Tag:Brian Burke
Posted on: December 26, 2011 11:55 am
Edited on: December 26, 2011 4:32 pm
 

Ron Wilson's contract and Toronto's fast start

By: Adam Gretz

Over the past month-and-a-half it's been the season for firing coaches in the NHL.

While we've already seen changes in Washington, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Carolina and Montreal, not to mention St. Louis earlier in the year, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson went to his own personal Twitter account as the NHL went to its holiday break and asked for a certain piece of paper (a contract extension) in his stocking for Christmas.

And that's exactly what he received over the holiday weekend.

It's kind of a bold move for the Maple Leafs organization given that Wilson has been behind the bench for three full seasons and failed to make the playoffs in all of them, while compiling a 101-107-38 record entering this season. Through 35 games in 2011 Toronto owns an 18-13-4 mark and occupies the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference entering Monday's slate of games, three points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, the team that occupies the No. 9 spot (and first non-playoff spot).

The reaction from Toronto seems to be that the Maple Leafs haven't shown enough under Wilson's watch to justify any sort of a contract extension, and that general manager Brian Burke has put his own neck on the line by once again committing to Wilson.

Even if all of that is true (and it very well might be) something had to be done (and probably soon) as Wilson was in the final year of his current contract. Having a lame duck coach isn't really an ideal situation for anybody, and the Leafs certainly weren't going to dismiss Wilson at this point given Toronto's start.

And speaking of that start, it's been Toronto's best one in years, and has been driven almost entirely by the team's power play unit, currently clicking at a 21 percent rate, third best in the league, and the scoring of forwards Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, both of whom are in the top-10 in the NHL's scoring race. And that's about it. Scoring depth isn't great once you get beyond Kessel and Lupul, and the goaltending, whether it's been James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson or Ben Scrivens, has struggled.

Unless you believe the Maple Leafs power play is going to continue to be one of the best in the NHL all season, after being one of the worst over the past two years with largely the same cast of characters, and that Kessel and Lupul are going to remain near the top of the points leader board, this has the chance of being a fourth-straight non-playoff season under Wilson if those two areas see any sort of a regression the rest of the way. And I'm not convinced either of those two positive developments will continue all season. They have the look of early season hot streaks and fast starts that aren't going to be sustainable over the long haul of the season.

The Maple Leafs power play, which generates one of the lowest shot rates in the NHL per 60 minutes of power play time, currently owns a shooting percentage in the 18-percent range, by far the best mark in the NHL and significantly higher than what it's managed to shoot at in recent seasons (over the past three years Toronto, as a team, has owned 5-on-4 shooting percentages of 13 percent, 9 percent and 12 percent). The only team to finish a season with a higher power play shooting percentage was the 2008-09 Flyers. The number of shots a team generates on the power play is usually the best indicator of future success, which could be bad news for the Leafs over the remainder of the season.

The playoffs are far from a lock at this point, and even though Wilson has his contract extension right now that's still not a guarantee that he'll be behind the bench next season if his team fails to qualify for the postseason for a fourth straight year with him behind the bench.

More on the NHL's Coaching Carousel

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 24, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 4:33 pm
 

Top NHL stories and moments in 2011

By Brian Stubits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look back: Free-agency tracker

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

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

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

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

Look back: Caps win Winter Classic 3-1

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

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

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

Look back: NHL announces realignment

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

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

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

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

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

Look back: Lokomovit team plane crashes

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

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

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

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

Look back: Riot erupts after Stanley Cup Finals

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

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

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

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

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

Look back: A look at Shanahan's handy work

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

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

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

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

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

Look back: Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look back: Crosby's recovery efforts

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

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

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

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

Look back: Boogaard | Rypien | Belak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look back: Bruins win Stanley Cup

Photo: Getty Images

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


Posted on: December 21, 2011 12:09 pm
 

Leafs' Zigomanis denies nude photos are of him

By Brian Stubits

Mike Zigomanis, the former Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup winner, now plays for the Toronto Marlines, the Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate. Unfortunately for him, he's making more news off the ice than he is on it.

