Posted on: January 24, 2011 12:49 pm

Free agent SNAFU

Funny how things can go wrong when everyone does everything right, isn’t it? Just ask the New York Islanders or Detroit Red Wings, or better yet, the St. Louis Blues.

One of the NHL’s most intriguing stories of the weekend happened not on the ice but in the executive suites of a couple of teams trying to get veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov to play for them.  The upshot is that Nabokov is still sitting on the sidelines, which is probably better for the Islanders and the Red Wings than what happened to the Blues recently when they tried to bring a couple of free agents back from Europe.

In their cases, the Blues did all the leg work to bring Kyle Wellwood and Marek Svatos back to North America, and for their efforts saw both end up on rival Western Conference teams.

Still the machinations involving those players failed to create as much of a stir as those with the higher profile Nabokov, a one-time NHL rookie of the year for the San Jose Sharks and a brilliant regular season goalie who tended to come up short in the playoffs.  Nabokov’s his reputation didn’t put him in great demand last summer when any NHL team could have signed him as a free agent, resulting in the former Sharks star went back home to Russia to play in the KHL.

Nabokov, 36,  signed a lucrative contract in Russia, but fell out of favor with his club and was released at mid-season. The Red Wings, in need of a veteran presence when Chris Osgood got hurt, then worked out a deal with Nabokov, getting him at a bargain price, working out his transfer and giving him a chance to prove he can still play in the NHL. But since Nabokov played games in Europe this season, he had to clear waivers before he could join Detroit, and the Islanders grabbed him to help deal with the injury problems they are having between the pipes. 

And it was all unassailable because it was perfectly legal.

Problem is Nabokov wants to play for a contender and depending on whose version of the phone he got on the weekend from New York GM Garth Snow, essentially told the Isles to buzz off. So New York is being victimized even though. And so is Detroit, which put in the time and effort to negotiate a deal with Nabokov, ensure his transfer papers were in order and bring him over.

The Blues of course know that feeling too, even though, like everyone else, played by the rules. Even Nabokov, who is exercising his right as a free agent to choose where or where not to play.

But the rules have to change in this case because it’s not fair to have one team put in the time and money to get something done, and then lose the player in the end. The general managers around the league understand that it could happen to them, so don’t be surprised if they come up with some sort of tweak when they meet in Florida in March.

It doesn’t have to be a drastic change – some compensation to the team that works the original deal or putting restrictions on the waivers – would probably do the trick and could be enacted exoeditiously. Remember how quickly the GMs came up with something when head shots was on the table during their meeting last year.

Then, as now, it’s about protecting assets. And that’s something they all can agree on.


Category: NHL
Posted on: January 19, 2011 2:57 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2011 2:58 pm

Deferring to Danny

Jarome Iginla can’t be faulted for begging out of the All Star game. The family reasons cited by the Flames with respect to their captain had to do with the health of his grandmother and his desire to spend some time with her when the schedule breaks.

No one should be denied that request.

Besides, Iginla is having a season he’d probably rather forget, although he is leading the Flames in scoring with 19 goals and 42 points in 49 games. But the season on the whole has been dismal in Calgary, where there has already been a change in general managers and much debate about whether the franchise face should be auctioned off for pieces to kick start an obviously-needed rebuild.

Interim GM Jay Feaster has issued denials about a possible Iginla trade every time he’s seen a microphone, but the questions remain and Iginla would have been facing them throughout the All-Star weekend.

That part, we’re guessing he won’t miss.

Especially since it actually worked out well with Iginla’s replacement being Danny Briere of the Flyers. Briere should have been on the original list because he is having a big season on a team that is having a big season, and four years into the mega-contract he signed as a free agent in 2007, he has emphatically silenced those who questioned whether he is worth the eight-year, $52. 5 million deal he signed.

But it wasn’t always that way. While Briere’s first season saw him produce 31 goals for the Flyers, he took some heat because he had 24 more overall points in Buffalo the year prior and struggled defensively with a team-worst minus-22. Still Briere came through with solid numbers that year with nine goals n the playoffs, which is really where he earned his reputation with the Sabres.

Briere missed most of the following season with an injury, but he has averaged 25 goals in each of the last few seasons with the Flyers, who are so deep at forward that Briere doesn’t always get to play his natural center position. Then again, it didn’t really matter during the playoffs last spring when Briere led all scorers with 30 points, including four game-winning goals, and played a key role in Philadelphia’s run to the Finals.

This season he has picked up where he left off. Briere is leading the Flyers in scoring despite missing three games and playing a modest 17 minutes a night. And five of his 24 goals have been game winners. More important Briere has been the most consistent, and arguably the best player on a team that has been among the most consistent and best in the league this season.

He deserves to be an All Star and now he is.

