Tag Archives: mike richards

Thank God Hockey’s Back (NHL Preview)

It's been an offseason to forget in the NHL

If you thought the NBA offseason has been hell then you don’t have the slightest idea about rough. The NHL’s offseason has been a public relations nightmare. The summer was supposed to be about the celebration of the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup after 40 years of futility. Instead every other day there was a tragedy on the ice.

Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the KHL Lokomotiv franchise’s plane crash that killed all passengers aboard including former NHL-ers Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and Brad McCrimmon to name a few cast a shadow of the sport and brought sadness to everyone over the sport.

Add that to the fact that Rangers bruiser Derek Boogaard died towards the end of last season and you understand the somber mood that the NHL might seem to be in.

When looking at ESPN fashion guru Paul Lukas’s annual uniform design review there were less designs for jerseys and more decals and patches for fallen players. It’s like the NHL has become a graveyard instead the coolest game on earth.

If any sport needs to start their season and get back to the brilliant play on the playing surface it’s this league. Ever since the lockout 0f 2004-05 the NHL has been on a roll. The talent on the ice is the highest that it’s been since the mid to late 90’s with the emergence of the Paul Kariya’s, Keith Tkachuk’s and Mike Modano’s of the world.

The NHL has so many great players playing at a high level that it’s becoming hard to keep up with all of them. At first it was the hype of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf. Then came Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler. Now we have kids like Ryan Nugent- Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Tyler Myers and others who are crowding the ice and making noise.

The Bruins are ready to repeat.

It’s not like the NBA in terms of star power but it’s a beautiful thing to watch when the games are flowing. There are great players on every team in the league and most are under the age of 27.  Every night in every city there is a reason to watch a game just to catch one of these young studs whether it’s Drew Doughty in Los Angeles or Jeff Skinner in Carolina. Even with the sports brightest star status still in doubt (Sidney Crosby is still having post-concussion issues) the league is as strong as it’s ever been and is staring one of its most competitive season in decades in the face.

This year there is no real clear cut favorite. Gone are the days of Detroit being the front runner in the league every year, nowadays they’re not even the favorites in their own division. There are 10 to 14 teams that have a realistic chance at winning the Stanley Cup this year whether it is because of their goaltending, offensive prowess or just the fact they have all of the right pieces in place to make a run at the cup.

The right pieces meaning the right balance of youth and experience. In the modern NHL the young teams win championships as seen with the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins in the last three years. Yes I know Tim Thomas is old as dirt and Zdeno Chara is no spring chicken, but the work put in by guys like Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand helped this team win the Stanley Cup last year. Unlike in other sports where the older teams win the titles the young ones take the crown in the NHL.

So who has the best shot at winning the crown this year? Well in order…

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Now I know what you’re thinking… who the hell will score goals for them? Their leader in goals had 23 and their points leader scored 50. The Predators are the NHL version of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000’s, they can’t score to save their lives, but no one can score on them. The backline led by Shea Weber along with Vezina finalist Pekka RInne were in the top 5 in goals allowed per game and the teams tough defensive play gave teams fits. If they get two goals a game they could win another 44 games and find themselves fighting for the crown.

BUFFALO SABRES

They can score in bunches thanks to Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Tyler Myers heads a steady backline and Ryan Miller is one the game’s best goalies. They failed to take care of the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs last year but if Miller stays on top of his game they can go very far.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Team Teemu and the Ducks have a shot at the crown.

