Posted on: October 27, 2010 4:38 pm

Midweek musings

Some random thoughts as we wonder about how bad things can get for Sheldon Souray.

If it wasn’t enough that the Edmonton Oilers were so desperate to get rid of him, they loaned to another organization’s minor league team and will pay his $5.4 million NHL salary in the meantime, the veteran defenseman got into a fight during a game this week and broke his hand.  Souray, 34, is only expected to be out a couple of weeks so that part of it could be worse. But one of the biggest reasons Souray drew no interest on the waiver wire – aside from his salary – was his tendency to get injured frequently.

Meanwhile, Avs goalie Craig Anderson was an iron man in his first season with Colorado last year, but he got hurt from some horse play during the warm-up before Monday’s game in Vancouver. Early reports filtering out of Denver suggest that the knee injury Anderson suffered might not be as serious as initially feared, although that seems a bit optimistic. Anderson twisted his knee awkwardly and looked to be in great discomfort immediately after and as he limped to the dressing room.

Fortunately for the Avs, they’ve gotten off to a decent start, especially considering most of its games have been on the road. But the idea of using backup Peter Budaj for an extended period isn’t very appealing to Colorado.

But it’s not bad enough to make the Avs think about a trade. Still there was lots of buzz these days about potential deals, aided and abetted of course by Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke’s skillful use of the media in the self-proclaimed center of the hockey universe. Burke told a Toronto radio station that he had a couple of solid offers from teams, although he told the same interviewer that anyone would be desperate enough to make a deal quite this early in the season.

Thing is there were some 23 scouts and/or general managers attending games the Coyotes played this week in Montreal and then Ottawa, which got the rumor mill buzzing because of the precarious financial situation Phoenix continues to be in. Coyotes GM Don Maloney didn’t rule out anything on the NHL Live radio show today, although he noted that the rare Eastern visit by his club made it a good time for others to check it out.

“Are we looking, sure, of course,” Maloney said. “We talk constantly, but I wanted to give it 10 games into the season to see where we’re at.”

The 10-game mark, by the way, is the deadline for teams making decisions on where fuzzy-faced freshmen will be at for the rest of the season. Players with remaining junior eligibility can be sent back before playing a 10th NHL game, saving the team a year of their entry level contract. The biggest debate naturally has surrounded Edmonton’s Taylor Hall, the first overall pick last June.

The Oilers organization has dropped hints that Hall isn’t going anywhere despite a very slow start that has seen him pick up only one assist in six games. Chances are a few other teenaged first rounders like Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, Boston’s Tyler Sequin, and when he returns from a broken nose, Anaheim’s Cam Fowler will stick around too.

But don’t be surprised if Atlanta decides Alexander Burmistrov is better off among kids than men for another year and the Islanders come to the same conclusion about Nino Niederreiter. Both play their ninth games Wednesday.


Category: NHL
Posted on: October 25, 2010 1:16 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2010 1:17 pm

Dog days for Devils

Are the New Jersey Devils better off with or without Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup? It’s hard to tell these days with the Devils, especially after a weekend that saw them drop two games, only one of which their high-priced forward was dressed for.

Kovalchuk’s healthy scratch has been the big story over was the last couple of days, although on the attention meter, it probably paled a bit compared to Vancouver forward Rick Rypien grabbing a fan in Minnesota.  Still Kovalchuk’s banishment by rookie coach John MacLean was enough to overshadow the scoring 1980s-like ‘explosion’ that took place during the last seven days when seven different players picked up hat tricks.

Three of those tricks came on Saturday night when Kovalchuk was watching in street clothes as his struggling Devils got pummeled 6-1 by Buffalo. The Sabres, of course, haven’t been any great shakes either this season, but they made it look easy against a Devils team that is off to a dangerously bad start. And that has to be troubling to the organization that created all kinds of financial problems for itself when it bent over backwards to sign Kovalchuk.

Neither MacLean, who has not made the transition to an NHL coaching job very smoothly so far, nor Kovalchuk would discuss the reason for the suspension, although the widespread belief is that the star player was late for a meeting. Whatever the reason, it tells you something is very wrong in New Jersey, where the addition of a $100 million player has not paid any dividends, immediate or otherwise.

