Friday, September 26, 2008

San Jose Camp Week One Wrap-up

Alexei Semenov
Photo by Dinur, courtesy of Flickr.com

How appropriate this picture is. Alexei Semenov, inexplicably back in camp despite being a complete waste of money and a uniform, not in focus with his surroundings.

The Sharks need to add a little help to their blueline, especially if they do what is expected and waive or trade oft-injured Kyle McLaren and his $2.5 million contract. His skill set does not fit in with the team's needs on that unit anymore, especially at that price.

Of course, either does Douglas Murray, who has the same skills (big hitting, stay-at-home defenceman with limited offensive skill) and whose extension means he will be playing for the same money next year. But Murray has stayed healthy and is three years younger.

With McLaren likely gone, the Sharks only have six defencemen with NHL experience and one prospect, Derik Joslin, ready to step up. You need to have one or two others, and maybe the team felt they were that desperate.

They're not.

Semenov looked lost on the ice, played in only about 30 games yet was directly responsible for two big goals in the last minute of the third that I can remember. He is as big and as slow as a Zamboni but doesn't use his size well, is not a good puck-mover nor does he have a dangerous shot.

He is a completely wrong fit for Todd McLellan's coaching style. If we need someone that badly, I would rather re-sign Sandis Ozolinsh--at least he can move his feet and the puck.

But the blueline is only one of the most interesting battles shaking up in Sharks camp. Another is former Sharks first-round pick Jeff Friesen returning.

So far, that seemed to be going well until he took a nasty spill on the ice in the first exhibition game that required stitches. Nothing a hockey player cannot handle.

Friesen was always a good skater, and at 32-years old, should have plenty left in the tank. However, he was out of the game completely last season, and reports are he was struggling with health issues. Now, he is 20 pounds lighter than when he last played in Calgary and looking to rejoin the team that drafted him.

The injury to Torrey Mitchell makes room on the roster for Friesen, so I expect him to make the team. In fact, I expect him to be a steal for whatever he is eventually signed for, and believe he will record between a dozen and a score goals and assists.

Since most of the other players are relatively known commodities or role-players, I don't expect anyone to come out of nowhere. However, this is not to say that there won't be some players bouncing back (Patrick Marleau) and some new performance plateaus reached.

Ryan Clowe should exceed 20 goals if he stays healthy, and I expect much more scoring out of the blueline--Marc-Eduoard Vlasic should begin to contribute on the offensive end. Also, Rob Blake uses the same trainer as Chris Chelios and is almost eight years younger: his production decline in Los Angeles was related to the young team around him, and he will thrive in this offence.

The Sharks have only 12 healthy forwards in camp with significant NHL experience. Thus, it will also be interesting to see who catches on with the club. The team is still negotiating with Tomas Plihal, and he would be the best option for a couple reasons: he has the most experience, and he needs the least playing to continue to get better time because he is in lis late 20's--i.e. not as much upside.

However, I would rather see the team make room for new kids to show what they can do than hold onto someone who is what he will ever be, even if he's a little better. With so many prospects (Riley Armstrong, Logan Couture, Tom Cavanagh, Steven Zalewski, Lukas Kaspar, and Jamie McGinn), a backlog of career role-players can stunt progress.

With the team over the cap, this could turn into a financial decision, in which case Armstrong has the inside track: he is under contract for just $450,000, the lowest of the prospects who seem ready to step up.

But if the team rids itself of McLaren's contract, finances should not be an issue in determining roster spots; expect them to do that, one way or another (for their options, see my last Sharks article: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/60889-san-jose-sharks-may-benefit-from-injury-to-torrey-mitchell).

If they can get McLaren through to the minors and don't mind paying that kind of scratch to a minor leaguer, they have eight defencemen. If he is off the team, there are plenty of out-of-work defencemen available, some even young enough to possibly be developed into solid players.

Thus, either way San Jose should not feel the need to keep Semenov. But what should and what will happen are not the same thing. General Manager Doug Wilson is under such pressure to win now that I expect he will have more faith in the proven than the unknown.

If it's proven bad, how is that better than the unknown? I cannot answer that, except to say Wilson would not have gone after Semenov if he was not somehow deluded into thinking that was best. And he has been a shrewd GM, so I think he should be allowed this one mistake--I mean, how many games can Semenov really affect?

