Category Archives: Western Conference

Hockey Chutzpah and the Looney Lockout

Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Gary Bettman have infringed on the end of summer and there’s no end in sight. Summer isn’t over, yet hockey fans are wondering if they should pack up the sunscreen and swimsuits just yet for skates and snow gear. Training camp is just weeks away, or is it?

Kudos for  the Russian hockey “activist” Alex Ovechkin for making efforts to save the 2012-13 season and a chance to rebound. Representing the modern hockey god, Sidney Crosby has also put his actions to save the careers of many of his colleagues. Depending on Crosby’s medical clearance, he may not see much of a season despite his efforts.

This is about money, isn’t it? Yes, yes, it is.

Fans have been raging over ticket prices for years. Average Joe attends AHL or college games. Average Joe does not enjoy sitting in the rafters at Joe Louis Arena or Madison Square Garden. Really, they don’t. The real competition is the affiliates and training/development programs that feed into the NHL that will benefit from a lockout.

Let’s not even talk about the KHL or European leagues where many snubbed NHL players are making their livelihood.

The proposal is to spread the wealth. Successful teams needs to help the fledglings so the money is created equal. Slashing salaries of the players and limits to contracts still does not resolve the high cost of being an NHL fan.

As a hockey writer, the lockout will impede the progress made under the direction of…em…Bettman in the media. Tormented and despised, his tactics grew the sport’s popularity and TV deals proving the strategy is working. Authority figures ruining everything is not a new concept, but it’s not the coaches, announcers, trainers or any of the staff who have crippled the season. Ownership and investment calls all the shots and signs the paychecks.

All this is important to hometown hockey hooligans who cannot imagine life without hockey, but they will if a deal cannot be met by Sept. 15.

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How West Coast Hockey has Won

Beach leagues and desert dreams have put the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes in a Western Conference final worth the wait. Making deals and trades to acquire players who are now showing their worth creates a must series to watch whether a west coast fan or not. Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith have dazzled and proven that the goaltender isn’t out of style in the playoffs.

Vezina finalist, Jonathan Quick, has been the backbone of the Kings all season. With the addition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the chemistry of the duo have raised hope in raising the Stanley Cup in LaLa Land. The Kings are stacked with Stanley Cup winners and playoff veterans.

The Kings arrived at the final with huge upsets the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and No.-2 seeded St. Louis Blues. Only captain Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty hadn’t won a playoff series. Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene lost in the Cup final with Edmonton in 2006 and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter lost with Philadelphia in 2010. Dustin Penner also won a Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Justin Williams has emerged as a scoring threat in the playoff run, as he did with the Carolina Hurricanes in defeating the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Cup finals. Oilers at the time, Stoll and Greene are happy to be on his side of the fence for this run. Expect Williams to be a factor in the win.

Rob Scuderi was a “piece” of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2009 triumph. He got the nickname “piece” after he misspoke while intending to say he was just “one piece” of the team. Colin Fraser played three games of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Cup run, but what a run to be in.

The Kings have creativity and confidence on their side.

The Phoenix Coyotes have Mike Smith, a Vezina snub, to tackle the goals that the Kings will be tossing his way. Phoenix has battled ownership issues, dismal fan attendance, and a captain who didn’t have the best few seasons, until now. Forwards Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette and veteran Ray Whitney are solid, but the defensive talents of Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are holding the ‘Yotes together. The Coyotes beat Nashville and Chicago to move on, but they didn’t sweep like the Kings.

Finally, better-than-good hockey has arrived in the west. The Western Conference has been plagued with underachievement for years and not being taken seriously. Kudos to those players who stuck with their teams, and congrats to the fans who have supported the beach and desert teams.

This will be an exciting series, but the Kings will win in 5.

Follow me on The Hockey Writers for analysis, predictions and commentary on the  Eastern Conference Final between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

On the Road to the Stanley Cup

Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, there’s a little for everyone. From traditional old-school matchups like the Pens and Flyers, to irksome bumps a team must get over like the pressure Nashville faces with Detroit. An interesting pairing in the West puts the Kings and Canucks in a must-see series.

The season starts here and now with a clean slate heading towards the coveted Stanley Cup. Whatever the ranking,the odds, the previous wins, teams have this chance once no matter what happened a few days ago. It’s now or never. The honor of making it to the playoffs can change the course of any team’s season.

