Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hockey Night in Hockeytown
A cup from the Joe



All the way to Michigan and back in less than 24 hours, and all I've got to show for it is a Hockeytown mug.

Last night's Red Wings-Coyotes game was actually my first trip to Joe Louis Arena, which has become a mecca for any hockey fan. Me and a pal picked up two $40 tickets at the box office right around puck drop, and sat up in row 20 of the upper bowl, not all that far from the Norris Division banners.

In years past, hopping in the car and heading to a game in Detroit without tickets in hand wasn't possible. This season, the team's ducat-selling woes have been well-publicized, however, and despite the fact a near-sellout was announced, we were accompanied by several thousand empty red seats.

Even so, the atmosphere was terrific, as I haven't seen a game in an old barn like the Joe since the days of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. Unlike the cookie cutter rinks we've seen built in the past 10 or 15 years, Joe Louis certainly has character, including an old organ belting out classic tunes and legendary public address announcer Budd Lynch kept fans abreast of the action.

The trough urinals in the men's room are a nice touch, too.

The building's concourse is an old-school setup, running along underneath the seats, and there's a distinct octopus funk throughout. I was priced out of getting a Zetterberg jersey, instead settling for the $12 mug as a memento.

The game itself was interesting more for the opposition than the Red Wings; Phoenix hustled all game long and held a distinct advantage in shots on goal by the halfway point. A brutal giveaway by Niklas Kronwall midway through the first resulted in a nice goal by big rookie Martin Hanzal and a 1-1 tie, and Ed Jovanovski scored from the point for the second period's only goal to put the Coyotes in the lead.

The Desert Dogs' young lineup even had the Red Wings on the ropes a bit in the third period, hemming Chris Chelios and partner Derek Meech (a really terrific skater) in the Detroit zone for quite a while in the third.

Ultimately, experience won out, and it was Nicklas Lidstrom leading the charge down the ice as the Red Wings potted two quick goals midway through the third period to win the game. Phoenix certainly deserved at least a point but, then again, Ilya Bryzgalov faced 39 shots and was outplayed by Chris Osgood at the other end.

Kronwall, meanwhile, is going to be out about 10 days after a shoulder injury suffered on a hit by Daniel Winnick, who had a great game for Phoenix.

It was nice to see the Coyotes up close. Phoenix's work ethic really is second to none, and Tuesday was essentially a test of youthful exuberance against veteran savvy. With Kyle Turris and a few other youngsters on the way in, and 19-year-old Peter Mueller well on his way to becoming a big-bodied 35-goal man, this should be a team on the rise the next few years.

Heck, as it stands now, they're right in the thick of the playoff hunt — and didn't have any problem skating with the best team in the league.

On the whole, a great experience — although I can certainly understand why fans in Motown might want a new downtown rink in the near future.

Forty-one games of octopus funk might be a bit much.

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Ruutu's hit on Kovalchuk

Thrashers forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who injured his knee on Wednesday night against Pittsburgh, is undergoing an MRI Thursday afternoon. But the Thrashers said it is more of a precautionary measure and that Kovalchuk likely won't miss substantial time.

"He's a lot better today," said general manager and coach Don Waddell.

Waddell ruled Kovalchuk out for the weekend, so the forward will miss Friday's game against Buffalo and Saturday's game in Washington. Assuming the MRI comes back negative, Kovalchuk will be re-evaluated at the beginning of next week by team doctors. There's no swelling in his knee and he was walking without a limp.

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Ducks at the White House

President George W. Bush will honor the 2007 Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks during a ceremony in the East Room of The White House on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 3:00 p.m., ET.

Members of the 2007 Ducks will gather at The White House for the ceremony. National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, Ducks General Manager Brian Burke and Anaheim Head Coach Randy Carlyle also will attend.

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On the air

Just the same old weekly note that I'll be on the Team 1260 with Bob Stauffer out in Edmonton at about 5:45 EST tonight.

I'll likely be talking about my trip to Joe Louis Arena as well as a few of the 'how the game has changed' items that have appeared here recently.

