Monthly Archives: July 2011

Turnpike Turnaround for the New Jersey Devils

It’s tricky. Working the numbers, place the bet and watch your pick head into the turn toward the finish line. That’s the race Lou Lamoriello ran with Ilya Kovalchuk. Just over the one-year anniversary of the controversial signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, the rejection of the deal by the NHL and the fines slapped on the hand and wallet of Devils GM/Preident Lou Lamoriello didn’t discourage in his efforts. Lou is hard at work this summer placing bets for the 2011-12 season. The race in the Atlantic Division will be a tough ride with Jagr in Philly, Richards in NYC and the Pens if Crosby return.

Devils fans can breathe a sign of relief at the signing of high-scoring left wing Zach Parise to a one-year-contract worth $6 million. Avoiding arbitration, the Devils secured their franchise player making room under the salary cap by shipping off Brian Rolston. Parise is the race horse the Devils GM had to sign.

Brian Rolston waived his no-trade clause to go to the Islanders, and in turn, the Devils pick up Trent Hunter. The forward spent nine seasons with the Islanders, compiling 99 goals and 229 points in 459 NHL games, but played just 17 games last season, scoring one goal, because of a torn knee ligament. The advantage in all of this is Hunter is a competitive third/fourth liner who is a two-way player, smart defensively and an option on the penalty-kill unit. Hunter is seen as a good fit for the Devils for his “smart, not flashy” style, but has bee plagued with injuries.

Coaching took a turn when Jacques Lamiere voiced he would not return for another season bail out, so the Devils went and grabbed former Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, who was fired in April for failing to take the cats into the postseason. But Lou saw something in the 43-year old coach. The two have been chatting for the past few months. Lamoriello determined DeBoer to be “one of the best young coaches in the business, and his three seasons with the Panthers only made him a better coach.”

Can devildom reach its full potential or suffer in purgatory for the year? Hockey pundits have given New Jersey an average rating with a low playoff seed in the Atlantic Division. Top-rated teams in that division will be tough to race against, notably the New York Rangers who have made some splash this offseason. The Devils are building and the New Jersey fans will continue to believe in Lou because he has their best hockey interests at heart according to his PR staff, a.k.a Lou Lamoriello.

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Netminder or Nevermind in Hockeytown

It’s the end of July and hockey topics are thin at best. Numbers crunch, save percentages waged and other pertinent stats hit the street to make light of some hockey news, any hockey news at all. Thus we come to the new debate formulated by those stat geeks who can’t stop picking at the numbers. I like the stat geeks. I enjoy their mathematical brain and revel in their statistical evaluation of key players and future Hall of Famers. Apparently, Detroit’s Chris Osgood is the most recent target of the fame or lame game.

Chris Osgood has expressed his interest in hanging out at Tigers games, and he will get his wish retiring from the NHL this month. Osgood played only 11 games last season for Detroit being sidelined after undergoing sports hernia surgery in January. Osgood has 401 wins in his career which is the 10th best in the league ever. Osgood’s netminding spanned 14 seasons, and he earned three Stanley Cups. Not bad. The issue is his clutch, particularly in the crucial Game 7s where Osgood’s record is 2-4 in six games, and his save percentage just .901. “Ozzie” is being passed off as an average goaltender hiding behind one of the best teams in the league. So. Most Hockeytown nuts are aware of that. He’s being considered because it is not an easy job to mind the pipes for the Wings. They win, so does the goaltender.

A few articles have expressed dismay at the Ozzie hype and his Hall of Fame candidacy. When Ozzie was in net, the Wings delivered a .629 win percentage and an improved .640 when he was not in goal. It doesn’t matter. Osgood stood in goal and backed the Wings through playoffs and Stanley Cup victories. He’s worthy of being looked at because he was the goaltender for one of the best teams in the league. This is a consideration and there has been no guarantee made for Osgood to make the Hall of Fame.

Netminder needs keep Joey MacDonald at Joe Louis Arena in the No. 3 spot. Not so spectacular, but it will have to do. The likelihood of McDonald seeing ice time will be minimal. The Red Wings turn out phenomenal talent, but are the goaltenders hiding behind the team? Could the weakest link of the Wings be behind the mask?

Detroit signed Howard to a two-year deal in February and will stay put for now. At least the deal was limited and not an extensive contract like that of Roberto Luongo’s 12-year, $64 million deal. Jimmy Howard has become legend in fantasy hockey leagues, yet many Wings fans are ambivalent on his work ethic and his abilities in general.

