Jan 072009
 

Sorry for being pretty absent over the past few weeks. I was away for a couple weeks on vacation visiting family and stuff. But things should hopefully pick up from here on.

I would like to take a moment to announce that Joe, from Joe’s Washington Hockey Blog has moved his blog to Capitals.hockeyanalysis.com and will become the maintainer of the Capitals blog on HockeyAnalysis.com. Joe will be a great addition to HockeyAnalysis.com as the Capitals are challenge Boston for top spot in the east and are a represent the eastern conference and are a serious threat to represent the east in the Stanley Cup finals.

Brian Burke’s first trade as Leafs GM was anything but a blockbuster acquiring Brad May from the Anaheim Duck’s, but it does confirm indicate that Burke really likes to acquire players he knows well. As I have said before, Burke isn’t one to make a trade just to dump a player he doesn’t want or need, he makes trades to acquire a player he wants. He wanted to add more toughness and Brad May was his guy.

Despite the fact that the Senators have one of the worst records in hockey, many people still claim that they are a very talented team playing below where they should be. They have three highly skilled players in Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson but might be the least talented team in the NHL from player #4 on. Their #5 point producer is Alexandre Picard, who hardly had a regular shift in Tampa last year. Brendan Bell, who couldn’t make the Phoenix Coyote’s team last year is not getting a regular shift and nearly 17 minutes a game on Ottawa’s defense. Jason Smith who saw his ice time diminish significantly in Philadelphia last year is now getting 18 minutes a game for the Senators. Winchester, Ruutu, Foligno, Donovan, Phillips, Volchenkov, Kelly, Schubert, Neil, McAmmond, etc. all have their beneficial attributes but being highly skilled are generally not among them. Please, the era of the Sens being one of the most talented teams in the NHL is well behind us.

Don’t look now but the laughing stock of the NHL early in the season are now back in the playoff race. Yes, I am talking about the Dallas Stars who are now one game above .500 with 39 points and trail 8th place Phoenix by just 4 points and have 3 games in hand. The Stars are 9-5-1 since the Sean Avery incident and subsequent suspension. Prior to that they were just 8-11-4.

The Jonathan Tavares sweepstakes will probably come down to three teams, the New York Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers, and the St. Louis Blues. The Islanders are a downright horrible team with no stars and the Thrashers aren’t much better with just one star player who is playing poorly. Both will likely trade away more talent come the trade deadline. Meanwhile, the Blues have been devastated by injuries. It started off with Erik Johnson before the season began and Paul Kariya, Eric Brewer and Jay McKee are out with injuries. This Blues team probably wouldn’t have challenged for a playoff spot but without Johnson, Kariya, Brewer and McKee they just aren’t a very good team. My bet is Tavares goes to one of the eastern conference teams but the Blues will be in the hunt with their injury situation. Honorable mention goes to toe Lightning and Senators who probably will be able to stay ahead of these other dreadful teams.

Kris Versteeg leads all rookies with 13 goals and 33 points and may very well have the inside track on rookie of the year thus far (now that Brassard, my pre-season pick is injured and out for the season) but two guys to watch for are Bobby Ryan and Steve Mason. Ryan has 8 goals and 22 points in just 23 games and has been playing a key role in Anaheim’s offense. Ryan was the second overall pick in 2005 behind some guy names Sidney Crosby and he is finally showing why he was so deserving of being picked so high in the draft. Meanwhile, Steve Mason has gotten the Columbus Blue Jackets in the playoff hunt with a 13-9-1 record with 5 shut outs, a 1.82 gaa and a .934 save percentage. His goals against average and save percentage are both tops in the NHL. If he can continue to play anywhere close to this level for the remainder of the season he’ll be a lock for rookie of the year.

Nov 282007
 

A couple days ago I wrote an article about the Leafs problems and mentioned that it is probably time for John Ferguson Jr. to be let go whether he deserves it or not. But after listening and reading media reports over the past coupld days I think firing John Ferguson Jr. would be a mistake, at least at this time. I have come to the conclusion that there are two problems with the Leafs.

1. Larry Tanenbaum

From all reports it is Larry Tanenbaum who most wants John Ferguson Jr. relieved of his duties as General Manager and it was Tanenbaum who pushed for the search for someone to ‘help’ JFJ last summer which Bowman, Muckler and possible others turned down because they thought it would be an unworkable relationship. And media reports now say that it is Tanenbaum that is approaching former NHLers like Glen Healey, Mark Messier and others about being a part of a GM by committee setup. These moves have undermined the authority of Richard Peddie, JFJ and in turn Paul Maurice. I know the saying ‘the players are professionals and should play hard and determined regardless’ but when you bosses today may not be your bosses tomorrow it is natural for humans to lose some moral and lose some sense of a ‘team’ atmosphere and in a highly competitive league even a small amount of moral drop can have an impact on the ice. It also should be stated that it was probably Larry Tanenbaum who pushed for the resigning of his close friend Tie Domi (which was a failure) and it was Tie Domi, possibly in conjunction with Tanenbaum, that pushed for the signing of Eric Lindros. Because of these situations I believe that Larry Tanenbaum is bad for the Leafs organization. Crazy as it sounds but we should all be pulling for Richard Peddie and the Teachers Pension Plan in this power struggle and the reason is, the Teachers Pension Plan is not going to meddle in hockey decisions like Tanenbaum apparently has and still is.

BTW, yesterday’s hiring JFJ was a mistake quote by Peddie, which was taken in the completely wrong way by the media (as usual), was really a shot at Tanenbaum and his plan to bring in a group of mostly inexperienced ex players by saying that Toronto is no place for rookie GMs.

2. Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice must go and last nights game is a perfect reason why. The Leafs lost 4-3 in the shootout while the powerplay went 0 for 4 and the penalty kill allowed 2 Montreal powerplay goals. There is no reason why the Leafs should be 29th in the NHL on the powerplay or 20th in the NHL on the penalty kill. I feel special teams are two aspects of the game that can be greatly impacted by good coaching and the Montreal Canadiens are a perfect example. Based on talent and 5 on 5 play there is no reason to expect the Canadiens would be the best power play team in the league but they play a smart system that exposes opposing teams weakness of being a man down. The same can be said for the penalty kill but what really really irks me about Maurice is the Leafs failures in the shootout. The Leafs have a dreadful shootout record having gone 4-10 under Maurice. It would be fine if the Leafs just weren’t good in the shootout but if you are not good and you don’t practice it, that is unforgiveable. After a recent shootout loss Mats Sundin had the following to say:

“We finished one point out of the playoffs last year so each one of these is so important. What do you say? Maybe we have to work on it more in practice.”

to which Paul Maurice commented:

Hey, if the players want it, then we’ll do it on a daily basis

Last time I checked Paul Maurice is the coach and Paul Maurice should be the once deciding what is important to practice and what should not be. His ‘Ah, whatever they want’ attitude is not good enough and in my mind is enough to get him fired.

Now I really don’t know what Maurice does in practice but if one half of every practice is not devoted to improving special teams and shootouts then he isn’t doing enough. The NHL is in many ways special teams league now and good special teams is often the difference between winning and losing. Just look at last night. Maurice should be fired for not taking special teams and shootouts seriously enough.

A Small Ray of Hope

In order to not be completely negative I thought I would toss in a small ray of hope for Leaf fans. Yesterday I wrote about the importance of goaltending and the good news is that Toskala is showing some positive signs with respect to being at least an average starter in the NHL and average goaltending would be a huge improvement over what Raycroft brings. Over Toskala’s last 6 outings (5 starts and one relief of Raycroft early in the Phoenix game) Toskala has a .918 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average which is more than respectable.