Red Wings 3, Coyotes 2
Hockey Night in Hockeytown

A quick apology to anyone who's emailed me in the past few days — I took a bit of an unscheduled trip to Detroit yesterday to see the Coyotes-Wings game, and have been off the map since Tuesday afternoon.

I'll likely have some sort of a recap up here later today. (Let's just say that, if you've been looking for an inexpensive trip to an NHL game and you live within driving distance of Joe Louis Arena, this is probably the year to do it.)

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How the game has changed
Part 2: Youth is Served

This is the second entry in a series of posts on how the NHL's on-ice product has evolved from before the lockout to 2007-08. Part 1 on how penalty calls have changed can be found here.

If I was pressed to pick one player who defines how the game has changed since 2003-04, it would be Patrick Kane.

After all, I can't think of a single example in the Dead Puck Era of a frail 19-year-old sniper sitting among the scoring leaders at the 50-game mark. At 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Kane is certainly undersized by any definition, but that hasn't held him back from leading the Blackhawks in scoring.

Whether its the result of the crackdown on obstruction or a sudden, inexplicable influx of new young talent, one of the defining characteristics of the league postlockout is just how youthful it is.

And especially among the scoring leaders.

Now that's a trend.

Looking through the names of the scoring leaders from 2000-01, there are all kinds of old-timers: Luc Robitaille, Adam Oates, Peter Bondra, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Mark Recchi and Mario Lemieux were all over 33 and among the top 30.

Only Daniel Alfredsson and Mats Sundin fit into that category this season.

Instead, what we've got is all sorts of youth, and 10 of the top 30 (as of last week when I put this together) are 25 or under: Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Jason Spezza, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Richards, Paul Stastny, Eric Staal and Corey Perry.

In 2000-01, there were three: Patrick Elias, Petr Sykora and Alex Tanguay (who was then the only player under 24 among the top 30 scorers).

In fact, the majority of the top scorers that season were over 30 (17); this year, 23 are under 30 years old, with Jarome Iginla, Marc Savard and Danny Briere just barely over.

Given it has only been seven years, that's quite a swing. And while you can't pin this change down to just one factor, a few come to mind right away:

(a) The new rules favour speed and creativity over power and experience. Robitaille and Oates wouldn't fare nearly as well under these conditions, but they got by just fine when passing, shooting and hockey sense were better attributes to have than skating ability.

(b) The new rules also allow younger players, who might not be as physically developed, to contribute in a big way at a younger age. Kane likely wouldn't have even contributed as a 19-year-old even three years ago in the NHL. Ditto for someone like Kris Russell in Columbus.

(c) The new CBA necessitates that teams have to get more out of their young stars. There really just isn't as much room for passengers, especially on teams that are up against the cap, and the old-timers are frequently being pushed out earlier than they were previously. Big-ticket unrestricted free agents are younger than ever now.

(d) This is one freaky golden age for young hockey stars. It could all just be one big statistical blip.

I'm not sure that there's any one answer here, but I'm inclined to point to (a) and (b) as having a quantifiable effect. Being older, bigger and more experienced was simply more beneficial before the lockout.


NHL's top 30 scorers
Season Under
30
Under 25
2000-01 13 3
2001-02 18 4
2002-03 16 5
2003-04 17 8
2005-06 19 5
2006-07 20 7
2007-08 23 10


The Art Ross winners
2001: Jaromir Jagr (age 29.1)
2002: Jarome Iginla (24.8)
2003: Peter Forsberg (29.7)
2004: Martin St. Louis (28.8)
2006: Joe Thornton (26.8)
2007: Sidney Crosby (19.7)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A word on no-trade clauses

Players can negotiate either a no-trade or a no-move clause in their contracts. However, no-trade or no-move clauses cannot take effect until the season in which the player would have been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

This is an important point because it means players such as Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Mike Richards can be traded up until that time (it’s not likely but you never know).
Simon's a certified agent with Newport Sports Management, and while infrequent, his blog items over at THN.com have had some good little tidbits in them. Simon notes there are about two dozen NHLers with no-trade or no-move clauses in their contracts.

