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The Numbers Game: Who The Stats Say Will Win The Stanley Cup

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment

 

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 29th, 2012]

However unlikely it may have seemed at the beginning of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils will meet in a seven game series to determine which team has earned the right to have their names etched on hockey’s greatest chalice.

I see the series boiling down to six main factors: goaltending, overtime, shots, scoring, special teams, and experience. Here’s a statistical rundown of how both teams have done in those categories up until now.

GOALTENDING

Jonathan Quick has had to appear in four less games than Martin Brodeur (14 to Brodeur’s 18), and has only felt the sting of losing twice, whereas Brodeur and the Devils have dropped five. Quick has also only had to be on the ice for 857:48 minutes of play, while Brodeur has had 1,089:40 – that’s 3 hours, 51 minutes, and 52 seconds more work than Quick has had to do. Quick also has 2 shutouts to Brodeur’s 1.

Advantage: LA

OVERTIME

Quick remains perfect in overtime through two showings, while Brodeur has lost one of five appearances (game one of round two versus Philadelphia). Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner of LA and Alexi Ponikarovsky, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique (2) have been the overtime scorers.

Advantage: LA

SHOTS

Shots are scoring opportunities, and both teams will have to maximize and make the most of theirs if they are to beat either elite goaltender. Quick has faced 73 less shots than Brodeur (406/479), having to make less saves (384/442) and has let in 15 less goals (22/37), posting a better GAA (1.54%/2.04%) and save percentage (.946%/.923%) along the way. Zach Parise is second in the playoffs for shots (68) while Dustin Brown is LA’s leader (49). New Jersey’s Adam Larsson has 1 goal on 3 shots, for the highest shooting percentage of remaining players in the playoffs (33.3%), and Dwight King has LA’s best (25.0%), scoring 5 goals on 20 shots. LA has averaged slightly more shots on goal (32.9/30.4), but has given up slightly more shots against (29.0/27.6) on average.

Advantage: LA

SCORING

Hockey ultimately comes down to scoring more goals than the other team, and the Kings have a slightly higher goals scored average (2.93/2.83) than the Devils; scoring 41 goals in 14 games to New Jersey’s 51 goals in 18 games. LA has also have let in significantly less goals per game on average (1.57/2.33) and in total (22/42).

Ilya Kovalchuk now leads the playoffs in points (18), but Dustin Brown is not far behind (16) and Anze Kopitar rounds out the Top 5 (15). Kovalchuk and Brown are tied with New Jersey’s Zack Parise and Travis Zajac for third in goals (7). Kovalchuk leads the playoffs in assists (11), while Brown, Kopitar, and LA’s Justin Williams all tie for second (9). Brown and Kopitar lead the playoffs in +/- (+13). Brown and New Jersey’s David Clarkson are tied for the playoffs lead in GWG with 3 apiece.

Interestingly, Martin Brodeur has tallied 4 assists through these playoffs, which is good enough for 88th overall in points. That ties him with LA’s Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, and teammates Petr Sykora, Peter Harrold. It’s also better than 345 other players that are allowed to move outside of a 15’x28’ area every game; including LA’s Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell, Jordan Nolan, Brad Richardson, Rob Scuderi, Alec Martinez, Colin Fraser, Kyle Clifford, and Andrei Loktionov, and New Jersey teammates Mark Fayne, Adam Larsson, Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov, Jacob Joesefson, and Tim Sestito.

Advantage: DRAW

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams wise, New Jersey annihilates LA in power play percentage (18.2%/8.1%), and in power play goals scored (12 goals on 66 chances/6 goals on 74 chances). Ilya Kovalchuk leads the playoffs with 5 PPG, and LA’s best, Mike Richards, only has 2.

The Devils are outmatched on the penalty kill (74.2%/91.2%) though, giving up 16 goals on 62 penalty kill attempts, while LA has only given up 5 goals on 57. Being a man down almost doesn’t seem like a deficit for the Kings, as they’ve even managed to score 5 short-handed goals (Brown -2, Kopitar -2, Greene -1) and not give up any, while New Jersey has only mustered 1 (Salvador) and allowed 2.

