Monday, August 31, 2009

Trouble brewing in the Windy City

I am not going to pretend for a second that I understand the internal workings of the NHLPA or exactly what motivated Eric Lindros and his cronies to kick Paul Kelly's caboose out onto the cold Chicago pavement early this morning, but I do know that these are two images I never want to see again:


That's enough to instill fear in the heart of any hockey fan. 
The NHL, especially in the United States, is only just recovering from the-year-that-shall-not-be-named, and teams that were previously on the brink like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington, and St. Louis are now able to compete again. The current CBA expires after the 2011-2012 season, and another work stoppage would not only reverse the progress this league has made, but would surely compromise its already fragile state down south. 

Two lockouts less than a decade apart does not look good on any league's resume, especially one that relies on such a small number of teams for the majority of its revenue. Surely the reconstructed version of the NHL, barely 5 years old, can't be in need of an overhaul already? I sure hope the PA finds the headstrong-take-no-prisoners leader they're looking for, because if they don't, it may be back to drawing board yet again. 

And you thought the off-season was boring.  

NHL Countdown: 31 days 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Comrie's much anticipated return to the Oilers: the press conference

It's a real the shame rumours regarding Comrie's return to the Oilers turned out to be false. What an entertaining press conference that would've been! Following in the footsteps of DGB, here's how I imagine it may have gone down: 

Somewhere in Rexall Place...

Tambellini: (tugs on Kevin Lowe's suit jacket) I'm BORED!
LoweJust sit still and let me do the talking. Here, play with this puck
(Tambellini snatches the puck and starts rolling it on the table) 
Lowe: (sighs) Today we are pleased to introduce the newest addition to the Edmonton Oilers, Mike Comrie (stunned silence)
Lowe: (hands Comrie Oilers jersey, lowers his voice) Try to keep it in your pants this time, Mike
Comrie: ...(laughs nervously)
Hilary Duff: $#%@?!
(Ales Hemsky's wife winks and mouths "call me" from across the room)
Comrie: (shrugs and pulls on Oilers jersey) 
All three pose for pictures
Tambellini: (nudges Lowe) Thank God for all the free Valium, eh?
Lowe: (nods and takes a sip of water) Steve will now be taking questions from the media--regrettably, I have a prior engagement to attend to 
(pats Tambellini on the back and exits the room) 
(flurry of media activity ensues)
Tambellini:...(points) Look over there, it's Dany Heatley! (ducks under the table)
(silence; everyone looks expectantly at Comrie, now the only one left at the table)
Comrie: So...who wants to hear the REAL reason I left Edmonton? 
(Everyone gets up and shuffles out of the room)
Tambellini: (emerges from under the table) They gone yet? Look who else was hiding down here!
(Craig MacTavish crawls out from behind the tablecloth, blinking. He stands up, looks around, and runs out of the room) 
Tambellini: (brushes off his suit and sinks into the chair next to Comrie) Valium?
Comrie: (shrugs and accepts three white pills from Tambellini's outstretched hand)
Tambellini: So what is the real reason you left Edmonton? 
Comrie: Nailed my teammate's wife. Chris Pronger told me it's best to keep 'em guessing 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Could it be? Tanguay finally chooses a team and Saturday's rumour roundup

Is summer over yet? You know I'm getting desperate when I start posting pictures of Mats Sundin's wedding, courtesy of the Toronto Sun:

Tie Domi and Peter Forsberg. I'm guessing that's not Belinda Stronach 

Daniel Sedin with his wife and agent. Henrik wasn't invited. 

Mats and bride Josephine Johansson. Good to see he's finally settling down with a nice Swedish gal

Hallelujah! After fielding offers from what seemed like all 30 NHL teams, Alex Tanguay has finally decided on a destination (and you thought Heatley was picky). After almost two months of toiling on the free-agent market, RDS is reporting that Tanguay has signed a 1-year deal with the Lightning which will see him earn around $2 million, pending a physical. 

Fellow Quebecers Martin St-Louis and Vincent Lecavalier helped lure the velvet-handed winger to the Sunshine State, where he accepted a significant pay cut after two seasons marred by injuries and decreased production. If Tampa gets consistent goaltending from Mike Smith and its squabbling owners agree to an amicable separation, they may be able to pull one over on a few Eastern squads this season. 

Now that that's over and done with, we can all turn our attention to Heatley and his possible trade to the LA Kings, the ongoing Coyotes debacleand Peter Forsberg's pending comeback. 

