Check it out at http://www.battleofcali.com/
Incidentally, if you count the two new posts we've already published on the new site, this new-site pointer now represents BoC's 1,500th published post. Huzzah!
Monday, December 08, 2008
Yup, that's right. Some big-ass news.
Battle of California is moving to a new home. http://www.battleofcali.com/ (an SBN blog)-- though this link won't work until later today, I think. Once our new site is active, I'll add the link up above, but this does represent the final post of the blogspot site we've inhabited for some 2 1/2 years. That's right, we're selling out.
I guess the first topic to talk about is why we're moving over to SBN, and the answer is pretty much because James Mirtle asked. He's the guy who started this blog back in the day when I had no idea how to start a blog; more or less he's the reason this blog exists. Plus in the two years I've been monitoring blog traffic, roughly 10% of our traffic has come straight from his site, now at From the Rink. Mirtle has been amassing a set of team-specific bloggers to cover the 30 teams at SBN, and it's a pretty cool vision, one I'm willing to support...in spirit.
That's right. I went there.
You see, this is actually where we are letting Mirtle down, as he was originally hoping we could fill his Ducks and Kings vacancies. But I was pretty insistent on keeping our multi-team multi-author Voltron unit together -- as a blogger, I'm way too in love with the BoC dynamic. I'm very interested in the takes of Sharks and Kings fans, it turns out I enjoy writing for both Ducks haters and Ducks fans, and I'm also too lazy to carry a blog on my own.
We've arranged things to hopefully stay exactly as they are -- PJ will still be at Sharkspage, Mike Chen will still be at Kukla's Korner, James O'Brien will still cross-post at Cycle like the Sedins, and I'll still try to do a weekly cartoon at NHL FanHouse -- the way we interacted with BoC yesterday will hopefully be the way we interact with BoC tomorrow.
I'll apologize now for new bookmarks, new hyperlinks, new RSS feeds, new logins, and any other technical nonsense we'll run into because of this (which will all be entirely my fault -- the tech dudes at SBN have been kick-ass), but hopefully it's not too much a pain for anybody. There's some cool new functionality at SBN -- you can post your own FanPost or FanShot content, for one -- plus with the aforementioned kick-ass tech team, I think we'll find some benefit in the move. I do want to say though -- after two and a half years, I don't have anything bad to say about blogspot. They hosted our shit for free for years, and we'll keep this site as-is for as long as they continue that service. We are also in the process of migrating our archives over to SBN, though (one of the reasons we're not live just yet), just in case blogspot turns into a back-stabbing whore.
The last two years of blogspot traffic.
I'll update this post when the new site is fully active, but for now, while we're still just talking about it, it feels appropriate to give a little thanks. Thanks first and foremost to the commenters and fellow bloggers that gave our little website some legs -- you guys are awesome, and hopefully will continue to interact with our SBN posts with the same wit and insight as before. Also, thanks to the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, and Stars for never taking our asses to court. I don't think we've done anything terrible towards our teams, but with NHL politics, you never can quite tell. And finally, thanks to the NHL media's east coast bias -- without it, we may have never found anything in common to develop a collective perspective.
So, that's BoC's Super Big News (SBN). Feel free to react in the comments here or comments at SBN once we're up and active. Betrayed? Excited? Worried? Confused? Good, so are we.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Columbus Blue Jackets (11-12-3, t-12th in west) at Anaheim Ducks (14-10-3, t-4th in west)
No, we will not die like dogs! We will fight like lions!
"Three Patos, Anaheim, California. You are very great. 100,000 pesos. Come to Santa Poco, put on show, stop. The Infamous El Guapo."
In a way, each of us has an El Guapo to face.
Sometimes that El Guapo is the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Prediction: Ducks 4, Jackets 2. Goals by Little Neddy Niedermayer, Dusty Pronger, Lucky Day Selanne, and Santa Poco resident Pahlsson. Together they prune the hedges of many small villages. For your El Guapo coverage, go visit Bethany's Hockey Rants.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
LA Kings (10-11-4) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (11-11-3)
7:30 PST, Fox Sports West
The Kings' power play feels shitty right now. The numbers don't really back me up (the Kings are about where they were last year, around 17th) but I don't know, I'm still not a fan. There's something vaguely unlikable about it; if the Kings' power play were an actor, they'd be Cole Hauser.* I think the problem I have with it is that it relies way too heavily on the Kings' forwards to move the action. When the Kings get the puck in the opposing zone, they end up passing it back and forth between the forwards while the defensemen just kind of stand there. There's no movement, there's no position-switching to confuse the defense. You kind of kill the man advantage when you allow the defense to stand still. What the Kings need is a small, nimble puck mover, one that can get involved in the play. Maybe pair him with a big, aging asshole with a booming shot. That would work.
*Dude just looks like an asshole, you know? By the way, I've always thought a cool movie would be Hauser and Josh Lucas conspiring to kill Matthew McConaughey so they can get his movie roles.
Another problem with the power play? The top defensive pairing (most of the time) is Doughty and Preissing, while the other is Jarret Stoll and Kyle Quincey. Doughty and Preissing are both Feeders, in that they are usually best at corralling the puck and setting up their other defenseman for a one-timer, while Stoll and Quincey are both Boomers and are best at shooting the puck. I would say the Kings should switch things up but I think the reason the lines are this way is probably because Terry Murray doesn't trust Stoll and Preissing defensively. That's probably a good decision. I don't see this changing until Jack Johnson gets back.
Finally, the Kings have absolutely no one that can deflect the puck on the way to the net. Seriously, it seems like other teams are constantly scoring on deflections and tip-ins while the Kings are busting their asses trying to score nice goals like a bunch of chumps. Dustin Brown and Kyle Calder are the men in front of the net on the Kings' power play, but they usually try to sneak open for shots or try to bang in rebounds. Make them stand in front of the net and deflect pucks like they do in peewee.