The Kings have taken 80 penalties and received 196 PIM (including 4 majors and 3 misconducts) for an average of 14 PIM/G, while New Jersey has taken 77 penalties and 175 PIM (1 major and 2 misconducts), averaging 9.7 PIM/G. If averages hold true, it seems LA will have even less opportunity to improve on their one overbearing weakness. Their penalty kill prowess will have to remain impeccable if they are to continue defusing power plays, especially against a team that can score with the man advantage as often as New Jersey has. Dustin Penner has taken the bulk of LA’s PIM (26), and David Clarkson has the Devils’ highest total (20). Discipline would be in the best interest of both parties.

Advantage: New Jersey

EXPERIENCE

When it comes to championship showdowns, Brodeur’s experience has resulted in 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals — heads above all other individuals in this series. He also holds the NHL record for most shutouts in a Stanley Cup final (3 in 2003), amongst a slough of other NHL records and awards. Quick is only in his fifth NHL season to Brodeur’s more than 20; and Quick hasn’t won any awards or set any records to date, plus it’s only his third appearance in the playoffs. Quick is 26 years younger than the 40 year old Brodeur, though age hasn’t seemed to be a negative factor for the elder statesman… yet.

Teamwise, The Devils are 3-1 historically in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the Kings are 0-1. LA’s Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene have all appeared in a Stanley Cup final before… and lost. While winning the Stanley Cup is unquestionably every hockey player’s greatest motivation, players like those may be hungrier to not lose again, and to earn LA its first ever championship; whereas the satisfaction of winning is nothing new for the Devils, and may even be something that is taken for granted by them. Head to head this season, New Jersey won both meetings.

Advantage: New Jersey

CONCLUSION

By the six categories outlined, I have LA winning 3, New Jersey winning 2, and them drawing 1; thusly, by the numbers I have to give the Los Angeles Kings the nod for the Cup win. As early as June 6 and as late as June 13, we will see if the numbers game matters, or it doesn’t.

Predicted Stanley Cup Champions: LA Kings

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Knock Knock, Analyzing The Flyers Flop

May 12, 2012 Leave a comment

[Originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 10/2012]

 There are plenty of legit reasons that could make a person believe the Philadelphia Flyers should have won the Stanley Cup this year.

At the time of their elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils this year, the Flyers had the leading goals (tied with teammate Briere – 8), assists, and points scorer of the playoffs on their roster (Giroux 8g, 9a, 17pts); as well as second place in playoff assists, Jakub Voracek (8), second place in playoff points (Briere — 13), two players tied for the lead in playoff powerplay goals (Giroux, Hartnell – 3), one player tied for the lead in playoff short-handed goals (Giroux – 2), and two players tied for the lead in overtime goals (Briere, Voracek – 1). And in the second round, all this firepower was being directed at a goaltender that turned 40 years old during the series. Mind you, that old goalie is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, holder of more than 20 goaltending records, and wears the best looking blocker in the league, but I digress.

As a team, the Flyers had the number one rated power play (35.7%), scoring on 15 of 42 opportunities – that’s 6 more man-advantage goals than the second place team – and were second in goals for; only behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who they disposed of in the first round.

With two of five games in the series being decided by one goal, another two of five being won by two goals, and even in the lopsided game 2 that New Jersey won by three, you’d think offensive numbers like these would have been more influential, and in Philadelphia’s favor.

So what in the world went wrong?

BetOnHockey_Flyers_Bryzgalov.jpgGoaltending, right? It always comes down to goaltending with the Flyers, it had to be that again, right? Well, as it turns out, yeah it kinda was.

Remember when Philadelphia allegedly cured their goaltending ailment by signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51 million contract that maxed out their salary cap allowance? How’d he do? Dead last in goals against amongst goaltenders in the playoffs, with 37 on 326 shots he faced. The second worse, Braden Holtby of Washington, faced more than 100 more shots (albeit playing in two more games) and let in 9 less goals. More importantly, Martin Brodeur let in 12 less. Out of 23 goalies recording statistics in the playoffs, Bryzgalov placed 19th in GAA (3.46) and save percentage (.887%), and Philly’s backup Sergei Bobrovsky finished 23rd in GAA (8.11) and 21st in save percentage (.722%) [to be fair, Bobrovsky only appeared in one game]; meanwhile, Brodeur is currently pitching a 2.05/.920%. Bryz was so bad, he’s not even being invited to play for Russia at the IIHF World Championships — a tournament where participating national teams clamber for all the available NHL talent they can acquire in an attempt to legitimize their team and an overall watered down talent pool that is somehow allowed to influence world rankings – holding fast with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov as their starter, and backing him up with two KHL goaltenders, despite Bryzgalov’s availability [also to be fair, much of the NHL’s top talent turns down the opportunity to play in this tournament for various reasons, and is unsubstantiated that he would have gone, even if invited].

