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Tag:Toronto Maple Leafs
Posted on: January 13, 2012 2:59 pm
 

Reports: Leafs-Wings at Big House all but done

By Brian Stubits

It doesn't sound like it's going to take the NHL until September to finalize the details for next year's Winter Classic.

The little steam engine that was rumbling about next year's game being played at the University of Michigan's football stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs has morphed into a full-on freight train. Gary Bettman joked at the news conference to announce this past Winter Classic game that it was the worst-kept secret in the NHL. Well, this one might take the cake already.

The conjecture was swirling around the Citizen's Bank Park press box that the Red Wings would be hosting, very possibly against the Leafs. The question was where? More and more the evidence started to point toward Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. the Big House, being the site.

It has come to the point of inevitability now. Jeff Arnold of Yahoo Sports was first to report that the NHL was in advanced talks with the University of Michigan for the game to be played there. Then TSN's insider Bob McKenzie extraordinaire echoed the same thing Thursday night on TSN.

"I can in fact confirm those reports that the NHL's desire is that the Leafs play the Wings at the Big House. It'll be configured for 115k. It's not finalized yet, but by the end of the month there's expected to be a formal announcement. The NHL is well down the road."

Just in case that wasn't convincing enough, Scott Burnside at ESPN.com also confirmed the advanced negotiations with a little extra information thrown in.

The Jan. 1 game between the Original Six rivals would be played at the University of Michigan's "Big House," which, at 110,000-plus seats, is the largest college football stadium in the country. Ann Arbor is about 43 miles west of Detroit.

But cognizant of the need to include the City of Detroit in the process, the league would like to build a second outdoor rink in downtown Detroit, probably at Comerica Park, the home of Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers.

That's an interesting twist and a good idea, I think. It puts some action much closer to the heart of the fan base back in Detroit and it helps deal with the issue of Wings owner Mike Illitch wanting the game in a place he owns, Comerica Park.

The reports all go on to indicate that the NHL could have it wrapped up and possibly announced by the All-Star Game later this month.

This would be a groundbreaker for multiple reasons. The first is that it would absolutely smash the NHL record for largest attendance at a game. The Big House can hold more than 110,000 for Wolverine football games and would figure to host the same for a Winter Classic game. It would be a spectacle to behold, even if it's been done before. I don't think too many people actually saw Michigan and Michigan State play at the Big House, so it would still be unique.

The other obvious groundbreaker here is the introduction of a Canadian team to an event that has been a showcase event for NBC Sports, an American network. The idea has been to pit two American teams to help draw attention in the States. Some fear that a Canadian team won't draw as much interest.

I call hogwash. We have been able to see so far that all the Winter Classic games are going to draw big audiences. It doesn't much matter who has played, the ratings have all been pretty close in scope. It's the NHL's biggest regular-season game, hockey fans will watch.

Then you throw in the teams involved? We have already seen the Red Wings in the game once and it drew the best ratings so far. You don't need me to tell you the Red Wings have a big national following. The concern, though, is about the Leafs. Steve Lepore at Puck the Media, who watches ratings and media coverage closely, isn't optimistic.

I just don't see it, though. The Leafs are a well-known franchise, obviously. There are a ton of Leafs fans in the States, too. Just go to any of their road games to see how true that is. And no, they aren't all people who flew in just to watch the game (although some are, for sure). I don't see it being an issue for American ratings and it would help appease the Canadian fans who have felt a bit left out.

What would HBO think for its 24/7 series? Well there I don't know, but there's no guarantee it will even be back next season regardless.

But we can feel pretty safe in saying we do know the Winter Classic will almost assuredly be in Ann Arbor, Mich. next New Year's Day. And it's worth noting that Michigan Stadium now has lights, something that was new just this year. Remember that if the weather doesn't cooperate again (although that's doubtful in Michigan).

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 13, 2012 1:15 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Brothers Sutter meet in Calgary

By Brian Stubits

One of the many things I love about hockey is that it doesn't revolve around the coaches, they are hardly ever the stories. You can't say the same about other sports, particularly college athletics where the coach is sometimes the only constant there is. In the NHL, a lot of coaches are so quiet I'm not even sure half of the hockey fans out there could name all 30 bench bosses.

But this weekend in Calgary? It's about the coaches. Well it's now partly about a certain player's Flames debut too, but first to the coaches.