 

Once upon a time the Habs had more titles than the New York Yankees after raising their 24th Cup in 1993. Ever since they’ve been one big roller coaster, which has included numerous changes in net and on the bench and they haven’t had a real identity for a long time. Now they seem settled on Carey Price who came through big for them last year shaking off an up and down 2009-20 season that had him on the bench in the playoffs. This team isn’t too loaded with playmakers but it gets the job done with guys like Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri as well as dark horse Norris candidate P.K. Subban patrolling the blue line. They can make a run as long as they can hold onto a lead unlike how they did last year against the Bruins.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

I don’t care what they do in the regular season anymore. I don’t care if they win the Pacific division, if Joe Thornton scores 200 points and Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture score 90 goals. This team should’ve won a Cup by now and their time is running out. If they don’t get it done this year then they never will.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Is Ilya Bryzgalov finally the answer in net for the Flyers? He better be. The Flyers let go of fan favorites and team leaders Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to clear space for Bryzgalov. Sure they acquired L.A. Kings power forward Wayne Simmonds (who Flyer fans will love) and Brandon Schenn  (who from preseason reports looks like a beast) but you don’t replace Richards toughness and Carter’s skill overnight. I’m still not a fan of either trade but if the Flyers get back to the finals then it proves that maybe I really don’t know anything about hockey.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

I probably jumped the gun last year in making them Stanley Cup favorites, but they are close. Acquiring Richards from the Flyers gives them a much needed veteran presence in the locker room and they have Doughty, Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar flying around and making things happen. The only question is will Jonathan Quick be their full time net minder or will it be Jonathan Bernier?

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Without Crosby the Pens had 98 points last year and took the 4th spot in the East (without Malkin also) so once Crosby comes back how do you think this team will fare?

(This Crosby injury by the way is really bad in both a game play and P.R. sense for the NHL. The league needs Crosby on the ice because he is the NHL. Crosby is the league’s most recognizable face and its best player. The league needs him on the ice as much as it needs Ovechkin. When Crosby is on the ice the game changes. He is the best passer and best scorer in the league and can change a game at the drop of a hat. If the Pens had him healthy in the playoffs they may have hoisted their second cup in three years. Once healthy the Pens once again become the league’s scariest team and might be the best team in the league… once he comes back.

His injury is the reason why Brendan Shanahan has been so harsh when it comes to physical play. This isn’t like the NFL where Roger Goodell is turning the game into flag

40 and still going strong.

football, the suspensions that “Shanaban” is handing out are necessary in order to change the culture of the game and protect the players. After the injuries to Crosby as well as Nathan Horton and Marc Savard it has become clear that the league needs to crack down on these types of hits. Hopefully it discourages this type of play and quick. Because if Steven Stamkos gets a Crosby type of injury then the game will really be in trouble.)

DETROIT RED WINGS

I mean when are they not a player for the Cup?

Also let’s pay homage to Nicklas Lidstrom. This is probably his last season in the league and it looks like he can play another five. At age 40 Lidstrom is still better than most of the defensemen in the league and is probably the front runner for his 8th Norris trophy. What he did in replacing the irreplaceable Steve Yzerman as captain in Detroit and leading them to another title in addition to all that he’s done in his career has to put him in the top 10 players all-time right?

NEW YORK RANGERS

I probably just jinxed my team putting them in the top 7 and I’m probably overvaluing the acquisition of Brad Richards (which will help immensely) but after watching this team play together for two years I think that they will contend for a title this year. The Rangers youth movement has been a huge success with Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky leading the way. The Rangers are a tough team that is defense driven but can score goals when needed. They just needed more consistent scoring and a veteran to get them over the hump. Enter Richards. Richards was a member of John Tortorella’s 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning championship team and is one of the game’s best scorers. His presence will help Marian Gaborik get back to scoring a ton of goals, should push Cally and Dubz to the 30 goal mark and should keep the Rangers ship steady in those late months. I’m saying they’ll win it all, but they will be a serious contender.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Hey Bruce Boudreau, you don’t get it done this year then you may want to update your resume.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

The thought of Daniel Sedin taking four shots to the face and Roberto Luongo falling flat on his face in key situations is still fresh. If they didn’t get tougher this offseason then they’ll be done in a hurry.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The trades after the title killed their chemistry for the first half of last year. Once they got it going they looked like a machine. The key is Corey Crawford in net. We know Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp will score, but the reason they were able to turn things around was because of Crawford’s play in net. He is primed for a breakout year and the Blackhawks are looking at a return to the Cup.

