Wednesday, June 30, 2010

July 1 Eve Musings



In less than six hours- well at least on the East coast, July 1 will finally arrive. What should be expected? By now, you know the drill. Expect the unexpected. Some mad team will overpay Dan Hamhuis, who at least won't have the dubious distinction of being Wade Redden. Best "first passer in the game" my ass. I hate you Slats! Tell ya one thing. Tinman better be off the roster this Fall. No ifs, ands or buts.

Mean time, those can toss darts on possible destinations for Ilya Kovalchuk. Picture logos involving the Devils, Leafs, Flames (yes, since they waived Dawes and bought out Ally), Kings along with half the KHL. No Rangers cause they're quite limited and must give bumps up to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi while searching for a backup goalie. Johan Hedberg is our wish. If Derek Stepan is signed, that also could be an encouraging sign for Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh, who the club acquired a year ago today in the Scott Gomez deal. That would also mean taking our senile GM at his word along with Tort about giving kids a shot instead of following NYR tradition.

What will Lou Lamoriello decide? He's locked up David Clarkson for three more years at an average cap hit of 2.67 million. A good investment on the gritty do everything right wing. Tho the price could be classified overpayment. Clarkie must stay healthy which means less fights and continued increased offensive improvement. The real dilemma for the Devils is who they want back? Kovalchuk or D anchor Paul Martin? One won't cost a fortune but the other likely will be in the same market as Hamhuis, who's hoping someone gives him $5 million. Good luck buddy. If I'm Lou, I re-sign Martin and possibly target another D who can clear the crease. Defense has been an issue in recent playoff ousters. Perhaps it's time for the Devil architect to revamp a blueline that too often gets pushed around in primetime. We'll see what he's got up his sleeve.

The Devs bid adieu to Jay Pandolfo, who asked to be bought out so he could start fresh. The popular checking/PK forward had a superb career in New Jersey, helping the club win two Stanley Cups. That included a more prominent role in their most recent during '03 when Pando teamed with John Madden and Jamie Langenbrunner to form a dominant checking line that not only limited the opposition but also scored big goals that Spring. While it's true he's not what he once was, it's still sad to see a loyal teammate leave the only team he's known. Best of luck Jay.

What will the Islanders do? After surprisingly letting go of Sean Bergenheim, perhaps Garth Snow will look for more offense to help support John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. They did tender '09-10 revelation Matt Moulson along with Rob Schremp. Both again will be keys to the Islanders' success. However, much hinges on Tavares' improvement and whether Nino Niederreiter and D prospects Calvin de Haan and Travis Harmonic are ready. Captain Doug Weight returns along with youngsters Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau. How much change will we see? Another scorer certainly couldn't hurt along with a bruising D to help protect the front of the net. Martin Biron likely departs with his former team Buffalo figuring to be in the mix. That could force Snow to go get another goalie. Especially with the continued uncertainty of Rick DiPietro. Possible targets are Alex Auld, Chris Mason and Patrick Lalime.

Meanwhile in Western New York, Darcy Regier is under the gun to re-sign Henrik Tallinder. Toni Lydman clearly was the weakest link and replaceable, which means Slats should be knocking down his door any minute. Are the Sabres bringing back Matt Ellis along with gritty vet Adam Mair? I probably would. Maybe Buffalo gets Ellis done and decides to go younger. Given what they saw from Tyler Ennis, figure the mini-dynamo to be a regular this Fall. Does Drew Stafford need a change? Can the Sabres contend with Derek Roy and Tim Connolly leading the charge? If Regier were smart, he'd get help for Thomas Vanek. And no. Not Raffi Torres. If they really wanted to cure their problems, they'd sign long-time killer Kovalchuk. But that's not in their budget and would tie up too much space. Perhaps someone under the radar like disappointment Patrick O' Sullivan might work. The 25 year-old went from a potential 30 goalscorer to being bought out by Phoenix after they acquired him from Edmonton for Jim Vandermeer. At 25, he's still young enough to turn it around. His career high in goals is 22 along with 53 points and 82 games- all achieved with LA in '07-08. Instead of building off it, he plummeted to 37 and 34 points respectively. He was due $2.925 million this season. Buyer beware.

So, what else is going on? Well, it looks like you can forget Evgeni Nabokov donning Halloween Flyers black and orange after they re-signed Michael Leighton for two years, $3.1 million. With Brian Boucher still around and prospect Johan Backlund waiting in the wings, the Flyers are all set. Likely destinations for Nabby are Washington or Atlanta. We think he'd prefer to play on a Cup contender, teaming with fellow Russians Alexander Ovechkin and Alex Semin. It would make sense. ... The Pens blueline could have a different look much of their corps on the market including vet anchor Sergei Gonchar. He showed some signs of slowing down last year and was nicked up. Committing long-term would be a mistake. The Pens also acquired Hamhuis' rights from rival Philly but the likelihood of it getting done are about the same chance you have of steering Megan Fox away from former 90210 star Brian Austin Green. She couldn't do better? ... In other news, the Preds acquired Sergei Kostitsyn from the Habs for Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd. A deal that seems logical for both sides. Nashville needed scoring while Montreal a vet goalie who could help Carey Price. They still must sign Ellis. ... The Oilers let go of vet Ethan Moreau, who was quickly scooped up by Columbus, who'll assume the final year of a four-year contract at a cap hit of $2 million. The aging vet is a nice locker room presence who can serve as a fourth line energy guy. After a nice Oiler career, he moves to Ohio. ... Also of note, Mike Van Ryn announces that he will skip another season while Ottawa buys out Jonathan Cheechoo. In related news, crickets could be heard at their homes. ...