The Los Angeles Kings will be traveling to the Saddledome for a slightly awkward reunion. It's the first time that Darryl Sutter has been involved in a game in Calgary since he resigned -- all but forced -- as general manager for the Flames a little more than a year ago, leaving his younger brother Brent behind to continue to coach the Flames.

For those who suggest you shouldn't mix business with family, this is a good example why. During the time they were together working with the Flames, they had some problems with each other to the point that they stopped talking after Darryl was ousted. Imagine that, two brothers getting to the point of not talking based largely on their working relationship.

They were giving each other the silent treatment until Darryl reached out this week and at least reopened the lines of communications. Probably a good idea on many fronts, particularly about the one of avoiding the awkward moment at the game.

“We had a good chit-chat -- it was good,” said Brent, whose brother initiated the call, to the Calgary Sun.

“We talked about their team, about our team ... never once did we talk about anything personally. We talked about the kids. We were all over the map with it. That was the first time I talked to him. It was nice.”

Saturday won't just be the first time these two have been back together at a Flames game since Darryl left, but now it's also about the first time that Mike Cammalleri returns to the Saddledome in a Flames jersey since he left. That's thanks to the Thursday night trade of Cammy to Calgary in exchange for Rene Bourque going to Montreal.

The Flames could use the fire under their behind that perhaps current GM Jay Feaster is trying to send. His team hasn't been playing particularly well and a jolt to the roster might help recharge their playoff push. They aren't dead and buries in that race, especially considering the season is only half over, but they could use a run to help set them up for the finish.

At the least they got a player who's excited to be in Calgary -- again, in the case of Cammalleri.

"I am extremely excited, I was told I was traded and I wasn't sure where. I hoped it was Calgary," he said on Thursday after the trade.

"It's a place that I have such fond memories, I really have strong relationships with some of the players. I really appreciated playing there."

So that will bear watching, no doubt. But it's going to be tough to overcome the drama of the bench bosses.

And I just love it when things come together like this. It means absolutely nothing and has no bearing on anything that will happen on the ice, just little coincidences that are fun to mark. Darryl coached 210 games for the Flames. On Saturday night Brent will coach his, you guessed it, 210th game with the Flames. Not that that will steer the spotlight away from Darryl vs. Brent and the Sutter family equation.

“We’ve now had communication since then, and it has been good,” Brent said.

“Any way you want to look at it, we’re still brothers. I care deeply about what happens with him and how he does.”

Well the family feud will live on for 60 more minutes on Saturday.

Oh, Ottawa

I still haven't decided if the Ottawa Senators are as good as they have shown, but it's getting really tough to deny them based on a small sample size.

Now they have played at least two more games than every other team in the East except for Carolina, but that excuse isn't flying any more either. They are comfortably in the top eight in the East as it stands right now, right on the heels of the Flyers for the fourth seed. When you start beating the Rangers at Madison Square Garden with a shutout no less, then yea, it might be time to believe.

But we're going to find out a lot in the upcoming weeks, starting Saturday. OK, it actually started on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. That was when the Senators played their first of nine road games in a 10-game span. The only interruption in that road show comes on Monday with the Jets coming to Ottawa. After that, they go into their weekend as host for the All-Star Game with a trip that takes them out West.

But they can't play those before the play this weekend's game against the Canadiens first. They seem to be getting Montreal at the perfect time. They have all sorts of struggles and strife to deal with at the moment and could possibly be without P.K. Subban after his hit on David Krejci on Thursday night.

If the Sens can do what most everybody else is doing right now and beat the Habs, they will finish with six points in the three-game road trip.

It sure makes those four All-Star selections a lot easier to swallow, too.

Taking a Flyer

In all honesty, this isn't the best slate of games the NHL has seen this year for the weekend. There aren't a whole lot of really intriguing matchups pitting two elite teams.

But one of the better ones will be in Nashville, a cross-conference battle to boot. The Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Predators in Smashville. Adding a little more intrigue to the good matchup? The in-person scouting that the Flyers might or might not be doing on the opposition.

You are going to hear a lot about the status of Ryan Suter in the coming weeks, his name will surely be at the fore of all the trade speculation unless he signs a contract extension before then. Among the top contenders for his services will be the Flyers, already mentioned in the speculation.