BOSTON BRUINS

With Richards the Rangers can contend.

 

Okay, your city won its 7th title in all four major sports in 10 years… now go away. That wasn’t really analysis more like I’m sick of Boston and its championship reign.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

No one, and I mean no one will stop them from scoring goals especially of Ryan Getzlaf stays healthy all season long. The Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line is the scariest line that the NHL has seen in a while. They can all go for 50 goals and 100 points and they make it easy. It helps when your 40 year-old second line winger can still get you 30 goals and 80 points to help back you up. I don’t know what fountain of youth Teemu Selanne has been drinking from but he needs to share it with others. However it always comes back to goaltending and Jonas Hiller decides whether I’m right about this team making the Cup finals or not. With him in net last year they would’ve won the pacific division. In that period in between before Ray Emery almost saved them the Ducks could’ve scored 10 goals a game and it wouldn’t have mattered because they still would’ve lost. Hiller’s health means so much to this team because they have no real second option behind him. It also doesn’t help that he is one of the top 6 goalies in the league. This team’s title hopes hinge on him, if he’s healthy then put them down for a June reservation. If not, then it’s another first round exit.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Yep, I just picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. They have a 41 year-old goalie, I don’t know if their defense can stop the puck from going in the net and Vinny LeCavalier is still possible trade bait… and I don’t care. This team could’ve made the Stanley Cup Finals last year if not for a road game 7. This year I think Stamkos and company won’t fade late in the season like they did last year, which ultimately cost them home ice. They are settled in net and Roloson is a big game goalie who knows how to win also they can score with the best of them. Steve Yzerman put this team together in his image and if that’s the case then I have no doubts that they will be tough enough to get to and win the Stanley Cup.

The first puck is set to drop in a few hours and I’m more than excited. After a long offseason with so much tragedy and heartbreak it will be a welcome relief to see some of the best players in the world on the ice and making magic happen.

The league deserves some good news and good times after a few months of so many bad ones.

ATLANTIC- RANGERS

Stamkos is ready for a run at Lord Stanley.

NORTHEAST- BRUINS

SOUTHEAST- LIGHTNING

EC PLAYOFFS- CAPS, HABS, SABRES, FLYERS, PENS

ECF-  LIGHTNING- BRUINS

CENTRAL- BLACKHAWKS

NORTHWEST- CANUCKS

PACIFIC- DUCKS

WC PLAYOFFS- SHARKS, KINGS, PREDATORS, RED WINGS, BLUES

WCF- DUCKS- BLACKHAWKS

SCF- DUCKS- LIGHTNING

HART TROPHY- STEVEN STAMKOS

VEZINA- HENRIK LUNDQUIST

NORRIS- NICKLAS LIDSTROM

CALDER- RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS

SELKE- JONATHAN TOEWS

JACK ADAMS- JOHN TORTORELLA


Chicago And Philly Look To End Cup Droughts

Can the Hawks run continue?

Think of the names for a second. Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Clement… think of where those men stand in the annals of folklore of hockey history. The popularity of those faces and their playing style made them who they are and how respected they are today.

We know about the Broad Street Bullies, The Golden Jet… we know about how these two hockey crazy towns embraced them for their style of play, we also know that ever since these men took the ice, that was the last time that the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup. Philly in 1972, Chi town in 61’ the longest current drought in the sport.

Since then there has been hope on both sides of the ice. The Blackhawks had the Chris Chellos and Jeremy Roenick combo in the 90’s while the Flyers put faith in The Legion of Doom in the late 90’s.

Both teams made appearances, both teams ran into the steamrollers known as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings respectively, both teams haven’t smelled championship success since then,

The Blackhawks have been in shambles under the ownership of Bill Wirtz, the Flyers couldn’t get over the hump with the conservativism of GM Clarke. The Hawks traded Roenick and Chellos and went into a 15-year slump where the city of Chicago fell out of love with the Hawks. The Flyers saw Mikael Renberg come and go, as did Rod Brind’Amour, the Hatcher twins and watched injuries ravage fan faves like Keith Jones, Keith Primeau and Lindros.