Well, he's actually not the one making the news. Instead it is of somebody else's doing.

You see, there is this website where jilted and jaded exes are able to post nude pictures of their former lovers for everybody to see. It's the ultimate definition of spite for spite's sake, a move that would make high-schoolers cringe (while simultaneously giggling).

Recently, photos of Zigomanis made their way onto this site with him fully clothed. It was followed by a couple more of him in his birthday suit. Or was it? The nude photos are from the shoulders down, so there's no telling if it is actually Zigomanis or not. He says they're not. He's so strong in his conviction that he has hired a lawyer to help clear up matters.

"Ziggy assures us that the clothed photos are of him, and were purloined off his Facebook account," Leafs general manager Brian Burke told QMI Agency/SLAM Sports. "He also assures us that the nude photos are not of him. He has retained a lawyer to help him put an end to this."

"Sadly this is one of the few downfalls of being a pro athlete False statements," Marlies coach Dallas Easkins tweeted on Wednesday. "Pictures are common. Attempted identity thefts are picking up."

I don't want to get much into the legal aspects of the international nature of this. If you feel so inclined, check out the link above.

Instead, apparently it's time for the monthly reminder to athletes to be careful of what pictures you are taking. That's not to say this is Zigomanis in these pictures, I haven't the slightest idea (although I'm sure he has 20 some-odd witnesses who could tell you if that's him or not).

But I just can't get the idea out of my head of this going down like the "tallywhacker" scene in Porky's.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 16, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Flyers streak on sans Pronger, G

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

By Brian Stubits

There must be something in the water in Pennsylvania. That's the old cliché people turn to when they can't make sense of what's going on, how people (or teams in this case) continue to perform at a high level despite the obstacles.

We saw it last year (and again this season, really) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite being without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the second half of last season, they just kept on winning. Their 106 points were tied with the Flyers for most in the Atlantic and were just one point behind the Capitals for best in the East.

This season, the Flyers are getting their own taste of life without their Stars. And just like their Keystone State brethren, they continue to win. As in seven in a row.

Philly has been playing without its captain Chris Pronger for a month now. After yesterday's news, they are going to have to play the rest of the season without him, too. In fact, some are saying that Pronger might never play a game again. After all, he is 37 and he has a life after hockey to think about.

As good as Pronger is and has been his entire career, the Flyers have done a good job overcoming his absence this season -- nay, a great job. Since he last played against Winnipeg on Nov. 19, the Flyers have won nine of 11 games.

As callous as it always feels, the Flyers must move on. While their captain and best defenseman deals with severe post-concussion syndrome, they have a very promising season to continue. With the roster freeze coming next week, it's unlikely the Flyers will acquire some additional help on the blue line in the near future, but it will have to be a consideration for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

Holmgren told the media on Friday that he's already considered that, having called all 29 teams, presumably about any defensemen they might have available.

But that's for then. Right now, the Flyers are making due without him or their budding superstar center Claude Giroux (or simply G, as they team calls him). It doesn't seem like it will be a long shelving for Giroux, but you never can know, concussions tend to be pretty fickle.

In the only games the Flyers have played without either player, they have won. Despite missing their leading scorer and a point-producing defenseman, Philly has still averaged 4.5 goals in the two games without Giroux and Pronger.

But now a real test comes to see how they compare with the other beats of the East without the two stars.

The Boston Bruins are nipping on the Flyers' heels for the best record in the Eastern Conference and they, too, have been playing without arguably their best player (skaters-only division) in Zdeno Chara. But the big man might be back in time for the Saturday matinee in Philadelphia.

"We're going to give him a chance to fly and see how he feels," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "If he feels good then we have a chance of seeing him."

Normally I'd lament this game being played without Giroux, Pronger and possibly Chara. But with the way both of them, the Flyers in particular, have played without the all-stars, I don't see it stopping what will likely still be a very good game.