While it's unlikely a player with a contract the size of the ones Ovechkin and Richards have will be moved, it's still interesting to note that that's an option — and it puts the ball back in the team's court at least a little bit.

Decision Day for Ovechkin, for example, won't come until he's 27 years old. After that point, he'll have "a partial no-trade clause" that will allow him to dictate which teams he can go to.

Before July 1, 2012, he can theoretically be had by anyone.
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More Balsillie-ness

The small group of non-Katz members within the Edmonton Investors Group have notified the 34 EIG members that there is no counter bid that can match or exceed the local billionaire's offer.

This news comes on the heels of Sun Media learning that members of the EIG board — clearly non-Katz members — made an attempt to contact Jim Balsillie, the Ontario billionaire with a checkered NHL past when it comes to purchasing a team.
Interesting stuff (and The Battle of Alberta has more).

It makes me wonder if every troubled ownership group from now on will turn to Balsillie — and just how that might play out if they're really committed to that sale.

We've already seen Craig Leipold accept a smaller offer for the Predators in order to keep Mr. BlackBerry out, but I can't see that scenario unfold the same way in a situation where Gary Bettman might have far less influence.

In Edmonton, Daryl Katz has boosted his offer to $200-million, and with Bettman on side, it seems only a matter of time before he takes over the Oilers.
"It looks like it's a done deal. The shareholders I've had communication with have said they've got to go ahead and sell," said a source familiar with the negotiations. "Nobody wants to be a minority investor. They're all going to take their money and run."
Which seems to be the theme of these sales lately, no?

UPDATE Balsillie also had approached the Thrashers' troubled ownership group in November, according to a story last week in La Presse [here's a rough English translation].
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How the game has changed
Part 1: Picking Penalties

This is the the first main entry in a series of posts on how the NHL's on-ice product has evolved from before the lockout to 2007-08. The intro (about the increasing number of small defencemen in the league) can be found here.
Coming out of the lockout, the NHL undertook a comprehensive product review to improve the overall entertainment package, introducing some rule changes and then strictly enforcing others that had been previously left to slide. It was naive to think the officials and players could adapt overnight — and they didn't. But slowly, the officiating pendulum, which swung from one extreme to the other, is gradually settling into a comfortable middle ground.

The players suggest they are getting more latitude to battle without seeing a return to the rodeo-style defensive tactics that characterized the prelockout NHL.
Early last week, my boss came to me with a bit of a puzzler: Eric was working on a Saturday feature for all-star weekend on how the hockey being played in the NHL was better than it had been in a long, long time and we needed some stats or graphics to complement the story.

Could I come up with any?

Now, what exactly constitutes "better hockey" is a tough thing to quantify — especially numerically. One fan's great defensive battle might be considered a dud to another, and there are plenty of people within the game who even now debate the quality of hockey being played.

But if we were going to quantify how the game had improved postlockout, I thought, we'd have to first really get a handle on how officiating had changed. The new standards, after all, are the real defining alteration the league made coming out of a lost season, a change that has affected everything from the size of the players to the skills needed to be a successful team in the NHL.

What calls have characterized the "new" NHL? How has officiating changed? And have other violations gone by the wayside after an increased attention to hooking and obstruction?

Let's just say I owe a big debt of gratitude to Gabe Desjardins from Behind The Net, who was able to cull a lot of the raw data on penalty figures when I pestered him for it last week.

Here's a look at the penalty chart that I put together for Saturday's paper (click on it for a larger view):

It's probably no surprise to any hockey fan that hooking is the call of the day, but that's a pretty dramatic way of showing it.

The season right after the lockout, 2005-06, was all about the hooking call, as penalties — and by extension power plays — went through the roof as referees whistled down any minor tug or infraction with the stick. A few other calls were certainly on the upswing as well, but hooking went from 11 per cent of all calls on average (in the five years prelockout) to an incredible 27 per cent of all calls that first season.

That didn't make for good hockey.