East:

(4)Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5)Philadelphia Flyers– One of the best series to follow. The battle of Pennsylvania is always a regular season blowout. The Flyers have the talent in Claude Giroux and the moxy of Scott Hartnell to take on the challenge. With Sidney Crosby back for the Pens, Pittsburgh has the extra power-forward to take the points. Goaltending seems balanced in both nets. Pittsburgh can’t lose with Crosby. Pens win in 5.

(6)New Jersey Devils vs. (3)Florida Panthers The Devils have done a tremendous job this season rounding out their talent and finding ways to win. Though Brodeur was shaky in net early on, goaltending looks fixed for now. The Panthers have the momentum and the spirit to clinch this series. Panthers in 4.

(8)Ottawa Senators vs. (1)New York Rangers– New York clinched the East, so that would make this an easy series win…..not so fast. The Senators have had an upswing that could have them be the upset team. The Rangers may have some concerns and could take this for granted. Henrik Lundqvist wants this and has the tools to finish it. Rangers in 5.

(7)Washington Capitals vs. (2)Boston Bruins– Ovechkin and crew made it by an inch. Boston knows the path and with the depth, even top players for the Caps can’t get it done. Bruins in 4.

West:

(4)Nashville Predators vs. (5)Detroit Red Wings– Nashville always comes to face the Wings in the playoffs at some point. Detroit is the Preds’ brick wall. This year, with home-ice advantage, Nashville have the opportunity to swing it their way. Don’t underestimate the Wings performance this season. Hockeytown finds a way to win. Wings in 7.

(8)Los Angeles Kings vs. (1)Vancouver Canucks- Winner of the President’s Trophy, Vancouver is on a journey to win their destiny. Last season, the Canucks  lost in game 7 releasing chaos into the streets of Vancouver. Canucks can’t afford to lose again. The Kings have made an impressive run and will be formidable opponents. Quick can beat Luongo. Carter, Richards and Kopitar can beat Kesler, Burrows and at least one Sedin. The Canucks will take the series, but not without a fight in 6.

(7)San Jose Sharks vs. (2)St. Louis Blues– St. Louis will win. That’s all I can say. The Sharks have been a disappointment in many areas. The Blues have been an amazing team this season. Blues sweep.

(6)Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3) Phoenix Coyotes– Tight fight. The Coyotes just seem to find a way to win, but mostly goaltender Mike Smith has found a way to win and a nod for the Vezina. Chicago may not have it. The momentum going in to the series will determine the outcome. Coyotes in 7.

With the Western Conference team surge, the competition is fierce. The Eastern Conference has been the victim of sharp criticism for the sagging efforts of the traditionally winning side. New York serves as a good measurement of the talents of the Eastern teams. The West is growing in strength and the race was tight. The East brings the skill and sharpshooters,  while the West brings the intensity and passion play. What a great season it has been! Good luck to your playoff team and enjoy the games.

March Madness- Western Conference

The Western Conference has been building strength for years, so it’s no surprise that the race is tight. Los Angeles, Dallas and Phoenix all could get a bid for the postseason party. The Colorado Avalanche, The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers bid adieu to the postseason and will be booking tee times later this week. Finally, the West can bring in new blood to represent emerging talent.

The biggest success story is The Los Angeles Kings.  A few weeks ago, the Kings looked lost and doomed down the stretch. Goaltender Jonathan Quick was not quick, but has his game back and could be the weapon of choice for the Kings.  Anze Kopitar will get an opportunity to prove his worth as a top forward.

St. Louis Blues-
Success comes from patience and persistence. St. Louis deserves to be the leading team in the West and should win the President’s Trophy. With top talent in Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk on defense, and Captain David Backes at the helm, the Blues could win this whole shebang. With Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott making a dynamic goaltending duo, the odds are in The Blues favor.

Vancouver Canucks-
Hockey fans know Vancouver can deliver, but can drop at a moment’s notice. Consistency is the key for The Canucks and with Daniel Sedin out, and Kevin Bieksa,  the remaining mates must muster more points. Kesler and Burrows have not produced much, so these two gotta get a groove going. Goaltending is world-class with Luongo and Schneider, but can’t carry the team. Or can they?

