Tag Archives: NHL

SAVE THE ISLANDERS!

The people of Long Island voted no. Which means the Islanders days in New York could be numbered.

I hate the New York Islanders, I have since I was a kid and I always will.

I hate them more than I hate the Philadelphia Eagles and Boston Red Sox. I hated how their fans would get liquored up on the LIRR on the way into Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers on game nights. I hate that when those games are played that they have the audacity to try and be as loud as Rangers fans with their “Let’s Go Isles” chants.

I hate their stadium, their goal horn, their uniforms (I really hated the Gordon’s Fisherman ones in the late 90’s. Whose bright idea was that?) and everything else to do with them…

… What I will hate more than anything is if one of my favorite teams to hate has to leave New York.

That’s what the Isles are facing if they don’t get a deal for a new arena and get one fast. Owner Charles Wang’s recent attempt at getting a replacement for the decrepit Nassau Coliseum in Long Island was shot down this week and their chances of getting a new arena are slim.

Taxpayers don’t want to pay for a new arena when they already pay the highest property tax in the country (I can’t blame them for that actually). Even though Wang really wants to keep the team in Long Island he only has two real options;

One, pay for it out of pocket with the help of some investors (and you know that will never… EVER happen with any owner.) and two, move the Islanders.

The glory days of the now run down Coliseum are still on display for all to see.

Wang does have some time to figure this out, the Coliseum’s lease expires in 2015 and figuring out a solution shouldn’t be too hard. That is of course if the Coliseum doesn’t crumble to the asphalt before the lease is up.

To say that the Islanders need a new stadium is like saying Brian Wilson needs to shave. The place is a dump, even more so than the Oilers home The Rexall Center. There are always leaks, breakage, worn down seats, the locker rooms are trash, basically the homeless wouldn’t live there as a last resort yet the Islanders have to play their games there.

With all of the talent on that team and a renewed interest from their fans, a new arena would be a shot in the arm for the franchise. The Islanders care about putting a good product on the ice, now all they need is a good venue for fans to enjoy it.

If they can’t get a new arena where would they move to? Quebec City? Wisconsin? A second team in Toronto? There is a rumor that they could move to Brooklyn in 2015 and share a venue with the Nets. I would be opposed to this for one reason and one reason only… I’m from Brooklyn, but I’m a Rangers fan. That would be a conflict of interest to the 13th power if my least favorite team in the league moved to my home town.

Thing is, I want them to stay in New York. I want to watch their liquored up fans start a ruckus and challenge our fans to a chant off. I want to hate John Tavares and Michael Grabner just for wearing a sweater that reads “New York Islanders” on it.

If the Islanders leave New York it would kill one of the league’s best longstanding rivalries and kill a legacy.

There would be no mentioning of the “Drive for Five” dynasty of the 80’s, no hanging banners that read “Smith 30” or “Bossy 22” or any of that. The team would be a ghost and that’s not what the franchise or its fans deserve.

Hopefully something can get worked out in the end. As much as I hate the Islanders and every move that they make on the ice, I would hate watching them leave and destroy some of my most times watching Rangers games.

I can still hate the Devils, Flyers and Penguins, but it wouldn’t be the same as the other team in New York.


The Flyers Take A Risk

So explain this to me; how in the world does trading your Captain and one of your top scorers make your team better?

What is Philly thinking?

Beats the hell out of me, but to Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren it makes perfect sense.

Yesterday he traded star center Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets and team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for draft picks and winger Wayne Simmonds in each deal. The moves were made so that the Flyers could make cap room for recent acquired goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to be signed to a long term deal.

Now while I understand the need for the Flyers to get a top flight goalie (especially after this pathetic postseason showing) I barely understand the need to trade both of these players.

If you wanted to trade one of the two guys fine, go ahead. The Flyers have more than enough scoring power with Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk in place to replace Jeff Carter. However, Richards too?!

Mike Richards is one of the best leaders in the NHL. His physicality and spirit helped guide the Flyers to within 2 wins of a Stanley Cup in 2010 and it got them a number 2 seed in the playoffs this year. Richards’s hardnosed style was perfect for the city of Philadelphia and was appreciated by fans of the game in general.