As you can see from the chart above, however, hooking calls have been on a steady decline — and so have other obstruction-based calls such as tripping and holding. The six penalties on the above chart are actually the most pertinent when it comes to discussion how the calls have changed, as we can see dramatic swings in all of them.

Hooking, tripping and holding went up, way up, and roughing (which was previously the most called infraction), highsticking and slashing went way down. Highsticking was actually the third-most called penalty prelockout, behind roughing and hooking, and its all the way down to eighth this season — with little more than twice the number of highsticking penalties as puck over the glass calls.

The vigilant whistling of some minor infractions has limited the major ones called.

The sharp decline in hooking calls from 2005-06 until now has also resulted in another major change: This season, for the first time, there are actually fewer penalty calls per game than in the five prelockout years:


That first minor bump there, in 2000-01, was the NHL's first crackdown on stick fouls, one that resulted in a jump in the number of slashing calls. That was the year of Mario Lemieux's comeback, and there were plenty of articles then, too, that trumpeted the brief return of free-flowing hockey.

Goal scoring took a big jump of its own in 2005-06, but that's no surprise given how often teams were on the power play. It's been underpublicized this season just how dramatic the dropoff in penalty calls has been, but the numbers certainly back it up — and that's with the increased number of fighting majors counting in the column.

Speaking of which, I also discovered that there's a bit of an inverse relationship between the number of hooking calls and the number of fighting majors in an NHL season:

My guess would be that, with fewer power plays and penalty kills, the league's various enforcers have more time on the ice to rendezvous — although I think this one's certainly open to interpretation.

The raw figures tell a similar story to the charts above. Here is a look at the top 10 penalty calls from prelockout, postlockout and this season so far:


Prelockout (99-04)

Penalties Percent Rank
Roughing 2048 14.47% 1
Hooking 1552 10.96% 2
Hi stick 1405 9.93% 3
Fighting (maj) 1393 9.84% 4
Tripping 1274 9.00% 5
Holding 1246 8.80% 6
Interference 1171 8.27% 7
Slashing 976 6.90% 8
Cross check 647 4.57% 9
Holding stick 449 3.17% 10



New NHL (05-07)

Penalties Percent Rank
Hooking 4140 26.35% 1
Holding 1765 11.23% 2
Tripping 1723 10.97% 3
Interference 1356 8.63% 4
Roughing 1302 8.29% 5
Hi stick 1044 6.64% 6
Fighting (maj) 953 6.06% 7
Slashing 659 4.19% 8
Cross check 419 2.67% 9
Puck over glass 358 2.28% 10



This season (07-08) **


Penalties Percent Rank
Hooking 2784 21.14% 1
Tripping 1482 11.25% 2
Holding 1424 10.81% 3
Fighting (maj) 1250 9.49% 4
Roughing 1242 9.43% 5
Interference 1076 8.17% 6
Slashing 816 6.20% 7
Hi stick 788 5.98% 8
Cross check 399 3.03% 9
Puck over glass 334 2.54% 10
** prorated

Please note that about 12 to 13 per cent of the calls aren't included here, a group of penalties that includes things like misconducts, diving, unsportsmanlike conduct, charging, boarding and elbowing.

What do these Top 10 figures tell us? Well, fighting's back to almost normal, for one. Crosschecking, meanwhile, is another of those stick foul calls that's well down.

In his piece, Duhatschek talks about Rick Nash's highlight reel goal from a week ago, a series of events at the end of a tie game that likely wouldn't have been possible four years ago. After all, if a referee's twice as likely to call a hooking call in a game, what chance is there a player will take to waterskiing behind an attacker?

What's interesting to contemplate is, with hooking calls falling so precipitously, just how much further can penalties decline? And at what point does the decrease in the number of power plays really begin to pull down the number of goals scored (more so than it has already, that is)?

When do the calls level off and what then does the game look like?

Part 2 is on "the young stars," and I'll do my best to have it up early on tomorrow.
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Monday, January 28, 2008

The end of the all-stars?

Though cancelling the game seems a little harsh, there are proponents of that route in the NHL headquarters.

