Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fleischmann traded for Scott Hannan

Excellent news out of DC, as the Capitals finally trade one of the softest players in the league for a big, bruising, defense-first defenseman, Scott Hannan. As I stated in a previous post, Fleischmann could very well find himself be trade bait. With the injury to Chris Stewart, the Avalanche were looking for a scorer to replace him, who will be able to slide back in the lineup when the team is healthy. With the Matt Hunwick trade occurring not long before this one, the Avalanche solidified their defense, and now have adequately handled the injury.

Meanwhile, Hannan is a guy with a clearly defined role, who won't be mistaken for an offensive defenseman, that the Caps will be able to rely on to play tough minutes, especially against some of the big scorers they play in the Eastern Conference. 7 of the 10 top scoring players are in the East; even though 3 of them are on the Capitals. Plus, Hannan brings 73 games of playoff experience to a team desperate for a deep run.

This trade works out for both sides - the Capitals lose about $2 million in cap space, but both players are upcoming UFAs, so there is little cause for concern. And now Tyler Sloan can be banished to the minors where he belongs. This still leaves the Capitals with 7 defensemen, though. Hopefully the Capitals recognize the value that a guy like Erskine brings to the table, and rids the team of perennial anti-Norris Tom Poti.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

50 in 50 - Can he do it?

The biggest story of the year thus far has been Steven Stamkos and his relentless quest to be the first man since Nick Lidstrom's rookie year to score 50 goals in his team's first 50 games. Stamkos trained in the off-season with guru Gary Roberts, and regained his chemistry with former Art Ross winner Marty St. Louis. Steve Yzerman took over as GM and soon thereafter hired offensive whiz Guy Boucher, who made an immediate impact - Tampa is 5th in the league in goals scored per game. Yzerman also added Simon Gagne and Brett Clark; the former has been injured, and the latter has scored 7 of his 9 points on the league's 4th best power play.

Why he will do it:
He is surrounded with talent. St. Louis, Stamkos, and Downie achieved incredible chemistry last year - immediately after the trio was put together in late January/early February, Steve Downie went on a 10 game point streak, scoring 5 goals and 8 assists during the run. During this 10 game stretch, the trio combined for 23 goals and 29 assists. Not too shabby. Especially considering Stamkos strung together an 18 game point scoring streak during this time, scoring 17 goals.

Once Lecavalier and Gagne return, the Bolts will have two legit scoring centers (both having scored 50 or more in a single season since the lockout), to go with wingers combining for 9 seasons of 30 of more goals, and 11 more seasons at 20 or more. That's a lot of experience on the wing in Tampa, and a lot of goals. What does this mean for Stamkos? A guy who is very quick with his shots should be able to, at the very least, pick up a few good rebounds in the slot, and easily snap them home.

In addition to the scoring punch up front, Stamkos will be getting help from the blue line. Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark are two defensemen known for their hard slapshots, and Mattias Ohlund, who has not produced well offensively in Tampa, is a good puck mover.

He gets the ice time. Stamkos is averaging 20:46 in ice time per game through the first 21 matches. 4:55 of that is on power play. Half of his league leading 20 goals have come with the man up. Along with the fact that Tampa has the 5th most power play opportunities in the league, is that they make the most of the chances they have. The team is scoring on 23.7% of their power play opportunities, totaling 22 goals. Stamkos gets the ice time, and is the beneficiary of the puck movement on the power play.

He has the talent. When Stamkos was drafted first overall, Tampa envisioned the kind of player he has developed into. He ignored the sophomore slump, and more than doubled his point totals from the year before, leading the league in goals as a 19 year old, taking the trophy from two time repeating champ Alexander Ovechkin. The kid is only 20 years old - he has youth and conditioning on his side to make a serious run at 50 in 50. While some players might fade as the season continues, Stamkos only seems to get better. His scoring rate could very well increase as time passes.

Why he won't do it:
He isn't a complete player. It's hard to ignore the fact that Stamkos is only offensively minded. His ice time is limited because he's not that good on the penalty kill. For a team that has referee's best friend Steve Downie, and has been shorthanded 84 times in 21 games (good for 9th most in the league), this is not a good sign. Stamkos only receives on average 48 seconds of penalty kill time per game - down from 1:20 per game last year, when the team was penalized at a marginally higher rate.

