Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

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The 2014 iteration of the NHL trade deadline was just a touch more exciting than last season’s. Who was traded last year? The ghost of Tim Thomas from Boston to the Islanders so they could hit the salary floor? I think maybe Erik Cole moved from Montreal to Dallas? Regardless, this season gave us a zillion rumors with big names, and whaddya know, a few of them were even asked to swap jerseys.

One at a time now, here’s some quick reaction to every deal from the last two days, two sentences at a time.

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A 35-year-old low-pairing defenseman for a pick in a round that becomes a legit NHLer less than 10% of the time. Weaver’s solid enough that you can use him, where maybe Douglas Murray isn’t, so sure, good for Montreal

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Ilya’s a wildly unpopular guy in the dressing room – he’s now hit Anaheim, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Edmonton and Minnesota – and he’s a fairly middling goaltender. If the Wild were looking for a solution in net, I’m not so sure they made a great call.

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vanek d

Garth Snow played deadline roulette, put the Islanders money on black and red, and the ball landed on the double-zero greens. For those of you unfamiliar with that analogy: the Isles managed to lose on deadline day when it was legitimately a hard result to accomplish.

At the start of the year, Long Island had Matt Moulson, a highly coveted asset heading to UFA. They traded him and a first round pick (2014 or 2015), and a second round pick (2014) for Thomas Vanek, and a better shot at playoffs. Eventually, they knew they would be flipping Vanek at the deadline – he said he wouldn’t re-sign, favoring unrestricted free agency instead – so they waited until the last second, and turned Vanek into…a second round pick and a mediocre prospect (Sebastien Collberg). The kicker is, if the Habs make the playoffs, the Islanders send back a fifth-rounder (if they miss, no picks are involved in the deal. Just Vanek for Collberg).

As in, New York lost Moulson for nothing. More accurately, they paid to get rid of a talented forward.

If you’re not picking up the vibe, the Montreal Canadiens won today, and won big. If you look around the Eastern Conference, it’s pretty wide open, and making a move like acquiring Vanek pushes home ice advantage in the post-season to near-lock status. No roster players lost, a great player gained. While the Habs won’t be able to re-sign their new acquisition (all signs point to the Wild this summer), that’s a pretty small cost to pay for a great rental. Especially when you consider what others have fetched – heck, Doug Murray cost more at last year’s deadline.

The Islanders have established a trend – they want to be a salary floor team, and they want to do that by trotting out prospects (preferably on entry-level deals) and waiver claims, then turning those players into more picks and prospects the second they come to flower and want money. And, to get to that salary floor, they have guys like Rick DiPietro, Alexei Yashin and in some cases, deals like Tim Thomas’ last year (no money out of pocket, but with a cap hit) still on the payroll.

The Habs come out looking pretty good in all of this. And of course, the Islanders, once again, look like an organization that belongs in Nassau Coliseum.

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DEAL: Marian Gaborik to Los Angeles for a second round pick and a conditional third.

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The Los Angeles Kings are in dire need of scoring, and it wasn’t a fact lost on them. Their current scoring clip is just over two goals per game, which barely bests the two worst-scoring teams in the NHL, Calgary and Buffalo. Enter Marian Gaborik.

The name Marian Gaborik, at this point, is a lot sexier than the player himself. He’s tallied just 14 points in 22 games this season, a mere six of which are goals. I’m not a big fan of avoiding talent because the talent has had bad injury luck in the past, but Gaborik seems really prone to getting hurt, which is a scary concept in playoffs. And, when you’re a scorer who’s made his hay in large part thanks to being speedy, age can be a real drag.

In short, I’m not sure the Kings found the guy they’re looking for. He’ll definitely provide some offense, but on a team that dines on its team defense, I’m skeptical that it’ll be worth it.

Going back to Columbus is Matt Frattin, a second round pick, and a third round pick (conditional). For a team on the brink of playoffs like Columbus – to whom making playoffs would mean a great deal – it seems like a waste to ship out one of your legitimate NHL talents for future picks. I’m almost always in favour of getting something rather than nothing for a player going to UFA, but I’d have rather have seen Columbus consider him a rental and make a playoff push than do the “smart” thing in this case.

The Blue Jackets haven’t had Gaborik much of the year and they’ve been fine, so maybe that’s Jarmo Kekalainen’s line of thinking, but I would’ve preferred to see them look at this season a bit more aggressively.

I can see what both GMs were thinking, but I’m not sure either one got what they needed here.

Russian hockey

However you want to classify Russia’s top-six (best in the world? One of the best in the world?), there’s no denying they have an ungodly amount of talent. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Radulov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Semin comprise that group, and each one is known for possessing raw offensive gifts. In a tournament like the Olympics where great teams are bound to run into a couple pushovers along the way, you’d expect a group like this to put up a crazy amount of goals. Only…they haven’t.