The Kings' power play hasn't been terrible this season, but it hasn't been great like it should be either. I think the power play will go the way of Anze Kopitar and Alex Frolov; if they're doing well then the Kings will be fine. If not, then they're boned. I still think the Kings should switch it up and give Frolov primary ice time on the power play instead of Kopitar, but that's just me. Either way, a good power play can help a team when they're slumping and it's exactly what the Kings need right now.
In case you haven't been paying attention, it's fashionable for Kings' fans to declare Erik Ersberg the 2nd Coming while accusing Jason Labarbera of taking 2nds at the pregame spread. The reality is that they were pretty close, Ersberg was just more consistent and had fewer terrible games, but last night kind of changed that. Labs has been playing excellently of late and will probably get the start tonight. He had 30 saves in 2 periods last night and was only really done in by the shootout, which is his Everest. If you're in want of a good time, go on a Kings' messageboard and read how it wasn't Ersberg's fault last night and how even though Labarbera didn't mess up too bad did you see him in the shootout oh he's fat. It's hilarious.
The Kings are playing the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight. They played valiantly in a losing effort to the San Jose Sharks last night. Will they be hungry for a win after being denied against the Sharks, or will they be deflated and tired after a game the night before? I'm sure the sportswriters will wait and see how they play and then tell us.
Prediction: Kings win, 4-3. Goals by Brown, Frolov (who is on a 4-game goal scoring streak), Stoll and Calder.
Friday, December 05, 2008
LA Kings (10-11-3) vs. Edmonton Oilers (11-11-2)
7:30 PST, Fox Sports West
To recap: Sean O'Donnell takes a boneheaded penalty and giftwraps a goal for the other team? Right back on the ice. Dustin Brown takes a bad penalty with the team already down a man? Right back on the ice. Alex Frolov misses an assignment and costs the team a goal? Benched for the rest of the game (despite the fact that the team is down a goal and Fro leads the team in goals), swathed in the red jersey of the 4th liner, and forced into a one-on-one meeting with Terry Murray. That's kind of fucked up. That's like suspending the straight-A kid for talking out of turn. I hope he wasn't sad, that would break my heart.
The Kings haven't been scoring recently, with pretty much all the scoring coming from the Stoll-Handzus-Frolov line. Brownitar has been absent from view since Kyle Calder re-joined their line (I think I should have another line naming contest: Used Condom seems appropriate) and the O'Sullivan/Moller combo doesn't quite have enough juice to feast on the underbelly of other teams. Want to hear a crazy, not true theory of mine? The Kings don't want to bring up Ted Purcell because he has a lot of performance bonuses in his contract and the Kings don't want to pay for them. Insane, but possibly true.
The Kings just had a player's only meeting to try to uncover why they can't put the puck in the GD net, so we'll see how that goes tonight. Something needs to happen, though, because the Kings look pretty terrible right now.
If one person boos Lubo tonight, I will freak the fuck out. I will find them and kick them square in the ass.
Prediction: Kings win, 3-2. Goals by Frolov (x3). Then he talks out of turn and gets benched.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
NORRIS TROPHY (top defenseman)Shea Weber, Nashville – I said several times during the summer that Preds GM David Poile was genius in getting Weber, a restricted free agent to be, to sign a very reasonable deal before other teams had the chance to knock on his agent’s door with an offer sheet.Five months later, I’m looking prophetic; Weber has dazzled in both ends posting 10 goals and 23 points, both a blueline best, and a plus-12, tied for fourth best among rearguards.Nashville fans have been calling for years to have Weber’s name spoken in the same breath as Dion Phaneuf’s. Turns out Weber may be in a class of his own.Runners-up: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, S.J.; Mike Green, Wsh.
LAST BOC/CLS DOUBLE POST FOR A WHILE, REALLY!
This Sean Avery story sure has legs, doesn't it? Before this it seemed like the only time the NHL was the top story was if Todd Bertuzzi broke someone's neck (although hockey being a lead story only when something bad happens still rings true).
On Wednesday, the Avery coverage just wrecked every other big story. It was:
- The lead story on "Rome is Burning."
- No. 4 on ESPN's insufferable "Around the Horn."
- The first topic during "Pardon the Interruption." Among others ...
ANYWAY, since this story is quickly getting beaten into the ground, why don't we have some more fun with it? With that in mind, the NHL should take advantage of it's rare moment in the sports spotlight. Here's a few suggestions free of charge:
Sean Avery punching bags - All the satisfaction of slapping the taste out of Avery's mouth without the momentum killing penalty minutes! Deluxe version includes simulated Avery whines and whimpers. Tears of pain and overpaid athlete blood not included.
A "Sloppy Seconds" Charity Dinner - With Thanksgiving only a week old, perhaps a hearty helping of the last remaining leftovers is in order. And if the NHL really wants to make Avery regret his comments, why not make the mainstream media's favorite agitator the bus boy? Other recommended celebrity bus boys: Theo Fleury, Claude Lemieux and Barry Melrose.
Avery endorsed "hot water bottles" - Because no one knows them better than the King of the Douches.
Dion Phaneuf made guest editor of GQ- First, Phaneuf steals his girl. Then he becomes the cover star of NHL 09. And the final insult: Phaneuf completes the "anything you can do I can do better" trifecta by trumping Avery's scrawny Vogue internship by guest editing a superior magazine. Admit it, that would be awesome.
Gary Bettman starts his "hey, I'm not THAT bad, right? RIGHT?" tour of Canadian cities without NHL teams - The Napoleonic blunder should seize Avery's "indefinite" suspension by going on a tour to polish his image. Sure, Bettman is to the NHL as George W is to the USA but ... he's not napalming cities, right? For every Joseph Stalin there's an Adolf Hitler.
Apologies to Stalin's mustache for that unfair Bettman comparison.
Avery, Cuthbert, Phaneuf and secret guest Avery's childhood baby sitter appear on Dr. Phil - Sure, Dr. Phil is a choad. But can you imagine his twang-heavy chiding of Avery for the sloppy seconds remark? And then a further examining of Avery's alleged cross dressing youth? Gold, you miserable sons of bitches, gold!
