Saturday, June 24, 2017

Adidas Dress Up

The NHL and Adidas released the new uniforms for all 31 teams this past week in Las Vegas.  The ADIZERO jerseys are lighter, cooler, and more durable.  For fans, not much of that matters.  At least for me, it doesn't.  I care more about how they look.  So, how do they look?

Every single team had a new look, sort of.  Whether teams actually changed their design or not, they now featured a common collar, even if teams have laces.  The collar is the same type of collar that was featured on the World Cup of Hockey jerseys, wider, and inexplicably for some teams, only the back half was coloured in.  Hopefully, those teams will come to their senses as soon as next year and fix this problem.  Other than that, for most of the league, the jersey design was the same, except now, hem stripes followed the curve of the hem instead of being straight across.  With the Reebok jerseys, that created a very ugly whale tail effect, while with the new Adidas jerseys, they are more hidden.  Of course, they could have just made it with a STRAIGHT hem in the first place, eliminating the stupidity of that particular design.


Thirteen teams, including the Vegas Golden Knights, were said to be getting a makeover, some minor while others a completely new look.  Unless I missed it, there was one more team that revealed a brand new home jersey, to the complete surprise of everyone, and it was a most pleasant surprise.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes had switched up their jerseys in 2013 and were immediately being compared to Team Canada.  For whatever reason, the home and aways did not match. Black was only found on the logo, collar, and trim of the numbers on the home jersey.  They fixed that problem with their new home jersey that features a sublimated hurricane flag pattern that was featured on their original set.  Unfortunately, they chose to keep their road uniform.

Grade: A+

Colorado Avalanche

Many teams quickly changed their jerseys following the initial Reebok Edge roll out in 2007. The Avalanche should have been one of those teams.  Finally, they righted a wrong, but going back to their mountain design to the delight of their fans.  It's a simpler version, dropping a stripe.  Strangely, the only blue and black found on both jerseys are in the logos, numbers, and collars.  They will still wear a black helmet at home and black pants, which may have been a missed opportunity to adopt a Burgundy or blue helmet and pants.


Grade: A+

Vegas Golden Knights

The new kids on the block, Vegas becomes the first team in NHL history to wear a grey jersey full time as their home uniforms.  It's an okay design, one that seems to have gotten love from a lot of people, although I am more: bleh.  I don't hate it.  It's just okay to me.  The logo features some fancy embroidery (which I like), and is also featured on the gold stripe on the sleeves (which I don't).  Going with grey instead of black on the road whites was a poor decision in my opinion, as it looks washed out.  Hopefully, the white gloves was more for show and won't actually be worn on the ice by the players.


Grade: C

Minnesota Wild

The Wild have a pretty good jersey history.  They may not always be perfect (or match), but they are pretty nice.  Their new home uniform continues that trend, as the team returns to green as their permanent home colour after being in red since 2007.  It is similar to their white road uniform (which they are keeping the same), but moving the hem stripes to the middle like Montreal and Florida.  I would have much prefer had they put the stripes on the hem, which is why the jersey is not quite perfect.


Grade: B+

Edmonton Oilers

The first team to announce that they would be changing their uniforms, going with orange at home, but tweaking the colours slightly.  While the Oilers have fully embraced orange, unlike any other time in their NHL history, it was a curious decision to not be wearing blue at home.
Most fans assumed they would be rocking the third jerseys which they had worn throughout the playoffs.  Instead, they shocked everyone by unveiling a brand new orange uniform that mirrors their regular uniforms.  Opinion has been mixed about the design.  Upon seeing a leak of the design, I was not a fan.  However, I've come around to it a bit after seeing a better picture of them.  They still should be a blue team, though, and it will be interesting what happens next year when teams will be allowed to have alternate jerseys again.


Grade: B-

Nashville Predators

The Western Conference Champions needed to do one thing and one thing only.  Actually, two things.  Switching the socks on their road jerseys to be the way they should be, with the blue on the bottom and yellow on top to match the jersey.  But, the major thing they needed to do was get rid of the vertical stripes that run down the sides and intersects with the hem stripes.  It marred what was a really nice jersey.

On their new jerseys, those stripes have been removed, but I guess the designer decided to keep on going, removing a stripe from the sleeves.  Gone are also the "fangs".  That leaves a jersey that is rather bottom heavy, losing some of the character that came with the now old jersey.  They would have benefited from at least finding a way to keep the "fangs" without the vertical piping or by adding a blue shoulder yoke.  It's still a decent looking jersey, just not as interesting.  The guitar string treatment with the back numbers now finds their way onto the sleeve numbers.

The road whites were not released and it will be interesting to see how they look.  I have a feeling the sleeve stripes will mirror those of the old socks.


Grade: B-

New Jersey Devils

All of the teams that have made significant changes have been good to decent.  Now comes the truly bad in the Devils.  It's not a good thing when fans take to twitter to voice their displeasure with the new look and the response is this:


The Devils had a uniform that did not need to be changed, rivaling those of the Original 6 in looks.  Done right, though, it could have brought in new revenues (isn't what this is all about?)  Done wrong, well you get the backlash, and maybe ownership questioning their decision to change.  Would it be surprising to anyone if they have another new look in a couple of years?

The sleeve stripes are similar to the old stripes, but pumped up with steroids, making them over-sized.  The hem stripes were dropped for a single, thin black stripe at the bottom.  With Lou gone, everything goes now in New Jersey, I guess.

The truly weird part is how the Devils are embracing their past.  The past, being the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Scouts, where the Devils once played, but have never acknowledge before hand.  Considering how bad and inept those teams were, it's curious as to why now.  I guess they needed a story to sell the new jerseys.

Grade: F

The Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the few teams to release their road jerseys.  They had good reason to do so as they have decided to drop Tampa Bay from them, simply going with the logo.  It's a good move that makes for a cleaner look.


It's weird how some of the teams that announced changes were something as simple as changing the number font like Boston, who dropped the double outline on the NOBS and numbers.  Then, there is San Jose with a new shoulder logo, not coming out with an announcement at all, waiting for the teasers to drop to let everyone know about the change. The new shoulder logo is a vast improvement on their the previous one, which was simply the full body shark.  It was too big for a shoulder logo, which may have been the reason for the change, as I have noticed that all shoulder logos seem to be closer to the collars than before.



Other teams like Calgary and Buffalo have finally dropped the piping and pit stains that go to nowhere.  What they didn't do, to the dismay of their fans, was to change their looks altogether.  Buffalo fans would like the team to return to royal blue, while Flames fans would like something, anything, better than what they currently have.  That might have to wait until they get a new arena, which at this pace, might be never.

Just like Boston, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators have new, more traditional block number fonts.

Design wise, the shift to Adidas is a much more pleasant one compared to when Reebok introduced the Edge Uniform System in 2007.  There were too many teams using the same templates and weird piping that do not belong on a hockey uniform.  It would have been nice had Adidas made right which was the most stupid thing about the Reebok jerseys, which was the curved hem.  They did and didn't, reducing it, but not eliminating it all together.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights actually have a team now, after selecting a player from each 30 teams. The expansion rules were set up for Vegas to be competitive right from the get go. However, they forgo any thought of any immediate success, making trades for a bunch of draft picks, including several first round picks, in order to steer away from certain players.

