Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

(Bill Wippert, Getty Images)

(Bill Wippert, Getty Images)

The battle for the Calder trophy is shaping up to be a good one: Cory Conacher’s 18 points in 21 games has him as the favourite, but Jonathan Huberdeau’s 10 goals is tops among rookies and Justin Schultz is playing nearly 23 minutes a night for the Oilers. A strong push from Brendan Gallagher, Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Dougie Hamilton, or one of half-a-dozen other rookies could see them in the running by the end of the season.

But what about last year’s rookies? Early last season, it looked like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was going to run away with the Calder, but an injury and strong all-around play from Gabriel Landeskog saw him lose out in the end. Meanwhile, Adam Henrique and Matt Read made a case for themselves with their two-way play and solid offensive numbers.

How are this season’s second-year players handling the dreaded sophomore slump and who is making a case for being the best sophomore this season? So far, Cody Hodgson is leading the way thanks to a great offensive start to the season and the struggles of last season’s Calder candidates.

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(Bill Wippert, Getty Images)

(Bill Wippert, Getty Images)

Jannik Hansen is a goon. Jannik Hansen is a clean, honest player.

Matt Cooke is reckless and dangerous. Matt Cooke is a changed man.

Danny Briere is the dirtiest player in the league. Danny Briere is a lovable little guy.

Perception is a funny thing: the same play, player, game, or season can be viewed in thousands of different ways, depending on your frame of reference. If you’re a Blackhawks fan, you’re more likely to have seen Jannik Hansen’s hit on Marian Hossa as intentional and malicious than if you were, say, a Canucks fan. If you thought that Matt Cooke sliced Erik Karlsson’s achilles tendon with his skate on purpose, you’re probably not a Penguins fan. If you find the idea laughable that lovable little Danny Briere could be called dirty, you’re probably a Flyers fan.

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Manny Malhotra is done for the season, but it wasn't up to him. (Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images)

Manny Malhotra is done for the season, but it wasn’t up to him. (Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images)

Manny Malhotra wasn’t a healthy scratch for the Vancouver Canucks last Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. He wasn’t injured, either, apparently. Instead, he came out of the lineup for “personal reasons.” Two days later it became clear that was a bit of misdirection on the part of the Canucks, as they placed Malhotra on the Injured Reserve list and announced that he was done for the season.

This wasn’t because of a new injury, but because of concerns over an old one. Back in March of 2011, in a game against the Colorado Avalanche, the puck deflected off a stick and impacted Malhotra in his left eye. It was a brutal, devastating injury that cause him to miss the remainder of the regular season and nearly all of the postseason, as he only returned in the Stanley Cup Final.

Malhotra returned and played a full season in 2011-12 in a diminished capacity, but concerns for his safety began to develop in the Canucks’ front office and, just last week, Mike Gillis, the GM of the Canucks, made the call to end his season.

It was a decision that Malhotra didn’t entirely agree with and one that raises a number of questions. The most far-reaching question is who gets to decide when an injured player should play? Who is responsible for that decision?

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Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes

Last night the Phoenix Coyotes took on the Chicago Blackhawks with Raffi Torres in the lineup for the first time since his violent, vicious hit on Marian Hossa in playoffs that saw Torres get suspended for a whopping 23 games. Hossa was badly concussed, and didn’t come close to playing another playoff game. As you can probably guess, the Hawks were not thrilled with Coyotes pest villain.

When he showed up at the rink last night, there’s no doubt he knew. He knew he’d have to fight someone on Chicago, likely someone tough, and likely very early in the game. As a team, you just can’t let a guy who cheap-shotted one of your best players – any of your players, really – cruise around and play his game like nothing happened after that.

I understand that a lot of people think fighting in hockey is stupid. They think the concept of “the code” itself is stupid. But I think even those people get this and can live with it: Torres had to fight somebody. Read the rest of this entry »

When looking ahead at the 2013 NHL season, there’s a few fall-back predictions you can be safe with. Steven Stamkos will score like a mofo, Evgeni Malkin will be nasty-good, etc. etc. Beyond the givens, there’s a host of talented forwards that seem ready to break out, but as we know, not everyone finds a way to get to that next level. Chances are if you’ve got a favourite team, you’ve got a guy in mind who’s about to “make that big step,” and for some teams, they’ve got a guy who’s made that step before that they’d like to see keep up the pace.

I’ve got my own list of guys from around the league that I could see stepping into the limelight as premier, top-end scorers, and for a few of them, who knows, the ceiling might actually be top-5, top-3 in NHL scoring this season. The following is that list of guys who I think are going to have huge years, aside from names like Crosby/Malkin/Giroux/Stamkos.

Here we go, in no particular order:

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins

Vitals: 6’2″, 210, 25 years old

2011-12: 80 games played, 40 goals and 41 assists for 81 points

Neal was one of only two players in the National Hockey League last season to hit both the 40 goal plateau and grab 40 assists along the way. The other was Evgeni Malkin (the only other two players to hit 40 goals were Steven Stamkos – pff, 40, he says – and Marian Gaborik, both of whom failed to accumulate 40 assists). Obviously playing with Malkin helped Neal’s numbers, but just a reminder, Malkin didn’t die during the lockout, so he’s going to be around this season as well. With Neal’s ability to finish, and his recent relocation to being back-door sneaky on a powerplay with Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Kunitz, and I can see him being a point-per-game guy again this season.

By the way, here’s an article that implies it’s stupid to have Neal “shoving” the puck towards the net on the PP from the back-door, asking “But where is evidence that Neal can finish those off?”, to which I offer the first goal in this package. (I like the third one just a touch too.)

*** Read the rest of this entry »

48 games means 48 thrills.

While it had been hinted at numerous times prior to the lockout finally ending, it seems clear now that the 2012-13 season will be a mere 48 games long. A longer season just isn’t possible at this point, according to Bill Daly. 48 games is how long the 1994-95 season was after that lockout ended, but that league had just 26 teams, making for a relatively balanced schedule.

So what will a 48-game season mean? Hockey fans have grown accustomed to an 82-game season being a large enough sample size to separate the wheat from the chaff. Is a 48-game season long enough to ensure that the best teams in the league get into the playoffs, rather than weaker teams that hit a hot streak at the right time?

In order to get some idea of how to answer this question, I took a look at last season to see how reducing it to just 48 games would have affected the standings.

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(Andre Ringuette,

8 years after winning the MVP award for his phenomenal performance in the World Junior Hockey Championship, Patrice Bergeron once again led Team Canada to a championship, this time in the Spengler Cup. Bergeron scored the opening goal in the final and added 3 assists as Canada went on to win 7-2 over the tournament’s hosts, HC Davos.

Meanwhile, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is looking to duplicate Bergeron’s success from 2004-05: leading the World Juniors in scoring while leading Team Canada to the gold medal.

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