A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cam Ward signed for three

On Thursday afternoon, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that they came to terms on a three year deal with goaltender Cam Ward. The deal is for a total of $8M, $3.5 of which coming in the final year.

Ward's paycheck for 2007-08 will be for $2M, but as far as the salary cap is concerned, his "hit" will be for $2.67M.

In 2005-06, Ward spent most of the season as the rookie backup to Martin Gerber. He opened his season with a shootout win at home versus Pittsburgh, but was frankly unimpressive after that. Gerber struggled in games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Montréal, and Ward was phenomenal. Although the two shared goaltending duties in the playoffs, it was Ward who became the #1 guy.

En route to winning the Conn Smythe trophy, Cam Ward put up some very impressive playoff numbers. 15 wins. His 2.14 GAA (in 23 games) was second only to the god-like 1.47 posted by Ilja Bryzgalov (in 11 games). His save percentage of .920 was sixth. In front of him was Bryzgalov (.944), Cristobal Huet (.929), Dwayne Roloson (.927), Martin Brodeur (.923) and Mikka Kiprusoff (.921). His two shutouts were second only to Bryzgalov's three. He was one of only three goalies to get an assist.

During the Buffalo series for the Eastern Conference Championship, and especially during the SCF series against Edmonton, Ward was amazing. He made two jaw-dropping highlight reel saves in the final. The first was late in game one where he had to explode across the crease from post-to-post on Shawn Horcoff. The other was in game seven, with about three minutes left, he robbed Raffi Torres on a brilliant scoring chance, then flashed across the crease to shut down the Fernando Pisani rebound chance. It was the latter of those two that will probably go down as the most significant save of his career, but the former was more spectacular.

In 2006-07, the Hurricanes didn't have much success, and Ward's numbers were less than spectacular. His 30 wins, 2.93 GAA, .897 save percentage and two shutouts were not good enough to even be in the top 30 in any category.

Still, Ward is, and has to be, the franchise goaltender.

This is a smidgen more than I expected the Canes to pay Ward, and it could be an indicator that they won't be aggressive in the free agent market. By the time it gets to that, the Hurricanes might not have it in their budget to spend $2.5M for a winger.

With Glen Wesley saying he'll come back and Bret Hedican "reminding" the Canes that he had already picked up the player option, the Hurricanes will have an excess of defensemen. Perhaps one or more of them will be traded.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nucks, Pyatt close

I've been making a lot of noise over the past few days about Taylor Pyatt. I've said that the Hurricanes shouldn't worry too much about the Scott Walker situation, let him go to free agency if that's what he wants to do, and go after Taylor Pyatt. Now, it looks like Carolina won't get that chance.

From what I've read at TSN, the Canucks and Pyatt are very close to coming to an agreement. There had previously been an offer on the table for two years at $1.2M per year. Pyatt was looking for $1.5. Evidently, the two sides are getting closer, and Pyatt's agent has called the latest offer "legitimate".

Like Anson Carter before him, Pyatt had a very good year playing with the Sedinbots. He tallied 37 (23/14) points, setting new career highs in all categories. I was hoping that the Nucks would allow Pyatt to become a free agent, just like they allowed Anson Carter to last summer. However, they have other plans.

As the two sides close in on an acceptable deal, it certainly looks unlikely that Pyatt will be available July 1.

I'm sure between now and then, I will come up with several other armchair GM ideas.

As for Anson Carter, there's a bit of a pickle. He played will in his limited time with the Hurricanes, but he only scored one goal and no assists in ten games. Most of his time was spent on a revolving third line, where he didn't even have a chance to click with anyone. I like him. I think he's a good player, but I don't think the Hurricanes should bother attempting to re-sign him. Unless, of course, he takes a significant pay cut. The $2.5M that Columbus paid him was way too much. If you count him out and you count Scott Walker out, Carolina will have to be on the lookout for two right wingers. Taylor Pyatt is no longer an option. The best option we have "in the system" is Keith Aucoin, but I'm not sure that I like him as an every day player.

I'm not seeing any really good options among the scheduled UFAs. Carolina will have to trade or go the RFA route.

Anyone have any ideas?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Scott Walker crossroads

Scott Walker is scheduled to become an UFA on July 1. The Carolina Hurricanes have entered negotiations with him, and have left an offer on the table. Unfortunately, the offer (rumored to be 3 years at $2M per year) isn't quite what Walker and his agent are looking for.

For some reason, it only occurred to me about a week ago that this crossroads (Scott Avenue and Walker Avenue) exists here in Greensboro. It's a corner I've passed many times, as I used to live three blocks from there, but for some reason the thought never crossed my mind. This is the perfect opportunity to point to that corner.

According to Luke Decock, in yesterdays N&O, Jim Rutherford and Walker's agent Pat Morris have reached somewhat of an impasse. They're both talking about 3 years. Carolina is talking about $2M. Whether it's the money, or some other terms of contract, Morris is not going to talk about $2M. On Thursday, he said
Right now we've got a difference of opinion on value.
but then added:
by today's number's it's close.

Maybe we're talking about something like $400k. Maybe we're talking about a no-trade clause. Maybe we're talking about a player option after two seasons. Maybe we're talking about letting him wear an A on his sweater. Who knows. Apparently, the sides are close, but not close enough.

An interesting side bit is that Morris suggests that there's a "gentleman's agreement" wherein if Walker isn't as valuable as he thinks he is, Carolina will take him back. I'm not sure that Rutherford has that in mind. It seems like he's saying that Carolina will look elsewhere if Walker doesn't re-sign.
"We'd like to have Scott back," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. "That's really our preference. But at the same time, if he's not signed prior to July 1, we're not going to stand in line and wait for everyone to sign somewhere else. We're going to use our money to get the best player we can."

So.... What kind of player should Carolina be looking for?

It's a widely held belief that Buffalo will re-sign Chris Drury and let Danny Briere become an UFA. Carolina can't afford $6M, which is about what he'll get.

After Carolina takes care of the re-signings of Cam Ward and the ancient defenseman Glen Wesley, Carolina will probably only have around $5M to play with. Re-sign David Tanabe at around $1.3, and they've got $3.7M. The Hurricanes won't be able to get a high profile player with that kind of dough.

