Thursday, June 30, 2011

Erhoff contract sparks controversy on eve of UFA



Last offseason, all we heard for two months was how dare the Devils violate the 'spirit' of the CBA by violating rules that by and large didn't exist. About the only thing you could question the legality of the first contract we offered Ilya Kovalchuk was the minimum salary on the back end, which was (because of inflation) lower than the current minimum salary...but that wasn't why that deal was overturned. Because apparently when every other team in the league skirts the rules they get let off but when we do it, we get thrown in jail. And our second Kovalchuk contract followed the guidelines set by arbitrator Richard Bloch and yet the league still was going to bounce it unless they got concessions from the NHLPA at the point of a gun. Concessions that were in theory supposed to curb the longer, too cap-friendly contract.

Why bring this up again now? On the eve of this year's UFA frenzy the Sabres caused a stir by signing defenseman Christian Erhoff to a ten-year, $40 million deal. Yes, that's a lot of years but the cap hit's low...but what really makes this deal roll my eyes is the structure of it (all numbers in millions):

Year 1: 10 (8 signing bonus, 2 salary)
Year 2: 8 (5 signing bonus, 3 salary)
Year 3: 4
Year 4: 4
Year 5: 4
Year 6: 4
Year 7: 3
Year 8: 1
Year 9: 1
Year 10: 1

So basically, Ehrhoff gets approximately half the value of the contract in the first two years of a ten-year deal, thanks to a $13 million signing bonus. I'm sure the Sabres didn't violate an actual rule but if the crux of the NHL's argument against us last year was that we violated the 'spirit' then why should they let the Sabres skate by? Or the Flyers, who also ridiculously front-loaded Ilya Bryzgalov's contract hours after they traded Jeff Carter, who they signed to a twelve-year deal but managed to trade him before his NTC kicked in and before they paid one penny of that deal.

Don't misunderstand me, the Sabres are the next to last team I want to see get punished by the league and I'm glad they got Ehrhoff and have an owner willing to spend. In fact, I'm in a good mood tonight and was going to let this go without a post/rant but I'm just continually astounded by the hypocrisy of this league when they literally let everyone else get away with murder and took away two high picks from us for not violating any rule on the books. I guess the only saving grace was that they didn't make us give up our first rounder this year, can you imagine what a disaster that would have been - if we missed out on Adam Larsson because of this crap?!

Besides, this Ehrhoff contract was probably a warning shot if anything. I can't wait to see some team sign Brad Richards or even offer sheet Steven Stamkos tomorrow using much the same structure to keep the cap hit down - and in Stamkos's case make it untenable to match a contract that has a ton of money up front. And when, exactly will the NHL make an example of a team other than the Devils?! I can't fathom that age on the back end of the contract is the only thing that constitutes circumvention and violating the spirit of the CBA.

Ehrhoff to sign with Sabres

Christian Ehrhoff has decided he'll be happy in Buffalo. After Vancouver dealt his negotiating rights to the Islanders, the free agent to be told Garth Snow no yesterday- forcing another deal with the Sabres last night. Well, apparently the Sabres are what the soon to be 29-year old German defenseman had in mind, reportedly agreeing to a three-year deal worth an average of $5.4 million per season.

A former fourth round pick with the Sharks, the puckmoving blueliner fared well after being dealt to Vancouver two years ago for prospects Daniel Rahimi and Patrick White. He improved on his career best 42 points in '08-09 with San Jose by increasing to 44 in '09-10 and 50 this past season that saw the Canucks win the President's Trophy, going all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup before losing to Boston in their third appearance. Ehrhoff attained new highs in assists (36), points (50), power play points (28) and shots (209) over 79 contests with Vancouver. He also connected six times on the power play for a second consecutive year while posting a respectable plus-19 rating. Over two seasons as a Canuck, he went 28-66-94 with 94 penalty minutes, a plus-55 rating, 12 PPG and six game-winners.

Despite an outstanding season that included 13 points (2-11-13) during the postseason, Ehrhoff was a minus-13 with most of his production (1-7-8) via the Canucks' top rated power play. Vancouver was no match for Boston, who won the battle of special teams and outphysicaled them en route to their first Cup since '72.

While Ehrhoff can definitely give Buffalo a boost offensively, he can be attacked in his end and comes at a hefty price. However, with a back line that also features Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, recently acquired Robyn Regehr and Marc-Andre Gragnani, the Sabres should be formidable. Perhaps new owner Terry Pegula is serious when he says he wants to bring a championship to Buffalo.

Strome big part of Islander New Era

John Tavares is the centerpiece. Perhaps Ryan Strome is the Robin to Tavares' Batman for the Islanders as another New Era kicks off this summer with the pivotal new arena vote for Long Island. Much of the franchise's future depends upon it if owner Charles Wang is to keep a team that once won four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-83).

When former No.1 pick Kyle Okposo subbed for Garth Snow and made the fifth overall selection of Strome official, it allowed Islander fans to dream of a potential dynamic duo that could steer the struggling franchise back to respectability. Even if Snow swung and missed on Christian Ehrhoff before recouping a fourth round pick from Buffalo, who now has less than 24 hours to sign this year's version of Dan Hamhuis, the Islander GM is taking his best shot- willing to roll the dice to bolster his club's chances of returning to the postseason in '11-12.

While he focuses on upgrading the current roster, Snow and Isles' brass went for skill in 18 year-old Strome, who is a crafty center with the kind of playmaking capabilities the club has lacked. After only playing 27 games with the Niagara Ice Dogs after coming over in a trade from the Barrie Colts, the Missisauga Ontario native exploded with 33 goals and 73 assists totaling 106 points over 65 contests in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League). He also went 6-6-12 in the playoffs, boosting his stock to the point where the Islanders chose him over Sean Couturier, who fell to the Flyers at No.8. Even better, Strome is familiar with Tavares, who he trains with.

"I work out with John, and he already called me as soon as it happened, I couldn't be happier. I have a guy to mentor me through the summer. I see him every day. I think I'm in a very good situation," Tavares' thrilled future teammate said of getting the chance to play with his buddy.

Like I said, I couldn't be happier with the situation, and I'm just excited to get things started.
Will Tavares/Strome become Sakic/Forsberg, Lecavalier/Richards, Crosby/Malkin, Datsyuk/Zetterberg? That's the level of excitement Islander fans have for their newest draft pick, who hopefully will make the transformation sooner and be part of a nucleus that also features Nino Neiderreiter, who has a good chance of making the team next year.
"They're a young team. They've got a ton of assets. I want to grow with the team, and I want to win a championship. I know I'm young saying that, but that's what you want to do. You want to build from the ground up and that's what New York's doing, and I hope to contribute to that."
Strome enjoyed much success last season that it made one ponder what the biggest difference was.

"I think just confidence in the second-year round. I worked really hard in the summer. I credit that to athlete training center where I work out with John, obviously. I came back with a ton of comments. I got the ball rolling early, and just tried to keep it rolling through the whole season. I mean, confidence is such a big thing in hockey, and that's what I tried to do."
With the Islanders continuing to build around Tavares, Okposo, Matt MoulsonMichael GrabnerBlake Comeau and Josh Bailey up front, overlooked is a blueline that features Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and anchor Mark Streit, who will return with future pieces in Calvin de haan and Matt Donovan, who should only bolster the back end for years to come. With Al Montoya recovering from surgery and Rick DiPietro fresh for the Fall, it should allow the organization to show patience with Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen, who both got valuable experience in '10-11.

The club also has plenty of room if they decide to add a free agent when noon rolls around tomorrow. Snow does have to re-sign Group II's Comeau and Bailey, who also might be used as trade bait- depending on how they view the former '08 first rounder. Jack Hillen, Ty Wishart, Jesse Joensuu, Dylan Reese, Jeremy Colliton and Michael Haley are also restricteds they must decide on. Radek Martinek is likely done while enforcer Zenon Konopka should receive interest on the market.

Certainly, the pieces are in place for this New Era that hopefully will include a new arena, ensuring the Islanders' home off the Meadowbrook. There's plenty for Islander fans to look forward to and too much at stake.


2011 ISLANDERS DRAFT

Rd    Overall    Pos     Name    
1      5th           C        Ryan Strome
2      34th         D        Scott Mayfield
2      50th         C        Johan Sundstrom
3      63rd         D       Andrei Pedan
4      95th         D        Robbie Russo
5      125th       LW     John Persson
5      127th       D        Brenden Kitchton
7      185th       C        Mitchell Theoret

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NYR Draft Party recap: Emotional time remembering Boogaard, Miller tabbed/Grachev dealt

It's been a while since I got the chance to post. Just been quite busy lately. A lot's happened over the course of five days, including the 2011 NHL Draft completed last weekend in St. Paul. While Adam Larsson was falling into the Devils' lap and the Islanders tabbing scoring center Ryan Strome fifth, it was a bit of a longer wait for True Blue fans crammed into at SNAP Sports Bar on 8th Avenue and 14th where the Rangers hosted a Draft Party for Friday's first round.

We made the trip along with the bro, friend and Dad and greeted rabid Blueshirt fans, who were pumped for festivities that included guest appearances from former picks Dylan McIlrath, Christian Thomas and Carl Hagelin. The trio all were superb signing everything and greeting everyone. It was MC'd by team PA announcer Joe Tolleson, who looked thrilled to be there. :P Hey. It wasn't a big place. So, he was basically stuck in a corner with helpful Rangers PR assistants, who handed out sheets for Ranger Trivia pertaining to the draft. Despite the chaotic scene, that had many standing including yours truly, it was a fun time had by all. From our section 411, the comical Chris, Big Mikey were there along with Bob, who rocked our favorite Ranger jersey Petr Prucha. If only I could upload the pics. There also were some other cool fans, including two women with enough pins for a Ranger army. Plus one of the cooler dudes John, who started what else but a "Let's Go Rangers," chant as our turn finally came.