Finally, I'd like to apologize for Benedict Arnold-ing the NHL 09 club. But, dammit, I'm impatient and it was hard to get all the ducks in a row. Anyone who joined the club/was thinking of joining the club is more than welcome to join me on the whacky new team I've on. Please, alleviate my guilt.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Anaheim Ducks (14-9-3, 3rd in west) at Chicago Blackhawks (10-6-6, t-7th in west)
How much will this post cost me in karma dollars?
Instead of talking up this Chicago rematch, I'm going to throw my two rambly cents in on the Avery suspension. I don't like it.
Now don't get me wrong; there's a lot to dislike about Avery, including this recent set of inflammatory remarks, but you have to recognize Avery for what he is -- a sensationalist media creation. Over the years, reporters have glorified his personality and encouraged his bad boy behavior (which I can understand -- NHLers are generally too boring for newsstands). And that's the thing -- I do believe Avery's statements were intended more to feed the hungry media than they were to hurt Dion Phaneuf / Elisha Cuthbert's feelings. He was doing what he was expected to do -- agitate and entertain -- and more or less in the manner that he was trained to do.
It wasn't out of line with the media characterization that was built up over his career, nor with the persona that the Stars signed last summer. I dunno, it's like giving a dog a treat for coming inside six days a week but then beating it for doing so on Sunday -- maybe there was a vague line that was crossed, but I don't think Avery thought he was "detrimental to the League". If anything, he was promoting the league in the best way he knew how.
Sure, it's not normally acceptable behavior to be calling out players for their love lives, and we can debate the shock value of the words "sloppy seconds" compared to other word choices, but it's not as if this elephant wasn't already in the room -- Avery did manage to get himself in trouble without naming a single name. In a practical sense, Avery took a topic that dozens of hockey writers have already made crude jokes about and then shockingly made one himself.
In short, Avery was Avery, and the NHL suspended him for it without any strong precedent. As an isolated incident involving a rival team, I probably don't care about this that much, but I do worry about where it leads. We're already in a period where player interviews are purposefully bland and carefully measured, and while Avery is certainly not the model of ideal media interaction, he was different from the robotic mold and punished because of it. Going forward I think the NHL should probably publish a list of do-not-discuss guidelines -- it's a sham that they can't define a social barrier until after it's been crossed. Even so, as I point out in the cartoon, I suspect we'll see even less personality in front of a microphone from players in the future, and that general insincerity will probably be another barrier between the players and the fans, and that's sort of a shame.
Sean Avery is no hero, and I don't mean to present him as even a likeable figure, but it's really tough for me to see the rationale for the league's suspension. I think it's a dangerous path to discourage personality in front of the microphone without any specific guidelines, and we're probably in for a blander NHL as a result (though in fairness, we were probably in for that anyway). Anyways, I'm open to being convinced -- feel free to agree or disagree or add your own two cents in the comments.
And now to the part where Sleek gets suspended:
Listen, I love Canada. It's just when it comes to Battle of Ontario teams hiring head coaches and general managers, they really seem to have fallen in love with Anaheim's sloppy seconds. I don't know what that's about.
Ron Wilson, Craig Hartsburg, Bryan Murray, and Brian Burke --
That pretty much spans the entirety of Anaheim's history right there.
Prediction: Last Friday the Ducks and Hawks skated to a 1-0 game in Anaheim, so I suspect Hiller might get the start tonight, but there's no real wrong answer in net right now. The Ducks do need to start scoring some goals, though, so let's say Ducks 5, Hawks 3. Goals by Getzlaf x2, S. Niedermayer, Pahlsson, and Perry.
Sloppy seconds? Seriously? The NHL's collective feathers are ruffled over this?
That being said, reactions from Marty Turco, Mike Modano, Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro do show that this Sean Avery experiment isn't exactly going well. We're only in December and the team is already clearly tired of hearing about Avery (and his gorgeous, cleft-chinned ex-gfs).
Obviously, Avery needs father figures and/or players who obviously wear the pants so he'll tow the line. In Detroit, he was just some annoying gnat of an undrafted free agent in a locker room full of larger than life personalities. After that, he's been in big markets where hockey isn't exactly the main event (LA, New York and Dallas) so he could cultivate his bad boy image without the necessary "But he's actually not all that productive" backlash.
It keeps feeding that gluttonous Avery ego and don't expect it to stop anytime soon.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
LA Kings (10-10-3) @ Phoenix Coyotes (10-11-2)
6:30 PST, Fox Sports West
Last night the Kings were leading, 1-0, going into the 3rd period. They hadn't played particularly well, but had used a fast start to gain an advantage on the scoreboard. During the 2nd intermission, Terry Murray stressed the importance of not taking a penalty because the Kings had just been given a 5-on-3 (which of course they didn't score on) late in the 2nd. The very first shift of the 3rd period, Sean O'Donnell carried the puck up ice and attempted to pass it out of his own zone. Unfortunately, he bounced it off a Toronto player and then hooked another Toronto player that was attempting to skate the puck into the zone. Penalty, Sean O'Donnell. The penalty was exacerbated by an unfortunate Dustin Brown trip and the Maple Leafs scored on the two-man advantage.
Way to go, Sean.
Still, the Kings were tied and only had to kill off the rest of Dustin Brown's penalty. O'Donnell was rested because he had been in the box and came out to kill the penalty. He made a nice play to corral the puck behind his own net and tried to pass it to Drew Doughty. Unfortunately, there was a Toronto player standing in the way; the Toronto player easily intercepted the pass and relayed it to a teammate in front of the net for an easy goal.
Way to go, Sean.
No King had a good game last night, with the possible exception of Alex Frolov, but I don't think I've seen one player screw up a team's chances of winning a game that much since Denis Gauthier thought he was a Red Wing at the beginning of the season. I think of players as contributing positively and negatively; some players, like Tom Preissing, are going to make a lot of good plays that contribute to goals but they're also going to fuck up and cost the team goals. The trick is to get more positive plays than negative plays. Sean O'Donnell does not make many positive plays but he usually doesn't make many negative plays. I like O'Donnell and I don't want to be mean to him or anything, but he cost the Kings the game last night.
