the league last season.
On the wings Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Simon Gagne help create what should be an improved offense over the one that finished 25th in goals scored last season.
Weaknesses: As of this moment the biggest weakness for the Kings might be the fact that their best defenseman, Drew Doughty, remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, and with each passing day we're one day closer to him missing games that actually count in the standings. The power play needs to improve, finishing just 21st in the NHL last season.
Anaheim Ducks: Without looking it up, do you know which player led all NHL defensemen in scoring last season? Nicklas Lidstrom? Shea Weber? Maybe Dan Boyle? Try again. It was Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky, giving the Ducks the NHL's top-scoring defenseman as well as the leading goal-scorer (Corey Perry, the only player to hit the 50-goal mark).
Strengths: Corey Perry. Ryan Getzlaf. Bobby Ryan. Teemu Selanne. Those four players combined for nearly 60 percent of Anaheim's goals in 2010-11, and that was with one of them, Getzlaf, missing 15 games. Perry, who finished as the NHL's leading goal-scorer and won his first MVP award, probably isn't going to score 50 goals again, and Selanne is a year older (but still productive) but this is still an excellent quartet of forwards.
Weaknesses: Which forwards after the four mentioned above can provide offense?
Jonas Hiller is an excellent goaltender when he's in the lineup, but how much will his battle with vertigo impact him this season? If he has to miss any extended time the options behind him (Dan Ellis is currently the backup) aren't really all that promising.
The defense can certainly provide some offense with Lubomir Visnovsky, who is coming off a career year with 68 points, and Cam Fowler having a very promising rookie season -- from an offensive perspective -- with 10 goals and 30 assists, but questions remain as to how good they can be in their own zone.
Dallas Stars: There are disappointing ways to finish a season, and then there's what the Dallas Stars did to close out the 2010-11 season, losing nine of their final 14 games to miss the playoffs -- the only team in the division to do so -- by just one point. All they had to do on the final day of the regular season was beat the Minnesota Wild, a team that had completely gone in the tank and won just seven of its final 22 games. The Stars lost, 5-3, allowing the Chicago Blackhawks to clinch the No. 8 spot.
Strengths: Some very good forwards with players like Louii Eriksson and Jamie Benn leading the way, and Mike Ribiero still gives them a No. 1 center in the absence of Brad Richards who signed a huge deal with the New York Rangers in free agency. Based on his play after coming over in a mid-season trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Goligoski looks like he could be on the verge of a breakout season.
Weaknesses: Losing Brad Richards to free agency is a big blow, even with Mike Ribiero -- who trailed Richards by just six points last season -- still on the roster. No disrespect to Steve Ott, who is a fine all-around player, but a 1-2 punch of Richards and Ribiero down the middle is more dangerous than Ribiero-Ott from an offensive perspective.
Mediocre special teams a year ago with the Power Play finishing middle of the pack and the penalty kill in the bottom seven.
Phoenix Coyotes: Yes, the Coyotes are still here, and yes, they're looking to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season after having been eliminated by Detroit in each of the past two seasons. They locked up one of their most important players to a long-term contract extension by signing Keith Yandle to a five-year deal this summer, but also said goodbye to another key player in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Strengths: Dave Tippett has done a masterful job the past two seasons with the Coyotes taking a team in a financial mess with little star power to speak of and helping to get them to the playoffs each year with a disciplined, defensive style that the players have bought in to. Keith Yandle is one of the best up-and-coming defenseman in the NHL,
Weaknesses:Replacing Bryzgalov with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera seems like a significant drop in talent. The one thing Phoenix does have going for it here is that it has a tight defensive system and some excellent two-way players, while Smith has past experience playing in Tippett's system. Still, will that be enough to overcome the loss of Bryzgalov? The Coyotes don't have a true big-time goal-scorer on the roster, but did manage to have 11 different players score at least 10 goals last season. Three of those players (Lee Stempniak, Eric Belanger and Scottie Upshall) are gone, and another, Kyle Turris, is holding out with some absurd contract demands.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: August 10, 2011 3:47 pm
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the rebirth of the Ottawa Senators franchise (19th season thanks to the lockout). Is there another team that has ever had such a rich history to honor in a "20-year" celebration? Methinks not.