As the smoking cigar son of a gun made his way up there along with Gordie Clark, a special guest also went up to the podium to say a few words about his brother. In the second emotional scene of the night, Aaron Boogaard spoke about how much Derek Boogaard meant. Whether he donned the Wild #24 or the Rangers #94, he always made time for the little people off the ice, who needed it. The Boogey Man was a fan favorite in Minnesota and got a warm reception like the one he received along with the infamous "Boos" when our team returned to play the Wild during the season. It was in that moment that we all were united, quietly watching and listening to every word Aaron said about his brother. That's when the hockey community is at its best. Very strong and supportive. Kudos go out to Kevin of The NYR Blog for making special Boogey t-shirts with all proceeds going to one of Boogaard's charities. He raised over a thousand dollars. Tremendous job!

Sometimes, it's not always about super fans like Dancin' Larry, who made the rounds in future captain Ryan Callahan's jersey as if he was some rockstar. Sometimes, it's about emotional moments like when troll Gary Bettman brought out former top Draft Chief Scout E.J. McGuire's family to begin the proceedings. There stood his wife and two kids honoring their husband/father who put so much into the game of hockey, making it better for us to follow. Only the good die young. So, this Draft was unlike others with more sentiment attached before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went first to Edmonton and Gabriel Landeskog second to Colorado with Florida selecting Jonathan Huberdeau. Bettman also paid homage to former part-time Calgary owner Harley Hotchkiss, who passed at the age of 83 a couple of days prior to that night. It's in these moments that our commish is at his best. Whatever you make think of him, he knows how to handle such heartbreaking news.

In a 75-minute span leading up to our pick, three people in our sport were remembered. We all took part, honoring them the best we could. As our selection was finally made with Clark opting for the leading point getter in Team USA's 18-U gold medal J.T. Miller, cheers went up for the Ohio kid who's attending hockey power North Dakota this Fall. An exciting moment for any 18 year-old on a special day.

"It's an unbelievable honor, an original six team, a great state to play in. It will be great to hopefully play there soon," a pleased Miller said. "I was a little shocked. I only had one meeting with them. So I wasn't really expecting it. But getting my name called was the best thing in the world, and I couldn't thank them enough."
Miller also discussed what he expects to work on this summer.

"I have to get a little stronger and faster and be able to play with some men out there. I have to work out in the off-season and play this next year in North Dakota and see what happens there. ... I'm going to get stronger, I guess, probably conditioning, getting in a little better shape so I can last a little longer with the stronger guys, to be able to compete at my best and be successful doing it."
Miller is listed as a center/left wing, which definitely is a team need. In 56 games in the USHL, Miller totaled 50 points (15-35-50) before pacing the gold medal winning Team USA with 13 points at the World U-18's. He was ranked 23rd among North American skaters. Now, he'll get to play for one of the best college programs that's produced current Devil tandem Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Definitely encouraging for Garden Faithful.

Slated for only four picks with none until Round 4, Glen Sather worked the phones and dealt prospect Evgeny Grachev to St. Louis for their third round pick, which turned into Notre Dame bound Steven Fogarty. The 72nd overall pick is a 6-2, 194-pound center who possesses playmaking capabilities and sound defensive skills. It sounds like a potential steal. The Minnesota native starred for high school Edina Hornets, notching 47 points (23-24-47) over 24 games. Slats discussed many things in a rare conference call afterwards, including why he parted with Grachev, who was once thought of in high regard. Indicating that the former '09 third rounder wanted a change and that the Blues were the one team that expressed interest, Sather admitted that he had shopped Grachev for a while. He noted that they felt he was coming along slowly in their system, which saw the talented Russian shift to center and improve gradually in his second pro year at Connecticut. They liked Fogarty, who sounds like a better fit but weren't down on Grach. Just felt it was best to move forward and give him a fresh start. He'll get to see familiar face Vladimir Tarashenko, who the Blues are hoping for big things from. Best wishes to Grach.

The other Ranger picks are as follows:

C Michael St. Croix 4th Rd (106th)
RW Shane McColgan 5th Rd (134th)
D Samuel Noreau 5th Rd (136th)
D Peter Ceresnak 6th Rd (172nd)

We'll have more details on those and the rest of the Devils, Islanders and Sabres picks in what amounts to a busy weekend with the unofficial NHL Holiday July 1 on Friday. From the looks of it, Jaromir Jagr could be returning for one last hurrah in Pittsburgh. He was rumored to be close to a one-year deal between $1.4 million and 2 M. There has been plenty of activity with the Islanders sending a fourth round pick to Vancouver for the negotiating rights to defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, in hopes of convincing him to stay on Long Island. Our take is that he'll bolt for Detroit, which makes sense due to Brian Rafalski's retirement. The Brad Richards Watch is on with the Rangers expected to be the frontrunner after buying out former captain Chris Drury earlier today. Certainly a bittersweet day for one of the classiest Rangers, who always acquitted himself well despite a slew of injuries. Wishing Captain Clutch best of luck moving forward.

I'll have more including some fun filled FA predictions sometime tomorrow. Stay tuned.

One other note from the Draft Party. Apparently, I made TV on MSG during our pick. Dad caught it on the tube, which of course I missed even when it was replayed. I don't really care. But that's cool. Haha. Overall, it was nice to meet other fans along with familiar faces amidst chaos. I only wish more fans could've been involved instead of it limited to just people 21-and-over. I guess that's what happens with the Renovation and on a Friday night in the city. Hope to do it again next year!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Devils draft Larsson at 4, Isles take Strome at 5



During the Devils' dark days in December and early January, all I read on various internet message boards was the phrase 'Lose for Larsson...or L4L', in reference to Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson (above) - who was then thought of as the potential #1 pick in this year's draft. A funny thing happened on the way to the draft though, the Devils did nothing but win in the second half and yet through an odd twist of fate the Devils still wound up getting Larsson, a potential backbone on their blueline for years to come. And they did it without selling out or settling for losses even in the final days and weeks when they were officially out of the playoffs.

Larsson has been widely described as the most NHL-ready defenseman in the draft and a good two-way player in the making, surely music to the ears of Lou Lamoriello and scouting director David Conte, who as usual announced the pick to the Minnesota audience and the thousands braving the rain to watch the big LED screen outside the Prudential Center. Not only does Larsson have offensive potential with a big point shot (and a right-handed shot at that, something we've been missing for a while) but also has size at 6-2 and nearly 200 pounds as an 18 year old and plays the part with a physical game.

While I was campaigning for Gabriel Landeskog in an earlier blog, in the back of my mind I figured Larsson would be gone in the first three picks anyway, especially after Colorado traded John-Michael Liles to the Leafs which some speculated could have opened up a spot for Larsson but instead they took Landeskog. If Lou really wanted him, he handled it strangely since it was publicly obvious Lou and Conte really took to the kid. Or perhaps it was more of a poker tactic, hyping up the guy you like a little to get the guy you like a lot (Larsson). Figures once again Pierre McGuire gushed over a Devils pick, calling Larsson the 'steal of the draft'. If a fourth overall's a steal I can't wait to see this kid play.

The only drama with the pick came beforehand when rumors started up again about a possible Brent Burns trade with the Wild, possibly contingent on who Florida took at three. Fortunately we didn't have to find out whether the rumor was true or not since Florida took Johnathan Huberdeau and left Larsson for us. Interestingly, Lou was the first GM to congratulate the Bruins on their Stanley Cup win and also the first to acknowledge the fans who showed up to the draft party. Of course, Larsson was the only one of the first several picks who wasn't interviewed by TSN - probably a Lou embargo. Oh well, hopefully we'll have many chances to hear him in the months and years ahead.

Right after the Devils' pick the Isles took center Ryan Strome, providing a nice complement to recent #1 overall John Tavares. Instead of announcing the pick himself, GM Garth Snow allowed former first-rounder Kyle Okposo to do it. Ironically when center Sean Coutrier fell to the eighth pick, the Flyers scooped up the big man, who was once touted as a possible #1 overall with Larsson. Ironic both because he could eventually fill the void created by trading both their franchise centers in the matter of hours yesterday and also because their reasoning for trading them was in part because they floated and relied on their talent. Coutrier slipped in part because of that same rep. If they have the success with Coutrier they had with those two though it'll be an excellent pick, unfortunately.

Draft Day

DRAFT DAY '11

It's only been a week since a new champion was crowned with the Bruins claiming their fifth Cup and first since '72 over unlucky franchise Vancouver. Fast forward till now and already the awards were handed out the other night in Vegas- featuring Hart winner Corey Perry, Vezina winner Tim Thomas, Norris recipient Nick Lidstrom, who edged our pick Shea Weber. Other fun awards like the Selke (Ryan Kesler), Byng (Martin St. Louis), Calder (Jeff Skinner), Masterton (Ian Laperriere), Adams (Dan Bylsma) and King Clancy (Doug Weight) also were on display.

With the '10-11 season finally complete, we get a bird's eye view of the future over the weekend with the early stages of the NHL Draft tonight in St. Paul, Minnesota. With everyone still buzzing over the monster Flyer trades of former '03 Draft duo Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, blue chip prospects like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson and Dougie Hamilton take center stage later when our great commish is greeted with traditional jeers. If only he had a sense of humor like NBA adversary David Stern, who got the last word in at the end of Round One last night in Newark.

