Sunday, August 31, 2008

Shootout Preview: Phoenix Coyotes

When it comes to close games, a coach has to think ahead to the shootout that could be played. Wayne Gretzky and the Coyotes staff will have plenty of players willing to go on the shootout but which ones have the skill to get the tap on the shoulder every night? 
Starting in goal...Ilya Bryzgalov was a very good shoot out goalie. The Yotes were 5-6 in the shootout this past season. Of course, a coach like Gretzky would rather win on hard work and during regulation or overtime but to contend in the Western Conference, every point counts. Bryzgalov and the rest of the Coyotes goaltenders gave up 12 goals in the shootout this past year. With a full year of Bryzgalov, that number will certainly go down. 
On the scoring side of things, it will be different. Radim Vrbata was the go to guy for Gretzky as his quick forehand to backhander gave goalies nightmares as he went 5 for 8 during the season. But who will replace him? 
Certainly, American sniper Peter Mueller will get his chances after going 3 for 10. All 3 of those were decisive goals. Kyle Turris participated in the shootout once last year and used his unbelievable wrist shot to beat Jonas Hiller of the Ducks. He will get a shot in the shootout. Martin Hanzal is a skilled player and will have a couple of chances. The young guys will get shots like Mikkel Boedker, Enver Lisin, and Viktor Tikhonov. 
Of course, they have to make the team first. Veteran players like Shane Doan and Olli Jokinen will certainly be at the top of the list when Gretzky is choosing his shooters.
The Coyotes will have a decent shootout team this year but, in a tough conference, shootouts will definitely test this team. 

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

NHL Top Ten Units, Part II (Blueline)


Scott Niedermayer leads the best blueline in the NHL

The blueline is a transition unit. It can be a catalyst for the offence and protect its goaltender.

The last two Stanley Cup Champions rode the two best bluelines in the game to the title. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks unit struggled to handle the forecheck, turned over the puck exposing Evgeni Nabokov, and was among the poorest point-producing units in the league. The result: they bowed out in the second round three years in a row.

In part two of this series, I analyze the top ten bluelines in the NHL. Because a team's top two defencemen play more minutes than its bottom two, I am emphasizing the unit at an approximate 40-30-20-10 ratio. The best two may not pair up, but they will be the ones getting the extra time on special teams.

Therefore, please note I am not projecting actual pairs but gauging total minutes. Furthermore, I will list a "fourth" blueline of players that may not dress but will be relied on over the course of the season due to injuries. All players are graded not for their roles, but how they rate among all defencemen.

1. The Anaheim Ducks are probably the best unit in the expansion era. Rating: 8.8

1. Chris Pronger (whose antics should have earned him far more suspension time) and Scott Niedermeyer are two of the three best defencemen in the league, and they're teammates. Both are outstanding on both ends of the ice, and can play a lot of minutes; both will be out on the power play and penalty kill. A+
2. Schneider is still elite (although rumoured to be on his way out for cap reasons) on the offencive end and solid defencively, and Francois Beauchemin is good enough on each end to be better than some teams' top defencemen. B+
3. Furthermore, Sean O’Donnell and Ken Huskins (+23 last season!) are solid blueliners who can handle their defencive responsibilities. C+
4. After 1-6, this squad is hurting. They picked up Steve Montador, who is a solid defender with playoff experience that I am projecting will not start often except due to injury or suspension of Pronger. However, the only other defenceman on the roster with NHL experience is Brennan Evans, who played two games for the Flames in the 2003-2004 season. D-

2. The Calgary Flames have the deepest and strongest unit in their own end. Rating: 8

1. Dion Phaneuf crosses the line just enough to be feared but not enough to be suspended. He is a monster on both ends of the ice, and would be the first skater to build a roster around because he is young enough to be a fixture and experienced enough to be counted on. Robyn Regehr is a leader who can be counted on the be in the right place on both ends, and is elite in his own end. A-
2. Cory Sarich is a beast defencively (witness the hit on Patrick Marleau that may have inevitably cost the Sharks a deep playoff run) with championship experience. Adrian Aucoin is a great power play quarterback who is decent defencively and highly experienced. B
3. Mark Giordano is a young, up-and-coming defenceman who can play on both ends. The Flames have several players he could be paired with; my guess is it will be split between Rhett Warrener (a solid, experienced defender) and Jim Vandermeer (an enforcer who even played wing last season). C+
4. Whichever of the above is usually scratched and Anders Eriksson (a serviceable player on both ends) make this the best “fourth” pair in the league. C-

3. The Detroit Red Wings unit is as good 1-4 as anyone but Anaheim. Rating: 7.7

1. Nicklas Lidstrom was considered the best in the NHL last year (I would take Niedermayer) because he is fantastic on both ends. Niklas Kronwall has really come into his own, landing crushing hits in the playoffs to back up a dangerous shot. Both will play on power play and penalty kill. A
2. Brian Rafalski is ideal for the post-lockout NHL rules: a great skater and puck mover with a good shot. He has experience and understands the defencive end well from all his years in New Jersey. Brad Stuart has never been the same since the cheap shot leveled by Jody Shelley (who ironically is now with the Sharks), but he has a good shot, moves the puck well, and is at least solid in his own end. Both players will see time on the power play. B
3. Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja are solid defenders yet not liabilities on the offencive side of the rink. They now have valuable playoff experience, too. C+
4. Kyle Quincey has been called upon in playoff situations and is at least solid on the defencive end. Beyond him it gets dicey, with coach Mike Babcock probably needing to rely on Derek Meech or Jonathan Ericsson, who have played 44 games with 4 points and a -8 between them. D-

4. The Chicago Blackhawks made the jump to the top tier this summer. Rating: 7.6

1. Brian Campbell was unable to prove himself elite in the much more physical Western Conference in last year’s playoffs, but he is still one of the best skaters and passers at his position and also solid defencively. Duncan Keith is one of the best young defencemen in the game and an asset on both sides of the ice. A-
2. James Wisniewski is a physical presence on the blueline and has developed pretty good offencive skills. Brent Sopel is a veteran with good defencive skills who is not a liability on the offencive end. B-
3. Cam Barker is a very skilled blueliner who will continue to improve his mediocre defencive skills, and Jordan Hendry looks ready to step into the role of an every game starter, albeit a pedestrian one at both ends. C-
4. Chicago has a host of players with limited NHL experience ready to step in if necessary: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dustin Byfuglien, Aaron Johnson, and Matt Walker. All can contribute on one end of the ice or the other. D+

5. The Pittsburgh Penguins are deep and gained valued playoff experience. Rating: 7.1

1. Sergei Gonchar remains one of the best puck-moving defencemen with one of the most dangerous shots from the point, but has really showed leadership, grit, and solid defencive play in the past two seasons. Ryan Whitney is young but already a skilled offencive blueliner who has developed decent defencive ability. B+
2. Kris Letang is a very young defenceman but already an asset on offence; expect him to continue to improve defencively. Hal Gill is among the slowest players in the league, but he still managed to score 24 points for this offencive juggernaut and his hulking size makes him a great hitter and shot-blocker. B-
3. I would expect to see Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik be elevated among the rather close talent in the rest of the roster. Both are good defencive player but lack offencive capabilities; Orpik’s nasty streak is an additional asset. C
4. Darryl Sydor has experience and is still a great offencive presence on the blueline; Mark Eaton is an asset on the other end of the ice. C-