I believe that the Golden Knights need to be good right away in order to build up their fan base, especially with the NFL's Oakland Raiders moving to Sin City in a couple of years. With the team that they selected in the expansion draft, they will won't be winning too many games, not even with Marc-Andre Fleury as their starting goalie.  And some of the players, including top players like Marc Methot, might only be a Golden Knight for a couple of days before they are traded to another team.

A few of the players were in Vegas and introduced to the Vegas crowd at the T-Mobile Arena where the NHL Awards were being handed out and the Golden Knights expansion picks were announced.

Brayden McNabb, Jason Garrison, and Marc-Andre Fleury were there wearing the Golden Knights very first jersey.  For Marc-Andre Fleury, who received the loudest ovation of the new players, June 21 will be memorable.  Fourteen years ago, he was selected 1st overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Entry Draft and now he becomes the face of a brand new franchise.



Here is the team:

Goalies: Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), Calvin Pickard (COL), Jean-Francois Beruke (NYI)

Defencemen: Luca Sbisa (VAN), Jon Merrill (NJ), Brayden McNabb (LA), Jason Garrison (TB), Deryk Engelland (CGY), Colin Miller (BOS), Marc Methot (OTT),
David Schlemko (SJ), Griffen Reinhart (EDM), Alexi Emelin (MTL), Clayton Stoner (ANA),
Trevor van Riemsdyk (CHI), Nate Schmidt (WAS)

Forwards: Teemu Pulkkinen (ARI), William Carrier (BUF), Tomas Nosek (DET), Cody Eakins (DAL), Jonathan Marchessault (FLA), Connor Brickley (CAR), Chris Thorburn (WPG), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (PHI), James Neal (NAS), Brendan Leipsic (TOR), David Perron (STL), Oscar Lindberg (NYR), Erik Huala (MIN), William Karlsson (CBJ)

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Vegas Golden Knights

The NHL has set up the expansion draft so that the Vegas Golden Knights should get some decent players and be somewhat competitive instead of treading water for a few years like past expansion teams.

In the lead up to the expansion draft, some of the other 30 NHL teams have been trying to make deals with the Golden Knights to keep their hands off certain players, with some deals having been leaked.  It has been suggested that the New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Anaheim Ducks will be giving Vegas a 1st round draft pick in order to pick certain players. Looking at some of the surprising names exposed, it would not be a surprise if there are already other deals in place.  Vegas GM, George McPhee, has said he will allow teams to make a trade for a player they plan on picking.

The rules of the draft are that Vegas must select a player from each team that includes at minimum, 14 forwards, 9 defencemen, and 3 goalies.  Twenty players must be under contract for next season and they must equal between 60%-100% of the $75 million salary cap.  They also cannot buy out any players.

So, here is my team, taking in to account the three deals already having been made.  Some of these players will never play for Vegas and may be picked to be flipped to another team.

Goalies (3)

Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT) $5,575,000
Petr Mrazek (DET) $5,000,000
Philip Grubauer (WAS) RFA

Defence (11)

Alexi Emelin (MTL) $4,100,000
Andre Sustr (TB) RFA
Calvin De Haan (NYI) RFA
Colin Miller (BOS) $1,000,000
Griffen Reinhart (EDM) RFA
Luca Sbisa (VAN) $3,600,000
Marc Methot (OTT) $4,900,000
Matt Dumba (MIN) $2,550,000
Sami Vatanen (ANA) $4,875,000
Toby Enstrom (WPG) $5,750,000
Trevor van Riemsdyk (CHI) $825,000

Forwards (16)

Adam Cracknell (DAL) $675,000
Alex Chiasson (CGY) RFA
Dale Weise (PHI) $2,350,000
James Neal (NAS) $5,000,0000
Jamie McGinn (ARI) $3,333,333
Jonathan Marchessault (FLO) $750,000
Jordan Nolan (LA) $950,000
Kerby Rychel (TOR) $863,333
Lee Stempniak (CAR) $2,500,000
Matt Calvert (CBJ) $2,200,000
Michael Grabner (NYR) $1,650,000
Mike Cammalleri (NJ) $5,000,000
Mikhail Grigorenko (COL) RFA
Mikkel Boedker (SJ) $4,000,000
Nail Yakupov (STL) RFA
William Carrier (BUF) $689,167

Total Salary $68,310,833


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Repeat Champions

Late to the party...

The Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished, something something very rare in the NHL these days, repeating as Stanley Cup Champions.  The 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings were the last team to do so, with the Penguins becoming the first in the Cap Era to do so.

The road to repeating was not an easy one.  Their reward for finishing second in the entire league was to take on the team that finished fourth overall in the league, in the Columbus Blue Jackets, before needing 7 games against the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals in the next round.  Ottawa proved to be a very tough foe in the Eastern Conference Final, needing a dramatic double overtime winner by veteran Chris Kunitz to send Pittsburgh into the Final where they met the exciting Nashville Predators.  It took 6 games, as I predicted, before Pittsburgh was able to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup again in Smashville, once again following in tradition of clinching on the road like their previous four Cup wins.

The question now becomes can they 3-peat?  That's something that hasn't happened since the New York Islanders dynasty of the 80's (1980-84) when they won four straight Cups.  It's somewhat unlikely, though not entirely impossible.

Consider the team still has the best player in the league in Sidney Crosby, who won his second straight Conn Smythe.  Evgeni Malkin is no slouch, either.  Matt Murrary is only 23. The team won with a defence that didn't have a player who had ever received a single Norris trophy vote.  Imagine how much better it will be when Kris Letang returns next season after being injured the last half of the season.

There will be changes; more than there were last season.  Some players like Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz will be moving on.  At 40, Cullen has already said he was retiring, although he said that last year as well.  Kunitz could do the same after winning his fourth Cup.

Nick Bonio and Trevor Daley are both UFA's, but I'd would say short of a low ball offer, both would be foolish to leave.  Daley would be the bigger loss as Bonino didn't quite have the playoff he had a year before as part of the HBK line (Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin).

So who could possibly stop the Penguins attempt at a 3-peat?

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals: They were the President Trophy winners last season, but after failing to advance beyond the second round, again, thanks to the Penguins, Washington faces some changes.  Most of the key guys are signed thru next season, though T.J. Oshie, Karl Azner, and Kevin Shattenkirk are all UFAs.

Tampa Bay Lightning: A healthy Steven Stamkos should get the Lightning back into the playoffs after missing last year.  They came close a couple of years ago, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, then lost to Pittsburgh the next year in the Eastern Conference Final.  Even after today's massive trade with the Montreal Canadiens, saying goodbye to Jonathan Drouin, they still have a deep team.