What makes Draft Day so intriguing is that puckers are always speculating who their team could wind up with. I'm no Draft guru but will be at the Rangers Draft Party in the city with our usual crew for what shapes up as one pick in the top 100 and a league low four overall due to the Tim Erixon deal. Assuming they don't trade down to acquire a second rounder, the Blueshirts will pick 15th, behind the Devils (4th), Islanders (5th) and Winnipeg (7th), who still don't have a team name after relocating from Atlanta. If they're not going to be called the Jets II, then why not honor tradition and go outside the box with the Winnipeg Flashes for Teemu Selanne? One can dream. Oddly enough, the Rangers get to pick right before the Sabres (16th), which could be fun. What if we snag their guy? Not that this organization has ever had a great track record. Outside of superhyped Marc Staal, our first round has been a disaster- highlighted by Hugh Jessiman in '03, Al Montoya in '04 sans Lauri Korpikoski, who got a raw deal here. A closer look at our First Round since the '99 debacle of Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark:

RANGERS FIRST ROUND ('00 - '10)

'00 None
'01 Dan Blackburn-10th
'02 None
'03 Hugh Jessiman-12th
'04 Al Montoya-6th, Lauri Korpkoski-19th
'05 Marc Staal-12th
'06 Bobby Sanguinetti-21st
'07 Alexei Cherepanov-17th
'08 Michael Del Zotto-20th
'09 Chris Kreider-19th
'10 Dylan McIlrath-10th

The first thing that stands out is our most success has come with defensemen highlighted by Staal and Michael Del Zotto, who must bounce back from a forgettable '10-11 to still be in the picture. Obviously, Jessiman was a total bust- never the same after an ankle sprain- while Sanguinetti never got a sniff before being moved to Carolina last Fall. The club has had tough luck with a freak injury in the weight room dooming Blackburn while there's still shock over Alexei Cherepanov's death. Amazingly enough, it will be three years this Fall. One can only imagine how the super skilled Russian could've impacted our team. Instead, we're left wondering. Recent first rounders have been better with the aforementioned Del Zotto faring well his rookie year before taking a step back. Cherepanov was the right pick who probably would've been a steal. Though still unsigned, Chris Kreider shows lots of upside with quick wheels, good hands and solid work ethic as he returns to BC for his junior season. And Dylan McIlrath could be the punisher our back end has lacked. Of course, he better work out because they passed up on Cam Fowler, who would've looked good running our powerless play.

The thing about drafts is it's a crapshoot. You got so many experts telling us who won/lost before these kids even lace 'em up. Honestly, patience is a must with any prospect. The key being development. The Rangers haven't always fared well there, messing up Jamie Lundmark, Manny Malhotra, while showing no patience with Korpikoski or Ethan Werek, who was swapped for Oscar Lindberg with Rangers West. They also botched Evgeny Grachev, who now has two years of Connecticut under his belt. Will he ever make it?

More encouraging is how the organization stuck with Mike Sauer despite a slew of injuries. He now is our toughest D since fan favorite Jeff Beukeboom. Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov also have looked good thus far. So, it's not all negative. There's also gems like Henrik Lundqvist ('00-7th Rd), Petr Prucha ('02-8th Rd), Brandon Dubinsky ('04-2nd Rd) and Ryan Callahan ('04-4th Rd)- who prove that our scouts fare better later on. Sauer, Stepan and Anisimov were all grabbed in Round Two along with recently signed Christian Thomas while Carl Hagelin ('07-6th Rd), Tomas Kundratek ('08-3rd Rd), Dale Weise ('08-4th Rd) and Ryan Bourque ('09-3rd Rd) all were taken later with the idea they could be part of the future.

Sometimes, you luck out as they did when Bob Gainey was foolish enough to take Scott Gomez off our hands, giving up McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko while also receiving PK fixture Tom Pyatt. Unless the Habs win the Cup soon, that one could be a heist of biblical proportions. It won't get decided until down the road. It's what makes the Draft exciting. The projections, second guessing and trades all give the first '11-12 event some mojo. No wonder so many on Twitter are geared up. I'd much rather think about tonight than July 1 with a potential bidding war for Brad Richards, who I want no part of despite John Tortorella's obsession. That's for another day.

Tonight's all about starry eyed kids whose dreams will come true when they hit the podium greeted by Gary Bettman. A chance to smile and pose for the cameras in their new NHL jersey. That's what makes it so special. Who will be the next great stars for the Devils, Islanders, Rangers and Sabres along with 26 other teams? At least we find out who we'll be following. Enjoy every minute of it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

2011-12 NHL regular season schedules out

Almost completely overshadowed by the draft eve madness in Philly and elsewhere around the hockey world is the NHL schedule, which came out earlier this afternoon. Highlights for the Devils' schedule include:

-The season opener at the Rock on Saturday, October 8 at 7 PM against a suddenly very different Flyers team, the first of three straight home games to begin the season - including a Columbus Day matinee against the Canes.
-Winnipeg's first visit to New Jersey since 1996 on Saturday, November 5 (another 7 PM start) as well as trips there on December 3 and January 14, also 7 PM starts EST.
-Six more matchups with the Rangers, the first of which will be at the Rock on Tuesday, December 20 at 7 PM.
-Boston's first trip in as Stanley Cup champs on January 4
-Anaheim visiting the Rock on Friday, February 17 (a possible date to retire ex-Devil and Duck Scott Niedermayer's number 27?)
-A St. Patrick's day 1 PM showdown against the Penguins, which could very well be another throwback jersey game
-Ottawa comes in to end the regular season on April 7, a Saturday 3 PM start for Fan Appreciation Day.

As far as the other locals, the Rangers begin the season in Stockholm against the Kings (with new marquee center Mike Richards) on the 7th and Ducks on the 8th. The Blueshirts' first game stateside will also be their first showdown with the Isles at the Mausoleum on the 15th, but because of renovations to MSG the Rangers won't actually play at home until the 27th and have a four-game Western Canada swing before that. And since the Rangers' season has come down to Game #82 the last two seasons, this year's final game of the season is another playoff rematch with the Caps at the Garden, also an April 7 3 PM start.

Like the Devils, the Isles also begin the season with a block of home games (four, to be exact) - opening on April 8 against the Panthers at 8 PM. Our first meetings with the Isles are a home-and-home showdown just after Thanksgiving, with 1 PM starts on the Island on the 25th and here on the 26th. Somewhat astonishingly, their final home game is on Thursday the 5th against Winnipeg. Okay, they're still a conference rival - for this year - but that looks weird. They also close the season on the 7th against Columbus and new acquisition Jeff Carter at 7 PM. Major double-take on that one.

Along with the Rangers, Buffalo begins the season overseas by playing the Ducks and Kings on the 7th and 8th, only they'll be in Helsinki for the first game and Berlin, Denmark for the second. Buffalo returns home to begin their stateside campaign against the rival Canes at the HSBC Arena on the 14th. Their first grudge match with the Flyers since the playoffs will be on November 2. Buffalo will end their home schedule with a game against the hated Leafs on April 3 before closing on the road against the two teams that ended their last couple of seasons - at Philly on the 5th and Boston on the 7th.

Flyer Makeover A Huge Risk

Every so often, the Flyers do an overhaul. After acquiring the free agent rights to Ilya Bryzgalov from the Coyotes, it was obvious that Paul Holmgren was desperate to get the Russian signed, sealed and delivered as their latest No.1 goalie. With speculation that former 40-goal sniper Jeff Carter would move to Columbus, the much discussed trade finally came down today with the center going to the Blue Jackets for forward Jakub Voracek, plus a first (8th overall) and third round pick in this weekend's Draft.

Unloading Carter, who still has 11 years left on his contract worth a cap hit of $5.272 million- made plenty of sense- allowing the Flyers to free up necessary cap space to fit Bryzgalov in. The ex-Coyote netminder agreed in principle to a nine-year $51 million deal that will pay him $5.67 M on average. A huge risk for the just turned 30-year old who rarely has distinguished himself in the playoffs. The lone exception being when he helped the Ducks advance to the second round in place of J.S. Giguere back in '06. Since winning half a dozen with a 1.46 GAA, .944 save percentage and three shutouts, he's gone 6-9 with a 3.33 GAA, .902 save percentage with no shutouts. Hardly what you expect from a guy you're investing nine years in until the age of 40. Discounting part of Anaheim's '07 championship run in which he posted a 3-1 mark with a 2.25 GAA, .925 save percentage over five games before Giguere returned, Brygalov's gone 3-8 with a 3.77 GAA and .896 save percentage. Of course, you can argue that he faced a tough opponent with the 'Yotes unable to match the Red Wings' firepower. After pushing them seven, they were swept this past Spring. The numbers are ugly (4.36 GAA, .876).

So, the Flyers go for a guy who by all accounts is a quality No.1 who's backstopped Phoenix to consecutive postseasons without any real star power. With apologies to Shane Doan, the 'Yotes offense makes ours look Godly. At least they have a legit No.1 defenseman in Keith Yandle, who was snubbed for the Norris. Did he even make one of the All-Star Teams during last night's Awards in Vegas? For Bryzgalov, offense shouldn't be a problem as long as emerging star Claude Giroux, vet Daniel Briere and ready to breakout Jersey kid James van Riemsdyk produce. The Flyers also still have deadline acquisition Kris Versteeg due $3.08 M through '11-12 before the CBA expires. It'll take a balanced effort from the likes of Scott Hartnell, Darroll Powe and newcomers Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, who was added in a stunning blockbuster with the Kings for ex-captain Mike Richards.