They’ve watched their divisions become controlled by dynasties in the making in Detroit and the New Jersey Devils. In essence, both sets of fans, huge hockey fans, seemed to fade away with the occurrences in their cities and were swayed by their newly minted baseball champions in the White Sox and Phillies (except for the Cubs, their fans are still bitterly holding on for a hope that seems so far away its Katt Williams funny).

Yet here we are, May 29, 2010, two championship starved franchise on the verge of ending their droughts in resurgent markets in a resurgent league.

The teams mirror themselves in so many ways: Young Captains who lead by example with a calm but furious demeanor (The Hawks Jonathan Toews and Philly’s Mike Richards). Playmaking wings who are dreams to watch (Patrick Kane and Jeff Carter) absolutely bruising backliners who are great both offensively and defensively (Duncan Keith and Chris Pronger) and goaltenders, who three months ago you couldn’t pick out of a police lineup (Antti Nieme and Michael Leighton). The similarities are endless.

Flyers fans are just as starved for a championship.

Their playoff fortunes have been formed by star-making performances by mere role players. Dustin Byfuglien’s breakout has been chronicled over and over, but the Flyers Claude Giroux has been just as big, if not bigger. Giroux was dominant in the Montreal series including a two-goal performance in game 4 which all but sealed the series. As for Byfuglien, well lets just say if not for his two game winning goals in games 3 & 4 against San Jose, or his hat trick against Vancouver in Game 3 or his great work as a defenseman in the Nashville series (he’s a winger just to let you know)… you get the idea.

Then there have been stories of perseverance that have transcended certain individuals. Look at Simon Gagne of the Flyers. Earlier in the decade he was a deadly goal scorer that helped Canada win gold in the 2002 Salt Lake City games. He then suffered a rash of injuries that damaged his career and made him an afterthought in Philly. In this postseason he has returned to form of sorts. He’s scored seven goals including 2 in the historic game 7 clincher versus Boston and he had a great series against Montreal scoring a goal in each of the first three games of the series.

So how can you tell these teams apart this series to decipher a winner? Well you can’t. All you can do is look at certain aspects of each team to see where each side has an advantage:

  1. The Byfuglien factor. Vancouver couldn’t figure it out, nor could San Jose. Byfuglien as you’ve seen is a monster. He’s 6’4” 260 and has quick hands. His presence around the net gave Evgeni Nabakov fits last week and lead to multiple power plays for The Chi in both series. However, the Flyers have a big monster in Pronger who at 6’6” can help shift Byfuglien out of Leighton’s way.
  2. The Briere factor. I hate Daniel Briere. I hate his facial hair, his size (5’6”) and his style of play. However, dude’s a baler. His play against the Bruins was the reason the Flyers came back to win that series and why Montreal couldn’t keep up with them. It’ll be interesting to see how the Hawks can maintain what he does when he’s on the ice.
  3. Who’s going to contain Kane and Toews or Richards and Carter? Both backlines have challenges in containing the high scoring lines that have been killing teams all postseason.
  4. Who’s got the better x-factors? What are Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd, Ville Leino and James Van Riemsdyk going to do? Each of those aforementioned men has at one point or another come through with big plays for each teams. Ladd is out with an injury this evening yet the role players for each side could have as much to do with the factoring of the Stanley Cup than the big guns.
  5. Goaltending. Remember when Chicago’s main issue was between the pipes? Yes it was an ongoing story all season but Antti Niemi has done everything to stop those fears with a 2.33 GAA and a .921 save percentage. The Flyers are no strangers to goaltending problems; they haven’t a steady goaltender since Ron Hextall in the 80’s and early 90’s! Yet no one knew what to expect out of Leighton who has been huge for the Flyers. He’s only allowed 11 goals in 9 games including 4 shutouts. Both men weren’t even on the roster at the start of the season and could have their names on the Cup at the end of next week.

