Monthly Archives: January 2010

NHL vs. KHL

The Detroit Red Wings lost Jiri Hudler, the New York Rangers said goodbye to Nikolai Zherdev, and rumors abound on Alex Ovechkin’s tug of war with the media on his loyalty to the NHL or the KHL. Olympic hockey teams have squared off, with top Russians player playing for the homeland the patriotic conflict has become a competitive nagging ache to the NHL.

According to an article in USA Today, “the reality is Russian players are disappearing from the NHL landscape. Only 23 Russians (and nine more from former Soviet republics) are playing full-time in the NHL today, compared with 87 total in 2000-01.” The Kontinental Hockey League in its sophomore year has enticed players to come back home. Such was the case with veteran Sergei Federov, who may have been seen as over- the-hill, despite the Washington Capitals desire to resign the three time Stanley Cup champ, who also was the first Russian player to reach 1,000 NHL points. Illya Bryzgalov has been in question whether he will stay in the league. In the same article he offers his view, “They are paying good money over there,” said the Phoenix Coyotes goaltender. “If you can earn as much as you can here, why wouldn’t you want be in your home country, with your friends and family watching?”

Will the Olympics bring tears to the eyes of the Russian players who may see another side to their homeland? Comradely could play an interesting role in next seasons NHL’s configurations. Bryzgalov is expected to start for Team Russia, along with Washington Capitals’ Simeon Varlamov, and San Jose Sharks’ Evgeny Nabokov. Other Russian starters include Detroit Red Wings’Pavel Datsyuk, Atlanta Thrasher’s Maxim Afinogenov, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin, Capitals’ star Alex Ovechkin and former NHL star Sergei Federov.

Atlanta Thrashers’ Illya Kovalchuk has asked for more money to stay in Atlanta, but no contract extension has been signed yet. Rumors have indicated he may flee to the KHL if offered more money. If a player receives an offer from an NHL club, his KHL club has the right to offer him more (to leave the player in KHL) regardless of salary cap. The same if a KHL club wants to entice a player from the NHL – the salary of enticed player is not counted for salary cap. Interesting note, KHL’s President Alexander Medvedev visited with Kovalchuk, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently. In an article from the Toronto Star, “Hey, we can afford to pay more than the NHL right now,” a high-ranking executive with the Russian league said. “Our economy is commodities-based so we’re not going through the same problems that you have in America.”

Many players want to play in the NHL as opposed to the KHL due to rules and standards.  One blogger, KUN, from Canada on the International Hockey Forum indicated, “If the KHL copies everything exactly like the NHL, it will be nothing but a dupe or knockoff league. It won’t appeal to the larger extent of Europe possibly, a market they need. Smaller rinks will affect Russian style regional play, if the rinks become smaller, it’s a given. Do RSL supporters want that? When the WHA competed up against the NHL they had two distinctive things that made them popular. Fighting and Blood.”

A series of KHL brawls resulted in 840 penalty minutes causing the game to be called less than four minutes in when both teams ran out of eligible players. Players left the penalty box in a single-file line to join in the scrap, including former New York Ranger Jaromir Jagr, now a member of Avangard Omsk. Dropping his gloves. Jagr was good and pissed off, specifically at Darcy Verot, who started the whole mess earlier during warm-ups by shooting a puck at one of Jagr’s teammates. The players were fined as the NHL has implemented in fervor.

Check out the chaos at: KHL Brawl

I offer you an example of other rough play in Russian leagues: Russian Brawl

The NHL’s rule on head hits have been scrutinized and revamped based on crucial injuries and unsportsmanlike conduct in Bettman’s proper game. Alexander Ovechkin has been on the suspension side of rough hits because he’s a physical player. But NHL brawls have not achieved the unruly status of the KHL brawl. Hey, but then again it’s hockey. Whether in Russia, Sweden or the States, players will play for their love of the game or money. Really it’s a matter of a player’s individual preferences. The controversy of the NHL versus the KHL is good competition in a market where another hockey league can utilize more players. The NHL needs some stiff wake up calls to compete on a global scale, where hockey is celebrated as a national sport not a marketing nightmare.

For the Love of Hockey

American’s love of hockey is growing; nowhere near the sparkling thunder of Canada’s devotion to the game.  Russia and Sweden have great fanfare over the sport, yet the NHL has placed its roots in the States.