Sometimes things do work out as they should.
Category: NHL
Posted on: January 13, 2011 2:23 pm

Maybe they shouldn't change ends

The Florida Panthers’ league-worst power play connected three times the other night  in a big win against the Washington Capitals, although any their coach Peter DeBoer tempered his enthusiasm about it today because two of the goals came on 5-on-3s, while the other was a 4-on-3.

Still, it was a positive for a team that needs as many of them as they can get these days. The Panthers are in the midst of the NHL’s longest futility run, having missed every post-season tournament since 2000, and the chances of ending that streak don’t look great considering they are 11 points out of the final Eastern Conference spot with only half a season to go.
But if the Panthers are going to make a miracle move, they have to start it in the next couple of weeks as they go through a six-game homestand, their longest of the season.

“You don’t want to tell them that the season potentially ends in January if you don’t do well here, but at the same time everyone knows the situation we’re in,” DeBoer said as Florida prepared to host the red-hot Nashville Predators. “It’s been made very clear to them.

“The trade deadline is less than eight weeks away and this is a chance to make up some ground and make a statement. But they know we’ve got to start to make a move now.”

The irony about Florida’s struggles so far is that the Panthers have been widely lauded as one of the league’s hardest-working teams night in and night out by commentators and opposing coaches around the league.  Unfortunately, effort isn’t its own reward although DeBoer said things could be worse.

“Other teams around league have slow starts, get behind early or don’t show up to play, we don’t have those issues,” DeBoer said. “The fact we’re a team that is ready to play and builds a lead and has trouble holding it, that’s a much better option than some of the others for a coach to deal with.”

Still the biggest biggest issue in Florida remains the power play, which got its success rate into double digits for the first time in months thanks to the outburst against the Capitals. That has made the unit been an easy target for anyone looking for answers, but DeBoer said it’s not as simple as that.

“I don’t think it’s as bad as the numbers indicate, we’re doing some things the right way, we’re just not getting rewarded,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of gifted natural goal scorers, so we have to crash the net and do other things.”

Mostly, the Panthers have to avoid a disturbing tendency to blow leads. They actually had a three-goal head start on the Capitals before allowing the visitors to draw even, an offense they have repeated far too often this season. Interestingly, DeBoer suggested part of the problem is that Florida actually does things the way it should by playing with structure and sticking to the game plan, at least at the outset. But like many young teams, the Panthers tend to get flustered when something goes wrong and end up letting opponents take games away from them.
“I’ve been telling our guys I don’t think the problem is our third period, the problem is our second period,” DeBoer said. “We come out and get big leads and in the second period we almost wait for other teams to push to get back in. There’s where it starts for me.”
Category: NHL
Posted on: January 11, 2011 11:55 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2011 12:00 am

Power outage

You would have thought that Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau would have taken the glass half-full view of Washington’s  overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.

After all, the Caps did recover from a three-goal deficit to earn a point. And it was an important point too because it drew the Capitals even with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team they are battling for first place in the Southeast Division. The Lightning still technically holds the standings lead because it has more wins, but the teams have now played the same number of games and have a showdown Wednesday night in Tampa Bay.

But Boudreau was still pretty ticked off when it was all over, specifically with his team’s power play. The unit ranked first in the league last season but is 12th this season, and according to Boudreau, that's the biggest reason his team isn’t in sole position of first place right now.

“If we’re going to look this lethargic on the power play, that’s where we’re losing games,” Boudreau said. “It’s not 5-on-5, it’s not the PK, it’s the power play. I keep putting the same guys out thinking okay this is going to turn around, but it’s not.”

Washington failed to score on five power plays against the struggling Panthers, including a brief two-man advantage it held early in the second period, which shouldn't really happen to a team that can trot out Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Mike Knuble when it has an extra skater on the ice. But what really got to Boudreau was the opportunity his team squandered after Florida rookie Evgeni Dadonov was penalized with about seven minutes remaining in regulation after the Caps had tied things up.

“We have a chance to win the game and we don’t even get a shot on goal,” Boudreau said. “We didn’t even get a chance to set it up in their zone, especially when (Panthers goalie Tomas) Vokoun was fighting the puck.

“Guys aren’t working hard enough.”

And that’s not the only problem, the coach said.

“It’s everything,” Boudreau said. “Bad plays, bad puck decisions, staying out too long, not winning battles not doing what we got over in the morning. That’s the stuff that’s ticking me off.”

Still there was a bright side that Boudreau saw, and that was the play of goalie Michal Neuvirth. The youngster is still battling with Semyon Varlamov to be designated No. 1, and starting his first game since before Christmas, he turned in a sparkling 37-save performance. Neuvirth was particulalry good in the first period when Florida outshot the visitors 20-7.

“If it wasn’t for him in the first period, it would have been 5-0,” Boudreau said. “He stole a point for us.”


Category: NHL
Posted on: January 7, 2011 2:32 pm

Stars align for Langenbrunner

Since Jamie Langenbrunner is en route to Dallas at the moment, there’s no way of telling how he feels about being traded back to the Stars from the New Jersey Devils today.