The suspension came after New Jersey won for only the second time, shutting out the Canadiens 3-0 in Montreal on Thursday. Kovalchuk was back against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and scored the Devils only goal. But even with him in the lineup, New Jersey still lost 3-1.

That doesn’t bode well for a team that may not have the elements to take advantage of Kovalchuk’s special talents. Especially now that it is heading out on a tough five-game Western road trip that could be a make-or-break one for its season.
Category: NHL
Posted on: October 22, 2010 7:12 pm

Anger mis-management

The NHL got it right by giving Rick Rypien a six-game suspension, which is a pretty stiff ban by most standards.  And he may have caught a break too because a lot of people though the Vancouver Canucks forward was facing 10 games or more for committing one of the biggest no-nos in pro sport.

Ultimately though, the altercation he got into with a fan who was along the tunnel to Vancouver’s dressing room was much ado about nothing, and that was taken into account. Rypien grabbed him briefly, disengaged and in essence that was it, although for an image-conscious leage, that was well over the line in itself.

So Rypien will lose about 1/12th of his salary and an additional $25,000 in fine for an exchange that was quick, spontaneous and really just plain stupid. In other words, he’s paying a pretty steep price for a brain cramp. And it could cost him more because the fan, James Engquist, has told several media outlets that he is contemplating legal action.

Mind you,Engquist seemed no worse for wear after the episode, high-fiving those around him as he was ushered to another seat. But hey, lots of lawyers have time on their hands. And now Rypien might need one.

So if his suspension doesn’t reinforce the necessity of thinking on their feet to NHL players,  that should.


Category: NHL
Posted on: October 22, 2010 2:43 pm

Organically grown

When money is tight, and especially when a team is up for sale, an organization’s natural tendency is to find and develop young players themselves.

That’s what the Stars are doing for the most part these days, albeit at what seems to be an accelerated pace, but Dallas is adding a little out-of-the-box thinking to the mix by bringing in former player Gary Roberts as a consultant.

Roberts retired last season after a 22-year career in which he earned the reputation as one of hockey’s grittiest forwards and a fitness freak. Roberts’ career nearly ended a dozen years earlier when two neck surgeries forced him to miss an entire season, but he became a believer in the value of nutrition and targeted training techniques, and lately has helped young stars at his own facility near Toronto every off season.

Roberts, 44, had Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie, Florida’s Stephen Weiss and the Stars James Neal among others go through his drills and eat things like wheat germ and sprouts this past summer, and now he will do it on a more formal basis for his longtime buddy, Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk.

“The gig he had last summer, I think it was something he really enjoyed , and if you ask the guys who did it, they’ll all say they got a lot out of it,” Nieuwendyk said. “Gary’s going to offer so much not only to the players on our team, but throughout the organization.”

Nieuwendyk said Roberts will be in Dallas for a few days next week to get familiar with things and then will start working with some prospects in the system.

“It’s something he’s really good at too,” Nieuwendyk said. “I mean he was showing those kids how to train last summer, feeding them organic food after workouts and then taking them to supermarkets to shop.

“Basically he’s teaching them how to be pros and that’s what we want.”



Category: NHL
Posted on: October 20, 2010 11:32 am
Edited on: October 20, 2010 12:58 pm

Louie, boo-ey

I suspect there is a great deal of concern around Vancouver today, just not because Canucks’ forward Rick Rypien embarrassed everyone by losing it and going after a fan in Minnesota.

No doubt the NHL will come down hard on Rypien because the league suspended him even before holding a hearing. And the length of the ban should be severe because Rypien’s action was indefensible regardless of the taunts being directed at him.

However long the suspension ends up though, the impact on the Canucks will be minimal because Rypien is a marginal role player who contributes little that doesn't involve his fists. What should matter more to Vancouver is what helped trigger his breakdown, the beating being administered to the Canucks by the Wild.