Additionally, it didn’t help having Claude Giroux, leader of basically every offensive statistical category in the playoffs, suspended for the series-deciding game five, after a head hit he dished out in game four. Some may argue though, that while facing a 3-1 series deficit to the Devils, the series may have already been over for the Flyers. The on-ice absence of Philadelphia’s captain Chris Pronger was unquestionably missed as well.

BetOnHockey_Flyers_Eliminated.jpgSome may argue still the Flyers felt the relocation of former captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who have both become substantial contributors to the success of the Los Angeles Kings, more so than the acquisition of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and even Jaromir Jagr.

Whatever you want to pin it on, it’s back to the drawing board once again for the Flyers. They again bow out of the running for the Stanley Cup early, and now make it 37 years since their last Cup victory. At this point, after acquiring a highly touted goaltender and a bona fide offence, it’s got to feel like they gave all the right answers, and then someone changed the questions for that franchise. I can’t imagine it’s anything short of frustrating for all those involved. I wouldn’t blame Peter Laviolette is he felt like doing this with a real hammer. I regret having to say we’ve heard the last rendition of Mac Miller’s “Knock Knock” in the Flyers’ dressing room for another season.

2012 NHL Playoffs Preview: Panthers vs. Devils

April 13, 2012 3 comments

Canvassing the Caucuses: An Election-Style NHL Playoff Preview during Election Season

PART 3

by Peter Nygaard (follow him on Twitter)

Eastern Primary

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

[also see: Boston Bruins vs. Washington CapitalsNew York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators,  & Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers]

  • The Issues:
    Cronyism — Forgive Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon if his team looks a little familiar. Tallon was known as the architect of the Chicago Blackhawks’ remarkable turnaround, so when he joined the Florida Panthers organization, he made a point to bring in several guys from the Blackhawks’ Cup winning team. The Panthers have also established themselves as consistent trade partners with the Vancouver Canucks. There are worse teams to be doing your dealings with if you’re trying to build up a contender.
  • Read my lips: No new rebuilds — After spending the entirety of the Bush administration and the majority of Obama’s first term in a perpetual state of rebuilding, the Panthers finally appeared primed to enjoy some long-term success. Leading the defense has been the re-emerging Brian Campbell, who is playing his finest hockey yet. On offense, the team has been supported by a platoon of new acquisitions — Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky — and a familiar face in Stephen Weiss. All that’s left is finding the goaltender of the future. Jacob Markstrom may be that guy, but for now, the Panthers will be rolling out veterans Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmenson.
  • Political Dirt:
    The Panthers looked to be a sure thing to make the playoffs after a five-game winning streak in mid-March. But the market turned, and Florida lost eight of its last 10 games and did not clinch the Southeast Division until the last day of the season. Granted, four of those 10 games ended in shootouts, so the mark very well may have turned out to be 5-5 under playoff conditions, but you really don’t want to be in a position to make excuses heading into the playoffs. The Panthers need to refocus.
  • Campaign Promises:
    If elected, the Panthers will seriously try to get people in Miami to like hockey. Remember how cool that ‘rats’ thing was in ’96? If our team does really well, I’m sure Miami fans will show up to—why are you laughing?
  • The Issues:
    Veterans Jobs — Commend the Devils for spending their free time doing community service by working with the elderly. The Devils have created jobs for 35-and-older players Patrik Elias, Eric Boulton, Petr Sykora, Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky. Goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are both older than the New Jersey Devils franchise, and that’s including the team’s years as the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies.
  • Equal Pay — New Jersey has a steep disparity in pay between the top three forwards — Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Elias — and everyone else. The top-paid trio earns significantly more than the rest of the forwards combined. Most notable is the Devil-for-life contract that Kovalchuk notoriously signed in 2010. Kovalchuk’s annual salary? $6,666,667.
  • Political Dirt:
    New Jersey head man Peter DeBoer took over the Devils’ coaching job after three years at the helm of the Florida Panthers. Conspiracy theorists wonder whether the Panthers were playing some sort of a long game when they fired him, knowing that he’d turn up with the Devils just in time for a first-round matchup with the Panthers.
  • Campaign Promises:
    If elected, the Devils promise to tell you where Jimmy Hoffa is really buried.