Today they beat the last place team in the tournament, Norway, by scoring two goals in the first 59 minutes (they added an empty-netter and a nobody-is-trying-bonus one after that). They beat the Slovaks 1-0 in a shootout – the same Slovak squad that lost to a Slovenian team with a single NHLer on it. They only scored twice against the US, a legitimate opponent, and their big output came against Slovenia, who they beat 5-2. That game aside, we haven’t seen the fireworks we expected.

To my eyes, their offensive issues seem to stem from a too-big gap between their D-men and forwards all over the ice (particularly when breaking the puck out and regrouping in the neutral zone), which is usually the product of overeagerness. In their case, it seems to be a combo of that overeagerness from the forwards, and their D-men getting their feet stuck in quicksand. Read the rest of this entry »

The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves continue to have the best jerseys in hockey.

The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves continue to have the best jerseys in hockey.

The picture above is taken in Marriuci Arena in Minneapolis, home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team. Between the amazing crowds, live band and great teams they consistently ice it’s damn near my favourite arena on earth. The only real downfall is that the ice sheet itself was roughed in to be just smaller than the actual state of Minnesota, which encompasses over 10,000 lakes, as you may have heard.

That makes for a unique brand of hockey, as we’ve seen from past Olympic hockey tournaments.

My college hockey was played in the WCHA, a division packed with Olympic-sized sheets like Marriuci. Of the 10 teams in that conference at the time, our home rink (Sullivan Arena) was Olympic, as was Wisconsin’s (Kohl Center), St. Cloud’s (National Hockey Center), Colorado College’s (World Arena), and Minnesota State @ Mankato’s (Verizon Wireless Center). That left North Dakota (Ralph Engelstad Arena), Denver (Magness Arena), Michigan Tech (MacInnes Student Arena) and Minnesota-Duluth (The DECC) as the only NHL-sized rinks.

A few of those Olympic sheets managed to combine the massive ice with square-ish corners, so again: it felt like you were chasing the puck around an entire state. And when the ice wasn’t hard and fast (the ice in Anchorage was like skating on pure diamond, so that was rare for our team), or you were playing at altitude (Colorado), it was damn near impossible to play an up-tempo hockey game.

There was an undeniable difference in the type of hockey game that was played when we were on the big ice versus the NHL-sized rinks, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a country to select their Olympic roster with this in mind. Plenty of people are okay with the concept of “take the best NHL all-star team you can” – they wouldn’t be terrible, but I think you can do better.

So what’s different on the big ice:

First off, the hockey is a lot more possession-based.

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2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six

“He’s grown up with our organization, and he’s been to the ultimate with our group,”
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Chicago general manager Stan Bowman, on Corey Crawford

Back in the winter of 2003 or so, I can remember sports talk radio shows in Vancouver being almost exclusively about how the Vancouver Canucks needed not just a good goaltender to replace Dan Cloutier in net, but a “proven winner”. That last for most of the 2003-2004 season. Cloutier posted the worst even strength save percentage among starting goalies in 2001-2002 but is better known for allowing a half-court goal to Nik Lidstrom in Game 3 of the Canucks’ series against Detroit, and despite taking the first two games at the Joe, that goal seemed to turn the tide of the series, and Detroit wound up winning Games 3, 4, 5 and 6 to take the series.

Cloutier was slightly better in 2003, with a .917 EV SV%, 21st among starting goalies (although only 24 goalies qualified) but still he’s best known for his playoff performance—with a 3-1 series lead over the Minnesota Wild in the second round, the Canucks dropped the next two games 7-2 and 5-1, and then after taking a 2-1 lead into the third period of Game 7, eventually lost the game 4-2 and the series 4 games to 3.

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winnipeg jets ron hainsey

Much was made about Jay Bouwmeester getting his first crack at the NHL playoffs this year. Early in the 2013 season, Bouwmeester broke the record for most career NHL games played without having made an appearance in the playoffs. Of course, he had to go and spoil his shiny new record by playing six playoff games with the St. Louis Blues, conceding his new record back to its rightful owner, Guy Charron (no relation) whose record of 734 games without once playing a playoff game has to be one of the most untouchable records in sports.

Anyway, the guy who has the next best shot at catching Charron? Ron Hainsey. Hainsey came up with the Montreal Canadiens as a minor league call-up for two seasons. He began the 2003-2004 campaign with the Canadiens, but was sent down in November of that year after playing 11 games. That was the closest he’s ever been to the postseason, although he didn’t join the Habs in their two-round playoff run that season, instead playing 10 playoff games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

It didn’t get easier from there. Hainsey was waived by the Habs early in the 2005 season and picked up by the Columbus Blue Jackets (say, this sounds familiar) and spent three seasons with the Blue Jackets, scoring 16 powerplay goals. He wasn’t a very prolific threat, but 16 powerplay goals over those three years was good for 24th in the league among defencemen, giving Hainsey somewhat of a reputation as an offensive blueliner, a label he hasn’t appeared able to shake in the years since.

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