There's a few names being mentioned as players Carolina should covet. One that sounds good to me is Taylor Pyatt. After spending four seasons with the Sabres, Pyatt began to blossom with the Canucks this season. He tallied 37(23/14) regular season points including NINE power play goals and four game-winners. He also had six (2/4)points in the playoffs.
At 6'4" and 227 pounds, Pyatt is a behemoth of a man, and at 25 years of age, he's probably only going to get better. He could be another Erik Cole. But bigger.

Pyatt made $700K in 2006-07. He will certainly be due a raise wherever he goes. The Nucks will have to concentrate on getting Brent Sopel re-signed, then they have to get their forward lines filled. They have just seven forwards under contract for next season, including Ryan Kessler, who signed a three-year deal yesterday. I'm not sure that Vancouver will have enough money to re-sign Pyatt with a raise.

There are certainly some other players on the Hurricanes radar, but I think Pyatt would be the best fit, and a good value.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

your 2009 Hamilton Predators???

Rumors were confirmed on Thursday afternoon when Craig Leipold made public his intent to sell the Nashville Predators to Jim Balsillie.

Here is the press release from the Predators. Contained within are audio files of the entire conference.
Here is a letter from Leipold to the Predators fans. He said that he tried to run it like a business, and it is a failing business. Some of his key points, in his own words:
  • Our average regular season attendance this past season was 13,589, up from the year before, but still 2,000 below the NHL average. A low turnout, combined with a low ticket price results in a poor financial situation.
  • While individual fan support has always been strong, we’ve worked aggressively to increase our local business support since Season Four. We’ve tried a variety of approaches with minimal success. Our records show today that corporate support for the Nashville Predators makes up about 35% of our season ticket base. The average in other markets is around 60%. During our first two years, approximately 4,000 businesses owned season tickets. Today, only 1,800 businesses have season tickets.
  • The Nashville Predators tallied up 216 points in the last two seasons, fifth most in the NHL, yet because of below-average attendance, the team will still have a real cash loss of $27 million during that time. Additionally, that loss is despite receiving the most money in the league from revenue sharing. Over the last five years, the team has lost over $60 million.

Something isn't right about this.

Who told him that owning a hockey team was a money-making venture?

He says he's been trying to sell the team for years, but he could only get minor interest from local groups looking for "partial ownership". This is the first serious "full ownership" offer he's had.

The sale will be completed in July.

What isn't clear is whether the sale will be to Balsillie personally, or to his company, Research in Motion. This is perhaps a very important factor. According to James Mirtle, RIM has purchased a 25.7 acre plot of land in Cambridge, Ontario. Mirtle points to an article in the Cambridge Times a week ago. Apparently, RIM and Balsillie were all "no comment" when asked about this land purchase.

My first reaction was "Wait. Just how much land is that?". Then I did some research about other hockey rinks, how much land they sit on, etc. Of course I looked first at the RBC Center, which sits on a whopping 80 acres of land. Not many others have information available about the footprint of their arenas, but I was able to learn that the Pepsi Center in Denver occupies a 4.6 acre parcel of land. This is definitely big enough, then to house an NHL arena, parking, and lots more.

The land is in Cambridge, but if (as the speculation goes) this land is intended for arena construction, and Balsillie relocates his team there, it's highly likely that they'll use "Hamilton" as their name, or "South Ontario", or maybe just "Ontario".

Naturally, this is putting the horse WAY before the cart. This sale will have to be approved by the league. It will. Any move will have to be approved by the league and its Board of Governors. That might get a little tricky.

For now, let's just speculate.

Preds sold

As of right now, this is unofficial, but by mid-day Thursday, it will be announced that the Nashville Predators have been sold to Blackberry mogul Jim Balsillie. You probably recall that Balsillie had a deal in place to purchase the Penguins, but reneged when he discovered that the team wouldn't leave Pittsburgh. He's found a "plan B".

Despite having one of the best teams in the NHL for two years running, the Preds have drawn really poorly at home. Their average attendance this season was somewhere close to 13,000, but close to 1000 of those were promotional and other "free" tickets. Their paid attendance was said to be nearer to 12,000. There is some discrepancy about the attendance numbers: some figures show their average take to be over 15,000. No matter whose numbers you use, there is little debate that the Preds just aren't a hot ticket in Nashville.

Other teams with poor attendance figures (including Carolina) have long leases with their city, or have too much history to move. The Nashville Predators, however, have an "out" clause in their lease with the city. If the team isn't selling an average of 14,000 paid tickets per game, they can either force the city to make up the difference, or they can leave. Next season will be their tenth, and it's likely that Balsillie will use it as the "cure" season.

The smart money is that Jim Balsillie will take the mustard-clad team out of Nashvegas and send it to Winnipeg, or Quebec City, or Moose Jaw, or Sault Ste Marie, or anywhere in Canada.

Will the fans in Nashvegas respond to a "Save the Preds" campaign? Doubtful. Will they buy enough tickets to "cure" the attendance woes? Possibly, but not in a long-term kind of way. Will the city cough up the money to make up the difference? Maybe.

I still say that the start of the 08-09 season will see a new Canadian team. Hopefully, the relocation will inspire Balsillie to change the name and the colors, too. I'm sure they'll have a new sleek color scheme involving silver and black. There'll be a full QWERTY keyboard embedded somewhere on the new team's sweater.

Depending on where the new team calls home, there might be a call for radical realignment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Third round went swimmingly, on to the finals

After an embarrassing 0-4 performance in the second round of the playoffs, my predictions went 2-0 in the third round.

Cumulatively, I've gone 8-6. Not bad. Last year, picking the Canes to win, I went 9-6.

My pick for the Stanley Cup Champs is ..... Anaheim.

Make no mistake. I'm rooting for the Sens. I'm rooting for them in a big way.

Here's what my head has to say:

As I've said before, the Hockey gods are funny guys. They've got that long running joke with us that they want to continue. If the "joke" continues, it will make perfect sense for Ottawa to lose. They will become the 18th different team in a row to lose in the SCF. Anaheim has already lost, so they can't repeat or the joke ends.