6. The San Jose Sharks upgraded to a top 20 percent unit this off-season. Rating: 6.9

1. To be honest, Dan Boyle is a bit overrated. However, he is one of the finest offencive blueliners in the game, and his skill set is perfect for the style offence that new coach Todd McLellan prefers, he has experience and can handle the forecheck in his own end, and he is at least average defencively. Rob Blake is getting old, but managed 31 points on a bad team with no bona fide #1 goaltender last year (the latter also explains his -19 rating). His experience and skill on the power play are still an upgrade for the Sharks. B+
2. Brad Lukowich is underrated. He is a fantastic penalty killer with poise and experience (two Stanley Cups with two different teams, although Dallas did not earn theirs!). Marc-Eduoard Vlasic is solid on both ends and a great shot-blocker, with the stamina of someone his age (20) and presence of a veteran. B-
3. Christian Ehrhoff is a great skater who is developing nicely defencively and has shown skill on the offencive end. However, he does get rattled by the forecheck and cannot be counted on to put the puck on net. Douglas Murray is a tremendous defencive player whose still-developing offencive skills and sub-standard skating make him useful only on that end. C
4. Kyle McLaren is good defencively and a great penalty killer. He is also fair on the offencive end, but struggles to stay healthy. The Sharks may need to send him to the minors in order to stay under the cap, but don’t expect anyone to claim him with his $2.5+ million salary. The next best option is Derek Joslin, a skilled defenceman who has yet to play in the NHL. D

In the interest of space, I will round out the top ten without the same detailed analysis:
7. Dallas Stars: Sergei Zubov, Phillipe Boucher, Stephane Robidas, Trevor Dailey, Matt Niskanen, Marc Fistric, Nicklas Gorssman, and Dan Jancevski. Rating: 6.8

8. Florida Panthers: Jay Boumeester, Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton, Bryan Allen, Karlis Strastins, Noah Welch, Mike Van Ryn, and a host of others if desperate. Rating: 6.7

9. Phoenix Coyotes: Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, Zbynek Michalek, David Hale, Keith Yandle, Matt Jones, Kurt Sauer, and Drew Fata. Rating: 6.6

10. New York Rangers: Wade Redden, Dmitri Kalinin, Michal Rozsival, Dan Girardi, Paul Mara, Marc Staal, Ivan Baranka, and Thomas Pock. Rating: 6.4

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stu Barnes Retires from NHL, Will Join Dallas Stars' Coaching Staff

In hockey it seems all too often smaller name players leave the game to which they gave so much and get little to no thanks for their efforts. Some may leave with a cup, others may taste only the bitterness of how close they came.

Stu Barnes was never a top-rated player and likely would never have been a child’s favorite hockey player in his later years, so this article is, in a way, a thank you.

Barnes officially announced his retirement today, and along with this news said he would be joining the coaching staff of the Dallas Stars. He signed a two-year contract to replace Ulf Dahlen, who left for his native Sweden, as assistant coach.

Barnes always seemed to skate and see the game differently, which makes him a fitting new member of the Stars' coaching staff.

“I was truly fortunate to play as long as I did, and I knew this was the time for me to wrap up my playing days,” Barnes said in the Stars' press release. “A great opportunity to become an assistant coach was presented to me by the Stars, and I look forward to making that transition and learning a new part of the game.”

“We congratulate Stu on an outstanding playing career and we are very excited that he will now join our coaching staff,” said Co-General Manager Les Jackson in the same press release.

“Stu was a consummate professional on and off the ice throughout his career, and was the type of player who always exhibited the qualities you would associate with a future coach. Stu will be an excellent addition to our staff, which we feel is among the best in the league.”

Barnes was always a leader, and was a fantastic overall player who mastered everything about the sport.

He amassed 597 career NHL points, including 261 goals and 336 assists in 1,136 NHL games. Barnes played with the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, and Dallas Stars.

He also skated in 116 career Stanley Cup Playoff games over 12 postseasons, scoring 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points and reaching the Cup Final twice (Buffalo, 1999; Florida, 1996).

Stu Barnes was the type of player I began to model my playing style after. After watching what a force he was in 1999, I knew that he would be a good player to study. In time, even from the television I learned the leadership, and passion he embodied.

When he joined the Stars I was ecstatic. It has been a joy to be a Stars fan and to see one of my favorite players on another team join them. He will be missed on the ice, but surely he will now play an even bigger part in the Stars' success.

In other news, the Stars also extended the contracts of assistant coaches Mark Lamb and Rick Wilson. Both coaches will remain with the team through 2010-2011.

Original Source and Image: Staff, Dallas Stars. "Barnes Joins Coaching Staff." Dallas Stars Website Aug. 28, 2008

Ken Armer is a Senior hockey Writer and a Community Leader for the NHL and Dallas Stars. You can contact him on his profile or via e-mail at

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sharks Sign Marc-Eduoard Vlasic to Extension

preparing for a face-off in the Sharks zone

Photo courtesy of "timopfahl's photostream" on

According to, the San Jose Sharks have signed defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to a four-year contract extension. Combined with the one year left on his original contract, Vlasic is now locked up for five seasons.

The new deal is reported to be for an average around $3 million per year. According to Hockey Buzz, he is slated to make $1.1 million this season, but in this morning's San Jose Mercury News, his salary is $735,000. If the Mercury News is correct, his should more than make up the $225,000+ Hockey Buzz shows the Sharks over the cap.

“Marc-Edouard is one of the top young defenceman in the game and we are excited to have him in the fold for the next several years,” said general manger Doug Wilson. “He has a tremendous future with this franchise and we look forward to watching his continued development.”

Vlasic played in all 82 games for the Sharks in 2007-8. While he scored just 14 points (two goals) and was -12, he ranked third on the team in blocked shots (85) and average ice time (21:36).

In his rookie year in 2006-7, he played in 81 games and led all league rookies in ice time (22:11, more than 1.5 minutes over the closest competitor. He scored 26 points (three goals), and was +13 thanks in large part to 132 blocked shots (second on the team and second among all NHL rookies). In 24 career playoff games he has two assists and is +3.

“He can play in all situations and we think he’ll only get better with the players we’ve brought in this summer,” said Wilson. “His defense is as good and any young player in the game and he will evolve a lot more offensively as he goes forward.”

Vlasic said, “I liked it here my first two years and wanted to settle in. I’ve got the next five years and am not worried where I’m going. I like the team and the area. Playing here is nice and hopefully we’ll get to win the Cup....They brought in guys (Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich) who can help me and help the team,” said Vlasic.