This is how I see the lines breaking out prior to Mitchell's return mid-November:

  1. Michalek-Thornton-Cheechoo, Blake-Vlasic
  2. Clowe-Marleau-Setoguchi, Boyle-Lukowich
  3. Friesen-Pavelski-Grier, Ehrhoff-Murray
  4. Shelley-Goc-Roenick; scratched: Plihal, Semenov, Joslin; goalies: Nabokov, Boucher.

Once Mitchell returns, I expect it to look like this:

  1. Michalek-Thornton-Cheechoo, Blake Vlasic
  2. Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe, Boyle-Lukowich
  3. Friesen-Mitchell-Grier, Ehrhoff-Murray
  4. Shelley-Roenick-Setoguchi; Goc, Plihal, Semenov (Joslin returns to minors to continue developing); Nabby, Boucher

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sharks May Benefit From Injury to Mitchell

Mike Grier and Torrey Mitchell

Mike Grier and Torrey Mitchell formed one of the best penalty killing partnerships in the NHL.

The San Jose Sharks received some troubling news over the weekend. Or did they?

Torrey Mitchell, last year's top rookie on the squad, shows all the signs of being a star in this league. He has speed, toughness, and a blue-collar work ethic that have combined to make him the team's top penalty killer.

But on the second day of camp, he has broken his leg. Team doctors say he will be out eight weeks.

But while he will be missed, this has the following positive effects:

  1. Eight weeks from Sunday is November 16, the 19th game of the season for the Sharks. Thus, he will not miss even a quarter of the season, and likely be less beat up by the playoffs.
  2. This almost assures that the Sharks will keep fan favourite Jeff Friesen, although early reports are he is back on his game, in which case the team got a solid player at a great discount.
  3. The team gets a better look at several prospects who might fill in, or at least be the 13th forward. Top candidates include Tom Cavanagh (who made an appearance late last season), Lukas Kaspar (three career games), highly touted Jamie McGinn, last year's first round pick Logan Couture, and Steven Zalewski. They will split Mitchell's playing time in the preseason and one or more of them will get time in the regular season to see how they've progressed. Maybe one of them will be this year's Mitchell or Marc-Eduoard Vlasic.
  4. This team has a habit of starting out slowly, and this roster seemed pretty well set through the top 13. The injury will mean there will be more intensity in the preseason and early season because of the competition.

On a sidenote, the San Jose Mercury News reported that minor injuries kept new defenceman Brad Lukowich (upper body soreness...c'mon, it's not the playoffs yet, can someone make the team's disclose injuries like every other sport?) and Jeremy Roenick (knee) are missing time so far. However, it was an "organizational decision" not to have Kyle McLaren practice.

Reports are that McLaren is on the trading block, and this seems to show they are serious about it. I doubt anyone is willing to give someone up and take on a $2.5 million contract for a guy who has struggled with injuries the last two years and is no longer one of the most feared hitters on this team, especially when he never was an offensive threat.

Assuming they cannot trade him, the Sharks have two options: they can buy him out, but they would still be on the hook for almost $1.7 million against the cap no matter how much the buyout actually costs. That would get them under by about $600,000--not enough room to sign another defenceman, leaving them with only seven blueliners who can even arguably play at the NHL level.

Therefore, the more likely course of action is putting him on waivers. If someone picks him up, the team is off the hook and has $2,275,000 left to sign more backup defencemen; for that they can get two solid back-ups.

If no one claims him, the team can reassign him to the minors; they would still have to pay him his full salary, but he would be available to be called up in the event someone else becomes injured. Players in the minors and on injured reserve do not count against the team's cap, only dressed and scratched players do.

Kings Thump Coyotes in Rare Split-Squad Match-up


Raitis Ivanans and Richard Clune pummeled the Coyotes with their fists while David Meckler and Oscar Moller enjoyed 3 point nights as the Kings dropped the dogs 6-4.
The other half of the Kings training camp roster beat the Blues 2-1 in Kansas City.
Now, we don't want to get into too much of a tizzy for a pre-season game, but Richard Clune, who was acquired this off-season for the under-achieving Lauri Tukonen, has been the most impressive player in camp.
With the Kings lacking a true enforcer presence in the middle-weight division Clune has gone from after thought to a very good chance of making the opening day roster.
The Kings head to Colorado for a pre-season game Wednesday. Then the team will head to Vegas for Frozen Fury XI against the Colorado Avalanche. Big Dave will be off to Vegas for the weekend festivities which will include a charity poker tournament, hockey game, and more than likely a beer or 12.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dallas Stars Prospects Win Prospect Tournament, Shine Light on Future


*Image Note: notice Stu Barnes in his first gig as an assistant coach on the top right in the suit.*

There is something about the future that excites people. For some it is the prospect of graduation and that budding internship and job with Bleacher Report, for others it is the prospect of next season. Cub’s fans are long notorious for retorts of “I can’t wait till next season…” but in hockey such things are different.