That just adds a little underlying story to what should be a very good game.

Speaking of good games ...

The Blackhawks and Red Wings clash again. They went a long time this season without renewing acquaintances, but now they are meeting seemingly every week.

The next round in their Central Division battle comes on Saturday at the ripe ol' hour of 12:30 from the Joe in St. Louis. I wonder if the Blackhawks will even be functioning at that hour.

Joking aside, hopefully the start time doesn't take away from the quality of games these two put on. The first two meetings this season came in Chicago and each was a 3-2 game (Blackhawks won the first, Wings the second in OT). You can always count on great hockey when these two get together.

Now that realignment has been halted, hopefully the next proposal doesn't split these teams up.

Pesky Stars

That's the nickname that has caught on in Dallas regarding their Stars. Pesky. I guess it's because they won't go away.

Dallas isn't as big of a surprise as a couple of other teams this season, including the above-mentioned Senators, but that doesn't mean they aren't a surprise. Here it is mid-January and they continue to hang around in the Pacific Division race as well as the Western Conference.

They will look to continue their pesky ways against the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. The Avs are as up and down as any team in the league this season. There seems to be no happy medium with them. After their most recent run they are no slipping back down the slope, going into Dallas with a three-game losing streak.

It's a battle of a pair of mild surprises in the West. These all count when it comes down to season's end and each of these hopefuls is trying to sneak into the postseason. The schneid list is getting long.

We're going streaking!

Here are the hot and cold streaks going into the weekend's action.

Senators: Talked about above, they have won three straight and only visit Montreal.

Toronto Maple Leafs: How 'bout them Leafs, huh? They take a four-game win streak into Buffalo on Friday night and if it holds will take a five-gamer into Saturday night's home game against the Rangers.

Predators: Three games and counting heading into the Philly matchup.

Flames: Lost in all the other talk surrounding Calgary, they have actually rattled off three straight wins since returning home from an unfruitful road trip.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens are entering unchartered territory here. They bring a six-game losing streak with them to Florida for the Sunshine State saunter, at the Panthers on Friday, Lightning on Sunday.

Buffalo Sabres: While the Leafs have won four in a row going into Friday's game, the Sabres have lost three straight. They also visit the Islanders on Saturday.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The postseason run followup isn't going as planned. Five straight losses going into Friday at the Capitals, Sunday vs. the Penguins.

Avalanche: How long will this skid go? Right now it's at three games.

Edmonton Oilers: My how long ago that season start seems. They have fallen 23 points behind the Canucks in the Northwest and have lost four in a row. Their one chance to snap that comes against the Kings on Sunday night.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 12, 2012 1:43 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 4:24 pm
 

All-Star Game: Dissecting the picks; predictions

By Brian Stubits

The NHL announce its full list of All-Stars on Thursday in about as poor a way as it could have. Remember when Mario Lemieux called the NHL a garage league? Maybe he was thinking of days like this.

The NHL had ample opportunities to put this front and center. They could have announced the selections on Wednesday night using NBC Sports Network and TSN. Heck, they could have made the announcement using the NHL Network instead of running a replay of a game from last night.

All of that would have been better. Instead, the All-Star selections started leaking one at a time. The first was the Florida Panthers announcing Brian Campbell would be representing them. Then the Blackhawks followed with the Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. The leaks continued until the NHL finally released the entire list of players about an hour later.

It's almost like it wasn't planned.

Anyway, on to the guys who were selected. These are the guys who will head to Ottawa for the All-Star Game and will be part of the second NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft, much like the way you would pick teams for kickball at recess with two captains selecting players until they're gone.

As usual, there are a few head-scratchers in here.

Forwards

Jason Spezza (Senators), Milan Michalek (Senators), Daniel Alfredsson (Senators), Jamie Benn (Stars), Pavel Datsyuk (Red Wings), Marian Gaborik (Rangers), Claude Giroux (Flyers), Marian Hossa (Blackhawks), Jarome Iginla (Flames), Patrick Kane (Blackhawks), Phil Kessel (Maple Leafs), Mikko Koivu (Wild), Joffrey Lupul (Maple Leafs), Evgeni Malkin (Penguins), Logan Couture (Sharks), Alex Ovechkin (Capitals), Jason Pominville (Sabres), Daniel Sedin (Canucks), Henrik Sedin (Canucks), Tyler Seguin (Bruins), Corey Perry (Ducks), Steven Stamkos (Lightning), John Tavares (Islanders), Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks).