Winnipeg welcome wagon rolls on

This first season with the Jets back in the NHL has been an ongoing welcome wagon for the folks in Manitoba. They were licking their chops at getting to see Ilya Bryzgalov, they relished the opportunity to see former Jet Shane Doan back in Winnipeg.

Now comes perhaps the best welcome/return of them all; Teemu Selanne.

The veteran once starred for the Jets before he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks. He has waited for the chance to go back and play in the first NHL city he called home. Now it comes on Saturday night.

"You know, even when the schedule came out, even when I didn't know if I was going to play or not, I checked right away if we were going to Winnipeg," Selanne said. "That day was on my calendar right away.

"I knew there were two really special things. Obviously the Finland trip and then Winnipeg. It was really exciting to even think about it."

Unlike the welcomes fans in Winnipeg gave to Bryzgalov and, to an extent, Doan, it's hard to imagine there will be any jeers, only cheers for Selanne.

"He was so admired. It was overwhelming," Jets chairman Mark Chipman said of Selanne. "This guy was so good and so approachable and so humble in his approach that the community just absolutely fell head over heels for the guy."

Amazingly, Selanne is still performing at the level he was when he first broke into the NHL with the Jets in the early 90s. That's only going to help the flashbacks for the fans -- minus that whole wearing the Ducks jersey part.

Back in Buffalo

One of the more criticized offseason signings (excluding just about every move made by the Florida Panthers) was the Toronto Maple Leafs signing former Sabres center Tim Connolly. Leafs GM Brian Burke gave Connolly a two-year deal worth $4.75 million per season.

People in Buffalo laughed and simply said "Enjoy!" to their near-neighbors in Toronto. It wasn't about Connolly being a bad player -- he's not at all -- but it was about his health concerns. There always seemed to be something that was keeping Connolly on the bench.

So there's a sense of irony when the Maple Leafs visit the First Niagara Center this weekend. Connolly will be healthy and on the ice against his former team. Although he hasn't been without his health issues this season, when he's been on the ice, he's been good for Toronto. In 18 games played, he has 15 points.

On the other hand, the deal that Buffalo signed with Ville Leino was widely applauded. That one hasn't worked out so well.

Reunion tour continues

The Washington Capitals will be visiting the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. That means they will get to see their old goalie Semyon Varlamov up close and personal again.

Varlamov was traded to the Avs this summer after he made it clear that he was looking to play in the KHL over Washington. So Caps GM George McPhee swung a deal with the Avs to give them Varlamov in exchange for Colorado's first-round draft pick this offseason and their second-round pick.

So not only do the Caps get the chance to say hi to an old friend, but they can help themselves out in more ways than one. The points in the standings are the first and most obvious way, but every game without points for the Avs helps the Caps' first-round draft pick go higher and higher.

Although it's quieted down with Varlamov coming back down to earth, when he and the Avalanche were off to their hot starts, some in Washington wondered if the team made the wrong goalie decision. There might still be some questions considering the duo of Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth hasn't fared much better, if at all. But at least Neuvirth comes into the game having just shut out the Jets in Winnipeg, so there might be some positive momentum building. The goaltending problems have been as much an issue as anything in D.C. this season.

Canucks are still great

In fact, according to Roberto Luongo they are better than they were last season, which was great.

"We were one win away, so I don't think you need to change much," Luongo said. "That being said, though, we went through a lot last year, and I think we grew as a team. So for that reason alone, I think that we're better than last year."

That's even with him still getting a lot of starts in the net. Remember, he was a Vezina finalist last season. This season? Not so much.

Their next chance to prove Lu right will come in Toronto on Saturday evening for another Hockey Night in Canada appearance.

Stammer don't hurt 'em!

More like don't get hurt Stammer.

With his overtime winner on Thursday night, Steven Stamkos joined Milan Michalek on the top of the goal-scoring list this season with his 19th. Hopefully the same fate that has befallen many of the game's best scorers in recent weeks won't strike the Lightning's superstar.