That's because the Sens aren't celebrating just the last 20 years. No, they are also basking in the glow of the original Senators, the team that played from 1883 to 1954 and racked up 11 Stanley Cups stretching through the Silver Seven era to the official adoption of the Senators nickname. Clearly they are taking some liberties here, but that's OK.
After all, it's a rich history indeed. And it hasn't been too bad since the team was reborn in 1992-93 either. Take into consideration that right now the Sens are in the clichéd rebuilding mode. This is the first time they have truly had to "rebuild." The only other time the franchise went through this tough a stretch was when it was just starting out. An awful, awful stretch. But that was just the building phase. Now they rebuild.
It isn't something they are used to in Ottawa, suffering through growing pains. That's what makes this celebration season so perfect for timing. It's going to help (only very slightly) ease the pain of a struggling team. How can videos like this not help?
The buzz word is heritage. The team will wear retro jerseys (not historic, just retro ... this sweater was never worn) for select games this season (seen at the top) and everything will likely culminate in the All-Star Game, hosted by Ottawa.
While that's all well and good, all of the celebration, it's not what the big fans will truly be looking for. They want to see the future of hockey in the city, not the past. The future that seems pretty bright.
Last season's Calder Cup champions, the Binghamton Senators, are a large source of the inspiration. You can expect to see a few of those players being slated into the big Senators lineup this season like Zack Smith and Erik Condra. Then you have prospects like Mark Stone, who was turning heads at Canada's junior national team tryouts, and Mika Zibanejad, who I personally love as a prospect and who is a candidate to jump right to the NHL.
Count Sens veteran Jason Spezza among the excited.
"It doesn't matter if a lot of people don't know who these guys are. They have lots of time to make names for themselves," Spezza told OttawaSenators.com. "We can be a good team and compete with some of the best teams. And then for them to go and win [the Calder Cup] ... the chemistry that they'll get there, hopefully it'll carry over to our room and we can make it a really cohesive team. I think that'll be the biggest thing, just the camaraderie and the chemistry. They've won together and [they've shown] they know how to win together."
So the future is exciting. There is something to wait for in Ottawa. But for now, the team will still be led by the veterans like Spezza and career Senator Daniel Alfredsson, who is past his prime at this point but still effective when healthy. Those two helped give the modern-day Senators their best season in 2006-07 when they anchored the top line with Dany Heatley and took Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals.
But it's somewhat astonishing the Senators had the playoff run they did with all the troubles the franchise had. They made the playoffs 11 seasons in a row and 12 of 13, but all the while they went through trade demands (Heatley), miserable contracts (Alex Daigle) and terrible slips (letting Zdeno Chara go). Not to mention a bankruptcy filing. That all came after the franchise's first season with a 10-70-4 record.
While they embark on a season honoring the heritage of Ottawa hockey, the birthplace of the Cup as they say, the Senators usher in a new era. Welcome rookie head coach Paul MacLean, who comes over from Detroit to replace the fired Cory Clouston (Alexei Kovalev's BFF).
"If I can come in and have a good, strong camp, it'll set the tone for a lot of guys and show that we can compete for a playoff spot," Spezza said. "And once you get into the playoffs, you never know what can happen. So I'm looking forward to the challenge of having a young team and having to be good every night."
Which the Senators likely won't be. That makes the timing of this celebration seem so perfect. It gives the Senators some positive pub (but not all fans like it) while they grow.
Posted on: August 1, 2011 11:34 am
Edited on: August 1, 2011 12:20 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild made two huge trades over the summer. Most recently, the clubs swapped big-money forwards Dany Heatley and Martin Havlat. Before that blockbuster was completed, the Sharks acquired offensive-defenseman Brent Burns in a deal that sent Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota at the NHL draft, giving San Jose another scoring threat from the blue line to go along with veteran Dan Boyle.
On Monday, the Sharks announced that they signed Burns, who is still only 26 years old, to a five-year contract extension. According to David Pollack of the San Jose Mercury News, the deal is worth a total of $28.5 million, which comes out to a cap hit of $5.75 million per season.
Said general manager Doug Wilson in a statement released by the team, "We are thrilled that Brent has stepped forward and made long-term commitment to the San Jose Sharks, his new teammates and our fans. When we acquired Brent, it was our intention to make sure that he remained an important piece of our organization moving forward and we are very pleased that we have been able to do that. As an elite-level defenseman who is just entering his prime, we are looking forward to meshing Brent’s skills with our existing core group.”