Trading him leaves a huge hole for the Flyers to fill in fans hearts as well as on the ice.

Maybe the Flyers realized that the two huge deals given to Richards and Carter in the last few years were going to prevent them from making the proper moves to get ahead. Flyers management was not happy with the team’s postseason performance and they made goaltending a number one priority this offseason (not that it wasn’t in the last 17 years).

The Bryzgalov deal is a bold move but is it the right one? Giving Bryzgalov $51 million dollars after getting swept out of the playoffs seems like a hell of a reach for a team that has been stuck in goalie purgatory ever since Ron Hextall hung them up. Maybe they could’ve found a better deal for another goalie or used the pick that they got for the Carter deal on one.

Whatever the case is, Holmgren made moves to ensure that the team wouldn’t use three goalies in one series again on his watch. Getting rid of his two most popular players to sign a possible franchise goalie will define Holmgren whether it works or not.

When Holmgren took to the podium in Minnesota to explain the deals to the media I felt glad for him that he wasn’t in Philadelphia. Why? Well here’s a text from my buddy Scully, who is a Flyers fan, after he found out about the deals:

I F***** HATE PAUL HOLMGREN!!!

Yeah… um… you better hope this works out well Paul.


Hockey Returns To Winnipeg

Hockey is back in Winnipeg, like it should be.

I think that I speak for everyone that has any sports sense in the back of their head when I say that an NHL team belongs in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada more than it belongs in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(Matter of fact while we’re on it Atlanta doesn’t really need a basketball team either. It’s an SEC town where only baseball and football matter hence the reason the Braves and Falcons still exist. To put any other professional franchise there is completely asinine and is worthy of failure. Just saying.)

 

After today’s announcement it became official that this bit of common sense would come to fruition as the team formerly called the Atlanta Thrashers would soon move to Winnipeg and become them Winnipeg Jets once again.

 

Note: Though they haven’t announced the name of the team yet it is widely speculated they will once again become the Jets.

 

It’s a huge victory for the city, which lost its former Jets to Phoenix more than 15 years ago amidst financial issues in what was a down Canadian economic climate. Now with the Canadian dollar booming as well as a new stadium and investors that actually wanted a franchise (Atlanta couldn’t find a partner for the Thrashers even if you paid them) Winnipeg has another team to call their own.

 

This deal makes perfect sense for a myriad of reasons; one, it’s a Canadian sport and the more Canadian teams the better, two, the Thrashers were dreadful as far as attendance went and have a great team that deserves the attention that it wasn’t getting in Atlanta, three, Winnipeg is the 8th largest city in Canada at over 700,000 people it can more than handle the responsibilities that comes with owning and up keeping a professional hockey team.

 

The bottom line is that Atlanta just isn’t a good hockey climate. Hockey has had success in southern areas such as Nashville, Dallas, Tampa Bay and even Phoenix, which is still trying to find an investor for the team. Atlanta just wasn’t a good fit because honestly most professional teams that play in SEC markets just don’t seem to work.

 

The New Orleans Hornets are struggling, as are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida Panthers and Florida Marlins to stay afloat in areas that are primarily college sports markets. People in these areas just have no interest in these teams for financial reason and just because they truly don’t care.

 

Atlanta has been in a malaise with the Thrashers ever since their arrival. The team hasn’t helped by only making one playoff appearance in their ten-year existence and was swept in that series. They’ve team hasn’t helped by only making one playoff appearance in their ten-year existence and was

Now that they have how will Winnipeg respond?

The Jets always sold out back in the 90’s but the financial of the city did them in. is Winnipeg be stable enough this time around to keep the Jets in place, and will this team be able to become a playoff contender and keep the city interested in them?

 

I’m just glad that there is another city in Canada to watch a professional hockey game in. as great as Atlanta is as a tourist city it ain’t a hockey town. Now that Winnipeg is back in the NHL let’s hope that teams will make the trek to Wisconsin and Quebec City soon as well.


Why Rick Nash Should Pull A Carmelo

Rick Nash needs a better home.