NHL Countdown: 33 days 

Friday, August 28, 2009

Flames stars fail to stand out at orientation scrimmage

As I was flying home from Toronto during last night's sold out conclusion to Team Canada's 4-day camp with my brand new Olympic jersey (in red) stowed safely away in my carry-on bag, I couldn't help but wonder how the Flames' four invitees would perform. Turns out they were far from spectacular. 

Iginla was outshone by linemates Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash until he was replaced by St. Louis, Phaneuf committed a glaring defensive zone error which led to a goal for Team White and was limited by the game's lack of physical play, as was Regehr. Bouwmeester, who like Scott Neidermayer, is at his best when he goes unnoticed, took an unnecessary tripping penalty against Jason Spezza. Is this simply off-season rust, or should Flames fans be worried? After all, Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Smyth, and even embattled winger Dany Heatley seemed to have no problem making an impact on Team Canada's management. 

What could be the cause of this lackluster showing? Pressure to perform? Surely veterans of one or more Olympic games like Iginla, Regehr, and Bouwmeester wouldn't be intimidated by the competition and watchful eyes and expectations of fans and Canada's coaching staff? Could it be lack of motivation? Every Canadian player at any level would kill to lace up the skates for Canada, especially to avenge the Turin debacle that participants such as Iginla have been citing as a source of motivation all week. And the threat of injury? Regehr and Phanuef both claim to have fully recovered from late-season injuries, and Hockey Canada purchased full-coverage insurance policies for each player attending the camp in the event of an injury. 

So what could possibly be deterring four of our best players from giving their all in an effort to impress the men who will ultimately determine their Olympic fate? The only one of that elite group who is considered a lock for the team is Iginla, drawing on his previous international experience and veteran status. Considering Canada's depth on defence, the other three are easily replaceable. If these players who account for the majority of Calgary's core are unable to commit to a system that will simply require a consistent effort and responsibility at both ends of the ice over a two-week period, how will they respond to Brent Sutter's similar coaching style come training camp?  

Perhaps I'm overreacting to a game that will probably prove to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things (and I really wish I could've been there, it sounded awesome), but I feel as if Flames players could have used this opportunity, on home ice, to prove to their fans that they're not only ready for the Olympics, but ready for the season. On the contrary, I got the impression that we should expect another slow start to the 2009-10 season. With the Canucks shoring up their defence today with the additions of Schneider, Ehrhoff, and Lukowich, competition in the Northwest will be stiff. Training camp is quickly approaching, and the Flames will need Iginla, Regehr, Bouwmeester, and Phaneuf to be in top form if they are to make any noise in the West, let alone at the Olympics. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

A hockey appetizer to tide you over 'till mid September

I am off to the land of all things Leafs tomorrow for two days and will sadly be missing out on the media circus that will undoubtably be Team Canada's orientation camp. I can just imagine the awkward conversation between Danny Heatley and Jason Spezza taking place as I write this; the last remaining dregs of playoff bitterness ebbing away between Sidney Crosby and Dan Cleary, Eric Staal and Milan Lucic, and Jarome Iginla and Jonathan Toews as they prepare to come together in pursuit of that elusive Olympic gold six months from now. For those of us who aren't lucky enough to be among the 170 accredited media attending this week's camp, here are a few pictures from this evening's practice courtesy of  the Twitter page of Boomer from The Fan 960. 

The Dome is ready on Twitpic
The Dome

First on-ice session on Twitpic

Nash, Morrow and Sid stretch it out. on Twitpic
Stretching...if you look really closely, you can see Simon Gagne grimacing as he pulls his groin

A sweaty Vinny on Twitpic

In the dark with Ryan Smyth on Twitpic

On the first day of practice, Iginla skated on a line with Crosby and Nash, Phaneuf was paired with Dallas' Stephane Robidas, Regehr with Chicago's Brent Seabrook, and Bouwmeester with Brent Burns of the Wild. The line of Nash-Crosby-Iginla could very possibly hit the ice come February. Along with everyone else in this great nation, I have been fiddling with my own Team Canada roster, and it's not an easy process. Stevie Y has an intimidating task ahead of him, no matter how hard he tries to downplay the pressure to win on home turf. 

The fact that Canada has failed to earn gold in any sport in two Olympic games at home has been the elephant in the room ever since Vancouver's winning bid was announced, and although Canada's overall performance at the 2006 winter games was encouraging and results since then have been promising, it's not going to get any easier. Team USA has already proclaimed themselves the tournament underdog and it's no secret Russia is an offensive juggernaut, while Sweden, Finland, and the Czechs are always a threat. Regardless of the final roster, Team Canada will have to use Turin's disappointing 7th place finish as motivation to avoid a similar fate. 

