Ryan Lambert

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Brent Seabrook

 

There have been two instances of supplementary discipline handed down in the NHL since the start of the playoffs.

The first was to Milan Lucic for a needless and gutless spear on Danny DeKeyser, which netted him a $5,000 fine, the maximum for someone who does not have to go through a phone hearing. That was the second spear Lucic doled out to an opponent in about three weeks, but the first for which he heard from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

The second was obviously much bigger: A three-game ban to Brent Seabrook for trying to see if he could all the way through David Backes’ body if he hit him hard enough.Of course, given that, as of this morning, a total of 21 games have taken place in the NHL, that doesn’t feel like it’s a ton or anything. Especially given the gravity and apparent intensity exhibited in pretty much all the series played to this point. That Chicago/St. Louis and Detroit/Boston were the two to have boiled over into the range of needing DOPS to step in; the former is a hotly-contested rivalry to begin with played between two teams that still value the hell out of being able to beat the hell out of their opponents, while the latter is being played between a team that will never fight back and one that delights in straddling and sometimes stepping over the line of proper physical play. Read the rest of this entry »

Alex Ovechkin

Much like the blooming of the cherry blossoms, the official end of winter in Washington is often heralded by scurrilous whispering that Alex Ovechkin, multiple Rocket Richard winner, is really what’s ailing this team.

Interestingly, with so many other problems with the Capitals having presented themselves over the last few months — with team makeup, roster selection, player usage, penalty killing ineffectiveness, leaky defense, outright lousy goaltending, bad luck, etc. etc. etc. etc. — this is actually the latest the rumblings have really started to crop up over the past few years (more often, it’s in February). But the fact that they’re cropping up again nonetheless is frankly bizarre.

This is the reigning league MVP, coming off scoring 32 goals in 48 games to win his third Rocket Richard in six years, and who is as of this writing a goal away from breaking 50 for the fifth time in nine seasons. But still the criticism lingers, because he’s the most visible athlete in the city (all apologies to John Wall, Bryce Harper, and Robert Griffin III), playing on the richest AAV in the league by nearly $1 million, and his team is the smoldering crater of a turd meteor.

Someone has to answer for it, and it’s probably going to be Adam Oates, but people love blaming stars for their teams’ problems, so blame Ovechkin they will. There are a whole hell of a lot of reasons that the Caps would, of course, be foolish to trade Ovechkin now, or probably ever, but the chief among these is obvious:

He’s incredible. Read the rest of this entry »

Jon Cooper

We are getting down to awards-picking time when everyone picks who they think will and should win awards. Among the awards people will talk about at this time is the Jack Adams, which is given annually to the best coach in the National Hockey League.

Now, it should be noted that it stands to reason that the coach whose team is the best in the NHL might be the best coach, or at least be in the running. Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien have both, for example, done pretty well this season by any measure. However, this is not the way in which the award is traditionally given out; instead, it’s usually granted to the coach that made the biggest surprise surge in the standings, and less often to the one whose team was hit with the most significant injuries.

Given the latter consideration, it is not at all surprising to see Mike Babcock’s name bandied about — mainly by people in the greater Detroit metropolitan area, but also Steve Simmons — as being a Jack Adams candidate. Perfectly legitimate to think so. Given how hard injuries have hit everyone of basically any importance on the team (they’re second in the league in man-games lost to injury, in fact), that the ship has remained anything resembling steady is kind of incredible. Among the Red Wings who have missed at least semi-significant time due to injury include: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Gustav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen, Danny DeKeyser, Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary, and the list goes on like that. Basically, only Drew Miller, Kyle Quincey, and Niklas Kronwall have been consistently healthy from front to back.

But the problem with this is that through it all, the Red Wings have remained right where everyone basically thought they’d be at the beginning of the season: Firmly in the middle one-third of the league. That is to say, prior to last night’s games they were 14th in the NHL, having finished 13th in the lockout-shortened season, and that’s probably about what everyone foresaw. This doesn’t take into account, obviously, that by all rights based on injuries they should be lower, or that even with a team that was half-comprised of AHLers, they haven’t really slipped underwater in terms of possession for more than a dozen or so games here and there this season. It’s pretty remarkable and certainly praiseworthy. Read the rest of this entry »

shootouts

The shootout was introduced in the wake of the 2004-05 lockout mainly because the NHL was incredibly — and deservedly — unpopular at that point. The thinking was ostensibly this: Ties are boring (for some reason), and penalty shots are exciting, so if we put a whole bunch of the latter at the end of the former and act as like the team with the most goals on penalty shots is the winner of the game itself.