Everyone knew Philly needed to shed salary even with the cap increasing to $64 million. Most expected them to move Carter and retain Richards. Instead, both '03 first round gems are gone, stunning the hockey world. Not surprisingly, Flyer fans are up in arms over trading Richards, who was very popular despite rumors he wasn't the right leader in the room- probably losing out to vet Chris Pronger in a power struggle. It was easy to see why they got rid of Carter, who was a poor playoff performer- posting only 21 points (13-8-21) with a glaring minus-14 rating over 47 games. Granted. He fought through injuries the past two playoffs that limited his ability. However, unloading Richards was something unexpected, essentially handing the reigns over to Giroux and Van Riemsdyk, who was remarkable despite his club getting destroyed by eventual champ Boston in the Eastern Semis.

The Kings had a need but I'm not even sure they filled it by trading for Richards with top prospect Brayden Schenn, Simmonds and a second rounder moving to the City Of Brotherly Love. In one aspect, it makes sense for LA by giving top pivot Anze Kopitar some help- allowing Jarrett Stoll to move down to the third line where he belongs. They also now are stuck with the 26 year-old two-way center for the next nine years through '19-20 at an average of $5.75 million. Look. Richards is an outstanding player but it's hard to see him ever reaching his '08-09 career marks of 30 goals, 50 assists and 80 points ever again. The way he plays isn't conducive in a more physical West. His production has gone from 80 to 62 and 65 the past two seasons. He better pan out for a Cup starved franchise or one day, they actually may regret such a move.
How is LA retaining Drew Doughty when they're locked in on Kopitar, Richards, Justin Williams and Jack Johnson? Jon Quick is signed through '12-13 and vets Ryan Smyth, Dustin Penner, Stoll, Willie Mitchell all are up next summer. With Stoll assuming the third line role, perhaps that spells the end of ex-Flyer Michal Handzus, who's been a solid player in Hollywood. It'll be interesting to see what they do with current RFA Doughty. Plus the development of backup goalie Jonathan Bernier will push Quick.

On paper, the Kings look great. Whether they can mesh remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a new Era is underway in Philadelphia with Giroux, JVR and possibly potential UFA Ville Leino leading the way. What gets lost with the two blockbusters is that one of the club's most consistent performers, who they stole off waivers from Detroit- may now re-up. The Flyers still have enough space to possibly fit Leino in with Group II's Voracek, Simmonds, Powe and pest Daniel Carcillo, who could be on the outs. If Holmgren is able to keep Leino, his new look Flyers become a lot more formidable. The wild card is the talented Schenn, who the Kings were never patient with. This is a former fifth overall pick in '09, who could be close to NHL ready. It's not like the Flyers have to rush him with a solid nucleus still in place. Especially on the back end led by Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, who along with Matt Carle, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Matt Walker comprise the top six if Sean O'Donnell isn't back. There's also Oskars Bartulis, who could see more time.

In taking such calculated risks today, it's hard to determine if Holmgren finally constructed the Flyers' third Cup winner since the days of Bobby ClarkeBernie Parent, Bill Barber and the rest of the Broad Street Bullies. A lot depends on what else they do this July. You know they're not done. Could he even bring in a center to help offset the losses? Who knows. One thing is clear. The Flyers once again are willing to roll the dice, even if the Bryzgalov contract is equally as bad if not worse than the pair of salaries they dumped. If they don't win now, they are set up for the future. No small accomplishment.

The real loser might be Columbus, who gave up a lot for an injury prone Carter who must stay healthy to support Rick Nash. If they are to be successful, he better stay healthy and produce. This is a franchise that's made the playoffs once and hardly have a No.1 goalie or a top flight D. Maybe it will work. However, there are still plenty of questions for the Jackets to answer before we take them seriously.

What a crazy day. It should only get more exciting over the next week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2010-11 All-Star Teams

Each year, All-Star Teams are selected honoring the league's best at each position. Who tops our list? Let's find out!

FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM

G Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (35-11-9, 2.00 GAA, .938 Save Pct, 9 SHO)
D Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (14-30-44, +33, 88 PIM, 8 PPG, SHG, 2 GW)
D Shea Weber, Nashville Predators (16-32-48, +7, 56 PIM, 6 PPG, SHG, 3 GW)
LW Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks (41-63-104, +30, 32 PIM, 18 PPG, 10 GW)
C Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks (19-75-94, +26, 40 PIM, 8 PPG, 4 GW)
RW Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks (50-48-98, +9, 104 PIM, 14 PPG, 11 GW, 4 SHG)


SECOND ALL-STAR TEAM

G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (33-22-9, 2.12 GAA, .930 Save Pct, 6 SHO)
D Nick Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings (16-46-62, -2, 20 PIM, 7 PPG, 1 GW)
D Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes (11-48-59, +12, 68 PIM, 3 PPG)
LWAlex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (32-53-85, +24, 41 PIM, 7 PPG, 11 GW)
C Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning (45-46-91, +3, 74 PIM, 17 PPG, 8 GW)
RW Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning (31-68-99, Even, 12 PIM, 4 PPG, 7 GW)

THIRD ALL-STAR SELECTIONS

G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (36-27-5, 2.28 GAA, .923 Save Pct, 11 SHO)
D Christian Ehrhoff, Vancouver Canucks (14-36-50, +19, 52 PIM, 6 PPG, 3 GW)
D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (8-42-50, +15, 101 PIM, 4 PPG, 2 GW)
LW Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings (24-56-80, -1, 40 PIM, 10 PPG, 3 GW)
C Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (32-44-76, +25, 26 PIM, 10 PPG, SHG, 8 GW)
RW Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames (43-43-86, Even, 40 PIM, 14 PPG, 6 GW)


Honorable Mentions

G Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jon Quick, Ilya Bryzgalov
D Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Suter, Alex Goligoski, Tobias Enstrom
D Brent Seabrook, Dan Boyle, Brian Rafalski, Dustin Byfuglien
LW Loui Eriksson, Rick Nash, Ryane Clowe, Milan Lucic
C Claude Giroux, Ryan Kesler, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf, Brad Richards
RW Teemu Selanne, Danny Briere, Bobby Ryan, Thomas Vanek

Monday, June 20, 2011

NHL Awards On Tap

Every June after the Cup champ is crowned, the NHL wraps up with the NHL Awards, which for a second straight year will be in Las Vegas. With the Boston Bruins winning their first championship (5th overall- one more than the Rangers :P), there will be plenty of hardware on display Wednesday night.

The show can be seen on Versus, who will pick up the TSN feed. While I have little interest in seeing who wins the individual achievements, let's take a look at the key categories and pick who we'd like to see crowned.

CALDER- F Logan Couture, F Jeff Skinner, F Michael Grabner

The forward trio are all worthy of winning the award for top rookie. However, Skinner entered as an 18 year-old as compared to more experienced competition in Couture, who is easily the best overall. Meanwhile, Grabner finally stuck with his third organization after Garth Snow stole him on waivers from Florida. Shocking. Grabs had a tremendous second half but the other two were more consistent. It's really a toss up. I'll give the nod to Skinner, who became a key cog on an offensively challenged Carolina squad. The kid performed well down the stretch with his team just missing the playoffs.

Honorable Mentions: John Carlson, Corey Crawford, P.K. Subban, Brad Marchand, Michael Neuvirth, Tyler EnnisDerek Stepan

VEZINA- Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne, Roberto Luongo

While nobody would debate either Thomas or Rinne, it still boggles how GMs selected Luongo over Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist or Marc-Andre Fleury. I guess playing on the best team has its perks. Unfortunately, Lou's D broke down and he wasn't up to the challenge against Boston, who outscored Vancouver by a wide margin (23-8). It really is between Thomas, who shattered Dominik Hasek's single season GAA and Rinne, who backstopped offensively challenged Nashville to its first second round. If he won, I'd have no beef. But this is the Conn Smythe winner's award. Thomas became the first American to win playoff MVP since Brian Leetch. It seems like the affable 37 year-old deserves the icing on the cake.

NORRIS- Zdeno Chara, Nick Lidstrom, Shea Weber

Each are outstanding in their own right with the remarkable 41 year-old six-time winner trying to tie Doug Harvey. Lidstrom is up for the league's top defenseman for a ridiculous 11th time in 13 seasons. That the Detroit captain re-upped for one more year today is even better. One of the game's all-time greats gets one more chance to deliver another Cup to Motown. Still, it really should come down to defending champ Chara versus Weber, whose leadership/value cannot be overstated. Like Zach Parise, he's going to arbitration. Hopefully, the Preds will do everything in their power to retain their captain. I'd really love to see him win if for nothing else, because Nashville doesn't have one elite scorer and Weber's been waiting a while. Honestly, Chara's a freak of nature- able to impact games in so many ways. Whether it's sheer strength, brutality or even dexterity for the near seven-footer, he is the game's top blueliner. Whoever wins is deserving.

HART- Daniel Sedin, Corey Perry, Martin St. Louis

What's not to like about this class? All are dynamic forwards who are vital for their respective clubs. While it'd be fun to see another Sedin win in back-to-back years, I find myself rooting for '04 winner St. Louis, who is the backbone of the Bolts. He has always flown under the radar. Especially with Steven Stamkos emerging into one of the game's elite scorers. However, it's hard to argue with Perry, who carried the Ducks down the stretch with Ryan Getzlaf banged up. Perry is a throwback who will do anything to win a game, even if it means dropping 'em. His final month-plus was remarkable. If you're going for consistency, the other two were stronger. But let's give the nod to Perry.

SELKE- Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler, Jonathan Toews

What can be said about three of the smartest players on the planet. All are terrific in their own right with three-time recipient Datsyuk leading the way. There really is no better overall hockey player than the crafty Russian pivot, who also overshadows '09 Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg. How Detroit can have two of the best players in the world who have no flaws is beyond me. Especially when they stole them. I love watching Datsyuk fly. His effort is always there. Even when he's not producing, the backcheck is constant and nobody's better at stealing a puck and turning it into offense. The man is legendary. However, this really was Kesler's year with the American eclipsing 40 goals for the first time while shutting down opposing scorers. Outside of a quiet Cup, he had a terrific postseason while Toews did all he could to scare the Canucks. All three are worthy but it says here that Kes deserves his first.