In another way, the hockey gods might have another joke. A new joke. The way this new one works, is you win the Cup four years after you lose in the SCF.

Carolina lost in 2002, and won in 2006.
Anaheim lost in 2003, and has a very good shot to win in 2007.

If this turns out like this, 2008's champ will be Cal-Gary, who lost in 2004. Their opponent will be one of: Rangers, Islanders, Thrashers, Bolts, Penguins or Maple Leafs (any of whom would make it 19 straight different losers). My bet is that it will be Pittsburgh.


My heart says I should root for the Sens. And I will.

There are many reasons, but the primary one is that they need to win this for Elgin-Alexander.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Finals set

On Tuesday night, the Ducks finished off the Red Wings, and will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Senators. The Ducks are making their second visit to the Cup final in thirteen years of existence. The Senators are making their first Finals trip in fourteen years with this "new" franchise. Of Course they won the Cup in 1927, but the team folded a few years later and was dormant for more than 50 years.

The Finals will begin on Monday night in Anaheim.
The Schedule is as such:

(all start times 8 p.m., ET)

Game 1 Monday, May 28 @Anaheim
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 @Anaheim
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 @Ottawa
Game 4 Monday, June 4 @Ottawa
*Game 5 Wednesday, June 6 @ Anaheim
*Game 6 Saturday, June 9 @ Ottawa
*Game 7 Monday, June 11 @ Anaheim

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hurricanes to have their own AHL team. Plus, musical chairs

This is something that hasn't been talked about very much, and it is sort of a big deal, so here goes...

Next season, the American Hockey League will expand from 27 teams to 29. Every NHL team has at the very least, a joint affiliation with one or more AHL squads. For the last four seasons, Carolina has split an AHL team with another NHL squad. Now they will be back to having an exclusive affiliation.

For the 2003-04 season and also during the lockout, Carolina split the Lowell Lock Monsters with Calgary. This is how the Canes became familiar with, and how they ultimately courted Mike Commodore.
For the 2005-06 season, Carolina split Lowell with Colorado.
Last season, Carolina split the Albany River Rats with Colorado.

For next season, Colorado will be affiliated with the "expansion" Lake Erie Monsters. They technically aren't an expansion team because they're just the rebirth of the dormant Utah Grizzlies franchise. Now that the Avs are gone, Carolina will have Albany all to themselves. It's always been the case that the AHL team bore the Carolina logo somewhere on their sweater, and Carolina was always the "primary" interest, but now it will be all theirs. No more figuring out if the Rats players are ours or theirs.

The other "new" team will be the Rockford (Illinois) Ice Hogs. They are a rebirth of the dormant Cincinnati Mighty Ducks franchise. They will be the sole property of the Blackhawks.

Annnnnnnd..... there's a game of musical chairs.

Chicago had previously used the Norfolk Admirals as their AHL Affiliate. The Admirals will now be affiliated with the Lightning.

Tampa had previously used the Springfield (Massachusetts) Falcons as their affiliate. The Falcons will now be associated with Edmonton.

Last season, Edmonton had their hands in five different AHL teams. Two seasons ago, they forced the Edmonton Road Runners out of business, and the scrambled to share AHL affiliates for the 06 and 07 seasons.

So far as I can tell, the Panthers will still latch on to the Rochester Americans. who are primarily operated by the Sabres.

And speaking of the River Rats, the Hurricanes have signed 22-year old centerman Jakub Petruzalek to a two-year two-way contract which will pay the Czech $475K at the NHL level or $55K at the AHL level. After being acquired via trade with the Rangers last autumn, Petruzalek amassed 28 (10/18) points in 54 games with Albany. He also added four points (2/2) in five playoff games for the River Rats.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Buffalo Sabres, champions of New York

This is too funny to not be true.

The Sabres, by virtue of defeating the Islanders and Rangers in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, have earned the right to declare themselves "state champs". A line of merchandise celebrating this has been released.
The t-shirt goes for $19.99. The hat also goes for $19.99.

The Lightning were the Florida state champ this year, but they have not issued a celebratory line of clothing.

The Flames were the Alberta provincial champ, and there is no shirt to mark that occasion.

The Ducks, who now have a 3-2 series lead over the RedWings, are the best of three California teams. They aren't celebrating that.

The Blues are the best only team in Missouri, and they aren't running around declaring themselves emperors of the midwestern US.

Folks, I'm not saying that I'm not an asshole. I certainly am. I didn't make this stuff up, though. These hats and shirts are officially licensed merchandise and you can buy them from the NHL's shop.

"State Champs"
What is this? High school?

Young fan dies hours after watching Sens reach Stanley Cup Finals

This might be the saddest thing I've read in a long time.

On Saturday night, three year old Sens fan Elgin-Alexander Fraser passed away just hours after watching his beloved Senators reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Read the Ottawa Citizen story here.Fraser suffered from neuroblastoma, which is a rare form of childhood cancer.

Mike Fisher of the Senators paid regular visits to the Fraser home. Elgin had many meetings with the other players, but he had a special relationship with Fisher. The two are pictured here at a Sens practice in April. The team invited Elgin to the closed practice, where he got to meet, hang out with and get photos with his heroes.

Now, he is their hero.

Neuroblastoma effects the nervous system, and young Elgin was diagnosed when he was just nine months old. He underwent aggressive treatment, putting the cancer into remission. However, the cancer came back in January. Unfortunately, they were unable to beat it this time.

Last spring, the Hurricanes embraced little six-year old Julia Rowe in a story kind of like this one. Rowe is the next door neighbor to coach Peter Laviolette, and suffers from leukemia. She beat it once, but it came back. Coach Laviolette spearheaded a campaign to raise over $60,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the team used young Julia as a rallying point. After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, the team (in conjunction with Julia's parents) presented Rod Brind'Amour with a special "Relentless" award for being the MVP. There was a bottle of wine associated with that, which had been autographed by young Julia. It had been traveling with the team the whole time. Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, and the rest of the Sabres mistook it for champaign early in the series, and accused the Canes of hubris.

Again, she beat back the Leukemia, but the latest news is that it has appeared for a third time.

