Thursday, September 15, 2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
The final contest on Tuesday of the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament between the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings was essentially played as a formality. Buffalo entered the day 2-0 after victories over defending tourney champ Minnesota and Columbus, and had already earned a place in the championship tilt (with the other half of that card being the New York Rangers, despite losing in double OT to Carolina earlier in the day). On the other hand, Detroit would be relegated to the 7th place game following losses to the Blue Jackets and Wild to start the tourney. Their sloppy play - especially versus Columbus – was quite uncharacteristic for a team wearing the winged wheel, and they sought to amend their game plan and please the very pro-Red Wing crowd at Centre ICE.
The New York Rangers were attempting to close out round-robin play at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament with an unblemished 3-0 record, and looked to do this Tuesday afternoon against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes have had a struggle in the tourney thus far, looking scattered and disorganized in an 8-2 loss to Dallas on the first day, followed by a tough 2-1 defeat to St. Louis on Sunday. At a glance one would think this matchup would be a mismatch, but as we know, that’s why they play the games.
Monday, September 12, 2011
The New York Rangers and the Dallas Stars knew heading into this evening’s clash that the winner would be on the fast track to Wednesday’s championship tilt in the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament. Each team certainly wanted to feed off the strong start both squads had in their opening games yesterday. The Stars jumped on Carolina early and often in an easy 8-2 win, while the Rangers were fueled by strong special teams in a 5-2 victory over St. Louis.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
The luck of the draw on David’s Rink at Centre ICE Arena today for the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament was that all four teams playing their today won their games yesterday. That made today’s games key to put the winners in the driver’s seat for a berth in Wednesday’s championship game. First up were the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Buffalo Sabres.
Special teams are crucial to every hockey team’s success, and can help make a good team great. Yesterday’s tilt between the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues at the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament was a great example of how one team took advantage of the penalty troubles of their opponent.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Each year at the NHL Prospects Tournament, there are several talented young players who aim to impress the hundreds of scouts and NHL brass in attendance, all in the hope of cracking the roster of their parent NHL club, seeking to avoid a demotion to the minors or being sent back to juniors (FYI, NCAA players are not eligible to participate in NHL training camps and rookie tournaments until they complete their four years in college or relinquish their collegiate eligibility by turning pro). This year is no different, and there are a number of skaters and netminders looking to make the grade.
I’m going to give a run-down of some of the big names I’ll be watching closely in the games I’ll be working. Bear in mind, by no means is this a ranking (the order in which I discuss these players is entirely random), nor is it intended to act as a comprehensive biography. But of all the players coming to Traverse City, their will be a handful of players who will have an impact playing with their NHL teams in 2011-12.
Some may turn out to be a pleasant surprise (such as last year’s Calder winner, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, and Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers), others merely a flash-in-the-pan (Fabian Brunnstrom for Dallas in 2008). But whether or not these kids break into the big time this season depends on a number of factors, most of which involve the positional needs of each team. A prospect will have a much easier time carving his niche on a cellar dweller such as Columbus than he will getting ice time on a perennial powerhouse like Detroit. But injuries, ineffective play by incumbent veterans, or a coaching change might make the need for a mid-season call-up necessary for some of these teams. Like I said before, I’d expect about 4-6 players here at Centre ICE this week will play most – if not all – of this season at the highest level in the world.
Without further ado, here’s some of the top names at the tourney this year who’ll be high on everyone’s “must see” list.
Ryan Johansen, F, Columbus: The 4th overall draft pick in 2010 stand a good chance to stick with the Blue Jackets this year. Johansen led a stacked Portland Winterhawks (WHL) team with 93 points (40 / 52) in 62 games last year.
Jack Campbell, G, Dallas: “Captain America” had his share of growing pains last year – his first in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires – but regained his composure to help lead the Spits to the conference final. The 11th overall pick in 2010 went 24-14-4 / 3.80 / .884 / no SO.
