Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The trick with Rick

OK, so you are commissioner of the NHL for a day, and the matter of Rick Tocchet and his gambling involvement is on your desk. What do you do?

I always liked hearing from Morrison on Sportsnet's various hockey panels, but unfortunately on this one, we don't get his opinion.

He's right, though: This is a very difficult question, one that's going to garner a ridiculous amount of coverage either way.

To be completely honest, this wasn't something I'd followed all that intently — at least recently. The last Tocchet-related material on this blog came back in mid-August, and even then I think I was a little against the grain in playing down what he was guilty of.

Earlier tonight on the little radio bit I do out in Edmonton, host Corey Graham asked my opinion on this business: What should be done with Rick Tocchet now that all the, ahem, cards are on the table?

Not wanting to offer a non-answer, I said, "Sure, bring him back."

For one, as Morrison points out, Tocchet's already been suspended for an awful long time for someone who pleaded guilty to two third-degree charges and received a probationary sentence.

Was what Tocchet did wrong? Absolutely. But when his lawyer claims he only placed one bet, and there's no evidence to the contrary; when the real ringmaster here, New Jersey state trooper James Harney, receives a five-year prison term; when Tocchet's already been punished 21 months with a suspension without pay — when does it measure up to the ills we actually have proof the former Coyotes coach actually committed?

I think the NHL's going to keep Tocchet out a while yet, likely until next season, but at some point it's time for all concerned to move on. Tocchet deserves the right to earn a living behind an NHL bench, and given he's got Wayne Gretzky as a continued backer, that speaks volumes to me.

The climes in professional sports right now are just right for a witch hunt, however, and even those on the fringe are being stirred into the brew. The 'G' word is making people in the business do awfully funny things these days, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see Gary Bettman follow suit.

Here's hoping fans — and the media — are discerning enough to see the world of a difference between this case and the Tim Donaghy debacle in the NBA.

The right thing here is to move on.

UPDATE Bettman rules that Tocchet can return in February, which is fine by me.
In handing down his ruling, Bettman said: "There are those who suggest that Mr. Tocchet should be prohibited from resuming active status in the league for an extremely long and additional period of time, perhaps forever. In my view, those who would make such a suggestion are not familiar with all the facts and are still focused on the original headlines."
Precisely.

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More Rbk issues

Really good post over at On Frozen Blog about the ongoing jersey-gate business.

I had a good laugh at Viktor Kozlov discovering why his skates had been filling with sweat this season. (I wonder if he thought he had picked up some sort of weird illness?)

UPDATE
"To say [Reebok] will abandon the whole thing is probably premature," one hockey industry watcher familiar with the situation said. "But I know they are looking for different material. I would imagine that it's probably very costly for Reebok. These sweaters are not inexpensive."

Hurtin' Hatcher

I play with the numbers a little bit at Globe on Hockey as to how Derian Hatcher's absence will affect the Flyers, who have been one of the league's best teams through 10 games.

There's not an awful lot of depth on the blue line there, and Hatcher's still playing big, big minutes.

Cammalleri country

Another nice interview from TSN's David Amber, this one with Kings star Mike Cammalleri:
Q: You're a pretty low-key guy, but this summer, I'm flipping channels, and there you are on "MTV Cribs." How did you get chosen for that?

A: They just called me up. They wanted to do it. So far, it has only been played in Canada. I guess they need to fill up their Canadian content. I'm Canadian, so it worked out for them.

Q: So, did you go out and rent some Bentleys so you could look like a serious roller?

A: (Laughs) No, I did it "au naturale." That's my real house. It would look the same if you came by today. I still have that one same car and that's the way it is. I'm not like Sean Avery, who borrowed Pavol Demitra's Bentley and pretended it was his.
Cammalleri was a real boon for my hockey pools last season, but he's no secret now.