After learning of Elgin's death, Mike Fisher said
The impact he had on me was incredible. With the things he went through and how well he handled them. I was blessed to spend some time with him

I expect the Sens to rally around this story and use Elgin's memory as an inspiration. His funeral will be on Thursday.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Daniel Alfredsson wins game, guarantees Sens will lose Cup

On Saturday afternoon, the Senators eliminated the Sabres in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Sens will now wait for the Western Conference Final between the Wings and Ducks to conclude.

The city of Buffalo continues their Championship drought.

Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson scored the game winner 9:32 into the overtime period on a really nasty play. He came in the Sabres zone on a one-on-three situation, used Sabres defenseman Brian "Soupy" Campbell as a screen, and bistered one through Ryan Miller's five hole from the top of the left circle.

There was jubilation in the Canadian capital city.

For about 30 seconds.

The NHL folks quickly brought the Prince of Wales trophy out on the ice for presentation to Alfredsson. During the perfunctorily quick ceremony, Alfredsson committed the cardinal sin: He touched the Prince of Wales trophy.

Everyone knows you don't skate with, pick up, or even touch the Prince of Wales. You really don't even look at it. Ron Francis and the Carolina Hurricanes learned this the hard way in 2002. When they got their second chance in 2006, they made a point to not touch the POW. Of course, Detroit was by far the better team, but Carolina angered the hockey gods with the touching of the POW.

EDIT: -->In 2003, Asshole Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils skated with the Prince of Wales, and his team went on to win the Cup.

This Senators team looks unbeatable right now. Buffalo struggled with focus and effort in this series, but they played well today. Not well enough, though. I don't think anyone could have played well enough.

If the Red Wings advance out of the West, I will be rooting for Ottawa.
If the Ducks advance out of the West, I will be rooting for them.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Carolina's affiliates doing well in post-season

After winning the Stanley Cup last summer, the Hurricanes failed to qualify for the playoffs this season, joining an ignominious group of teams who have gone from Champs to chumps.
Down on the farm, the Albany River Rats of the AHL made the playoffs, but were eliminated in the first round. Nothing to cheer about there.
Further down the organizational ladder, things look much better.

Tonight, Carolina's ECHL squad, the Florida Everblades square off against the Dayton Bombers in game seven of the American Conference Finals of the Kelly Cup playoffs. The winner will face the Idaho Steelheads for the ECHL Championship.

Even further down, things are looking up. The Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League are in the Finals of that League. Tonight marks the beginning of a four team round robin for the MasterCard Memorial Cup. The other three teams are the Vancouver Giants, the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Lewiston MAINEiacs

I'm not sure how many of the Everblades players are even property of the Hurricanes, but netminder Craig Kowalski had a "cup of coffee" in Raleigh while Cam Ward was hurt.

The affiliation Carolina has with Plymouth is pretty loose. The team is part of the Compuware Hockey group, which is owned by Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos. Chad "Sharpie" LaRose played in Plymouth and was undrafted in the NHL. The Hurricanes, knowing the player, signed him as a free agent two summers ago. Many of the players there aren't old enough to be NHL draft eligible and may take several years to develop.

Meanwhile, in the NHL, Anaheim won game four last night to even their series with Detroit at two games apiece. Even without Chrissy Pronger.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Buffalo avoids sweep; Chris Pronger is made an example of (kind of).

On Wednesday night, the Senators had a chance to complete a sweep of hockey's best team, and they had that chance in front of their home crowd. Unlike the previous three games, Buffalo decided to show up, and they won the game 3-2.

At 8:06 of the second period, Chris Drury gave the Sabres a 3-0 lead. They had no way of knowing it at the time, but it turned out to be the game-winner.

I didn't see even one second of the game, and I didn't get to chat with any of my Buffalo friends, but I'm sure they're all happy. Just before game four, I saw one of my Buffalo peeps, and he had pretty much sent the white towel up the mast.

As fate would have it, the Sabres benefitted from a five-on-three situation, scoring their first power play goal of the series.

Will this give the Sabres life? Sure. They head back to Eerie Coutie with a chance to instill hope in their fans. Those fans, by the way, have scooped up every ticket to every game this season and of course during the playoffs. Something like 60 straight sellouts.

Do they have a chance to win the series? Probably not.

In the West, which I have had a very hard time caring about, Detroit dominated game three with a 5-0 shutout. Game four is tonight in Anaheim.
By now, we've all read about or seen the thing with Chris Pronger.
He and Rob Neidermeyer crushed Tomas Holmstrom into the boards, knocking him silly and opening a gash on his forehead. Neidermeyer was given the boot for boarding, and after reviewing the tape, Pronger was suspended one game for "a blow to the head".

As regular readers know, I support the institution of stiff penalties for blows to the head. I'm glad that the League decided to do something about it. I find it a bit odd, though, that they capriciously handed down this one game suspension. There is no provision in the rulebook, and no precedent in NHL play. Huzzah for taking a stand, but I have to say that it seems like they're changing the rules in the middle of the game.
Several times during the season, players threw very hard head-high checks, causing injury. Those players were often unpenalized, and when they were given supplementary discipline, it wasn't consistent.
Like I say, good for the League for deciding to do something about it. During the summer, I very much hope that they'll write some verbage in the rule book pertaining to blows to the head. At the very least, they should have some defined supplementary discipline. A yard stick, if you will. They should know that such behavior carries a two, three, five game mandatory suspension.
That brings me to my other gripe. If the League wants to be serious about punishing players for this type of hit, they need to be more firm in their punishment. A one game suspension during the playoffs is a big deal, but the League cannot allow that to be the precedent. It needs to be more severe.
As a guy who doesn't care about the Ducks, and a guy who actually has dislike for the Redwings, I can look at the tape with a slight bias against the Wings. However, that hit looks almost predatory in nature.

As you may remember, Canada's Shea Weber (Nashville) was suspended for three games during the IIHF World Championships for delivering a head-high check to Germany's Yannic Seidenberg. There is nothing set in stone (relating to supplementary discipline) there either, but they do have a stance against head-high hits.