I had a dream last night, a hockey dream… pause.

I was watching the Maple Leafs and Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals in Toronto with leafs up 3 games to 1. The clock was winding down and the Air Canada center was going crazy as the Maple Leafs were heading to their first Stanley Cup since before I was born.

When the clock hit all zeros the Leafs flooded the ice in celebration with sticks and helmets littering the ice. After pandemonium ceased and the Prince of Wales trophy was being handed out Captain Dion Phaneuf excepted it with a big smile on his face and the camera closes in on the teams assistant captain Rick Nash.

The Toronto native left the doldrums of Columbus and forced a trade to his hometown and brought his team back to glory. He made the Leafs relevant again, he brought on of the league’s greatest franchises back to life.

Then I woke up. Rick Nash was still in Columbus. Steve Mason was still his goalie, shaky as ever. He was going to miss the playoffs… again.

In 8 years in the NHL Nash, one of the games most skilled and talented players, has only made the playoffs once, a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. He’s won an Olympic gold medal, led the league in goals and is guaranteed for 35-40 each season. If you watch him play the game you’d be amazed at how a 6-4 220+ pounder can be the perfect combination of power and finesse.

Legitimately he is one of the top 7 forwards in the league. Sure he’s the face of the Blue Jackets and easily the franchises greatest player. However, I cant help but wonder what he would do in a bigger market around better players.

8 seasons and 1 playoff appearance is not good enough for one of the league's best forwards.

He’s literally had no offensive help during his 8 years in Columbus. The defense behind him has been iffy at best and goaltending, well you’ve seen it.

He’s been the be  all end all of the team, if he doesn’t do it then no one will. He’s a more hard luck version of Kevin Garnett. He turns 27 this year and is playing in the prime of his career on a bad team. He needs to get traded.

Rick Nash needs to pull a Carmelo Anthony and he needs to do it now.

A player of his caliber needs to be on a good team at this point of his career. Its clear that Columbus cant put a good enough team around him and they need to start over. Start that by trading Nash to either a contender or a team that’s one player away. It would benefit all sides, the Jackets who could cut some payroll, the team receiving Nash would get one of the games best players and Nash can get the exposure he needs and play for a contender.

Picture Nash in Boston, Los Angeles, Buffalo, San Jose, Montreal or any team where his skills would mesh well with the team chemistry and attitude of the city. He scores 70-75 points a season when guys like Anze Kopitar, Joe Thornton or anyone would bump that total to 90 range. If Nash had a comparable winger he would have won a scoring title or two at this point of his career.

But the team that would make the most sense for him and that team, drum roll please…the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s the Carmelo conundrum. He’s from Brampton, Ontario, which is right outside of Toronto so he’s a hometown kid. He would be an automatic hero and the biggest name that they’ve had since Mats Sundin in his prime. Picture the buzz in that once proud hockey city, which is going through one of its worst stretches ever.

If you’re Toronto how would you not trade for him? You’d have Nash, Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel as your front line of Clarke MacArthur leaves and if he doesn’t that’s another piece to play around with.

That front line without Nash has been good enough to get the Leafs back into playoff contention this year. Adding Nash would put them over the top and make them an instant player in the East.

It also makes Toronto relevant again. The Leafs are to the NHL like the Cardinals are to baseball, the Lakers are to basketball and the Cowboys to the NFL. They’re one of the two glamour franchises in their sport. They need to be great, they need to matter.

They haven’t been to the Cup finals since 1966-67, which was their last title. 44 years without a championship for a team that ranks second to the Montreal Canadiens in that category is insane.  The leafs need to get back to that level of play of get back to being a championship team.

The Leafs need another face of the franchise like Mats Sundin once was. Nash would be perfect.

While they are making strides to get back to that point a big move like trading for Nash would put them back in the discussion of being one of the best in the business.

For Nash it would be the fresh start he needs and the proper stage for a player of his caliber. The Jackets have tried to build around him but they haven’t been able to. It makes no sense to keep paying a franchise player franchise money without the proper team around him. I would love to see Nash in the prime of his career have a chance to win a title and contend for an MVP. Columbus is a nice place to play but if Nash wants to reach his full potential and become greater than just a great player for a small franchise then he needs to either force his way out or have a team make an inquiry for him.