The situation is ripe for an upset, and if led by the right group of players, this relatively young team should be able to manage the pressure and prove why they belong atop of the hockey world once again. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who will tickle the twine in 2009/10 for the Flames?

First of all, allow me to apologize for that hideous alliteration. It's late. 

Earlier tonight I was looking at the astonishing depth of forwards Team Canada's management have at their disposal for the 2010 Olympics and I started thinking about the Flames roster (naturally). I'm beginning to get a little anxious about their top-six predicament. I know some players might exceed expectations and have career years, Iginla, Jokinen, and Langkow could all return to form and so on, but is it too much to expect for Boyd, Moss, Bourque, and Dawes to put up 20+ goals each? I have been staunchly against putting hypothetical lines together until well into training camp, but I just couldn't help myself. So here is what my forward lineup would look like, assuming there is no more movement:


Extras: Jaffray, Greentree, Prust, McGrattan

Moss's play last season proved that he deserves a promotion to the second line and more powerplay time, although he still needs to improve defensively. If anyone other than Bourque is worthy of first line duty on this team, it's probably Moss. Crash The Crease makes a case for Glencross to skate on the first line due to his speed and defensive capability. Comparing stats from last season, I would give Glencross a shot on the second line before Dawes. Jokinen and Langkow are interchangeable, in my opinion, until Olli consistently proves otherwise. Now, there's also the possibility that Backlund makes the team out of camp, which could alter the roster as so: 


If Backlund makes the team, as Sutter has said before, it will be top-six or bust, which would then demote Langkow to the third line, unless he can play wing. 

An ideal setup would probably look a little something like this: 

Glencross-Backlund- Boyd

Seeing Bourque as our first line LW after one exceptional season, especially with a bum ankle, makes me uneasy. Of course there is a chance he could repeat or even improve, as he's still in his prime, but ankle injuries are nothing to take lightly (see: Sidney Crosby). I'm not about to suggest we trade Sarich or Langkow or rattle off a list of possible first-line calibre, play-making LWs the Flames could potentially trade for and their asking prices because a) that would be a lot of work and b) we really don't know how much of an issue scoring or lack-thereof will be. 

Trading for a first line LW,  just for kicks let's say Patrick Marleau, could be considered preemptive action by Sutter, but considering the he is only 29 and still puts up good numbers playing with Thornton (38-33-71, +16), the price would no doubt be steep and include some high draft picks, which seem to have little value to Sutter. To be fair, he did quite a good job of stacking the proverbial shelves over in Abbotsford this off-season. The Sharks also have almost no salary cap space to work with, so they couldn't afford take on any hefty contracts in return. The deal would most likely involve one major piece (Sharks fans seem to be enamored with Regehr, and rightfully so) and a few depth players/draft picks. 

I found this nice little comparison over at Open Ice:

Calgary Flames Players NOT RETURNING Total Points: 198
Calgary Flames Players NEW ADDITIONS Total Points: 101
(Totals in NHL points only)

This is based on last season's production from players leaving the Flames this off-season and those joining the organization. Like I said before, there is no accurate way of predicting what a player's total point production at the end of the season will be other than by looking at previous seasons' patterns. 

A difference of 97 total points throughout the lineup could easily translate into less wins, less points, and a lower seed in the conference. However, Burning Down The House brings up a good point about how these points could be replaced. I am very pleased with the moves the Flames have made during the off-season; it seems as though Sutter has finally clued in on what it takes to succeed in the new(ish) NHL, and his commitment to building a winning franchise continues to amaze me. The question is, will these building blocks be enough to reach the top?  

NHL Countdown: 42 days  

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An ode to Todd Bertuzzi

Big Bert, we hardly knew ye...

Twas a fine summer's day a year ago
When the winds of change began to blow
The news broke that you'd been signed
And some fans in Calgary were very unkind

They pouted and stomped and demanded a refund
It's fair to say, you must have felt shunned 
Then Darryl demanded we give you a chance 
So as the season began, we took a second glance

You started off hot, and earned our trust
Until you began to show some rust 
Twenty game goal-less droughts and injuries galore 
Made us want to show you the door 

You scored some big goals and provided some muscle 
But in the end, you just couldn't hustle 
Your -13 was a defensive liability
And again we questioned your credibility 

After a 44-point season, you did alright 
But with our young players, the future looked bright 
As summer wore on, you never got a call
But on a contract with the Red Wings, you would eventually scrawl 

Now we've parted ways, we hope you're not bitter 
And at age 34, we're glad you're no quitter 
Next time you see us, you might hear a boo
But don't take it too hard, it's just the Saddledome brew 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

THN predicts 5th place finish for Flames

The Hockey News' annual projections for the Eastern and Western conference standings are slowly materializing one day at a time, and today the number 5 spot was revealed. With the Flames occupying this lofty perch amongst the league's best, it seems safe to assume that they will either equal or improve upon their performance from last season, depending on the quality of competition they face from their Western conference rivals. With only four spots left, the projected standings of all but one of the Northwest division teams have been unveiled, and it's looking like another ugly season for the Avalanche, Wild, and Oilers. Stock up on the Prozac now before it's too late. 