JACK ADAMS- Dan Bylsma, Barry Trotz, Alain Vigneault

It comes down to Bylsma, who guided the Pens minus Sid and Geno to the playoffs. Sure. I will always have total admiration for The Czar, Trotz- who every year squeezes as much out of the Preds despite a lack of talent up front. It amazes how tough they are in the face of adversity. No matter who they lose, this team always finds a way. A tribute to Trotz. However, Bylsma did an outstanding job just getting his team in following the loss of his dynamic duo. Kris Letang had a brutal second half and Jordan Staal ran out of steam along with the grinding Pens against Tampa, which was predicted. He deserves to win. Vigneault is not a great coach. Not when he has the most talent. He was badly outcoached by Claude Julien, who finally got his due after an unfair exit from New Jersey. I still can't believe Guy Boucher was passed up. It is what it is.

LADY BYNG- Loui Eriksson, Nick Lidstrom, Martin St. Louis

Is there a more gentlemanly player than Lidstrom? Oh sure. St. Louis's won it before and one of the game's underrated finishers Eriksson is a fine choice. Amazing as it sounds, the do everything Swede who proved a European captain could lead his team to a Cup- has never won this prestigous award. Alright. You don't really care. But in an age where instigators like Matt Cooke, Alex Burrows and Jarkko Ruutu exist, it still is nice to reward character. The choice is Lidstrom.

BILL MASTERTON- Ray Emery, Daymond Langkow, Ian Laperriere

There is no more special award than this one, which rewards perseverance after overcoming great obstacles. All three are worthy of this award with both Emery and Langkow coming back from tough setbacks. Everyone knows about Emery, who was once of the NHL's bad boys before off-ice issues saw him wind up in the KHL. He returned to the league and fared well with Anaheim, helping backstop them into the playoffs- overcoming avascular necrosis, which interrupts blood flow. Without him, the Ducks don't make it. As for Langkow, he finally returned from a fractured vertebrae in April. Always an inspirational player who was overlooked on the old Flyers teams, Langkow is a good story. A high character guy that all teams need. Pencil in Mason Raymond next year. Of the trio, Laperriere's the best. The way his career ended was sad. Sacrificing his body to block a shot in the Flyers' first round triumph last year over the Devils. You're not taught to dive in front face first as he risked not only his manhood, but his life. That's why hockey players are toughest SOBs on the planet. I always had a soft spot for Ian stemming from his too brief stint here (thanks Messier/Neil Smith). He was forced to retire but still works in a capacity with the Flyers. I hope he wins. Imagine the reception.

LESTER B. PEARSON Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin, Steven Stamkos

The award for MVP as chosen by the NHLPA is pretty cool. Imagine being selected by your own peers as the game's best. I always like this award and we get three superb candidates, with Hart nominees Perry and Daniel up for it along with Stamkos, who cooled off considerably but still finished second in goals (45) and fifth in points (91). Give to the kid who made Barry Melrose eat his words.

Congratulations to Rocket Richard winner Corey Perry, who paced the league with 50 goals and to Art Ross winner Daniel Sedin, whose 104 points were five better than Martin St. Louis. Vancouver's duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider will receive the Jennings for fewest goals allowed, combined by a team.

TOP EXECUTIVE- Mike Gillis, David Poile, Steve Yzerman

Nobody deserves it more than Stevie Y, who in Year 1 added all the right pieces even if his Bolts fell a little short against eventual champion Boston. Whether it was adding pieces like Dominic Moore, Sean Bergenheim and Eric Brewer or picking up vet Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders for the home stretch, Yzerman did everything in his power to deliver a second Cup to Tampa. With a nucleus that features Stamkos, St. Louis, rejuvenated Vinny Lecavalier, Victor Hedman, Pavel Kubina and Brewer along with the game's scrappiest line (Bergenheim-Moore-Downie), there's a lot to like about the Lightning's chances. Especially with one of the greatest captains running the show. They're not going away anytime soon. Don't forget the choice of Boucher too. Gillis is in there for a stellar season while Poile deserves inclusion for how he keeps the Preds competitive. But this is Stevie Y's.

MESSIER LEADERSHIP- Zdeno Chara, Shane Doan, Nick Lidstrom

It'd be easy for Mark Messier to present the trophy to either Chara or Lidstrom, who exemplify the unique qualities The Captain did. Anytime you got the only two European captains to lead their teams to Lord Stanley, it makes them co-favorites. While I respect both, there's a lot of love for Doan, who has been Mr. Jet/Coyote throughout. Despite a move, all the rumors and uncertainty, Shane's been a classy leader, who's helped get the franchise back to the postseason in consecutive years. He has always flown under the radar and deserves this award.


Coming Tomorrow: We present our All-Star Teams

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Looking ahead: 2011-12 Devils offseason outlook



With no coach as of yet, free agency set to begin in less than two weeks and the negotiations for a long-term deal with star winger Zach Parise intensifying while the ownership structure is changing, the Devils have many questions heading into 2011-12 after a roller-coaster 2010-11.

Unlike in recent years, the Devils at least won't have too many defections in free-agency this time around. Our most noteworthy free agent is the talented but erratic Andy Greene, alternately capable of brilliance and hopelessness. Probably Greene will head for greene(r) pastures, and he's a replaceable part given the amount of young defensemen in the system such as second-year players Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina (remember him?), as well as potential additions from within such as Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill. That said, we don't have the cap space to do anything big in free agency either. Given the fact that we signed Ilya Kovalchuk, Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov last offseason and have to keep some money free for a potential Parise deal this offseason I can't exactly complain about inactivity this year.

One thing that does need to be addressed is the goalie question. With Martin Brodeur now 39 years old and coming off of multiple injuries last year, it underscores the need to either have a reliable veteran backup (a la Johan Hedberg last year) or a prospect who will potentially be groomed to take the legend's place on the roster. More likely the Devils will lean towards the first option and try to retain the Moose, but if Hedberg doesn't re-sign then I'm not sure which way the Devils go. Either way, answering the backup goalie question is infinitely more important than it was two years ago, or five - and perhaps the most important question the Devils can address in free agency.

Concurrent with free agency is the Parise dilemma. Can the Devils re-sign him before a potential arbitration hearing late next month? If not, should they trade him or just hold onto him and risk having Zach walk at the end of the year? I don't even want to think about that alternative. Despite the fact that Zach only played a single game from November on last year, there are no two ways about it - he needs to be re-signed, and the cap shouldn't be an excuse. Not after the Devils basically forefitted games early last season to get Kovy under the cap. Perhaps the only tricky thing about fitting Zach under the cap long-term is the cap figure for this year, before a ton of money comes off the books in 2012 with the expiring contracts of Brodeur, Brian Rolston, Colin White and Bryce Salvador.

Still, with the cap increasing yet again you figure the Devils will have enough money to get it done, if ownership issues don't get in the way. As is the organization's tradition, even this situation has been clouded in mystery since February though it seems as if almost half the team's up for sale. Although now it doesn't seem like there's any indication that Jeff Vanderbeek will lose his title of majority owner, you still never can tell how such a dramatic shift in the ownership structure will affect the payroll or organization structure. Not to mention the $100 million we committed to Kovy last offseason and the fact we had declining attendance in a non-playoff season.

Perhaps just as mysterious right now, but not quite as important given our track record in this area is the head coach question. Other than Jacques Lemaire , who's been here seven years in three different stints and Pat Burns, who would have been here a lot longer if he didn't get sick, the Devils really haven't come up with any kind of long-term solution in recent years. At least we know who it won't be - since Lemaire retired for good after last season, where he brought the Devils back to respectability once again.

With the John MacLean experiment having failed so spectacularly, we know it won't be him either. I do wonder if that rules out any other potential rookie hire, such as Hawks assistant and Jersey native Mike Haviland (already passed over twice by us) or Habs assistant and ex-Devil Kirk Muller? If so then you have a uninspiring group of candidates such as Craig Ramsay - likely to be let go by Winnipeg, former Pens/Habs coach Michel Therrien and Ken Hitchcock, who has a terrific coaching record including a pre-lockout Cup win but doesn't seem to be what we need in a post-lockout world. Plus the latter two were also passed over last offseason as well, when Lou hired Johnny Mac.

If I had a choice I guess I'd go with Muller among the rookie candidates (and coming from the Habs makes him a plus in Lou's eyes, not to mention being an ex-Devil) and a sort of outside the box candidate in Pete DeBoer among the retreads. Only a hardcore hockey fan would have ever heard of DeBoer, who was recently let go by the Panthers just two seasons after remarkably contending for a playoff berth with a rag-tag team, and never really had a chance to mold a winner down there. Even this year when they finished in last, his team played us as tough as anyone's in the second half but perhaps the biggest plus is he's cut from the former cloth - coachingwise anyway - as Brent Sutter, who seemed to be the choice to take the Devils into a post-lockout world...before losing two straight horrific first-round playoff series and running home to Calgary. At least there's no evidence DeBoer needs to be in Western Canada to do his job.

Whichever way Lou goes, I'm sure Zach will want to know who the coach is going to be as well, before he commits long-term here. Zach's publicly endorsed a Sutter-like coach, recognizing that while the trap system may keep us respectable it isn't ultimately going to be the entire recipe for success without being able to improve on an offense that was dead last in the NHL in 2010-11.