Malkin mania

FROM THE STAT WIZARDS AT ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
Evgeni Malkin had two goals and one assist in the Penguins’ 4-2 win at Minnesota last night. Malkin now has 101 points in 89 NHL games. The only active players to reach the 100-point mark in fewer games than Malkin were Alex Ovechkin (77) and Sidney Crosby (80). Two other active players recorded their first 100 points in fewer than 100 games: Paul Kariya (98) and Sergei Fedorov (99).
This guy's accomplishments sometimes don't get a lot of accolades given he's playing behind/with Crosby, but at age 21, Malkin's already one of the elite scorers in the league.

Greene's injury



That's, uh... that's a tough one.

It looks like they're calling this a broken ankle, which is bad news for the Oilers.

Fantasy feelings

It's only four weeks in, but here are the standings so far in the two online hockey pools I'm running, the first being for bloggers and black aces, and the second as an open invitational (where the winners get promoted for next season):

Swedish Elite League
  1. Cousin BJ - 29-13-10, 68 pts.
  2. Mirtle - 31-17-4, 66
  3. MetroGnome - 29-16-7, 65
  4. Pension Plan Puppets - 30-18-4, 64
  5. The Forechecker - 28-19-5, 61
  6. Six Pack (Bob @ The Score) - 25-16-11, 61
  7. Matt, Battle of Alberta - 25-19-8, 58
  8. Islanders Army - 27-23-2, 56
  9. Sharkspage - 24-20-8, 56
  10. Matt Gunn - 22-22-8, 52
  11. Earl Sleek - 21-22-9, 51
  12. Ian Denomme, Globe ringer - 23-27-2, 48
  13. Chris!, Covered in Oil - 19-24-9, 47
  14. Spector - 20-26-6, 46
  15. Pete Evans, Star ringer - 20-28-4, 44
  16. HockeyAnalysis - 17-27-8, 42
  17. Scott Emmerson, Globe ringer - 16-26-10, 42
  18. Mike, Hockey Fanatic - 18-29-5, 41
  19. J.J., Canucks Hockey - 13-28-11, 37
  20. Dan Tolensky, HockeyBuzz - 15-32-5, 35
Like I said, it's early, and given how close things are, everyone's still in this. Goaltenders have been ridiculously hard to come by, and since I've got the on-the-limp Niklas Backstrom as my lone starter, I'm in for a fall.

Kamloops representative Cousin BJ is leading with Cam Ward and Johan Holmqvist, and a cast up front led by Jaromir Jagr, Mike Cammalleri and Ray Whitney.

This is such a deep pool that the top-ranked player on free agency is Anton Volchenkov, he of two assists. There's not a single active goaltender available, and I've got Jim Howard on my team. (Yikes!)


Division I
  1. Mirtle - 42-6-4, 88
  2. Drumheller Miners - 30-14-8, 68
  3. Burninators - 30-17-5, 65
  4. OntarioFlames - 29-16-7, 65
  5. Skating Dopes - 29-17-6, 64
  6. Icy Hooligans - 26-20-6, 58
  7. futureconsiderations - 26-21-5, 57
  8. blazloops - 23-21-8, 54
  9. Wheat Eaters - 20-26-6, 46
  10. The Flamingos - 17-26-9, 43
  11. Flibbons Farm Team - 19-29-4, 42
  12. Scotty Hockey - 18-29-5, 41
  13. Cambie St. Bullies - 18-31-3, 39
  14. Ken Clees - 15-31-6, 36
  15. Tezikov For.The.Win - 13-30-9, 35
  16. Phatcat HC - 13-34-5, 31
I'm afraid I don't know who everyone in this one is, but more than a few were blog readers who wanted a shot at me in a hockey pool.

Those willing to claim their teams can do so in the comments.

On the air

Just the same old weekly note that I'll be on the Team 1260's Total Sports in Edmonton at 5:45 EST later today.

Maybe it'll be a Halloween theme?

UPDATE This has been bumped until 7 p.m.

