Justin Bourne

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The Columbus Blue Jackets may be closing out the year on the road, but Tuesday night’s roller coaster game against the Phoenix Coyotes all but guaranteed they won’t need a monumental finish to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They now find themselves four points up on the Washington Capitals with the tiebreaker squarely in their back pocket, and five up on the Devils, also with the tiebreaker. That’s pretty much all she wrote.

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The most exciting part for them is that a few wins in their final three games in which they’re at Dallas, at Tampa Bay, and at Florida, and they could give the Red Wings a run for the top wild card spot, which would mean NOT facing the Boston Bruins. That’s a pretty big prize right there.

The goal that put them in this comfy-cozy position was a Ryan Johansen breakaway snipe – his 32nd(!) of the year – in overtime past Thomas Greiss. He’s still 21, bee tee dubs.

So, what went wrong for the Coyotes? What went right for the Blue Jackets?

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The play starts when both teams are making a change – Columbus gets theirs in first, and like a NASCAR driver first out of the pits, they’re off to the races. Well, NASCAR drivers are already at the races, but whatever, you get the point.

Boone Jenner pressures Zbynek Michalek, who has solid, solid possession of the puck on the back-end. Ekman-Larsson is being aggressive, jumping up to give Michalek a passing option by skating across the blue-line a zone ahead, while Antoine Vermette presents his stick on the boards.

Lauri Korpikoski completes the Coyotes change, and also presents for Michalek. In short, Michalek has options, man.

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Then, he makes the bad, terrible decision to try to beat Jenner as the last man back. Even if he sees an easy way to do it, there’s no point in taking a risk in this situation. Just move it early and hard to one of your teammates that’s attacking the Blue Jackets. You’ve already got your partner going for the gusto, somebody’s gotta play Spock here and think logically.

Read the rest of this entry »

Avs Ducks

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I’ve said this numerous times throughout the second half of this NHL season, but I believe the Boston Bruins are the Stanley Cup favorite–not because I believe they’re head and shoulders above every team in the league, but because they’re head and shoulders above every team in the East, and whoever gets out of the West will have to fight multiple wars before dragging the remainder of their one-legged battle-weary troops to the Stanley Cup Final.

For a team from the West to win the Cup, they’re going to need to get out of a playoff series or two in less than six or seven games. Every extra game you lace them up with the physical play of the post-season, the pace, the necessity of shot-blocking and all the rest, you’re taking a little off your players video game-like health meters, and are risking more team-crippling injuries.

So, naturally, playoff seeding in the first round matters. And boy-oh-boy, are things getting tight atop the Western Conference standings.

Let’s look at the three (almost four) teams who have the most realistic shot at winning the Western Conference and drawing Minnesota/Dallas instead of the slightly-more-terrifying Los Angeles/San Jose/Chicago.

The St. Louis Blues

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The St. Louis Blues are currently first in the Western Conference with 111 points. As you can see, they have three remaining games.

Remaining schedule: At Minnesota (7th), at Dallas (8th), Detroit at home (7th, East)

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Mike Gillis

While Mike Gillis was the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, the team prospered. He took over a pretty good roster (Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Schneider, Bieksa, Edler, Burrows), and mostly managed not to mess things up – something many GMs aren’t able to claim after trying to put their fingerprints on their new franchise. They had a .627 winning percentage over his six years, made playoffs five times, won two President’s Trophies and lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Then, things started getting ugly.

The hiring of John Tortorella was the launchpad on which the Canucks season failed to take off before crashing into the Pacific. I like Eddie Lack, but the goaltending situation went to pot (though some would argue that ownership had some hand in that). There was some disagreement about the playing style of the team, and with it came passive aggressiveness in interviews until it became clear that someone had to go. With four full years and eight million left on Tortorella’s deal, Gillis was sort of the odd man out. And once you know you’re going to fire a guy, you might as well do it. No point in waiting for some imaginary milestone. Cut the tension early, get looking for a new guy, and let him start to prepare for the draft.

There’s also this sentiment: Read the rest of this entry »

Scotty Bowman

My junior hockey career started out a little rough. I signed a card with the Vernon Vipers, and I immediately struggled to adapt. Our coach Mike Vandekamp, to me anyway, seemed like a crazy person. In retrospect I’m eternally grateful for the player he made out of me, but at the time, I thought there was a pretty real chance he might tomahawk me in practice.

I’ve still never asked him about the night he called me into his office to send me down to junior B, listened to my counterarguments, let me call my parents to make plans (quit and college? More Jungle B hockey?), then grabbed me before I walked out the door to say the staff had changed their mind. I’m pretty sure I was being emotionally manipulated.

This sort of thing went on over the course of two years, albeit at less preposterous levels, until Vandekamp, the Vipers and I had been to two BCHL finals (winning one), I had a college scholarship, and we were more or less buddies.