This has, of course, led to considerable debate about the merits of the shootout at large, with supporters saying, “It’s fun,” and detractors saying, “It’s stupid.” The problem is that there can be no middle ground when it comes to whether you think it’s a good idea, or at least very little. Either you like it because it’s fun and might have gotten your team into the playoffs when they otherwise might not have deserved it (the Toronto Maple Leafs of this year and last, the Southeast-winning Florida Panthers, etc.), or you hate it because it’s a gimmick skills competition that, again, significantly effects the outcome of the season standings in a way that is not necessarily fair overall. Read the rest of this entry »

david poile

So another Olympics have come and gone with Canada’s Golden Generation — probably the greatest single stock of hockey talent ever produced in a 10-year period by any nation — having waltzed a bit more breezily straight through to the gold medal for which they were always the heavy favorites.

There aren’t a lot of lessons to be learned, in general, from “Best team wins” headlines, and anyone trying to attribute this to anything bigger than Canada having the talent to medal if they’d sent two teams to Sochi (an oft-repeated trope, but a 100 percent accurate one) is romanticizing things.

On the other end of the spectrum is the country that has in the last several years really cemented itself as the single biggest threat to Canada’s continued international success overall: The United States of America. They beat the brains out of everyone that sucks, barely snuck by Russia thanks a dumb rule that’s so dumb even the depthlessly incompetent IIHF is not going to let it exist any more, and then got creamed by both Canada and Finland en route to an embarrassing fourth-place finish. Read the rest of this entry »

can win

“Most believe [the Olympic women's hockey competition] is a two-team tournament between the United States and Canada.”

That was a sentence spoken by an NBC Sports anchor on Saturday, hours after the U.S. and Canada devoured the Finns and Swiss, respectively, by a combined score of 8-1, to open this year’s women’s hockey tournament. Had this broadcast professional instead pursued a career in astronomy, one might assume that his assessment of the inky black void in which all known matter exists would note that “Most believe this universe is particularly large and old.”

Of course this is a god damned two-team tournament. It has been pretty much straight through since the inception of the women’s tournament for the Nagano games in 1998, because the U.S. and Canada have competed in the gold medal game in three of the first four tournaments ever held. The one time they didn’t, the U.S. still won bronze with a 4-0 rout of Finland, while Canada once again stomped the Swedes 4-1.

You hear talk that “the gap is narrowing.” Sure it is. The sun is also slowly but surely using up all its internal fuel and will eventually run out. But that’s like 5 billion years away, so there’s really no sense in worrying about it just yet.

As much as I love women’s hockey, though, things are getting worse for any non-North American team, not better. The big two have played four games, and scored 20 goals. They’ve allowed one. A plus-19 goal differential. All that remains in the group stage is a showdown on Wednesday between the two superpowers. And guess what: It literally almost doesn’t even matter at all; both have already qualified for the semifinals, and the loser will draw the winner of the quarterfinal game between the third-place team in Group A (which they will have already demolished earlier on) and whoever wins Group B (probably Russia, but maybe Sweden). Whichever team that is will pose no problem for the only two hockey powers in the Olympics worth mentioning. Read the rest of this entry »

Martin Brodeur

The National Hockey League is perhaps the professional sports league that is perhaps most willing to appeal to authority and defer to experience than any other. You can say it’s to do with how much hockey treasures its past, and maybe that’s true, but that doesn’t mean it’s not detrimental to the sport itself.

We got a pretty good case-in-point example of this when the Devils, predictably, gave Martin Brodeur the start in the Devils’ first-ever outdoor game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. It was very much a “thanks for everything” moment, and perhaps the team didn’t really care so much about the end result. The guy’s been the face of the franchise almost since he came into the league, so of course they were going to give him the start in that particular game. It was a Special Experience, and all that.

Of course, the fact that Brodeur got bombed for six goals against on 21 shots, bringing his save percentage for this, his age-41 season, below .900 for what has to be the first time ever after 28 games in his career. To judge any goaltender on a .714 save percentage in any 40-minute stretch is of course unfair, but this is in fact reflective of a trend that has plagued the Devils all year.

Asked why he was starting Brodeur, who went into the game with a .905 save percentage, over Cory Schneider, who was on the bench with his sitting at .928, coach Peter DeBoer said nothing about the experience or how much he’s meant to the franchise. What he said, instead, was baseless and ridiculous: “I’m not a big stats guy. I think those numbers are misleading.” Read the rest of this entry »