Jamie Oleksiak, D. Dallas: The hulking stay-at-home blueliner (6’7”, 240) was taken 14th overall in this June’s draft. He’ll be taking his physical play to the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit after departing Northeastern University after his freshman season.
J.T. Miller, F. NY Rangers: After two seasons with the U.S. National Developmental Team Program in Ann Arbor, Miller will make a short drive up M-14 to play with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, spurning a scholarship to the U. of North Dakota. Miller tallied 37 points (11 / 26) in 48 games with the USNTDP’s U-18 squad (3rd on the team), and was chosen 15th overall by the Rangers this June.
Jake Allen, G, St. Louis: Originally taken 34th overall in 2008, Allen returns for his 4th visit to the T.C. tourney. Allen went 25-19-3 / 2.52 / .917 / 6 SO in his first pro season with the Peoria Rivermen (AHL), displacing Ben Bishop as the Blues’ top goaltending prospect in the process.
Stefan Della Rovere and Phil McRae, F, St. Louis Blues: These two agitating grinders spent most of last season with the Blues’ top farm club in Peoria, but each had brief call-ups to St. Louis. No doubt they’ll be looking to impress the Blues’ coaching staff for more ice time at the NHL level this year.
Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper, G, Minnesota: Hackett and Kuemper were two major reasons why the Wild won the NHL Prospects Tournament last year. In his first pro season last year, Hackett – chosen 77th overall in 2009 – helped lead the Houston Aeros (AHL) to the Calder Cup Final with a 23-16-4 record / 2.37 / .916 / 2 SO. Meanwhile, Kuemper was named the WHL’s Top Goaltender and Player of the Year in 2010-11, going 45-12-5 / 1.86 / .933 / and a staggering 13 SO with the Red Deer Rebels.
Zack Phillips, F, Minnesota: The pick used to select Phillips (at 28th overall this past June) was part of the package sent to the Wild from the Sharks, landing Brett Burns in San Jose. Phillips tallied 95 points (38 / 57) in 67 games for the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL).
Chay Genoway, D, Minnesota: The diminutive defenseman (5’8”, 165) was a Hobey Baker finalist as a senior with the U. of North Dakota, notching 37 points (6 / 31) in 36 games. Genoway was signed by the Wild as an undrafted free agent.
Ryan Murphy, D, Carolina: Another pint-sized puck mover from the blueline (5’11”, 176), Murphy put up big numbers with the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). His 79 points (26 / 53) in 63 games was 2nd best on the Rangers, and helped him get selected 12th overall by the Hurricanes in 2011.
Brendan Smith, D, Detroit: Considered the Red Wings’ top prospect in a deep talent pool, Smith stand a good chance to see some significant ice time on Detroit’s blue line. The 27th overall pick in 2007 had a steady rookie season in Grand Rapids (AHL) last year with 32 points (12 / 20) and 124 PIM in 63 games.
Gustav Nyquist, F, Detroit: This crafty Swede – taken 121st overall in 2008 – enters his first professional season after completing three seasons at the University of Maine. A two-time Hobey Baker finalist, Nyquist had an impressive rookie camp in July.
Tomas Jurco, F. Detroit: Another stellar puck-handler, Jurco was the Wings’ top pick (35th overall) this past June. While Jurco notched 56 points (31 / 25) in 60 games in helping Saint John (QMJHL) to the Memorial Cup crown last year, the slick Slovak made more of a name for himself thanks to YouTube with some sweet dangling.
Zack Kassian, F. Buffalo: This bruising power forward (6’3”, 215) can punish you on the scoresheet, finishing with 77 points (26 / 51) last year with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL). But his chippy physicality can cross the line between tough and dirty from time to time – as evidenced by his cross-check to the face of Barrie’s Matt Kennedy (now a Carolina prospect) back in 2010, earning Kassian a 20-game suspension. The Sabres’ 1st rounder from 2009 (13th overall) was also suspended for 2 games at this year’s World Juniors for – you guessed it – a hit to the head.