Finally, Rod Brind'Amour calls it a career moving into the Candy Canes' front office. Congrats to the classy 21-year vet pivot on an outstanding career that saw him finish with 452 goals and 732 assists for 1,184 points in 1,484 games. A tremendous worker who got the most out of his talent, developing into a two-way second line scoring pivot who finished his career with 28 shorthanded goals, winning consecutive Selkes in '05-06 and '06-07. Best remembered for the Keith Primeau deal, Brindy sure did well for himself in Raleigh helping turn Carolina into a Cup champ. While probably not a Hall Of Famer, he was easy to admire. Kudos to No.17. ... Meanwhile, Mike Modano just can't seem to make up his mind. A day after Dallas denied one more year for Mr. Star, they re-signed Krys Barch and Francis Wathier. Ouch. Maybe Modano will return to St. Paul where it all started. That'd be fitting. Personally, I feel he should retire a Star. Him in any other jersey wouldn't look right. No.9 will always forever be a Minnesota North Star/Dallas Star.

Devils re-sign Clarkson, waive Pandolfo and Peters

With just under eighteen hours left before the start of NHL's free agency, the Devils started the process of making over their roster by locking up RFA David Clarkson to a three year, $8 million deal. At face value the $2.66 million cap value seems a little high considering Clarky was coming off a down year, but when you factor in his obvious 20-goal, 100 PIM talent and grit on a team lacking in it, he was essential to keep. Plus Clarkson would have been a UFA after next season so buying out two UFA years does have its price.

Admittedly, a fractured right leg contributed to the 26-year old Clarkson having a bad stretch run and playoffs after his return from missing nearly half the season, but unlike some of the players who put on the jersey and skates last year you could still tell Clarkson wanted to play and do well. Going UFA wasn't something that appealed to the fan favorite, who expressed his desire to get a deal done on more than one occasion and was more than satisfied with the contract.

“I’ve enjoyed wearing the Devils’ jersey and to be able to come back for
three more years is exciting,” he said. “Me and my girlfriend really like
being there. It’s the place that gave me my first opportunity. I’m happy to
go back for three years.”
While general manager Lou Lamoriello ensured Clarkson's immediate future, he was saying goodbye to a couple of other members from last year's team - waiving enforcer Andrew Peters (who did not work out last season, to put it mildly) and long-time vet Jay Pandolfo, who will say goodbye to the only organization he's ever played for during a thirteen-year career with two Stanley Cups. According to Pandolfo, he requested to be let go and wasn't coerced into accepting a buyout.

“Definitely, it’s a sad way to end it,” Pandolfo said. “Obviously, it’s not the
way I wanted it to end, especially the way everything went down last year.
Having it end like this is really sad, but I guess that’s part of this business.
You can’t do much about it.”
Clearly Pando was past his prime, and the fact he was scratched for the majority of games after the Olympic break and - somewhat contreversially - for every playoff game as well reflects that. And his $2.5 million cap hit was surely something that was going to have to be dealt with one way or another. Perhaps he read the writing on the wall and took the classy way out. Some will believe Lou did coerce him despite the player's public denials, whatever the case hopefully the 36-year old will be able to catch on somewhere else and help another team...so long as it isn't against the Devils!

Almost forgotten in this wave of news was the Devils completing their coaching staff with a surprise hire of former great Adam Oates a couple of days ago. With Larry Robinson having returned for the five hundred and forty-second time to handle the defense and Chris Terreri remaining as goaltending coach, John MacLean alluded to wanting to hire an offensive coach as well. Enter Oates, who was one of the all-time great passers and faceoff men to play the pivot in the NHL and will surely help us in both categories, which were at or near the top of our weakest areas last year.

My last memory of Oates as a player in fact, was him whipping our butts on faceoffs and being one of the Ducks' best players in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals despite being forty years of age by then. More recently he served on Rich Tocchet's staff in Tampa last year and oversaw a power play that finished in the top ten in the league. Johnny Mac alluded to not wanting to spill the beans over who he was looking at for assistant coach because of a fear some other team would scarf him up, and it turns out he wasn't just blowing smoke since for a rare time we went outside our own alumni (or the Montreal Canadiens') for a coaching hire and imo a good one at that.

Granted all of these moves are nice but what happens starting noon tomorrow will really be paramount in shaping the immediate future of the franchise. While I fully expect star scorer Ilya Kovalchuk to walk, particuarly after our first-round exit (I thought he might have been sincere enough to take a bit of a discount to win here if we showed we were still a top team last year, which we didn't) the status of Paul Martin is what looms largest. With the contracts middling defensemen have received, Martin with his talent can almost write his own check at this point - especially in a weak year for UFA's in general - and that's trouble for the Devils.

Especially since we didn't do him any favors last year by our mishandling of his injury that caused him to miss most of his walk season, not to mention the Olympics. Will that come back to haunt us tomorrow? If so, expect Lou to have to make a move to shore up our defense. Whether it's by signing Dan Hamhuis or Sergei Gonchar, which is unlikely - or trading for a Tomas Kaberle or Sheldon Souray (unfortunately it's far more likely we take on the injury-prone ex-Devil), either way Lou can't go into next season with a defense that has Andy Greene and Colin White as his top two. Not if we're going to try to win one more Cup with Martin Brodeur instead of starting the rebuilding process early.

Whatever happens stay tuned tomorrow, the history of NHL free agency since the lockout is that a whirlwind of activity happens in the first few days. Our sport's free agency is more entertaining than the far more ballyhooed free agency period in the NBA, which I've been sick of hearing about for the last few weeks. Late tomorrow night in fact, MSG will have a one-hour Hockey Night Live special between 11 and 12, recapping the first day of free agency. Not to mention for those of you with the NHL Network, you get a lot more coverage.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Islanders improve at Draft


It was a good weekend for one Battle club. While the jury is out on the Rangers' Dylan McIlrath gamble, Islander fans had to be pleased with what Garth Snow added to a mix that features John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.

Picking fifth overall in an unpredictable first round that saw both American defensemen Cam Fowler and Derek Forbort slip out of the top 10, the Islanders opted for offensive help by taking Swiss prospect Nino Niederreiter. The talented right wing teamed with Portland linemates Ryan Johansen and Bradley Ross to form a top scoring line that lit up the Western Hockey League (WHL) for 88 goals, including Niederreiter's 36 ranking second among rookies and tied for first with six game-winners. He finished with 60 points (36-24-60 in 65 GP) and 68 penalty minutes, earning 2nd All-Star Team WHL honors in the Western Conference.