Montreal Canadiens: Marc Bergevin finally addressed the scoring woes that plagued the Canadiens in the playoffs by acquiring Drouin from the Lightning.  They still need a true number one centre and there is still a question of whether Alex Radulov will be re-signed or not.  The Russian forward proved that he was a changed man last season, but could he price himself out?  They have one of the best, if not the best, goalie in the league in Carey Price.  The window may be closing fast as Price is set to be a UFA soon, which could force Bergevin to make more moves to turn the team into an even bigger contender.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Wait, what?  The Penguins have played a lot of hockey in the past couple of seasons and face another short off-season.  There was already suggestion that the team was running on fumes in the Final, though we all know how that turned out.  It's possible that a 3-peat is out of the question, but another championship the year after might not be as surprising.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks were stunned by the Predators in the first round.  Not because they lost, but because they were swept.  That prompted changes behind the bench to Joel Quennville's assistants.  The team itself, remains intact.  Along with Pittsburgh, they are the only team to have won 3 Stanley Cups since 2009.  They are due for a fourth.

Anaheim Ducks: Always a bridesmaid, never the bride.  The window to win appears to be closing somewhat as the team's leaders get older.  The expansion draft could throw a wrench in their Stanley Cup aspirations, as they could potentially lose a really good player, either up front or on the back end.

Nashville Predators: Despite finishing 8th in the west, the Predators are a better team than their record belies.  They have arguably the best defence in the league and have a young nucleus of forwards.  Beating Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim on their way to the Final prove they are a true contender and a return to the Final is not out of the question.

Monday, June 5, 2017

P.K.'s Stinky Breath

IT WAS A JOKE!

I can't believe how many people have been hooked by what he said.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Rinne Or Bust

The first two games of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final have been a little wacky, to say the least. The team that, most agree, been the better team are down 2-0 in the Final, while also facing a goalie dilemma.

Pekka Rinne's numbers in the Final have not been pretty.  His save percentage is an ugly .778 and his goals against is 4.00, a far cry from the numbers (.941 save percentage & 1.70 G.A.A.) he carried into the Final as the playoffs top goalie.  Perhaps it shouldn't be all that surprising, as Rinne has never beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins as a starter (1-7-2), with his only win coming in relief.

What's more discouraging than Rinne's numbers has been how the Penguins have amassed those eight goals on him.  They've come in a short, soul crushing few minutes, in both games.  Three goals in the final five minutes in the first period gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead that they would eventually blow, only to have their very first shot in 37 minutes beat Rinne for the game winner.  In game two, with the game tied at 1-1, Pittsburgh scored just ten seconds in.  Three and a half minutes later, the game was over as the Penguins added two more goals and chased Rinne.

That has lead to the speculation over the next two days as to who will start in net for the Nashville Predators.  Could head coach, Peter Laviolette, hand the reins over to backup Juuse Saros for his first career playoff start in what may be the most important game in franchise history?

It would take a giant set of you know what and a complete total lack of faith in Rinne
to make the switch to Saros.  I don't believe Laviolette or any of the other players have lost faith in Rinne.  After all, a big reason as to why they are in the Final in the first place is because of the Finnish goaltender.

And, let's be honest.  Saros is not Pittsburgh Penguins goalie, Matt Murray.  He didn't lead the Predators to the Stanley Cup like Murray did a year ago with the Penguins and who would have started from the very first day off the playoffs if he had not injured himself in the warm ups before the first game.

At this point, the only choice is still Rinne.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Not Another P.K. Story

It's unavoidable with P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final. You know there will be tons of these stories.

First, a recap.

There's probably never been another trade in NHL history that has been discussed as much, and for so long, as the one that happened nearly a year ago between the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens.  At least, one that I can remember.

It was a shocking day that also saw another blockbuster trade in Edmonton sending Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson.  The only one still talking about that trade is Hall, who to say the least, is still sounding a little bitter about the new found success of his former team, after suffering through the bad times.

P.K. Subban's name had popped up a few days earlier at the trade.  The Montreal Canadiens quickly denied that they were trying to trade their superstar player.  The media pounced, however, zeroing in on a number of things that make them believe where there is smoke, there's fire.

It was no secret that then head coach, Michel Therrien, was less than enamoured with Subban, singling him out for a loss two years ago in a February game against the Colorado Avalanche, after Subban had turned the puck over.  Never mind that it was still a 3 on 3 going back the other way and ended up being played incorrectly by those three players, leaving Jarome Iglina all alone in front for a tap in.  None of those players were called out.



There were rumours that Subban's over the top personality was rubbing some of the players the wrong way, including the captain, Max Pacioretty.  It is suggested by at least one person that Pacioretty was more of a divider than uniter, while another person said Subban did make some mistakes that pissed off some his former teammates.  I've never been in that dressing room, so I wouldn't know if that is true or not.  It would appear P.K.'s new Nashville Predators don't seem to have a problem with him.

Former Montreal Canadiens and a friend of Subban, George Laraque, believes the players might have been jealous of Subban due to his popularity.  Subban wasn't only the most popular player (maybe second behind Carey Price), but one of the most popular people in the entire city.

Lastly, a no movement clause would be kicking in on Canada Day, July 1st.  That would make any trade that much more difficult to pull off.  So, if Marc Bergevin wanted to move Subban without conditions, time was running out.

For whatever reason, P.K. Subban was swapped for Shea Webber.  In the very first year of the trade, here is Subban and the Nashville Predators four wins away from the team's first Stanley Cup, while his former team has been golfing for a few weeks now.

Let's make it clear: the Predators were already a very good team and could still have made it this far had they not made the trade.  In other words, Subban was not the final piece of the puzzle to a legit contender.  It also might not be a coincidence, either.

He's not the top defenceman on this team, which already was one of the best with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm.  In Montreal, there was veteran Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry, but its nowhere close to be as good as Nashville's.

The one big knock on Subban, from a purely hockey standpoint, was that he wasn't as strong defensively or that he took too many risks.  It's interesting, then, that Subban was tabbed to be on the shut down pairing with Ekholm and did more than just an admirable job.
No doubt, he will be out against either one of Pittsburgh's top guns, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

One of the things I guess nobody seem to consider while Subban was still in Montreal (especially Thierrien) was that he needed to take those risks because the team is offensively challenged, proven by the team's 1st round exit where they struggled to score goals, something Bergevin failed to address at the trade deadline.

To be truthful, I wasn't a big P.K. Subban fan in the first place.  But, as I came to the realization that not only was Subban a really good defenceman, but a pretty good guy, I began liking him more.  Everyone who seems to be criticizing him for no good reason only made me like him even more.

I believe the Pittsburgh Penguins will repeat as Stanley Cup Champions in six games and while I'm not really rooting for either them, I wouldn't mind seeing the Predators win, if so P.K. could bring the Cup back to Montreal, not to rub it in to his former GM and teammates who may not have appreciated him, but so the kids at the Montreal Children's Hospital could enjoy the Cup up close.

All the other P.K. supporters in the city, and there are plenty of them, can remind Bergevin and Therrien about that, instead.



After just one year, it's hard to believe that a winner of this trade, for those who need there to be a winner, could already be declared.  If the Predators win the Stanley Cup, then regardless of whatever happens in Montreal next season and beyond, they would be the winners because they get the younger player in Subban.