Anyway, that Ducks-Wings series continues tonight in Anaheim. Detroit is up 2-1, and the Ducks will be without their best defenseman.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Senators take suffocating 3-0 lead

On Monday night, the Sabres forgot to show up to Scotiabank Place, and they find themselves in a very deep 3-0 series hole. The Senators won the game 1-0, but it wasn't that close. After the game, Brian Engblom from Versus quipped "Maybe winning this game 1-0 is the ultimate 'Screw you'"

The lone goal was on an odd carom, and it wasn't the result of a five-on-three. It didn't matter. The Sabres were lethargic at best.

On Wednesday, they will have to steal game four in order to have one more home game.

AQuietGirl from Hockey Will Tear us Apart hasn't posted yet. She's probably still wearing her formal attire. Her commentary of game two is a must-read.

Kevin from BFLOBLOG isn't impressed with his team.

Monday, May 14, 2007

back to the mail bag

I don't intend to make this a regular feature, but I feel compelled to write about this. According to my statcounter details, a reader in Hancock, Michigan queried "NHL rule 78j" to get to this site.

The rulebook is rewritten every year, and this year they did away with the alpha sub rules. Now they're numerical. They've also been renumbered.

At any rate, I think this, from the 2005-06 rulebook, is what the reader was looking for:
78j -- In the event that a goalkeeper has been pushed into the net together with the puck after making a stop, the goal will be disallowed. If applicable, appropriate penalties will be assessed.

In the event that the puck is under a player in or around the crease area (deliberately or otherwise), a goal cannot be scored by pushing this player together with the puck into the goal. If applicable, the appropriate penalties will be assessed, including a penalty shot if deemed to be covered in the crease deliberately

I think they were specifically looking for the part about the puck being under a player in the crease. There have been suggestions that this happened in game two of the Sabres-Sens series and that the Sabres should have been awarded a penalty shot. Forgive me, but I can't remember the specific players involved in the play, but the Sens player on all fours in the crease looked like he wanted to smother the puck. To the left of the goal was another Sens player who used his stick to clear the puck out of the zone. The player wanted to cover the puck, but he didn't actually do it.

This is now rule 67.4 and reads thusly:

If a player, except a goalkeeper, while play is in progress, falls on the puck, holds the puck, picks up the puck, or gathers the puck into his body or hands from the ice in the goal crease area, the play shall be stopped immediately and a penalty shot be awarded to the non-offending team. See also Rule 63 - Delaying the Game

I hope this helps.

Also, an undefined reader queried "jared staal draft eligible"
No. Jared Staal will turn 17 this summer. In order for a North American skater to become eligible for the NHL draft, he must turn 18 before September 15 and he remains eligible until he turns 20. After that, he is a free agent. Non-North American skaters are eligible for the draft even after they turn 20.
To answer the question properly, he won't become eligible until the 2008 draft.

Also, a reader in Jamestown, New York asked "has anyone ever met Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres". I'm sure that someone, somewhere has. I used to work with a guy who went to school with him at Michigan State and knew him, so there's at least one.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ducks take game 2

On Sunday night, the Ducks defeated the Red Wings 4-3 in overtime to split the Joe Louis Arena games. Now it is a best of five series and Anaheim has stolen home ice advantage. If this series goes the distance, three of the remaining five games will be in Honda Center.

Game three will be Tuesday night in Anaheim.

Ottawa takes 2-0 lead, heads home

On Saturday night, the Senators stunned the Sabres by winning again in the HSBC Arena. Maybe "stunned" isn't the right word, but either way the Sens own a commanding 2-0 lead in this series. Buffalo is no longer assured anything. If the Sens play their cards right, they can wrap up the series with two wins at Scotiabank Place.

I say "stunned" isn't the right word because perhaps the Sabres weren't. They played pretty much the same way they've played all playoff season. It was good enough to beat the Islanders and it was good enough to get by the Rangers but so far it hasn't been enough to even win a home game against the Sens.

This one was a little different, though. The home team got off to a two goal lead in the first period, but it completely lost it after that. Ottawa scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead which held up until five seconds remained in regulation. The third of those Senators goals was the result of a questionable five-on-three. This would prove to be a major point of contention, along with a disallowed Sabres goal.

Throughout the game, and mostly in the third period, the Sabres looked to be skating through porridge. Too frequently, one guy would make a dazzling move to gain the zone, only to have no teammates and four Senators to deal with.

Just like that game against the Rangers, the Sabres got a miraculous closing-seconds goal to force overtime. Before it was Chris Drury. This time it was the other Captain. This time was also different in that Buffalo couldn't parlay that momentum into a win.

In the first overtime period, the Sabres had a great chance to win it. Joe Corvo was sent off for interference, but the power play was awful. During that sequence, the Senators had two quality shorthanded chances and the Sabres had zero chances of their own. This has been the recurring theme. In the second overtime period, Corvo turned out to be the hero by blasting a blueline shot past Ryan Miller, just off a faceoff in the Sabres zone.

In the post game presser, the questions for Lindy Ruff were pretty much about the power play and how they were going to make adjustments to get it going. Instead of addressing that, he pointed out the five-on-three, which led to a goal for the Senators.

For the record, although it's true that Ottawa has had two five-on-three situations in this series, Buffalo has had more overall power plays and has failed to convert. Ottawa is 4-10 in power play situations, while Buffalo is 0-12.

Jason Spezza had three assists and was named second star of the game. He now leads all scorers with 17 (6/11) post-season points.

Ducks and Wings are underway right now.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Checking the mail bag

This is a cheap trick, but since there isn't much going on at RBH, and I need something to post, I'll check the mail bag. These are not the "greatest hits" of inquiries, but these are the most recent ones. These aren't so much letters as they are search inquiries on this blog or leading to this blog today.

Letter #1:
Dear RBH,
"eric staal danish"
Stockholm, Sweden

Dear Stockholm,
No. Eric Staal isn't a danish (small d), in the "Ich bein ein berliner" kind of way. Nor is he Danish (big D). He's Canadian. You might be thinking of Kim Staal, who is in the Predators organization. That dude's from Denmark, and he is unrelated to Eric, Mark, Jordan and Jared Staal.

Thank you and may Todd bless The Concretes.