Kind of funny: last night, some shitheel named Andre Deveaux got feisty with Anze Kopitar, hoping to send a message to the Kings or some such. Brown bumped Deveaux, then Peter Harrold came over and shoved him. Then Raitis Ivanans came out on the ice. Ivanans followed Deveaux all over the ice, trying to convince Deveaux to drop the gloves. Deveaux refused, both because he was trying to goad Ivanans into a penalty and because he didn't want to die. Then, after the whistle, Wayne Simmonds tried to get Devaux to go and again was refused. It's good to see teammates standing up for one another.
Phoenix has kind of sucked this year, huh? They're 28th in the league in scoring, which is not what I expected. They're also missing Olli "Big Baby" Jokinen, who is out with a shoulder injury, so this is another game that the Kings should win. Let's hope the Kings play a little better tonight.
Prediction: Kings win, 4-2. Goals by... whoever.
San Jose Sharks vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
7:30 PM, Comcast Sportsnet
Sharks fans weren’t particularly nice to Brian Campbell when he returned to HP Pavilion. That’s to be expected, as Campbell came with a lot of potential and promise and he failed to deliver, then he said, “Screw you” to the team before cashing in.
So what happens when the guy who came with the most potential and promise returns? Perhaps Ron Wilson himself didn’t embody that potential but his roster – and regular season performance – certainly did, and as the guy who runs the show when it comes to motivating players, the combined lack of inspiration and toughness can fall on Wilson’s shoulders. If only to accentuate the point, Todd McLellan’s got this team doing those things, though it certainly helps that McLellan’s got a better set of defensemen.
Does Ron Wilson deserve a harsh greeting when he steps behind the bench as a visitor for the first time since the axe fell? In my opinion, no. In fact, as critical as I was of the guy, I think he deserves hearty recognition for what he accomplished with the team.
Put it this way: Wilson took a team that focused more on grit than skill and brought the best out of them, if only for a short time. Wilson seemingly has a penchant to make mediocre players good (see: Wayne Primeau) but when the roster become stronger and more skillful, Wilson couldn’t figure out the right combination.
There’s plenty to criticize with Wilson. His stubborn refusal to depart from his “five guys in formation” system gave the team an identity of a fast team that became so entrenched in their roles that they failed to truly use their natural skill and creativity. On the power play, rather than use movement and skill, Wilson’s system simply said, “Go to Joe Thornton on the half boards.” And then there’s his whole public smiting of players, something that Toronto’s getting a taste of now. That sort of abrasiveness only goes so far.
Still, you can’t take away the 2003-04 conference finals away from Wilson, and when you look at a roster filled with the Nils Ekmans and Alex Korolyuks of the world, it’s hard to figure out how that particular squad was so awesome to watch. And you won’t hear me criticizing Wilson on the defensive side of things; the team’s goals-against were always strong and for the most part, the penalty kill was solid. It’s just that after the team moved past the overachieving 03-04 squad, something was always off about the team, be it passion or toughness or chemistry.
The bottom line is that despite the team’s post-season failures and inconsistencies, Wilson’s still got the best record in Sharks history – and he’s taken them farther than Darryl Sutter or Kevin Constantine. For that simple fact, Wilson should get a rousing ovation when he’s shown on the HP Pavilion jumbotron.
Monday, December 01, 2008
LA Kings (10-9-3) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (8-9-3)
7:30 PST, Fox Sports West
Labarbera's in tonight, Boyle's out, hopefully Zeiler's on the bench. The Leafs score more than you'd think but also let in a lot of goals. I've actually liked the Leafs since they moved to the East and I think they'll become good faster than people think. But today I hope the Kings embarrass them in front of their new GM.
Prediction: Kings win, 5-4. Goals by Kopitar (x2), Moller, Frolov and Labarbera.
Anaheim Ducks (14-8-3, 3rd in west) at Detroit Red Wings (15-4-4, 2nd in west)
Battle of the Hangovers
For today's post I threw together a comparison table looking at how the Ducks and Red Wings have been performing compared to a specific stretch of games last season. For the Ducks, the selected stretches have been hand-picked from each season:
07-08: the first 19 games after Scott Niedermayer returned to the lineup.I decided to stick to stretches where the Ducks have been performing well points-wise. In the 07-08 stretch, the Ducks went 12-5-2; in the 08-09 stretch the Ducks went 13-3-3. For the Red Wings, the selection is much more straightforward:
08-09: the most recent 19 games (excluding the 1-5-0 first six games).
07-08: the first 23 games of the season.This one's much more obvious: I'm just looking at how Detroit's "hangover" start (15-4-4) compares to its season start from last year (15-6-2). Now I don't want to read too much into these early-season comparisons, but I think it's worth noting that while each of these teams have actually improved their ability to accumulate standings points (for a stretch, anyways), a lot of the underlying numbers have gotten worse. Let's take a look:
08-09: the first 23 games of the season.
Note: excludes shootout goals. Click image to enlarge.
Patterns: For both the Ducks and Red Wings, the current-year versions have been surrendering way more goals than they did last year -- each team is giving up around 2/3 an extra goal-per-game, with some of that comes from a declining penalty kill. Each team has found a way to generate wins despite a shakier defense, though, mainly through an improved team offense.
Offensively, one of the keys has been each team's power play, which has for each team produced more power play goals in fewer power play opportunities than the year before. Overall, each team has improved its offense, though not by the same margin that the defensive numbers have changed; each team this year has a worse goal-differential-per-game than the previous year.
Shot analysis shows a similar story: shots-for per game are marginally improved, but shots-against per game have increased even further; the net shot differential has gotten worse this year for both squads (the Ducks, in fact, are now typically outshot).