I’m not a Jackets fan but I’m a Rick Nash fan. I want to see him win a title, get the national exposure he deserves and become one of the best in the game. He wont be able to do that in Columbus. I know hockey players are very different from other professional athletes and don’t let their greed show, but this is one scenario that I wouldn’t protest. Hopefully he gets a little Carmelo in him and gets out while he can.


The Truth About Hockey Fights

Nothing like a good old-fashioned hockey fight.

If you have a problem with fighting in the NHL, get over it.

Fighting is a part of the league like dunking is in basketball, like homeruns are in baseball. It’s a necessary evil that can used for motivational advantages, intimidation and all out fun and intrigue.

Hockey is the only sport in the world where the players police themselves. There are secret rules and codes in other sports about retribution, revenge and get back. In Hockey it’s out in the open. Got a problem with a player’s over excessive behavior? Send a goon out. Your team lacks energy? Throw your fists up. Someone going after your best player repeatedly and you’ve had enough? Pop him in the mouth.

In the NBA you get suspensions for pushing a guy too hard for coming down the lane over and over again, same in major league baseball when a batter starts raking and a pitcher gives him some sweet chin music. The NHL says you got a problem you deal with it. Unless you go Todd Bertuzzi on someone then you sit for a few games.

It’s been well-known since the inception of the sun dial that fighting and hockey go hand in hand. However, now in the year 2011 fighting in hockey is now looked down upon and thought of to be stupid.

On Pardon the Interruption this past week, hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debated the recent brawl between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. Wilbon stated that the league should be ashamed of themselves for allowing brawls like that to continue and that the league should get rid of it for good. Former Habs Goalie Ken Dryden has been trying to get fighting removed from the game for years because he feels that the game is better without it. After the regular season in 2009 NHL GM’s got together to discuss the possible elimination of hockey from the sport.

Thank god they voted against it.

Hockey fights aren't brainless, there are a multitude of reasons for dropping the gloves.

As much as I love Dryden and Wilbon and Kornheiser they should all be beheaded for even thinking about banishing fighting from the sport. I understand that hockey has a new fan base and that American sports have been wussified to no end (hi, Roger Goodell and David Stern) but come on, enough is enough.

You can’t hit QB’s anymore, you can’t bruise a guy for getting into the lane and you can’t brush back batters for standing on the plate, at least give us the satisfaction of grown men defending their keep on the ice.

Hockey more than other sports prides itself on toughness. You see guys like Duncan Keith pulling out his teeth to stay on the ice and contribute in the playoffs last year and Steve Yzerman years ago playing on a torn ACL to lead the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup. Hockey players love being tough guys. It’s like they were born to give up their bodies for torture and pain just for fun.

Plus we as fans idolize it. We cheer when guys drop the gloves and pummel each other in the name of honor and team, we never forget guys that give their bodies every shift and every minute just to make a single play. Primary example are my New York Rangers. There are no Crosby’s, Ovechkin’s, Lidstrom’s or any other noteworthy superstars on this team, instead it’s a hit, grind and hustle team that is among the leaders in hits, shorthanded goals and penalty killing.

It’s the most enjoyable team we’ve had in years and even though we don’t score a lot I wouldn’t trade Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal for anything.

Ask most hockey fans, sure we love the stars of our team, but the faves are the Kris Drapers’, Andy McQuaids’ and George Parros’ of the world. The tough guys and the grind guys who really make wins possible.

Find me a Rangers fan that doesn't like Brandon Prust... I dare you.

Fighting and hard play are part of the game. However, there is a difference in how you let that aggression play out on the ice and toughness turns into an all-out mess.

Look at the two brawls last week between the Habs & B’s and Isles & Pens. Both were the talk of the league and sports highlight shows last week but had different meanings in terms of the way that the code of fighting should be played out.