Speaking of coaches...I wasn't going to talk about this without mentioning the most recent Stanley Cup winner, one Claude Julien. As most hockey fans know, Julien was hired by the Devils in '06 and unceremoniously dumped with three games to go in the regular season, and the Devils still in first place. While the Devils - with Lou behind the bench - did beat Tampa Bay in the first round, they were outclassed by Ottawa in the second and the coach who didn't even get one playoff with us has won playoff rounds in each of the last three years (while we haven't won one since that series with Tampa).

Fellow Devil fans - then and now - compared it to the Robbie Ftorek firing, when Ftorek was let go with eight games to go in the 1999-2000 season with the team in first, and the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. Well, there's no comparison really other than the timing...for one, it was Ftorek's second season with us, after a dissapointing playoff loss to Pittsburgh in 1999 and Julien didn't even get one playoff series. Not to mention Julien's team never slumped anywhere near as bad as Ftorek's did when the Devils went 4-10-2 and were spiraling out of control in 2000, despite having arguably the most talented Devils team ever to that point.

Granted, I never thought Julien was a great coach by any stretch, and he was surely one first-round loss away from being dismissed in Boston this year...just that he deserved a lot better than he got from both the team and fanbase, who were complaining that we were too boring and won too many one-goal games. Perhaps this Stanley Cup and our nightmare of a first half was just desserts for Lou and the fanbase, both of whom got spoiled to the point where even being in first was no longer enough.

Turning the page to 2011-12: Devils draft preview



After what was a pretty good playoffs on the whole, despite a bizarre final forever marred by the idiocy of Vancouver 'fans' after their Game 7 loss, at last the fans of the other twenty-eight teams can turn the page and start looking to next year with the NHL Draft this weekend and UFA beginning the weekend after. Friday's first round of the draft is actually intriguing for the Devils, as they have the fourth overall pick courtesy of their nightmare first half of 2010-11 and getting lucky in the lottery. With a weak draft that supposedly has a handful of top-end players, going from eighth to fourth might well prove to be a boon to the Devils, who haven't drafted that high since fleecing Toronto for the third overall pick nearly two decades ago and turning that pick into future HOF'er Scott Niedermayer.

Among the top prospects are center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, predicted to go #1 overall to Edmonton, defensemen Adam Larsson (expected to be first among d-men off the board within the first five picks) and Dougie Hamilton, center Sean Coutrier and left-wingers Gabriel Landeskog - pictured above - and Johnathan Huberdeau. I don't claim to be any kind of an authority on these kids, though with the high pick I'll probably read up on all at some point before going to the Prudential Center Friday for the draft party in Championship Plaza but just from what I've seen from the young players we already have it seems as if we could still size on the forward line and puck-moving ability from the back end.

Granted in the NHL you can't really draft for need in a sense, since usually first-rounders are still gonna be a year or two (at least) away from playing the league unless they're a supreme talent like Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos. Yet, you almost have to consider need based on the fact the Devils really haven't have enough beef up front or offensive ability from the blueline anywhere in the organization in the last several years but do have smaller, skilled forwards and big defensemen. As talented as a Nugent-Hopkins or Huberdeau might be, drafting them would add to a strength and not really help a weakness. And though Larsson might be the best defenseman, we have defensive defensemen in abundance while Hamilton seems to have a lot more offensive ability.

So even if you go by the premise that the Devils are more likely to draft Landeskog, Coutrier or Hamilton (and I do agree you have to put Larsson in the mix if he's there at four) it's a mortal lock that at least one of the above will be there when the Devils draft. All three have their pluses and minuses - Landeskog is a big forward and seems to be the most Devil-like player of the bunch, at least if you go by what he said about his own game:

“I think today in the NHL, you’ve got to be able to play in both ends of the ice,” Landeskog said. “I’ve always taken pride in my defensive-zone (play) first and, being not the most skilled guy out there, I’ve got to rely on my work ethic and take care of my own end first and let my skill take over in the offensive zone.”

Unfortunately, Landeskog's primary position is left wing where we happen to have Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias ahead of him on the depth chart at the moment. Coutrier could give the Devils size and skill in the middle the likes of which they haven't had since Jason Arnott and Bobby Holik were in their prime, skating ability seems to be the only real question with him. Big centers are at a premium in today's game though so I don't really see Coutrier getting to four. Hamilton probably will but it's always tricky drafting offensive defensemen, do they become Sergei Zubov or Marc-Andre Bergeron? Certainly, Larsson has the size and skill to play on a blueline for many years but after signing Anton Volchenkov long-term should getting another stay-at-home d-man be a priority with such a high pick?

Given the fact the Devils don't have a second-rounder this year, it's probably unlikely they can move up from four unless they give up a high pick in next year's draft or a prospect, neither of which I think Lou Lamoriello will do - especially since next year's draft has more value, and the Devils might have to give up their first-rounder as part of the Kovalchuk penalty. Will they trade back? I suppose the possibility exists, especially if you can get a second-rounder but it depends on how many players you have rated in the top tier and how far back you move. Since this is a thin draft though, I don't really see moving back to stockpile picks as a priority. Ergo, I think the Devils will stay right where they are at four.

My prediction (more of a guess really) for the first three picks is that Nugent-Hopkins, Coutrier and Larsson will all be off the board, leaving the Devils with Landeskog, Hamilton, Huberdeau and the rest of the field. If that's the case then I see the Devils taking Landeskog - who also has a high character rating supposedly - and making him a RW'er, which we do have a need for. Fortunately, though Landeskog is listed as a LW'er he has played at RW as well and would slot in there nicely considering our current RW'ers are Nick Palmeri, who played on the first line when he really should have been a back six winger, the overpaid David Clarkson and the gritty but offensively challenged top six forward Danius Zubrus.

If that happens I'd be fine with that, of course since I haven't gotten a prediction right from April on, and the extent of my scouting consists of reading Tom Gulutti's blog, it's more likely that the top of the draft board will look very different.

In my next blog I'll look at the Devils' more immediate concerns, such as who the head coach might be (every other team currently has one though Winnipeg's probably going to let Craig Ramsey go, which might actually impact our coach search too) and the ongoing negotiations with Zach Parise on a long-term deal before the team and player have to go to arbitration in a month or so after the Devils filed for team-elected arbitration Friday afternoon.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Here's to you Boston

As a New Yorker, it's pretty hard to praise the enemy. Particularly when it comes to the guys in Northern Massachusetts with the funny yet cool accents. When it comes down to it, New York and Boston will always be rival cities, whose passion runs deep. Yankees/Red Sox, Knicks/Celtics, Rangers/Bruins and Jets/Patriots are bitter rivalries.

There's no love lost between sportsfans. You're either on one side or the other. Never both. Hell. Even Mets/Sahhxx remains fresh with '86 hero Gary Carter rushed to ER to a brain tumor last night. As a Yankee fan, I respected those Amazin's and even rooted for them when at the time I was a kid. Carter was a gritty leader who changed things for that team. Just ask Calvin Schiraldi about the resilient Kid that fateful October day. For Red Sox fans, it still irks even if they finally broke the Curse at our expense, going onto to win in '04 and '07.

Boston and New York don't mix. Oh. We've been to their fine city and enjoyed a game at illustrious Fenway Park (Pa-hk). I can still recall the heckles that poor Tigers outfielder got up in the bleachers next to the Green Monster (Mon-stah). Everything about that old ballpark is nostalgic. No matter what side you're on, it's worth making the trip. Along with a classic Trolley system, Quincy Market and some of the best seafood around, Massachusetts has its perks. And then there's that funky accent with fancy terms such as, 'Gahhhden and 'chowdah' resonate. If you're not 24/7 on the classic rivalries, you can actually appreciate what the enemy has to offer. We even visited the infamous Cheers, which of course I was too young to enter.

Aside from the Giants' recent Super Bowl upset of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's Pats, we don't exactly have a leg to stand on when comparing our sports teams to theirs. They already double up the Yanks this century in world titles and New England still is three times better than both our pigskin teams, even if Gang Green had fans sick to their stomach last January. Basketball doesn't compare either. Even in a year the Knicks with Carmelo and A'mare get back in it, the Celts' Big Three (Four) took another Dolan club apart. Throw in their recent championship and it adds to a proud legacy as compared to still only two years when Willis Reed and Walt Frazier were ultimate heroes.

Now, you can add the Boston Bruins to the list after they dug out of a 2-0 hole and 3-2 to capture the Original Six franchise's fifth Stanley Cup over the Vancouver Canucks, who are still wondering what happened. Entering the Spring, Claude Julien's bunch were labeled as chokers thanks to the epic 3-0 meltdown last year at the expense of the Flyers. It wasn't exactly an easy climb to their first championship in 39 years ('72) when you guessed it, Bobby Orr skated the Cup at a then pretty new MSG with Dad looking on. Ironically, the Knicks' last NBA title was a year later with Clyde and Pearl making magic.

Sometimes, the impossible becomes possible. The '04 Red Sox are proof as are the '05 White Sox. I started to believe that this was the Flyers' year to finally win its first Cup since '75 before I existed. They had a strong team. However, injuries played a factor with Chris Pronger a shell and the goalie carnival that is Philly lore made a mockery of my original pick. Instead, the Bruins after a hard fought battle with bitter nemesis Montreal courtesy of Nathan Horton's heroics, dismantled the defending Conference champ in four straight. To say it was uncompetitive would be putting it mildly. They massacred the Flyers to get revenge but weren't done against the pesky Lightning, who proved more of a challenge for Tim Thomas.

Thomas is the very admirable 37 year-old veteran who lost his job to Tuukka Rask last year following his first Vezina. He even didn't get a sniff in Vancouver with Ryan Miller backstopping Team USA to silver sans Sidney Crosby's ultimate winner replayed over and over in Canada. One year, you're great and the next, you're done. A has been like Rocky after Clubber Lang pummeled him. You can either give up or come back stronger. Thomas is a fighter. He was an eight round pick, who looked like he'd never get a shot in North America. So, he went overseas to Finland and refined his skills. Following the lockout, the Bruins came calling. I never thought much of it when he was matching Henrik Lundqvist shot for shot until the shootout at TD Garden. Just figured he was a journeyman who'd eventually falter. Boy, was I wrong!