Letters #2 & #3 ask the same question
Dear RBH,
"christie chorley"
Portland, Oregon
Herndon, Virginia

Dear Portland and Herndon,
Is this what you're looking for?
That's not Chris Pronger with her. I'm not saying that the dude in the picture didn't impregnate her. I'm just saying that he isn't Chris Pronger. I'm not saying that he did impregnate her, either. I'm just saying that the dude in the picture isn't Chris Pronger.

Letters #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 all come from the same reader:
Dear RBH,
"beautiful woman"

Raleigh, North Carolina

Dear Raleigh,
Taking these one at a time:
  1. Yes. I have one of those.
  2. Ummm. I don't have very much of that, and much of it is for the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators
  3. No. I don't have one of those. Feel free to compose an RBH Anthem if you wish.
  4. Oh yes. I love beautiful women. I even know a few.
  5. I don't have enough of that.
  6. No. I don't have one of those. See above.

Any contributions concerning 6, 7 and 8 would be graciously accepted.

These are just some of today's most interesting letters.

Keep them coming.

Canada advances

Canada has advanced to the Final of the IHWC tournament by defeating reigning World Champion Sweden 4-1. Eric Staal had a goal, his fourth. Cam Ward got the win, his fourth.
Finland, who sent the United States packing, also won their semifinal game 2-1 over Russia.

Both the Bronze Medal game and the Gold Medal game will be played Sunday.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sens lead 1-0, Wings/Ducks start tonight.

On Thursday night, the Senators took a 1-0 series lead over the Sabres with a 5-2 victory in Buffalo. They have, in effect, stolen the "home ice" advantage by winning game one on the road. If Buffalo should win game two (and I think they will), Ottawa will have three of the remaining five games in their building.

Due to a long-standing Thursday ritual, I didn't watch the game. This ritual has only been broken a few times. Namely, when the Hurricanes were in the playoffs last season and an occasional home game in the regular season this year.

From my conversations with my Sabres friends, I've gathered that the home team didn't play very well. Their special teams, which have been under criticism all playoff season, stunk. Apparently, their effort was lacking or completely absent in the closing stanza.

For a more qualified opinion on the matter, I highly recommend BFLOBLOG, as I always do. Mark has his detailed analysis here, and the always on-point Kevin has a very terse review here.

For Sens opinion, I suggest Hockey Will Tear Us Apart. As of the moment, "AQuietGirl" hasn't posted a game review, but she had some excellent series preview stuff.

Finally, here's the play of the game, Mike Fisher's shorthanded breakaway goal in the first period:

Wings and Ducks start tonight. I'll predict the Ducks in game one.

Also, the United States lost to Finland and was eliminated from IHWC play on Thursday. Meanwhile, Canada soldiers on.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Third round predictions

I have one foot out the door for work, so I have to make this quick. No shiny graphics, no elaborate analysis. I need to get my third round picks in, and if I get around to it, I'll detail them before Thursday's action begins.

After going a respectable 6-2 in the first round, I was a dreadful 0-4 in the second. I'm still at the break-even point, which isn't that bad.

Ottawa over Buffalo in seven games.
I think Buffalo's stagnant power play is going to become a problem. There's the potential for the bad blood between the teams to boil, but since it's the ECF, I think the players will cool it. Jason Spezza will be the star for the Sens, and Chris Drury will be Buffalo's best player.

The hockey gods' little joke has something to do with this pick. I really think, though, that the Sens will be too much for the very talented Sabres to handle.

Anaheim over Detroit in six. Teemu Selanne deserves this. Chris Pronger does not, but it's acceptable. My heart refuses to let my head say anything good about the Wings. The ducks are en fuego, anyway. They're too good.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An early glimpse into Carolina's summer. (part I)

The off-season proper hasn't quite begun yet, but the Carolina Hurricanes are going to have some work to do. There's no time like the present to ponder their needs.

Ask any Canes fan to point their finger to the one most important personnel loss between the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion team and the 2007 team that missed the playoffs. They'll point to Matt Cullen. They'll also point to the loss of defenseman Aaron Ward, and to the fact that the blue line was decimated with injury all season long, that the Canes had a fully healthy squad for only 18 minutes this season.

Carolina filled the Matt Cullen vacancy with Scott Walker. Walker scored 51 points (21/30) in 2007, which is actually a hair better than Cullen's 49 (25/24) in 2006. We certainly like him here, but it wasn't the same. There was something else that Cully brought to the table. He brought a lot of that "intangible" stuff. That je ne sais quoi. This summer, Carolina will have to re-sign Scott Walker, and they'll have some other work to do. They'll also have to find some more of that je ne sais quoi stuff. Justin Viva Williams has it. Erik Cole has it. Cory Stillman might have it. Ray Whitney has it in spades. I don't think Eric Staal has it. I'm pretty sure the Captain doesn't have it. Trevor Letowski sure as hell doesn't have it.

On the blueline, Carolina will most likely be waving goodbye to Glen Wesley, and injury will probably force Bret Hedican to retire. Although N&O writer Luke Decock seems to think the Canes have enough defensemen in the cupboard, we think differently here at RBH.
Here's a look at the defensemen who are under contract for next season:
    Frantisek Kaberle (through 2010) $2.2M
    Nic Wallin (through 2010) $1.75M
    Mike Commodore (through 2008) $1.3M
    Tim Gleason (through 2008) $1.175M
    Dennis Seidenberg (through 2008) $850k
    Andrew Hutchinson (thorough 2008) $500k

Hedican is also under contract with a player option for $2.4M next season, but there are serious doubts about his hip.
"Even without Hedican, the Canes are loaded on the blue line." -- Luke Decock, News & Observer
If he doesn't come back (and he shouldn't), that leaves the Canes with exactly six defenseman. That isn't exactly "loaded", as Decock puts it.

Canes GM Jim Rutherford, quoted in that same article:
"If he plays, he's a good player for us, but if there's a question about whether he can play in most of the games, we'd probably want to bring someone else in."

This summer, Hedican will be seeing the same doctors who put SuperMario back together again. However, that statement from Rutherford sounds like a vote of no-confidence if I ever heard one.

