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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five things to know about the IIHF World Championship 2017

In case your eyes were glued to the NHL playoffs, and you didn't notice, the IIHF just wrapped another World Championship in Cologne, Germany. Some of our favorite NHL players even participated (since their teams either didn't go to or were eliminated from the NHL playoffs). Here are five things to know from this year's mens tournament.

1. Sweden won. They defeated Canada in a shootout. Here is a recap, and here's the highlight reel:


2. Even though Sweden won this year, Canada is still ranked #1 in the IIHF. The rankings are based on the past four years, so Russia is #2, and Sweden moves up from fifth to third-place with this win. That bumps Finland down to #4 and USA down to #5.

3. Rookie Swedish forward, William Nylander, was named tournament MVP. He had seven goals and seven assists in 10 games.

That was quite a celly!

4. Henrik Lundqvist has a twin brother named Joel, and they both got to share in gold-medal glory for playing on the Swedish team. The brothers have not played for the same team in 12 years. According to the New York Times, Joel, who is a forward for the SHL team, Frolunda, reached out to Henrik about playing for the Swedish national team after the Rangers were eliminated from the NHL playoffs.

5. There was a huge celebration in Stockholm (probably still going on) for the Swedish team. They even got shiny gold helmets.

Bonus: Gabriel Landeskog apparently jumped into a hot tub in full gear after the game.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Kings have traded Bishop and only got a 4th Round Draft Pick!?!


     It was announced this afternoon that the Los Angeles Kings have arranged a trade with the Dallas Stars. The Stars have acquired the rights to Ben Bishop in exchange for a 4th round draft pick in this years draft. My initial gut reaction to hearing of this trade was surprise, not that the Kings traded Bishop they made no secret of the fact that they took him on purely for the playoffs this year, but that all they were able to get for him was a 4th round draft pick.  Bishop surely is a more valuable commodity as a highly effective and experienced goal tender. He is approaching 31 years of age, so he is no spring chicken, but is also not at the point where he would only have a couple of good years left in him, due to age at least.  He has had some history of groin injury, but again that is hardly unusual for an experienced goalie.
     I know the Kings have been having salary cap issues for the last several seasons and with Jonathan Quick healthy again they would not have the desire or the funds to keep Bishop on at the salary level he has earned the right to and would expect to receive.  Bishop is also in the market for a long contract, in the range of 5 or 6 years, at or above the 5.95 million he makes annually now. That being said with the Kings organizations in the process of restructuring and presumably looking to bring more speed and higher offensive production to bear next season, I would have hoped that they could deal Ben Bishop for one or more players who could help them achieve that goal.
     So I started reading up on the trade that the Kings had arranged with Dallas. The key to the reduced trade value, I believe, lies in the the wording of the headlines on all of the articles I have found on this trade. Dallas has traded a 4th round draft pick for the "Rights" to Ben Bishop, not for Ben Bishop. What this means is that with Bishop going UFA on July 1st, now the Stars have exclusive bargaining rights for the next 7 and 1/2 weeks until his UFA status kicks in. In other words this trade does not guarantee that Bishop will be on the Stars roster in the 2017-18 season. It is possible that if the Stars do not come to terms with him before July 1st he could choose to go elsewhere.
     This begs the question why would the Stars acquire exclusive rights to a player they do not have excellent reason to believe they will be able to sign. While at this point I have not found any concrete evidence to support it, my guess is that the Stars organization had already begun the contract negotiation process with Bishop well before this trade happened.  A 4th round draft pick is hardly a high price to pay for the possibility of having a first class goalie, which they are unquestionably in desperate need of, but why give up anything for no guaranteed return? I think that the Stars took advantage of the situation by putting in a trade with the Kings now for "rights" giving them the time they need to finalize the likely ongoing negotiations without competition for other teams, and with out really having to give up anything at all. The 4th round draft pick that they traded was the one they got from Montreal at the end of last February for the Jordie Benn trade. I think the Stars definitely got the better end of this trade, but by making a trade now at least the Kings got something. If they waited until July Bishop would be UFA and the Kings would lose him for nothing in return at all, so overall it was still a win win situation.
     What Bishop would bring to the Stars? Stability and consistency in the net with a well proven record both during the regular season and the playoffs. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2016, he has played in 36 total postseason games with a record of 21-13 and goals against average of 2.09 and save percentage of 0.927.  He also holds the record for most post season shutouts at 5 since the 2014-15 season.  Bishop has a career record of 270-148-80 with a GAA of 2.23 and a save percentage of 0.919. Antti Niemi was at a dismal 12-12-4 with a GAA of 3.30 and a save percentage of 0.892 last season in 37 games played.  Kari Lehtonen did little better with a record of 22-25-7 with a GAA of 2.89 and a save percentage of 0.902 in 59 games played. Looking at these stats alone and the fact that the Stars were willing to trade for "rights" to Bishop I would expect to see an announcement from Dallas before the end of June that they have Signed Bishop to a multi year contract.
     That leaves the other obvious question, will the Stars be keeping Niemi or Lehtonen as back up to Bishop for the 2017-18 season. Neither are outstanding choices, but both still have a year or more under contract with Dallas.  My guess is that they will try to trade or, more likely, buy out Niemi. While his dismal stats last season could be partially attributed to the fact that he played in less than half of the games, it was still his worst ever career showing. Not only that, but Niemi's stats have been consistently falling since the 2012-13 season. So this is not just a bad year for him, and he did not suffer any major injuries in the last few years either. This makes a significant comeback from him next season seem unlikely at best. Niemi also has a slightly cheaper contract than Lehtonen.  To buy out Niemi the Stars would be looking at a cap hit of 1.5 million for the next 2 seasons. Even if they do manage to cut Niemi loose they will potentially have a huge 13 million in cap space tied up in goaltenders alone when/if they sign Bishop, assuming they give him a contract similar to what he had previously. Even with that much money tied up I think signing Bishop would be the best possible move for the Stars, lack of consistent competent goal tending killed them last season and this would go a long way toward putting the Stars back in playoff contention next season!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ovi/Niskanen/Crosby Hit: A Fan's Side