Vote For: Florida Panthers in 6

Hockey Talkie: Status Report on the NHL’s Long-Term Front-Loaded Contract Signings

December 16, 2011 1 comment

[Originally post for betonhockey.com on December 6/2011]

Alright all you NHL teams that tried to weasel your way around the NHL salary cap by signing players to long-term front loaded contracts, how have your deals been working out for you so far? You thought you were pretty smart by signing those sneaky but legal deals, so let’s see what you’ve come up with so far.

New Jersey Devils, you made the most publicized deal of the bunch, signing Ilya Kovalchuk at age 28 to a 15 year, $100 million dollar contract; keeping him as your property until 2025 when he’ll be 42 years old. That very same year, Kovy appeared in 81 games and put up his worst year’s point total (60) since his rookie year when he only had 51 – a far cry from the 98 he put up as a Thrasher in 05-06. Oh, and you missed the playoffs last year too. You better hope he picks his socks up, because no team in their right mind is ever going to be involved in a trade for that much money for a player with such relatively poor point production. The only offsetting factor is that Kovalchuk’s an outstanding player. He could neutralize most of this heat by playing like a superstar again. If he doesn’t, the Devils get a FAIL on this one.

Philadelphia Flyers, you signed Chris Pronger at age 37 to a 7 year, $34 million deal that locked him up in orange until 2017, when he’ll be 43. You also made him your captain. You’ve had decent playoff success, but still failed to win the Cup. Pronger’s been injured on numerous occasions, with a knee and eye injury being the most recent. Last year he only appeared in 50 games, his lowest since 94-95, and consequently had his lowest point total since then as well. This season he’s missed games due to a virus, the afore mentioned eye injury, and surgery on his knee. Is he going to make it to 43? Although Pronger brings a lot of veteran leadership and experience, I’d say Philly is behind the count on this one. [update: on December 15/2011, it was announced that Pronger will miss the remainder of the NHL season and playoffs due to post-concussion syndrome]

New York Rangers, looks like you didn’t think your signing of Scott Gomez in 2007 for seven years and $51.5 million was that great a move after all, considering you paid him $18 million of that contract before flipping him to the Montreal Canadiens for them to pay the remainder. Might have been a good play though, Gomez’s point production is constantly under criticism, and he’s coming off a career worst point total of 38 (his best was 84 in 05-06 with the New Jersey Devils) — pretty poor for a centerman. He’s the Habs’ problem until 2014, when he’ll be 34 years old. In the end, a win for NYR for moving him, and a tie at best or loss for Montreal when it’s all over.

Vancouver Canucks, you inked Roberto Luongo at age 32 to a 12 year, $64 million contract, keeping him a Canuck until 2022, when he’ll be 43. As much as I hate the Canucks, there’s no question that Roberto is an elite goaltender, so I understand your wanting to keep him around. Thing is though, as great of a run you had last season, Roberto let in more than 20 goals during last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Between that and your stars not scoring, you failed to win your franchise’s first Stanley Cup, and your fans destroyed your city. And that was only year one. You’ve got 11 to go, and Lu has already been shaky; giving way to “backup” Cory Schneider multiple times this season. Many think that Schneider should be the team’s #1 goaltender. Do that, and you’ll have $5.3 million dollars sitting on the bench every year you allow it. It’s great to have a President’s Trophy winning season and all, but if you fail to win the big trophy, it’s all for not. If Luongo can’t be consistent when it counts over the next decade, Vancouver loses this one. And maps may have to be re-drawn over the area that used to be the city of Vancouver, if rioters are given any more reason to cause carnage.

And New York Islanders, the pièce de résistance unquestionably still belongs to you. In 06-07, you signed Rick DiPietro to a 15 year, $67.5 million contract – keeping him on Long Island until 2021, when he’ll be 40 years of age. Apparently you were not informed that Rick needed to be kept in an antique store with a “FRAGILE” sign around his neck. You got two decent seasons out of him right off the hop, but it has been downhill from there. Due to injury, Rick played in only five games in 08-09, eight games in 09-10, and just 26 last season. Goaltending has been nothing short of a metaphorical revolving door, as DiPietro has shared the net with multiple goalies – none of which seem to be able to keep pucks out of it. The team has been, or close to, dead last in league standings the last number of years. You haven’t made the playoffs since Rick’s first season with the team. Between hip surgery, knee surgery, groin problems, neck injury, concussions, facial fracture, and sickness, DiPietro has only been able to play in a fraction of the games you surely hoped he would. And when he did play, the team still ended up being bad. Sorry NYI, there’s just no way you come out on top from this one. [update: on December 15/2011, DiPietro was placed on injured reserve yet again, after suffering a groin injury]

So, NHL owners, what have you learned?