The real winner, though, is Subban himself.  He now is in a place where he can continue to be himself and not worry about having daggers thrown his way by the organization.

This And That

Edit: John Scott took to Toronto radio to explain himself, that his answer in regards to P.K. Subban was actually from a couple of years ago and it was taken out of context.  Scott's team just lost and apparently he wasn't happy with some of the things Subban was doing on the ice.

Former NHLer (somehow), John Scott, who became the darling of the 2016 NHL All-Star game in Nashville resurfaced after retiring this past season in an ESPN E:60 documentary on P.K. Subban, to call the Predators' defenceman a piece of garbage.

The actual quote goes: "I don't like him.  I think on the ice, he's a piece of garbage. Perceived as like a hot shot, this guy thinks he's better than everybody."

Let me get this right, the guy who's 15 minutes of fame came about because of a joke played by the fans who stuffed the digital ballot box, is calling Subban garbage.  The guy, who somehow eeked out a 9 year career in the NHL, earning more penalty minutes than actual playing minutes on most nights, is calling a former Norris Trophy winner, garbage.

Perhaps Scott should stick to doing whatever he is doing now in his retirement and keep his opinions to himself.


****************************************

Sticking with P.K. Subban for a moment.  The defenceman keeps on getting shots fired his way for absolutely no reason beyond he has a big personalty which he is not afraid to show to the world, which seems to rile the old dinosaurs.

NBC Sports analyst, Mike Milbury, called Subban a clown a couple of weeks ago, simply because Subban was enjoying the beat of the music that was blaring through the speakers at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for game 2 of their series.  

I think Milbury was confused, as Subban is definitely no clown.

These are clowns.


So is this.


Yep, that would be Mike Milbury back on December 23, 1979, when he jumped over the glass and into the crowd at Madison Square Garden and started beating up a fan with a shoe.  He was suspended only 6 games and fined $500.

He's also the guy that traded Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and the 2nd overall pick (Senators picked Jason Spezza) for Alexi Yashin at the 2001 draft as the somehow, long time general manager of the New York Islanders.  He then gave Yashin a 10 year, $90 million contract. Yashin starting to suck upon his arrival on Long Island, last playing for them in 2004, when he then had his contract bought out by the Islanders.

Here's a list of the clown things Milbury did as Islanders GM.

One does not have to have a super serious, intense look on their face during warm up (we talkin' 'bout warm up), for them to be ready to play.  Everybody has their own way for getting up for the game.  Lets save the criticizing for when a player actually deserves it and not go on a witch hunt for B.S.

Quite frankly, the NHL needs more players like P.K. and there probably are, but are afraid to show it in public, otherwise they get called out for it.

****************************************

Congratulations to the Windsor Spitfires for winning the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup.  Having been eliminated in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs and thus off for a couple of months, the host team defeated the Erie Otters to claim their third title following wins in 2009 and 2010.

Outside of the World Junior Championships played each year around after Christmas, junior hockey doesn't quite get the attention or television ratings as the pros.  That isn't to say they don't draw a decent number for the Memorial Cup tournament and the final, though the regular season numbers are much smaller.  It's not a huge surprise considering they are going up against the NHL.

Sportsnet made the same 12 year committment to the CHL, in 2014, as it did to the NHL, though obviously, the deal isn't worth billions, but is a substantial investment in the best junior league in the world.  The network hopes to build it up like its rival, TSN, did with the World Junior Championships.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Jersey Change, Part 2

Here's part 2 about what I think about the teams changing their jerseys for next season.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers only changed their jerseys a season ago, so I would suspect anything but a minor change.  I suspect that the team could (should) make the bottom hem stripe thicker.  It would be great if they swapped out the placement of the numbers with the sleeve patch, but that seems unlikely as that is suppose to be one of the big design elements as the owner is a US Army veteran.


Minnesota Wild: A rumour going around is that the Wild will adopt their Stadium Series jersey as their new home, while keeping their current road jersey.  Every since 2007, the Wild's home, away, and alternate jerseys have not matched.  It's a bit of pet peeve of mine, except for the most part, the jerseys look pretty good.  However, it is clearly time to change up the red home jersey, which has lost some of its luster when it was originally released as an alternate jersey in 2003.  The removal of the hem stripes and introduction of faux shoulder yolk in the edge makeover were complete downgrades.

If the Wild do switch to the Stadium Series jersey at home, it would mean having red as a more prominent colour on the green jersey, which is good thing.  On their green alternate and road white, red is almost an after thought.  For me, I would rather they based the new home jersey on the current road, somehow using more red, instead of going with the Stadium Series jersey, as it is nicer.



Nashville Predators: The team changed their jerseys, going yellow at home, back in 2011. The under used colour at home has been fully embraced by the team and its fans.  I hated it when the team switched the blue helmets to yellow helmets this past season full time after wearing them the previous season for Saturday night games only, but have since come around to them.

It would be surprising if the Predators make a major change.  Removing the piping that goes from the front all the way down the sides would make the jersey even more beautiful. Flipping the white socks back to the way they original were would make a whole lot of sense, though I could actually see the team doing the opposite and flipping blue for yellow on the sleeves instead.




New Jersey Devils: The New Jersey Devils have a solid look that should not be changed. But, with the team struggling on the ice and off of it, freshening up the look might be in order.  It also will get the fans they have to buy something new.

What info that has been out there is that the logo won't change and neither would the colours.  Someone close to the team suggested that the Devils will continue to look like the Devils, so that should be good.

While I don't think they should be changing uniforms, if they do, basing something on their original uniforms, but in black and red, wouldn't be such a bad look.



Ottawa Senators: The Sens are coming off a great playoff run that surprised everyone. What's not surprising is that they are changing their uniforms.  They once shard the same template as the same team that just eliminated them from the Eastern Conference Final, Pittsburgh, as well as Tampa Bay.  Both of them have thankfully changed since, with Pittsburgh flipping back to their original set just this season after wearing their original black jerseys at home for the playoffs last season.

There will be those that will want the current alternate heritage jersey to become the full time home.  We have already seen a "light" version of it when the Senators played the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 Heritage Classic.  I like the design of the uniforms, but do not like the "O" logo, as I do not feel it is strong enough to be a primary mark.  Perhaps, a combination of those jerseys with the long forgotten re-designed side facing logo would make a good match.



To which direction the team will be going is any body's guess.  They could come out with a completely new design that is primarily black at home.  They could use more gold in their colour scheme, which has only used on their Peace Tower alternate uniforms (2000-07) outside of the logo.  Any change could also be minor, instead waiting until the completion of a new arena in downtown Ottawa, though that is not a sure thing yet and would be a couple of years away.

With no third jerseys for next season, the Senators could be also going the route of the Edmonton Oilers, using their current alternate as the home jersey as a stand by until they do make the move downtown.  It would not be the first time they have had mismatched jerseys, as that had been the case from 1999 to 2007.

Part of the reason I believe any change could be minor or the team simply using the alternate jersey is due to the fact that the team's new CEO, Tom Anselmi, only took over in January.  So, unless the jersey change was already in the works, it seems unlikely that such a complete overhaul would have been done in the few months since, as the process usually takes a little longer than just a few months.



