Thursday, March 31, 2011

Great To See Sidney Crosby Skating

Whether or not Sidney Crosby returns this season, I think it is fantastic he's skating with the team, a playoff team. I will be curious to see how they manage in the playoffs with or without Sid, because thus far they have exceeded my expectations without Crosby and Malkin. Even if he doesn't play, having him practice with the team is going to make them better. He is a unique specimen that should not be rushed back before they are certain he's ready to go, but the NHL is a better place with him on the ice. If he can't play, don't play him, but I at least want to see video feeds of Crosby practicing on my nightly sports shows. I want Crosby back, and I'm not even a Penguins fan. I'm a Red Wings fan.

I want David Steckel to get a lifetime suspension.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Corey Perry, My Fantasy MVP

This season I have competed in two fantasy hockey leagues, a 20 team league and a 16 team league. In both leagues I drafted Evgeni Malkin in the first round, which was a wasted pick. Yet with just a few short weeks to go I am in a position to win both leagues, and the biggest reason is Corey Perry. I absolutely stole him at picks #43 and #39 in my fantasy drafts. Now he has 17 points in his last 10 games, is leading the NHL in goals with 44, and is a legitimate contender for the Hart Trophy. He is carrying Anaheim on his shoulders and into the playoffs. That's an MVP. Though Daniel Sedin does have to be considered the favourite to win the Hart Trophy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Boston Slaughters Montreal

Having watched the Boston Bruins destroy the Montreal Canadians 7-0 on Thursday, I am officially predicting Boston to win a 7 game series if these two teams meet in the playoffs (which they are currently seeded to do). That Krejci-Lucic-Horton line is something special, Chara is one of the most valuable players in the whole league, and they have the best 1-2 punch in goal (though some Canucks fans may debate that last point). I think this team would have gone to the Stanley Cup playoffs had Krejci not been hurt, though they likely would have lost to Chicago. Kaberle was a great addition to this line-up, they have some fine young players who have not yet reached peak production, and they have the Toronto Maple Leafs #1 pick in the next draft.

Now is a good time for Boston Bruins fans to get excited.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Life After Malhotra

The Vancouver Canucks have been dealt a devastating blow with the loss of key centerman Manny Malhotra for the season to an eye injury. A third line center who is the 2nd best face-off man in the league, kills penalties, and provides secondary scoring is impossible to replace. This reduces the probability of Vancouver surviving a long playoff run, because the Canucks have nobody in the system who can play the role that Manny played. Hindsight being 20:20, how much would they love to have Brendan Morrison right now?

Maple Leafs Living On A Prayer

As of Monday morning March 21, the NHL's Eastern Conference playoff race is as follows:

NY Rangers 82 PTS with 9 games remaining
Buffalo 79 PTS, 10 GR
Carolina 76 PTS, 10 GR
Toronto 74 PTS, 9 GR

Buffalo has 12 PTS in their last 10 games, so if they get the same in their next 10 they would finish with 91 PTS. If Toronto won all their remaining games, they would have 92 PTS. Basically Toronto has to be perfect and Buffalo just needs to win 60%. At this time the probability of Toronto making the playoffs has to be 5%-10%. At least it was a nice run and gave Leaf fans a reason to get interested. The Leafs have to be aiming at a playoff spot next season. The team has some quality building blocks in place, but these draft picks Burkie acquired recently are 2-3 years away from being impact players, if at all. At the draft table, Burke has a good slugging percentage on 1st round picks and a terrible batting average in all subsequent rounds.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Good Is Dion Phaneuf?

As the Leafs continue their unlikely drive for a playoff spot, team captain Dion Phaneuf scored 2 goals in a critical victory over Carolina, the team above them in the standings. These head to head matches are critical, and the Leafs have manned up and defeated both Carolina and Buffalo in less than a week. In the first few years of his career in Calgary Phaneuf appeared to have unlimited upside. Then his production substantially diminished and he was shipped off to Toronto. He had 60 PTS in his 3rd year, 47 PTS in his 4th year, and 32 PTS in his 5th year (last season). He reminds me a lot of a young Ed Jovanovski with better offensive production. Jovo didn't break 40 until his 7th season, and peaked at 51 PTS in his 12th season.

If you use the Jovanovski career arch, then Dion's best days should be ahead of him. Was his retraction just growing pains, or the result of the physical punishment he endures and dishes out every year? Can you build a franchise around this guy, and if so, why was Calgary so eager to let him go?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Who's Hot & Not In The NHL Post All-Star

It has been 6 weeks since the NHL All-Star game, and here are the best and worst performances since the midway mark. Kane and Toews are heating up, Perry and Getzlaf have been outstanding, and the playoffs are just a few weeks away. Hockey is starting to get exciting!