Some hockey fans follow the offseason with a watchful eye, analyzing draft picks and free agency like a general manager in their own home. Others however ignore the season placing full faith in the team’s leadership and await the finished product.

There is no waiting in hockey; hockey is much like a defensive breakout and return to defense, an ever constant transition. This season saw youngsters like Matt Niskanen learn the ropes from veterans like Sergei Zubov, youngsters like Brenden Morrow blossom into the right of veteran and a veteran like Stu Barnes assume his role as a coach and leader behind the bench. Hockey more than any other sport is much like life, there is only death when it is finally seen as the last step.

Late last night another step in that chain became visible, a needed link in the chain to this cycle of hockey life. As teams begin to evaluate young talent acquired over the summer many hold prospect camps, to see who among them is truly the best.

Others take part in prospect tournaments, where the biggest winners are the prospects and the coaching staff now able to accurately evaluate the talent. Question is, if a trophy is played for in said tournament does it matter?

For the Stars their prospect teams 8-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers can only be a sign of good things to come. Likely both teams gained new knowledge on insight into young prospects and their ability’s to play with the parent club.

First, let me say the Thrashers went through some deeply talented prospect teams to play the Stars. The Thrashers beat the Red Wings in a shootout to move on; showing the immense talent this club has in its future. To Thrasher fans the future is bright; there is a light at the end of the tunnel so the future can continue to be dreamt of.

To Stars fans who know the future is now, don’t forget to keep a watchful eye on the future as well. Likely many of the names profiled below will be mentioned in American Airlines Center either this, or in following years.

The Stars Prospects held a 4-0 record, scoring a total of 20 goals. James Neal a player who could easily be seen in Dallas this fall scored nine points, and consistently led the Stars prospect team, while also leading the league in points. Jamie Benn another young-star scored a league high five goals.

"We’ve got a good group of young guys, and we clicked pretty good," said Benn in the Stars press release. "I think that was a big key for us. We knew that if we’d have team success, we’d have individual success, so we concentrated on the team, and that paid off for us."

Stars co-general manager Les Jackson in the press release said the team adopted an aggressive offensive attitude during the tournament.

"We were trying to push it, for sure," Jackson said. "I think we had the talent and the skill, and those were the strengths of our team, so we wanted to play to our strengths."

Dallas phenom Fabian Brunnstrom showed no signs of letting down expectations adjusting well from a disappointing game one and helping lead the Stars come the final game. Brunnstrom scored on a rebound from defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy to ignite the team in the third period of game four.

Drawing more attention than Brunnstrom was the always dangerous Neal, who drew amazing praise from Jackson and the rest of the front office. "Neal was fantastic," Jackson said in the press release. "He’s determined to make our team, and he played like that every shift."

The impact on training camp: A lot of players drew praise from the Stars front office during this tournament, then again can anyone complain by the results of this talented squad? Brunnstrom is expected still to make the big team out of training camp.

As of now he is listed on the big team’s third line and Jackson as well as Hull have agreed expectations are not too high for him. Both have mentioned the Stars will be patient with his adjustment to his placement on the parent squad.

Another potential parent team maker is James Neal. How about this kid? Leading the league in points and he was a constant pulse for the Stars. He will certainly be a name to look for in the training camp news. I won’t set any expectations for him for this season, but he certainly seems capable of being on the big team for October.

Ivan Vishnevskiy according to the press release is also ready for a successful jump, but to the NHL. In recent months I have heard and read nothing but good things about this young defenseman. I give him 2 years and he will likely be a stable blue-liner for the parent club.

Another name to watch for is the captain of the prospect team, Raymond Sawada. He led the team well and received a lot of praise in previous press releases. Other then that, I don’t have enough information on him to input any expectations on where he will end up at the end of camp. Likely camp will hold the answers on his placement for this season.