The Habs & Bruins are long time Original Six rivals. They’ve had heated battles going back to the 60’s and 70’s that have left a mark on the history of the game. In the Bruins 8-6 win last Wednesday a series of brawls broke out that were more than entertaining. Tough guys like Travis Moen, Scott Thornton and others threw down a few times letting their emotions run over into a fury of fists on the ice. Even goalies Carey Price and Tim Thomas appeared to scrap for a little bit even though both weren’t trying to throw punches at each other.

As crazy as it seemed with both penalty boxes flooded with players and both benches bare by game’s end, it was a good brawl in the context of the game.

Everybody that threw down did it with respect. No sucker punches or cheap shots, just guys looking at each other and dropping the gloves for a few minutes then taking their seats in the sin bin. Wilbon said the league should be ashamed, I say hell no. it was old-time hockey with no dirtiness. Two teams who are fighting for their division that won’t back down from each other and letting each other know that they’re not going anywhere.

Then you have the mess that was the Pens & Isles brawl. The back-story to this is that the last two games were super physical matchups with the last one having Maxim Talbot handing out rough hits and Brent Johnson sending Rick DiPietro to the injured reserve with one punch.

Enforcer challenging a goalie... that's a no-no in the code.

(Side note: how badly has DiPi’s career gone? He was once the future of the franchise, now he’s a verb for getting knocked the **** out. Even Tim Thomas said the no one wanted to get “DiPIetroed” between him and Price. In case you were wondering Isles fans, yes he’s still got that 12 year, 62 million dollar contract under his belt. You may now send Garth Snow hate mail.)

With that in mind the Isles took the physicality to the Pens but took it too far. Matt Martin’s cheap shot on Talbot brought back memories of Todd Bertuzzi and Steve Moore. Trevor Gillies elbowed Eric Tangradi then as he crumbled to the ice Gillies tried to fight him then taunted him as he left the ice. Enforcer Michael Haley challenged goalie Brent Johnson while skating towards the penalty box… it was a ton of dirty hockey. The Isles were so hell-bent on revenge that they went to no end to make sure it happened. The result was a brawl that was really something the league should’ve been ashamed of.

Thankfully the long arm of Colin Campbell acted and acted fast suspending Martin, Gillies and Eric Godard who left the bench to protect Johnson, and fined both teams. Unfortunately the actions of the league didn’t sit well with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux who said that he was embarrassed by the league’s actions and that he might not want to be a part of the league if this is how they deal with incidents like these.

Lemieux was wrong. The league acted accordingly on all counts. The Isles were in the wrong and were punished harshly for their actions. If Lemieux had problems with dirty play and too much fighting then he should look in his own backyard first.

The Penguins lead the league in fighting majors and penalty minutes and they harbor Matt

Mario Lemieux chastises the league for allowing dirty plays to continue... yet employs this guy.

Cooke who has a reputation for being overly dirty. Cooke has given players concussions and put more players in danger with his overly-aggressive play including the blindside hit of the Blue Jackets Fedor Tyutin that got him suspended for four games. For Lemieux to criticize the league for not handling matters in the right way is silly and he needs to get his facts straight before speaking up again.

The league knows what it’s doing. They know what fights are good and bad for the game and try to eliminate what’s wrong while keeping the essence of the game intact. There were no suspensions from the Habs-B’s brawl because none were necessary. The Pens-Isles games was a different story. There are such things as good and bad fights in the NHL and the league knows this and regulates them with great efficiency.

Like em or not hockey fights are here to stay. It’s an integral part of the game that shouldn’t be taken away because of brawls that happen once in a blue moon or because people that watch from afar don’t like them. It’s hockey, its physical and it’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the last bit of raw physicality American sports has left, the last place where tough guys are allowed to be tough. Let’s not ruin a good thing while we got it.


A Banged-Up NHL Midseason Review

Injuries are ravaging the NHL as teams are playing without their best players.

We’re in the NHL’s second half; you know what that means… a New York Rangers second half slide… I mean the NHL Midseason awards.