Most notably, the 18 year-old who's listed at 6-2, 201 scored big goals, getting the winner to oust Russia in the WJC that advanced Switzerland to the semis against Canada. His six tallies and four helpers for 10 points paced all Swiss, earning a place on the All-Tournament team alongside Jordan Eberle (Edm) and Ranger prospect Derek Stepan. Not surprisingly, Nino also fared well in the WHL playoffs pacing Portland with eight goals while his 16 points ranked second.

No question the rising Swiss is a talented player who should please Islander fans for years to come. He combines strong skating with good skill and grit. This was one of my favorite players during the WJC because of how hard he competed. Ironically, I almost predicted Nino to the Isles figuring it would make sense to get Tavares support. Guess not everyone can be as psychic as good Ranger buddy Scotty Hockey, who nailed the McIlrath pick at 10. Props there.

"I'm trying to be a scorer one day. At the moment I think I'm a two-way player with some skills and also defensively. At the end I just want to be a goal scorer," Niederreiter expressed Saturday while also sounding genuinely excited about being the newest Islander.

"I think it was just great. I think the whole company is fantastic. Even the place where they play, and Long Island, I think it's just so great."

It's that kind of enthusiasm that should endear El Nino to Long Island.

Not only did Snow land Niederreiter but also went for potential by grabbing skilled Russian Kirill Kabanov with the club's third pick, tabbing him 65th overall. Once considered a lock to go in the top 10, the 18 year-old left wing plummeted due to uncertainties about his future. Firing your agent prior to the Draft ain't the wisest thing. With the KHL also a distinct possibility, that along with character issues is why he lasted so long. Will the 6-2, 173 pound Russian make other teams pay the price? He certainly has talent even if a month long negotiation for his release and a broken wrist limited him to only 22 games with Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). In his first 11 games, Kabanov totaled 14 of his 23 points (10-13-23).

In 2009 at the World Under 18 Championships, Kabanov tallied 11 points (4-7-11), placing third on Team Russia. He also once finished third in scoring at the World Under 17 Championships played in London, Ontario, which featured Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. It's not a question of ability. The Islanders are banking on their potential third round steal to silence doubters with his play. When and if he signs, that day gets much closer.


The Islanders spent their other four picks on two centers, a defenseman and another goalie. Here's the breakdown:

2 (30th overall) C Brock Nelson  US       6-3 205
4 (82nd overall) C/LW Jason Clark US   6-2 180
5 (125th overall) D Tony Dehart US        6-2 187
7 (185th overall) G Cody Rosen CA        5-11 180

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bye Bye Sangs

Bobby Sanguinetti has found a new home. Maybe Raleigh will treat him better than how our team did. Showing the usual lack of patience after superhyping the kid from Trenton who they once took in the first round a few years ago. Though it may as well seem like a decade the way his stock plummeted in the organization.

Apparently, there was no chance to recover from Michael Del Zotto beating him out at camp last year. And Matt Gilroy impressed, giving Ranger fans false hope only to disappoint during his first NHL season. So, Sangs goes bye bye and hopefully, gets a real shot with the Candy Canes. The deal was consumated a short while ago while I was watching USA trailing Ghana at the half in World Cup play. The particulars:

NYR receive '10 Car 6th Rd Pick, Wsh '11 2nd Rd Pick
Car gets D Bobby Sanguinetti


Can anyone say dump much? To think that yet again, our organization went ga ga over another kid and then soured due largely to Tort to the tune that this was the best they could get back. Simply amazing. What did Sangs play in? All of 2 games? Actually, it's five. Well, that's an improvement over Hugh Specimen. Best of luck to Bobby. Here's hoping his first career goal comes against us at MSG. Oh. And you know it will. It's a Ranger Tradition.

Ahhh

Okay. I'm cool now. Me and Pop went for a four mile walk and it helped clear my head. All I can say is this kid better turnout good. It's true our D is softer than molasses and could have Hostess sponsor it. And he does sound/look tough. He says they won't regret it. Hey Rath, if you don't, the Ranger org will be feeling ours. :P I have to put a little faith in Gordie Clark, who's done an admirable job with our recent drafts.

Before I hop in a cold shower and change to head out, I just hope they know what they're doing. This was only Round 1. Tomorrow's a new day and a chance to continue addressing holes like the lack of offensive firepower. Let's see what Saturday brings.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yeesh

How in the world did they pass on Cam Fowler? I can't believe he fell like a rock. It was all setting up to be a homerun. Imagine a blueline with Staal, Del Zotto, Fowler, McDonagh and Girardi (assuming re-signed). Heck. They could've traded the pick down and taken Tarashenko or Kuznetsov.

Instead, like a pile of bricks that is the Ranger franchise, they select Dylan McIlrath?!?!?!?!?! I could care less how tough he is. I don't care about his 19 fights. When you get a chance to take a Niedermayer-type who now oddly enough gets his Ducks jersey from him at the podium as No.12 overall, you take him! There was the familiar Pierre McGuire going ga ga over poor Fowler for sliding and praising the Ducks while ripping our loser team and other GMs who obviously forgot to take their med or had way too much scotch. I am flabbergasted.

Another example of NYRFail. Hence my tweet.


The magnitude of this royal suckage is too much. Arrrrrgh.

Random Devils thoughts - schedule, draft and UFA


Aside from actually posting news in a quiet offseason for the Devils so far (other than my four-day vacation in upstate NY where Lou Lamoriello decided to hire a coach and trade for yet another former star player) and the occasional comments after Derek's blogs, I haven't been very motivated to post here. Between the Flyers' Cinderella run in the playoffs which rendered them almost unwatchable for this Devils fan, the soccer World Cup over the last few weeks and enjoying the summer weather, it was time for me to take a break from hockey. Especially after a season which quite frankly was unenjoyable for almost all of 2010, in spite of another division title - one that was won mostly based on 2009 - I needed a break from this team far more than from the actual sport itself.