With Michalek, Giroux, Sidney Crosby and Jeff Skinner (among many others) recently being diagnosed with concussions or at least post-concussion symptoms, the last thing the league wants is another young star to go down. If anything, it would probably love to see Stamkos go on one of his tears and become a positive story in the league again.

He'll have the chance to take the lead in the goals race by himself when Tampa Bay heads to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets.

We're going streaking!

Flyers: As mentioned, they are the hottest thing going in the NHL right now between their seven-game win streak and HBO's 24/7.

Bruins: Philly's opponent brings a modest three-game run of itself into the Saturday matchup.

Chicago Blackhawks: A double-dip awaits the Blackhawks and their three-game win streak as they face the Ducks and Flames.

Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues: We're going to combine these two because they are both riding four-game win streaks and they will face off against one another on Saturday. The Blues also have the Jackets on Sunday.

Dallas Stars: Last on the win side, the Pacific-leading Stars take to New Jersey seeking to extend their three-game streak on Scott Niedermayer Night.

New York Islanders: Once again, the Isles are slumping. They get to face the NHL-best Minnesota Wild with a four-game skid. The good news for New York is Minnesota is likely down a lot of bodies.

Florida Panthers The Southeast leaders are on a mini slump having lost three in a row. They have the Flames and Hurricanes at home this weekend to try and cure the ills.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 13, 2011 12:54 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 5:19 pm
 

Lupul helping lift Leafs in early season run

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner, there was sort of a sense that the Leafs were getting the worse end of the deal. While it wouldn't be fair to call Lupul and Gardiner the equivalent of a bag of pucks and a zamboni, it didn't seem like the greatest return in the history of trades. Sure, the potential was there, but you never know.

Lupul 's time in Anaheim was anything but spectacular. After a couple of very solid seasons in Philadelphia, he wasn't finding the grass greener on the West Coast. Over a season and a half with the Ducks, Lupul played in only 49 games and had 15 goals with 12 assists. Injuries were as much a concern as anything.

As for Gardiner, well, he hadn't played a single minute in the NHL, so he was pretty much an unknown commodity.

But now, not even a year later, it's looking like one sweet deal for the Leafs and GM Brian Burke. That's because Lupul is scoring at a rate he never has before and has formed one dynamic duo alongside Phil Kessel, the sniper the Leafs have long been looking for.

As of this point, Lupul already has 33 points in just 29 games. That's good enough for the fourth-most points in the league, tied with Henrik Sedin and one ahead of Jonathan Toews. His 13 goals are almost halfway to his career high of 28, which he posted in his first go-round with the Ducks. More impressively, his 20 assists are just six behind his career high he set with the Flyers in 2007-08.

It's been partly a matter of fitting in, partly a matter of health. Despite having made two stops in his career in Anaheim, Lupul said that his comfort level playing with the Leafs this season is at an all-time high.

"Oh definitely. I feel probably the best I've ever felt," Lupul said. "Partially health wise and partially just because when you're getting results and things are going your way you get some confidence. Right now I feel like every game I can be a difference-maker whereas in the past sometimes your confidence is going back and forth. It's definitely a good situation for me, playing first-line minutes."

That's like the old idea some women try to use on men. Treat him the way you want him to act and watch him become that guy. Or something like that. The point is now that Lupul is getting first-line time, he's giving first-line production.

A lot of that has to do with the psyche, too. Confidence can go a long way for a player, not only confidence in himself, but also confidence from the coaches. It can be like a security blanket, a reassurance that allows a player to play looser. Lupul has that going on, too.

"When you make mistakes, which we've made lots of this year, it's good to know the coach trusts you and you're going to be back and you're going to be given a chance to make amends for it," Lupul said.

It becomes a chicken or the egg argument. Lupul is playing better because the coach trusts him while coach Ron Wilson trusts Lupul because he is playing better. Whichever came first, the result is one quality chicken.

Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention more about the pairing with Kessel. Even including the NHL's superstar twin brothers of Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, there has been no better two-person tandem this season than Lupul and Kessel.