Another prospect to keep an eye on is Jamie Benn, listed above was the goal scoring leader of the tournament. Other than this information I know very little about him.

*Note: The training camp roster has been listed under the roster at the Stars website, be sure to check it out.*

Links to DallasStars.com review of Prospect Tournament games:

Stars down Minnesota, 3-2; Will Face Atlanta Wednesday In Final
Stars Pull Out Come-From-Behind Win In Second Game
Stars Win Traverse City Debut over St. Louis, 4-3

Original Source and Image: Staff, Dallas Stars. "Dallas Takes Traverse City Title." Dallas Stars Website 17 Sept. 2008 18 Sept. 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sharks Training Camp Preview

ZoneTag Photo Monday 8:30 pm 5/7/07 San Jose, California

The Sharks have to do a better job of protecting home ice this season


It is almost upon us. Teams are opening their training camps this week, and the Sharks begin Friday.

Okay, we are still over three weeks from any action that counts, but you can't blame a fan of the second-best team in the league (Both during last year's regular season and on paper this year) for being eager, can you?

Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to analyze what to expect of the Sharks this season. What things will be familiar? What things will be different? What things better change? I will examine three of each.

The Familiar

  1. Joe Thornton's passing: No one dishes the puck with Joe's skill. No one uses the half-boards with better efficiency. No one screens a defender from the puck better with his body. No one knows where his linemates are better. There may be players that can compare in one or more of those departments, but Joe's ability to excel in all of them is why he has led the league in assists since the lock-out ended.
  2. Size and speed: The Sharks have been one of the league's biggest and fastest post-lockout teams. They lost some bulk when Craig Rivet was traded to Buffalo, but Blake is bigger, and Lukowich is much bigger than Campbell or Carle. They lost speed on the blueline when Matt Carle was traded to Tampa Bay and Brian Campbell signed with Chicago, but Rivet was slow and Dan Boyle is no sloth-on-ice; with the increased ability of their new line to move the puck, the forwards (virtually the same unit as last season) can release more quickly.
  3. Evgeni Nabokov's Net-minding: Nabby may suffer a bit because of the team's new emphasis on offence, but he will still be aided by solid defencemen and some of the best defensive forwards in the game. Nabokov had one of his best seasons last year, and there is no reason to expect that to change.

The Changes

  1. Defencemen involved in the offence: Last year, the Sharks defencemen had about two-thirds as many shots on net as the team McLennan was an assistant coach for, the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Obviously, General Manager Doug Wilson thought it was no accident that the Wings had more success, and blamed two things for that failing on the part of the Sharks: coach Ron Wilson and the blueline personnel. That is why he made changes to both. Rob Blake and Dan Boyle are two of the most effective defencemen in the NHL on the offensive end.
  2. Active Power Play: Despite the Sharks having one of the most effective power plays in the regular season each of the last two years, they have been shut down in the playoffs. This is because with a passer like Thornton, it is easy to exploit weak penalty kills and even some not so weak who may not make as many sacrifices in the regular season. But cross-ice feeds don't get through in the post-season, as defenders will be much more selfless and aggressive in stopping the puck. Expect to see the Sharks, accustomed to standing around and passing the puck around the perimeter, to move around much more and block the goalie's view like the Red Wings do so successfully.
  3. More of Brian Boucher: Nabby should be fresher because new coach Todd McLennan will have a very capable back-up for the whole season, unlike last year when Thomas Greiss and Dimitry Patzold had almost no NHL experience and coach Ron Wilson was reluctant to play them. Then again, he rarely played Boucher once he was signed, but McLennan has already indicated he wants to make sure he has two goalies rested and ready for the playoffs.

What Changes Better Follow

  1. Full effort every minute: One of the most frustrating things about Team Teal is its unwillingness to play 60 (or more) minutes every game. When they are on, they can truly dominate. Then they will let a team back in because they take a shift or two off, ruining all the hard work they've put in.
  2. Rebounding players: Doug Wilson has put his butt on the line for Patrick Marleau in particular, who has played poorly since the playoff loss to Detroit in 2007. He had a horrendous season in which his -19 rating was by far worst on the team, and he finished with just 48 points; one or the other might be forgivable, but the combination had many (including yours truly) calling for him to be traded. But he is not alone: Mike Grier had a horrible post-season, Jonathan Cheechoo (battling a sports hernia) had a slow start, Kyle McLaren couldn't stay healthy, and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic fell from +13 to -12, second worst among regulars on the team.
  3. Regular season success translating in the playoffs: This is obviously the big one, and with the above changes it should be expected. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so that is why management changed some personnel and, more importantly, coaches, thereby changing their gameplan.