That said, now it's time to jump back in the pool - literally and figuratively. With the schedule having just come out, UFA looming next Thursday and the draft going on as I type (with the Devils' lack of a pick in the first round, this is as good a time as any to write out a blog), the preamble to the 2010-11 season is well underway now. Especially with other teams making moves left and right as documented in another recent blog by Derek.

First, the schedule...like most Devils fans I was dissapointed we didn't get a home game for the third straight year on St. Patrick's Day. While our sellouts the last two years were basically flukes - one was based on Martin Brodeur getting the all-time wins record and the other was a matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champs on throwback jersey night - it did seem like a nice little tradition that was starting, with many fans getting sauced in the multitude of bars throughout the pregame and then being rowdy (though not to an incorrigible extent thankfully) during the game. Still, one thing that came out of last year was that our green jerseys were such a success Lou's already committed to having the team wear them again this year at a yet to be determined date.

Other schedule notes include our opener at home on Friday, October 8 against the Stars. For the third straight year in fact, the Stars are one of the three teams we play twice in the Western Conference. Earth to Gary Bettman, the Devils and Stars aren't rivals anymore! It's been half a generation since 2000 and most of those players are gone, even if ex-Star/Devil Joe Nieuwendyk is in the Dallas front office these days. I was happy to see the Wings were one of the other two Western teams we get twice (with the Sharks being the third), especially since I'd waited three years to see Detroit come into Jersey only to come down with the flu the week of our home tilt last year so now I'll finally get to see the Winged Wheel again.

I could also do without the second game of the season being an afternoon matchup with the Penguins on a Columbus Day holiday which I don't get off for but so be it, at least we don't have to wait much longer to get a crack at Brent Sutter and his second-division Flames team since they come into the Prudential Center on the eve before Thanksgiving. Ironically that's the only weekday game that begins at 7:30 as opposed to 7, excepting the New Year's Eve game against the Thrashers at 5 PM which should be interesting - especially with former Devils Nicklas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya on an improving Thrasher roster that's already been supplemented by one of my faves, playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien.

As far as the draft goes, I do miss the draft party this year. It's usually a staple of all NHL teams with a first-round pick (of which we don't have one) to have the telecast of the draft go on at the same time as other activities in the team's arena. Oh sure the Devils are having an equipment sale tomorrow at the Rock but I have no interest in that, even if it would be kinda cute to see Grant Marshall and Bruce Driver square off in Family Feud lol...or to see new coach Johnny MacLean who will be on hand for autographs. Generally the equipment sale - which is a part of every draft party - consists of hundreds of people all raiding the sticks and other game-used stuff like it's going out of style and elongating the line for those of us who only want to look at the shirts, programs and other knick-nacks.

Still, being with other fans while your team either gets another future star or makes a trade can be fun. Especially the one year at the Meadowlands where the Devils kept trading down to the point where they had the last pick in the first round and by the time we finally picked, the VERSUS telecast went off the air in favor of bull riding I think it was. People were scrambling around trying to call on the phone to see who we picked, which turned out to be defenseman Matthew Corrente.

Oh, one other thing that I'm looking forward to this year is the Devils' farm team returning to Albany. Why we ever went to Lowell (my guess is a sweetheart lease) is beyond me seeing as it's Bruins country and there was literally no fanbase there for minor league hockey. It's a lot easier making a two-and-a-half hour trek on two highways to see our prospects as opposed to a four-hour marathon through a town and several highways plus Albany already had a good fanbase, even if they did get kicked in the teeth in our later years there by the Devils not doing as much to commit to the farm system. Too bad we didn't keep the River Rats name and logo, opting instead to make all our farm teams named the Devils with an A that has a tail and horns to signify Albany - does anyone else in hockey have both their AHL team and ECHL team named after the parent club?!

As far as UFA and our lack of activity (at least in terms of booting people out of here) on the trade market goes, I've been trying to avoid discussing an unhappy topic so far. While it was expected that Ilya Kovalchuk would get to UFA the recent news that Paul Martin will also test the market is troubling. After losing Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and seeing Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko retire can we take yet another key player defecting? Sure we won the Jennings trophy this year without Martin for the majority of the season but even with him the defense just wasn't good enough in the playoffs once again and losing him would just make a bad situation worse.

I don't expect to retain Kovalchuk, nor does Lou judging by recent comments where he claimed the priorities were re-signing Martin, restricted FA David Clarkson and (gak) fellow defenseman Mike Mottau. Still when it comes to our offense it's as much about what kind of system we play as it is about talent, plus I think we have young forwards that can step in if given the opportunity. And having a coach who was with our minor league team - albeit for a year - makes it more likely those young players will finally be given a fair chance the way they weren't under Sutter or Jacques Lemaire. Either way, it will be interesting to see what happens as more dominoes continue to fall tonight and before UFA.

In a closing thought, best of luck in retirement to Scott Niedermayer, who is a lock Hall of Famer and yet his career will probably be forever underrated outside of New Jersey and Anaheim given his lack of eye-popping statistics and 'only' one Norris Trophy. Still, he's won every major award possible from four Stanley Cups (including one as captain of the Ducks) to a couple of gold medals for Canada and the aformentioned trophy for best defenseman in the league during the 2003-04 season. Reading between the lines of a Lou interview in the wake of Nieds' retirement it seems all but certain that his number 27 will join Stevens's 4 and Daneyko's 3 in the rafters very soon, which would be richly deserved.