At the very least, it would appear the skills competition is going to become a victim of the changes once the league figures out what direction it wants to take.
The building was full, and while the TV ratings weren't anything to write home about, it's my understanding there was plenty of corporate support for yesterday's game in Atlanta.

Sponsors like Verizon and XM Satellite committed big-time dollars to be part of the event and 30-second spots on television during the game were going for $10,000.

The game's not going anywhere for the simple reason that it makes the league money, and for all the complaining from the likes of, well, me, that's all the weekend is really about. As a few hours of entertainment, it certainly doesn't rate up there, but as a corporate schmooze?

They seem to have made out rather well.

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Selanne stuns everyone

Just kidding:
The Anaheim Ducks announced today that right wing Teemu Selanne has signed a one-year contract and will join the team for the remainder of the 2007-2008 season. Selanne, who was an unrestricted free agent, will practice with the team today and travel on the club's eight-game, 15-day road trip (team departs Tuesday).
It'll be interesting if he can get back into 40-goal, 90-point form by the playoffs.

I'll post the contract details here once I have them.

UPDATE The deal is a $1.5-million contract, which means Selanne will receive about $600,000 for the rest of the season (with an additional $1-million-plus in regular-season bonuses to potentially be had).

If the Ducks have a prolonged playoff run, he becomes even more of a bargain.

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The Columbus snub

Unfortunately, there are times when the city in general, and the Blue Jackets in particular, are not held in any esteem.

The NHL All-Star Weekend provided a case in point. First, goaltender Pascal Leclaire was left off the Western Conference team. Then, Rick Nash was denied the MVP award. Conspiracy? I can't say there isn't.
Until the Blue Jackets become a consistent playoff team, they will remain second-class citizens at the league's gala events. They will remain expansionist trash, even Nash, who is one of the brightest stars in the game — as he proved to anyone who bothered to watch last night.
Well.

A few quick points here:

(1) I think you can easily make a legitimate case that Leclaire is not one of the top three netminders in the Western Conference this season (although his late hot play has seen him scoot up the rankings in that regard). He faces fewer quality shots than most other starters and sits tied for sixth in the conference in wins.

He's close, but certainly not a lock (and especially not when they're trying to fill out roster spots by having a player from every team).

(2) Arace himself seems to have a good handle on how the MVP was selected, and I can't see there being a "league" bias when members of the PHWA are doing the picking. Scott Burnside of ESPN was one of the voters and said the group picked Eric Staal after he made a great play on the winning goal. Nash's team lost.

(3) Staal and Alex Ovechkin, the two non-Nash candidates for the MVP award, don't exactly play for the league's flagship franchises.

(4) Given the volume of email I received on the selections earlier this month, Columbus just might be the only market this concerned about the all-star game.

(5) This game was played in this theoretical "expansionist trash" territory the league looks down on so much.

Nash is a great player and, yes, he probably should have been the MVP. But, honestly, a conspiracy?
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Coyotes sponsor a golfer

Phoenix Coyotes President and Chief Operating Officer Douglas Moss announced today that the Coyotes have agreed to a one-year sponsorship deal with PGA Tour golfer Jeff Quinney. Swift Transportation Co., Inc. will also take part in the sponsorship agreement.

Quinney, who is in his second season on the PGA Tour and won the 2000 U.S. Amateur Championship, will wear a shirt featuring the Coyotes’ logo during Tour events in 2008. His shirt will display the Swift Transportation logo at select Tour stops throughout the season. The unique deal between Quinney, a graduate of Arizona State University, and the Coyotes is believed to be the first of its kind.
>> team release

Sunday, January 27, 2008

'Superstars like me'


Truly awful.

Maxime Talbot's quite a character.