I am not ashamed to admit that Thomas is a better goalie than our King. He also plays a much more aggressive style, challenging shooters and even going Billie Smith on crease crashers like Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows. You want a turning point of the Cup Final? Reference either exhibit, which fired up teammates and fans as the B's tied the series by routing the 'Nucks 12-1. Sure. Vancouver played a splendid Game 5 outphysicaling Boston with Roberto Luongo sharp throughout, for his second shutout of the series. But that didn't matter much because the superhyped gold medalist had been a different goalie on the road. So, it was no surprise that the B's scored three times and chased him for the second instance in Beantown.

One thing that separated Thomas from Luongo was aside from style, one guy had little support. Even if he gave up several softies, including a pair in the deciding Game 7 that proved an epic fail for Vancouver in more ways than one sadly, where was the offense?!?!?!?! The Sedins may as well have been sharing the back of a milk carton with Marian Gaborik. Even Ryan Kesler through an injury, was hardly a factor, though he showed for the final game unlike his more gifted twin mates.

The Bruins were better, getting contributions throughout from pesky rookie Brad Marchand, forgotten '03 gem Patrice Bergeron, captain Zdeno Chara, ageless Mark Recchi, leading scorer David Krejci, powerhouse Milan Lucic, and underrated Dennis Seidenberg. This was a complete effort. Even team ornament Tomas Kaberle contributed along with adopted favorite Shawn Thornton, whose insertion sparked the B's.

Here's to you Boston! Cheers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Canucks try to make History

In a little while, the puck will drop for Game 6 at TD Garden. For one franchise, they'll aim to finally deliver a first championship to their city in Vancouver. Yes, the Canucks are in the driver's seat up 3-2 in what's amounted to a home ice series- reminding of the Devils' last hurrah when they went the distance to edge the Ducks in '03. Can a road team finally win in this edgy Cup Final that's seen plenty of shenanigans on and off the ice? We'll know soon enough.

The Bruins have other ideas like extending the series to a climatic Game 7, which is really what it deserves. In a year where the NBA somehow finished before the NHL despite our sport starting some two and a half weeks prior, we may as well have the kind of dramatic conclusion these playoffs need. It's been a fun ride for both combatants. The bad blood making it one of the more intriguing matchups in recent memory. Sure. The two Pens/Wings series were great back-to-back. But this isn't as much about skill even with star power on display. Rather an edgier brand of hockey that reminds of old school. These guys hate each other and will do anything to win. Even bite opponents. Well, I guess Alex Burrows was hungry. :P

Now Roberto Luongo, who of course had to get a shot in at certain Conn Smythe frontrunner Tim Thomas, is one game away from silencing the doubters, including yours truly even though we took them. Why he had to say he'd have gotten teammate Max Lapierre's goal that decided the best game of the series, remains a mystery. Guess Lou isn't Martin Brodeur, who ignored all the banter about brilliant counterpart J.S. Giguere in leading the Devils to their most unlikely Cup. One knew when to keep his mouth shut and afterwards, made it about the best trophy in sports instead of Playoff MVP. The other probably has grown tired of all the accolades Thomas is receiving. It's not about style. Even if awkward and adventurous, showing flashes of Dominik Hasek, the 37 year-old American vet gets it done. His team needs one more stellar performance to hold serve and push it the distance. If he and teammates deliver, anything can happen Wednesday. Just ask the Pens sans Marc-Andre Fleury on Nick Lidstrom.

Boston will be rocking. Our eyes will be glued to the TV set. Are the Canucks tough enough to win their first Cup in enemy territory or does a franchise that's lost the other two times have to go seven, increasing nerves and heart rates? Compelling theatre. Either way, we're about to find out who has the juice.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bruins respond to Horton cheap shot

Well, at least it's a series. Using extra incentive, the Bruins routed the Canucks 8-1 in Game Three at TD Garden last night. The eruption didn't get started until 11 seconds into the second when an Andrew Ference shot snuck past Roberto Luongo. Vancouver's Vezina candidate had previously been stellar in backstopping his club to a 2-0 series lead, permitting only two goals. However, it wasn't his night nor any other Canuck as they were badly outplayed by a determined bunch of Bruins, hell bent on sending a message following what happened in British Columbia.

As if it weren't enough that Max Lapierre mocked bite victim Patrice Bergeron during Game 2, the B's had even more reason to respond when Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome delivered a late hit on an unsuspecting Nathan Horton, who laid motionless for several minutes. Horton had already released the puck a good second when Rome came from the blindside with a shoulder right to the jaw. The stunning cheap shot silenced a sellout crowd as Horton looked skyward. That it came so early was startling. Rome isn't a dirty player. Something Bobby Ryan noted today via Twitter. Unfortunately, he erred in judgment with the kind of late hit the league is looking to rid of. Not surprisingly, he was suspended four games, which if it went the distance, would mean the rest of the series. In the event it ends early, he'd serve out the rest next season.

The appropriate call was made with Rome ejected for a five minute interference major, which was installed last year. Down a man, the Bruins couldn't take advantage as their power play fizzled thanks to superb penalty killing and some timely stops from Luongo, who was sharp initially. He took away the low part of the net and had solid rebound control. Boston also overpassed, which allowed an already good Vancouver special teams to get the job done and build momentum. In fact, they took the play to the B's the last half of the first, forcing Tim Thomas to come up with a few sparklers, including a kickout and cat-like glove.

Following his team's eruption that saw them score four apiece in the second and third, Claude Julien noted that he didn't say anything different than usual to his desperate team at intermission. The veteran coach felt his club was lacking emotion and inserted popular enforcer Shawn Thornton for rookie Tyler Seguin. The move worked with the 14-year vet sparking the B's with solid work over nine shifts (5:50), delivering a crunching hit and even drawing a penalty when he forced Luongo to deny a bid. Naturally, with all the bad blood, once Boston put it away it turned nasty and Thornton was there to protect teammates.

If Vancouver did everything right the first two in holding serve, that team was nowhere to be found, often leaving Luongo to fend for himself. The best D in the game didn't show and lost focus in a penalty marred game that included five game misconducts with the teams combining for 125 PIM with most of it in garbage time. It even saw the tame Daniel Sedin assessed a misconduct following a wild scrum involving Bite Gate extraordinaire Alex Burrows, who went to the ice a little too easy from a shove following a slash, infuriating Milan Lucic, who challenged him. Of course, the Game 2 hero chickened out hiding behind the stripes. Lucic also lost his cool waving his finger right into Lapierre's mug during another scrum that saw the antagonist tossed. He was chastised by Julien along wiht 43 year-old vet Mark Recchi for shenanigans and later critiqued himself for sinking to Lapierre's level. During the chaos, Ryan Kesler took on Dennis Seidenberg following some cheap stuff, which saw both gone.

Speaking of Recchi, the ageless warrior who just ended a scoring drought, was again involved- tallying twice to eclipse his three round total (2) in just three games of the chippy Stanley Cup Final. On the 25 Year Anniversary of the Cam Neely trade, who the Canucks ironically gave up on, the Bruins turned back the clock to whip the President's Trophy winners. Once Ference broke through, the black and gold seized control with Recchi centering a pass off Ryan Kesler's stick for a power play goal, marking the second consecutive game Boston's power play scored. Before the onslaught, Lucic took his second undisciplined minor giving Vancouver a chance to get back in it. Instead, an unbelievable individual effort from rookie Brad Marchand resulted in the goal of the series. Stealing the puck at his own blueline, the speedy penalty killer slipped around three Canucks and then completely undressed Luongo, deking and going forehand top shelf for an unassisted goal that blew off the roof.

Finally with some breathing room, the B's didn't sit back with David Krejci adding to it when he took a Michael Ryder backdoor feed and beat Luongo in front. The four-goal explosion left questions as to whether Luongo would return for the third. Surprisingly, he did. It only got worse as Boston wasn't done, putting another four spot on the helpless Canadian hero in the second part of the third. With his team on another power play, Daniel Paille powered past ex-Isle Jeff Tambellini and beat Luongo thru the wickets for 5-zip with 8:22 left. Tambellini had a brutal game, also in the box when Recchi notched his first of the night.

Though Jannik Hansen broke up Thomas' shutout after slashing Krejci and then burying a Raffi Torres feed, even in a blowout the Vezina frontrunner was outstanding, finishing with 40 saves. Vancouver certainly got scoring chances but the athletic 37 year-old vet wouldn't allow them to think comeback. As a matter of fact, Thomas has allowed four goals on 108 shots thus far. Given his brilliant play throughout the postseason, you can make the argument that win or lose, he's the leading Conn Smythe candidate. We'll see how it plays out.

After Recchi finished off his second off a great pass from Marchand, it escalated with Ference and Kevin Bieksa trading barbs before getting the final couple of minutes off. With what was left of the Canuck bench going through the motions, Chris Kelly and Ryder added insult to injury to mercifully conclude the scoring. Even Tomas Kaberle got on the score sheet.

The madness certainly was entertaining but I doubt a seven-goal rout was what Versus had in mind following a much lower rated Game 2 that went to sudden death. I guess scheduling even on NBC for a June Saturday was a mistake. Be that as it may, this is a very fun series with plenty of intensity. These teams don't like each other and it should only intensify when they take the ice for Game 4 tomorrow night in Beantown.