Dear NHL, NHL Players, Pittsburgh Penguins, Player’s safety (or lack there of);
                As a hockey fan since I was a child I have to ask you some serious questions.  You see, I am what your marketing team dreams of.  An American that has caught the hockey bug at a young age, and even though I haven’t played the game past dek hockey, I am addicted to it.  I have watched every game I can since I was a child.  I was there during the Martin Straka era; buying my student rush tickets weekly just to get in the building.  I buy several games a year off of friends or through whatever means I can.  Playoff tickets when I have the extra money.  Watched Geno’s hat trick game in the upper bowl of the Mellon in a little thing called the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009, ticket still hanging in my office. Suite 66 ticket signed by Mr. Lemieux hangs in my home office. The Caps game where Arron Asham knocked out Beagle.   I have the Mario poster in my basement from 1984 with my god damn height marked on it from when I was 7 until 13. 
                God damn it, last year I was getting married on June 11th. We had the wedding venue ensure us that we had a cable connection and a projector to watch the third period at our wedding reception in case it fell on a game day, (I had a backup rented as well).  I told my then future wife that if we don’t have it, most of the guests will be in the bar watching it…. And she knows where we would be too (she caught the bug from me).
                Before we get to the injury, let’s talk about how you call the game.  The first period, we have a 5 minute power play.  A ticky-tacky call is made on Geno for closing his hand on the puck, an iffy call in the regular season.  Fast forward to Overtime.  Puck is caught with a closed hand on it and carried from the redline to the blue line, not called.  Then Daley makes a great defensive play on the puck, the type you should have highlighted on sportscenter, but instead it’s a penalty.  The refs got in the way of the game and assisted in deciding it again!  Another one, Cullen, on a breakaway is hooked RIGHT INFRONT OF THE REF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NEUTRAL ZONE. The beer guy, pouring a beer in the top row could see it out of the side of his eye that it was hooking. Nope, nothing called.. Swallowed the whistle, we have decided to “let them play”.  Would this happen in the NFL? Nope. We all have watched games and yelled about the officiating. But when you really go back and look at it, they are usually right, might be a tight call, but you can watch the game and its evenly called.  The call in the 4th quarter on 4th and 1 on the 1 would be the same then and the 1st quarter. 
                Now the injury…. So your top player does what you want him to do, go hard to the net.  Play the game tough.  Be that beacon of how hockey is a mix of skill and being tough..  The toughest game out there.. Basketball players get a cramp they are carted off.  Hockey players break their god damn foot blocking a shot and finish the game; they might come back if they can within a week if the swelling goes down and the skate holds it together enough.  Another player, a top player, but one that you won’t discipline after many dirty knee on knee plays and such; swings a stick at a players head, misses but hits him with the follow through. NOTHING CALLED.. This causes him to go off balance and rather than another player dropping his stick and not planting the guy because the play is dead, crosschecks him in the god damn head.