Stamkos also is not very good on faceoffs. So far this year, he has won 50.63% of his home faceoffs, by far his best mark in his career to date. He has won fewer than 50% of his faceoffs on the road and at home in each of his other two seasons, including winning only 44.07% of his road faceoffs thus far in the 10-11 season. This may not seem like a significant statistic, but for a guy whose shot is that deadly, a set play off a clean faceoff win can mean a lot. I am not sure where to find the statistics, but it would be interesting to see the goal scoring numbers from Ovechkin/Green/Semin within 5 seconds of a faceoff win. I would wager on it being significant.

He doesn't get the right ice time. Stamkos has only scored one empty net goal so far this year. St. Louis has the only other empty netter for Tampa this year. Guy Boucher has to help out Stamkos if he wants to get 50 in 50. Period. Whenever the opponents pull the goalie, he needs to throw out Stamkos. Not to take the faceoff, but to play on the inside wing to try to make a play at the goal.

He is surrounded with talent. This is a blessing and a curse. The problem with being on such a talented team is that Tampa will find themselves ahead in games often. This can actually work against Stamkos in two ways. First, they will have to tone down the offense so as not to run up the score. Otherwise, the wrong guy will take exception, and 50 in 50 will be less of a priority than learning how to count to 50. Second, the depth players will get more ice time late in games. Obviously, with less ice time, there are fewer opportunities to score.

An interesting observation: when Ovechkin scored 65 goals, he scored 16 goals in his team's final 16 games. The team also went 13-3 to clinch the division and final playoff spot on the last day of the season. Ovechkin turned on when he had to, dominating the competition, and picking up goals at critical times. He wasn't padding his stats, and he wasn't scoring goals just to win an individual trophy. He scored goals to put his team in the playoffs, and Stamkos may be finding himself in a similar position. Tampa should make the playoffs handily this year, but should be competing for the division title, and they will need every single one of Stamkos's goals to do it. He will be counted on to lead his team from the front, and he has shown that he has little problem doing so. Look for him to kick it into high gear when it counts.

The prediction:
He won't get 50 in 50, but he will be knocking on 65's door come season's end. Stamkos is durable enough to take a beating over the season, and his opportunities will come, but more people will catch on and someone will figure out a way to stop him. Part of the game today is video, something that obviously wasn't as prevalent in the 80s, so game planning against individuals has become routine. Sooner or later, someone will slow him down, and he will cool off. Stamkos is talented enough to keep the debate open, but as Stamkos begins to play tougher teams (i.e. not Atlanta, Toronto, and the Islanders), his numbers will have to go down.

He will have a brilliant season, and he may score 50 in 50, but it won't be this year. Sorry folks.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Flyers Extend Claude Giroux - 3 Yr 11.25m

Quiz Question: What's My Name Clarke?

Possibly the only Flyer who shows up every game, Claude Giroux, will not get a whiff of restricted free agency at the end of this season. In one of the BEST moves of the rather erratic Paul Holmgren's GM tenure, 'Roo will be locked in with a 3 year, 11.25 million USD contract. And, he deserves every single penny. I have no idea how he's not managing to squeeze a few more bucks out of Homer, but I don't really care. I'll take the man who Gagne referred to as having Forsberg-like vision and skill for the 3.75 million cap friendly number please. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thoughts to improve overtime

Darren Dreger is now discussing the topics that the GMs will discuss at the annual meetings, so I find it appropriate to chip in a few thoughts.

The overtime debate has been beaten to death. The fact of the matter is that the shootout is bad for the game. It is nothing more than a gimmick to get airtime on ESPN, which while it makes sense from a marketing standpoint, is contrary to the idea of growing the sport. So how do we change it?

What about eliminating the shootout altogether, and only awarding points for winning games? Two points for a regulation win, one for an overtime win, and none otherwise. I bet we'd see some offense in OT then.

I love the idea of a long line change, but at the same time, this helps the defense in the event of a power play - Gary Bettman's favorite portion of a hockey game. What about something drastic, such as only allowing the attacking team change lines during stoppages? Obviously this would only apply during in-zone faceoffs. Or something as subtle as starting overtime in the same zone that regulation ended in?

What do you think?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Do you want your team's star player to fight?