Hot Forwards

1. Jonathon Toews, CHI (29 PTS in 19 GP): Has been the best player in the NHL post All-Star break.

2. Cory Perry, ANA (24 PTS in 17 GP): If this team misses the playoffs, nobody can say that it is because they didn't get enough from Cory Perry.

3. Daniel Sedin, VAN (25 PTS in 20 GP): He's going to win the Hart trophy.

4. Patrick Kane, CHI (23 PTS in 19 GP): Kane and Toews flourish when Chicago gets secondary scoring.

5. Ryan Getzlaf, ANA (20 PTS in 14 GP): Biggest problem for Anaheim is Cam Fowler drying up and Hiller out with injury. Getzlaf and Perry have been incredible.

6. Alex Ovechkin, WAS (22 PTS in 19 GP): Finally Ovie is coming into form.

7. Henrik Sedin, VAN (22 PTS in 20 GP): The twins are the most entertaining show on ice right now in the NHL.

8. Ilya Kovalchuck, NJ (22 PTS in 19 GP): Scoring at same pace as Ovechkin post All-Star. Do we credit Lemaire?

9. Martin St. Louis, TB (21 PTS in 18 GP): Marty has been outscoring Stamkos for several weeks.

10. Michael Grabner, NYI (21 PTS in 21 GP): Nobody has scoring more goals in the NHL since the All-Star break.

Honourable mentions: Milan Lucic, Andy MacDonald, Drew Stafford, Bobby Ryan, John Tavares, Anze Kopitar, Martin Erat, and David Krejci.

Hot Goalies

1. Anti Niemi, SJ (13 W, .928 SVPCT): A big reason that San Jose has shot up the standings, playing fantastic hockey.

2. Mikka Kiprusoff, CGY (12 W, .922 SVPCT): A few months ago I declared he was no longer an elite goaltender. Since then, he has done everything in his power to prove me wrong.

3. Ilya Bryzgalov, PHO (11 W, .923 SVPCT): The reason Phoenix is sitting in a playoff spot.

4. Carey Price, MON (9 W, .937 SVPCT): The reason Montreal is sitting in a playoff spot.

5. James Reimer, TOR (9 W, .917 SVPCT): He's the reason Toronto is taking a run at a playoff spot. Goalie of the future?

Honourable mentions: Jimmy Howard, Pekka Rhinne, Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, and Jonathon Quick.

Cold Forwards:

1. Mike Fischer, NSH (6 PTS in 19 GP): Mr Underwood is not doing much to help his new team make the playoffs.

2. Valterri Filpulla, DET (2 PTS in 12 GP): Not earning his contract.

3. Matt Duchene, COL (6 PTS in 16 GP): Hasn't been the same since Fleischman went down.

4. Collin Wilson, NSH (5 PTS in 19 GP): Not the breakout season some were predicting.

5. Dustin Brown, LA (8 PTS in 18 GP): LA has enough depth that Brown's slump hasn't hurt the team, but he's better than this.

Cold Goaltenders:

1. Ondrej Pavelec, ATL: Compare 1st half to 2nd half, and it is an incredible nose pun intended...

2. Sergei Bobrovsky, PHI: Not going to win rookie of the year.

3. Jaroslav Halak, STL: Has gone cold in 2nd half.

March 14, 2011 NHL Power Rankings

Here are my Power Rankings for mid March, which just a few short weeks remaining in the NHL season. Vancouver continues to hold the #1 spot as they begin running away with the President's Trophy.

1. Vancouver, 99 PTS (last rank #1): 1 in 3 President's Trophy winners go on to win the Cup. This has been the best team in the NHL this season.

2. Detroit, 90 PTS (last rank #3): Datsyuk has been showing up a lot lately on the highlight reels.

3. Washington, 90 PTS (last rank #7): Won 8 straight, heating up at just the right time.

4. San Jose, 86 PTS (last rank #4): Like Washington, this team is heating up at the right time. With production from Pavelski and Setoguchi, this is a tough team to beat.

5. Philadelphia, 91 PTS (last rank #2): Some tough losses in the last 2 weeks, and Pronger out for 3-4 weeks.

6. Boston, 85 PTS (last rank #6): Won 7 straight then lost 4 in a row. The Chara hit was bad karma.

7. Los Angeles, 83 PTS (last rank #8): Not a team you want to meet in the 1st round of the playoffs.

8. Tampa Bay, 85 PTS (last rank #5): Not going to win the Stanley Cup with Roloson as the starting goaltender.

9. Chicago, 82 PTS (last rank #9): Toews has 29 points in 19 games since the all-star break. Sharp, Hossa, Bolland, and Bickell are providing secondary scoring. Not a team you want to play in the 1st round of the playoffs.