Schwartzel Taps His Inner Seinfeld For Masters Win, Tiger Loses Again, Norm MacDonald, and Hockey Quips.

April 10, 2011 2 comments

Shameless self-promotion: I had my latest newspaper article published; did you pick up a copy of The View on Friday? Click here to read it online if you don’t get the paper. Also, follow @LakeCountryBB and @BlackbeltsLCF on Twitter.

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Sorry if this throws you off, but I’ve got a few golf comments to make. I watched the final round of The Masters today, something I didn’t think I was capable of doing. A big part of making it tolerable was listening to Norm MacDonald’s “Norm Cast” running commentary of the event, and even getting one of my tweets read on the air live by Norm.  You should follow Norm on Twitter @normmacdonald and @normsportsshow , and check out the website.

The tweet I got read was, “If Tiger Woods wins the Masters today, expect Michael Vick level forgiveness of transgressions from the masses.” Valiantly try as he might, Tiger did not win. Charl (es?) Schwartzel did wins The Masters, and subsequently lifted the “Seinfeld Curse”(dubbed by Norm and company, as Charl has a striking resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld, facially). So I guess this means Tiger is still a dirty man-whore. How slutty do you think Tiger was over the weekend to play as well as he did? Also, do you think Tiger Woods was rattled that Lee Westwood’s wore his same red shirt, black hat/pants/shoes setup for Masters Sunday? That’s Tiger’s Sunday getup, Lee, everybody knows this.

I felt painfully bad for Rory Mcilroy, watching his Masters-sized meltdown. Guy was leading until he hit a shot onto some guy’s front lawn (who has a house on Augusta, btw?), and basically collapsed from there. Had a chance to be the youngest guy since Tiger to win the Masters, and then he BA-lew it.

I was closet-cheering for South Korea’s KJ Choi to win, and he was in the hunt. I bet KJ Choi played a lot of screen golf in Korea as a youngster. Only people who have lived in Korea will understand that comment. Basically, screen golf is virtual golf; and most Koreans play it instead of real golf because there are very few real golf courses in Korea as there’s very little previously undeveloped land to build them on, and the ones that exist are extremely expensive and exclusive. I am a little surprised Jinro Soju isn’t KJ Choi’s major sponsor (another Korean inside joke, sorry). SK Telecom must’ve won a screen golf bet for his rights.

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So the last place Edmonton Oilers beat the Canucks back to back before the end of the NHL regular season? Can anyone else feel Vancouver’s first round slipping out of their hands?

Vancouver’s Raffi Torres’ hit on Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle seemed like a classic tall guy’s elbow naturally falling at short guy’s head level. Clean hit if Raffi got lower. I honestly thought it was a good, hard, borderline clean hit. The Chara-Pacioretty thing has every call on eggshells, and discipline is expected everytime someone goes down. I think Torres said it best himself, saying he was just finishing his hit, and if he hadn’t he probably wouldn’t be seeing much more ice. I like Eberle, but if players can’t hit, the NHL turn into touch hockey before we know it.

I’m happy that my LA Kings won’t be facing Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs, especially now that they are without Anze Kopitar. I’m also happy that Vancouver will be meeting Chicago in the first round. I’m a casual fan, and I don’t invest my entire existence into my hockey team, nor their playoff hopes. If LA doesn’t win, no big deal. However, for Canucks fans, if Vancouver bows out early yet again, look out innocent civilians residing in the lower mainland of BC….

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Rookie Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes and seasoned veteran Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils both have 30 goals this year. The difference between them? $97.3 million in salary. That seems fair. Oh, Jacques Lemaire just retired again, and Brodeur sucks now? New Jersey is in trouble going forward. Jeff Skinner on the other hand, not so much. Calder?

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Martin St. Louis sure is content using those obscenely yellow Easton sticks, isn’t he?