But there are other things that have to change to make this come about. The last three years, this team has bowed out because of a lack of guts (quitting after Raffi Torres' cheapshot), spine (losing their will after Robert Lang's late game-tying goal when the Sharks were on the verge of clinching), and heart (not showing up early in either round with determination and focus).

This is one of the reasons their new personnel also are known for grit and leadership...and championships. The question is whether they will be enough to change the culture of playoff failure in San Jose. We will not have that answer until hopefully June.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ken Armer Featured on NHL 2Day

Last Saturday Battle of the Pacific founder and Dallas Stars Community Leader, Ken Armer was featured on NHL 2Day.

Armer discussed the Pacific Division as well the Bleacher Report Fantasy Hockey League. Enjoy it everyone, and let me know what you think.

Click here to listen

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ken's Bleacher Report Hockey Team: A Story Of Leaders and Young Guns


Taking part in the first annual Bleacher Report Fantasy hockey league was something I'd looked forward to since mention was first made of it in some of the almost daily chats I have with a couple of the top NHL writers.

To call the league a huge success so far is an understatement, as the writers involved have impressed me immensely with the maturity of trades and the willingness to be open about improving each others teams. I would easily have to say the closeness of the writers taking part in the league clearly shows through the constant trade contact and never ending roster analysis between managers.

Being a first time fantasy hockey player I determined I would take some chances. I ended up taking a couple I had planned on and two I am desperately hoping will pan out. For many readers, they will likely lose respect for me in my first deal of the trade. What is my reasoning? I would rather lose with men i believe in than lose with players I can't stand.

Ken's Roster:

Centers: Andy McDonald, Mike Modano, Steven Stamkos

Left Wings: Brenden Morrow, Sean Avery, Chris Kunitz

Right Wings: Corey Perry, Jere Lehtinen, Jared Boll

Defense: Mike Green, Scott Niedermayer, Derek Morris, Shane O'Brien

Utility: Simon Gagne

Bench: Teemu Selanne, Fabian Brunnstrom, Christian Ehrhoff, Loui Eriksson

Goal: Niklas Backstrom, Manny Legace

Originally, I took Penguin sensation Sidney Crosby with the second pick overall, but only for trade bait and immediately at the end of the trade dealt him for Alan Bass in exchange for the ultimate captain in Brenden Morrow.

When asked about the depth of the team head coach Brett Hull commented, "We have great talent in the crease, that’s not an issue we are worried about right now so early in the training camp season."

When asked about other moves on the horizon GM Ken Armer commented he was currently working on two deals, one possibly to bring in defenseman Matt Niskanen and one seeing fan favorite Sean Avery leave in exchange for Patrick Marleau.

In regards to the health of utility forward Simon Gagne, Armer commented "In all word from the Flyers and from Simon himself he is 100% healthy, based on that alone I'm willing to take a chance on him."

The other questionable player is Teemu Selanne, who still has yet to even decide on playing this season. "Teemu is nearly a point-a-game player, hes worth the risk and I have immense faith he will be back this year. According to news out of Anaheim he has been skating and working out, if he was retiring I don't see him choosing to work out let alone even being back in the United States."

For more news on the league itself be sure to check out Greg Caggiano's article highlighting his team and the league in general.

Comments welcome, but those regarding my lack of intelligence for keeping Crosby is useless and fill fall on deaf ears.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

NHL Preseason Power Poll

Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings)
(Photo courtesy of www.russianhockey.xdn.de's photos.)

A couple changes have taken place since I began my series on top ten units in the NHL. For instance, the Detroit Red Wings have added Chris Chelios (one of my all-time favourite players) to their already formidable blueline. Florida added Brian McCabe and lost only Mike Van Ryn in the process. I am not sure either move changed their ranking, but it does help their units.

NHL.com has also finally updated rosters: the Blackhawks do still have Brent Seabrook, and why he was not on the list before I do not know (I have been told the ‘Hawks are planning on using Dustin Byfuglien on the wing); Patrick Thoreson and Sami Kapanen should not have been listed as on the Flyers roster.