Defensemen

Erik Karlsson (Senators), Dion Phaneuf (Maple Leafs), Dustin Byfuglien (Jets), Brian Campbell (Panthers), Zdeno Chara (Bruins), Alexander Edler (Canucks), Dan Girardi (Rangers), Shea Weber (Predators), Keith Yandle (Coyotes), Dennis Wideman (Capitals), Ryan Suter (Predators), Kimmo Timonen (Flyers).

Goaltenders

Tim Thomas (Bruins), Brian Elliott (Blues), Jimmy Howard (Red Wings), Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers), Carey Price (Canadiens), Jonathan Quick (Kings).

For those wondering on the breakdown, that's 24 players from the Eastern Conference, 18 from the Western. The six vote-ins all coming from the East helps with that bit of disparity, though.

Now, on to the superlatives ...

Biggest snub

You never know who actually said no to the invite. That's the caveat here. But if nothing else the players should get the honor and then decline to appear (I get the murkiness of it, but they deserve the honor).

With that said, wow, where do I begin? Teemu Selanne? Nicklas Lidstrom? Well they asked out, so no use getting bent out of shape there. So moving on ...

I understand that Nicklas Backstrom (the Capitals center, that is) is injured at the moment, but he's day to day and the game isn't for another few weeks. There is zero doubt that he has been the Capitals' best player this season, not Ovechkin, who made the roster ahead of a long list of players that probably deserved it more.

I scratch my head a little with the selection of Byfuglien on defense. Not that he is bad by any stretch, but I probably would take a few guys over him. From the Jets perspective, I would have liked to see Evander Kane more.

You could make a case -- probably not a great one, however -- for Florida's Jason Garrison, as well. He leads defensemen in goals with 11 and has a slap shot that might possibly stand a chance in the hardest shot competition against Chara and Byfuglien.

There are a few more in the forward role who seem to be more deserving. It's going to continue to come back to Ovechkin because he's the high-profile name with mediocre numbers. Thomas Vanek in Buffalo? Scott Hartnell in Philly? Kris Versteeg in Florida? Patrik Elias for the Devils? Patrice Bergeron in Boston? Patrick Sharp (who was reportedly not picked before injury concerns) Or even Radim Vrbata from the Coyotes? The lists goes on.

It goes to show how even when the fans aren't voting, star power is a big factor. It's always about a little more than just performance.

Least deserving

To make room for the snubs you obviously have to decide who shouldn't be on the list, otherwise they aren't a snub, right? Well that is pretty tough to do.

I do not think Ovechkin deserves his selection based on merit alone. But again, there's more to it than just the stats. Ovechkin gets in based on the star power and marketing more than anything else. I don't necessarily like that, but I can accept that. I think Kane falls into this category to an extent, too. All things being equal, a few of the snubs probably deserve the honor more than Kane this season, but he has a little star power that, say, Versteeg doesn't have.

I'm not terribly high on the other Caps pick of Wideman either. He's had a good season offensively, which is what this game values most, so in that regard it's OK. But even he admitted he was surprised when he was told, he thought he was getting traded.

After them (not counting the guys voted in) it gets pretty tough. Not any wholly undeserving guys (not even the above mentioned).

Keeping in mind that every team gets represented through the All-Star Game or the rookie selections, some guys are safe. That makes it tougher.

Who will be Mr. Irrelevant?

We know this much: It won't be Kessel again. Absolutely no way to predict this accurately, so my stab in the dark is going to say Couture. He's the only member from the Sharks, he is young and plays at the position with the most players, on the wing.

Who will be the captains?

The official announcement will come in a week, so for now we're left to speculate. Alfredsson is a given seeing how the game is in Ottawa. Take that one to the bank. The other was likely going to be Selanne, but now ... Iginla? Maybe you go with an old Senator in Chara? I'd take my chances it's Iginla.

Or maybe Kessel? That would be interesting.

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

Posted on: January 12, 2012 11:44 am
Edited on: January 12, 2012 11:45 am
 

Report: Interest in Avery goes up, but no waivers

By Brian Stubits

The twists and turns of a Sean Avery season. Aren't they fun?