Some people need a pat on the back, others a kick in the ass. If you don’t think coaches intentionally keep players on “Holy hell I need to be at my best tonight” eggshells with their words and actions daily, you’re naivé. It’s why I’ve mentioned comments in the past from Mike Babcock to the media about certain Red Wings players – these are usually calculated comments, as he’s speaking to his players indirectly. 95% of players who say they don’t read what the media is writing about them are full of it. They watch SportsCentre every night, just like everyone else.

Here’s what Ken Dryden wrote in The Game about how Scotty Bowman handled his Montreal Canadiens roster. This followed a blurb on Guy Lafleur and his unwavering ability to self-motivate… Read the rest of this entry »

David Clarkson4

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Thoughts on Thoughts” is a feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.

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Friedman’s column, April 7th: Evander Kane too valuable for Jets to give up on

Opening:

Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts piece opened with a pretty clean thought: Evander Kane is worth too much between his age, size, ability and contract to just give up on.

I wrote a post yesterday where I allowed myself the type of pure speculation you and your buddies do when you’re talking sports, because frankly, that’s what everyone behind the scenes is saying. That speculation was that Kane has obviously messed up a few times (whether that means being late for team events or whatever, Maurice has hinted at it), there seems to be some friction between him and the organization, and it seems like he wants out.

As Friedman says, that doesn’t mean he gets out, and I agree it’s worth making every effort to keep him. I guess it just remains to be seen if he’s willing to mature into a guy who wants to be a part of what they’re building in Manitoba or not. If he’s miserable and they’re not willing to move him, you’d expect to see more flare ups like this over the next four years, and that means more trade rumblings.

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3. Whenever we get close to the end of a season, you hear the usual rumours about potential changes on the bench and in front offices. I try to be very careful about this stuff, because it isn’t always accurate. There’s a lot of it this year, more than normal. One of the difficulties with predicting change is how one dismissal affects others. There are a couple of current coaches with the potential to create a domino effect. The first is going to be Barry Trotz. If the Predators make a change, there is going to be a lot of interest. There are teams who think he will benefit from a fresh start and more offensive punch.

It would be really interesting to see what Barry Trotz could do with an offensive lineup. I feel like coaches in Trotz’s situation – running a lower budgeted team without pure offensive talents to frequent success (think Dave Tippett) – are comparable to GMs who do well with a shoestring budget, then get the chance to spend big with a new team, and don’t have success.

I believe it was Glen Sather, once the GM of the Oilers, who made noise about what he could do with the NY Rangers budget. I wouldn’t say it’s been an endless downpour of Cups there since.

Some coaches are really great at getting the most out of teams that don’t have the raw talent, and part of that is convincing them that because they don’t have the Crosbys on their team they need to be better positionally. If he suddenly went somewhere that did have offensive tools, could he get the team to play as responsibly? Would he succeed at utilizing his firepower, or feel more inclined to chain it up the way he’s gotten Nashville to be good over the past handful of years? Read the rest of this entry »

evander kane 3

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If we’re all okay with taking some not-so-massive leaps here, I’m gonna go ahead and say that Evander Kane is not happy in Winnipeg, and the Jets aren’t too thrilled with him either.

The short version of the latest flare up is that the Jets were going to play in Toronto…

…Kane went out, and it’s possible he had a bit too much fun.

Now, I don’t know that he slept in and missed a team event in the morning, but I know enough about hockey players, the lifestyle, and passive aggressiveness that I feel okay making that ca-raaaazy leap.

So, after that Kane was seen chatting with his agent in the hall (doesn’t mean anything, most players do, but when you’ve got another four years on your deal and just got healthy scratched as a young star “talking to your agent” certainly carries heavier overtones), and the next day he found himself in front of the camera, remorseful and apologetic about the unknown reasons for his absence.

Nah, I’m kidding, he was pretty indignant about the whole thing. Read the rest of this entry »

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There’s a certain type of hockey player that climbs up through the ranks because, to put it bluntly, they’re a pain in the ass to play. They play an up-tempo style, they’re fearless, they’ll hit everything that moves, and they’ll chirp you in the process. They are Zac Rinaldo.

The thing with this type of game is that you can play it in a clean way. You don’t have to be a constant injury threat who doesn’t respect your opponents. Unfortunately, Rinaldo has yet to learn how to play that game, or he just has no interest in trying.

Two years ago he was suspended two games for a jumping shoulder to the brain of Jonathan Ericsson of the Red Wings just eight days after being fined twice for two separate incidents (a late hit and a slewfoot) in the same game. Here’s a refresher on the suspension:

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety won’t likely be pleased to see his name on the docket again today.

His hit to head of Chad Ruhwedel earned him a match penalty, and was injurious:

So, Rinaldo’s getting suspended. Let’s break down the play and give ‘er the old “Court of Public Opinion” assessment. How many games for this?

The facts:

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