Los Angeles Kings-
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter reunion equals Stanley Cup bid. This was their goal in Philadelphia, so maybe the chemistry and drive is propelling the energy in the locker room. Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll have been Kings and would like this season to be the one. Chances are good for Los Angeles. They really spiked up the standings, and likely will make it to semifinals.

Nashville Predators-
Every hockey fan can get behind the program Barry Trotz has put together. Trotz is truly a hockey pioneer. The Predators have an awesome netminder in Pekka Rinne, who is Vezina worthy. Expect Nashville to do well, because the players have turned on the heat and are cohesive. Best chance this year for a conference final showdown.

Detroit Red Wings-
They’re fighters. No matter where Detroit is in the playoffs, they find a way to win. With a healthy crew, the Wings will fight until the end. Goaltending has been spotty. Offense has gone up against tough opposing goaltenders. Scoring must increase and Howard must be at the top of his game if Detroit wants to move on.

Chicago Blackhawks-
The Chicago boys just hang in there. While they have a seemingly secure spot as the No. 5 seed, teams are chasing them. Chicago may be bumped. They play in a tough Central Division this season and sit just ahead of Columbus in the fourth slot.

The Dallas Stars and The Phoenix Coyotes will fight to the death to get in. Dallas has done an outstanding job staying in the hunt. Dallas forward Michael Ryder has been a force to reckon with. The Coyotes have a solid goalie in Mike Smith. The outcome is boosting hockey in the Southwest for certain. The Pacific Division at this point is a 3-way tie. Expect some tenacious play in the next week for a guaranteed spot.

Detroit’s Still in the Game

The Detroit Red Wings sit in 4th in the Western Conference standing, a good place to wait and watch as the win streak starts again at two. The Wings are a league and fan favorite, even if fans love to hate them. After the Winter Classic, many eyes have turned to the next Classic in 2013 speculating that Detroit is the natural choice.

The venue shouldn’t be a problem if the weather holds true to Michigan winters. I was there visiting relatives over Christmas and was it cold. I’m talking, freezing to the point of slashing to the bone. Sure, Michigan would work, if there is ice. The Great Lakes haven’t actually frozen over in January. I grew up watching the Coast Guard’s big ice cutter slicing through for water flow.

But if you could transport everyone up to the U.P., the Upper Peninsula for those non Michiganders, there may be some down home feel to the shinny. Houghton Lake, or parts of Lake Superior are option. Northern Michigan is a winter wonderland close to the Canadian border, so the draw for Canada would be a benefit. A union of sorts for the NHL.

I say bring the Winter Classic 2013 to Detroit. Ford Field is not the worst option, better yet, freeze over the Big House in Ann Arbor, for a real crowd of 113,000 compared to the 47,000 for the Rangers/Flyers match up. The NHL would love the fan fare of that extravaganza.

The Big House

Next Winter Classic Location?

Best opponents for the Red Wings for a Winter Classic, who haven’t played, slates the Toronto Maple Leafs as closest geographically.  Columbus would be the closest, but I can’t see selling many tickets for that.

Any thoughts on your ideal match-up for the Red Wings Winter Classic 2013. If the Wings are not selected for the event, it becomes another bummer in the hat of the “moving to the East promise.” I’m sure Bettman and Illitch are talking quietly about the future of this proposal.

Hockey Holiday Highlights

Kicking off the holiday season, Chanukah starts tonight and the Christmas countdown has begun. Between your menorah lighting, your shopping panic and the family fun and frantic, the best gift to yourself is to take in some of the hockey highlights happening this week.

Hockey Santa
Tues. Dec. 20  7:00 EST
New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils– Classic Hudson Valley rivalry as the Devils are on a four-game winning streak. The Blueshirts of Broadway have held their own, but King Henry has been iffy in goal lately. New York’s pesky agitator Sean Avery and Jersey’s rock-em-sock-em David Clarkson could bump into a brawl at some point. Great rivalry for the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.
Wed. Dec. 21 10:00 EST
Detroit Red Wings at Vancouver Canucks– Nothing is like watching the Red Wings at Xmas time. Santa suits on ice. Vancouver oozes talent with the Sedins, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. The Wings boast Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and goalie Jimmy Howard. The list goes on and even Santa can’t keep up.
Thurs. Dec. 22 9:30 EST
Minnesota Wild at Edonton Oilers-Two of the hottest teams going with young talent at helm. Watch top draft picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins host Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak. Both teams are currently on a four-game losing streak.