So basically, what does this mean? Both squads have shown an improved ability to accumulate standings points this year vs. last year despite some declines in the differential statistics and underlying numbers -- in a way, this suggests that the current win pattern is a bit illusory. I'd expect that each team would have gotten worse results with the current year's statistics, but at least so far, that hasn't really been the case. I wouldn't worry about these patterns just yet for either team (there is absolutely nothing wrong with illusory win streaks in November), but here's some open-ended questions for the comments:
- Why do you think these teams have continued to win despite worsened statistics: is there something to the notion of "knowing how to win all styles of hockey" where these veteran rosters are capable of adjusting to a more free-flowing game?
- What do you see as the primary drivers for the change in offensive and defensive numbers for these teams? Are opponents treating them differently, or are these squads more careless than they used to be?
- Going forward, what do you expect out of each team? Will the numbers eventually tighten up, or is this an offense-friendly evolution for the Ducks and Red Wings? If the statistics do not tighten up, can these teams continue winning the way they currently are?
Prediction: Now that I've demonstrated a more offense-friendly tendency for both the Ducks and Red Wings, we're probably in for a tight defensive battle tonight. Ducks 2, Wings 1. Goals by Ryan and Pahlsson. For your Wings coverage, there's always A2Y, Winging it in Motown, and On the Wings.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Is it being a little too greedy to think the Hawks can go 6-0 on this road trip? Wednesday's game in San Jose won't be easy, but the Sharks can be beat and the Hawks almost did it last week at the United Center. The Hawks led 5-4 going to the third period then took a couple dumb penalties and wound up losing 6-5. It's on to Anaheim Friday and the Ducks aren't anywhere near as good as they were when they won the Stanley Cup. The Hawks close the trip Saturday at Los Angeles against an improved, but nothing special Kings team.Rudy Kelly, BoC Blogger, November 29:
The Blackhawks have lost both California games (against San Jose and Anaheim) this weekend. Let's make it one more so Earl has to bust out the ol' rape graphic again.Well, apologies for the absence this week, but with siblings in town for Turkey Day, I was away from the computer for a bit -- but I've had myself a great week. I was even in Row B for Friday's game against the Blackhawks, and had great seats to see Wild Wing trip over some carpeting thanks to his duckbill-obstructed view. It was a pretty fun afternoon and a decent 1-0 game, and it's not hard to see why Blackhawks fans are excited this year -- this looks like a top-eight roster and once a goalie gets moved there's even salary room for improvement. Still, I'm not sure they're ready to call for sweeps just yet on the west coast swing; those are rare even for the great teams since the lockout (see comment #2 in this post), and there's always plenty of legit excuses -- miles, time zones, often back-to-backs, home refereeing, and the fact that SJ is killing all visitors this year. Whatever, the dude called the BoC road trip out and crapped out hard, and will get what he deserves.
Anaheim Ducks 1, Chicago Blackhawks 0
Los Angeles Kings 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2
Battle of California 9, Sweep-Talking Blackhawks 4
Modified from the State Rape cartoon that started it all.
Go Ducks (and sure, Kings and Sharks too when it makes for a good graphic).
You know, I probably come up with a hundred different line combinations between games, and yet Terry Murray always manages to come up with a line that completely blows my mind. The Frolov-Stoll-Handzus line is one such line, and yet it's different from the others because it doesn't make me want to kill someone. The line is actually pretty awesome. All three can play defense very well, all three can put the puck in the net, and all three can play heavy minutes. The line did a fairly good job at shutting down Patrick Kane when they were out there (he got a goal off a line change and an assist on the power play) and contributed 2 goals themselves. If the Kings are going to heavily rely on 2 lines like they have been, they might as well put their best players (and Kyle Calder*) on those lines.
*I'm actually kind of worried about Calder. My brother was at the game yesterday and reported that people were actively decrying Calder's existence, and there were shouts of, "I hate you, Calder!" Watch, someone's going to kill him and then his niece is going to get revenge by killing me in my bathtub and someone's going to paint a famous picture of it. It's been known to happen.
Update: Brian Boyle has been sent down to Manchester, which makes sense since it doesn't seem like he's going to play much. It does kind of suck for him though, seeing as how he got saddled with Zeiler and Ivanans when he played and then Derek Armstrong takes his spot and gets to play with O'Sullivan and Moller.
Also, Denis Gauthier apparently messed up his foot blocking a shot. I'm not one to cheer an injury, but... yay.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
LA Kings (9-9-3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (10-5-6!)
1:00 PST, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown have been attached at the hip since Kopitar came into the league. Brown gave Kopitar a steady hand to feed the puck to, while Kopitar seemed to elevate Brown's game from that of a third-line grinder to a top line power forward. Both guys owe much of their success to one another and it's hard to imagine the two of them on different lines. But is it time to break them up, just to see what happens?
Dustin Brown's game has evolved these past two seasons. Kopitar used to be the dynamic playmaker of the two, but Brown has taken it upon himself to carry the puck a lot more this season; that's good, but Kopitar has looked a little lost when he's not the one carrying the puck into the zone. It's like two best friends in middle school, but one came to high school with breasts grown over the summer. It might be better off to throw Brown with Stoll and Frolov, giving that line a guy that can finish his chances, while putting Patrick O'Sullivan and Oscar Moller with Kopitar. The latter line managed to score both goals against the Oilers on Wednesday despite not actually playing together. Sully and Moller give Kopitar 2 players that can shoot well while still keeping the puck on his stick. Brown and Kopitar have been great, but it may be time to break them up.
The Blackhawks have lost both California games (against San Jose and Anaheim) this weekend. Let's make it one more so Earl has to bust out the ol' rape graphic again.
Prediction: Kings win, 4-3. Goals by Quincey, Kopitar, Stoll and Handzus.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
LA Kings (8-9-3) @ Edmonton Oilers (9-9-2)
7:00 PST, NHL Network, TSN
What is up, douche bags? This is Lubomir Visnovsky, El Diablo, and I'm running things around here from now on. You may be thinking, "Hey, where's Rudy Kelly?" Well, last time I saw that sniveling son of a bitch he was running towards the Arizona boarder with his pants around his ankles pleading for me to not shoot him in the back, so I don't think you're going to be seeing him for a while. (Not so funny with piss running down you leg, are ya Rudy?) Now I'm in charge, and I'm going to share the real story behind my stay in Los Angeles, and why I am going to get Dean Lombardi.