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I have a hunch that more NHL players are going after Gordie Howe hat tricks on purpose and as a real stat these days. Not that I mind.

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I enjoyed Toronto’s late playoff push. I love how mad so many people would have been if they got in. I think the Leafs have a lot to look forward to next season, as long as Brian Burke doesn’t Niemi/Halak his #1 goalie and trade James Reimer in the off-season, in favour of backing Giguere or Gustavsson (who is anything but a monster. Unless he’s one from Monsters, Inc).

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And finally, Cory Clouston gets tossed out of Ottawa. After getting the worst out of every good player Ottawa had under his regime, feuding with Dany Heatley to the point of a no-trade clause waiving trade, and finishing nearly last in the league over and over, how did it take this long for this to happen?

Hockey Talkie: Brodeur, Byfuglien for Norris, HBO 24/7, Sutters, Spengler, Waffles, & The DiPietro Deficiency.

December 29, 2010 15 comments

Could the New Jersey Devils’ situation be any worse? Dead last in the entire league (as of Dec 28/10), their bazillion-dollar signee, Ilya Kovalchuk sucks, and their former best-goalie-in-the-world is anything but, often injured lately, and having a tough time doing the most important thing about the goaltending position job description – stopping pucks. You gotta think Martin Brodeur is, at least, contemplating retirement at this point. No disrespect to him, but I mean he’s won everything for a goalie to win (3 Stanley Cups, Olympic Gold twice, 4 Vezina’s, multiple All-Star selections; holds 20 NHL records, including most wins, shutouts, most games and minutes played, even scored a game-winning goal).  But really, at this point, what is the purpose in him hanging around, especially when he’s  now playing for the worst team in the league? After all his accomplishments, it’d be a shame to see him fizzle out and get Chelios’ed in his remaining time.

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secretly, NYI owner Charles Wang was trying to get the NHL to outlaw outlandish contracts all along.

Speaking of bad teams, how many more stints on the IR for Rick DiPietro until the New York Islanders decide buying out the remaining 11 years on his contract is actually the better option?  Tough for the Isles to get the most bang for their $67 million bucks out of a constantly injured goalie who hasn’t played an entire season since around the time he signed that contract. 

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Dustin Byfuglien’s the early favourite for the Norris Trophy, no? He’s 13th in league scoring as I write this, and there is not another defenceman on the list until Nicklas Lidstrom at 26th. He’s even got more points than Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews, Dany Heatley, Evgeni Malkin, Teemu Selanne, Joe Thornton, Martin Havlat, Rick Nash, and Patrick Kane, to name a few. To be fair, he is currently 65th in +/- rankings, which may or may not be a more important measure of a defenceman’s worth, depending on who you are. He’s still got my vote, for now.

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Like many of you hockey folks, I’m loving the HBO 24/7 Penguins/Capitals Road To The Winter Classic miniseries. I know lots of people are talking about it, so I’ll try to raise a few points that aren’t being beat to death, too badly.

One – Bruce Boudreau has been getting a lot of heat for his constant cussing in the dressing room and on the bench. My response to this is that the only people balking at this have to be people who are either over-sensitive, or just have never been in a hockey dressing room before; because, and I hate to break it to the weak at heart, but that’s exactly the way hockey dressing rooms and coaches are during the game. They get frustrated when things don’t go right, and when you’re as emotionally invested in the game and the success of the team as a coach has to be, f-bombs begin to flourish, especially in a slumping team situation. Personally, I love the fact that he’s not pulling any punches or walking on egg-shells just because there’s cameras around him all the time.

Two – I love seeing that NHL players are pretty much like every other hockey player that plays on every other team in the world and every other level (minus the skill level and multi-million dollar contracts, of course). It should be pretty obvious, since they all came up through all the same developmental leagues that all other players do to get where they are, but there’s something humanizing about seeing a teammates pulling hotel pranks on each other during road-trips, coaches telling players to “pack up your stuff so we can get the f— outta here” after a road loss, generally being jokers off the ice, and then really dialling in their serious side when it’s time to perform on the ice.

Three – as cool as this build-up to the Winter Classic has been, and as amazing as that game will be, this kind of TV series is tailor-made to a Stanley Cup Finals showdown, is it not? I know the big sell is the Crosby-Ovechkin matchup for American viewers by the networks, but isn’t the confrontation for the Cup, aka the biggest prize in the sport, even easier for fans to invest their advertisement-susceptible eyes to, compared to a gimmicky mid-season outdoor game?