Jersey Change, Part 1

We now know that 12 teams will be changing their jerseys for next season as the league transitions from Reebok to Adidas as the official jersey supplier.  The Vegas Golden Knights also will be debuting their first ever jersey.  Only the Edmonton Oilers have released details of their new look, darkening the royal blue to navy blue, while going with their orange alternate jersey as their home.  There will be no third jerseys for any teams next season.

Some of the teams announcing changes are surprising, whether its because they only recently changed like the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers, or that changes aren't necessary at: Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins: The team switched over to their current look in 2007 when Reebok rolled out its Edge jerseys.  The Bruins have one of the best uniforms in the league, so it is curious as to why they might be making anything but minor changes.  It could be as simple as changing the number font, dropping the three layers, which some fans have complained about, to two.


Buffalo Sabres: In 2006, Buffalo introduced to the world the Buffaslug, a much derided logo that was replaced just 4 years after its introduction.  The team also brought back their original blue jersey as its alternate, complete with unnecessary chest numbers, to calm down the unhappy fans.  While the team may have looked funny, the team itself enjoyed some of its most recent success on the ice.


With calls to return to their original uniforms full time, the Sabres introduced another alternate jersey based on their original set in 2008, promoting it to full time status in 2010. However, the addition of silver and using the darker colours, not to mention piping that went no where, still wasn't completely satisfactory.


So, following the current evolution (or devolution) of the team's jersey, they should be going back to their original set full time.  It is their best look and nobody will have anything bad to say about them.


At the very least, they should remove the fluff.  The useless pipping and the chest numbers, which they remain as the only team to have them.  There were only three teams that had them in the first place and both have since removed them as the San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning since changed their jerseys.

Calgary Flames: The Flames are one of those teams in desperate need of a complete overhaul.  Before 2007, they had one of the best looks in the league.  They attempted to mimic the style with their Edge jerseys, but it was a complete fail.  In an attempt to be patriotic, the use of the Canadian and Alberta flags as shoulder logos looked completely out of place, especially the Alberta flag with its blue colour clashing with the red jersey.


There's a split among Flames' fans as to whether black should be part of the colour scheme. The divisive colour has been used by the team longer than it hasn't, using it beginning in 1995 in their first jersey overhaul.  It was a design never seen before and was dubbed the pedestal jersey for obviously reasons.


For the fans who would like to see black dropped completely and a return to their original set, which they have worn off and on as an alternate jersey since 2009, I will say that the black is needed to balance out the look.  It makes the flaming C on the home red jersey pop. If the Flames were smart, they would have based their new jerseys on the alternate jerseys that the team wore from 2013 to 2016.  Use the regular logo and perhaps fill in the bottom of the sleeves black to mimic the current sleeve design.


Colorado Avalanche: Much like the Flames, the Avalanche attempted to fit their pre-edge jerseys into the Reebok template.  It almost worked, but failed on a couple of things.  For one, the sleeve design not coping the side panels made no sense.  Instead, those missing stripes were transferred down the front of the jersey.  The piping going down the front, dubbed apron strings, were ugly and somehow found its way on several other jerseys.


In 2015, the team revealed a brand new alternate jersey, featuring a new alternate logo based on the logo of the Colorado Rockies hockey team, which are now the New Jersey Devils.  There are some fans who believe that logo could potentially replace the current logo, which would be a huge mistake.  The A logo is a modern classic and replacing it with a defunct team's would make no sense.



The team's original uniforms were fitting for the team, as the mountain striping pattern was perfect.  If they could return to them, that would be great, but it seems unlikely.  Personally, I would love to see them come up with a jersey based on the alternate jersey that the team wore from 2001 to 2007, replacing the script with the team's actual logo.



Columbus Blue Jackets: Outside of the team's old alternate jersey, the Blue Jackets have had a very consistent look through the two jersey changes they have made.  They should stick with it, simply adding proper hem stripes to their current jerseys, similar to their original set.


Dallas Stars: Much like the Boston Bruins, it's curious as to why the Stars would make anything but minor changes considering the team already overhauled their uniforms in 2013. The team returned to their roots, sort of, going with a green home uniform for the first time since 2006 when black became its primary colour.

The changes are more than likely adding another trim layer to the numbers, instead of the single colour that it is now.  I wouldn't be surprised if a different logo adorned the shoulders for next season, either, as its current shoulder logo is redundant since it is the primary logo inside a roundel.  The State of Texas logo that is on the pants should take its place if not something completely new.

 


Part 1 Done.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The NHL vs The NBA Playoffs



Yes, that is Charles Barkley, who gets paid to watch and analyze NBA games, saying he would rather watch the NHL playoffs than continue to watch the dismantling of the Boston Celtics at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.  This was during game 5 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Final.  And, it's not the first time Barkley has said he would rather be watching the NHL playoffs than the NBA.

This years playoffs have been beyond exciting, with many having gone into overtime, including Thursday's Eastern Conference Final game 7, needing double overtime to decide a winner.

The unpredictability and parity of the NHL playoffs is what has made it so exciting.  Who would have thought the Ottawa Senators would have reached the Eastern Conference Final when few would have thought they would have made the playoffs when the season began.
Or, what about the Nashville Predators sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

While there will be always favourites and underdogs, it's possible for an eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup like the Los Angeles Kings did in 2012, when they captured the franchise's first title.  The Nashville Predators could  be the next, though the league has done away with seedings after switching to a divisional playoff format.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, this years NBA finalists, were basically penciled in for a third straight showdown before the playoffs began.  On their way, the two teams only lost once, Cleveland losing to Boston in game 3 of the ECF.  It will be surely as exciting of a final as any other year and will finally provide the drama that has been missing from the NBA playoffs.

The NBA playoffs have basically been blowout and blowout.  That isn't to say there haven't been any of those in the NHL.  There's been a couple of 7-0 games, but those are far and few in between.  Otherwise, the games have been close and the hockey great.

Yet, the NHL's ratings get buried by the NBA's.  It's been that way forever and unlikely to change as Americans just don't seem to gravitate to the sport as Canadians do.  Of the fans who do watch the sport, it is often said that they are more passionate about hockey, compared to fans of other sports.

In 1994, following a thrilling seven game Stanley Cup Final between the eventual champions, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, Sports Illustrated declared that the NHL was poised to pass over the NBA.




Thanks to a lockout that wiped out half of the next season and the New Jersey Devils introducing everyone to the most offensive phrase to the sport "neutral zone trap", the NHL never surpassed the NBA in popularity.  Even as the NHL has expanded to more non-traditional hockey markets, it has found growing the game hard.

Why is that?

Part of it is that the NBA's stars are recognizable compared to the NHLs.  With a few exceptions, NHL players are bland and conforming, otherwise they would be chastised by the dinosaurs of the game.  That isn't the case with the NBA.  Their personalities are allowed to blossom and then some.

Basketball is played everywhere in America and by everyone.  All one really needs is a ball and they can head down to any park or school and there will be a hoop.  They can play from sun rise to sun down if they want.