Players on Capazoo

Forward Aaron Downey, who goes by the nickname Diesel, has teamed up with www.capazoo.com, a social network and entertainment site. Downey plans to update his progress during the season and answer e-mail from fans about life in the NHL.

"I just talk about whatever," Downey said. "Sometimes I just answer replies. My brother Trevor's involved in it, too. He's back on the farm" in Shelburne, Ontario.
I'm afraid I don't know all that much about the site, which you can take a look at here.

Other players on it include Martin Biron and Keith Primeau.

Crosby's 2K generation

"I'd never complain about the attention — ever. I feel very fortunate to be doing what I love to do. Not everyone gets that chance every day. This is just part of it, and it comes down to managing my time to make sure I concentrate on my passion, which is the hockey, and have time away from hockey."
The Minnesota hockey press does a nice job in general, and they produced some great pieces over the past day or so with hockey royalty in town, for the first time, to face the Wild on Tuesday night. Crosby ended up putting on quite a show, with a goal and three assists, only the third four-point performance ever put up by a visitor at the generally stingy Xcel Energy Center.

I wasn't old enough to watch and appreciate and digest the arrival of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, to see what they meant to the game and the league even as teenagers. Who were they then, and how did they evolve into the icons they are now? Highlight packages can't exactly fill in all the details, although I've pieced together what I could.

Still, it's doubly interesting now, given how close I am to the proceedings, to watch Crosby come of age.

The demands on Crosby are incredible, something Penguins staff members get into a bit in this excellent feature from Mike Russo of the Star Tribune. He's the face of NHL 2.0, the web generation, where information travels lightning quick and there's never enough of it. My guess is his name's appeared in print, newspaper or electronic, millions of times more than Gretzky's or Lemieux's at this stage in their careers.

For one, those two were both in remote hockey outposts, Edmonton and Pittsburgh, places where the bright lights didn't much get out to. There wasn't the Centre Ice package or ESPN back then, and even as records were shattered in the mid-80s, they occurred as afterthoughts, shown more in year-end clips than as-it-happened highlights.

Just imagine how ubiquitous their feats would be now? How instant?

Anyway, enough of that. But I guess what I'm getting at speaks to something I saw at the NHL Awards, the only time I've really been able to share the same space with Crosby so far. He gave a press conference after cleaning up in the ceremonies, speaking to the press with the Hart Trophy gleaming beside him, but afterwards, in his downtime, it wasn't really all that down. There were fans with cellphones, taking his picture from a few feet away as he stood, quietly at the side of the room, waiting for the various NHL handlers to direct him where next his wild ride would go.

Then there are the stories from Halifax, where Crosby summers in house not far from his small hometown of Cole Harbour. Trips to the local watering hole with former friends and teammates, sitting silently off to the side — interrupted by fans. "Yes," he'd say to an autograph. "No," to a picture, for fear its destination was Deadspin or drunkathlete.com or — who knows?

I don't envy that because, well, I don't think it's something I could cope with nearly as well. Who could?

Crosby's 20 years old and already the face of the NHL, but he's also hockey's face online, now and in the near future, and it's going to be interesting how his life, and career, comes together in the public spotlight like this. At least he's in Pittsburgh, reasonably sheltered from it all, but as I've said, the web changes that, just a bit.

Not that I think there's any dirt there to uncover.

Jacques 'Master Yoda' Lemaire gets the last word on this night, from St. Paul:
"He's among the top players, there's no doubt," Lemaire said. "And he will be the top player. I think he is right now, in the National Hockey League.

"It's hard to compare, because you look at his size, there were players of his size [in the past]. But work like he works, they will not."
And I think that applies in more ways than one.
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Coyotes, not so ugly

Phoenix and Wayne Gretzky certainly deserve some credit.