Even when he's down in the AHL (where the orange juice refills might or might not be free), he's making noise. Well OK, he's not making the noise, but noise is being made about him. Or something like that.

Twice this season, the 29 teams not named the New York Rangers had a chance to claim Avery off of waivers and have him for their own but passed. Not even two weeks since his most recent demotion to the AHL Connecticut Whale, there is reportedly interest from at least one team to get Avery now.

According to the New York Post, the Rangers have been asked to place Avery on re-entry waivers again so that he can be claimed and wear another team's sweater in the NHL. It's obvious Rangers coach John Tortorella doesn't have any room for Avery on his bench, so why not acquiesce and let Avery go on his merry way? Two words: cap space.

Sources have told The Post general manager Glen Sather rejected that request, instead offering to trade Avery in a minor-league deal under which the Rangers would take back additional dollars but the responsibility for placing Avery on re-entry would then pass to the acquiring club that would then bear the burden of carrying dead salary-cap space upon a claim.

...

Avery’s full cap hit for the remainder of the season is just a tick over $890,000 as of tomorrow. Therefore, the Rangers would be hit with approximately $445,000 of dead cap space upon a re-entry claim.

The NHL has calculated that scenario would theoretically cost the Rangers $2 million in available space at the Feb. 27 trade deadline: $1 million of accrued space for which the club would be charged plus $1 million it therefore would not save.

That's a pretty penny to spend just to let a player loose. Now we'll find out how interested this mystery suitor/suitors is/are by the willingness to give up something in return to the Rangers.

Trying to think of who could be interested in signing Avery, I would take a Wild guess and say we could exclude the Toronto Maple Leafs after Brian Burke's recent "anti-rat" rant.

I'm not a Rangers fan, about the only people who seem to still love Avery, but for some reason that I still cannot pinpoint, I've come to like Avery a little bit. Maybe it's just that I'm a devil's advocate. I'm not sure. But I'd be interested in seeing him get a fresh start somewhere else. When he was playing, Avery was in good behavior this season for the Rangers. There might still be a fourth-line spot for Avery somewhere in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:51 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 11:42 am
 

SI players poll: Phaneuf, Ovechkin most overrated

By Brian Stubits

It's always fun when players are asked who is the most overrated player in their sport. It often shows a divide on how players are perceived within the game vs. outside from the media and fans.

With that in mind, here are the results of Sports Illustrated's poll of 161 players asking them who the most overrated player in the league is.

Taking the cake? Vote-in All-Star defenseman Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although if Phaneuf gets wind of anybody who said it, they can expect one of his completely not overrated checks.

Second in the lineup is Alex Ovechkin from the Capitals. Considering the season-plus he has had, that's easy to see.

There are a couple of things that stick out to me. Players obviously are very aware of how much players are being paid and their corresponding production. Why else would Scott Gomez make No. 3 on this list? I think he fell off the rating radar more than a year ago for the fans/media side. He has become an afterthought for most people, that's how bad he has been. Same goes for Vincent Lecavalier, just to a much lesser extent than Gomez.

The other observation I made is that the list has a high number of Canadian-based players. Eight of the 15 on the list play for one of Canada's seven teams. The Calgary Flames, for example, have three players on the list. That leads me to wondering how Jarome Iginla could crack this list, but I digress.

A name I thought I'd see on here that's absent? Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

Who's your pick for the most overrated?

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 6, 2012 12:56 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 4:47 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Bruins and Canucks meet again

By Brian Stubits

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Vancouver to start Schneider over Luongo

The Boston Bruins are out-of-this-world good. Six times this season they have beaten their opponent by at least five goals. That includes Thursday's 9-0 rout of the Calgary Flames.

On the season they have scored 138 goals (most in the NHL) and only allowed 69 (fewest in the NHL). For the mathematically impaired, that's exactly twice as many goals for as against. They have an absolutely staggering plus-69 goal differential on the season.

To put that in further perspective, here's a stat that was pointed out to me by a friend. In only half a season, the Bruins' plus-69 is better than all but three teams' season total in the last three years.

Since their 3-7-0 start, it's been utterly ridiculous what they have done. Their record since is 23-3-1. That means they have earned 47 of the past 54 possible points.