 

Look I shouldn’t be shocked that the Rangers are having another January swoon. The Rangers are like Tom Coughlin’s stepchild but only worse. They do this every season, start fast, struggle in November, get hot in December and then go on a two-month bender of not scoring goals, losing one goal games and cause Henrik Lundquist to wonder about the benefits of committing Hara Kiri.

 

I should be used to it by now, but I’m a New Yorker, I’m crazy. I want the Rangers to play consistent hockey and I’ve wanted it for years. However, you see the beginning to this piece. The difference in this year’s team is that I can see the drought coming but not from inconsistency. This time it’s injuries. Right now the Rangers are missing 6 starting forwards including leading goal scorer Brandon Dubinsky. Due to the injuries the slide began last week as the Rangers lost three out of four games and dropped to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

 

With the Rangers struggling to score goals, losing our number one guy isn’t exactly the best news in the world right now.

 

If think its bad for us how do you think the Penguins are feeling? Sidney Crosby took a head shots from David Steckel in the Winter Classic and then from Victor Hedman several days later and has been out since. Before his injury the Pens were the best team in hockey and Crosby was Megan Fox in a thong hot since then they’ve been 3-3 and fell from 1st to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

 

Same for the Detroit Red Wings; name a Wing and he’s banged up, Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary, Chris Osgood, Jimmy Howard (yes, both goalies) and Pavel Datsyuk all missed their recent loss to the aforementioned Pens and 3 of their last four.

 

The Colorado Avalanche lost leading scorer at the time Chris Stewart 18 games ago and slipped, The Blackhawks lost Jonathan Toews for three weeks and have had a devil of a time staying in the playoff race, The struggling Kings just lost Wayne Simmonds and have been banged up all year, Montreal… IT AINT SAFE PLAYIN HOCKEY I TELLS YA!!!

 

Fact is if you can stay healthy then you’re hard to beat. Philadelphia, Vancouver and Tampa Bay are all examples that if you stay healthy you stay on top. Right now it’s a toss up between the Canucks and the Flyers for the title of best team in the league. I got a front row look of each team last week as each of them faced the Rangers and I really like the Flyers.

 

Granted there are goaltending issues (It’s Philly there’s always goaltending issues) but the team they have is loaded with guys all playing their best hockey. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and company are leading a balanced attack that could get better when Chris Pronger returns. They’re proving that last season’s cup run was no joke and that getting back there and winning is all that’s on their mind.

 

I do not doubt the Canucks at all though, not with Daniel and Henrik Sedin playing at a high level and Ryan Kesler scoring goals like crazy. The Sedins are in the top five in scoring and Kesler is number five in the leagues with 25 goals. What does worry me about them is Roberto Luongo tends to give up a few softies in goal. Luongo was the reason that the Canucks lost their Western Semifinals series versus the Blackhawks last year in one of his worst stretches ever.  So to say everyone is a little worried about him possibly sliding back into that form is like saying the Trail Blazers are a little worried bout their entire lineup being injured (Sorry Marcus Camby).

Why is Vancouver number one in the league right now? Ask these guys.

Then there’s Tampa freaking Bay in third place in East (thank you Washington slump in late December.). They couldn’t stop a goal from going in until they acquired 41 year-old Dwayne Roloson, and outside of Ryan Malone, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos they have gotten NOTHING from anyone. However, the guys have all been healthy outside of Vinny Lecavalier (not that it matters because he’s been dead weight.), and Simon Gagne (which doesn’t matter because no one expected him to play more than 50 games anyway.) and they have played consistent hockey and have played within their skill set. No one is being asked to go out of his way to do things that they can’t do and it’s worked.

 

Stamkos has returned to form after a quick start and slow stretch in December and has returned to the MVP that I thought was all but guaranteed in November. If the Lightning are going to be active in the trade market then he should be getting some help to move him closer to the Hart trophy and the Lightning to the playoffs.

 

Speaking of awards at the mid-way point who has the upper hand in the most of the major honors in the league? Well…

 

Hart Trophy- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Now you know I love Stamkos, and I have been watching the Sedin twins, but none of them had a 25 game point scoring streak and had 49 points during the streak. Without Crosby the Pens are a totally different team and it shows. If they want to win it all they need Sid the Kid at 100% and nothing less.