Burns is coming off the best season of his career offensively having scored 17 goals to go with 29 assists in 82 games. A former first-round pick by the Wild back in 2003, Burns spent the first seven years of his career in Minnesota and has flashed the elite-level ability Wilson talked about many times throughout his career. The biggest concern the Sharks and their fans should have with Burns is the fact he's had a history of injuries in recent years, including a concussion during the 2009 season.
He's played fewer than 60 games twice in the past four years.
When he's on the ice, however, he's a true goal-scoring threat having scored at least 15 goals during the 2010-11 and 2007-08 seasons. He maintained a similar pace during his injury-shortened 2008-09 season.
The only defensemen to score more goals last season were Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien (20) and Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky (18).
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: July 12, 2011 8:10 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2011 9:34 pm
By: Adam Gretz
During the 2005 season goal-scoring reached a level that we hadn't seen during the clutch-and-grab era prior to the work stoppage, with the league averaging 6.10 goals per game. The leading goal-scorer that season: Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks with a career-high 56, making him one of the just 91 different players in NHL history to reach the 50-goal plateau.
He will forever be a part of that club, but he has never come close to repeating those numbers and is unlikely to ever do so again.
According to Blues writer Andy Strickland, St. Louis is taking a shot on the 30-year-old winger having signed him to a one-year, two-way contract on Tuesday evening, perhaps hoping to catch some sort of Lightning in a bottle. Strickland reports Cheechoo's contract will pay him $600,000 if he plays in the NHL, and $225,000 if he plays in the minors.
During his breakout 2005 performance, Cheechoo spent a great deal of time on a line with Joe Thornton -- one of the best playmaking centers of this era -- who the Sharks acquired early in the season. Cheechoo scored 49 of his 56 goals in the 57 games following that trade, and then went on to score a very respectable 37 the following season. Since then, however, it's been a steady and consistent decline across the board in nearly every statistical category. Just consider the raw numbers: after scoring 56 goals in 82 games during the 2005 season he's managed to score just 77 goals in the following 272 games.
During his most recent stint in the NHL he scored just five goals in 61 games with the Ottawa Senators after he was acquired in the trade that sent Dany Heatley to San Jose.
He spent last season playing with the Worcest Sharks of the AHL and scored 18 goals in 55 games.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: July 5, 2011 11:30 am
Edited on: July 5, 2011 11:49 am
BURKE BURN: If you happened to catch the free-agency coverage on TSN (Versus was carrying the stream) you probably noticed Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons more or less lambasting Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke for not being present on the opening day of free agency, which included the team's meeting with Brad Richards. Instead, he was spending Canada Day with troops in Afghanistan. Burke, who had plenty of communications with everybody back in Canada via cell phone and Skype, is offended by the criticism, saying he would do it again. The National Post has the whole story.
RICHARDS OR POORER? Since Brad Richards elected to sign with the Rangers, it's been a lot of euphoria in Blueshirt land as they finally got a top-line center they hope can give them close to the production that messiah Messier once did. But it's not all rainbows and sunshine. Blueshirt Banter reins in the party on Broadway a bit by looking at the downsides to Richards, going deep into the world of statistics to do so.
COLE AS GOOD AS GOLD: As you might have gathered by now, this was not a deep free-agent class by any means, so it was tough for teams to fill their needs. But Montreal Canadiens blog Lions in Winter thinks the team did a fantastic job of taking care of its principle need: a top-six power forward. Outside of the pipedream of signing Richards, the conclusion is that Erik Cole was about the best fit they could find.
HEAT-ING UP? Dany Heatley had 26 goals and 38 assists for the San Jose Sharks last season. For most players in the league, those are great numbers. For a guy that has shown he can score 50 goals in a season? A little lackluster. So he gets a fresh start in Minnesota, a team that will be looking for every ounce of scoring it can find. Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune takes a look at the new partnership between the two and how they all hope it brings a return to form for Heatley.
TORRES' TREK: Raffi Torres is the son of a Mexican father and Peruvian mother who hails from Canada and has red hair. All make for one interesting player ... and determined. Torres, who just signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, gained that proverbial chip on his shoulder growing up facing the prejudices of playing hockey as a Latino. The Arizona Republic explains.