Vlasic, who became the youngest Sharks defenceman to make the team out of training camp since Brad Stuart in 1999-00, is a 6'1", 195-pound native of Montreal, Quebec originally selected by San Jose in the second round (35th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. That draft pick was acquired in the trade that sent Miikka Kiprusoff to the Calgary Flames.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Top Ten Goaltender Units in the NHL

Jean-Sébastien Giguère
It all starts with goaltending, and so does this list. I will examine which teams have the best goaltending going into the 2008-2009 season, with heavy emphasis on the #1 goalie all teams rely on in the playoffs.
  1. Anaheim Ducks: I have heard a lot of people claim Jean-Sebastien Giguere is on his way down. I do not know where these ideas come from. The man is 31 years old, hardly an age for decline at the position. He is just one year removed from leading his team to the Stanley Cup, and was a candidate for his second Conn Smythe that year. Sure, he did not fare well in the Dallas series, but you try facing that power play that often! Moreover, he is backed up by a very solid Jonas Hiller.
  2. San Jose Sharks: the Ducks' rivals have the man who should have won the Vezina last season (reputation playing too large a role) for leading the league in starts and wins, and among the leaders in goals against average. He has plenty of playoff experience, having played in the Western Conference Finals, but did seem to suffer from fatigue in a mediocre post-season (until the last game, a 4OT, 2-1 thriller!). That is why it is good he has an experienced back-up in Brian Boucher, who played well in limited action, has playoff experience, and holds the NHL record for scoreless minutes.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks: while this team is unlikely to pay Nicolai Khabibulin $7 million to be a back-up, the Blackhawks have two guys with playoff success and one who has won a Stanley Cup. Christabol Huet is coming into his own and may be a top ten goalie, but add one of the top back-ups in the game and this unit has to be considered strong.
  4. New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur has been a workhorse for this franchise, and is one of the five most successful playoff goalies ever. However, he has seemed worn down the past two playoffs, and it would behoove the Devils to rest him more often during the regular season. They have two serviceable back-ups on the roster in Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmenson, and if they use them two or three times as often as usual, there may be no goalie I would rather have in net in the playoffs.
  5. Detroit Red Wings: there is a marked drop-off from four to five because Chris Osgood has spent more of his career being marginal than outstanding like he was last post-season and much of the regular season. However, he won a Stanley Cup eleven years after winning another, and that is no small feat. He also seems to have made actual adjustments that have minimized soft goals, and when on was always tough to beat. Now being backed by Ty Conklin, who carried the Penguins net admirably for a long stretch last season when Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt, makes this a strong unit.
  6. New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist was the third finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season and carried the team in the early season when the offense was struggling. The Rangers are one of two top ten teams in goals against average because of Lundqvist, who won a gold medal in 2006. Stephen Valiquette is not someone who would give a team confidence in the playoffs, but can easily give King Henry enough rest to keep him fresh without the team's season being derailed.
  7. Dallas Stars: Marty Turco is a stud, and had been labeled as a playoff bust unfairly. He had one bad series, but otherwise lost to Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Vezina finalist Roberto Luongo in a series wherein he had three shut-outs. In case you missed that, if he did not shut out the opposition, the Stars offense could not get him a win. He carried the team to the Western Conference Finals and gave Detroit as good a run as anyone. His back-up is Johan Holmqvist, once tabbed as Tampa Bay's goalie of the future. While he proved unable to handle that responsibility, especially in the post-season, he certainly can spell Turc often enough to help him be at his best come playoff time.
  8. Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo has limited playoff experience and only one series win, but was outstanding when given the opportunity and has been one of the most impressive regular season goaltenders in the league for years. He is backed up by Curtis Sanford, who is marginal, but because Luongo has appeared able to play in 70+ games and still be great in the playoffs, Sanford is more than adequate to allow this tandem to be in the top third of the league.
  9. Buffalo Sabres: Ryan Miller has proven himself a stud, even anchoring the team well in their playoff run a couple years ago despite four defencemen being out by the end of it. He is backed up by Patrick Lalime, whose career has been marked by inconsistency but who has had a couple big seasons and has playoff experience.
  10. Calgary Flames: Mikka Kiprusoff is coming off a sub-par year, but played better in the playoffs than the regular season. It is also one tough year after many seasons of outstanding play. Therefore, it is unlikely he will struggle again, but he better not because he is going to have to play an immense number of games with untested goalies behind him (Curtis McElhinney and Matt Keetley). Even though he has always been able to handle a heavy load, this is likely to negatively impact his post-season performance.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pacific Division Challenge

This is Sharks Territory
This IS Sharks Territory.

In the past ten years (since the league went to the three divisions per conference format), only once has someone other than the Sharks or Stars won the Pacific Division Title. That was in 2006-7 when the Ducks won en route to their Stanley Cup title.

(Gosh, it still hurts to say that--I have to make a quick run to the bathroom!)

(Any of you college partiers know how one gets that taste out of their mouth after the repercussions of over-imbibing besides having another beer?)

Anyhow, looking to this season, I expect more of the same. While the division is deep, the race for the top is between San Jose (the front-runner), Dallas (the very worthy challenger), and Anaheim (the Darkhorse).

But I will examine everyone in this division in the order I expect them to finish. When I am done, I will issue a challenge to fans of he other teams.

San Jose Sharks: after upgrades to the blue line, this is the only team in the league to have all three units (forwards, defence, and goaltending) in the top 20 percent of the league. They are also a very successful team every regular season, and there is no reason to expect that to change.

In the playoffs, only once has this franchise made the conference finals. However, I believe this team finally has added the experience and blue line depth to win the Western Conference, even though I doubt they will be the top seed (Detroit will have a softer schedule).

The Sharks biggest downfalls in the playoffs the last two years have been a lack of focus, lack of leadership, and a sputtering power play. Rob Blake and Dan Boyle have both won the Cup and are good leaders of their team as well as among the best at leading the power play. Brad Lukowich has won two Cups, increasing the San Jose roster's 'Cup total from zero to four. And the drastic move of getting rid of a coaching staff should shake the team into better focus.

Dallas Stars: Marty Turco finally got the monkey off his back, and it was as undeserved as Steve Young's. Turco only played badly in one playoff series, and this time carried his team to two upset wins over division rivals. I don't care for his cheap shots to keep players from in front of him, but he is the best puck-mover in the game and as competitive a player as you will find.

Meanwhile, Brenden Morrow became my favourite player while beating my team last year. He leveled a hit on Milan Michalek that was as brutal a clean hit (are you reading this, Corey Sarich?) as I have ever seen, and forcing the Sharks to be one player down in a four-overtime game probably was the difference. He is the player I would choose first if I could have anyone in the league because of his combination of physicality, scoring, playmaking, and especially leadership.

The Stars also have Brad Richards and an aging but dangerous Mike Modano. They boast Sergei Zubov, who also is on the decline but still a great puck-moving defenceman.

So why did I spend this much space talking about the team I did not even pick? Well, outside of the people mentioned, Dallas has a lot of role players. They simply do not have the depth of impact players no matter how well the top two guys play.

Had Anaheim not been so undisciplined and San Jose not been so unfocused at the beginning of the second round series, Dave Tippett loses his job and Marty Turco still has the label of "Can't-Win-the-Big-One."