 

My Bad: Stamkos, both Sedins and St. Louis

 

Norris Trophy- Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers

Ok, so Lidstrom might win the thing, but how about the job big buff has done in going back to his natural position in Atlanta? He’s got 41 points, which is second amongst defensemen, and he’s brought the Thrashers alive with his toughness and energy. I actually want to watch a Thrashers game now just because of him (well him and Evander Kane, just saying.).

 

My Bad: Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Kris Letang

 

Vezina Trophy- Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

So much for Tuukka Rask taking his job. That’s not happening with Thomas leading the league in GAA and save percentage and is fourth in wins. Because of him the B’s are sitting pretty in second place in the East.

 

My Bad: Henrik Lundquist, Jonas Hiller and Carey Price

Tim Thomas is zeroing in on his second Vezina with the Bruins.

Calder Trophy- Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

So right at the end of October the Hurricanes come to the Garden and from what I remember from last year I’m thinking this is an easy win. Then comes this Jeff Skinner kid with a three-point game that totally kills us and leaves me stunned. I’m thinking that was a fluke… yeah, um, no.

 

He leads all rookies in points, second in goals to San Jose’s Logan Couture and looks like a great number two to Eric Staal. I guess I was looking at a sign of things to come.

 

(Side note: I really like this year’s class of rookie forwards. There’s Skinner, Derek Stepan, Couture, Taylor Hall and Brian Bickell and they all look good. For years the young defensemen have bean all of the rage in the league and maybe starting with this class the scorers might catch up with them soon.)

 

My Bad: Stepan, Couture and Hall.

 

Jack Adams Trophy- Guy Boucher

Yeah Peter Laviolette has the Flyers in first, Mike Babcock has the Red Wings playing great, but did you think the Lightning would be in the top 3 in the NHL ahead of the Pens, Caps and Habs this year? Yep, exactly.

 

My Bad: Babcock, Laviolette, and Marc Crawford

 

Presidents Trophy- Philadelphia Flyers

Scary good. They’re clicking on all cylinders with Pronger coming back soon. This may change if the Pens get Crosby back but for right now no one has an inside track on these guys.

 

However, that’s the story of this season so far. Injuries are killing lots of teams right now from my Rangers to the Habs, Pens and Blackhawks. As the races tighten up and the season winds down hopefully guys like Toews, Crosby and Datsyuk get back and return to form quick so these games continue to have great meaning. Well, except for the Rangers. I already know what they’re going to do so I’ll just sit back and not worry about it and watch them battle for the 8th seed. I mean I’m used to it by now anyway.

 


Fun Things Going On In The NHL Thanks To Gary Bettman And Company

The Winter Classic has spawned many new ideas to give the NHL a P.R. boost.

I hate Gary Bettman, I really really really hate him.

He almost ruined my favorite sport next to football with a strike that damn near killed the game of hockey. He’s taken away teams from great hockey cities in Canada and placed them in the hockey hotbeds of Phoenix, Miami, Nashville and Atlanta. For a long time he refused to promote his best players on the ice leaving the average fan with no sense of whom the heck were the best players in the game.

(Seriously he damaged the sport for the longest time. There was a point in the late 90’s where Martin Brodeur, Keith Tkachuk, Teemu Selanne, Mike Modano and Paul Kariya were studs and you wouldn’t have known it because Bettman refused to put any backing behind promoting the players. No one knew about Joe Thornton, Vinny LeCavalier or Jarome Iginla and he didn’t care. I don’t care if your league is indoor lacrosse, you have to have your players featured and Bettman never did it. As you can tell I still haven’t gotten over that.)

There have been so many things that I can run Bettman into the ground for from the strike, the handling of the Coyotes, to everyone one of these gargantuan and ridiculous long-term deals that it makes my head spin.

This is why it’s so hard for me to give the man props for the pop culture revolution that is going on in the NHL and is making the game a better sell for people outside of the die-hard fan.