We all knew what Kessel was capable of, but this season he is taking things to a higher level.

"Phil's taking the next step in his development as a player," Lupul said. "I think you can see that game in, game out he's better this year than he was last year. I mean last year he'd have the big games where he would be really dominant. Now it seems they are happening more often."

At 24, Kessel is really taking his game to new heights. With his league-best 18 goals, he's well on his way to smashing his career best of 36, which he set in 2008-09, his final season with the Bruins.

But Lupul knows they won't continue to enjoy this kind of success without more hard work.

"We realize things are going to get tougher on us as the season goes, especially on the road, matching up against other teams' best D and checkers," Lupul said. "That's a challenge we both have to be up to."

As for Gardiner, he is blossoming into a very good defenseman for a rather full corps in Toronto. The rookie has worked his way into the rotation in a big way, logging more than 20 minutes in a game on 16 occasions this season. The former first-round pick by the Ducks is finding his own niche in Toronto.

It's not like Francois Beauchemin has been bad for the Ducks. He hasn't. But this is sure looking like one hell of a deal for Burke.

Now if he could only figure out how to fix that atrocious penalty kill, they'd really be on to something in Toronto.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 9, 2011 9:43 am
Edited on: December 9, 2011 10:12 am
 

Rogers, Bell join to buy majority shares of MLSE

By Brian Stubits

Remember when the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan wasn't going to sell Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment? You know, like two weeks ago?

How quickly things change.

On Friday morning, MLSE (owners of the Maple Leafs, the AHL's Marlies, NBA's Raptors and MLS' Toronto FC) held a news conference to announce the purchase of the company by a joint group of two Canadian media conglomerates, Bell Media and Rogers Communications.

The price of the purchase for the OTPP's 79.5 percent ownership stake is 1.32 Billion -- that's with a B. As part of the purchase, the only minority owner, Larry Tanenbaum, sees his stake rise from 20.5 percent to 25 percent. He had the right of first refusal on a new owner. He will remain the company's CEO.

It's also of note that Rogers already owns baseball's Blue Jays, so with them coming aboard, Rogers now has a hand in all of Toronto's big professional sports teams. Bell, meanwhile, currently owns an 18 percent minority stake in the Montreal Canadiens and announced they aren't looking to sell that share. Let the conspiracy theories begin.

This brings up some really interesting dynamics between two competing companies owning one team. Rogers, which owns Sportsnet, and Bell, owner of TSN. It's certainly a unique agreement to bring together people trying to beat each other out.

"We're all about winning, we're all about championships," Nadir Mohamed of Rogers said when explaining how the two competitors will work together.

That divide was already on display -- somewhat jokingly, mind you -- when Mohamed said it was his goal for Rogers to be the No. 1 company in Canadian media.

So when the Leafs make a move, which network gets the news first? Do they make joint announcements?

There's a lot of fun to have out of this purchase, but we'd be remiss if we didn't point out the delicious irony that Leafs GM Brian Burke and Leafs coach Ron Wilson now work for two media companies just a short while after they were in a spat with local media (when aren't they?), with Burke saying people who work in the media or liars.

The comedy continued in the press conference when they continued to refer to the Raptors as an iconic franchise. We kid, Eye On Basketball, but only because we care.

OTPP has held the primary ownership stake in MLSE since 2004, but has held some stake in the company since 1994.

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

Posted on: December 2, 2011 5:27 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 5:38 pm
 

Brian Burke nearly fought Kevin Lowe in a barn

By Brian Stubits

Brian Burke is never dull. That's something you have to give the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager. He makes brave trades like two first-round draft picks and another second-rounder for Phil Kessel. He is one of the few GMs on Twitter. He's very outspoken about his belief in fighting.

He has to. He nearly fought one of his fellow GMs.

You might remember the dispute that Burke, then the Ducks GM, had with Oilers GM Kevin Lowe. The two longtime friends found themselves at odds when Lowe signed young Ducks forward and restricted free agent Dustin Penner to an offer sheet.