For many Americans, the only ice that they know about is the ice cubes in their drinks. In the warmer states, there may not even be a ice rink.  It would be hard for people to take up the sport and become fans if they couldn't even play it.

Hockey is also very expensive to play that could cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in equipment.  It is no surprise that many families, even in Canada, have been passing over the sport, as it is becoming unaffordable.

Hockey will always be a niche sport and while it would be great if the NHL could rival the NBA, NFL, or MLB, they may be better off trying to break into China, where even a fraction of the more than 1.38 billion people becoming NHL fans, could be a big success for the league.

Down To The Final Two

The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to successfully defend their title as Stanley Cup Champions against the Nashville Predators beginning on Monday at home.  No team since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings have managed to repeat.

Pittsburgh survived a thrilling 3-2 double overtime game 7 against the Ottawa Senators to reach the Final, their second straight game 7 of these playoffs, knocking off the President Trophy winners, Washington Capitals, in round 2.  Despite missing out on their top two centres, the Predators won back to back games and pluck the feathers off the Anaheim Ducks in six games.

Nashville have been waiting since Monday and will have a full week off in between games, while the Penguins will only have three days off.  The long break for the Predators could be both an advantage and disadvantage.  The advantage comes from the obvious; being able to get as healthy as one could get after weeks of hard, bruising playoff hockey.  However, that's weighed against the loss of momentum (if you believe in stuff like that) going into the franchise's first every Stanley Cup Final appearance.  By this point, the players have developed a routine and the long break could throw them off.  Playing game 1 on the road could help the Predators maintain their focus.

Injuries have been an issue for the Penguins throughout these playoffs, which makes them returning to the Final that much more remarkable.  The good news is that they are getting bodies back.  At what percentage of health they are working at is something only the players know.  At this point, only Patric Hornqvist is the only regular, outside of Kris Letang (no chance of coming back) that remains on the IR.  Don't be surprised, though, if we see him at some point in the Final against his formal team, if he isn't ready to go for game 1.

So, who will raise the Stanley Cup at the end?

The Predators, unquestionably, have had the best goalie during these playoffs.  Pekka Rinne's numbers have been off the charts, and they will need to continue to be if he wants to be able to get his name etched into the greatest trophy in professional sports.  As talented as their previous opponents were, the Pittsburgh Penguins present a different beast, that features the game's best player in Sidney Crosby and the playoffs leading scorer in Evgeni Malkin.

They will need to continue to get surprising performances like the one from Colton Sissons in game 6 against the Ducks, where he recorded a natural hat-trick, including the game winner.  Sixteen players have scored for the Predators during these playoffs, and all sixteen might have to beat Pittsburgh.

The defence will have their hands full with Crosby and Malkin, but will also be called on to provide offence in the same matter that they did against St. Louis, when the top line was effectively shut down.  The group lead by Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, and Mattias Ekholm, have combined to lead the playoffs in goals by a defence core.

It's funny how at the beginning of the season, very few people picked the Penguins to return to the Final, let alone repeat as champions.  The experts had the Washington Capitals finally breaking through in the east, or the Tampa Bay Lightning making it three times a charm, having made it to back to back Eastern Conference Finals the last two seasons, only to fall short.  It goes to show how difficult it actually is to repeat, having played 106 regular season and playoff games combined last season.

But, here they are, ready to defend their title.

The experience of having won just a year ago will pull them through to successfully defend their title.  They have battled hard and had to deal with adversity throughout these playoffs, whether its injuries or two game 7s.

Sidney Crosby broke out of the funk he was in, following the concussion he received from Washington's Matt Niskanen, in the second half of the Eastern Conference Final.  That's bad news for the Predators.  If you stop Crosby, then there's Malkin to deal with.  Or Phil Kessel, who no matter how you think of him, is as dangerous as anyone on the ice.

Pittsburgh's power-play operates at a 25% clip, while Nashville is languishing at only 14.9%. Without Ryan Johanssen, it becomes even more difficult for Nashville, who were able to get away with an unproductive power-play against Anaheim.  It won't against Pittsburgh.

The Penguins will repeat as Stanley Cup Champions in six games, with Crosby once again named the Conn Smythe winner.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

No Fairytale Ending To Cinderella Story Run

There really is only one way for a game 7 to end and that is with a double overtime winner.
Chris Kunitz picked the perfect time to score only his second goal since February for the Pittsburgh Penguins, firing a knuckle ball past a screened Craig Anderson to send the fans into delirium.  His first goal since February was the opening goal in the second.  He also picked up an assist on this eventful night for the veteran winger.

The Ottawa Senators have proven doubters wrong pretty much all season long.  There weren't many who believed they would even make the playoffs in the first place, let along go as far as they did.  They battled back every step of the way, showing resilience, but the magic finally ran out despite some sublime performances in game 7 by Anderson and Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson seem to be on the ice every other shift, finishing with a game high 39:33, six minutes more than the next high man, Marc Methot.  Most of the time, those minutes were spent having to fend off Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, not to mention looking to create offence, which he did, assisting on both Ottawa goals.  We all knew how good of a player Karlsson was before these playoffs began, but after watching him play throughout these playoffs, he has opened eyes to just how much of an elite player he truly is.

Anderson had another unbelievable game, stopping 39 of 42 shots fired his way.  He made an incredible reactionary save in overtime, where he was surprised with a long shot as he cleared a discarded stick from the front of the net.  Not only was he the busier goalie, but was forced to make more in close saves than his counter part at the other end.  That isn't to say Matt Murray wasn't good for the Penguins.

You almost had to think that the Senators would find a way to continue their fairy tale run at least one more round.  It was, of course, not to be, as their dubious game 7 record now falls to 0-6.

A returning Justin Schultz scored on the power-play to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead after Dion Phaneuf took an interference penalty, which former Maple Leafs' teammate, Phil Kessel more than sold as he went down rather easily.

Ottawa responded with just 5:19 remaining in the third period.  Ryan Dzingel banged home a rebound at the side of the net after Erik Karlsson had let go a howitzer from the point which hit the post.

Pittsburgh dominated the first overtime period, out shooting Ottawa 8-2.  That included two glorious opportunities by Kessel.  On the first, he was flying down the left wing and just missed as he tried to out wait Anderson.  Late in overtime, he drove to the net and had the puck end up rolling up on the net and out.  Penguins fans, though, thought the puck had actually rolled inside the net and out, booing the final minute of the first overtime.

The big question, of course, is did the Penguins touch the Prince of Wales Trophy?  The answer is: yes.  Sidney Crosby, along with assistant captains, Evgeni Malkin and Kunitz, all grabbed a piece of the trophy and posed for a picture along with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daley.  Unlike their opponents in the Stanley Cup Final, Nashville Predators, they did not take a team photo with the trophy, instead Crosby quickly ushered it into the locker room.