Every hockey fan can pinpoint the moment they fell in love with the sport.  Growing up in Michigan was close to living in Canada, literally a drive over the bridge or a car ride over a border of forest.  Michigan boasts seven college hockey teams, equivalent to rival hockey state Minnesota.  Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Wayne State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State create a vortex of goons on ice that is impossible to avoid.  Not to mention minor leagues spanning from Grand Rapids to Saginaw to Calumet in the Upper Peninsula.

I always had a pair of skates.  Never remember not skating on a frozen pond, at Yost Arena or in my best friend’s backyard where her father built us a rink to practice every day after school.  I loved making figure eight tracks in the ice and the whoosh and scrape sounds my skates sang.  I was in training to be a professional ice skater because in my day, girls playing hockey wasn’t the norm.  Today, I know many women who strap on the gear for some non-contact ice time.  The big ice arena where I took lessons was in Muskegon where my dad would take us for Mohawk games.  The thrill of watching the pros move the puck on the very same ice I loop to looped was exhilarating.  I felt a kinship.

Years passed, college came and the Detroit Red Wings drafted Steve Yzerman.  To say that most girls in Michigan had a super crush on Stevie Y is an understatement.  His presence in Detroit hockey rivaled the previous generation’s love of Gordie Howe, who was a household name for most in the Great Lakes region.  Some of us may not have known all of Howe’s triumphs but we knew he stood for something great in our state and one of our greatest ambassadors for the sport and the state.   Howe still lives in Michigan.  We love him.

The Detroit Red Wings defined hockey for me beyond what I knew.  Super bad boy Darren McCarty defended the pride of the Motor City with his spunk and fists.  His scraps enlightened my view of fighting’s purpose in the game.  When some player rushed Chris Osgood or Dominic Hasek I awaited a brawl.  Defending your friends and your teammates seemed a viable reason to cause some stink.  I know obsess over penalty minutes for roughing and fighting drafting the toughest defenders for my fantasy teams.  I cheer when my guys rack up the PIMs, and devote my blog to the blue line.

So as I’m writing this in response to a recent posting of the 5 Reasons You Love Hockey, for Puck Daddy’s blog I’m reminded of another great influence of my fascination, Wayne Gretzky.  He may not have started my love affair with the sport but his dominance was eye opening.  Honestly, I never followed his career in Edmonton. I took notice when he went to the Los Angles Kings mostly because I couldn’t believe anyone would put a team near the beach.  Stats and news trickled in on my radar for the Great One yet my interest wouldn’t peak until after the Kings.  I recall a co-worker who was a St. Louis Blues fan thus the debate over our rival team’s greatness. He crashed into my office boasting of the acquisition of Gretzky.  I assured him it wouldn’t help his team.

Off to the bright lights of the big city, Wayne Gretzky landed with the New York Rangers. Comparable to the Stevie Y worship, Gretzky and NYC were irresistible.  My boss gave me tickets to a New Year’s Eve game when the Rangers came to Denver to play the young Colorado Avalanche in 1999.  My love for hockey infiltrated that job with a Boston Bruins fan and a San Jose Sharks fan all under one department.  If we had to stay late during the playoffs, we had a radio broadcasting the games.  Our boss, a Denver Broncos fan, couldn’t believe he had three voracious hockey girls in his office.

Gretzky’s retirement is held in high tribute in my home with a framed print plate from the actual New York Daily News front page announcing Gretzky’s departure.  My husband somehow acquired this for me, along with giving me his vintage Rangers jacket.  The New York Rangers are my Eastern Conference team.

I landed in Denver, Colorado before any NHL franchise planted its roots.  In 1996, I found a new hockey hero in Joe Sakic.  Walking downtown one day, the meager crowds were ambushed by numerous fire engines carrying men waving, and sitting atop one was Sakic hoisting the Stanley Cup.  Shining in the sunlight, my heart raced.  Hockey was finally in the Rocky Mountains in grand style.  I followed Sakic’s career, was an Avalanche season ticket holder in 1998 and wore my Avs gear with pride.  My Colorado hockey experience was born.