It's scary to think about, but the numbers point to the Bruins being a better team than they were a season ago when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Well the Canucks will get their one and only chance this season to see how much better, if at all, the Bruins are than a season ago.

These teams have had rather similar paths since their great seven-game Final a season ago. The Bruins have received a lot of the attention for the way they have just been steamrolling the competition, but the Canucks are going through a somewhat similar season. They, too, rebounded from the long postseason with a sluggish start but have since come to play the way they were expected. They have retaken their seat atop the Northwest Division and are in the thick for best record in the league.

It's no exaggeration to say that these very well could be the two best teams in the NHL again this season.

Yet this Saturday's matchup in Boston isn't as much about this season as it is about last season, specifically the Finals.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of hype for that game, but we’re a different team than we were last year. We’ve added some different components,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told ESPN.com. “Boston is pretty much the same team, but it’s a new year. We’re going to just go in there and try and play our best game.”

There was enough hostility in that seven-game series to last for three series. We had finger-biting, tire-pumping, trash-talking and rioting. Well OK, that last one wasn't in the series, but still.

The biggest bit of trash talk that came out publicly wasn't until after the series when now retired Bruins forward Mark Recchi said he has never hated an opponent like he did those Canucks. That prompted Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa to suggest Recchi go play a round of golf or take a nap.

Recchi, now working with NBC, did backtrack this week.

“I probably shouldn’t have said anything and I wish I wouldn’t have, but that’s what happened and that’s how the series was,” Recchi told Vancouver’s The Province. “People know I love B.C. and Vancouver and it was an unbelievable series but there was a lot of dislike on both sides. And it wouldn’t have been a Stanley Cup final if there wasn’t that much dislike -- we really didn’t like each other.”

It's not likely that the dislike has worn off in the half-year since.

The rematch will have about all you could ask for in a midseason contest, assuming the Bruins don't turn it into a snoozer with another rout.

Mr. 499

I haven't come across anybody who doesn't like Jarome Iginla. The Calgary Flames forward has long been the epitome of what people want in their professional athletes. He's humble, approachable, charitable and of course talented.

He's on the cusp of reaching a great milestone, sitting one goal away from No. 500 in his career. Quite honestly, it's about the only reason why non-Flames fans would want to watch Calgary at the moment.

Iginla told CBSSports.com this week that the pursuit of the milestone isn't something that he's been worried about, but he certainly has thought about it.

"No, it hasn't weighed, but now that I'm at 499, you definitely try not to think about it on each shot and think 'well it could be' or whatever. So I think about it a little bit," Iginla said. "But once you get to the game you're just competing and want to win the game. I don't look at it like I'm counting down games. Just keep going and just keep trying to shoot and get chances and keep the same approach. But you definitely think about it a little bit."

Because of the World Junior tournament that just ended on Thursday with one hell of a game between Sweden and Russia, the Flames have been road warriors for the past couple of weeks. But on Saturday night they'll return home to the Saddledome to take on the Minnesota Wild with Iginla still just one away.

In a way it's great that Iginla didn't reach the milestone in the past week for it will give him a chance to do it back home in Calgary. He'd be applauded handsomely in whichever city it happened, but it's always best to do these things at home.

Certainly the team will be happy to be back home, too. The Flames petered out the end of their seven-game road trip, losing the last five, including that 9-0 rout in Boston.

"We feel that we're good at home and that we're confident," Iginla said. They better hope so, they don't want to fall too far behind in the playoff picture.

Capitalizing

One team that has crawled back into the playoff picture is the Washington Capitals. The Caps were, to be frank, very average for a good chunk of the first half. However they have begun to play just how they were expected to. That's every more so the case with Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin had gone 23 straight games without multiple points in one night. He snapped that streak and has since run off four consecutive multi-point games. Maybe he had a great Christmas. Or perhaps it was the excitement of his two-year anniversary as captain. Whatever the reason, he has elevated his game big time and probably not coincidentally, so has Washington.

They travel to the West Coast to take on the San Jose Sharks on Saturday riding a four-game win streak. Again, it's no coincidence that Ovechkin has four straight multiple-point games.

But I'm still not 100 percent sold this team is back to its big-time status. Of the four wins, three have come at home where they have been very tough to beat, regardless of the overall mediocre performance. The fourth was a road win at Columbus. So this trip to San Jose, where they haven't won since 1993, will be a better gauge to see how the Capitals are coming along under Dale Hunter. Once they start winning on the road, then I'll start believing in them again.