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The colour of hockey

Bottom line: hockey needs a transcendent African-American star, a Tiger Woods, to market the game to a black audience. "If you had somebody of that caliber who was African-American, then, yeah, I think that would break the barrier," says James Jemison, a black hockey fan from Atlanta.
It is, when you think it through, part and parcel of a league that has forged ahead in bringing its foreign game into the south. If you're trying to sell hockey in Atlanta, you had better be selling it to the African-American community as well. That means celebrating the 10 or so black players who are in the NHL at any given time, and thanking the good Lord that one of them is good enough to wear a ‘C' when the All-Star Game comes to a city such as Atlanta.
Two interesting pieces, both well worth a read. Perhaps I'm naive, but I honestly hadn't expected this to be the direction the coverage of an all-star game in Atlanta would take, but then again, the NHL hasn't tried to disguise its sell-job in Georgia.

I didn't see the skills competition yesterday, but what I did catch was the NHL Network's coverage of the teams' practices yesterday, and it was hard to miss the fact Usher was the event's master of ceremonies. (Wyclef Jean, too, was scheduled to make an appearance.)

And apparently the majority of the radio promotion for this weekend was put on 790 The Zone instead of the Thrashers' flagship station.

That's all fine by me; I'd love to see all sorts of new fans take an interest in hockey. I think it's great that Snoop Dogg has become somewhat of an ambassador for the Anaheim Ducks, and hopefully more celebs follow suit.

It'd be great, too, to see more synergy between the Big Three sports — all of which have far more black representation than hockey — and the NHL.

In reference to the Time piece: As far as I'm concerned, Iginla is this sport's Tiger Woods — or at least as close as you can get in a team game. He's really an undermarketed gem for the league, a true star in every sense of the word. (And the fact that he's Canadian would seem to reflect the game's heritage anyway.)

In any event, I'm curious what others think of the NHL's appeal to a black audience.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

How the game has changed
Intro: Enstrom's rise in Atlanta

Watching Enstrom play this season, it’s almost impossible to fathom that 30 teams and hundreds of scouts could have been this wrong about a guy. Few outside the Thrashers organization and Enstrom’s immediate family had even heard of him prior to this season. And even those who knew him had no notion the little defenseman who could would come in and put together a season worthy of consideration for the Calder Trophy.
That's no exaggeration.

Patrick Kane and Nicklas Backstrom have received all of the Calder talk, 60 per cent of the way through the season, but Enstrom should be right in the mix.

For one, he leads his team and is 25th overall in the league in ice time per game, and is on pace for a 47-point season on the blue line. Defensively, he's also been strong, playing top-pairing minutes with Niclas Havelid against top competition, and Atlanta's goals against when he's on the ice is essentially the same as when he's not.

Where he excels is in driving the team's offence, as his team's goals for per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 time is 2.73 when he's playing and 1.87 when he's not. He's also been on the ice for about 80 per cent of the team's goals on the power play and plays big minutes on the penalty kill.

But the thing that really stands out with Enstrom is his size. He's listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but even a quick glance at a game or photos reveals that's just a little generous.

As the result of the rule changes prior to 2005-06, defencemen in the NHL are getting smaller in general, with the number under six feet tall (like Enstrom) rising from the few to a sizable portion of blueliners this season.


Under 6' Under 6'1
2000-01 8.25% 17.46%
2001-02 9.57% 19.47%
2002-03 8.97% 18.94%
2003-04 7.95% 19.54%
2005-06 10.24% 24.57%
2006-07 12.08% 25.17%
2007-08 13.53% 27.07%

Enstrom's playing in tonight's YoungStars game, but he really should be on the ice tomorrow, showcasing the speed and skill that have helped him star in the NHL as one of the league's new little men.


The NHL's smallest defenders:
Kris Russell, Columbus - 5 foot 10, 168 pounds
Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta - 5 foot 10, 175 pounds
Magnus Johansson, Florida - 5 foot 11, 180 pounds
Mike Weaver, Vancouver - 5 foot 9, 182 pounds
Dan Boyle, Tampa Bay - 5 foot 11, 184 pounds
Ian White, Toronto - 5 foot 10, 185 pounds
Cory Murphy, Florida - 5 foot 10, 185 pounds
John-Michael Liles, Colorado - 5 foot 10, 185 pounds
Kyle Cumiskey, Colorado - 5 foot 10, 185 pounds
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Can anyone save the all-star game?