TSN.ca has an interesting article opening a discussion about whether or not it is good for fans to see their team's star player fight. This was in response to Crosby's fight with Matt Niskanen last night. Funny that Datsyuk's fight with Perry, or Malkin's fight with Nash didn't get this kind of press, but I guess that's the nature of the beast.

Some interesting stats regarding Crosby fighting. In the ten days after each of his fights, his team's record was as follows: 8-1-1 following the Ference fight, 4-5-1 following the MacLean fight, 7-3 following the Ballard fight (including 4-3 in the playoffs), 5-5 following the Zidlicky fight. That's a combined record of 24-14-2, or 50 out of a possible 80 points, for 62.5%. That equates to a season total of 102.5 points. The 40 game sample represents a higher points/season average for the team, which has averaged 93 points/season during Crosby's 5 years. Discounting his rookie season, when he did not fight, the team has averaged 101.75 points/season. Not a huge improvement, but noticeable. Even more interesting is that the Penguins went on to win the Cup in the year Crosby fought two different Panthers.

It is an easy argument to state that missing a player the magnitude of Crosby harms the team during the game, as they are without their best player for at least 5 minutes. And it is a very valid point as well. However, the fact that the leader is doing the dirty work, taking the matter into his own hands and trying to fix the team's woes seems to wake the rest of the team up. This is the key, this is what makes a leader great.

The ability to ignore shortsightedness.

Crosby stepped in to fight Ballard after Ballard crushed Malkin into the boards, sending him flipping over himself. He wasn't just mad that his linemate and friend was hit in dramatic fashion. He wanted to show to his team that everyone needs to step in to protect each other if they want to win. That he was not bigger than the team, that he too could be the guy to dive into the corners for the puck, block shots, take his lumps. The team responded very well.

Bob McKenzie seems to think it was simple frustration for Crosby, who has no fights in the third period of any game in the NHL. Pretty bad timing to take yourself out of the game if it's simply frustration, eh?

Yes, I'm sure Crosby was frustrated, but that was not the purpose of his fight. It was to send a message to his team, take a stand, and bring himself back down to the level of the Rupp's, Adams', Asham's. The role players.

We will see how the Penguins respond.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The NHL has repeatedly made moves to lessen the intensity of rivalries, probably in large part due to Todd Bertuzzi. But the fact of the matter is, rivalries in sports, particularly hockey, is strongly tied to violence. So when Danny Briere received a three game suspension for this crosscheck to the face of Nielson - after the referees already ruined what could have been an exciting affair consisting of much hated Dan Carcillo fighting Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro, among other attractions - the league made it clear that developing rivalries in ways other than forcing teams to run up the score by penalizing players for so much as looking at each other was just not in their plans. Why is three games so significant? Because the third game is against the New York Islanders.

It's easy to point out that Briere is a repeat offender, having been suspended for high sticking Brian Leetch in 2006. However, I agree with Briere's sentiment that his suspension should not by any means be longer than Hjalmarsson's. I don't like the guy, and I don't think highly of him, but Briere is not a dirty player. Gutless, sure, but dirty? I disagree. So what is the purpose of suspending him for three games? Shane Doan got 3 games under the new blindside hit rule. Or what Evgeny Artyuhkin got for slew-footing last year, or what Tuomo Ruutu got for boarding Darcy Tucker and sending him to the hospital, or what Mike Green got for a nasty elbow to Frolik's head last year, and so on. Briere doesn't even injure a guy, and per his account (and what I have come to agree with based on replays), doesn't even make contact with his stick, and gets suspended just as long. I believe Briere was trying to defend himself, as he is a gutless coward and uses his stick to do that, but I would not in a million years believe he was trying to hurt a guy with his stick like that [Ovechkin retribution excluded].

For the sake of building rivalries, let him play against the Isles (better yet, no suspension at all). Let the Islanders handle it. If they thought it was so dirty, let them deal with it. It seemed to me that the main problem the Islanders had was with Carcillo's actions - decking Nielsen from behind and then trying to fight DiPietro. Either way, Briere's suspension takes some of the heat off of the rematch. He was the source of controversy, got play on Sportscenter, and now is missing 3 games because of an incorrect perception from a man notorious for erring in situations like these.

Doesn't the league want to build anticipated matchups, especially involving teams that otherwise get little to no positive attention such as the Islanders? It makes no sense to send a boat out with no sails, which is exactly what the NHL is doing by taking away a critical part of sports matchups - ill will towards the opponent.