Boom! Madden's debut

The Florida Panthers are still beating the odds and hanging onto first place in the Southeast Division. On Friday night they'll get some reinforcement to help them stay there.

Recently signed veteran John Madden is expected to make his debut with the Panthers in New Jersey. It's an interesting place for his first game as a Panther considering he spent the majority of his career with the Devils and helped them win two Stanley Cups.

That adds to the storyline this season of Devils coach Peter DeBoer facing his former team. Really, that doesn't hold much weight after the first meeting, so Madden's debut puts a little zest in another game between the two.

I'm sure the Devils fans will give Madden a nice, hearty hand even if he's in the other team's red.

More Wings work

It's going to be an Original Six weekend for the Detroit Red Wings.

On Saturday they will get a crack at their neighbors a little to the Northeast in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite not being in the same conference, these two teams still have a good rivalry that stretches way back. Their proximity to each other helps too. It's why so many want to see the Leafs play in next year's Winter Classic against the Wings, possibly in the Big House.

Once they are done with the team from Toronto, they face their other Original Six big rival, the one that's still in their division. The Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will wage a big battle on Sunday that will continue to help shape the ever-tight Central Division.

Great weekend of hockey for the folks in Hockeytown.

We're going streaking!

Here are the winning streaks and losing streaks in play entering the weekend.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts keep on winning, taking a three-game streak into Friday's matchup with the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

New York Islanders: The Isles make the list this week, and it's on the good side! A three-game win streak is on the line at the Ducks on Friday and then the Coyotes on Saturday.

Ottawa Senators: The quietest of the NHL's surprise teams, the Senators have a four-game run going into the home-and-home with the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and Sunday.

Capitals: Aforementioned four-game win streak with the one game at San Jose.

Colorado Avalanche: The up-and-down Avs are playing well again, having won three straight. They have a tough Friday-Saturday road trip of at the Blackhawks and at the Blues.

Sharks: Not mentioned above, the Sharks also come into the game against the Caps hot, having won three in a row.

Flames: They look to end their five-game skid against the Wild on Saturday.

Anaheim Ducks: Three losses in a row and counting? With all their players now on the trade block, they face the Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: January 5, 2012 3:24 pm
 

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer



By: Adam Gretz


The Toronto Maple Leafs placed forward Colton Orr on waivers Wednesday afternoon. He cleared on Thursday, going unclaimed by the 29 other teams in the NHL, paving the way for him to be assigned to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. This development does not please Leafs general manager Brian Burke, a point that he made very clear as he addressed the media on Thursday afternoon talking about the transaction, as well as the decline of the enforcer role in the NHL.

Orr, of course, is one of the NHL's top fighters, and according to his player page at hockeyfights.com has been involved in over 110 fights at the NHL level, including preseason, regular season and postseason games. Compare that to the 11 goals he's scored in 378 career games with the Bruins, Rangers and Maple Leafs, and the six minutes of ice-time that he's averaged per game throughout his career, and it's quite obvious as to what his role is and what's expected of him.

That role is one that has been going away in recent years across the league, and that's a development that is not sitting well with the Leafs' general manager.

Said Burke on Thursday, “The only lament I have on this is the fear that if we don’t have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over.

“I know the Greenpeace folks will be happy with this, but I wonder where we’re going, where Brendan Shanahan’s getting six hearings every two days … I wonder, the accountability in our game and the notion that players can stick up for themselves and each other, I wonder where we’re going with that.”

It became clear that there simply wasn't room for Orr on the Maple Leafs roster, as he's appeared in just five games this season, playing a total of just 22:44. To put that total in some perspective, there are currently 46 regular NHL players that average more minutes than that every single game.

Burke's biggest argument is that the role of the fighter will allow for more cheap shots on the ice because there is no fear of retribution, pointing to some of the recent plays that resulted in a suspension from the league over the past week, saying that Shanahan is the only person looking out for other players.

“Pick your poison. Pick one of the suspensions," said Burke. "And so, to me, would those guys do those things if there’s retribution available, if there’s accountability in the game? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s just a rant that the game’s going in a direction I don’t like, but I’m troubled by this. When a player with the character of Colton Orr, when he can’t contribute in this league, then I’m not sure I like the way it’s going.”