Draft Day 2010


Tonight, the drama finally ends for Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. One will go No.1 overall to Edmonton with the other expected to be selected second. Here's the first round order on a day where there could be some movement at Staples Center when things kickoff at 7 ET/4 PT on Versus (TSN):



1.Edmonton
2.Boston (Tor)
3.Florida
4.Columbus
5.NY Islanders
6.Tampa Bay
7.Carolina
8.Atlanta
9.Minnesota
10.NY Rangers
11.Dallas
12.Anaheim
13.Phoenix (Cgy)
14.St. Louis
15.Florida (Bos)
16.Ottawa
17.Colorado
18.Nashville
19.Los Angeles
20.Pittsburgh
21.Detroit
22.Phoenix
23.Buffalo
24.Chicago (Atl-NJD)
25.Vancouver
26.Washington
27.Montreal
28.San Jose
29.Anaheim (Phi)
30.Chicago


As has been the case already, some players could be on the move this weekend. According to TSN, one such player is Florida defenseman Keith Ballard, who's said to be drawing interest from Western clubs. The rugged blueliner certainly can help someone. Other rumored players include Nashville's Denis Grebeshkov, Dallas' Mike Ribeiro, Toronto's Tomas Kaberle and Dan Hamhuis, who the Flyers are still hoping to sign. Does Tim Thomas find a new home? Sergei Gonchar and the Pens are in discussions on a new contract. From our column the other day, forgot to mention Jaroslav Halak finding a new home in St. Louis with the Habs unwilling to re-sign their playoff hero, opting again for Carey Price. Will it backfire? Special kudos to our Devil worshipper Hasan for noting our oversight.

Draft wise, both Columbus and the Islanders are open to trading their picks. If you take the Oilers at their word on still being undecided on Hall/Seguin, perhaps Florida can parlay their No.3 and 15 all the way to the top spot. We'll see. Personally, I'd take Hall as he's the better scorer and can team with Jordan Eberle to give Oiler fans an exciting future. Expect defenseman Cam Fowler to go third with bruiser Erik Gudbranson right behind. Not really sure what the Islanders will do but another finisher would be a boost for John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. One mock has them selecting Brett Connolly, who while missing most of 2009-10 is healthy and projects as a power forward. The Rangers are also rumored to be interested. If they go forward, figure Vladimir Tarashenko, Nino Niederreiter or even Kirill Kabanov to be in the mix. For the Sabres, adding more offense seems logical. But they also could use some blueline help for Calder winner Tyler Myers. Most mocks lean towards D with Jonathon Merrill, Mark Pysyk and Jarred Tinordi possibilities.

Want a couple of potential steals? Two players I like should go in the middle to late first round. Alexander Burmistrov has oodles of talent that could make him electrifying to watch. Jason Zucker might be worth the gamble. The American from Vegas had a good WJC, helping Team USA win gold. He scored a couple of goals while playing a gritty style which should bode well in the NHL. He may not even get picked tonight but that means someone will wind up with a good player Saturday when our very own Brian Sanborn is in the building. Imagine if Buffalo drafts him. Let the chaos ensue.

We're about half an hour away from the Draft. An exciting time for puckers everywhere. Still liked it better on the weekend. And have to echo what Brian said about the unfriendly start time for those attending. It's in California. He can't even make Day One. But like I said, Day Two will probably be more interactive with the rest of the draft taking place and probably a better opportunity to meet players, etc. Might our caped crusader get his chance with Darcy Regier?!?!?! All I can say is enjoy the festivities.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let the fun begin



Now that we're finally back and better than ever with our new more reader friendly design, already the fun has just begun. We're 48 hours away from Friday night's much anticipated first round. What will Edmonton do? Is it Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin or do they trade with Florida down for No.'s 3 and 15 and select Cam Fowler and possibly sliding Russian Vladimir Tarashenko. Whatever they decide, it'll be under the leadership of familiar face Tom Renney, who replaces Pat Quinn behind the bench this Fall. The former Ranger coach will get to work with more talent with Calder hopeful Jordan Eberle on the way and possibly Hall or Seguin, etc which should significantly improve the Oilers.

While the draft gets going in two nights, tonight is the NHL Awards out in Vegas a second consecutive year. Can Ovie three-peat or will Henrik Sedin steal Alex and Sid's thunder? With that in mind, here's a quick glance at my picks:

Hart-H. Sedin
Pearson-Crosby
Norris-Keith
Vezina-Bryzgalov
Calder-Howard
Selke-Datsyuk
Byng-Datsyuk
Adams-Tippett
Masterton-Ortmeyer
Leadership-Miller
Foundation-Brown

My heart says Jed for Comeback Player but head says Kurt Foster. I just can't go against Ort. I went with Bryz over Miller for the Vezina due to his team. Keith over Doughty though I wouldn't be shocked if the super LA soph takes it. For me, Sedin was the best player and stepped it up when twin bro Daniel was out. Giving it to Crosby or Ovechkin is too easy. Henrik's most deserving. I happen to love all three Selke candidates. Huge fan of both Kes and J. Staal. But Datsyuk's remarkable in every facet. So, he probably wins again. Best of luck to all.

Now, for some moves. I'll just post and make a quick comment.

1.Flyers acquire rights to D Dan Hamhuis + '11 conditional seventh from Preds for rights to D Ryan Parent.

Genius move by Holmgren if they get Hamhuis signed. This was rumored back at the deadline. Imagine a Flyer front four of Pronger, Timonen, Hamhuis and Carle with Coburn on the third pair? Ugh. As for Nash, it's obvious they're dumping salary. Better hope Parent turns it around back in Music City.

2.Devils reacquire C Jason Arnott from Preds for F Matt Halischuk + '11 second rounder.

As Hasan already noted, remember when Lou had the infamous M&M reunion post-lockout? Only difference is '00 Cup hero Arnott's still got something left and fills a void. Arnott and Elias reunited. When's Sykora coming back? Couldn't resist. The pluses are nice but what does it mean for Kovalchuk and Martin? Arnott makes $4.5 M. For Nash, guess they're content to revamp with the most underappreciated coach in the biz. The Czar!

3.Panthers acquire D Dennis Wideman, Bruins' No.1 (15th) + '11 3rd for F Nathan Horton and F Greg Campbell.

On one hand, you ask what are the Panthers doing? They already lack offense. Though adding Wideman ain't a bad pickup for a solid blueline even if he's an adventure. However, Horton makes $4 M and has not come close to fulfilling his power forward potential. Maybe a change of scenery playing with Savard and Krejci helps. Campbell is a solid citizen who provides energy. For Florida, it's a win if they can parlay their 3 and the 15 into either Hall or Seguin.