Part 1 by Ovi, anywhere else except the WWE, where it is scripted and is a stunt, would be considered intent to injury if not assault (I do that on the Dek hockey rink, it can be called assault).  Part 2 by Niskinen is just as bad.  He should have held up, instead he jams his stick to his head, look at the replay and the pictured posted by Tie Domi and tell me different.  It was full of intent! When Tie Domi says that is not a hockey play, you need to reevaluate what you think of it. James Harrison took shots, what happened? Suspensions.  So what happened after that? He changed how he played.   This is not the game I, as a fan, want to watch. If Ovi beats us by scoring a hat trick so be it.  I guess Tom Brady should be okay with taking a shot to his knee after completing a pass because it’s “part of the game” and is a “football play”, or McCutchen should be okay with taking a baseball to the head at times because it’s “part of the game” and is a “baseball play”.  The other leagues protect their stars and enforce the same rules on the rank and file for their safety.  Why? Because that rank and file will one day sue your billion dollar company for head trauma.  Crosby is out for at least 1 game, probably more. A player cementing himself with the greats with a possible back to back cup run is now sidelined for “Old time hockey”. 
Well “Old Time Hockey” is about to lose my money.  I won’t pay a red cent for any of your merch, I’ll cancel my cable and Roots Sports subscription and stream it from NHL streams.
Now the hard questions.  Why should I continue to watch this game?  Why should I continue, not as just a Pens fan, but more importantly a hockey fan, watch your product anymore?  Why should I devote over 200 hours a year without play-offs watching my favorite team? How about the other 100 hours a year of watching other teams? How about all the time watching the playoffs of both the east and west?  Spend the money on cable to keep the sports packages to watch all the games I can?  Why the hell should I spend 400 plus dollars on 2 damn tickets for tomorrows night’s game?  After all the years and thousands of dollars I have put into this, I demand an answer! A real answer, not some bull! People put their hard earned money and more importantly their time and heart into watching this game and when you do this you sh*t all over it.
                Now you want to move to Vegas; the gambling capital of the world! Or at least North America.  With this officiating you expect the sportsbooks to push hockey?  You want to expand the game and fix markets that you probably shouldn’t have moved into.  But you want to keep the same old Original Six game.  It’s one way or the other…  Either get your head on right and showcase the greatest game there is, or allow an old mentality keep it the niche sport it is. Here is your Pete Rozelle moment Bettman; don’t sh*t all over it.




Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Kraft Hockeyville (TM) USA 2017 award is coming back to Western PA!

Congratulations to the Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, which was named today as the winner in the Kraft Hockeyville (TM) USA 2017 competition!

The facility will receive $150,000 in arena upgrades and have the opportunity to host an NHL 2017-2018 preseason game in their facility.

The runner-up, the Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, Minnesota, will receive $75,000 for upgrades to their facility. Kraft will also give money to the facilities who made it to the top 10 in earlier voting including two prizes of $25,000 and six of $10,000.

The Rostraver Ice Garden has faced adversity in the past several years because of facility issues. In 2010, part of the roof collapsed due to heavy snow, but 8 months later the rink reopened with a new roof to continue to serve their community.

During the 1970's the rink was used as a training camp facility for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Many other professional sports franchises have come and gone through the years, including the Mon Valley Thunder of the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League, the Pittsburgh RiverRats of the American Indoor Football Association, and the Steel City Warriors of the Federal Hockey League. Currently the Ice Garden is home to the California University of Pennsylvania's men's and women's ACHA hockey teams, as well as a second men's club team playing in the NCHA. The Mon Valley Thunder youth hockey program calls the Ice Garden home, as well as many local high school programs such as Elizabeth Forward, Serra Catholic, Baldwin, Bethel Park, and Belle Vernon.

Rostraver was one of over 1,300 communities from across the country to submit entries this year, and this is the 2nd time in the 3 years of the USA competition that a community ice rink from Western Pennsylvania has come out on top in the online voting. The 2015 winner was the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, PA (the facility where the movie "Slapshot" was filmed) and the 2016 winner was Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan.

In related news, the NHL also announced today that the preseason game to be played at the winning facility is set to be between the St. Louis Blues and the Pittsburgh Penguins and will be broadcast on NBCSN. Kudos to Kraft, the NHL, and the NHL Players Association for supporting this program to support community rinks and grow the sport of hockey!!!