That has to be disconcerting for those who believe this team is a serious contender for the Stanley Cup – say everyone in that part of the world -- because it was so thorough, and from a team that has been bad enough to earn a bag skate from its coach a week into the season. On paper the Canucks may look like they have the goods and the depth to make a real run, but the start to the season has been uneven at best and in what should be particularly troubling, Vancouver is getting shaky work from goalie Roberto Luongo.

It probably didn’t help Luongo to come back in Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center after a game off, something the organization plans to give him more of this season with Cory Schneider ready to handle a bigger load. For whatever reason, the Wild's digs have always been a trouble spot for him and the loss Tuesday dropped Luongo’s career record to 3-9-2 there.

But Luongo looked less jinxed than bad on most of the six goals he gave up before being pulled to start the third period. That’s 14 he has allowed in his last three games. Those aren't the kind of numbers expected to be associated with someone usually referred to as an “all-world” talent, and certainly not a confidence builder for Luongo or anyone in the organization heading into Wednesday’s game at Chicago.

Despite it being only two weeks into the season, this is a game the Canucks circled on the calendar as soon as the schedules came out. It's an early opportunity for them to make a statement about themselves, and against a nemesis they may well have to go through to get to the Stanley Cup.

Thing is to do that, they’ll need Luongo to play the way he is supposed to, not the way he did in the previous playoff meetings with the Blackhawks. And not the way he is playing right now.
Category: NHL
Posted on: October 19, 2010 2:37 pm

Pipe dreams and dilemmas in Pittsburgh

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma won’t tip his hand about his starting goalie Thursday in Nashville, probably because he really doesn’t know himself. This actually poses a quandary for Bylsma, and one that he hasn’t really faced since taking over two years ago.

Blame it on Marc-Andre Fleury for being healthy and available. He is creating what could be construed as a controversy these days.

See Fleury is Pittsburgh’s franchise goalie, a rare member of his breed drafted first overall, and he has four more years left on an expensive contract. He’s earned it of course, most notably by preserving the 2009 Stanley Cup with a spectacular last-second save in Game 7 on future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, and the talented Penguins need him  to be the goalie for them to win again.

It all seems simple enough except that Pittsburgh is doing much better with his backup so far this season.

That’s not the kind of thing coaches generally like to mess with. Besides Fleury was pretty ordinary last spring’s aborted playoff run by Pittsburgh and he has struggled this season. The 25-year-old goalie has already been the target of Bylsma’s public ire, getting called out after a particularly weak loss last week in Toronto, but his other two starts weren’t appreciably better. In fact his numbers so far – an .853 save percentage and 3.41 goals-against – are pretty ugly.

Meanwhile, there is Brent Johnson, a 33-year-old veteran who was once in the conversation about the next standout American-born goalie. Mind you that was a decade ago when Johnson had taken over the starting job in St. Louis, a situation that lasted about a year until some injuries set in. Since then, Johnson has been a journeyman backup, putting up steady if unspectacular numbers during stops in Phoenix, Washington and the minors before getting to Pittsburgh last season.

Johnson did the reliable job expected of him by the Penguins, getting into 23 games last season. But right now, he is one of the biggest reasons Pittsburgh has been getting out of its early funk.  The Penguins lost the first two games of the season at home as they opened their new arena with Fleury in goal, but Johnson got them into the win column on the road in New Jersey, and then won three in a row more after  Fleury’s debacle against the Maple Leafs.

It hasn’t hurt that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have caught fire in the last few games, but Johnson has allowed only six goals in his four starts and has a .950 save percentage. So right now, he’s the hot hand the team should be riding. Problem is Pittsburgh has to get Fleury back on track and the longer it takes to try, the harder it will be.

Funny thing is that Fleury says that nothing should change with the team playing so well, while Johnson says he realizes he is just a place holder, although no one knows for how long.

“I’m not even close to going there now,” Bylsma said after Johnson was lights-out in Monday’s 5-2 win over Ottawa. “Marc-Andre Fleury is our No. 1 guy. He'll get to do that again."

But when?
Category: NHL
Posted on: October 18, 2010 4:55 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2010 6:06 pm

The message gets louder

Shane Doan isn’t considered a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination, although he has been one of the league’s most physical forwards for the last dozen years. And the Coyotes captain proved it by taking out Anaheim forward Dan Sexton on Sunday night.