In 2002, I looked at graduate schools.  My interest fell on Cornell or the University of Denver based on their academics but a must was their hockey traditions.  DU was down the street from my house, so the choice was clear and what an amazing opportunity to see the DU Pioneers ravage the college hockey scene.  I watched NHL stars Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak play in front of my third row season ticket seats.

Sometimes, the best time out is cozying up on the sofa with a beer and a hockey game.  I watch hockey every night.  I can’t live without knowing the scores and who’s kicked it on my fantasy hockey teams.  What the players do on their ice time is their concern, as I just want to experience the joy of their triumphs. My fantasy hockey team drives what keeps me watching hockey where stats and percentages finally make sense.  Few players on my team have been notified of their status, yet it’s always fun to tell them this fact.

Five reasons why I love hockey seem too few.   Mentally and spiritually the greatest game on ice fills a place like no other. Hockey has always been a large part of my life.  I never realized how influential the sport has been to who I am and how I approach people and situations.  Tell people you’re from Detroit may invoke a mixed response of sympathy and fear, but tell them you’re a Red Wings fan be prepared to defend your turf.

Panic in Detroit?

This is the last thought that any Red Wing fan has at this time. With the Western Conference standings bouncing around, the Detroit Red Wings could climb.  Sitting in the nine spot isn’t where the Wings or anyone thought they’d be.  Amazing, yet perplexing is the continual attempt of the players to hang on to the reputation of the team.  Justin Abdelkader has that McCarty fist, Jimmy Howard has found his legs, and the stars are rising over the Detroit River, for now.

Power forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have not been on par this year.  Matter of fact, they’ve just disappointed. Both have contributed a combined 22 goals, 45 assists that should equal one average forward.   Fantasy league owners are miffed.  Formulas for improvement haven’t accrued, yet.  So how long do these two need to wait and condition to get their mojo back?   Right now, the outlook is to sneak into the playoffs and go from there.  The original first line with Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Cleary has stood up to the test just not quite getting the grades they should.

Injuries have plagued the Red Wings.  Franzen, Filppula, Holmstrom, Kronwall, and a rotating door of various key players have created buzz over the impact the AHL has and its infiltration of players that are standing out.  Justin Abdelkader has taken some limelight defending his big brother team with a decent 6 points and an impressive 31 penalty points, which adds up to a few fights along the way. Returning to the line-up is Valtteri Filppula, who was striking gold before his stint on IR.   His promise of the breakout candidate hasn’t been able to break out of the gate in the confines of 3 goals and 7 assists.

Minor league players can fly or faint.  Detroit doesn’t rush breaking in the rookies, rather growing maturity and experience. Thus is the case of Jimmy Howard.  Spending the past few seasons with the Grand Rapid Griffins, there was much hype about the Red Wing rookie.  It looked dim for Howard in the beginning, and veteran Chris Osgood performed well until the Zen knocked down Osgood’s stature.

Osgood had the same problem last year.  Last March, fans I talked to at the local bars in Detroit hid behind Osgood’s stroke of back luck and supported then goalie Ty Conklin.  Anything to win no matter who’s tending the net.  Now, over the mid-season hump, Howard has proven his ability to perform to the expectations of being a Red Wing.   Weary Howard fans sing his praise but know Osgood may be back if Howard falters.   And that’s what happened last season meandering into the playoffs; Conklin sank and Osgood swooped in to save the day.  Not performing goaltending duties since December 20th, Osgood stood in for the bombarded Howard on Long Island Tuesday.  The loss still came with a blow.

The early season prediction in the Sporting News rated the Red Wings as holding steady.  “Despite some cost-cutting, Wings still look like best in West thanks to young gun,” read the headline on the Wings page.  Young guns indeed, holding steady evolved into holding together with the glue kind of steady- sometimes it holds, other times not at all.    Just as the Avalanche forecasters said the Avs would drop, the crystal ball for Detroit is that the team will always climb.  Puck Daddy has glazed over the Wings waning season. The young guns weren’t dying out there on the ice, but keeping it respectable until the 6-0-shutout loss to the New York Islanders.  Yes, it’s an Isolated game that did not revive despite a 4-1 win over San Jose and a 2-1 victory over one bump up in the standings, Los Angeles Kings.   Stop the bleeding or get off the roller coaster.  Something’s gotta give.