And further, isn’t it a testimony to how unnecessary it is to advertise hockey in Canada that, compared to the Winter Classic media blitzkrieg, there has barely been a mention of the upcoming Heritage Classic outdoor game between Calgary and Montreal? You mean to tell me the mention of Jarome Iginla vs Josh Gorges isn’t enough to put butts in seats, and eyes on TV’s?

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Even though I’m an avid Calgary Flames hater, it’s unfortunate to see Darryl Sutter “resign” as team GM, after team CEO Ken King asked him too.  Seems like an either-quit-or-you’re-fired face-saving situation for Sutter; which, if you’re going to publicly announce that you ask a guy to quit, you might as well just fire him.  I don’t support Flames success, but I have to admit, Sutter has been the only guy to get any out of that organization in recent history, including brother/head coach  Brent, who barely batted an eyelash at the situation, citing his family’s unparalleled ability to separate family from business.  Man, that’s got to be an awkward family to be around at Christmas.

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I love the Spengler Cup.  I wish it could be rescheduled so it actually got some coverage, instead of being overshadowed by the WJC.  With personnel like Mark Messier coaching, Hockey Canada obviously supports the team; why aren’t they allowed to sport the official Hockey Canada jerseys like every other legit Canadian team representing Canada in international play?  Surely HC just doesn’t want to desecrate the uniform with all those euro ads, right?

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a little suspicious that this rink guy has an entire box of Eggo’s….

And finally, I’m loving the waffles being thrown on the ice at Toronto Maple Leafs games. It’s just such an amusing item to throw. It causes a delay of the game, bla bla… some one could get hurt, yadda yadda… let’s be honest, if the Leafs keep sucking, and Kessel keeps not scoring, they’ll be thanking their lucky lifetime season-ticket holders that something as soft (and delicious) as waffles is all that’s being thrown on the ice.

The Hockey Tryout: Even The Best In The Game Still Have To Prove Their Worth (And advice for keeping your sanity through hockey’s trial period).

September 30, 2010 8 comments

 

With the opening of the 2010-11 NHL season looming, fake-meaningless tease pre-season hockey is all us stick-and-puck fans have to tide us over until that first puck drops.  We’ve endured baseball highlights on Sportscentre for long enough, it’s time to get some real sports going!

Yeah hi Bill, so camp registration fee is $250, and make sure the form is signed by a parent of legal guardian and returned by Aug 1. Good luck!

One interesting notable for me looking at the pre-season has been the boggling number of established NHL veterans still looking for a job – and their only option, seemingly, is to “tryout” for an NHL team.  Good luck trying to get Stanley Cup champ and former NHL All-Star Bill Guerin to fill out and mail in his registration form and camp fee in a self-addressed, stamped return envelope, in exchange for a free camp jersey and four guaranteed ice-times.

I count upwards of 20 NHL vets now fighting for their right to stay active in the world’s best hockey league:

Anaheim — Joe DiPenta (1 Cup), Stephane Veilleux; Atlanta — Enver Lisin, Kyle McLaren; Boston — Brian McGrattan; Columbus — Dan Fritsche; Dallas — Jonathan Cheechoo (All-Star, Rocket Richard Trophy); Florida — Tyler Arnason; New Jersey — Marcus Nilsson; N.Y. Rangers — Garnet Exelby, Ruslan Fedotenko (2 Cups, Olympian), Alexei Semenov; Philadelphia — Bill Guerin (2 Cups, All-Star, Olympian); Phoenix — Shane Hnidy, Kyle Wellwood; San Jose — Andreas Lilja (1 Cup); Tampa — Eric Perrin (1 Cup); Vancouver — Brendan Morrison, Peter Schaefer; Washington — Matt Hendricks.  ( from TSN.ca )

Fist pumping because he thinks he nailed the audition, or slipping on a banana peel back to reality?

I just gotta wonder what the real likelihood of these guys making these teams really is (see: Theo Fleury, Flames tryout).  I mean, it’s not like they’re new players that no one’s had a chance to see because they’ve been playing in an obscure minor league and there are only a handful of youtube videos on them.  These guys have all been around the league, and coaches and scouts already know what they’re all about.