The Stars will push the Sharks in the division, be one of the four best teams in the West and make it to the second or maybe even third round. But they will not beat the Sharks.

Anaheim Ducks: I have read a lot of chatter about this team not being so Mighty anymore. As we would say back in my hood, "All y'all be crazy!" J.S. Giguere is just 14 months removed from being the most unbeatable goalie in the playoffs, has won the Conn Smythe, and is only in his early 30s. What about that suggests washed up?

Last season, the Ducks dirty play caught up with them: imagine their surprise when the very cheap shots they rode to the title drew whistles? It is hard for a goalie to look good when facing a potent power play like the one the Stars have.

Anaheim could lose Matthieu Schneider because of salary cap considerations and still have the best blueline in the game. However, Anaheim lacks scoring even if Teemu Selanne comes back.

You need balance to win in this league, and by finishing third in the division, the Ducks will likely be either a five seed and have to face Dallas or a six seed. If they fall to six, they may be able to beat Calgary (who I am picking to win the Northwest) and probably would beat anyone else that takes that division. Thus, the chances of getting the favourable match-up and coming out on top are too slim for me to predict it.

Phoenix Coyotes: in any other division in hockey outside of the Atlantic, Wayne Gretzky views a familiar event from the bench for the first time. I have the 'Yotes finishing ninth in the West because they will have to play three teams in the division who are all legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Perhaps with the more balanced schedule they will be able to creep in. There is no dearth of talent on this roster. Shane Doan is an elite forward, and while the team has no other elite skaters, they are chalk full of role-players.

This team also has a tremendous and underrated blueline--not a lot of offencive potential, but they are as good in their own end as almost anyone in the league. And anchoring this young team (youth being something that likely keeps them from the playoffs) is one of the league's top ten goalies. Just not quite enough.

Los Angeles Kings: make no mistake--this is a competitive team. But let's face it, until they get a goalie, they are not going to be able to score enough goals on enough nights to put enough games in the win column in this division.

Losing a couple good defencemen that could protect their young goalies does not help matters. Having to overcome all those obstacles, it is more likely they will finish last in the conference than not finish last in the division.

Now for the challenge: the first fan of any division rival who wants to come out with another prediction can take me up on it. If you think your team will finish ahead of San Jose or play deeper into the playoffs, it's on. Whoever is wrong has to write a 1000-word essay expounding on the superiority of the winner’s team.

To make things easier for the Kings and Coyotes fans that are at a clear disadvantage, all the Kings must do is make the playoffs; all the Coyotes must do is make the second round. In that event, they automatically are considered to have had a better season than the Sharks.

So if you are willing to challenge the best team in the league, bring it!

CHL Looking to Drop Import Draft

When it comes to the development of players for the NHL, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is right at the top. Most of the players in the CHL are North American playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and the Western Hockey League (WHL). But the Import draft held every year allows junior teams to select foreign players, mostly European, to play on their teams in the CHL. Whether or not the Europeans decide to actually come over and sign with their junior team is a decision for the players but the option has always been there for them.
However, after reading an article from The Hockey News, I learned that the CHL is looking to abolish the import draft. They definitely should not do this.
Why do you not see a lot of Europeans on these teams? For one, each team is limited to 2 Europeans on the team. That is a league rule and an argument for another time but that is one way Europeans are limited in the CHL in terms of numbers. 
Second, there is a very big decision to make when a player gets drafted in the import draft. For arugment's sake, let us make up a player. His name is Gootz and he is from Sweden (I wish). He gets drafted in the import draft to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. Gootz has a decision to make. He can either leave his home, family, and everything he knows to move to Plymouth, Michigan, move in with a boarding family that he does not know. He will be in a very unfamiliar place and on a team where he may or may not have a very good shot at making the team. He will be playing junior players who have a shot to be NHLers someday.
On the other hand, he can stay in Sweden and play for Frolunda in the Elitserien. He will be home with his family and not have to worry about learning a new language. Life will be much easier for him. He will be playing in a professional league against high caliber players. 
Obviously from that, it sounds like Gootz should stay at home.
But when it comes down to the hockey aspect, Europeans are willing to take the chance of coming over to play in the CHL because the style of play is different than it is in Europe. Many players would be willing to come over if they knew the CHL would be a better place for them to get used to the North American game which is very influential on the NHL. 
So why does the CHL want to get rid of the Import draft? Their main reason for trying to get rid of it is because players usually don't come over. That is something that can be changed by the CHL teams. They have to convince these guys to come over and play on their team. At least give it a shot before giving up all hope on the player. 
The second, and dumbest reason, is that the CHL doesn't see many good European players coming over. Is this true? Absolutely not. 
Look at the Coyotes. Martin Hanzal came from the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Mikkel Boedker , a rookie Dane who came to the Kitchener Rangers and absolutely shined there and it was enough to be a top 10 pick. Before him, Nikita Filatov wants to come to North America. While he has the skill to probably join the Columbus Blue Jackets right now, the contingency plan is to let him play for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. New York Ranger draft picks Tomas Kundratek and Evgeny Grachev will be coming over to play in the CHL. Kundratek, the top Czech prospect at the draft, was picked by the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL while Grachev will go to the Brampton Batallion of the OHL. While it sounds crazy at this point, Kundratek believes he could make the NHL right now! Obviously no one knows yet but to have that kind of confidence is pretty good to have on a CHL team. Luca Cunti of the Lightning will be playing in the QMJHL with Rimouski Oceanic. 
Europeans in the NHL now who played in the CHL include Sergei Kostitsyn, Andrej Meszaros, and Alexander Radulov. Yes Radulov is now gone but that isn't the point.
The point is that Europeans can play in the CHL and they are good players there. Does it always work out? Of course not. While it is only 2 spots on the whole roster, it is a small gamble to bring a European over and put him in a game that may be different from what he is used to. But that is certainly not a reason to abolish the CHL Import Draft. 
Keep the Import Draft. Keep bringing Europeans over. The guys across the pond are some of the best players in the world. If they want to come over and play then let them. The foreign leagues have turned out great Europeans for a long time which may persuade players to stay home. But to get rid of the draft because of that is a bad reason and saying that Europeans who come over aren't good enough is ridiculous. 

Image found here via Google Image search. 

Better Late than Never...

For you Stars junkies out there, heres is a tidbit of info from Stars play-by-play man Ralph Strangis. When discussing Sean Avery and his line placement with Jeff K. on the lastest podcast from 7/28 he mentioned that Tippet likes to put players in pairs. Some probable line placements for next year are:

Morrow-Ribiero, Richards-Eriksson, Avery-Modano

Strangis says that Avery would be a good fit with Modano that he would give the sniper room on the ice. This gives us a good idea heading into the season for lines.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Common Ground Among Rivals

In about a month there wont be much for us to agree on here at Battle of the Pacific. Most likely our conversations will involve crude and combative language and expression of how much the closest divisional rival sucks. A good example can be seen between myself and MJ. Lets face it, what makes hockey great is the a-hole fans who think their team is the best team on God's frozen pond.