4.Thrashers acquire F Dustin Byfuglien, F Ben Eager, D Brent Sopel and F Akim Aliu (try saying that 10 times in a row) from Blackhawks for F Marty Reasoner, F Jeremy Morin and the rights to NJD '10 No.'s 1 (24th) & 2 (54th).

Credit everyone's favorite Eklund for nailing this trade. Seri---ous---ly. Kudos to Bob McKenzie giving props. Well, we all knew the Hawks had to dump salary, breaking up their newly minted Stanley Cup roster. It sucks. But such is cap life even with it going to a reported $59.4 M. There was no way they could keep everyone. I guess when push came to shove, they just decided to maximize Big Buff's value after a Conn Smythe-esque performance. No doubt Chicago will miss him. But they saved nearly $4 million even if it had to break Sopel's heart. It was not only his day with the Cup but also his first day on Twitter. Ouch. Give the vet credit for this very strong perspective on today's events. Eager was also a solid citizen but the Hawks are plenty tough. Great deal for Atlanta even if it meant moving the picks they got from the Devs for Kovalchuk. Now, they traded him and Salmella, Morin for Bergfors, Big Buff, Patrice Cormier, Reasoner and Sopel. Wacky. The deal works for both sides with Chi-town doing well getting good value back in the picks and a decent prospect drafted last year. It should be a fun deal to track.

In other news, the Sharks have decided Evgeni Nabokov is done in San Jose. No real surprise here. I expect him to land in D.C. where they'll soon be renamed the Washington Russians. Who replaces Nabby? Turco or Mason? German backup Thomas Greiss performed respectably but he's not ready to carry the load. There also was a Tim Thomas rumor but eh. Why would they do that? He couldn't deliver in Beantown and is getting up there. Not to mention his $5 M tag. I'd pass.

Happy trails to Scott Niedermayer, who finally called it a career at a nice gathering at Honda Center yesterday. Kudos to NHL Network for picking up the coverage. The classy defenseman who won three Cups with the Devils and then captained the Ducks teaming alongside little bro Rob for a fourth Cup thanked everyone from coaches, teammates to fans. What an outstanding career the guy the Devils turned Tom Kurvers into back in 1991 had. Among the highlights were winning Olympic gold for Canada twice including close to home in Vancouver at this year's Olympics. Plus a Norris on his way out of the Garden State. What a tremendous player, who also handled himself with class on and off the ice. Just the latest player we lose from our era growing up. Sure is sad. Nieds will be missed.

One other note to pass. The Habs re-signed C Tomas Plekanec to a six-year $30 M contract. The terms are about right for their do everything player. But the length is a bit steep. Still, love the loyalty and good on Les Habitants keeping him.

A big boo to Toronto for not including Pat Burns or taking either Doug Gilmour or Eric Lindros over Dino Ciccarelli for this year's HHOF class which also includes very deserving Cammi Granato, Angela James and Jim Devellano plus Darryl "Doc" Seaman. It is utterly ridiculous that Burns isn't in. What are they waiting for? The poor man has cancer and dying. As for Ciccarelli, while I respect the production (608 goals, 1,200 points), he was never really a dominant player. A superb finisher but he couldn't take over games a la Gilmour or The Big E, who's being unfairly treated for how his career ended. Taking it one step further, why isn't Pavel Bure considered? At the end of the day, it is what it is. Hopefully, some great players will eventually get recognized.

The NHL also released the 2010-11 schedule. And already, it didn't take me long to predict the Rangers' first loss when they open the season at our Buffalo contingent. Can you say midseason form or what?!?!?!?!?!

It's nice to be back!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The more things change...

...the more they stay the same. That saying's been so true for the Devils the last few years for an organization that will not change an outdated system, keeps bringing back former players and coaches who just don't work out the second time around (from Alexander Mogilny and Vlad Malakhov to the disaster that was the Jacques Lemaire reunion tour last year) and would rather bring in flagging vets like Rob Niedermayer and Bobby Holik instead of giving kids like Nicklas Bergfors and Matthew Corrente a real shot.

Keeping with the tradition, during my four-day vacation the Devils have - after a quiet spring so far - simaltaneously named ex-player and current AHL coach Johnny MacLean to take over the head gig here, brought back Larry Robinson as the one assistant hire so far and traded for another ex-player in Jason Arnott. Somewhat remarkably Johnny Mac and Arnott scored what were the two biggest goals in Devils history - Mac putting us in the playoffs for the first time and Arnott winning our second Stanley Cup in double OT. So you would figure that I'd be screaming and hollering with a pitchfork descending on the Prudential Center.

Not so...surprisingly I like all of these moves - to a varying degree and for different reasons. One of my favorites in Robinson is by far the easiest of the three moves to defend as he's always been an excellent assistant and was one of the few ex-coaches who actually ran a system conducive to winning in the post-lockout NHL when he was the head guy, but thankfully he won't be asked to fill that role now since he stressed out (to put it mildly) the last time he was coach in 2006 and admittedly would rather be the good cop that the assistant job provides.

As far as Arnott goes, the funny part is it's a trade that - at the risk of self-promoting the site - I only found out about when I read Derek's article on Johnny Mac since I was just getting back from my trip and didn't feel like perusing the message boards just yet. While I wasn't thrilled with Arnott by the time he got traded in 2002 (ironically enough a main cause of that was his role in Larry getting fired as head coach the first time around) and he's clearly on the downside of his career now in his mid-thirties, at least he finally gives us an actual center to slot in the second-center role as opposed to a converted wing, like say ex-linemate Patrik Elias or Danius Zubrus, to name a couple.

And if he is Rob Niedermayer part deux like I fear he could be (a guy just going through the motions on a one-year deal) then so be it since Arnott's also here for one year only, as a placeholder till either one of our prospects are ready or there are some more UFA centers on the market. As far as the price goes, while Matt Halischuk was a valued prospect a couple years ago, last year he seemed to fall down in the pecking order some but surely he'll get a chance to shine in Nashville now that they're selling off pieces once again...and you have to give up something to get something. Even if we gave up a lot already for a few months of Ilya Kovalchuk.