Thurs. Dec. 22 10EST
Anaheim Ducks visit Los Angeles Kings– With plenty of talent, the Kings need to shake off their poor start and impress their new coach. The Ducks have weapons in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, but can they surpass the goaltending of the Kings Quick? If you’re up wrapping present, catch this SoCal battle.

Fri. Dec. 23 7EST
Philadelphia Flyers at the New York Rangers– Precursor to the Winter Classic. The teams are pumped, so this is a Friday night celebration. Flyers Jaromir Jagr, ex-Rangers captain returns to the Garden for a holiday shebang. Settle in and check your holiday lists or exchange your Chanukah gift.

Fri. Dec. 23 10:30 EST
Los Angeles Kings visit San Jose Sharks- It’s the battle of SoCal vs. NoCal. Still wrapping and up late, check out this showcase of Sharks with Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle as they blast their way to Hockeywood taking on Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson. Get warm and toasty and snuggle in.

No games on Christmas Eve or Christmas, but check your local listings for the week leading up to the Winter Classic on Jan. 2 when the New York Rangers travel to Philadelphia.

 

NHL realignment winners and losers

The NHL Board of Governors will meet in Pebble Beach next week to discuss realigning the NHL to better serve the long hours of travel teams must face. Since the Atlanta Thrashers folded giving birth to the second resurrection of the Winnipeg Jets, the League has  been  bouncing around a few scenarios they hope to decide upon while taking in a few rounds of golf. Is this really that big of an issue? It is for the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

There has been some grumbling from the Nashville Predators who would like a piece of something in all this meandering, and then there is the Dallas Stars who for some reason think they should be the helm of a new division.

But it gets better like a hint of juicy gossip that really isn’t that great as much as the  anticipation. Supposedly, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised the Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Illitch that the Red Wings would join the Eastern Conference among the modern-day dynasties like the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers, and even the New York Islanders. Detroit would fit right in.

Football and hockey are united in the Michigan/Ohio battle. As anyone raised in Michigan knows, at some point Ohio sticks its nose into Michigan’s business, just as the Columbus Blue Jackets are making a case for their own Eastern Conference  bid. Worried Red Wings fans? Teams like the Rangers and Bruins would prefer the ailing Jackets because they are easy prey. Detroit is serious competition.

Border Wars

The complicated plan of realignment represent this type of promising and not delivering; the easy plan swaps the Wings for the Jets. Steve Yzerman would than face his former team and who wouldn’t want to see that in Hockeytown?

Then there are the Western Conference teams who don’t want to see the Red Wings leave due to revenue stream. Hey, how about pumping up the Vancouver Canucks or the Colorado Avalanche for some money-making ventures.  The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks feed the celebrity machine which should be raising some type of cash flow or call on the Edmonton Oilers with their dynamic duo of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins.

That's a goal!

Both Conferences see Detroit as the excellence in the League like fighting over the driving a hot car: it would be cool to drive, but the dangers of that much power could get you pulled over.

Horrors in Hockeytown smoldering

It’s a tradition in Detroit to set the town ablaze during the Halloween weekend yet this year the only thing smoldering appears to be the slumping Red Wings. Ironically, fires over the weekend were down 50% just as the Wings have dropped their record. Now 5-4-0, the Red Wings signed defenseman Niklas Kronwall to a 7-year $33.25 million contract to keep the hits coming.

Kronwall

Kronwalled

Kronwall,30, is the heir apparent to seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. At the start of this seson, the Wings named Kronwall as an alternate captain emphasizing that Detroit’s blueline will remain tough as nails.

Detroit’s woes are too early to create hysteria when all the pieces of the puzzle are still intact. Jimmy Howard’s latest performances have been horrific for fantasy owners the past week, but he’s still the mask to fear at Joe Louis Arena. Danny Cleary has been a ghost on the ice with only two assists and a minus-4 rating. Hank Zetterberg has only tallied three points, while Pavel Datsyuk has seven points and a minus-5 rating. Detroit fans are patient and waiting for their tricks to turn to treats.

Don’t believer the hype that the Wings are crashing and burning or going down in flames. The scariest encounter in Detroit will be the pain inflicted by being Kronwalled.

 

Happy Halloween Hockey Fans!

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.