Ten games into the season, it hasn't gotten ugly. Despite having the least experienced roster in the NHL, there haven't been any blowouts — the team's worst defeat so far was a 5-2 loss to Detroit a week ago Saturday — and they're a respectable 4-6-0.

That may not sound like much, but it's been six years since Phoenix was able to grab its fourth win in its first 10 games.

Scoring goals has been a problem, and that's not a surprise, but the goaltending's been decent and so has the defence. Phoenix is in the top 10 in shots on goal and middle of the pack in shots against. They've outshot their opposition in six games.

No one expected anything out of this team this season. (I predicted they'd struggle to hit the 20-win mark.)

No, the Desert Dogs aren't world beaters, and no, they're not going to make the playoffs, but this team of nobodies and castoffs is playing hard every night, and the few fans left in Arizona are starting to take notice.

Tuesday night, they walked into St. Louis and beat a team that had 6-3-0 record coming in.

My guess is Phoenix hangs tough with the bottom half of the Western Conference the next few months, earns Gretzky a few pats on the back even while they slide out of contention. Then, Don Maloney pulls the bottom out by trading away the club's few veterans in January and February, and the team loses out to end the year, putting them in prime draft position in what's supposed to be a pretty deep year.

And after that?

All eyes on John Tavares in 2009.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A peek at the PK

Players with the most minutes played (4-on-5) without a goal allowed:


NAME POS TM GP MPG Mins
1 Andreas Lilja D DET 12 3.05 36.6
2 Boyd Gordon C WSH 7 4.04 28.28
3 Sergei Zubov
D DAL 10 2.51 25.1
4 Antoine Vermette
LW OTT 9 2.64 23.76
5 Chris Drury
C NYR 10 2.3 23
6 Byron Ritchie
C VAN 11 2.04 22.44
7 Brett McLean C FLA 11 2.04 22.44
8 Niklas Kronwall D DET 11 1.95 21.45
9 Jiri Novotny C CBJ 10 2.13 21.3
10 David Vyborny RW CBJ 10 2.09 20.9
11 Daniel Girardi D NYR 10 2.08 20.8
12 Brian Rafalski D DET 12 1.66 19.92
13 Jeff Halpern C DAL 10 1.98 19.8
14 Patrick Sharp RW CHI 11 1.78 19.58
15 Steve Wagner D STL 9 2.07 18.63
16 Fedor Tyutin D NYR 10 1.84 18.4
17 David Legwand C NSH 10 1.66 16.6
18 Pavol Demitra RW MIN 8 2.04 16.32
19 Milan Michalek RW S.J 11 1.4 15.4
20 Ole-Kristian Tollefsen D CBJ 9 1.7 15.3
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30 games, 30 nights

This man is our hero.

He's even got a blog setup here (beautiful template, too).

NHLPA approves constitution

Among the significant changes, the new constitution eliminates the Executive Committee, which was comprised of the President and Vice-President positions, leaving the 30 Club Player Representatives to serve as equal voting members of the Executive Board. Also, the positions of Executive Director and General Counsel, which have traditionally been held by the same person, will now be divided between two individuals. Both the Executive Director and the General Counsel will be non-voting members of the Executive Board.

Another new addition to the constitution involves the Executive Board’s appointment of an Ombudsman, with that individual serving as a non-voting member of the Board. The Ombudsman will also recommend a former player to serve in the capacity of Divisional Player Representative for each division in the league for the purpose of liaising with the players in those respective divisions.
There's been some suggestion that Eric Lindros will take on the ombudsman's role, although I could see him taking up one of the player representative posts.

It'll be interesting to see how this revamped union can attend to business without players in the president and vice-president roles.

Meet Steve Wagner

"I don't see Steve Wagner going anyplace other than where he is right now, which is one of our leading defensemen," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "He moves the puck well; he's going to be on our power play, we use him killing penalties.

"He skates extremely well and his game is suited to the new style of hockey that's being played."
Given how much of a big business scouting has become, it's pretty tough to come from absolutely nowhere and make the NHL. It's even rarer to do it at age 23, playing significant minutes on the blueline of a team that looks bound for the postseason.