The suggestion -- and Burke isn't the first one to put it out there -- that players like Orr, or the threat of fighting in general, acts as a deterrent to the type of cheap, dirty plays he's talking about here has always blown me away. If fighting were that sort of deterrent we would have never seen those types of things happen -- or at least not as much -- and they've always happened. They still happen, and they will continue to happen, whether fighting exists in the NHL or not. Is the game today really dirtier and filled with more cheap shots than it was 20 or 30 years ago, or when bench clearing brawls (like this one) were a common occurrence?

The other factor at work here is that it's just no longer as financially viable to carry a player that does nothing but fight on your roster. Now that the NHL has roster limits and a salary cap every roster spot and dollar spent matters. You have a limit as to what you can do, and teams are placing a larger emphasis on skating ability, speed and, of course, skill.

Orr is currently in the third year of a four-year contract that pays him $1 million per season. For a player that, again, plays about four-to-five minutes per night (when he's in the gameday lineup, that is) that's probably not the best use of your resources, an aspect that Burke also addressed.

"It’s almost like you’re adding up assets on a sheet and saying, ‘what Colton provides, does that provide the same benefit as a guy who can skate maybe better than he can?'" said Burke. "We’ve done it. We made the decision here. He hasn’t played much here. So I’m not excluding us from this remark. I just wonder where we’re going. Players, in the old days, they protected themselves. And then it evolved into players protecting their teammates. And now, I’m not sure who’s looking after them, other than (NHL disciplinarian) Brendan Shanahan. To me, it’s a dangerous turn in our game.”

It's always been clear that Burke sees a need for fighting in the NHL. It's clear based on his comments, his financial commitments to players like Orr, his comments on Thursday, and, heck, even the makeup of his rosters as a general manager, as his teams are usually near the top of the league in terms of fighting majors per season.

For a variety of reasons the game is changing, and that role is going away, and that's something that Burke is simply going to have to accept and adjust to.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:26 am
 

Four Sens part of six voted into All-Star Game

By Brian Stubits

Like other sports, the NHL allows fans to vote players into the All-Star Game. Like other sports, the fans get it horribly wrong.

The NHL announced the "starters" for this month's All-Star Game in Ottawa, and not surprisingly it is very Senators friendly. While they aren't really starters for the game, they are all voted in for six guaranteed spots. The vote-ins are as follows:

Forward: Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, all from the Senators.
Defense: Erik Karlsson (Senators) and Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs).
Goaltender: Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins).

That's some impressive ballot-stuffing by the fine folks of Ottawa.

In all honesty, none of the four Sens voted in are completely undeserving of their place in the game. Karlsson has a legit claim to being a vote-in, he leads all defensemen in points and is second in the NHL with 32 assists. Michalek (19 goals) and Spezza (40 points) are both having quality seasons and Alfredsson, well, let's say he sort of deserves a spot at this point when the game is played in Ottawa. But the guaranteed spots? I'm not so sure about that.

Look at it this way: None of the league's top seven goal scorers or top 10 in points was voted in.

Of course, this isn't a big deal. It's the fans voting in six of 42 spots on the team and the hometown fans putting their players in the game. If that's their prerogative, then so be it. They're going to be the ones buying the tickets to the game. If they want to see guys they can watch at home 41 times a season for one more game, that's their right.

At least the fans got it right on Thomas. Craig Anderson was just too tough to vote in to the game, even if he tends for the Sens.

But have no fear. Claude Giroux, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Steven Stamkos, Phil Kessel, Marian Gaborik, Jonathan Toews, Jimmy Howard, Evgeni Malkin ... they'll all get put in the game if they want to play. They'll be in the draft that will be held once again as captains will pick sides like a schoolyard kickball game.

However the first thought I had when I heard the list (OK, second after remembering to not get all hot and bothered by the hometown players getting in) was to remember the Project Mayhem and how well that worked. Remember the idea where fans were going to vote in all the former Senators tearing it up in the NHL to show Ottawa what they've been missing? Guys like Zdeno Chara -- who should still make it regardless -- and Dany Heatley? How'd that work out?

I don't think these vote-in results will have much of an impact on the All-Star Game viewership. It's hard to find people who actually like it to begin with.

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