Outside of the actual game itself, flawed as it is, all-star weekend's biggest problem is that it's completely and utterly forgettable.

My guess is only a small fraction of hockey fans can even remember where last year's game was. (Dallas.)

The score? Good luck. (12-9 for the Western Conference.)

And the only reason I remember who the MVP was was the fact THN ran a big photo of Danny Briere with his new Dodge Nitro.

There are all kinds of ideas out there at the moment for how to fix this silly thing, but whatever's eventually done, it absolutely has to be turned into a spectacle. Next to the Winter Classic, Sunday in Atlanta is must-miss TV.

So put it outdoors, fire up the tailgate party and get some sense of a party started in the host city. The Grey Cup up here in Canada may no longer be a marquee event, but it certainly knew how to take over Toronto a few months ago: Create some buzz, offer up a ton of free events and, for heaven's sake, spend some money promoting the thing.

Especially if it's hockey in Georgia.

The Winter Classic showed this league can put on a show if it really puts its mind to it and turns the game over to the hardcores, and what all-star weekend should be is a celebration for those fans. Bring in the all-time greats, have Don Cherry and Bobby Orr on hand, hold it in Minnesota or Montreal, and make attendance mandatory for those selected.

Of the last 10 all-star games, five have been in warm weather climates, a desperate attempt to invoke some interest in a few underdeveloped markets.

I don't have a problem with that — but I just can't see how what they've put together is going to do the job.

UPDATE Eric Duhatschek has a good look at all-star games from the past and what they've now become.

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An argument in favour of the writers' strike

Hip hop superstar Snoop Dogg, his children and a few friends head down to Honda Center to receive a hockey lesson from the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks on this Sunday’s episode of “Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood,” entitled “Snow in da Hood,” airing on E! at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT.

Ducks captain Chris Pronger, All-Star center Ryan Getzlaf and right wing George Parros take Snoop and his sons Spank and Rook out on the ice or what Snoop calls “the snow.” Snoop quickly learns that skating on the ice isn’t quite as easy as his roller derby days.
>> team release

So much for an all-star break

San Jose Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson announced today that the club has assigned right wing Devin Setoguchi, center Tomas Plihal, goaltender Thomas Greiss and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the Worcester Sharks, the team’s top development affiliate in the American Hockey League.
>> team release
The Sharks are far from the only team demoting its prospects over the all-star break, but the guy that really stands out here is Vlasic. He's been a regular NHLer for 130 games, never played in the minors, yet now he gets a four-day audition with Worcester.

A strange turn of events.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ovechkin takes run at scoring lead

With two more points tonight against Toronto, Alex Ovechkin is only one back of Vinny Lecavalier for the overall scoring lead — and a couple of injuries have thinned the race recently.

Sidney Crosby's out of the running, sidelined for six to eight weeks, and Henrik Zetterberg's back woes have hindered him as well. Lecavalier has just three points in his last eight games, while Ovechkin's been the league's most prolific scorer over the last month.

Also in the Art Ross hunt are Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk and Daniel Alfredsson (ed note: Alfie's now in the lead, one point up on Lecavalier, after a seven-point night against Tampa).

What's more for Washington in the trophy chase, however, is the fact that rookie Nicklas Backstrom is making a serious run in the Calder Trophy race, and coach Bruce Boudreau's 17-8-4 start as an NHL head coach may put him in the running for the Jack Adams by season's end.

With 32 games to go, the Capitals are now on pace to win the Southeast.

Washington will finish with 93 points if they can keep up this post-Hanlon pace.

UPDATE As noted above, Alfredsson's big night changed things around a bit, and Ovechkin's actually two back of the Senators captain for the overall scoring lead.

How long has it been since we've had a seven-point game?

UPDATE "From the Elias Sports Bureau: Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson set a career high and an Ottawa franchise record with seven points (three goals, four assists) in the Senators' 8-4 win at Tampa Bay. It was the most points in one game by an NHL player since Jan. 11, 2003, when Jaromir Jagr scored seven points (three goals, four assists) for the Washington Capitals in a 12-2 win over Florida, and the most points by one player in a road game since Feb. 26, 1997, when Eric Lindros had one goal and six assists for the Philadelphia Flyers at Ottawa.