The Canucks finishing any higher than 3rd in the conference seems unrealistic with teams like Detroit, Chicago, and San Jose in the mix. It is impossible to accurately project the performances of teams and players due to factors such as injury, scheduling, personnel changes, and let's face it--luck; but if the Flames can stay healthy and their top-end players perform as such with help from an adequate supporting cast, they should be more than capable of contending for the Northwest division crown. 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Flames fans, repeat after me: P-O-S-I-T-I-V-I-T-Y

Despite disappointing results in the playoffs and a bought of chronic inconsistency, Flames fans are generally a pretty lucky bunch. We've cheered our team onto five consecutive playoff berths and watched our favourite players achieve career milestones. This is not to say there is nothing to improve upon, but as the team approaches its 30th season and before they give us reason to believe otherwise, let's all take a moment to remind ourselves what we have to look forwards to forty-seven days from now with a little help from Randy Workman of Crash The Crease

Friday, August 14, 2009

Because it's a rainy August afternoon

Dear Dany Heatley,
Please stay out of the Northwest Division. If you could avoid the Western conference altogether, that would be great too. I know you're supposedly head-over-heels for some girl out here, but if she feels the same I'm sure she'll make the trip to Ottawa or New York or wherever you end up. 
Yours truly,
Hayley xoxo

The Canucks have reportedly rescinded their interest in Heatley because the asking price was too high. Now, in a bizzare twist of fate, the Minnesota Wild are supposedly preparing to take a stab at landing the star winger. The only Northwest Division teams that haven't been in on the Heatley bidding wars are the Flames and Avs. 

Now onto the daily Tanguay Report: he has apparently narrowed his list down to the Lightning and the Coyotes. Excellent choices, Alex. The decision making process must be taking so long because he is unable to determine which franchise is losing less money.  I can't imagine what is more attractive to a player--bankruptcy or internal squabbling? Looks like Mr. Tanguay likes a little drama with his hockey. 

Reading The Hockey News' Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide has got me motivated to do much better in my playoff pool this season. The Ultimate Guide to Skaters has projected both Phaneuf and Bouwmeester to enjoy bounce-back seasons with 61 and 51 points respectively.  Interestingly enough, their goalie projections have McBackup earning 7 wins this season; not sure if this will be due to improved defensive play, improved coaching, or more opportunity (unlikely). 

NHL Countdown: 48 days 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canucks interested in Heatley?

Being in the Northwest Division, it's hard not to pay attention to the off-season happenings of our rivals. After a relatively quiet summer, the Canucks seem to be saving their best for last as rumblings of the team's interest in disgruntled winger Dany Heatley arise. As of now, there are no details of just what the package to acquire Heatley would include, but Bryan Murray will no doubt ensure that he gets fair market value for his 50-goal scorer. Would the Canucks be willing to part with WJHC darling Cody Hodgson and/or 2009 1st round selection Jordan Schroeder? Vancouver will have to be confident that Heatley won't come down with a sudden onset of Sundin syndrome if they are to pull the trigger, because he definitely won't come cheap.

 The three-way deal between Ottawa, Montreal, and San Jose rumoured earlier this month included big name Sharks Marleau and Cheechoo, and the Senators will surely want at least one proven roster player in return to fill the hole left by Heatley. Now that Edmonton is out of the running in the Heatley Sweepstakes and he supposedly wants to play out West, San Jose and Vancouver seem like the most likely destinations, but both will need to clear cap space to accommodate his super-sized contract, especially if the Canucks are to get a long-term deal with Luongo done sometime this season. Regardless of who ends up acquiring the talented Calgarian, overpaying for Heatley could have dire long-term consequences. Just ask the Ottawa Senators. 