As for the Rome suspension, I've seen some fans argue that it wasn't that bad. I wouldn't necessarily call it blatant. But he did cross the line, which is why rules on late hits are in place. This isn't a repeat offender. Just a kid who made a mistake and probably feels badly for Horton, who luckily was moving all extremenities as he was carried off the ice and rushed to the hospital. We sure hope the ex-Panther will be okay. For Alain Vigneault, he can dig into reserve and reinsert vet Keith Ballard, who might be an upgrade. The Canucks are without Dan Hamhuis, which hurts strong blueline that still features Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, Bieksa and Sami Salo. However, they're already using ex-Bruin Andrew Alberts. So, Ballard could prove vital if he gets in. Meanwhile, figure Seguin to take the place of Horton leaving Thornton in as an energizer.

It all sets up a pivotal Game 4. Don't miss it!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dubinsky/Richards Stuff

In case you were on a blue moon, the weekend was full of news off the ice involving Brandon Dubinsky and free agent to be Brad Richards. Before we get into the Dubinsky stuff, let's first address what Mr. Richards is rumored to want this July 1.

Not surprisingly, the 31 year-old former Conn Smythe winner expects to sign a long-term deal for at least five years. Per our favorite Brooksie, the playmaking pivot would like to be paid handsomely with $7 million-per-year floating around. As good as he is, that price is astronomical. Especially for a player whose health could come into question following another concussion that kept him out for a critical stretch when the Stars were pushing for the playoffs. Coincidentally, they played better without their top scorer. Go figure.

Richards is a talented player who certainly makes teammates better with precision passing. With Joe Nieuwendyk already indicating that Dallas is out of the running, B-rad will be on his third team this summer. Both the Kings and Rangers are interested with possibly the Leafs in the mix if Richards decides they're worth pursuing. Of course, he definitely can boost our power play, which again was useless thanks to Marian Gaborik's milk carton showing. In fact, our best performer was Ryan Callahan, who netted a team best 10 power play goals despite missing 22 games. Seven of Gaborik's 22 markers came via the man-advantage, checking in behind Cally. Remarkably, Dubinsky only scored four of his club-leading 24.

I'm on record as being against signing Richards because investing five years in a vet could prove disastrous at such a high cost. The CBA will soon run out next year and nobody knows what to expect. With Dubinsky, Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Mike Sauer and Brian Boyle all potential Group II's along with Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Gilroy, who likely will be on the market, Glen Sather must turn his attention to getting our core signed before embarking on such chaotic dreams that have backfired (ex.Gomez, Drury, Redden). It's much better to take care of our own for a change instead of nickeling and diming them while catering to guys who have never worn the jersey. How many years has this gone on?

I like Richards but at that price along with the length, forget it. And I'm not high on trading for Jason Spezza, who isn't exactly what he should be and will not come cheap (3 years left at $7 M avg). Larry Brooks also suggested Stephen Weiss, who's solid but unspectacular with NHL Siberia Florida. Weiss is at best a 60-65 point guy who also is a better passer than finisher, which would fit the bill. He'd also come cheaper with just two years left at a more affordable $3.1 million cap hit before turning unrestricted in 2013. I hardly believe he's the solution but Brooks is assuming Weiss will be rejuvenated in a larger market like Nathan Horton is with Boston. Perhaps, but it's hit or miss. What would it cost?

As for Dubinsky, Brooks states that our leading scorer may want $4.5 million. He's been a good player for us but still hasn't scratched the surface for what his potential could be. The 54 points (24-30-54) over 77 games were all career highs but the '04 second round steal (60th overall behind busts Darin Olver, Dane Byers and Bruce Graham) is capable of at least 30 goals and 30 helpers. His goalscoring leaves something to be desired with a hot start (10 in first 12) nearly half the production. John Tortorella was right that Dubinsky is better suited as a left wing where he can use his size and strength to ward off defenders. His postseason (2-1-3) minus key ingredient Callahan was passable. If that really is the cost following the Sabres' inking Drew Stafford to a four-year $16 million deal, is it really worth it? I'm still not sold.

I really feel both Dubinsky and Callahan should be paid similarly. I wouldn't go higher than what Stafford got, who also has something to prove off his best year statistically. By show of hands, how many Blueshirt fans think that Dubi is more valuable than Cally? One is our next captain while the other is a solid all around player with more ability. Callahan was drafted the same year in Round 4 127th overall. In only 60 games, he was 23-25-48 with 10 PPG and five game-winners. All heart. Had he been healthy, the Rochester native could've made a difference in what was a closer series than the end result against nemesis Washington.

In a perfect world, they both take a little less so it's easier to get everyone else signed and then address the lack of a No.1 center along with a power play quarterback. Why not 3.8 apiece for Dubilan? That would make fiscal sense.

Game 3 SCF Preview: On D Day Bruins try to make it a series

Today is a historic day for not just our country but for democracy and freedom. It was 67 years ago on June 6, 1944 that our soldiers helped achieve the greatest win in World War II history. D Day is a special day of Remembrance of all those lives sacrificed in the Battle of Normandy along the coastline of Belgium that finally ended the war. It's a day to reflect and thank those before us who fought for our independence.

Perhaps on 6/6/11, the American team involved in the Stanley Cup will actually make it a series tonight in Beantown. For the Boston Bruins, that requires a maximum effort against the faster and more talented Vancouver Canucks, who by sweeping the first two at home, are two steps closer to the franchise's first Cup. Yes. Both Games 1 and 2 were competitive but only due to outstanding play from certain Vezina selection Tim Thomas, who stood on his head giving his team a chance to steal home ice. If not for a couple of key breakdowns, it would've been enough. Instead, thanks to Raffi Torres' heroics, Daniel Sedin and Public Enemy No.1 Alex Burrows, who took the 'bite' right out of Claude Julien's guys a jaw dropping 11 seconds into sudden death, the B's find themselves in a huge hole as they return to TD Garden.

They'll have to have short memories if they want to make it interesting over the next 72 hours. In the NBA, the expression is a series doesn't start until the road team wins. Using that philosophy, all the Bruins have to do is hold serve and get it to a pivotal Game 5 even. If they can, anything could happen like it did in '09 when the Penguins became only the second team to rally from an 0-2 deficit to win Lord Stanley. Of course, they still lost Game 5 before winning a third straight at home and then finally becoming the lone road team to win in a dramatic Game 7 that's still fresh in Pens' fans memory banks. Marc-Andre Fleury stacking the pads to deny Nick Lidstrom's last second bid.

What has to happen for the Bruins to turn the tables starting tonight on the Canucks?

1.Get a 2-goal lead- they say the 3-goal lead is the worst in hockey and Julien's club are proof. However, they've yet to build a cushion and put the pressure on Vancouver. How will they react if it happens? Against the Blackhawks early on, we saw what happened when Chicago was ahead, digging out of a 3-0 hole to force a seventh game that required overtime where the all too familiar Burrows clinched it.


2.Don't sit back- one of the fundamental flaws with Julien's Lemaire-esque system is they often try to hold on instead of pushing for more. Throw out the perfect regular season record. At this point, that doesn't matter. Especially against an opportunistic club like Vancouver, who only needs a few chances to cash to turn a game. We saw it the other night when they predictably tied it up with over 10 minutes left and then took it to OT where the B's never recovered.


3.Chara Time- simply put, Zdeno Chara is a beast on the ice who logs a ton of minutes in every situation. While the Boston captain did set up Mark Recchi's go-ahead tally, he also was caught out for Sedin's equalizer and didn't recover to stop Burrows from skating around Thomas and stuffing a wraparound for the stunning winner. Chara must be better along with Julien, who got duped by Alain Vigneault's on the fly change that caught Andrew Ference instead of reliable partner Dennis Seidenberg. With the last change on home ice, that can't happen.


4.The Horton Affect- when Nathan Horton scores, good things happen for the black and gold. The big man has been instrumental during their run, scoring big overtime goals while setting up teammates. When the going got tough against Tampa, the ex-Panther shined brightest with two goals and two assists over the last three games including the series clincher. He'll need to be a factor in front of Roberto Luongo, who hasn't dealt with much chaos compared to his busier counterpart.


5.Shoot The Puck- there were opportunities to shoot the puck when it was tied late in regulation that the B's mysteriously passed up. One such chance saw a streaking Johnny Boychuk passing up an open shot from the right circle, instead overpassing to a covered teammate. Vancouver's D is too stingy. They take away that East/West option, which hardly works during this time of year. The Bruins must pepper Luongo from every angle. He's good at making the first save but will let out juicy rebounds, which the B's must be in position to pounce. Fire away and score in the dirty areas.


6.Special Teams- the B's have been brutal on the power play but finally connected when ultimate warrior Recchi parked himself in front of Luongo and neatly deflected a Chara blast that steered them ahead. Vancouver has a dangerous PK that comes right at you. Their tendency is to overcommit. So, crafty playmakers like David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron must distribute the puck quickly. Short, concise passes can trap Canuck attackers high, giving them a decided edge down low. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Vancouver boasts the best PP with many weapons ranging from the Sedins to Ryan Kesler, Burrows plus sharp shooters Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Alex Edler. The advice is simple. Stay out of the box, which requires not targeting Burrows or knucklehead Max Lapierre.

On paper, it sounds like they'll have to play a perfect game just to give themselves a chance. However, these are all winning qualities good teams execute during a primetime series such as this. It's not won early but late. All depending on how you adjust. We'll see if Boston can use the crowd to their advantage. They'll be loud. The B's haven't won the Cup since 1972 when Bobby Orr skated the fancy chalice in front of Dad after beating the Rangers. They've failed five times since then including back in 1990 to Mark Messier's Oilers, who won the last of their six Cups. Starting tonight on Versus, we get to see what they're made of.

The Puck Stops Here

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