"Besides Alfredsson, the only active players to have scored seven points in an NHL game are Jagr (1999 with Pittsburgh and 2003 with Washington) and Mats Sundin (1992 with Quebec)."

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Selanne's return nears: THN

GM Brian Burke will not confirm it, but a source in Anaheim told thehockeynews.com Selanne could be back skating with the team as early as next week.

Selanne, an unrestricted free agent who has not played since last season when he helped lead Anaheim to the Stanley Cup, resumed skating on his own recently.
I don't think there's any question that Selanne will be playing for the Ducks this season — it's just a matter of when.

And with the Feb. 26 deadline nearing, he'll have to make that call soon.

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Junior hockey to leave The Rock

The St. John's Fog Devils hockey team has been sold to a new Quebec-based owner, leaving a city-owned stadium without an anchor tenant.

The Fog Devils, who play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, were founded in 2005 after the Toronto Maple Leafs pulled their farm team from St. John's that year.
It's a sad thing anytime a community loses its team, but it seems to be having with some regularity in junior hockey these days.

St. John's is actually a relatively large community, especially compared to other junior hockey towns like Swift Current, but more and more, it's becoming a question of economics in the CHL.

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Bettman v. Kelly

Well, this is interesting:
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN TO INTERVIEW NHLPA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR PAUL KELLY TODAY ON XM RADIO’S “NHL HOUR”
National Hockey League Players’ Association Executive Director Paul Kelly will be a guest on today's edition of NHL Hour hosted by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman on XM Satellite Radio. NHL Hour broadcasts live Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice, (XM channel 204) and NHL.com.
Hopefully he gets into some of the hard-hitting questions.

UPDATE I didn't get to catch this show, and the podcast isn't available online yet, but I'm tuning into last week's and it's not half bad.

It's just a little odd hearing the Ramones intro into Gary Bettman opening the show. Now entering bizarro world.

The Top 30 in 30

The top 30 players in the past 30 days:


Forwards G A PTS +/- PPG PPA
1 Alexander Ovechkin 14 8 22 10 5 3
2 Ryan Getzlaf 6 15 21 12 1 7
3 Jaromir Jagr 8 11 19 3 2 5
4 Shane Doan 7 12 19 5 2 5
5 J.P. Dumont 8 10 18 5 3 4
6 Eric Staal 10 7 17 -9 7 4
7 Nikolai Zherdev 7 10 17 -4 3 4
8 Todd Bertuzzi 6 11 17 7 2 2
9 Martin St. Louis 6 11 17 2 2 3
10 Nicklas Backstrom 3 14 17 7 0 6

















Defence G A PTS +/- PPG PPA
1 Nicklas Lidstrom 2 12 14 18 1 4
2 Brian Rafalski 5 9 14 7 4 3
3 Niklas Kronwall 3 6 9 12 0 0
4 Mike Green 6 9 15 1 3 4
5 Marek Zidlicky 3 9 12 4 2 6
6 Zdeno Chara 2 9 11 5 1 4
7 Johnny Oduya 2 6 8 8 1 3
8 Andrei Markov 2 8 10 5 2 5
9 Sergei Gonchar 2 8 10 4 1 5
10 Jay Bouwmeester 5 3 8 6 1 2

















Goalies W GAA SV SV% SO
1 Ty Conklin 8 1.39 340 0.958 2
2 Martin Brodeur 8 1.79 288 0.935 1
3 Dominik Hasek 6 1.51 185 0.934 2
4 Antero Niittymaki 6 2.37 254 0.934 1
5 Jose Theodore 5 1.87 253 0.930 1
6 J-S Giguere 7 1.99 285 0.928 1
7 Pascal Leclaire 8 2.06 279 0.927 1
8 Chris Mason 5 2.05 223 0.925 2
9 Chris Osgood 5 1.99 157 0.924 2
10 Cristobal Huet 8 2.32 279 0.918 0
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