Carolina will have to spend some dough to keep Scott Walker around. They will have to pay Cam Ward, who is scheduled to become an RFA. They will need to spend some money to acquire a goal scoring forward. They will have some money left over, and they will need to focus on a shut-down defenseman. Sure, the fans want to see a flashier move, like an Andrei Markov. His price tag will likely be around $2.2M, and the Canes could afford it, but I'm just not sure that another "offensive" defenseman is what the Canes need.
David Tanabe showed tremendous improvement over the course of this past season, and will be an UFA in July. If the Canes can bring him back cheap, I think they should. I don't think that'll be much of an issue. Even with Tanabe, that's only seven defenseman. They'll need to sign an every-night defenseman and probably one more reserve-type. I certainly wouldn't sneeze at an Andrei Markov, but I just don't think it's the right direction.

Later, I'll glance at the needs in the forward lines, and I'll have a better assessment of the defensive needs and the available FAs.

Conference Finals set

On Monday night, Detroit finished off the Sharks, which finalizes the Conference Finals. In the West, Detroit will host Anaheim starting on Friday. In the East, Buffalo will host Ottawa starting on Thursday.

The hockey gods are funny guys, and because of their running joke, both the Sabres and the Senators were rooting for the Sharks to come back against the Wings. That didn't happen, and Ottawa is destined to be the next victim of this "joke".

To explain:

Since 1989, there have been 17 different losing teams in the Stanley Cup Final. No team has lost twice in that span. Of the four remaining teams, Ottawa is the only one not on that list. Detroit lost in the 1995 Finals against New Jersey. Anaheim lost in the 2003 Finals against New Jersey. Buffalo lost in the 1999 finals to Dallas. This incarnation of the Senators has never been to the Final. The original Senators won the Cup in 1927, and folded seven years later.

So, it looks like Ottawa will win the East and lose in the Final.

The complete list of those 17 different losers with winning team in parentheses:
    1989 Montéal Canadiens (Calgary Flames)
    1990 Boston Bruins (Edmonton Oilers)
    1991 Minnesota North Stars (Pittsburgh Penguins)
    1992 Chicago Blackhawks (Pittsburgh Penguins)
    1993 Los Angeles Kings (Montréal Canadiens)
    1994 Vancouver Canucks (New York Rangers)
    1995 Detroit Red Wings (New Jersey Devils)
    1996 Florida Panthers (Colorado Avalanche)
    1997 Philadelphia Flyers (Detroit Red Wings)
    1998 Washington Capitals (Detroit Red Wings)
    1999 Buffalo Sabres (Dallas Stars)
    2000 Dallas Stars* (New Jersey Devils)
    2001 New Jersey Devils (Colorado Avalanche)
    2002 Carolina Hurricanes (Detroit Red Wings)
    2003 Anaheim Ducks (New Jersey Devils)
    2004 Calgary Flames (Tampa Bay Lightning)
    2005 -- No Cup
    2006 Edmonton Oilers (Carolina Hurricanes)

* Although the Dallas Stars are technically the same franchise as the Minnesota North Stars, they are indeed different. In the late '70s the North Stars merged with the Cleveland Barons(nee California Golden Seals), and at some point in the early 90's the team tried to move to San Fransisco. This didn't work, the Gunds sold the NorthStars, and the San Jose Sharks were granted to the previous owners of the NorthStars. The team eventually moved to Dallas and is under different ownership. The North Stars have more of a "real" connection with the San Jose Sharks than they do with the Dallas Stars.

So anyway, the Sabres won't be making it to the Final this year. In order for the joke to continue, Ottawa has to go, and they have to lose.

Don't blame me. Blame the Hockey gods.

Canada beats USA 6-3

On Monday, Canada beat the United States 6-3 in IHWC action. This means that Canada gets the #1 seed out of group F and USA gets the #2 seed.

Finally, we are in the elimination round. Canada will play Switzerland and USA will play Finland.

No Hurricanes players scored in the Canada-US game, but Eric Staal had two assists, and Chad LaRose had a breakaway attempt foiled by Cam Ward.

John Grahame gave up four goals in the first period and was lifted after two.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Staal nets two, Canada wins in OT

On Sunday at the IIHF World Championships, Canada got past Czech 4-3 in overtime. On Monday, they will face USA for the #1 seed in group F.

Eric Staal scored two goals on Sunday, including the game winner in overtime.

Canada has four regulation wins, one overtime win, and no losses. This gives them 14 standings points. They have 24 goals for and 15 goals against for a differential of +9. The United States has four regulation wins and one regulation loss for a total of 12 standings points. They have 18 goals for and only 7 goals against for a differential of +11.

Dwayne Roloson was in nets for Canada today, and if they stay with the rotating system, Cam Ward will get the nod tomorrow. This will create the unusual scenario of two teammates starting against each other in goal. There will be a total of eight Hurricanes in that game. USA features forwards Erik Cole and Chad "Sharpie" LaRose, defenseman Andrew Hutchinson and netminder John "Crackers" Grahame. Canada features forwards Eric Staal and Justin "Viva" Williams, defenseman Mike Commodore and goaltender Cam Ward. All eight should be in action tomorrow.

If the United States wins that game in regulation, they will earn the #1 seed and a date with the Swiss. Win in overtime or lose at all, and they get the #2 seed and a date with Finland.

Oh yeah. In Stanley Cup playoffs action, the Senators advanced last night and the Sabres are about 15 minutes away from finishing off the Rangers. My second round predictions have gone horribly wrong.

Still no word from the Hurricanes camp on Scott Walker.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

USA shuts out Germany

On Saturday, the United States beat Germany 3-0 in IHWC play. USA now is guaranteed a slot in the medal round and will play its last qualifying game against Canada on Monday.

Canada will have a very tough qualifier against Czech on Sunday and will have no rest, as they face the Americans less than 24 hours later. USA has a record of 4-1 with a goal differential of +11. Canada is 4-0 with a goal differential of +8. If Canada should beat Czech and lose to the Americans, the goal differential will come into play in determining the #1 seed. If Canada loses to Czech, then only the outcome of Canada-USA will be important in determining seeding.

John Grahame picked up the shutout for his fourth win. Erik Cole had three assists.