10. Montreal, 83 PTS (last rank #13): Montreal vs Boston in the 1st round of the playoffs? That would be fascinating.

11. Pittsburgh, 88 PTS (last rank #17): Holding stronger than I thought they would without Crosby and Malkin. Sid skated today. Get well soon!

12. Phoenix, 83 PTS (last rank #10): Shane Doan is carrying this team on his back, but they have no scoring depth.

13. Dallas, 82 PTS (last rank #16): Stars starting to twinkle again. Brad Richards is really good.

14. Calgary, 81 PTS (last rank #14): The come from behind loss to Vancouver was devastating. Holding the last spot, but teams around them have 2 games in hand. Trouble brewing.

15. Nashville, 80 PTS (last rank #15): This team isn't going far on the backs of Martin Erat and David Legwand.

16. Anaheim, 79 PTS (last rank #11): They need Jonas Hiller back fast.

17. NY Rangers, 76 PTS (last rank #18): Where have you gone Brandon Dubinsky, my fantasy team turns its lonely eyes to you. Callahan is currently carrying this team offensively.

18. Minnesota, 77 PTS (last rank #12): I'd be interested to see the playoff success track record of teams that have had Martin Havlat as their leading scorer.

19. Buffalo, 76 PTS (last rank #19): They looked bad against Toronto, but do have a talented arsenal of young players. They miss Roy, and Myers is overrated.

20. Columbus, 73 PTS (last rank #21): They have been getting balanced scoring throughout their line-up. They are an elite defenseman away from being a great team.

21. Carolina, 72 PTS (last rank #20): Choking. Staal has slowed down, Cole has been their leading scorer since the all-star break.

22. Toronto, 70 PTS (last rank #23): They really needed Ottawa to beat Buffalo. Playoff drive likely to fall short. Saturday's win over Buffalo was like a playoff game.

23. New Jersey, 68 PTS (last rank #25): Brodeur is back. Johan Hedberg has been the hottest goalie in the league, then gets tossed to the bench when Marty comes back. Where's the controversy?

24. St. Louis, 71 PTS (last rank #22): This will be a playoff team next season.

25. Atlanta, 70 PTS (last rank #24): Dustin Byfuglien will not win the Norris Trophy this season.

26. NY Islanders, 65 PTS (last rank #28): Very talented young forward group, but this team desperately needs puck moving defensemen. They could be threatening for a playoff spot with a healthy Mark Streit.

27. Florida, 65 PTS (last rank #26): This team is going to suck for at least the next 3 years. Should help their transition to Quebec City.

28. Ottawa, 59 PTS (last rank #29): Jason Spezza is on a tear. Speculation of his demise might have been premature.

29. Colorado, 60 PTS (last rank #27): Have they been purposefully tanking the season for a high draft pick? They literally fell off a cliff.

30. Edmonton, 55 PTS (last rank #30): This team will finish in last place.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Leafs Staying Alive

Saturday was a big win for the Toronto Maple Leafs, defeating the Buffalo Sabres, a team they are chasing for a playoff spot. Those are must win games in a playoff race, and the Leafs won in dramatic fashion. A great game by rookie gatekeeper James Reimer combined with big 3rd period goals from Kessel and Grabovski produced an electric atmosphere. When the cameras focused in on Toronto fans, they were jacked up. Leaf Nation is starting to get excited, even if they retain cautious optimism due to a prolonged playoff drought. It is good for hockey to have Leaf Nation engaged. Toronto was clearly the better team in the game, as the Sabres looked lethargic. That team might not be as good as I thought were. They miss Derek Roy, and Tyler Myers is overrated.

Gary Bettman Contract Renewed

Booooooo to the NHL for renewing Gary Bettman's contract for another 5 years. He is easily the worst commissioner in professional sports and needs to go. Great, he won the lockout and got a salary cap, but he also expanded/relocated the NHL into unsustainable markets and half the teams in the league lose money. How is this a success? Perhaps if Gary helps move the Phoenix Jets back to Winnipeg I'll be a little more enthusiastic about his tenure, but he helped move teams out of Canada and thus far has blocked any from coming back. How much money can you lose in Glendale before you move the Coyotes back to a hockey market? I'm all in favour of revenue sharing and salary caps. I'm a sports communist, but my deal breaker is low attendance. Phoenix can sell tickets for $5 and sell out 40% capacity. They don't deserve a franchise.

The NHL owners need a splash of cold water in the face for renewing Gary's contract.

Booooo on you!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tough Thursday For Maple Leafs

The probability of a playoff berth was diminished on Thursday as the Leafs lost to Philly and Buffalo beat Boston. It is 5% less likely today that the Leafs will make the playoffs than it was yesterday. As a Red Wings fan I always enjoy taunting my Leaf fan friends with their team's futility, but on the other hand it is better for the game of hockey to have the team with the largest fan base competitive. If you are someone who is beginning a life as an amateur sports blogger, who makes ice for a living at a curling rink, you should be cheering for the overall success of the winter sports and recreation business. My next job might be making hockey ice, and the better the Leafs are, the more successful the business of hockey is.