The Pacific Division boasts some of the best rivalry's in hockey. Dallas - San Jose, Anaheim - Los Angeles and with Phoenix improving I'm sure bad blood will boil among teams with the Coyotes this year. One thing for the Pacific to remember is we are all bound by one common hatred. We hall hate Detroit.
If you don't then what kind of Pacific Division fan are you?( MJ has an excuse for living in the frozen pro hockey-less north of Wisconsin)

So as we turn our hatred towards our fellow Pacific Division teams, remember it would be better to see the Cup come to a Pacific rival than see it go to the Wings.

Images: Both found via Google.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Weekly Off-season Sharks Update

Lukas Kaspar
Summer is the doldrums for the NHL. Little happens in the nine weeks between the first week of free agency and the opening of training camp.

However, as co-writer for the team here pn Battle of the Pacific, I understand that fans are not satisfied with no news. I consider it my responsibility to get something of value posted to start each week despite the drought. In this case, I have three news items of note:

The team has announced it has re-signed 6'2", 220 lb., 2004 first round pick (22nd in the draft) Lukas Kaspar, a restricted free agent. In keeping with team policy, no terms were announced, but let's face it, this has to be a league minimum contract.

In the three non-strike years since being drafted, Kaspar has played a grand total of three games in the Teal, registering five shots and no points. Last season at Worcester, he managed 17 goals and 24 assists in 73 games. With Tomas Plihal yet unsigned, the 22-year old does represent the leading candidate to see action, should another Sharks forward come down with injury.

The team also announced the signing of 26-year-old, 5'8", 175 lb. RW Ryan Vesce. He played college hockey at Cornell, so we can assume he's smart, but he has no NHL experience. He played fairly well last season in the Finnish Elite league, scoring 26 goals and 18 assists in 56 games. Prior to last year, he did play in the minor leagues as a part of the Ottawa Senators organization.

Finally, the team announced the national television schedule. The Sharks will appear on the Versus Network for the following games: @ Boston 2/10/09, @ Dallas 2/23/08, and vs. Colorado 4/17/08. NBC does not have the Sharks scheduled for the first two weeks of its 2009 programming, but the flexible schedule in the final six weeks, so the team should have at least one appearance.

Comcast Sports Net can now schedule its contracted 70 games among the potential remaining 79, leaving up to nine games not broadcasted for one of the top contenders in the league. If the television executives do not want the late West Coast games, do you think they could at least work one of the league's most exciting teams in for a weekend matinee?

A Look Back and a Look Ahead

A Look Back: A Kick-Ass Stars music video. One of the best around for sure.

Go Stars!

A Look Ahead: 2009 Dallas Stars Ice Girls enjoying a day at the lake. Sure Dallas has the cowboys cheerleaders but I prefer the Ice Girls.

Both Videos are courtesy of the Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars 2008-2009 Training Camp Preview

As many in the hockey world begin pre-workouts for training camp many are ready to get back on the ice. Some like the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks left the race to the Stanley Cup empty handed and with broken hearts, the long summer for them could not end fast enough.

For the Dallas Stars the summer flew by because of immense success in last years playoffs. To a degree Dallas was a Cinderella of sorts, with hockey experts including myself anticipating an exit for Dallas at the hands of the Ducks. Instead Dallas went Duck hunting and prepared for San Jose while the Ducks enjoyed California’s beautiful summer.

On September 19th, the Stars summer will end. The Stars will begin training camp at the Frisco Stars Center in hopes of chasing down another Western Conference finals berth. For the Stars this summer has yielded great results in reloading for 2008-2009.

Signing Fabian Brunnstrom and Sean Avery add immense talent to already one of the most talented teams in the conference. Marty Turco looks poised to show he is again a premier goaltender in the NHL. Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov look set up to show old men really do it better than young studs. Brad Richards looks like the spring is back in his skates and Brenden Morrow looks ready to captain his team to the Stanley Cup.

Many would sit here at this point and begin explaining teams that could or will stand in Dallas’ way, but the team that destroyed Dallas in the playoffs last year wasn’t Detroit, but instead Dallas itself. Not to take away from Detroit, but the style of game they play forces teams to adapt or die.

The Stars couldn’t adapt and were left wondering what happened.

Dallas fell to Detroit in much the same fashion the Ducks fell to Dallas, adapt or lose badly is the new face of the NHL. For teams such as Anaheim who are all defense the league could get difficult. Balance more than ever is the name of the game.

The Stars have one of the best lineup’s in the Pacific Division, there are so many line combinations I wont waste time sitting here guessing the wrong one, instead I will point out the only team in the Pacific on Dallas’ level is San Jose.

For example, Anaheim is very talented, but scoring is a major problem. Phoenix looks to be a good team but the youth and defense could be problems. Los Angeles again will be the likely whipping boy for the Pacific to beat up on. San Jose returns with a greatly improved team and will surely again meet the Stars in the playoffs.

For the Stars to reap success like last year, it must all begin in training camp. Below is a list of what Dallas must accomplish in training camp to avoid issues once the season starts.

  1. Coach Tippett must find a spot in the lineup for Fabian Brunnstrom and make him feel comfortable yet challenged.
  2. Find a place for Sean Avery to produce both penalty minutes and points. A likely spot with Morrow and/or Ribiero would be a good place. I say give him a spot on a top line until he proves he doesn’t deserve it.
  3. The Stars must begin evaluating youth, Sergei Zubov’s likely replacement has been found in Matt Niskanen but who will replace Mike Modano in the coming years?
  4. Establish a depth chart for goalies behind Marty Turco. Who is a suitable number two and three? The Stars have a lot of goaltending prospects, develop wisely.
  5. Make Brad Richards feel at home. He was miserable in Tampa; make sure he feels good about Dallas so his production can only get better.
  6. Work on conditioning and stretching; keep guys healthy for the year. The Stars always experience injury bugs but this year it could bad with no AHL affiliate to fall back on. With no clear cut way the Stars will call up youth its best to avoid needing call ups all together.

If these issues are covered the Stars should have no problems in the new season. While some teams will wonder if the playoffs are too lofty of a goal, Dallas will likely wonder if winning it all is too much to dream of. For Dallas the sky is the limit, all the hard work begins now with pre-season workouts and training camp.

Images: Courtesy of Google, top one is most likely from the prospect camp. The rest are self explanatory.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Erik Ersberg, Jason LaBarbera, Dan Cloutier, Mathieu Garon, Barry Brust, Yutaka Fukufuji, Sean Burke, Jon Quick, Daniel Taylor, Jonathan Bernier, and Jean-Sebastien Aubin have all seen playing time the last 2 seasons for the Los Angeles Kings. Will the goalie-go-round finally end in L.A.?

Antonio Jason LaBarbera sure hopes so. Management feels he has paid his dues so it is his job to lose as the starter in Los Angeles. Erik Ersberg proved himself reliable for a short period at the end of last season. Barring a trade, he will more than likely be slotted as the back-up in Los Angeles. Fans are going to want to see more of Ersberg, but young netminders who come in from over seas have a tendency to start well. Once they get figured out by NHL snipers, a nice career back home is usually the result.