Brayden McNabb, D. Buffalo: Chosen 66th overall in 2009 by the Sabres, the rock-solid McNabb (6’4”, 210) helped the Kootenay Ice capture the WHL title last season, garnering 72 points (22 / 50) in 59 games.
Luke Adam, F. Buffalo: The former St. John’s Fog Devil (QMJHL) had a great opening campaign in the AHL last year, scoring 62 points (29 / 33) in 57 games with the Portland Pirates. A second-rounder in 2008 (44th overall), Adam also potted 3 goals and an assist in 19 games in limited minutes with the Sabres in his NHL debut last season.
Feel free to mention any players you’ll be paying close attention to at the tournament in the comments below. Here’s where you can find all eight rosters (just click on each team's name for the link to their respective roster.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
We’re less than 48 hours from start of the 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, and while most of the rest of the Western world is focused on the return of football, my mind is right where it belongs – on hockey. Nothing like the return of the NHL’s best and brightest young stars to cure an 7 ½ - month case of writer’s block….
(Frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if the NFL remained locked out forever, but I digress. That's a rant for another day.)
A few changes to the tournament this year have been made. Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning brought their prospects back to Northern Michigan after a one-year hiatus, replacing the Atlanta Thrashers. For this year, Tampa will host their own three-team rookie tourney with Nashville and Florida (word on the street was the Thrashers would’ve been a part of this tournament as well, but they apparently moved north or something like that). In the place of the Lightning are the Buffalo Sabres, who will make their debut at Centre ICE in the tourney’s first game, taking on the defending champion Minnesota Wild. The remaining seven teams return for the tourney’s 14th edition: Detroit (the host team), Minnesota, Dallas, Columbus, St. Louis, Carolina, and the New York Rangers.
Speaking of the Blueshirts, their local TV affiliate, the MSG Network, will be coming to Traverse City to telecast the games featuring the Rangers’ prospects. These games will be broadcast live, and will also be simulcast on the NHL Network (along with multiple repeat showings if you can’t catch the live broadcast). This will be the first time since 2008 that any of the tourney’s games on be shown on TV, and hopefully the presence of the MSG Network will bring other broadcast teams to cover these games (the Red Wings fans I see on a daily basis are befuddled at the opportunity Fox Sports Detroit is missing by opting not to telecast these games).
For those of you familiar with my work here at Spittin’ Chiclets, you know the drill with how I operate, but here’s a primer for all you newcomers to the blog: I work as one of the public address announcers for these games, so I have an ice level view of the action from the scorer’s box. I’ll be providing coverage of the games I’m scheduled to work, plus I’ll include snippets of the games I won’t be working, which I’ll be catching bits and pieces of during intermissions of the games I do work (Centre ICE has two adjacent sheet of ice, and games will occur simultaneously, staggered by ½ hour delays for the start of each game.) The luck of the draw would have it this year that I’ll get to see all eight teams play at least one game during the round robin portion of the tournament (which hasn’t been the case in years past).
The schedule for the tournament is below (with the games I’ll be working and covering in bold and italics):
Saturday, September 10
3:30 pm Minnesota / Buffalo (David’s Rink)
4:00 pm Dallas / Carolina (Huntington Rink)
7:00 pm NY Rangers / St. Louis (David’s Rink)
7:30 pm Detroit / Columbus (Huntington Rink)
Sunday, September 11
2:30 pm Columbus / Buffalo (David’s)
3:00 pm St. Louis / Carolina (Huntington)
6:00 pm NY Rangers / Dallas (David’s)
6:30 pm Detroit / Minnesota (Huntington)
Monday, September 12
No games scheduled - Day off for practice
Tuesday, September 13
3:00 pm NY Rangers / Carolina (David’s)
3:30 pm Dallas / St. Louis (Huntington)
6:30 pm Columbus / Minnesota (David’s)
7:00 pm Detroit / Buffalo (Huntington)
Wednesday, September 14 (my work schedule is still to be determined for the final day)
3:00 pm 7th place - 4th Place Howe Division / 4th Place Gretzky Division (David’s)
3:30 pm 5th place - 3rd Place Howe / 3rd Place Gretzky (Huntington)
6:30 pm 3rd place - 2nd Place Howe / 2nd Place Gretzky (David’s)
7:00 pm Championship - 1st Place Howe / 1st Place Gretzky (Huntington)
Detroit, Minnesota, Buffalo, Columbus
NY Rangers, St. Louis, Dallas, Carolina
I'm always happy to plug the fine work of others, so I'm more than willing to direct you good folks towards Sarah at The Left Wing Lock (not to be confused with the Left Wing Lock site which reports starting goaltenders for you fantasy hockey players out there). She's been covering the tournament and Red Wings training camp for much linger than I have, and she does a fine job. There's also standings, rosters, stats, and boxscores of every game from the good folks at Pointstreak.