Wagner's an interesting case so far, a kid who looks like he was basically playing in the NCAA to get an education as an automotive engineer. Somewhere along the way, the dream of playing pro hockey for a living started to become part of the equation, and now we've got a top notch coach like Andy Murray saying some pretty nice things about the guy.

Maybe he's no Martin St. Louis, but plus-6 after nine games in your NHL debut isn't too shabby. Heading into training camp, I didn't even think there was an opening on the Blues' back end, and especially not with a guy like David Tanabe in the mix on a tryout, but now Wagner's fourth on the team in ice time, ahead of veterans Bryce Salvador and Matt Walker.

We'll see where he fits in when this team's entirely healthy.

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De-fence

First I'll note that Behind The Net has updated as of Oct. 29, and I've also passed along a lengthy list of requests for other stats to be added to the site.

We'll see how that goes.

I've looked at defensive performance almost ad nauseam on this site in the past; call it my own little fascination, if you will. The greatest thing about a resource like BtN is that we can now measure what was previously unquantifiable (other than with the extremely limited plus-minus figure), and since I've always had a soft spot for the unheralded defensive defenders, that makes me giddy.

To me, many statheads make this far more complicated than it has to be: On some basic level, defensive performance simply comes down to playing the most minutes without having a goal go in your net. Period.

The leaders and the bottom feeders, 13 per cent of the way through 2007-08.

Defencemen with best 5-on-5 goals against average (among top 100 in ice time):


NAMETEAMGPTOI/60Q.COMPGAON/60
1ROSTISLAV KLESLACBJ1015.570.080.77
2DEREK MORRISPHX916.610.231.2
3DANIEL GIRARDINYR1014.750.051.22
4KENT HUSKINSANA1313.99-0.091.32
5JAROSLAV MODRYL.A1214.61-0.051.37
6ADRIAN AUCOINCGY1115.9-0.11.37
7ANDREJ MESZAROSOTT1016.28-0.11.47
8NICKLAS LIDSTROMDET1216.030.341.56
9BRIAN RAFALSKIDET1215.790.311.58
10BRETT LEBDADET1212.58-0.11.59
11BRAYDON COBURNPHI916.4901.62
12TOBIAS ENSTROMATL1113.390.071.63
13KIMMO TIMONENPHI916.210.121.64
14F. BEAUCHEMINANA1316.210.161.71
15CHRIS PRONGERANA1315.740.111.76
16DUNCAN KEITHCHI1117.940.171.82
17ANDREW FERENCEBOS1016.35-0.071.83
18DION PHANEUFCGY1117.6801.85
19ZDENO CHARABOS1016.070.241.87
20ROMAN HAMRLIKMTL1015.7-0.051.91

By all accounts, big Rusty Klesla is having the year everyone in the Columbus organization thought he would when he was picked fourth overall in 2000. (Unfortunately many of those souls are no longer around to see it.)

That he (and a Coyotes defenceman!) lead all minute munching blueliners in goals against per 60 minutes played is pretty darn significant if you ask me.

Also noteworthy is the fact there are quite a few guys on here who play on struggling teams, namely rookie Tobias Enstrom with those poor Thrashers.

Derek Morris deserves a medal or something: He's played big minutes against brutal opposition on what is easily the worst team in the league, yet the puck's never going in when he's on the ice.

Honestly, does anyone know what's going on in Phoenix?