Ty Conklin signed a 1-year deal as backup for Howard. Conklin is no stranger to the Wings playing in 2008-09, going 25-11-2 with a 2.51 GAA. Conklin had 37 starts and 40 games with Detroit three seasons ago, which were both career highs. He has only appeared in two career playoff games, neither as a starter.

Goaltending hasn’t been a huge priority for the Red Wings because the emphasis has always been the blueline and production line. Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen will again step into the powerhouse roles, and Jimmy Howard will dazzle or dwindle.

Detroit Digs Deep for D

Since Lidstrom is holding off on retirement for another season, the Wings fittingly shopped for defensemen. Notable defenseman Ian White signed on a two-year, $5.75 million contract. White has 36 goals and 143 points in 401 NHL games with San Jose, Carolina, Calgary and Toronto. White is a strong blueliner who will add depth to the Wings.

Jonathan Ericsson nabbed a big deal in the NHL buyer’s market with a 3-year contract at almost $10 million. Ericsson made $900,000 last season playing 74 games and contributing 15 points (three goals, 12 assists). He can pack a punch, but can he place more in net?

The Red Wings also acquired defenseman Mike Commodore to a 1 year, $1 million contract. Currently, there is a campaign to encourage Commodore to wear jersey #64 honoring the vintage circa 1980s anchor of a computer. Good PR for the Red Wings, so go for it!

Garnet Exelby has signed a one-year contract lending a helping hand. With over 600 games worth of professional hockey experience, Exelby’s previous stints for the Atlanta Thrashers and Toronto Maple Leafs will prove beneficial for the fans. I recall some serious penalty minutes from this guy as an enforcer.

Patrick Eaves and Drew Milller will be back next season. Eaves extends his Detroit time with a 3-year, $3.6 million gig. Miller signed on for 2-years, $1.65 million.

Logan Pyett, also gained a one-year deal with the Wings. Pyett has spent the past three seasons with Detroit’s AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins where he has tallied 21G-45A-66P-91PIM in 215 games.

The #35 pick for the Wings in the NHL Entry Draft, Tomas Jurco, has been compared to Pavel Datsyuk for his slick moves and stick-handling abilities. Recently, Jurco was on the St. John’s Sea dogs who won the 2011 Memorial Cup. Across the Detroit River, the Memorial Cup has been home to the Windsor Spitfires, creating a vortex of hockey. The Spitfires and Sea dogs have changed the template for success in junior hockey elevating the quality of play.

Xavier Quellet, another drafted defenseman, is a puck-moving blueliner who has the type of profile the Wings like. A defenseman from the OHL, Ryan Sproul of Sault Ste. Marie, will also bolster the Wings in years to come. And we got a Russian. Alexei Marchenko is expected to be one of the top defensemen on the Russian world junior team.

Nine picks in this 2011 Entry Draft is the most since 2005. Let’s cross our fingers, wash the Red Wings Ts and get ready to root for the next great wave of Wingdom.

Juggling UFA’s and Jagr

To the chagrin or cheers of hockey fans everywhere, the mulleted wonder that is Jaromir Jagr has returned to the NHL. After snubbing a deal offered by his original team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jagr signing a deal at the other end of Pennsylvania resulted in a sweet deal for the Philadelphia Flyers and Jagr. The Flyers’ deal is worth $3.3 million.

Jagr Mullet

Jagr returns

The 39-year-old Jagr spent the past three seasons playing in Russia, but had kept the hockey world abuzz with rumors of signing with various NHL teams including the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Rangers.

Jagr’s decision to play with the Flyers was a result of the savvy intentions to create a Stanley Cup contending team. Adding Ilya Bryzgalov in net boosts the Flyers ability to maintain a quality netminder and not succumb to the turnstile of past years. Perhaps this is the team where Kris Versteeg will land for longer than a stint. The Jeff Carter trade to Columbus brings Jakuc Voracek, while the Mike Richards trade brings two great players in Wayne Simmonds and top prospect Brayden Schenn.

Former Dallas forward, Brad Richards, will don a New York Rangers jersey as Chris Drury exits. The Rangers will be contenders this year and get past the first-round of the playoffs. The Eastern Conference will be compelling with Jagr, Richards and hopefully Sidney Crosby in the mix. Now the question is whether Patrick Kane’s mullet wearing for the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs will make a return,  if Jagr can get the Flyers back in the playoff  fun.  Let the players   rock the business-up-front, party-in-the-back look.  Let’s hope  the beard gets a rest.