Yesterday, Cam Ward got his second win when Canada defeated Belarus 6-3.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ducks advance

Last night, in double overtime, the Ducks defeated the Canucks, 2-1. They have taken the series 4-1 and will advance to the Western Conference Final. Hopefully against San Jose.

Condolences to Alanah and J.J..

I'd been growing my beard again. Partly out of a desire to support the Canucks, and partly as an attempt to be in good favor with a young lady who prefers the beard to the clean shave. I was about to cross the line from "sexy bearded man to goddamned hippy" (thanks, Sacamano). I was beginning to look, as I quipped last May, like an "out of work lumberjack". Today, I trimmed it way back. I still have some facial hair, which pleases the young lady, and I don't feel like a miscreant.

So the Ducks are on to the round of four. Congrats go out to Finny.

Tonight, there's a huge matchup in Buffalo. The winner tonight will have two chances to finish off their opponent.

If Buffalo wants to win, they'll have to get their power play working.
If the Rangers want to win, they'll have to keep doing what they're doing, but find a way to score more than two goals.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

USA beats Slovakia 4-2; Germany stuns Czech

On Thursday, we had the first significant upset of the IHWC Tournament. Germany, who is ranked 12th in the world, shocked everyone by shutting out the 2nd rankeed Czech Republic 2-0. Germany had just played on Wednesday, needing a win over Norway just to advance to the qualifying round.
Closer to home, team USA defeated Slovakia 4-2. The convincing win is considered to be a "mild upset". Once again, John "Crackers" Grahame was in the pipes for USA and earned the win.

Andrew "Hot Dog with Cheese" Hutchinson scored for the Americans for the second game in a row. With two goals in the tournament, he is equaling the goal output of Pavol Demitra, Maid Marian Hossa and Miro Satan COMBINED. What gives?

The loss by the Czechs probably won't keep them out of the medal round, but it won't be smooth sailing to get there. Ditto for the Slovakians.

In other play on Thursday, Sweden crushed Denmark 5-2 and Finland shut out Switzerland 2-0.

Tomorrow, the big only games are Canada against Belarus and Russia versus Italy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

the game 4 "no goal" situation

On Tuesday night, the Rangers beat the Sabres 2-1, and the series is tied at two. Play will resume in that series on Friday night in The Nickel City.

The big talk is, of course, about the "no goal" at the end of regulation. I didn't watch the game because I was having dinner with some friends, but I have seen the replay, and I've talked to some Sabres fans. Henrik Lundqvist made what was ruled to be a save against Danny Briere in the dying seconds. The on-ice call was "no goal". At the next whistle, the play underwent a lengthy review, after which the call was allowed to stand. Just like in the NFL, the rule with overturning an on-ice call is that the video has to show conclusive evidence. It did not. There was no video where the entire puck can be seen fully over the line. We know that it was under Lundqvist, and most everybody assumes that it was across the line while it was under him, but there just wasn't any shot of white space between the puck and the goal line.

Had the officials ruled it a goal, the game would have most likely gone to overtime, and there's no way of knowing what would have happened.

Buffalo fans are rightfully upset, and naturally draw parallels to "that game" in 1999.

Before 9 am this morning, I had two different conversations with friends of mine who are Sabres fans. At that point, I knew nothing of the controversy. They were both upset, but they were also levelheaded about it. Jean rightfully pointed out that it wouldn't have won the game. It would have simply tied the game. While it may have cost the Sabres a goal and a chance to win the game, it didn't cost them the game. Jeff was quick to point out that the refs also screwed up in the Sabres favor during game three when they overruled a Rangers goal by calling it a kick. In his opinion, the Sabres don't have the right to play that "the refs jobbed us" card because of that game 3 thing. I didn't talk to my other two Sabres-fan friends. Sadly, I haven't spoken to Amanda in months, so I don't know her take.

Kevin BFLOBLOG has a very sober take on the issue. Matt Sabre Rattling also has a similar view.

Just for funsies, JP from Japer's Rink has some neat analysis.

Across the board, they're all saying basically the same thing. The refs probably made a bad call, but with the video replays they had available, there was no way to overturn it. They're also all saying the same thing, which is that the Sabres have been outplayed for most of this series and
"goal or no goal, the Sabres got beat"

The only game in this series that I've watched all of was game 3. In that game, the Rangers definitely worked harder. All the commentary I've heard from Sabres fans is consistent, and it is that the Sabres aren't working hard enough in this series. Against the Islanders, they were good enough to win on talent alone, but were lacklustre. They can no longer afford to be lacklustre.

The biggest thing that I see is in the power play. Buffalo is just 3-25 on the power play in this series while the Rangers are 5/19. These are proving to be low scoring, tightly contested games, and a power play goal could easily be the difference in the series.

Buffalo is still the better team, and they still have the home ice advantage if they need it, but if they can't right the ship, none of that will matter.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Canada squeaks past Norway

On Monday, Canada played another game that was much closer than it should have been, but they still emerged with three standings points by outlasting Norway 4-2. They are guaranteed a trip to the elimination round, and they are also guaranteed a high seed.

Like the Germans before them, the Norwegians have no NHL players on their roster, and they are a country that does not have a rich history in IIHF play. Last year, they finished 11th at the IIHF World Championships. Their best finish ever was 10th place in 2000 tournament. They've also spent five of the last ten years playing in "Division I" with the likes of hockey powerhouses such as United Kingdom, France, and China.

Canada, who was considered to be a favorite in this tournament, is not looking so good. They struggled against Germany. They struggled against Norway. Neither is a test for them. On Wednesday, they'll face a "real" opponent in Slovakia. Slovakia won the tournament in 2002, and has not finished lower than 9th in the past 10 years. It has never been demoted to "Division I" with Japan and Norway and South Africa.

Which Canada will show up on Wednesday? The one who struggles to get past vastly inferior opponents, or the one who is a prohibitive favorite? What will happen to them when they have to play much stronger opponents in elimination play?
Are they sandbagging?

Anyway, Justin "Viva" Williams had a goal, and Cam Ward was in nets for the win.

Team USA meets Czech Republic for a huge game on Tuesday.

In NHL play, the Sens have taken a 2-1 series lead over the Devils and the Sharks have taken the same lead over Detroit


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