This is where everything gets a bit murky. Bernier and Zatkoff have NHL futures in front of them. Jon Quick has moved himself up the ladder with very steady development. The key for Bernier is just playing. He won't be the back-up in L.A. because I'm sure Dean Lombardi wants him to play as much as possible this season as a pro. A busy 50-game load in Manchester should be expected.

Jeff Zatkoff left the collegiate ranks a year early to turn pro. He will battle with Jon Quick for a spot in the AHL. He may be better off shouldering the load in Ontario of the ECHL for a season, then heading to Manchester for a year after Bernier graduates to the NHL ranks. Quick has already been a success at this level so I think sending him back isn't going to do him any favors developmentally. With ECHL affiliate moving from Pennsylvania to California, the Kings will always have someone local to call up in case of emergency.

Kings fans are ready to bring in the Bernier era. An injury to LaBarbera, or another early exit from the playoff race are the only ways I can find where we can see him for a long period of time in the upcoming season. Whether Bernier is on L.A. or Manchester, he is going to see the lion's share of the starts.

The Goalie-Go-Round is coming to a halt, and the quality of goaltending in Los Angeles can only benefit from it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Just a Friendly Reminder

Just reminding our viewers who are in Dallas and/or Stars fans thats its time to get your Season tickets. Figured I'd get out one of last years classic commercials to help sell them.

Video: Courtesy of Youtube

Monday, August 11, 2008

From the Blues to the Desert Radio Show

I started a radio show with my friend that covers all the NHL, focusing on the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes. Check out our show on Youcastr via the link at the bottom.
The second episode of From the Blues to the Desert will be airing on WEDNESDAY AUGUST 13th and NOON est/ 9am Pacific. It will be on Youcastr which you can find through the link at the right labeled "From the Blues to the Desert". 
We will be discussing our point predictions for the Rangers and Coyotes, beginning our divisional previews for the National Hockey League and also our new rivalry segment. We will talk about the trade of Wayne Gretzky's career and break it down aling with any other news in the NHL along with your emails. Our divisional preview will start with the Northeast and Northwest divisions. Our rivalry segment will begin to talk about the best rivalries in hockey and we will be starting with the Rangers and Islanders. Please send us emails about those topics or anything else about the world of hockey and the show at and we will do our best to get to them throughout the show.
Also, a chat room will be open during the live broadcast of the show if you are a member of Youcastr and you can post your comments and questions there. Also, if you are a member of Facebook, we have a group "From the Blues to the Desert". Listeners can post comments and questions there as well. 
One other place to post comments and questions is here on the blog under this article. 
Remember that is NOON est/ 9 AM pacific for the radio podcast this week. We changed the date because of previously made commitments. Don't forget to send us emails! 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pacific Division All Star Team

Ken Armer and myself have worked together to try and make one team out of the many great players here in the Pacific division. Out of the five teams in the division, each one has players that are great now and guys that everyone should watch out for in the near future as they reach for stardom in the NHL. 


Line 1: Morrow (A) - Thornton (C) - Doan (A)
A tough line that will certainly wear the opposing defense down. These three big guys aren't afraid to get nasty and would certainly make a formidable line in the NHL. These three are all leaders on their respective teams and would lead this all division team.

Line 2: Ribeiro - Getzlaf - Perry
Ken says "The chemistry that Perry and Getzlaf have at a young age makes this line dangerous immediately. Ribeiro will certainly be able to keep up with these two young guns while his playmaking abilities will certainly only make this line much more potent". 

Line 3: Marleau - Jokinen - Kopitar
These 3 guys, like the first line, are big forwards who aren't afraid to get nasty. Marleau and Jokinen are veteran forwards who would be able to help Kopitar to reach his potential as an elite forward in the NHL. Jokinen is new to the division but he is belongs on this all division team.

Line 4: Carcillo - Avery - Ott
What is there to say about this line? This would be the most annoying line to play against in all of hockey. Sean Avery alone is a hand full. Adding in Carcillo and Ott just sweetens the pot.

Watch out for: Dustin Brown, Peter Mueller: For now, these two young guys have been turning it on. Brown seemingly out of no where has found his scoring touch on LA while Peter Mueller showed his goal scoring skills in his first year. Look for these two to continue their ways.


1st: Scott Niedermayer - Chris Pronger
These two have been great defensemen  throughout their careers. Niedermayer is a man with good offensive abilities and knows how to defend against the best players in the game. Chris Pronger can lay down the physicality and his shot from the point is one of the best. 

2nd: Sergei Zubov - Derek Morris
Zubov has been one of the best offensive defenseman in the league his whole career but has been stuck in the shadow of Nick Lidstrom. He still has plenty of offensive touch and could run a PP blindfolded. Derek Morris would be a great defensive compliment. He isn't afraid to get physical and would be a great defensive partner for Zubov, even if he isn't flashy.

3rd: Dan Boyle - Rob Blake
Dan Boyle comes to the Sharks as being one of the best offensive defenseman in the Eastern Conference with Tampa Bay. His offensive abilities rank right up there with the best of the them. Rob Blake is still a defensive stalwart on the back line while his shot allows him to continue being an offensive threat from the point.

Watch Out For: Matt Niskanen, Jack Johnson, Zbynek Michalek: Niskanen came into his rookie year with the Dallas Stars relatively unknown but has certainly made his mark after showing his confidence with the puck in Dallas. Jack Johnson's physical play will certainly make him someone to reckoned with in the Western Conference and is a big piece to the future of the LA blueline. Michalek has been with Phoenix and showed he can play offense in his rookie year and then spent last year covering for defensive mistakes made by Ed Jovanovski (reason he isn't on here) and lost some offensive time. 


Evgeni Nabokov - Marty Turco

Right now these are the top two guys in the Pacific in terms of goaltending. Nabokov had an unbelievable year while Marty Turco brought his team to the Western Conference Finals. 

Watch Out For: Ilya Bryzgalov: Bryz gave the Coyotes new life when he was picked up off waivers from the Ducks. This upcoming year will be his first full season as a starter. He has been looking to snag a starting job in the NHL and this is his big chance. 

Some names were omitted but we feel that this would be the best team that could be made out of the Pacific Division. It is tough to narrow it down with so many great players. Who would you have added? Taken away?