Changes will still continue into training camps which will begin opening in the coming week, but rosters should be more or less set. Therefore, it is time to examine each team and establish a power ranking.

It is my belief that goaltending accounts for about 40 percent of a team’s strength, while forwards and defencemen make up about 30 percent each. We all know great goaltending is essential to championships, but how did I come up with those ratios?

Simple: I looked at Olympic play. Germany had a great NHL goalie in Olaf Kolzig, but until recently lacked NHL skaters and could not make the medal rounds. Meanwhile, Slovakia and Finland did not have star goaltenders until the 2002 Olympics, and they contended for and even won medals because they have great skaters. Therefore, goaltending cannot be as significant as skaters.

But what team wins a Stanley Cup without good goaltending? Tampa Bay won without great defencemen, Anaheim won without great forwards, but no one wins without great goaltending. Therefore, goaltending means more than either of the other units individually.

Finally, anywhere I have listed a rating next to teams, I have applied their rank in my three unit analyses against this 40-30-30 percent factor; thus, the lowest rating is best. I only did this for teams that were top ten on all three lists, and because of their balance, they automatically fill my top spots. Note that the list is who is better, not how they will finish—it does not factor schedule difficulties or project mid-season moves.

1. Detroit Red Wings (3.2—only team top five in all three units)

2. San Jose Sharks (3.8—finally upgraded blueline)

3. Dallas Stars (7—talk about balance, they were ranked seventh in all three units)

4. New York Rangers (8.9—defence barely made it into top ten)

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (nearly made list for goalies and top five in the other two)

6. Anaheim Ducks (being first on two lists makes up for mediocre at best forwards)

7. New Jersey Devils (solid blueline and top ten forwards to front legendary goalie)

8. Chicago Blackhawks (top five goalie tandem and blueline, talented forwards)

9. Calgary Flames (elite blueline and starting goalie, decent forwards)

10. Montreal Canadiens (should pad numbers with fall-off of their division)

11. Philadelphia Flyers (losses offset by gains and improving young players)

12. Minnesota Wild (goaltending, defence, coaching help them overachieve)

13. Phoenix Coyotes (good balance, but still miss the playoffs in tough division)

14. Ottawa Senators (their fall has been drastic after reaching Cup Finals in 2006)

15. Washington Capitals (not enough depth to win any other division)

16. Boston Bruins (solid and scrappy, they may will themselves into the post-season)

17. Colorado Avalanche (too many questions about age and netminding)

18. Florida Panthers (blueline upgrade and goaltending may get them into playoffs)

19. Tampa Bay Lightning (forward depth mitigates questions on bench, net, blueline)

20. Vancouver Canucks (team in transition is still competitive)

21. Carolina Panthers (good enough goaltending. forwards to compete in Southeast)

22. Edmonton Oilers (young team has a bright future, but too many in front of them)

23. Buffalo Sabres (just have lost too much in the past two years to make playoffs)

24. Toronto Maple Leafs (it’s not about how much but how well you spend)

25. Nashville Predators (Barry Trotz paying for being as nasty as he looks in his last life)

26. Columbus Blue Jackets (still have questions in net and too little skater depth)

27. St. Louis Blues (how long will they be in rebuilding mode? They’re not close yet)

28. Los Angeles Kings (no goaltender in this division = top spot in lottery)

29. New York Islanders (do they even have a plan?)

30. Atlanta Thrashers (Ilya Kovalchuk deserves better)

Coyotes: Working for a “Whiteout”


Not since the Coyotes first arrived on the desert has there been so much optimism heading into the season. Last season the Coyotes were in the playoff hunt up until the last month of the season when they just simply ran out of gas.

This year the Coyotes are heading into the season with only one thing on their minds: the playoffs. With the Coyotes group of talented players, this goal is certainly a possibility.

The Coyotes wil be one of the youngest teams in the league again this year, but star sophomores Martin Hanzal and Peter Mueller have a year of experience under their belts. They will be expected to improve on their excellent rookie seasons.

Mueller and Hanzal join a talented crop of forwards that already includes captain Shane Doan and newly acquired Olli Jokinen.

Like last year the Coyotes will ice a load of gifted rookies including Calder Trophy candidate Kyle Turris and super Dane Mikkel Boedker. If you add the gritty players like Carcillo, Fedoruk, and Winnik, you have a great mix of forwards.