Since the NHL came from that crippling strike Bettman and his cronies at the NHL offices in New York and Toronto have gone out of their way to make the game more accessible and to bring the game back into mainstream America. At first the ideas were less than impressive (you remember that NBC experiment where they highlighted the best players on each team and let you know when they were on the ice right? FAIL!), however in the last three years the NHL has become imaginative in promoting the game and it has seen great returns from these experiments.

Of course it starts with the Winter Classic. An idea that was spawned thanks to an outdoor game between two Canadian teams (Montreal and

The new All-Star format makes game more intriguing for fans and players like Dustin Byfuglien

Edmonton), which was meant to return the game to its roots of being outdoor on a pond having fun with your buddies.

It’s done that and much more.

The original Classic featuring Pittsburgh and Buffalo was so successful that now the Classic is the main event of New Year’s Day. Thanks to the BCS and its long drawn out games, the NHL has swooped in and made the day all its own, similar to the NBA and Christmas. I mean let’s be real, what was more entertaining this year the Caps-Pens or any of the SEC-Big Ten beat-downs? Exactly.

The success of the game made the NBA try an outdoor pre-season game a while ago but with horrible results. Success breeds envy, never thought Bettman had that in him.

Fast-forward to this year and look at that the new format for the NHL All-Star game. Instead of the tired East vs. West all-stars the league decided to make a pool of the best players (as it should be) and have two captains pick their teams. Its playground hockey in a sense and brings more fun into the game. How cool would it be to see Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane on the same line or Anze Kopitar with Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Sedin? The creativity of the best players in both conferences combined is cool to just think about.

The initial reaction from journalists was yeah it is cool, but it would’ve been cooler if the NBA thought of it first. It is a great point, I mean Kobe, LeBron and Blake Griffin on the same team, wow. However the fact that the NHL had the guts to try and experiment with such a cool concept is shocking. They were able to figure out that All-Star games were becoming a bore and pumped new life into it with a simple concept that makes it more interesting and maybe more fun.

(Side note: all all-star games are boring. The NHL had a great idea ten years ago with the North America vs. The World concept which should have been copied by everyone but wasn’t. I mean there are only so many times that I can watch Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash play together before I decide that I’d rather pick up a shift at work than watch the game. Just saying.)

Now the NHL is taking another marketing risk with its Guardian Project, which is the brainchild of Marvel Comic legend Stan Lee. It’s a concept that takes all 30 NHL teams and gives each of them a superhero based on the team name and the personality of the team and its city. It’s been met with some criticism by fans and critics alike but I can’t wait to see what The Ranger looks like.

The Flyers Guardian looks cool, I bet the Rangers Guardian would own him though.

It’s inventive and exciting and draws more attention to the league. While I think it might be a little much for the NHL and it might not make much sense… I can’t wait to see what the Ranger looks like.

Has all of this helped the NHL out? Absolutely. The die-hard fans have returned and the casual fan has gained interest in the league. That combined with the fact that the Original Six have returned to form (yes, Toronto is coming back.) and that ridiculous gold medal game from the Olympics last year has given the NHL a huge lift in ratings and we actually know who the best players in the game are.

People know who Patrick Kane, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, Ovechkin, Crosby and others are now. Led by Crosby and Ovechkin in America and the Sedin twins in Canada, the league’s best are on display on and off the ice and it’s helping the sport came back into national relevance.

However there is one place where the NHL has to get more exposure, GET THE GAME BACK ON ESPN!!!

While Versus has become a very good hockey network it still doesn’t have the national audience that ESPN has and that the league benefitted from in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I don’t mind it if the games stayed on Versus Mondays and Tuesdays, but in order for the league to get back to where it was in the mid-90’s during the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry days the game needs a larger audience and ESPN is perfect for that.

Until then what Bettman and the league has done to promote the game isn’t a bad starting or pushing point. The All-Star game is in late January, the playoffs are around the corner and excitement is building as the Western conference race is tighter than a can of sardines and the best in the East are on collision courses. It’s a fun time to be and NHL fan, now let’s see if Bettman and company can continue the good work and keep it going.

I’m not ready to forgive him for all of the bad things he did to the league but getting a glimpse of The Ranger will be a nice start.