I was born on the mean streets of Topolcany, Czechoslovakia. We were so poor we couldn't even pronounce the name of our growing up. I was good at 2 things: shooting pucks and killing capitalists. Naturally, I had the opportunity to do one more than the other in Slovakia, but I still tried to shoot pucks whenever I could. This is funny: this one time a guy owed a buddy of mine some money, so I went over to his house while he was sleeping and shot him in front of his kids. It was hilarious. Anyway, eventually I got drafted by the Kings and came over to Los Angeles because I was ready for a new challenge and also things were getting a little hot for me in Slovakia. So I packed up my glock, my tech 9 and my cookboook recipe (I make an excellent cookie) and I headed to LA.
I quickly made LA my town. I had a special corner of the locker room where I made my business deals and baked and my teammates knew better than to get in my way. When they did, they were either left injured (right, Adam Deadmarsh?) or dead (RIP, Jason Allison). Sean Avery made the mistake of crossing me (I don't look like a child, mother fucker!) and had to be traded to prevent his own demise. I'll get him, though. (Here's a hint, Sean: it rhymes with "bomb!") I "convinced" Lombardi to bring over a couple of my associates, like Ladislav Nagy and Pavol Demitra, but they quickly wore out their welcome. I'm a lone wolf. I even got a contract extension from that rat Lombardi. He claims the contract talks weren't fair, but if he can't take a gun to his head than I don't want to play for him. Life was good for me.
Then, out of nowhere, that son of a bitch traded me the day before my no-trade clause kicked in. Not even that, to fucking Edmonton! Have you ever been to Edmonton? How the hell am I supposed to smoke crack up here if the shit freezes? I can't even find a proper ho because they all have this thin layer of blubber to protect from the cold. I hate it almost as much as I hate Dean Lombardi. I don't even know what I did that upset him so much; I mean, I did sleep with his wife, but that's not a big deal in Slovakia. Is it a big deal here?
Dean Lombardi. You're dead, hombre. You messed with the wrong Slovakian and I'm going to make you pay. It's going to start on the ice, and then I'm going to move to your office, and then to your home. The last thing you'll ever see is my pretty little face. And I'm going to smile while I do it.
Prediction: Destruction, Lubo-style. Oh, and you better vote for Lubo for the All-Star Game. That's not a prediction, that's a threat.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
For the first week or two of its release, I bandied about the interwebs playing NHL '09 with a group of whacky Canadians. Aside from their silly accents, these guys were GOOD. They played like ... dare I say, a team.
Soon enough, though, Time Warner Cable put it in my pooper (metaphorically, I hope). That meant an internet connection as consistent as Oprah's weight and a tragic inability to fight for the polygonal Cup with my Canadian pals. Eventually, the team either dissolved or decided that it would be best if we saw other people.
Enough background, here's the deal: I started an EA Sports League team called Battle of Sedins and my roster includes only my doppelganger Sad Panda. This saddens and enrages me. So, if you have a copy of NHL 09, an X-Box Live account and a modicum of digi-talent, message/friend request/whatever me on X-Box Live so we can represent for our blogging gangstas.
Not sure what kind of demand there will be with this, but at first it will definitely be a first come first serve thing. (Naturally, BoC contributors will get on the team even if they suck balls) Eventually, we might get to the point be a B-team or some roster cuts, but that's another story for another day.
My gamertag is jimbobri. Since this team is for the BoC as well as my fledgling blog, I decided a BoC-team neutral logo would be best (so it's a European league mascot - a polar bear biting through a stick ... fucking sweet, right?). While I'm here let's discuss a few things:
- Goalies will be treated as prima donnas, second only to myself and BoC writers. If you're really good at goalie in this game, you'll probably not going to need to worry about going on waivers.
- Douches aren't necessarily barred. It just depends on what type of douche you are. Being the wrong kind of douche will get you kicked off the team. Want more specifics? Eh, fuck you. Remember, I make the rules.
- Don't be a dick about playing defense or a position you don't want to play. Not everyone can be blond haired, blue eyed quarterbacks, you know.
- Use a headset. Yes, the headset is ridiculous and its use means you don't deserve to get laid for a week ... but it's necessary. C'mon, you know you want to hear me burn the roof of my mouth with a grilled cheese sandwich and admonish you for my own mistakes. Don't be delusional.
Anyway, it's time for you to rejoice. Finally, your meaningless lives can be temporarily satisfying!!!
Derek Armstrong- 11:21 TOI, 0 G, 0 A, -3, 0 SOG, 0 PIM
Brian Boyle- 11:19 TOI, 0 G, 0 A, -3, 0 SOG, 4 PIM
Raitis Ivanans- 9:59 TOI, 0 g, 0 A, -2, 0 SOG, 8 PIM
I'm not even mad, I'm impressed.
Monday, November 24, 2008
LA Kings @ Calgary Flames (11-9-1)
6:30 PST, RSW (Regehr Sucks Wang?)
Record: 8-8-3 (49 Goals For, 49 Goals Against)
Special Teams: 16.7 PP% (19th), 84.1 PK% (10th)
Top Scorer: Anze Kopitar, 15 points
Best Forward: Dustin Brown?
Best Defenseman: Drew Doughty
Biggest Surprise: Drew Doughty/Erik Ersberg
Biggest Disappointment: Anze Kopitar
(It's only 19 games in, but tomorrow's Lubo Day so I'm doing this now.)
All coaches search for a balance between top-line talent and depth with their forward lines. At the beginning of the season, the Kings were running 3 lines that were of relatively equal strength, with Brownitar on the top line, Frolov/Handzus on line 2, and O'Sullivan/Stoll on the 3rd. These lines helped spread out the Kings' talent but probably did so a little too much and the Kings had trouble hanging with the top-level talent on other teams. Then Terry Murray apparently had a stroke and screwed with the lines for about 4 or 5 games, banishing O'Sullivan to the 4th line while promoting Kyle Calder to the top line. This gave the Kings the worst of both worlds: it hampered their top players while also neutering their depth.* Finally, the Kings moved Patrick O'Sullivan up with Brownitar to form the fearsome Maxi-PAD Line; since their reuniting, the three sleepy musketeers have tallied 7 points in 2 games. (Is that a lot? I don't know.)