Leaving the most important one for last - the Johnny Mac decision. While it's true I wanted Mike Haviland (ex-Jersey native, won championships at every level and believes in an up-tempo system) I also deathly feared someone like a Ken Hitchcock or a Michel Therrien - heavily rumored by one Pittsburgh site as having been offered the Devil job. In a battle between the total new-school forechecking approach of a Haviland or total old-school approach of a Therrien, Johnny Mac seems to me at least some form of a middle ground. Mac has some detractors, among them former Devil Holik who said in an interview a few weeks ago that his ex-teammate would be a good coach in the NHL - just not for the Devils, because we needed to change our philosophy and play off the strength of our team which was our forwards.

Believe me, I don't entirely disagree with that sentiment, but by the same token there are reasons to hope Mac won't be more of the same despite being a Devil lifer. For one, the Devils didn't play a totally negative system during both his quasi-stints as the coach (where Lou Lamoriello was in charge but Mac did the x's and o's) in 2006 and 2007, or while he was actually the head boss in Lowell last year. Not to mention Lemaire's system was at the basis of Mac's falling out with the Devils in the late '90's before he came back into the fold like so many others have before him - and after him as well.

Aside from all that, there are positives to giving him the job as opposed to an outsider like a Haviland. Namely the fact that between his stints on the Devils' bench and coaching the kids in Lowell last year he's by far more knowledgeable about everyone in the organization than any other coaching candidate could possibly be. Not to mention there are a total dearth of established candidates out there anyway, certainly no Dave Tippett or (gak!) Peter Laviolette was sitting on the market this year so if you were going to give it to a new guy - might as well be Johnny Mac, who's by now paid his dues.

While I would have liked this transition to have occured a year later (perhaps not-so-coincidentally Lemaire was on a two-year deal and expected to be a transition figure to what hopefully is a long-term coaching solution at last), at least the farm team in Lowell did well to make the playoffs last year considering all of the call-ups that got shuttled in and out of their lineup and the fact that supposed number one goalie Jeff Frazee got supplanted by UFA signee Mike McKenna. And before that, Mac certainly put in his time behind an NHL bench.

Perhaps most encouragingly though from what I've read so far the best quote of this offseason came from Lou after the Arnott trade where he said:

“We didn’t win. We’re going to have to make some changes. There are going to be some changes that might surprise some people.“We definitely will do everything we can. The priority right now is to get David Clarkson signed and Paul Martin signed. And we’ll see what Ilya Kovalchuk’s thought process is."

Of course you can seldom take anything Lou says at face value, but I want to believe that changes are in order and that the only major change isn't going to be losing Martin as a UFA (to go along with Kovalchuk who if he's going for the money will sign in Russia and if he's going for winning will probably sign elsewhere). After all, he traded Arnott and fellow linemate Petr Sykora for far less than what el capitahn Jamie Langenbrunner pulled this past season. With the draft looming next weekend and UFA the weekend after that odds are at least in one way or another changes will be made. Whether they're good or bad, it's too early to say.

Fortunately I don't have any other vacations coming up soon so I probably won't miss three earth-shattering moves again.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Devils now Mac's team

Finally, No.15 gets his shot at running Jersey's team. Say what you will about how John MacLean's New Jersey Devil career ended. When I think of Johnny Mac, I'm reminded of one of the greatest Devils to ever lace 'em up.

As a rival fan, I feared a streaking MacLean firing one of those patented slappers streaking down the right wing. No doubt, whether No.15 was wearing Christmas ornament red, white and green or Satanic black and red, he was a constant. Selected by New Jersey sixth overall in 1983, the kid from Oshawa, Ontario grew up in the Garden State- becoming one of the key pieces helping turn around a franchise Wayne Gretzky once labeled Mickey Mouse. The man who got the franchise into the playoffs for the first time ever thanks to his OT winner at Chicago, kick starting an exciting run to the Wales Conference Final in 1988- became its all-time leading scorer, amassing 413 goals and 429 assists for 842 points over 14 seasons ('83-84 - 12/7/97). That included three straight 40-goal seasons prior to ripping up his knee costing all of '91-92.

To Mac's credit, he returned to form netting 37 and tallying 33 assists en route to a 70-point year in '93-94 on a loaded club that pushed the Rangers to the brink before falling in one of the best Conference Finals ever. After coming so close, the Devils took the next step in 1995, winning their first Stanley Cup by sweeping the Red Wings. The club's longest running alternate captain was an integral part tallying five goals and 13 assists for 18 points during the franchise's run to hockey's pinnacle. Unfortunately, it would be the only championship for the team record holder in goals (347), power play goals (92) and power play points (197).

Following consecutive disappointments that included no Cup defense and a crushing second round elimination by the Rangers, the Devils' greatest right wing soon was on the outs due to a philosophical difference on how he was being used at the start of '97-98. His Devil career ended on Dec.7, 1997 when Lamoriello shipped him out West to San Jose. After a brief stint there, he astonishingly signed with the enemy Blueshirts- proving he still was capable of finishing. While a dreadful team had little success, Johnny Mac did himself proud getting into all 82 games for the only time in his career, notching 28 goals and 27 helpers for 55 points during '98-99. Though he didn't duplicate it in Year Two on Broadway, 18 goals and 24 assists weren't bad enough for new President/GM Glen Sather to treat him like garbage. Somehow after just two games, the classy ex-Devil was made the scapegoat with Dolan's snake exiling a proud 16-year veteran to Manitoba.

Eventually, he'd get out of jail winding up with Dallas and getting the last laugh by helping the Stars into the second round while Sather's new outfit golfed. Deployed in a checking role under Ken Hitchcock, MacLean played two more seasons in Big D before calling it a career. It was then that Lou took him back with No.15 hired as an assistant. A role he'd become acclimated with over the next several years. But while the fiery Devil GM changed coaches about as often as Paris Hilton changes men, MacLean had to wait as he tried others with hardly the success a proud club had pre-lockout. While Jacques Lemaire returned behind the bench last season, MacLean was given AHL Lowell. There, he did a respectable job leading the franchise to its only postseason appearance in four years.