Certainly some of these young men will make an impact with their respective clubs this season. So tomorrow, I give a brief rundown on the young stars to watch in this tournament (or at least who I’ll have a close eye on). Perhaps this year’s Calder Trophy winner will be playing in this event, much like last year when Jeff Skinner made his debut in a Carolina Hurricanes sweater.
Friday, January 28, 2011
I think I have a problem. I’m addicted to fantasy hockey.
But this is something that extends beyond the usual obsessive-compulsive behavior of your typical fantasy junkie (poring over the waiver wire, over-analyzing matchups with your opponent, digging for injury updates and starting goalies, devising strategic trades/heists/highway robbery, waking up in the middle of the night to add players as their waiver period expires, etc.). No, I’ve noticed something about myself that’s a bit more unsettling.
Nowadays, I can’t watch an NHL game with thinking of the impact and ramifications on my fantasy teams. And it’s impacting my overall viewing pleasure while watching hockey at its highest level.
For the last several seasons, I’ve found myself following teams a lot less (trust me, if you’re a Leafs fan, you’d do the same thing in recent years) and instead paid more attention to individual players. I’ve come to appreciate the various aspects of different players’ skill levels, some who’ve gradually evolved with their game (Rick Nash’s focus in all three zones under Ken Hitchcock’s guidance and Sidney Crosby’s improvement in the face-off circle are just two examples), while others continue to make the competition look foolish (Pavel Datsyuk’s crafty stick-handling and the ESP-like telepathy between Henrik and Daniel Sedin come to mind here).
Yet, as I’ve been involved in fantasy hockey now for the past three seasons, that focus when watching a game has become narrowed to the statistical ramifications on how a certain game affects my fantasy team(s). I went from 4 teams last season down to merely 2 this year, in the hopes that my perspective as a fan would revert back to the typical mindset of a hockey fan (that, and some persuasive urging from my better half). But it seems my mathematical mind continues to be myopic.
A recent example to give you a glimpse into my recent hockey viewing traits goes back a few weeks to a Sunday night contest between the Ducks and Blackhawks, which I started watching on Hockey Night on Yahoo! (where they stream select regional coverage most nights). Having several players on both squads on both of my teams (Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer, Ryan Getzlaf, Toni Lydman), I kept a particularly close eyes on those certain players during this clash. But the fact that none of these players had a particular significant impact (from a fantasy standpoint) essentially ruined what was otherwise a decent game to watch (a 2-1 Anaheim victory on home ice). Chicago peppered Jonas Hiller with shot after shot, and I couldn’t help but think how having Hiller between the pipes on one of my squads would’ve been so much more helpful to me, causing me to second-guess all of my decision making. Oh well, could’ve + should’ve = didn’t.
What’s worse, during each break in the action, I’d pop over to another open window to check the boxscores (and all the automatic, in-game updates) to quickly scan and see if any of my other fantasy players were doing anything noteworthy.