Burke was outraged, slamming Lowe for an offer sheet that he considered to an overpayment, driving up the price of other restricted free agents. The squabbling deteriorated so far to the point that Lowe challenged Burke to a fight in a radio interview. Burke was ready to make it happen, too. In a barn, no less.

In an interview with The Score, Burke explains the whole situation.

By the way, there is already a Twitter account for the Lake Placid Barn. Oh Twitter, you never cease to amaze.

The fight was stopped because eventually Gary Bettman stepped in and told the two to knock it off or else.

The video also has some truisms about the stubbornness of the Irish and why he was able to hold such a grudge against Lowe. As somebody who is Irish, my wife could confirm the stubbornness.

The context of this, though, is a much more serious tone. The video is part of a story about Burke standing for anti-bullying. Burke has been active in the gay community even marching in gay-pride parades since his son Brendan was killed in a car crash in 2010. Brendan was gay and had been working for the Miami University hockey team at the time of his death. It has obviously had a very profound impact on Burke's life.

Now this is a serious suggestion here. They should put together a charity boxing event on in a barn near where these two guys go three rounds. The proceeds can go to benefit whichever charity Burke would like to give them to in honor of his late son. Beam it on TV in Edmonton and Toronto and tell me people wouldn't watch that.

I'd make the first donation to make it happen. Then maybe we could make the Greatest Fight that Never Happened actually come to fruition.

Video courtesy of The Score

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

Posted on: November 29, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: November 29, 2011 12:25 pm
 

Report: Ducks are shopping Bobby Ryan

By Brian Stubits

Two nights ago, Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet said he was hearing rumblings out of Washington that Bruce Boudreau would be fired in 24-48 hours. Fast forward 12 hours and the deed was done.

On Monday night, Kypreos said he was hearing rumblings out of Anaheim that the Ducks are shopping young forward Bobby Ryan. Might be time to pack your bags, Bobby.

There is no team struggling worse than the Ducks right now, and that includes the New York Islanders. They have lost seven consecutive games, 13 of 14 and 16 of their last 18 games. The word atrocious comes to mind.

From the news conference of Capitals GM George McPhee on the firing of Boudreau on Monday, there was a line he used to describe that situation which applies equally, if not more so to the Ducks.

"This wasn’t a slump," McPhee said. "You can ride out slumps."

At this point, it looks like a lot more than a slump in Anaheim too. That's why something has to be done, something big. Trading Ryan would qualify as something big.

In Ryan, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne, the Ducks have about as powerful of a top four scoring set as you can name in hockey, truly. But what they don't have is a lot of depth. Or a shutdown defenseman. In order to get those holes filled, especially the defenseman part, they need a pretty big bargaining chip.

It makes Ryan even more of a target when his slow start to this season is considered. Through 23 games, the 24-year-old American has seven goals and four assists. That puts him on pace for just about 40 points and we're a quarter of the way through the season. His lowest point-total (excluding his 23-game rookie season) was 57 ... and he did that in just 64 games. In each of his three "full" seasons, Ryan has had at least 31 goals. He's already a proven scorer who would be attractive to every single team in the NHL.

For some evidence, here's a trade proposal from Nashville Predators blog Section 303, suggesting the Preds offer Colin Wilson, Ryan Ellis, Teemu Laakso and a first-round draft pick. I like the offer, it's at least much more realistic than most fan proposals that normally look like "Sean Avery and a conditional pick ... come on, why wouldn't they take that?"

One person that you can almost guarantee is salivating at the idea and has likely already put a call in to Ducks GM Bob Murray, is former Ducks GM and current Maple Leafs boss Brian Burke. He obviously knows Ryan since he drafted him, he has already worked some deals with the Ducks, snagging Joffrey Lupul, and it appears he has a strong affinity for American players.

The moral of the story? Whether the rumor that Ryan is being actively shopped is true or not, it's about time the Ducks do something to shake things up.

Photo: Getty Images

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