Maybe I take for granted that Leaf fans are willing to put up with extended periods of futility before they stop watching. If they actually do stop watching, it is bad for the business. I may be a Red Wings fan from the heady days of the Norris division who grew up wishing failure upon the Toronto Maple Leafs, but perhaps I should want them to be competitive because it is better for the sport? How many consecutive non playoff years would it take for half of Leaf Nation to tune out the sport altogether?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Did Chara Mean To Injure Max Pacorietty?

Did Zdeno Chara intend to cause serious injury to Max Pacorietty? While the incident is unfortunate, I don't think Zdeno meant to cause him permanent harm. This was something that unfolded in a matter of seconds, and I don't see the Bruins defenseman as a malicious man. The NHL is not fining or suspending Chara, which is the right move. Steckel should have gotten 30 games for his hit on Crosby. What happened with Chara was more about body position on a forechecking forward and was not a drive by headshot. It just happened.

I feel terrible for Pacorietty, whom I owned in my fantasy hockey league. He had been having a great 2011 and I wish him a speedy recovery. Get well soon Max. I just don't see criminal intent. There is a long archive of similar incidents which had no fines or penalties.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Winnipeg Jets Flying Home?

The financial situation in Phoenix is deteriorating, and rumour has it that there's a really strong chance that the Phoenix Jets may soon be flying back to their rightful home. While southern Ontario is unquestionably a larger market, Winnipeg is not infringing on another team's territorial rights. Bettman is far more likely to approve a deal to Manitoba, even if it is not the most profitable market. What has become increasingly clear is that the NHL cannot sustain itself in Glendale. Millions of dollars of tax local tax payers money is being spent by city council to keep the dying franchise in its current home, and that cannot sustain itself long-term because not enough people in the area even care about hockey.

This franchise should never have left Winnipeg, and they have since built a new barn, so lets put this team where it belongs.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fantasy Baseball Is Back!

Baseball is coming soon to a ballpark near you, which is great news for all us sports fans that are tired of ESPN talking about basketball. Sunday I drafted a team in a 16 team league, and I'm sure the world is excited to see who I drafted. Like a good Canadian, my first two picks were Joey Votto and Jose Bautista.

1. (4) Joey Votto 1B
2. (29) José Bautista 3B,OF
3. (36) Brandon Phillips 2B
4. (61) Andre Ethier OF
5. (68) Cole Hamels SP
6. (93) Ben Zobrist 1B,2B,OF
7. (100) Elvis Andrus SS
8. (125) Geovany Soto C
9. (132) Clay Buchholz SP
10. (157) Ricky Romero SP
11. (164) John Axford RP
12. (189) Frank Francisco RP
13. (196) Jeremy Hellickson SP,RP
14. (221) Manny Ramírez OF
15. (228) Andrés Torres OF
16. (253) Nyjer Morgan OF
17. (260) Anibal Sánchez SP
18. (285) Coco Crisp OF
19. (292) Brandon League RP
20. (317) Wade Davis SP
21. (324) Kevin Slowey SP
22. (349) Randy Wolf SP
23. (356) Freddy Sánchez 2B

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Leaf Nation Rising

As the Toronto Maple Leafs flirt with the last playoff spot in the east, it would seem as though Leaf Nation is rising. I've begun receiving frequent arrogant excited texts from my Leaf fan friend, which I don't begrudge him as an openly arrogant Red Wings fan. Even if I grew up as a Red Wings fan in Ontario back during the heady days of the Norris division and a heated rivalry, I have to concede that it is better for the business of hockey to have the Maple Leafs as a competitive franchise. It pains me to admit it, but they do have the largest fan base in the least until we put two more teams in southern Ontario...

This will turn out to be an interesting playoff race. If the Leafs fall 1 point short, will Leaf Nation start complaining that Burke did not any new pieces at the deadline? Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charlie Sheen Is A Winner

If actor Charlie Sheen is looking for work, he should consider a career as a motivational speaker for pro sports franchises that want to win. Charlie is a winner, and he's about winning. He's high on a drug called Charlie Sheen, and he should market his winning formula to athletes. Athletes want to win and Charlie is a winner, it is a match made in heaven. The Toronto Maple Leafs want to make the playoffs, which requires winning. Brian Burke should bring in Sheen to teach his players all about winning. Charlie should market either a line of herbal supplements or an energy drink that's just named "Charlie Sheen". Market it to winners...

Who doesn't want to win? Caliendo and Carvey need to start working on their Charlie Sheen impersonations.