*Of course, the Kings won a bunch of games while this was going on. Hockey is weird.
The reuniting of the Maxi-PAD solves one problem (it forms a top line that instills fear into the hearts of Los Angeles' opponents), but it also creates a depth issue that the Kings are ill-equipped to handle right now. Murray has apparently solved this problem by creating two dynamic scoring lines, a pretty good defensive line, and then (sound of toilet flushing here). Alex Frolov, Jarret Stoll and Oscar Moller have generally been getting assigned the other team's top scoring line and have been doing an admirable job of keeping them off the score sheet. Jarret Stoll should have about 15 goals by now but should start rounding into shape as he and Frolov build some chemistry. Michal Handzus has done a pretty great job of shutting down whatever line Murray sees fit to line him up against, but he desperately needs speed on his wings and Kyle Calder isn't cutting it. Wayne Simmonds looks good in spurts but I still think he could use a little time in the minors. 2 points in 20 games isn't good for him. Basically, the Kings are trying to create a overall mismatch with their top line; stop the other team's top offensive line with their 2nd line; and then prevent any line mismatch with their secondary stopper line. So far, so good.
The bottom line has been the source of much of my ire, and I really think the Kings are missing an opportunity to pile up cheap goals. As it stands now, the Kings' 4th line is pretty much worthless because there's no real reason to put them out on the ice. They aren't going to score, they're not going to control possession and wear down the opposition; the only thing they're going to do is take a penalty. The Kings would be wise to use someone with a modicum of offensive talent and get them involved in the game instead of using John Fucking Zeiler.* A line like Armstrong-Boyle-Richardson would actually help the Kings win a game, which is much more than I can say for Ivanans and Zeiler.
*If you buy into the premise that Ivanans prevents injuries to Kings' players, don't you have to believe that Zeiler is likely to get a King injured because he pisses off the other team and causes them to seek retribution? I don't get why that's not the case.
Overall, the Kings seem to have adapted into a system that relies heavily on their top two lines, both offensively and defensively. This has worked pretty well the past few games, although it remains to be seen how well Michal Handzus can be worked into the game without quality linemates. I keep expecting the Kings to start scoring goals any time now, but we're 20 games in and they haven't really shown signs that they're going to break out. Hopefully it comes soon, because I'd rather hit myself in the head with a hammer than root for the Blue Jackets.
Defensively, the Kings have been outstanding so far this season. I know, right? Strange. Even crazier: Drew Doughty is leading the team in ice time per game and is third (behind Kopitar and Brown) in power play time per game. The 18 year-old wunderkind is insanely poised for being so young; he looks like he's playing the game at a slower speed than everyone else. He's 5th among defenseman in penalty kill time per game, but that's more because he needs to get rest some time than because he's not good at it. The Kings' 2nd best defenseman? Kyle Quincey, who was waived by the Red Wings earlier in the season and is now leading all Kings' defenseman in points. Third best? Why, that'd be Sean O'Donnell, the wizened greybeard that was forced out of Anaheim due to cap constraints. He's leading Kings' defenseman in both even strength and penalty kill minutes, all while schooling Doughty in the finer aspects of the game. Plus, he kind of looks like Hellboy, so that's cool. 4th best is Matt Greene, who was acquired this last off-season along with Jarret Stoll for Lubomir Visnovsky. Basically, Dean Lombardi rebuilt the entire defense this off-season with one high-profile draft pick and a series of castoffs and renegades. The Kings' blueline looks like the offensive line from The Replacements; no word on whether Denis Gauthier eats a bucket full of eggs before every game. (Although his play makes me feel like I have! Oh snap!)
The first 10 games of the season, Jason Labarbera posted a 3.01 GAA and a .884 SV%. The problem wasn't that he was bad in every game, it was that he had a handful of stinkers that crippled the Kings. Since then, Erik Ersberg has started every game and has posted an admirable 2.05 GAA and a .907 SV%. His stats are inflated by the Kings' incredible shot prevention so far this season, kind of like Nabokov's last year, but the point is that Ersberg has been consistent. The Kings know what to expect from Ersberg and thus don't have to overcompensate. His lowest individual save percentage has been .867 and his highest has been .963; everything else has been in the low .900's. Compare that to Labarbera, who had a shutout but also had games like this and this, and you can see why the Kings have stuck with their little cherubic Swede. Of course, teams may start saying, "Hey, why don't we shoot high?" and then Ersberg is doomed, but I'll ride this little wave while it lasts.
Overall, the Kings have been... pretty good. They're limiting shots from their opponents and seem to be building an identity around tough team defense. While I would like them to score more, the reality of the Kings' roster situation makes it hard for them to bring up additional help. If the biggest complaint I can muster is that I'd like to see Brad Richardson play more, than I guess they're doing OK. Now they need to build on their relative success so far this season and make a push towards respectability.
Last season the Calgary Flames were the first team to exploit the defensive liabilites of the Maxi-PAD line by teaming up Craig Conroy (who shadowed Kopitar) and Jarome Iginla, who neutralized the Kings' best line by keeping the puck in LA's zone. The game's in Calgary today and the Flames will have the last change, so I expect that strategy to continue. However, that line is much improved defensively and Dustin Brown has actually been shouldering more responsibility carrying the puck, so we'll see how that little strategy looks this time around.
Anyone want to see a Boyle/Phaneuf scrap tonight?
Prediction: Kings win, 4-3. Goals by Moller, Doughty, Calder and... O'Donnell??? Sure why not.