I will say I’ve gained a certain appreciation for certain players, but it seems to be relative towards their overall performance this year. Patrick Sharp’s 26 goals (5th in the league as of the All-Star break) have been a revelation to most folks outside of the Windy City, and the fact that I snagged him in the 7th and 10th rounds, respectively, in my drafts make me enjoy his scoring prowess all the more. Ditto for Claude Giroux’s 19 G-28 A-47 Pts (8th and 9th rounds). And Jonathan Quick’s break-out season (2.15 GAA, 22 wins and 5 SO) has made my goaltending somewhat of a no-brainer after nabbing him in the 8th round and in a shrewd trade, respectively. Hell, even a player I loathe with nearly every fiber of my being such as Steve Downie has fallen into favor thanks to his level of productivity as a pest on mu teams.
But the question still remains: Would I be paying as much attention to these show-stealing seasons if I wasn’t managing them on my fantasy teams?
The opposite side of the coin holds true, as well, when there’s players I’ve been fond of in previous seasons, but the mere mention of their names makes me cringe at this season’s efforts. Case and point is my vote for Least Valuable Player this year, Simon Gagne. I’d had big expectations for a new start in Tampa Bay for the talented 40-goal scoring winger, so I picked him in the 6th and 7th rounds in my drafts. But the injury bug – costing Gagne nearly a quarter of the season – general ineffectiveness, and a lack of chemistry with his new teammates led to only 1 goal during his time on my roster before my patience grew thin enough to drop him in both leagues; Strangely enough, Gagne scored 3 goals two weeks ago – for one of my opponents.
My propensity for adding and dropping players like a cocaine-addled Wall Street junk bond trader has come back to hurt me on occasion to. A recent example was the addition of Brian Gionta to fill in at the right wing position for a day, in the hopes of closing the gap in the Shots On Goal department. Being in the top ten in SOG (and tops amongst those available on the waiver wire), I added him without even blinking. However, Gionta failed to register a single shot on net vs. Pittsburgh, a 2-1 Canadiens victory – on the heels of a 9 SOG performance in his previous game.
So does this make Gagne and Gionta terrible players? Not necessarily, in fact they’re both a couple of players I haven’t minded watching over the last several seasons. But their poor performances under my watch have reinforced negative thoughts about these players that may well remain for the rest of this season and may linger into next.
Perhaps this is merely a by-product of the present-day technological advances, where any and every minute fragment of information is available at your fingertips whenever you want it. Hopefully it’s nothing more than Internet-induced ADHD. And considering none of what happens during the NHL’s All-Star Weekend will factor towards either of my fantasy teams, perhaps this will act as the right time to correct what ails my hockey viewing. That might just fix my twitchy mouse-clicking finger.
Or maybe I should just start watching hockey again on my TV. Centre Ice, here I come!
The NHL All-Star Game is this weekend in Raleigh (along with the Skills Competition and the additional fan-fare and festivities), and the league is buzzing with all the format changes to the rosters this year. I’ve got enough thoughts swirling in my head regarding the NHL’s mid-season point (though technically, the season is about 2/3 done, but I’ll just roll with it), so it’s time to commit them to text….
• I’ll go on the record by saying the schoolyard-style, pick your own roster was a great decision by the competition committee to inject new life into this contest. Thumbs up, Brendan Shanahan.
• Removing the fan vote in deciding the starting lineups was an EXCELLENT idea. The ASG in Montreal two years ago serves as a glaring example of how homer-ism mucks up the process by honoring unworthy players. Far too many fans play the homer card and therefore abuse this process, and I don’t think there’s a worse example than the lengths Canadiens fans went to in 2009 voting in their own. The fan vote is the only manner in which Mike Komisarek, Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev would’ve been named All-Stars in this universe two years ago. Absolutely shameless. Perhaps losing the right to vote acts as a turn-off to some, but when you abuse that right, you kind of deserve to have it taken away.
• Another wise choice on the captaincy selections. Nick Lidstrom and Eric Staal were excellent selections, and I’m sure I echo the sentiments of many hockey fans by saying it’s a good thing that the NHL didn’t choose the obvious poster boys of the league to select each roster. Bonus points for giving Staal the nod as “C” – it’ll add a home-ice advantage component you seldom see in an ASG that should make it a real treat for the Canes fans in Raleigh.