Image found here via Google Image search 

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sharks Projections and Predictions

The San Jose Sharks have signed all the players they can. In fact, according to Hockey Buzz, they are $225,000 over the cap, meaning they may have to trade someone or buy out a contract to get under the cap.
Kyle McLaren is almost the only candidate for either. Most of the roster is filled with players who will not be of much appeal to other teams, or players the Sharks have shown a short- or long-term commitment to.
Unfortunately, McLaren's salary and injury troubles make him unappealing for potential trading partners, and the Sharks are not deep enough on the blue line to buy him out without picking up someone with NHL experience. If the team gets rid of Mac, only Derek Joslin—a 21-year-old defenseman with no NHL experience—is even arguably ready to step into the lineup in case of injury.
For purposes of this analysis, I will assume they will be able to re-work some of the money to keep everyone they have, since the gap is so small. I project the following lines (LW-C-RW), with the following goal, assist, and plus-minus levels (i.e. their minimum levels given being healthy for most of the season) in parentheses:

  1. Michalek (25, 25, +10), Thornton (25, 60, +12), Cheechoo (30, 20, +10)
  2. Marleau (25, 30, even), Pavelski (20, 25, +5), Setoguchi (15, 20, even)
  3. Clowe (20, 20, +5), Mitchell (10, 15, +5), Grier (10, 20, +5)
  4. Shelley (2, 10, even), Goc (10, 10, even), Roenick (10, 15, even)

I also see Tom Cavanagh should get in a dozen or more games and scoring at least a point. I would even expect to see Riley Armstrong play in a game or two.
As for the defense, I would expect to see Kyle McLaren play in 40+ games and score a dozen or more points. I also think we will see Derek Joslin in a Sharks uniform for a few games at some point, and because he was up to a five points/seven games pace, he should score his first NHL point. I project the following for the rest of the defense:

  1. Boyle (15, 40, +5)-Lukowich (2, 20, +10)
  2. Blake (10, 30, +5)-Vlassic (4, 16, +5)
  3. Murray (2, 10, +5)-Ehrhoff (8, 30, even)

Finally, I expect Nabokov to play about 55-60 of the 82 games and have 30-35 wins, with a GAA under 2.25 and a save percentage over .910. Boucher should play enough games to get 10-12 wins, finish under 2.50 GAA, and have over a .900 save percentage.
I would not be surprised if the Sharks do not get even a finalist for any award, but Thornton should be in the discussion for the Hart and Pearson, as well as maybe the Selke. He and Nabokov will probably be the team's only all-stars. McLellan will get consideration for the Adams, as well—but no Shark will bring home any hardware from the regular season.
However, I will predict Nabokov will be rested enough to shine in the playoffs and win the Conn Smythe. That's the only one that matters to me, or any of the team.

Sean Avery on 1310 The Ticket in Dallas

Just because I am now a Sean Avery fan, my readers must deal with this garbage. Good interview with Avery.

Video: Courtesy of Dallas Stars website

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Thug or Misguided Enforcer? Ken Armer ponders on Sean Avery

Being a long time Stars fan the kid in me muttered “leave it to Dallas” when the Stars announced earlier this summer they had signed Sean Avery. Much like the amazing Brett Hull signing of my youth, I didn’t truly believe it until I saw the jersey in the player’s hands. Well the day is here, and I can honestly say Sean Avery is a Dallas Stars.

The former Ranger enforcer signed a four-year $15.5 million dollar contract on July 2, and on Wednesday in Dallas, put on the Stars number 16 for the first time. Oddly enough he reminded me of a former number 16, the one know as “the little ball of hate”. As the similarities of the Stars of my early adult years, and my youth seem to be similar, it becomes oddly clear how similar Pat Verbeek and Sean Avery are. Both wear number 16, both came to Dallas from the Rangers, and both are enforcers only a mother could love. Sadly, the similarities end there, but possibly Avery will be as beloved as Verbeek in Big D.

Being out of the loop on Avery, and the Rangers I asked a Ranger fan about Avery, as I figured I should be prepared for his antics. “I loved him in New York and he is a guy you love to hate”, said Chris of Battle of the Pacific. “Any team would love to have him to make an impact like he did for the Rangers. He gets a bad rap but really I love what he does.”

Can it be that Avery isn’t a bad apple? That people just mistake him for a thug?

I was an agitator all my hockey career, my early years I even enforced as a wing with the top scorers on the team. How I did I don’t know, but much like Avery I pissed people off. Even to this day with my sister, I do it quite well.

Yes, Avery does go overboard, but he does his job well, can’t argue that. Plus who can call such a pretty boy a thug anyway? This guy brings so much Hollywood to Dallas I feel like Dallas is the new Beverly Hills. (Side note - the guy who designed Highland Park, a rich suburb in Dallas, designed Beverly Hills also.)

I’m hoping to get Stars tickets upon my after Christmas move back to Dallas, maybe I will get lucky and watch Avery beat up on my Ducks. I’m not real sure what I think of that right now. Is it hockey season yet?

Image and Video: Courtesy of Stars website

Anaheim Ducks Website Poll Results

Apparently, the unanimous top dog for the Pacific Division is the San Jose Sharks, and for good measure. A poll on the Ducks website asks, "Which team will be the Ducks' toughest competition in the Pacific Division next season?"

*The results are as of after I answered*

Dallas earned 25.71%
Los Angeles earned 14.29% (really?! who let these people vote!)
Phoenix earned 5.71%
San Jose earned 54.29%

I think the LA people votes should be moved to the Stars, or should just not be allowed to vote. Phoenix gets a major slap in the face, as I think at worst the % of Phoenix and the Kings should be flip-flopped. I'm sure MJ will enjoy this, as we've spent our free time in the current week trash talking about the Ducks / Sharks this season. Here's to a fun season in the Pacific boys and girls, it's gonna be a wild one.

Ken's Note: For those of you who like my Duck, i named him Charlie, hes random I know, but who can argue with a Duck like that? Some sources say it's the only image of Teemu Selanne this summer in Finland, but I dunno, maybe the Finnish air makes him look different.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Time is Now for Frolov

The numbers don't show it, but Alexander Frolov is coming off his best year as a Los Angeles King. After being plagued with a groin injury for the first 3 months of the season, a new and much improved Frolov showed up for the second half. Gone were the days of 10 goals in 5 games followed up by a disappearing act for 2 weeks.
After January 1, Alexander put up 19 goals and 25 assists in 42 games. The search for a 2nd line center was ended when Jarret Stoll was brought in. There is no reason to believe that a healthy Frolov could eclipse 40 goals and 100 points.
I expect new head coach Terry Murray to tinker around a bit, but when the regular season starts you should expect to see Stoll, Frolov, and either Kyle Calder or Ted Purcell playing left wing on the second unit.
Frolov is at his best in the corners and on the half wall. His size and strength allow him to get position on any-sized defender or forward. His head is always up, and if he isn't making the pass to the slot, he is out-muscling defenders to the far post for a wrap-around.
Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are really coming into their own and Patrick O'Sullivan was a great addition to the top line last year. If you add a 40/100 campaign in for Frolov the Kings will have two legitimate scoring lines with a bunch of youngsters chomping at the bit to make an impact.
The Kings are going to have their fair share of 7-5 wins this year, but if they want to compete past December they are going to have to learn to win the 2-1 games. The top 2 lines will be up to this task, but the question marks lie elsewhere. The back line has added some much needed grit and physicality, but the impact defensemen are still pretty young and will be prone to errors.
Jason LaBarbera is more than capable of carrying a 60 game load. If he doesn't, there are 3 young netminders who are prepared to show that they are.
One thing I am sure of, if Frolov is pushing for a 50-goal season you just might see the Kings in the thick of things come March.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Doughty to L.A.?

Any GM or fan will tell you that defensemen take longer to develop. Defense is the hardest position to play in the NHL and most defenseman do not come into their own until at least their mid-20's.