Speaking of the cup, who wins and why? I said Chicago would get there and lose at the start of the season I said they were too young and needed one more year. Yet I didn’t know that they would be playing a Flyers team that just two years ago was the worst team in the league and had no real help in net. Yet I can’t change now, I like Philadelphia in six. Why? I mean they came back from 3-0 down against Boston; they made the playoffs on the last day of the season and have been unstoppable with a backup goalie in net. They’re a team of destiny and there is no stopping right now. I know Chicago has the more well-known and respected team, but you can’t go against the hottest team in the league.

So there you have it. In a match up of two teams that haven’t seen a title in a combined 88 years, the legends of the Broad Street Bullies will come through. Whatever happens it’s going to be a great series and someone will join the legends whose shadows they skate in front of every game.


Violence and Hockey

Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard gives another black eye to the sport.

Hockey is a different breed than most sports. It’s been said that they players resemble linebackers on skates, dishing out pain whenever it is necessary. Fighting has been part of the game since its inception, it is the only sport where fighting is not only allowed but encouraged. It is in game policing. I hit your best player you send out your “specialist,” whap, bam, boom, problem solved. Guys like Scott Stevens, Tie Domi and Ken Danyeko made millions from open ice hits that left your best player in shambles and gathered large ooh’s and ah’s.

Yet the lines of physicality and dirty play can be blurred sometimes. Take for instance the hit Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins received from Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins last Saturday. Cooke laid out Savard with a shoulder check that gave Savard a concussion and left him sprawling on the ice. Cooke was neither penalized during the game by referees or after the game by NHL officials. The hit was a blindside check where Cooke came from behind and hit Savard in the head while Savard attempted a shot. It looked as if was following through with a check and inadvertently caught Savard in the head. No matter the intention of the hit, Savard is done for the season and a huge debate has begun about what is and isn’t safe as far as these type of hits are concerned.

The NHL does not outlaw hits to the head, which in itself is very shocking due to the violent nature of the game. Mike Richards of Philadelphia Flyers was not suspended for a similar check on Florida Panthers forward David Booth earlier in the year which knocked Booth out for 45 games. When looking at both hits though, Richards check was much worse that Cooke’s in my opinion. Richards came up high on Booth at full speed while Cooke just seemed to tap Savard in the jaw. The main issue here is why are these hits considered clean checks?

The NHL has looked into changing the rulebook and outlawing hits to the head like the Cooke and Richards checks. Why it hasn’t happened yet continues to puzzle me. If the league that infamously made a mid-playoff change in honor of Sean Avery and his antics against Martin Broduer can do that, why not change this rule now. Guys like Booth and Savard were important to both the Panthers and Bruins playoff chances and both have been put in jeopardy while Richards and Cooke continue to help their teams make a push.

Bill Guerin, Cooke’s teammate, spoke out about the need for the league to start outlawing these hits, “If a guy gets hurt like that with a shot to the head, there’s got to be something. Actions happen. Guys don’t mean to hurt each other, but they do. You got to pay a price for that.” Guerin is exactly right. These types of hits take away from the quality of the game, and give the game a bad name from the standpoint of senseless violence of behavior.

But can the NHL eliminate these kinds of hits? Guys still skate into the defensive zone with their heads down and leave themselves open to huge checks like the ones mentioned. As back checkers, you are taught from youth hockey to lay out anyone with their head down. Yet as the game has evolved players are bigger, faster and stronger making the checks a lot harder and more dangerous.  The framework of a new rule against these types of hits is in the works and should be in place by the beginning of next season. However, will it be enough? Even as I’m writing this, Alex Ovechkin was ejected from a game against Chicago for boarding Brian Campbell who had to be wheeled off of the ice. Who knows what’s going to happen to Ovechkin. It’s the way the NHL is; hard, fast and physical. It’s going to be hard for anyone to change it.