One would suspect though that there is an ear-to-ear grin, akin to what someone who has been rescued from Gilligan’s Island might be displaying.

The Devils are a mess and going nowhere this season or quite possibly for the next few as well, and Langenbrunner gets to escape. More important, the Duluth, Minnesota native gets  a chance to re-invigorate his career with a team that has a chance to make some noise this season, and despite being in the process of being sold, is definitely going for it. That's never a bad thing for a 35-year-old who has been struggling and is in his contract year.

Truth is the writing was on the wall for the former Devils captain once Jacques Lemaire returned to coach on an interim basis just before Christmas. The two had their issues during an embarrassing team playoff meltdown last season, and Langenbrunner has been one of few objects of desire in New Jersey for teams that have been circling like vultures since the bottom fell out early for the Devils.

Much of the problems, of course, have to do with the disastrous lifetime signing of Ilya Kovalchuk last summer, but the reality is that general manager Lou Lamoriello has mishandled the salary cap since the lockout ended and is now paying a steep price for it. Thing is there is no short term fix for New Jersey, only a long, and likely painful rebuild.

But getting a draft pick that will be a third rounder in June, or possibly a second-rounder depending on Langenbrunner’s impact in Dallas, is a step in the right direction. The Devils actually did draft well for many years under Lamoriello.

Meanwhile, Langenbrunner not only goes to a team that is likely playoff bound, he joins one that he is familiar with having played for the first seven years of his career. And he’ll have to be a smaller piece of the puzzle, which should make life easier for him, and make Langenbrunner the real winner in this deal.


Category: NHL
Posted on: January 6, 2011 2:02 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2011 2:04 pm

The view from above

Ondrej Pavelec doesn’t think there's anything really different about his game this year other than feeling a bit more confident because of the way his Atlanta Thrashers teammates are playing in front of him.

“I don’t think you change your technique when you’re 23,”he said.

Maybe not, but according to Thrashers television broadcaster and former NHL goaltender Daren Eliot, there are significant changes in Pavelec this season.

“Technically he started to improve in his butterfly,” Eliot said. “He was a guy who would put the paddle down and make himself small with the shoulders more parallel to the ice. He doesn’t do that now maybe only on dekes, so he’s made himself bigger.”

Eliot said Pavelec has always shown good ‘battle,’ but has been more patient in his crease this season and  become more explosive in his side-to-side movements as a result. Pavelec’s second move used to be a reach, the former Kings, Red Wings and Sabres netminder said, but now he’s pushing to that spot with more control.

The upshot as that Pavelec is picking up pucks through traffic as effectively as anyone in the league, Eliot said.

“He sees a lot of shots because it’s a better group dynamic, a better structure,” Eliot said. “A lot of saves he makes are within group construct which has never been taught around here.

“The defense will be there the back-checking is going to be there, so he can absolutely take his position to that outside steep shot, and he does it convincingly.”
Category: NHL
Posted on: January 2, 2011 1:19 am

Scary moment for Sid

As the teams filed off the ice following the second period, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was hunched over near the Pittsburgh bench and attended to by team trainers.

Crosby took a hit late in the period from Washington’s David Steckel, a hit the Penguins superstar claimed was to his head.

“I couldn’t even tell you what happened,” Crosby said. “The puck was going the other way and I turned and next thing I know, I’m down.
“It’s pretty far behind the play and maybe the refs didn’t see it. A lot of people didn’t but it got in my head, that’s for sure.”

These days, that’s the kind of hit that can get a player suspended, although Steckel said there was no intent to injure on the play. 

 “I was just coming back on the 3-on- 3 and I had my head turned the other way,” Steckel said. “When I saw the puck go the other way I turned and joined the rush, it wasn’t even like I threw my shoulder out, I was just trying to get into the play.

“It obviously wasn’t intentional, I didn’t even see him. I was just trying to get involved in the play.”

Crosby was back for the start of the third period, as coach Dan Bylsma expected he would.

"I didnt get a report (during the intermission) which means that's a good thing," Bylsma said.
Category: NHL
Posted on: December 31, 2010 5:15 pm

Better late than never

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says the Winter Classic will start at 8 p.m instead of 1 p.m. Saturday as originally scheduled.

Daly made the announcement moments ago on the NHL Network, saying that weather reports monitored throughout the week have consistently predicted a rain front will begin in the morning and last through the afternoon. That will give the league's ice crew enough time to prepare the surface and give the players a pre-game warmup.

"We're expecting the front to leave by early evening, so we're moving the start time," Daly said.

Daly said player safety was a primary concern for the decision, but added that the league did not want to have fans come out for an afternoon start and then be forced hang around for hours.

There will be some advantages as well, with both teams getting in a morning skate at the Consol Energy Center, more along the lines of their regular routine. And by evening, the temperatures should be down around the 40 degree mark, which should make for better ice conditions and no glare.
Category: NHL
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