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Oilers Sink the Sharks in Round 1

     The Edmonton Oilers have been having their best season in over a decade and have worked hard for all the success they have achieved in this 2016-17 season. Their last appearance in the post season before this year was in the 2005-06 playoffs, where they eventually lost in the final round to the Carolina Hurricanes in an exciting 7 game series. For anyone who does not remember this long ago playoff season, I want to point out that in the conference finals the Oilers became the first team in NHL history to go into the playoffs in a number 8 seed to win a conference championship and move on to play for the cup!

THE GOOD:

     The Oilers had a great series, they only completely fell apart in one game, game 4. Otherwise they played with the consistency that we have seen from them all year. The Surprising hero of the series was Zack Kassian, he had the game winning goal in both game 2 and game 3, one of them being a short handed goal! This is surprising because in several of his past season in the NHL he has not scored more than 7 goals all season and his highest number of goals in a season is 14. That being said, 2 in 6 games is a surprising and outstanding performance for the 26 year old winger. For the Sharks there are only a couple of things I can say that fall under the good section of the series.  One is Martin Jones, even though the team struggled and in the end did not prevail on the whole Jones played a very strong six games.  He never had fewer than 18 saves and in game 5 he made an amazing 44 saves.  For the playoffs this year he had a save percentage of .935 which was a significant improvement over his 0.912 percentage of the regular season. The Sharks only played 1 truly good game in this series, game 4 where they had a shocking 7-0 blowout win.  The whole team played up to their potential with 3 of their 4 offensive lines contributing to the score.  This game 4 Sharks team was the team that we watched surprise everyone last year as they made an amazing push to their first ever Stanley Cup final match!

THE BAD:

     The San Jose Sharks played most of this 2016-17 season fighting for the top spot in the Pacific Division with the Oilers and the Ducks. Up until the last month of play they held that top spot the majority of the time. Unfortunately in that last month of the season, as they have many times before, they started to fall apart. They dropped into 3rd and as a result started the Playoffs against the Oilers.  The Sharks fought all season long with consistency of play and as such I do not believe they would have made it through to the final no matter who their early opponent was, but I do believe that if they had been able to hold onto 1st in the division they could have at least taken out Calgary and made it to round 2. It is embarrassing as the defending Western Conference Champions to be eliminated in the 1st round. The Sharks were definitely not playing at their best in this first round, they were shutout in 2 of the 6 games and one of the 2 games they did manage to win was forced into OT.  As there was very little good to say about the Sharks in this series, there is also very little bad that can be said for the Oilers. Two things come to mind, the first is Cam Talbot having to be pulled from game 4 part way through the 2nd period after having let in 5 goals. In that game he had a horrifying 0.792 save percentage in 35 minutes of play bringing his playoff save percentage so far this year down to 0.927 which is certainly still a strong showing, but imagine what it could have been with out that bad game 4. The other thing I can say about the Oilers performance that could be categorized as bad is Connor McDavid's showing.  He was held to only 4 points total in the series, 2 goals and 2 assists.  This is not what anyone expected for a player who had 100 points during the regular season and was the 3rd youngest player in history to win the Art Ross trophy. The competition only gets harder from here and McDavid will need to get on the scoreboard more often if the Oilers want to make it to the final round.

THE UGLY:

     The ugly for the Oilers comes in the person of Leon Draisaitl in game 4. At 13 minuets 44 seconds into the 2nd period Draisaitl speared Chris Tierney in the groin. This is a dirty play no mater how it happens, but in this case it was particularly ugly since the indecent took play well away from the puck and with absolutely no provocation. Tierney had not made any underhanded or dirty plays against the Oilers at all in the game or even the series and the two were not involved in any sort of altercation at the time of the strike. It simply appeared that Draisaitl just lost his temper, probably regarding the very lopsided contest, at the time the Oilers were down 5-0. Draisaitl received a game misconduct and a 5 minute penalty served by Patrick Maroon in addition to his ejection form the game. He was not suspended for the incident, probably because Tierney did not sustain any lasting injury, Draisaitl had no history of this type of dirty play, and he did already miss almost half of a playoff game with the game misconduct ejection. While it was definitely and ugly and very dirty play, I believe that the department of player safety made the right decision, and he did have to pay the maximum fine for the incident. For the San Jose Sharks the ugly in this series had to be the injuries.  Joe Pavelski suffered a facial fracture late in the season and missed several games. He did return before the post season, but was not playing up to his normal standards of excellence. Then we have Patrick Marleau who was playing with a broken thumb during this series, and Tomas Hertl who was skating on a broken foot. Finally we have Joe Thornton who took a bad fall on his knee just before the end of the regular season and missed the first 2 playoff games. He returned in game 3 and played well for someone just coming off a knee injury, he was not quite as fast as he might have been, but was not showing the extent of his injury in any way. We found out the morning after the Sharks were eliminated in game 6 that he was playing with tears in his ACL and MCL on his left knee! Given all of these injuries that the Sharks were recovering from and playing through they did remarkably well.  It makes me wonder if they could have won the series against the Oilers if Hertl, Marleau and Thorton were not all playing with broken bones or damaged joints. I still don't believe they would have been able to beat the Ducks in round 2, but it would have been a less embarrassing exit to the playoffs not to have been eliminated in the first round. Still the most shocking and dramatic first round exit still belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks this year.