The new CBA states that a player drafted in 2008 can become an unrestricted free agent after 7 years of NHL play, or age 27. So my question is, why in the world are the Kings in a hurry to play Thomas Hickey and Drew Doughty, or any other draft pick for that matter so soon?

Drew Doughty will start the season at age 18, potentially making him an unrestricted free agent at age 25! If defensemen don't come into their own at this age anyways, then what is the rush?

GM Dean Lombardi is usually thinking long-term when he makes his decisions. If Drew Doughty goes back to juniors, the Kings can extend his career within the organization to age 27. He is going to make a bigger impact age 26 and 27 than he is at age 18 and 19.

Many people believe that Doughty will be a King on opening night, and that his 2-3 million dollar contract he is expected to receive is a big part of getting to the salary cap floor. If this happens, seven years from now it will be looked back on as a BIG mistake.

The Top Five Trades in Phoenix Coyotes History

Here are top five best trades in Phoenix Coyotes history (These trades do not include any trades from the Winnipeg Jets era).

5. Phoenix trades Georges Laraque to Pittsburgh for Daniel Carcillo and a 2008 third round pick.
When this trade happened I didn’t have a clue who Daniel Carcillo was and now it is hard not to notice him. Carcillo made an immediate impact when he arrived on the desert.

He recorded seven points in 18 games with the Coyotes. In this same time he established himself as one of the toughest guys in the league.

In his first full season as a Coyote he led the league in penalty minutes in just 57 games played. He also added 24 points.

Carcillo has proven that he is not just a fighter but a goal scorer too. The Coyotes think he can be a 30+ goal scorer in this league and so do I.

Georges Laraque did add experience to a young Penguins lineup but nothing more than that. He would stay with Pittsburgh for one more season before signing with Montreal in 2008 as a free agent.

4. Phoenix trades Erik Westrum and Dustin Wood to Minnesota for Zbynek Michalek.
In Michalek the Coyotes got a great defender with a nice offensive upside. Michalek only had 22 games of NHL experience to his credit prior to the trade but the Coyotes saw something in him that no other team did.

For a guy who wasn’t even drafted he has already defied the odds. He has become one of the Coyotes top defenders and should be for years to come.

Westrum has since become a career minor leaguer who currently plays in Europe. Wood has yet to play a NHL game and it appears he likely never will.

3. Phoenix trades Sean Burke, Branko Radivojevic, and Ben Eager to Philadelphia for Mike Comrie.
Mike Comrie’s tenure in Phoenix may have been short but in the time that he was a Coyote he proved to be one of the top players on the team. In a 132 games in a Phoenix Coyotes uniform he managed a more than respectable 95 points.

In the 2005-06 season he was tied for the team lead in goals with thirty and second in points with sixty.

Comrie may have only been around in the years where the Coyotes were cellar dwellers but he was still able to make his mark as one of the few talented players on the roster.

Although it may have seemed at the time the Coyotes were giving up a lot to get him all they were really giving up was an aging goalie, and couple of fourth line players.

2. Phoenix trades Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen, and a second round pick to Colorado for Derek Morris and Keith Ballard.
This trade was so significant because the Coyotes got a couple of defenseman who turned out to be key players for there defensive corps for years to come.

Morris was a young veteran who was good on both the defensive and offensive side of the game. To this day he is still the same defenseman only now he is more of a veteran leader on a young Coyotes squad.

Ballard at the time of the trade was an up and coming prospect with no NHL experience but the Coyotes knew that he like Morris was talented on both sides of the game. Until he was recently traded to the Florida Panthers Ballard was a key component to the Coyotes defense.

When it comes to what Phoenixgave up it wasn’t really much. Gratton was a tough guy with a decent scoring touch while Vaananen was a decent defensive specialist at best.

With the second round pick the Avalanche selected Paul Stastny who is currently one of Colorado’s best players. Yes, Stastny is a great player but it’s not like if the Coyotes kept the pick they would have drafted him.

1. Phoenix trades Alexei Zhamnov, Craig Mills, and a 1998 first round pick to Chicago for Jeremy Roenick.
This to me is an obvious choice for the number one trade in Phoenix Coyote history. Roenick would go on to be one of the greatest players in team history. He was a key to the success of the Coyotes in their early seasons.

In 384 games with the team he recorded 354 points. He led the team in points on three different occasions. During his tenure Roenick was also one of the most popular players because of hard hitting style he played. Roenick definitely made his mark as one of best Coyotes ever.

The Coyotes did have to pay a price to get him by trading Zhamnov who at the time was one of the best players on the team.

Honorable Mentions
Phoenix trades Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton and a 2008 second round pick to Florida for Olli Jokinen.
I think this trade can possibly become the greatest trade in Coyotes history but it is still too early to tell. Jokinen is a player who is capable of taking the Coyotes to whole another level, but at the same time you never know what can happen.
He may get injured or for some strange reason he might not produce like he is expected. I think more than likely this trade will for sure be one of the top five trades in Coyote history if not the number one.

Phoenix claims Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers from Anaheim.
Technically to me this isn’t a trade so that is why I kept if off the list. When the Coyotes got Brzgalov off waivers he immediately made the team a whole lot better.

The Coyotes finally had a true number one goalie. Bryzgalov may even become the greatest goalie in franchise history.

Sharks Reportedly Reach Agreement With Ryan Clowe

As first read on Hockeybuzz and then corroborated by the San Jose Mercury News today, Ryan Clowe has agreed to a new contract with the San Jose Sharks.

No other source could be found to verify the report and it was not announced on the team site ( or the paper's website. As a wannabe professional journalist, I usually prefer to have more than two sources.

However, since one is the definitive print media source for the Sharks as their hometown paper, I believe the information is trustworthy. One might speculate (if one were me) that there has been no announcement because it is an agreement in principal and is not yet official.

According to an unconfirmed report, the deal is for one year, $1.6 million. This would mean that Clowe would be a restricted free agent in 2009; I would not expect him to be buying a home in the Bay Area because this appears to be a sub-market value contract, and he may prefer to be elsewhere next year.

On the other hand, if Kevin Lowe doesn't have room for him, maybe no one will be willing to part with the picks necessary to sign him. He is only one of ten free agents the Sharks will have at the end of the season, half of which are unrestricted.

It is unlikely they will even try to re-sign Rob Blake, Jeremy Roenick, or Kyle McLaren, and they might be willing to lose Mike Grier and Brian Boucher, as well as restricted free agent Marcel Goc. But they likely want to re-sign unrestricted free agent Douglas Murray as well as Torrey Mitchell, Marc-Eduoard Vlassic, and Clowe. That might be more than they can handle.

Christian Ehrhoff got $9.3 million over three years and, while playing a position of greater need for San Jose, is not near the impact player Clowe is. Ryan did suffer a major knee injury that kept him out of 67 games last season, but came back fairly strong in the playoffs despite a lull early in the second round.

Next year's probable departure notwithstanding, Clowe's signing would solidify the Sharks as the only team in the league to have all three units (forwards, defencemen, and goaltenders) indisputably in the top five in the league and best in the division. Winning Lord Stanley's Cup would sugarcoat the loss of Clowe in the off-season.

Image found on google.