On defense the Coyotes will ice a few new as well as familiar faces. Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris and Zbynek Michalek are the returning defenseman.

Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton were traded in the offseason and in their place the Coyotes signed shutdown defenseman Kurt Sauer and David Hale.

Youngster Keith Yandle who played half the season with the Coyotes last season is expected to round out the Coyotes defense corps. With the exception of Keith Yandle and Ed Jovanovski, the Coyotes are going to play aggressive defense and will try to shutdown other team’s big stars.

When it comes to the Coyotes goaltending situation it is as solid as ever. Ilya Brzgalov is entering his first full season with the Coyotes. If he has a season anything like his first in the desert, Phoenix will be in great hands.

The backup situation is just as good with two very capable goalies in Mikael Tellqvist and Al Montoya. Tellqvist has proven to be a very reliable backup.

Montoya has been waiting for his chance to show off his excellent goaltending skills. The Coyotes goaltending is definitely something that they don’t have to worry about.

When the Coyotes relocated from Winnipeg they carried over a playoff tradition called the “Whiteout”. The “Whiteout” is where every fan in the stands wears white during a home playoff game. It creates a truly marvelous effect.

There has not been a “Whiteout” in Phoenix since the 2001-02 season, but with the talent the Coyotes have now it is only a matter of time.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

NHL Top Ten Units, Part III (Forwards)

Steve Ott vs. Joe Thornton

Joe Thornton is not only skilled, but can make even top agitators like Steve Ott back away from him


Finally, those of you who have claimed I have a West Coast bias will see that what you assumed was bias was mere fact. The Western Conference is more focused on blueline and goaltending, but the Eastern Conference has the best forwards.

In this analysis, I cannot go into detail about each of the players like I did for the other units because a typical team will play 14 or 15 forwards over the course of the season. Even if I stuck to the projected 12, that would be 120 players to analyze for a top ten list. I would need Simon and Schuster to publish that, because an article of that size would crash this site.

Therefore, I will focus on stars individually and supporting cast as a body. That is bound to make this analysis less scientific than the others. Remember I have to focus on players currently on the teams' rosters according to NHL.com--i.e. I will not project likely signings!

Thus, I am sure there will be more than the usual number of cowardly snipers who log on just to send a disparaging comment (usually without good points supporting their mostly biased lamentations that I omit their team's players!). And as usual, they will never check back to hear the counter-argument. But those who can't, criticize.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Coyotes Had a “Tough” Offseason


The Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said his goal this off-season was to get more toughness and that is exactly what he did. Maloney acquired several players who are known to get on the stat sheet, not in the points department but in penalty minutes. These players include Brian McGrattan, Todd Fedoruk, Francis Lessard, and Garth Murray.


McGrattan is probably pound for pound the toughest guy in the bunch. He is a great player for protecting star players like Kyle Turris and Peter Meuller. He is also definitely not afraid of dropping the gloves from time to time. The problem with McGrattan is has absolutely no offensive skills.


This lack of offense will keep him from getting a regular spot in the lineup. Todd Fedoruk is probably the most skilled of these players because he can play both sides of the game. Earlier in his career Fedoruk was a pure fighter but now has realized that if he wants to keep a spot on an NHL roster he has to be more than a one dimensional player.


If given a decent amount of playing time Fedoruk is capable of producing a decent amount of points. It is because of this that Fedoruk will probably see a regular spot on the Coyotes lineup. When it comes to Francis Lessard, he is clearly a minor league depth guy.


This is especially true since the Coyotes signed a few similar players who have more talent and experience than Lessard. Although he will still add lots of grit for the Coyotes AHL affiliates the San Antonio Rampage. He will be relied on to protect the Coyotes up and coming players like Brett Maclean and Chad Kolarik.


Lastly, we have Garth Murray. He is a player who has the talent to play in the NHL but has probably run out of chances for the time being. Murray is a great checker who can occasionally pop in a goal or two when the time comes.


Murray will probably start out in the American Hockey League to begin the season. If he can produce at that level like he has before, he will probably get a shot at cracking the lineup later on in the season. The Coyotes wanted to add toughness and that is exactly what they got.


Not only did they add grit for their NHL team but they also added grit for the Rampage. Daniel Carcillo who was previously relied on to be the Coyotes go to fighter now has a chance to display his offensive talent. One thing is for sure the Coyotes certainly won’t be pushovers come next season.