NHL Countdown: 49 days 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This just in: Team Canada's new look

I have been looking forward to the release of Team Canada's new-look jerseys ever since it was announced that they could no longer use the Hockey Canada logo, and although I wasn't expecting a drastic change, I have to say I'm slightly disappointed. As you can see, the design is essentially the same as the newer Hockey Canada jerseys released a few years back. I was excited about the prospect of bringing back the classic '72 jerseys or even the alternate jerseys worn at last year's World Junior tourney that became so popular. The main thing that irks me about this design is that since the jersey is red and the artwork inside of the crest is red, it is hardly visible unless you look closely. It sort of looks like someone tore off the original crest and was too lazy to wash off the fabric glue. Curiously, the Hockey Canada logo still managed to sneek onto the sleeve of the jersey. I will probably be purchasing it in white, as you can see the artwork inside the crest much more clearly. I'm sure it'll look much nicer with "Iginla"  sewn on the back and a big ol'  captain's "C" on the chest. 

Images courtesy of icethetics 

Off-season Musings: Another blog entry dedicated to boosting Alex Tanguay's ego

I've been perusing various Flames blogs around the World Wide Web recently and have come to the conclusion that despite the addition of Bouwmeester and the plethora of bargain-basement forwards Sutter has secured, Flames fanatics generally believe that the holes in the team's top six forward group are too big to overcome. Assuming that Sutter has finished tinkering with his lineup for the summer, there are definitely some question marks as far as the top six is concerned. While I have heard rumours that the Flames are interested in re-acquiring free agent Alex Tanguay and that the team has participated in trade talks with the Coyotes (perhaps the two are linked?), nothing more substantial has surfaced. 

Acquiring Tanguay seems unlikely for a multitude of reasons, the most prominent being that he is supposedly commanding up to $5 million, way out of the Flames' reach salary cap wise, unless Sutter is willing to trade a defenceman or put together a package which would no doubt include some of his newly acquired assets. As much as fans here would like to see the team shed Cory Sarich's upcoming $3.7 million salary (, he is not as expendable as some may think. Sarich is a dependable shutdown defenceman who knows how to deliver a game-changing hit, and the drop-off to Pardy, Giordano, Kronwall, etc. is significant, regardless of what his detractors would have you believe. As much as Tanguay's reputation has been dragged through the mud here in Calgary, there is no denying that he was and is an excellent playmaker and could fill the seemingly empty first-line winger slot in the Flames' current lineup quite nicely. 

An addition such as Tanguay could be just what this team needs to elevate them from "playoff darkhorse" to "cup contender." Even if promises of a Keenan-free zone were enough to lure Tanguay back to the confines of the Saddledome, he would have to take a more than significant pay cut, which would require some serious persuasion on Sutter's part. If Sutter is unable to land another bona-fide top six scorer, there will be a lot of pressure on both guys like Bourque and Moss to repeat the breakout seasons they enjoyed last year and on the new guys to prove their worth. While the Flames had a solid top six last season, Keenan's infamous line shuffling never ceased; imagine what it could be like this season without a distinguished group of top-tier players occupying those positions? 

It is always nice when career third and fourth liners exceed expectations and make a regular appearance on the first or second lines (a la Rene Bourque), but this is the exception, not the rule. It seems premature to write off the capabilities of these new additions in early August, remember nobody anticipated that Cammalleri would score 39 goals for this team last season and become such a valuable player, but it is important to realize the reality of the situation. Sutter DID address team defence as his primary concern at the beginning of the off season, and spent the majority of his funds accordingly. He has not yet addressed lack of scoring as an immediate concern, but that could change as training camp rolls around, the season begins, and (fingers crossed) the injury bug hits. I don't believe we know if Bourque will even be ready to start the season, as he was still using crutches at a speaking engagement a few weeks back. 

While team defence is expected to improve astronomically this coming season, I think most people, including Sutter himself, are expecting that improvement to cover for a drop-off in scoring. If this is the case, then we may have another 2005-06 on our hands, when the Flames won the division and had a spotless defensive record but could not consistently score enough goals to put away first round opponent Anaheim. In observing Brent Sutter's two years with the Devils, he seemed to fix that imbalance and turn his team into one that possessed both defensive prowess and the ability to strike offensively. Lack of structure defensively and on special teams has been a sore spot for the Flames ever since Darryl resigned as head coach, and while New Jersey's special teams record wasn't exactly sparkling last season (15th on the PP and 20th on PK), the Devils were third overall in team +/- and 4th in GA, while Calgary finished a distant 14th and 23rd, respectively. 

In GF, NJ finished 15th with 238 while the Flames came in 8th with 251, which is only a 13-goal difference. I know comparing these stats now proves nothing as we are between seasons and the teams and circumstances were and are very different, but it goes to show that it is possible for teams to excel at both ends of the ice without sacrificing GF/GA. It seems that this is the way the Flames will have to operate if they hope to be a contender come April 2010. 

NHL Countdown: 50 days 

Search This Blog