• Alright people, enough talk about this event being meaningless. It’s a break in the action of an already grueling season for these players. It’s supposed to be a fun event highlighting many of the NHL’s top players, and nothing more than that.
• On the same note, I do hope the NHL decides against mirroring Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game stakes, where the MLB ASG winner gains home-field advantage in the World Series for its respective league. While I understand Bud Selig’s decision to add meaning to the Midseason Classic – considering the number of top-flight stars that were opting out of baseball’s showcase at that time – the regular season needs to count for something. Home-ice in the NHL playoffs needs to be decided over the course of 82 games, not 1.
• Yes, we’re all well aware of the number of big names missing the game due to injury. So how about we focus on those who WILL participate instead, shall we?
• For the record, this year’s ASG will still feature last year’s Hart winner (Henrik Sedin), last year’s Norris winner (Duncan Keith), a couple of additional previous Norris winners (Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara, both top candidates for the award this season), last year’s Conn Smythe winner (Jonathan Toews), 8 of the top 10 goal scorers in the league right now (Steven Stamkos, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Sharp, Danny Briere, Staal, Corey Perry, and Rick Nash), 5 of the top 7 in assists (both Sedins, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Keith Yandle), the Vezina winner from two years ago (Tim Thomas, who’ll be this year’s Vezina winner, barring a massive collapse), the player in the pole position for this year’s Calder (Jeff Skinner)….
• ….And that’s without mentioning the fantastic seasons of Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Stastny, Shea Weber, Claude Giroux, Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Loui Eriksson, Erik Karlsson, Carey Price, Jonas Hiller, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Henrik Lundqvist, to name a few. So there’s plenty of talent that’ll be in Raleigh without griping about the injured absentees. (Anyone notice I haven’t mentioned Alex Ovechkin yet?)
• Regarding the walking wounded, I think the NHL has to give these guys a free pass. Two years ago in Montreal, the league took a big black eye when they suspended Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk for a game follwing the ASG for not participating in the festivities due to injuries. You simply can’t put a proverbial gun to these player’s heads if they are physically unable to perform. While it’s a drag that the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Getzlaf, Parise, Enstrom, et al won’t be able to participate in this year’s festivities, they’ve got MORE than a legitimate reason.
• While he’s not injured, I’ll also give Jarome Iginla a free pass for “family reasons.” Considering the poor health of his grandmother – combined with the loss of his grandfather in May, both of whom were “major influences on his life), I’d say we can let this one slide. Iggy’s someone who’s always answered the bell when it comes to service during his tenure in Calgary, and continues to be a great face and personality for the Flames and the NHL.
• You know who DOESN’T get off the hook? Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. These two jokers declined the chance to play in the ASG for NO LEGITIMATE REASON. There remains speculation as to whether Richards and Carter were asked by the NHL for the initial list of invitees or the injury replacements, but “plans with friends” doesn’t quite cut it for the list of reasons for exclusion. All-Star consideration is an honor and a privilege (not to mention a big factor taken into consideration of Hall of Fame induction, if we’re looking deeper into the crystal ball), not a right or something to be automatically doled out to a top flight team.
• I’m glad to see not every NHL team has a player representing them in the ASG. I have found this to be a huge flaw in All-Star Game formats throughout the world of sports. It’s a bit like the participation ribbons handed out at 4-H or youth basketball camp, and it rings a bit hollow. That being said, a few players on bad teams did get snubbed (John Tavares probably being the biggest that comes to mind – he should be in instead of say, Phil Kessel, perhaps?).
• A lot of speculation is swirling around who will be the player selected last in the ASG draft – so much so that Las Vegas even has odds on who’ll go first and who’ll go last. As far as Mr. Irrelevant goes, my money’s on Phil Kessel. Echoing my last thought, he doesn’t deserve to be in the running (same story for Tomas Kaberle two years ago).
That about all I've got for today's random thoughts. Plenty more to come for the blog. It's been far too long since anything's been posted here, so we'll have more hockey stuff in the very near future.