Now, it's finally Johnny Mac's time to shine. Can the only No.15 with apologies to current team captain Jamie Langenbrunner restore order in Newark? At 45, he gets his chance to show what he can do. MacLean should be quite familiar with a roster that still includes former 'mates Martin Brodeur, Elias and Brian Rolston. Add to it a core that features Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Colin White, Andy Greene, David Clarkson and the experienced assistant shouldn't have much trouble getting acquainted. He'll also be quite familiar with prospects Matt Corrente, Tyler Eckford, Nick Palmieri along with sophomore Vladimir Zharkov. He'll also have loyal soldier Larry Robinson back behind the bench running a D which could have a different look depending on what happens with Paul Martin. Martin is the team's top blueliner who plays every key situation but is expected to test the market.

With New Jersey turning back the clock to 2000 for Cup hero Jason Arnott by sending Matt Halischuk and a 2011 second round pick to Music City. Apparently, the Preds are selling their best players with the rival Flyers picking up key target Dan Hamhuis the other day for former prospect Ryan Parent- further bolstering the East champs' blueline.

While it remains to be seen what happens with Martin and Ilya Kovalchuk, this now becomes MacLean's Devils. So, while his number doesn't yet hang from the rafters, he gets his shot behind the bench. Given how it's gone lately, the Devil great should be ready for anything. Here's wishing a good man the best of luck.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Better Late Than Never

It's hard to believe we finally return and a wild 2009-10 has commenced with the Chicago Blackhawks ending a long drought- thanks to Patrick Kane's sudden death sneaker thru Michael Leighton's wickets which only he knew was in, stunning Philadelphia, Doc Emrick and NBC to deliver the Original Six franchise's first Cup since 1961.

Kudos to Conn Smythe captain Jonathan Toews and dynamic running mate Kane, who helped lead one of the league's most riveting young teams to the sport's pinnacle. Amazing how quickly Joel Queenville's club did it too, going from last Spring's rise to the Conference Final all the way to champions in two postseasons. Awesome stuff from arguably the most talented, rich roster in the game. Duncan Keith was a beast all year teaming with overlooked partner Brent Seabrook to form the best tandem. The third time was the charm for Marian Hossa, who overcame the fluky Scott Hartnell equalizer off his skate after Queeneville foolishly sat back, forcing dramatics. Good for Hossa, who this time was much more effective these playoffs. Though he only lit the lamp three times, the star was superb in all facets, hustling all over the ice and setting example.

While Hossa redeemed himself, what could be said about Dave Bolland and Dustin Byfuglien? Both were money during the magical run, scoring and setting up big goals as well as throwing their weight around. You could easily make the argument that Bolland- not Toews- was Chi-town's best player and deserved playoff MVP. But they went with the overall playoff leading scorer who certainly dominated Vancouver and San Jose as these Blackhawks went through a tough trio of Nashville, Vancity and San Jose. Remarkably, the division rival Preds pushed them the most, coming very close to leading 3-2 before the Hawks rallied to win it.

Enough can't be said about Patrick Sharp, who notched timely goals during the run, including some daggers against his former team for Lord Stanley. The Flyers didn't exactly come out on top in that trade. Hell. Even former pest Ben Eager got them early in the series, helping the Windy City go up two-nil before Peter Laviolette's pesky bunch got back in it. If ever a team deserved a better fate, it was this tough Flyer bunch who never heard the words 'give up.' No matter what obstacles (injuries, 0-3 down), they were a T-E-A-M, proving it with determined play that even won over this rival fan. Anyone who knows me knows I got no love for the Flyers but they really get mad props. You represented our conference proudly, showing that never say die attitude that only Rocky could appreciate. And you can bet the legions of Philly fanatics who booed Santa stood proudly even after Kane's stunner, leading to the most anti-climatic ending in Cup history. Yeah. Elias to Arnott was a lot better a decade prior.


Kudos to Jeff Carter, Ian Laperriere and especially Simon Gagne for igniting the orange and black back with the OT winner staving off elimination at Wachovia in Game Four versus Beantown. We all know what happened afterwards. One of the most historic playoff comebacks ever. And to think, they dismantled the Habs and had Chicago concerned before the wild end to the Cup. Would it have shocked anyone if the Flyers had pulled that out, they go into United Center and win the series? Considering how tough they were led by Mike Richards and royal pain Chris Pronger, not at all. Look at the contributions they got from Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and former Wing Ville Leino, who really came of age during the special run.


And what of the unlikely netminding duo of Leighton and Brian Boucher? Two journeymen taking this team who snuck in thanks to Bouch outshining Henrik Lundqvist in the shootout, nearly doing the unthinkable. Who needs goaltending? When one of his netminders seemed off, Laviolette had the magic touch or even a weird injury like to Boucher versus Boston allowing Leighton to come in and steal the show. When you have a blueline led by Pronger and big minute logger Kimmo Timonen, it really helps.
As Hasan noted much earlier during his team's first round ouster, this wasn't your normal low seventh seed that just made the cut. They had star power up front and on D and it showed all Spring.


There also were heart and soul types like Blair Betts and Laperriere risking themselves with tenacity on the PK. Hence. Lappy taking one to the eye when the Devils were all but finished. The kind of yeoman work you need to go deep. It was that kinda gritty effort that made Philly so proud of these Flyers, who brought that Broad Street mentality with them. In the end, even though they came up a little short of delivering the franchise's first Cup in 35 years, the orange and black were winners.


No wonder the series was so popular, garnering excellent ratings which demonstrate just how far the game's come. It helped to have two of the largest markets, who boast strong fanbases. However, the action was fast, furious and ferocious. Precisely the kind of in your face playoff hockey we can appreciate. In the end, the best team won.


As it turned out, Antti Niemi was a little better than Leighton, who the Hawks chased a couple of times en route to becoming champions. A Finn getting his name on the chalice who wasn't exactly a household name. He didn't have to be.


A toast to both cities on an outstanding Cup Final.





Sincerely,






BONY's Derek Felix

The Puck Stops Here

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