Problem was that Doan came at Sexton from behind and made contact with the Anaheim player’s head, which is something everyone around the league is pretty sensitive about these days. All you have to do is check out the roster of star players who are now or have been sidelined by concussions to understand why.

Sexton managed to escape that fate on the play. In fact he wasn’t hurt and Doan’s wasn’t penalized, but unfortunately for the Phoenix player, there is video of everything these days. This one made Doan’s hit look unnecessary because it came well after the Ducks player had rid himself of the puck.

So after a review today, the league decided to hit the Coyotes franchise player even harder by suspending him for the first time in his career. Doan got three games, which is one more than Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson got last week for a much more dangerous hit last week. That left Buffalo’s Jason Pominville out with a concussion, but the league is raising the ante by coming down hard on a well respected player like Doan, particularly in a debatable situation like this.

Doan said he didn’t intend on delivering a blindside hit. But it happened did and the league wants players to realize it shouldn’t. Maybe seeing a leader like Doan pay this kind of price will drive that home.

Category: NHL
Posted on: October 14, 2010 2:00 pm

Sabres need to get sharper

The Buffalo Sabres are making a big deal over Friday night’s home game against Montreal because they will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first NHL game in the city. Coincidentally, the Canadiens were the opponent back in 1970 as well, so there will be a nice little added touch to the festivities.

Thing is the date the Sabres really seem to be focusing on will come a day later when they travel to Chicago to meet the Blackhawks.  As it happens, that will be just in time for Niklas Hjalmarsson to return from his two-game suspension, the one the Chicago defenseman got for blindsiding Buffalo’s Jason Pominville earlier this week.

Pominville left on a stretcher and ended up with a concussion, while Hjalmarsson, who had no ‘priors’ in terms of disciplinary actions, was forced to sit by the league. Hjalmarsson apologized for what he described as an unfortunate rather than a malicious play, and several national talking heads defended him too, saying that Pominville left himself too vulnerable.

Of course the opinion was not shared by several Sabres, who have argued that the punishment did not suffice for the type of crime. And one Buffalo player, forward Patrick Kaleta, even suggested some retribution might be in order

“We'll make a point that you can't be taking hits like that against one of our leaders and one of the better players on our team,” he said.

Those are fighting words, but you can expect cooler heads to prevail by the time the teams hit the ice. For one thing, the league gets a little antsy when threats are made or implied by players, and having their spotlight shining down tends to keep players from acting out. But more important, the Sabres have bigger issues to deal with as they proved by losing 1-0 to New Jersey on Wednesday night.

It was the Sabres third loss in a row – all of them at home – and it might have been the most troubling one yet because it was against a team that came in winless, undermanned and in apparent confusion. Instead, the Sabres were the ones in disarray, going nearly 17 minutes before getting their only shot of the first period.

New Jersey had 15 shots by the way in what was an inspired first period that set the tone for the night. The Devils beat Buffalo to pucks, won battles along the boards and even outhit the Sabres 19-5. In fact the Devils probably would have won this game earlier than in overtime had Sabres goalie Ryan Miller not been at the top of his game.

Problem for Buffalo is that Miller the only one there these days and that has to be a big concern for a team that figures to be in tough to make the playoffs this time around. The Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said as much afterward when he suggested his players might have started the new campaign feeling a little too good about themselves, although you have to wonder why.

Granted Buffalo had a good pre-season schedule and won on opening night in Ottawa, but the reality is that they were actually a disappointment last season and didn’t do anything to upgrade their lineup over the summer. That the organization seems convinced this team can do the job is to be expected, but it conveniently overlooks that Buffalo lasted only six games in its first playoff round in three years. And that was after winning the Northeast Division handily.

A great 8-1-1 start helped that effort along. So did very a good at home last season, something Ruff says is critical to repeat in this one.

"I want this to be a real tough building to play in," he said.

Maybe they’ll need to invite the Blackhawks to visit more often.
Category: NHL
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