In 2008, Crosby shunned the Prince of Wales trophy as if it were poisonous.  They lost the Stanley Cup to Detroit.  Only a year later, Crosby lifted up the trophy, and the Penguins won the rematch against the Red Wings for the franchises third Stanley Cup.  Last year, as you may expect, Crosby, Malkin, and Kunitz picked up the trophy and ended up needing to add a fourth cup to their 50th anniversary patch.  Will history repeat itself once more?




Changes Are Coming

For the 2007-08 season, Reebok introduced its Reebok Edge Jersey System.  That means, NHL uniforms went hi-tech for the first time.  The jerseys were lighter and tighter and originally meant to be tucked in, which was why some teams dropped hem stripes.  But, that requirement was eventually dropped from the final design, which meant some teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs looked completely silly without them, eventually bringing them back a couple years later.

There were problems with the new jerseys, however.  They were too tight for some and while the moisture repelling fabric worked, the draw back was that the sweat that would normally be soaked up by the jerseys, were now dripping down into the players' gloves and pants.  After complaints, Reebok quickly changed the fabric, going with the old school fabrics.

The worst part of those jerseys were that some teams ended up looking the same, except for the team colours, sharing templates.  For some reason, other teams had weird piping that had no business being on a jersey anywhere.  Somebody, somewhere, thought they would actually looked good.  The last complaint, on a more personal note, was the hem was now curved, instead of straight.  This was probably was a holdover from when the jerseys were suppose to be tucked in.  It was such an ugly look, that Brendan Shanahan, still playing with the New York Rangers, had all of the teams' jersey stitched to resemble the old straight hem appearance.

Beginning next season, the league will be going through another round of uniform changes, as Adidas (they also own Reebok) takes over as the official supplier for the NHL.  This has been known for some time now.  The German company, better known for clothing soccer teams, both internationally and in domestic leagues around the world, began it's new effort by supplying the official uniforms for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.  The results were mixed, to say the least.

Today, the NHL announced that 12 teams will be getting new looks.  Just like in 2007, there will be no alternate jerseys.  The jerseys will also feature new jersey tech.  Unfortunately, we will have to wait until the draft until we find out whether those changes are minor or major changes.

The Edmonton Oilers had previously been the only team in which we knew what their plans were for next season.  They planned on rocking their orange alternates at home.  Now, we find out that they will also be darkening their colours, from royal blue to navy blue.

The other teams that will also be making changes are the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Colubus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, and Ottawa Senators.
Of course, the Vegas Golden Knights will also debut their inaugural jerseys.

More to come.

Seventh Heaven

There's nothing like a game 7, especially with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.  For the Ottawa Senators, a win would mark only the second time in franchise history they would play for the Stanley Cup.  If the Pittsburgh Penguins win, they would be the first time since 2008 and 2009 when these very same Penguins went back to back finals, losing in '08 to Detroit, then beating them a year later.  There are still a number of players from those teams including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fluery, and Chris Kunitz. Defenceman, Kris Letang was also part of those team, but hasn't played since Feb. 21 with an injury.

The last time there was a repeat champion was in 1997 and 1998 when the Detroit Red Wings captured their second and third titles in the team's modern day dynasty that began with their '97 win and ended with the 2008 Cup, beating Philadelphia and Washington, respectively.

The numbers don't favour the Senators going into game 7.  They have never won, going
0-5, including a 3-2 loss in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final.  The latest was in 2012 when the New York Rangers bested them in the first round.

Pittsburgh needed a deciding game 7, on the road, to get past the Washington Capitals to reach the Conference Final.  So, they know the feeling of the pressure of a do or die situation.

However, the numbers might not favour the Penguins, either.  They have failed to win a game 7 at home after losing game 6 on the road since 1975.  Again, the Rangers provided the foil in defeating the Penguins in the second round in 2014.

Does any of those numbers mean anything?  Probably not.  At least not before the puck drops, but afterwards, those numbers will surely be used as a talking point in evaluating the game.

The Senators will win because Craig Anderson stands on his head again like he did in game 6.  He struggled in games 3 and 4 against the Rangers in the second round, before rebounding in the final two games.  That could play out again and the Senators certainly need him, too.  The offence will meek out just enough goals to beat Pittsburgh.

The Penguins will win because they have the best player in the game right now playing up to that title.  If Sidney Crosby continues to get open as often as he seem to in game 6, he will eventually bury one of those chances.

They also have the leading scoring in these playoffs in Evgeni Malkin who has 7 goals and 17 assists with Crosby sitting in third on the list.

Whoever wins, the only thing I would like to see is a great game, with the real winners being all the fans tuning in.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Senators Still In Session

There will be at least one more game for the Ottawa Senators, after forcing a seventh and deciding game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a come from behind 2-1 win.  The Penguins had everything on their side; momentum from two straight victories to take a 3-2 series league, including a 7-0 beat down in the last game.  They also have the best player in the game, in Sidney Crosby, regaining his form, leading the charge.

In other words, the Senators needed a miracle to force one more game.

I'm wouldn't say it was a miracle, but Craig Anderson put on a sensational performance in net for Ottawa.  The man that was pulled twice in the first period of game 5, stood on his head, making 45 saves.  He robbed Crosby on several occasions.  For a player that is checked as closely as Crosby, the Pittsburgh captain found a way to get open for some point blank chances.  But, Anderson was there to stop him every time.

Yet, Anderson only managed to be named the 3rd star of the game, behind Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman.  There's some explaining to do there, though I doubt Anderson really cares about that too much.

The Senators' power-play has been anemic in its last 29 chances, failing to score even once.  But, when it needed it the most, the power-play came through with the tying goal after Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins in the lead with a great solo effort in the second period. Granted, it took a 5-3 advantage to get that goal, but all that matters was the game was tied at 1-1.  Bobby Ryan one timed a pass from Kyle Turris, beating Murray.

At 1:34 of the third period, Mike Hoffman took a pass from defenceman, Frederik Claesson, and blew a shot past Matt Murray, off the post and in, sending the Canadian Tire Centre into a joyous frenzy.

The Senators would bend as Pittsburgh came after them hard, but they would not break.  It should not come as a surprise that Ottawa has force a game 7, with the way they have come back on several occasions during these playoffs.

The question now is can they do this again in enemy territory?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Successful Duck Hunt

It just might have been the first time the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was accepted by a man in a suit.  That was the case Monday night when the Nashville Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Mike Fisher, the team captain, was injured in game 4, so had to watch from the luxury box the last two games.

As it has become tradition, Fisher did not touch the Campbell Bowl, nor did anyone else on the team.  It is not the trophy that they want and would not make up if they fail to get four more wins.  However, it didn't stop the team, including injured centre, Ryan Johansen, from gathering around the trophy and taking a picture.  The last time I could remember anyone picking up the Campbell Bowl was when a very joyful Vancouver Canucks' captain Trevor Linden in 1994.  He dropped the lid to the bowl when he lifted it up.




In the absence of the team's top two centres, other players needed to step up these last two games.  It was Pontus Aberg last game, scoring the game winner.  On this night, it was Colton Sissons, recording a natural hat-trick, including the game winner after the Ducks had come back to tie up the game at 3-3.