ONWARD TO ROUND 2!

     This season the Oilers came into the playoffs as the number 2 seed in the Pacific Division and number 4 in the Western Conference.  A much stronger position than their last post season entrance, and they are making a strong push to make it back to the finals but they still have a long road ahead with a number of strong teams still in the running.  The, Nashville Predators, for example had that number 8 spot in the conference this season and are making a strong play to repeat the Oilers 2005-06 conference championship feat. They are up against the St. Louis Blues who are also battling hard to make the finals. The Blues have a strong history of making the playoffs but have not played in a Stanley Cup match since 1970. In this 2nd round the Oilers are now up against the Ducks. The Ducks had a slow start this season but finished strong to take the number 1 slot in the Pacific division from both the Sharks and the Oilers. The Ducks have not won a cup since 2007, but have only missed the playoffs in 2 of the last 10 years.  They are coming off of a sweep of the Calgary Flames in round 1, and their goalie Gibson has been playing strong with a playoff save percentage of 0.926 having allowed only 9 goals in 122 shots faced in round 1. Congratulations to the Oilers for a well deserved victory in round 1 and excellent play all around by the team. Now however they face a stronger challenge in their opening game against the Ducks which starts tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Good Luck to the Oilers and all of the other teams who are moving on to round 2 this week. Here's to another series of exciting playoff hockey!

#Satire

Google has some pretty crazy ideas sometimes...


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Senators send the Bruins home after a hard-fought battle

When I picked the Bruins to win in round 1 against the Senators, I failed to consider how many injuries they had at the time, and that is what ultimately broke them. It wasn't the coaching, as interim coach Bruce Cassidy did a fine job (18-8-1) after taking over from the longtime Bruins coach, Claude Julien, who was fired in February. It wasn't goaltending, either. Tukka Rask finished with a .920 Sv% in the playoffs - not too shabby. Sure, there were some bad penalties, but ultimately the Bruins were missing some key players.

Most notably, forward David Krejci missed the first two games in the series with an upper body injury. Krejci returned to the ice for games 3 and 4, only to get taken down by a knee hit from Senators defenseman Chris Wideman near the end of the first period in game 5. Adding insult to injury, reports say that chirping, directed at Krejci, was heard from the Ottowa bench as Krejci was helped off the ice. Interestingly enough, this might have been just what the Bruins needed to rally, and they ended up winning game 5 in double overtime.

Of course, Krejci sat out game 6 with a lower body injury, and that's the way the cookie crumbles. The Bruins lost in overtime - the 4th OT of the series. It was a valiant effort, though. Tukka Rask had 26 saves. Drew Stafford and Patrice Bergeron each scored a goal.

The Senators move on to face the New York Rangers in round 2.

The Good:


At just 19 years, Charlie McAvoy made his NHL debut with the Bruins in game 1, and made quite an impression with 3 assists and 5 shots in six games. He was called up to fill in for the Bruin's critically depleted defense, and joins the ranks of outstanding young American-born players like Auston Mathews and Zach Werenski who are making a profound impact this season. He is one to watch next season.

The Bad:


Injuries. So many injuries. There was starting second-line center Krejci, and on defense: Kruge, Carlo, and McQuaid - all in their starting six. Drawing bad penalties didn't help them either, considering that their best penalty killers (Carlo and McQuaid) were on that injury list.

The Ugly:


So this one was controversial. In game 3, the Bruins came back from a 3-0 deficit to force an OT, and then the Senators Bobby Ryan scored on a power play due to this call. It looks like both players should have received matching penalties, but in this case, they only tapped Bruins Riley Nash for roughing.