Defencemen with worst 5-on-5 goals against average (among top 100 in ice time):


NAMETEAMGPTOI/60Q.COMPGAON/60
1KEVIN BIEKSAVAN1113.650.094.8
2TREVOR DALEYDAL1015.070.174.78
3ALEXEI ZHITNIKATL1114.3-0.114.58
4LUBOMIR VISNOVSKYL.A1215.340.084.56
5HENRIK TALLINDERBUF1014.640.234.51
6MATT GREENEEDM1213.81-0.074.35
7BRETT CLARKCOL1115.220.24.3
8BRENT BURNSMIN1115.580.064.2
9ROB BLAKEL.A1213.270.194.14
10J-M LILESCOL1113.81-0.13.95
11KIM JOHNSSONMIN1115.240.043.94
12SCOTT HANNANCOL1117.070.223.83
13BRYAN ALLENFLA1115.720.053.82
14DAN HAMHUISNSH1015.880.043.78
15RYAN WHITNEYPIT1014.360.023.76
16FRANK KABERLECAR1113.050.033.76
17GARNET EXELBYATL1116.04-0.053.74
18RADEK MARTINEKNYI916.080.013.73
19BRENDAN WITTNYI916.2203.7
20IAN WHITETOR1213.5703.68
21KYLE MCLARENS.J1014.68-0.063.68

So much for my crowing about the year Brent Burns has had in Minnesota.

Kevin Bieksa's really been having a tough go of it in Vancouver, apparently feeling the pressures that go along with that new big deal. Last year, they were calling him Jovo Jr. out West in reference to the recently departed ex-Canuck Ed Jovanovski, but now Bieksa's looking an awful lot like the Jovo Sr. of today.

Big, young rearguards like Matt Greene and Garnet Exelby are getting relatively easy minutes and still being punished, while it's been a terrible season for Alexei Zhitnik (pair him with Enstrom maybe?).

Players like Henrik Tallinder, Scott Hannan and Kim Johnsson were all leaders in this category last season, so it's been quite a swing for them. All three get the tough assignments and have been beaten up a bit.

N.B. Before the message boards go bonkers with stuff like 'Beaksa's the worstest!' and the like, it's worth noting that these are only defenders from the Top 100 in minutes played so far. Among all 227 defencemen who have played this season, Bieksa's 4.8 GA/60 is 12th worst, with players like Ladislav Smid (8.01), Maxim Kondratiev (6.36), Anders Eriksson (6.17) and Steve McCarthy (6.01) all pulling up the real rear.

Smid is the worst among all players who have played at least 40 5-on-5 minutes, while Derek Roy (6.33) is worst among those with 100+. Buffalo's defensive numbers are way off last year's pace, and Chris Drury's doing just fine in the Big Apple so far.

Coincidence?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wash-out in T.O.

Just when you thought it might be okay to start Vesa Toskala in your fantasy pool ...

Cue the boo birds.

Forsberg to play for Sweden

Still putting this together at Globe on Hockey, but it looks like Peter Forsberg's return to hockey is going to take a detour with an appearance with Sweden at the Karjala Cup in Finland before he heads over to the NHL.

Here's the Swedish-language link.

Why's this noteworthy? Well, for one it lets us know Forsberg is in good enough shape health-wise to even attempt to play in high-level competition. It also might give us more of a timetable as to when he'll be able to play in the NHL again.

Teams interested in signing him may also be looking to scout the tournament now to see just how his off-season recovery has gone.

UPDATE I've got a few quotes from Forsberg up now.

A Devil of an opener

How dumb was it for the NHL to schedule the first game of the New Jersey Devils in their new home — the Prudential Center in Newark — on the same night, Saturday, that the Rangers, eight miles away, were at home, and the Islanders, 26 miles away, were also at home? Three teams, same huge market, all with 7 p.m. starts, all at home. Just stupid. (Full disclosure policy: I did not attend the game, but I am in a Devils season-ticket consortium.)
The game did sellout (17,600) so I'm not sure I see the problem.

Still, it's my understanding that the Newark location is going to make it much easier for Rangers and Isles puckheads to make the trek, meaning New Jersey's bound to have far more sellouts than they ever did at the Meadowlands.

UPDATE Greg Wyshynski was there and had this look at the new digs.

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