Nashville got the start any team would want, scoring just 1:21 into the 1st period on its very first shot.  They would go up 2-0 a few minutes later on only its second shot.  The roar inside the Bridgestone Arena was deafening.

It was not John Gibson in net for the Ducks.  Out with a lower body injury, the Ducks would rely on former first round draft pick and highly touted goalie prospect, Jonathan Bernier, to force a game 7.  Bernier needed to stop the second goal that was scored by Sissons, but it's hard to say that it would have made a difference if it had been the Ducks regular starter.

At the other end, Pekka Rinne, simply outshone Bernier.  He would have done the same to Gibson.  He stopped 38 of the 41 shots directed his way.  The Finnish goalie leads the playoffs with an outstanding 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage, along with 12 wins.  To say he's been the best goalie of the playoffs is an understatement.

The final 6-3 score makes it seem more of a blowout, but the final 2 goals were scored into an empty net, sealing Anaheim's fate.  The Predators had themselves a 3-1 lead before the Ducks managed to come back.  But, Sissons final goal of the night had Nashville minutes away from winning the west.

This would have seemed impossible just a few years ago when the team was on shaky ground.  Local ownership stepped in and prevented the team from possibly moving.  The small market team then got good through smart drafting and trades.  Predators first and only general manager, David Poile, and his staff (some of whom have been with him since day 1) deserve an incredible amount of credit for putting this team that is very capable of winning the Stanley Cup together.

And the fans should be given credit for fully embracing hockey in the south.  No more is it just Nascar country.  It's become hockey country, as well.

Welcome to Smashville.

Monday, May 22, 2017

On The Brink

The Nashville Predators put on a gutsy performance Saturday evening, winning 3-1 over the Ducks in Anaheim.  They were without their top 2 centres.  We already knew on Friday that Ryan Johansen's season was done, having injured his leg in game 4, that required surgery.
He suffered an acute compartment syndrome of the left thigh.

Mike Fisher was also hurt in game 4.  The Predators' captain was struck in the jaw by an errant knee from Ducks defenceman, Josh Manson, jumped in an attempt to bat a puck that was in the air.

The Ducks had their own injury woes, as the team's second leading scorer in the playoffs, Rickard Rakell, with a lower body injury.  He won't be ready to play in game 6, nor Patrick Eaves, who also has a lower body injury.

Of even greater concern would be the status of the team's starting netminder.  John Gibson left after the first period in game 5.  No reason was given, but it was suggested that he might have injured his right knee when video replay showed he might have stretched out his right leg awkwardly against the post.  He commented that he would be ready to go for game 6 following the game, though head coach, Randy Carlyle, was non-committal until Gibson was evaluated by team doctors.

Nashville now have the chance to punch their ticket to their very first Stanley Cup Final appearance at home.  There shouldn't be an empty seat in the building, with every single fan decked out in yellow.

Not to jinx them or anything, but when the regular season started way back in October, the Nashville Predators were predicted by EA Sports to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.  They were once game predicted to win before the playoffs began using the 16 teams that made the post season.  Five more wins and those predictions become true.

************************************************

Part of the story line during the Eastern Conference Final were all the injuries to key players in which the Pittsburgh Penguins were having to deal with.  They've gotten some of them back as the series went on, while others went on the IR.  

Now, it's the other way around.  Three very important players for the Senators left the game early.  Erick Karlsson, Cody Ceci, and Derick Brassard were all done after the second period.  It's would be a huge blow for Ottawa if any of them, let alone all three, were unavailable for game 6, as they face elimination.  Even with them, they would be in tough as the Penguins have finally figured them out.

More than Matt Murray providing the Penguins' solid netminding as he took over for Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh were able to finally break through Ottawa's frustrating defence, mainly by taking the lead in game 4, forcing Ottawa to open things up, which played right into the more skillful Penguins.  Ottawa eventually scored twice in the third period, but were unable to tie the game up, losing 3-2.

In game 5, Ottawa did themselves in.  Turnovers, turnovers, and more turnovers lead to goals by Pittsburgh.  They had 4 before the 1st period was over, chasing Sens' goalie, Craig Anderson, twice.  Once after the Penguins took a 3-0 at the sixteen minute mark, then for good after the 1st intermission.

Before we go on saying the Senators' Cinderella run will be coming to an end, we should remember how resilient the team has been through this years playoffs.  They have come back in games to win in overtime.  People thought they were done after being embarrassed by the New York Rangers in games 3 and 4 of the second round.  They bounced back to reach the Eastern Conference Final.

It will be tough.  Tougher if the team loses any of its top players.  But, it's not entirely impossible that there will be a game 7 back in Pittsburgh.  Know this: Ottawa will bring it at home on Tuesday.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Old Habits Die Hard

There was a time when a homophobic slur was no big think in sports.  It was part of the language used by players in their trash talk.  If one player uttered such a word, the other player would probably scream it back, and after more jawing, the players would move along.
Even if said words were caught on camera, chances are, nothing would happen to them.
No suspension, no fine, no apologizes either.

Today, times are very different, and that is a good thing.  Society, for the most part, have become more accepting of people of different backgrounds, religions, colour, and their sexual preferences.  As long as people are good, why does it matter if they are different?

It would seem, though, that is sports, athletes are somewhat slow to change.  Anaheim Ducks captain, Ryan Getzlaf, has been fined $10,000 (the maximum allowed) by the NHL for uttering a homophobic slur during game 4, which was caught on camera, though there was no audio.

Just a couple of days ago, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder, Kevin Pillar, was suspended for 2 games by the team for screaming a homophobic slur at an opposing pitcher.  He was immediately contrite following the game and issued an apology.

Andrew Shaw, while still with the Chicago Blackhawks was suspended for a game and fined $5000 for directing a homophobic slur towards an official.  It is no surprise that the NHL did not suspend Getzlaf, as this is the way the league operates.

I've joked in the past that the league spins a wheel with various suspensions, fines, and even nothing on it, to determine what punishment a player will receive.  That would explain  of the head scratching decisions the league has made in the past.  If it was still the regular season or if Getzlaf wasn't one of the top players on the Ducks, it would not be surprising if he would have received the same penalty that Shaw received last year.  If the league wanted to send a message, they would have suspended Getzlaf for a game.  Make the punishment harsh so that players think twice and can't use the "in the heat of the moment" argument.

To the NHL's credit, they have partnered with You Can Play since 2012.  The group's goal is to eradicate homophobia in sports.  Teams have taken steps in the last few years to be more inclusion, participating in pride parades.

There has never been a NHL player, past or present, who has come out as gay.  There have few in sports in general, but the feeling of acceptance of a gay teammate has risen in most sports, at least that is what some have said.

So why then in the year 2017, athletes are still using homophobic slurs?

Well, because for so many years it was normal to use a homophobic slur as part of trash talk.  Even for somebody like Getzlaf, who is 32, it was considered no big deal.  I don't think Getzlaf is homophobic or a bad person at all, though I don't know him personally, so I couldn't be 100% about that.

For future generation of players, using homophobic slurs, or even calling male athletes 'girls' or other female terms which is supposed to be an insult, should become non-existent as the times change.