By Brian Stubits
Posted on: July 3, 2011 11:16 pm
Edited on: July 3, 2011 11:45 pm
Martin Havlat waived his no-trade clause with the Minnesota Wild and has been traded to the San Jose Sharks for Dany Heatley. Each team was relatively quiet in the first few days of free agency, but this trade makes about as much noise as any signing either team could have made.
“Marty is a player that we have had an interest in for a long time," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “He can play either wing and brings creativity and breakaway speed to our group of top-six forwards."
It is the second monster trade between the two teams in as many weeks. You might remember at the draft the Sharks acquired Brent Burns and a second-round pick from Minnesota in exchange for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and the Sharks' first-round selection, which the Wild used to take center Zack Phillips.
"We are excited to add Dany Heatley, one of the top goal scorers in the NHL," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. "He is a quality player who's averaged more than a point a game in his nine-year career.”
In Havlat the Sharks get Minnesota's co-leading scorer from last season as he tallied 22 goals with 40 assists with the Wild. Heatley heads to Minnesota having scored 26 goals for the Sharks last season with 38 assists.
Both players are aged 30, had very similar numbers and both are top-six forwards. So what's the point?
For San Jose it saves $2.5 million in salary cap space, giving the Sharks some flexibility to make an additional move or two if they want/need to. Oh, and there was this part of it from Wilson: There was a window built into Heatley's contract that allowed the trade to happen. The window just opened. So more or less, the Sharks traded him as soon as they could, reading between the lines. Heatley hasn't exactly earned a great reputation over the years having asked out of his two previous stops in Atlanta and Ottawa.
“We truly appreciate everything that Dany brought to our organization. He is a tremendous professional," Wilson said.
Meanwhile, Minnesota doesn't have an issue with cap space and it gets a player who is a bit more of a natural scorer (he has reached the 50-goal mark a couple of times) as it continues to retool a team that has sagged offensively since Marian Gaborik for New York. Plus he brings a familiarity with Setoguchi as the two figure to get ice time together.
Havlat and Heatley played together in 2005-06 with the Ottawa Senators.
By Brian Stubits
Posted on: June 28, 2011 11:05 am
Edited on: June 28, 2011 11:31 am
COSTLY RETURN: Would you like to go see the Winnipeg Jets make their return to the NHL for the home opener in the 'Peg? Do you have $1,645 handy? A search of ticketcenteronline.com shows only two choices available for any tickets to the game against the Canadiens, and the other price is $1,839. I'd say they have the concept of supply and demand down pretty well.
MAKE IT EIGHT: With news coming out Monday that Matthew Hulsizer has withdrawn his bid to buy the Coyotes, speculation immediately began that that could have been the straw that broke the camel's back and the Coyotes' hopes of staying in the desert might have dried up. There's certainly hope in Canada that it means the Nordiques will be coming back to Quebec City. You might remember when Jim Balsillie was trying to buy the Coyotes that a site makeit7.ca was launched? Now, there's a makeit8.ca with as simple a web page as you'll ever see.
OVER-QUALIFIED: Want to know which restricted free agents were given qualifying offers and which, like Dan Carcillo, let go? Check the list here courtesy of Pro Hockey Talk. Keep in mind that any player who was not given an offer is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent when the market opens July 1.
MR. KENNEDY, JAGR WATCH: One restricted free agent who wasn't offered is Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy. But that doesn't mean he won't be back in the black and gold next season. Penguins GM Ray Shero says Kennedy wants to come back and he wants Kennedy back; it's just that arbitration or a qualifying offer wasn't the best option. What's more? The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Jaromir Jagr and the Penguins have a handshake that he will return to the first franchise he called home.
SHARK THINK TANK: When the Sharks sent Devin Setoguchi and more to the Wild for All-Star defenseman Brent Burns, they undoubtedly upgraded the blue line. But they lost a top-line winger in the process. So fearthefin.com takes the task of figuring out who should take the spot next to Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. There is no shortage of names in the mix, from Dany Heatley to Ryan Vesce.
Flyers ARE FINE: Worried that changes the Flyers just made might damage their chances of winning the Stanley Cup? Senior vice president Bobby Clarke doesn't think you should be. It comes as no surprise, but Clarke believes the Flyers did exactly what they needed to do to get better and explains exactly why Philadelphia is in a better position now than at this time last week.
-- Brian Stubits