And in reality, that’s the shitty thing about trying out for ANY team at ANY level.  In most cases, teams are already all but finalized before you show up at camp.  Guys have been committed to in the off-season, or re-signed from last year.  With only a few spots open from trades, injuries, or releases, if your resume isn’t already speaking for you, your only hope is to be so awesome that you out-perform a seasoned veteran, or that a vet gets hurt and you’ve looked good enough to be a lock for a call-up spot.  And that’s just the honest truth.

Do yourself a favor and at least look the part. If you show up wearing one of these, kindly show yourself out the door.

Too many young, good hockey players have had their hockey dreams dashed at an early or mid-point level because a team apparently already committed a starting spot and full PP/PK time to a player; who then walks out of camp a week later headed back on the 12-hour long bus to the team he was playing for before because things “didn’t work out” the way he was told they were going to at their tryout.  To be fair though, the onus is on the player to perform; if he can’t do that during that evaluation period, then the chances of that player being a team fixture do fade, no matter how highly touted or decorated they are.  As a coach now myself, I’ve had to weigh-in on some tough (and not so tough) decisions about who will play for our team.  While it’s easy to strike a guy off on paper, no one wants to be the guy who has to tell the player that he’s not we’re looking for.  It’s easy to tell that a guy wants to make the team, but it’s unfortunate when that’s just not a realistic possibility.  I’m sure many teams don’t mind collecting those “camp fees” to pad their team’s budget for the year though.

And that’s where hockey, more so at the minor-pro level, can really get quite exploitive.  Hockey is a game that players are passionate about.  I mean, blindingly passionate about.  So much so that they’ll jump at any chance to play for any team, anywhere.  From Northern Saskatchewan to Southern Alabama, if you’ve got a team and a training camp, chances are there are players willing to un-bank their life savings and drive to your hole-in-the-wall town from the exact opposite point on the continent for that one chance to be part of the team and to seek their fame and glory.  And chances are also that that team is probably full, despite their advertising to “leave no stone unturned” in hopes of finding talent.

Free-agent camps are tricky too, because they’ll mention how many coaches, scouts, and GM’s will be watching you, and how many were signed out of last year’s camp; and when you show up, there’s only one scout (maybe just a guy wearing a team jacket) from a crappy team that only sticks around for 1 period (this happened to a player I know this past summer) and doesn’t give anyone a fair look.

The third axis is the agent.  Many free agents will seek a player agent to represent them in pursuit of a contract.  The first tip-off here is the player pursuing the agent, not the agent pursuing the player.  If players are not careful, they can get mixed up with people/con-men who will take their money in exchange for promises of placement, and then never hear from the agent again, see their money again, or sign a contract (happened to me).  There are lots of good, credible agents and agencies out there, but you really gotta be careful, that’s all.  And again, it’s tough because players want to play so bad because of their love for the game and their emotional attachment to it; that pursuit and their trustworthiness is easily abused when it aligns with a person or team who doesn’t mind separating you from your money in exchange only for false hope and promises.

So, aspiring players who have not had the luxury of being drafted and/or a phenom from a young age, here’s your tryout camp mental checklist to review before filling out that form and sending in your cheque:

1)     Are you good enough?

2)     Ask yourself again, no really, are you good enough to make this team?

3)     Are you willing to endure failure and rejection, and self-improvement for what might be years until you do make this or another team?

4)     Can you fiscally, and mentally, afford it?

5)     Are you willing to live and play in the middle of no-where for an extended period of time, for next to no money?

6)     What is your goal is hockey?  Will you settle for anything below the NHL in the end?

7)     Do the rewards that come with being a hockey player outweigh the benefits to you?

8)     If you’re not single, what does your significant other think of all this?

I’m sure I could think of more, but if you’ve answered yes to all the above questions, then you should pursue your hockey dreams, no matter what they are, and no matter what they call for.  If you’re hesitant, then you may want to re-evaluate your path in the game.  But when it comes to camp time, always do your homework on the team, and be realistic (even if your realism would be described as crazy by others).  Other than that, let your heart and passion for the game, combined with your abilities and talents take you as far as they will lead; just don’t be afraid to follow them!  Being able to play the game of hockey is a very temporary privilege that only a very small percentage of people will ever have the opportunity to do at any level, so don’t take your remaining time in the game for granted.  If opportunity knocks, open the door; just make sure you let the right people in.

 

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