In a recent article by Bruce MacLeod, a Macomb Daily Sports Writer, some hope was offered. “The Red Wings got many good signs for the future at Monday’s practice. Skating through drills were injured forward Johan Franzen and Jason Williams and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The latter said that he might be able to return from a bone bruise in his knee (Dec. 14) as early as Thursday’s home game against Carolina.”

Franzen, “the Mule” needs to save us from our imprisonment of malaise.  Ericsson will play wandering defense just to get into the thick of the game.  The bench may be too timid to play with the big boys or they’re just not jiving.  With the Olympics around the corner, the season will roll into serious contention for playoff spots that will be torn apart and broken through to the other side.  It could get vicious.  Let’s hope so for Detroit’s sake that Johan Franzen is the savior and can revive faith in what was to be.

Is there panic in Detroit?  How about praise?  Talk last season took on teams taking a dive for the highest draft pick.  No one has suggested that of any team yet.  Not only insulting to the players and the game, hockey in Motown is taken seriously and no joking about that stuff.  If the ship were already sinking perhaps draft order would be of interest.  Haven’t arrived at that dilemma yet.  Recharged, retooled, rerouting takes the course of action to instill forging ahead not abandoning the cause.  Let your Red Wings flag fly!

Taylor Hall: A Player to Watch

Memorial Cup MVP Taylor Hall is expected to go early in the 2010 draft.  Having been profiled by the legendary Don Cherry during his Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada, and awarded rookie of the year in both the OHL and CHL in 2008, all eyes are on Team Canada and Hall for the World Juniors. Hall scored a hat trick in the 3-0 shutout of Slovakia following in the footsteps of last season’s top pick, John Tavares. Both scored a hat trick during the IIHF World Junior Championship.

With the search on for the youngest and most charismatic player, hockey boys who used to play the puck on frozen streets now have made it to the big time. Hall led all OHL players with 23 goals, 54 points; Tavares had only two more points than Hall.  Taylor Hall already has the maturity to play in the league.  His style can only be witnessed in the awe of the goals he puts away that most goalies couldn’t even prevent.  If you are not familiar with his work, look up his scoring videos online. Hall finds the tiniest hole and fits the puck through, with skill not miracles.  This young Canadian brings both style and substance.

A product of Kingston, Ontario Hall’s rap sheet includes Canadian Major Junior Rookie of the year for the 2007-08 season, the Wayne Gretzky Trophy in 2008-09, and national attention centered on Hall last year as MVP of the Memorial Cup.  Hall has played the past two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires, a team who reside across the riverbanks from the Detroit Red Wings.  The area lives hockey and for the city of Windsor to bring home the MVP and the Cup was an uplifting time for a downtrodden city greatly affected by the auto industry collapse.

In an interview from the Ottawa Citizen, Taylor Hall was quoted “he patterns himself after players like Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins and Martin Havlat of the Chicago Blackhawks, because they’re fast and they’re not the biggest guys.”  Hall has shown speed and an ability to excite the fans and the media.  At the World Juniors games, Hall was cheered on as a star, the hopeful for Canada. With the crowd chanting his name, Hall was awarded MVP after winning over Slovakia.  Humble and hardworking, this future NHL star has demonstrated his talents before the masses.

Canada blasted through their opponents with dominance, and faced USA in the quarter semi-final.  It was a voracious scoring match to prove who’s the best on the border, with a 4-4 tie ending in a Canadian shootout victory.

Team Canada and Taylor Hall earned a bye round, and moved on to play Switzerland Sunday in a semi-final match-up. Hall scored a beautiful goal against the Swiss opening up the lead to 3-0 in the second period.  The third period led hall to open ice and an amazing wrap around goal adding to the win over Switzerland 6-1.

Canada met the USA for the gold medal game on Tuesday, and Hall scored one goal; however, it was not enough to beat the USA for Gold. Team USA beat Canada 6-5 in overtime.  Hall had a total of six goals in the World Junior Championships

Hall has patience and plays as a team member rather than a grandstander. With his name atop the rookie draft list for next season, he will become not just a household name in Canada but global.  The draft isn’t close, so no predictions can be made of where he may play.  Put Taylor Hall on your wish list for next year’s fantasy leagues.  I’ve forewarned you.