John Zeiler is dumb. If you watch the video, Adam Foote looks back behind him twice and sees Zeiler coming at him, and you can see him assume that there's no way Zeiler is going to hit him because it would clearly be boarding. Foote is so positive in this assumption that he doesn't try to protect himself at all. You could even argue that Foote was daring Zeiler to board him. And that's what Zeiler did. He plowed in and boarded the fuck out of Adam Foote. I know some people say that Foote deserved it, or that it's an unfair advantage for a defenseman if a forward can't be aggressive when getting the puck, but the NHL has made clear that if you hit a guy in the back and he hits the boards with his face then you are getting a penalty. John Zeiler hit Foote in the numbers, Foote hit the boards with his face, Zeiler got a penalty. Sounds fair. I only wish Zeiler had gotten the death penalty instead. Well, not the death penalty, that's a little far; maybe a 10-year sentence in federal "pound me in the ass" prison. That sounds about right.
Here are a few photos from the Sharks 7-2 thrashing of the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. Evgeni Nabokov returned to the lineup to backup Brian Boucher, and he is expected to start Wednesday night against Chicago. More photos and notes from the game are available here, and postgame comments from the coaches are available here. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was kind enough to answer a lot of questions for me about technology and the NHL prior to the game here, and Offwing.com and AOL's Eric McErlain also answered a few questions for me about the Capitals here.
Naturally Jody Shelley and Donald Brashear fight when I am in the tunnel going from one side of the rink to the other, but hockeyfights.com posted a video clip of the fight here. I am the first to admit I was not as positive about Shelley when he was with Columbus, but scroll through some of his fights this season on HF. He is having an incredible season, and Todd McLellan is throwing him out on a line with Marleau and Thornton late in the game, and sometimes subbing Marleau or Thornton at center on the fourth line. Something to keep an eye on.
Thanks for hitting the highlight video.
Colorado Avalanche (9-10-0, t-12th in west) at Anaheim Ducks (11-8-3, t-4th in west)
Ah, we finally arrive at the conclusary installment of Burke Week, a five-day gander back at the Anaheim legacy of Brian Burke.
Part I: Defending three "bad" Burke moves that I don't think were that bad.
Part II: Criticizing three Burke moves that I don't think get enough flak.
Part III: Nothing but shout-outs.
Part IV: What I like about Burke the roster-builder.
And now we arrive at Part V: Scattered final thoughts, where I squeeze everything I've missed into a final post for the series. We'll start with some counterpoint: Two things that I didn't like about Burke the roster-builder.
Regret One: Europe, Where Art Thou?
Since Brian Burke's second year in Anaheim, there has been a fairly rigid three-player maximum on players from Europe -- Teemu Selanne from Finland, Sammy Pahlsson from Sweden, and the back-up goalie (first Ilya Bryzgalov from Russia, now Jonas Hiller from Switzerland), but before Burke arrived, Anaheim used to be a melting pot. Burke rid the team of Vitaly Vishnevski (Russia), Ruslan Salei (Belarus), Niclas Havelid (Sweden), Sandis Ozolinsh (Latvia), Petr Sykora (Czech Republic), Sergei Fedorov (Russia), and Ladislav Smid (Czech Republic), among others. Think about this: in 2003 the Ducks went to the Stanley Cup Finals with zero Canadians on their blueline. In 2007 the Ducks won the Stanley Cup with zero non-Canadians on their blueline.
It became very clear over Burke's tenure what sort of player he was building around -- skilled or not, he wanted North American skaters in nearly every roster slot. Now I don't want to attack this mindset too badly -- you can still make an impressive team from mostly one continent. However, one only had to look at the success of Swedish forwards on Detroit or the Finnish forwards on Dallas (or really, the European contribution to any team's success) to see that Burke's one-continent focus was biased against plenty of world-class talent.
It's one reason that I'm not upset to see Brian Burke leave -- he certainly did very good work while he was here, but I don't think too many years of Europe-phobia is good for an NHL franchise. By artificially limiting the available talent pool, the Ducks seemingly ignored a source for creativity and puck control -- and I think that they would be well-served to reintroduce that intercontinental element into their post-Burke philosophy. I just hope that Bob Murray has an open mind to the contributions of overseas players; I think it's an element the Ducks have been missing.
Regret Two: How Bad is Burke at the Entry Draft?
I don't follow prospects that well, so I can't really tell you how much more barren Anaheim's prospect pool is compared to when Burke arrived, but I assume it's been rather depleted. One of the problems, I assume, is Brian Burke's draft record, which will have to be judged in future years, but based on reputation and what I have seen looks unimpressive thus far.
I guess the indicting argument against Burke's draft record is that I believe Bobby Ryan and Brett Festerling represent the only players that Burke has drafted that have tasted NHL ice, and Ryan was selected in a high-expectation slot (2nd overall, one spot behind Sidney Crosby). I'm definitely not an expert here, but I'd expect that a draft-savvier GM would have accumulated more NHL-ready players by now (though granted, a lot of Anaheim's top picks were sent to Edmonton in the Pronger deal). I think it's premature for any hard criticism here (and a lot may be based on Bobby Ryan alone), but so far, it's tough to spot where Burke's draft record has served the Ducks very much.
Of course, there is a flipside to this criticism, which is that Burke has demonstrated that it's possible to build teams almost entirely outside of the draft -- the 2007 cup squad had very few players who were actually drafted by Anaheim (I believe Getzlaf, Perry, and Bryzgalov). Also, with Dave McNab finding lots of talent outside the draft (Anaheim's undrafted talent includes Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Shannon, Ryan Carter, and Jonas Hiller), perhaps the importance of the draft is overstated. Still, the entry draft is a definite source to replenish talent, and it may prove that Burke's draft mediocrity hampers the Ducks in the near future.
But let's not overlook the upside.
I don't want to end Burke Week on all sour notes, though. Even with his drawbacks, Burke did transform the team's image from a Disney sidestory into one of the west's top teams. Burke became a source for franchise legitimacy -- I don't know if the team lands a Scott Niedermayer or a Chris Pronger without the presence of Brian Burke, and I don't know if a Mathieu Schneider or a Brendan Morrison even seriously considers the franchise as a signing option. Burke had the clout to trade away a high-priced Sergei Fedorov and a high-priced Mathieu Schneider for spare parts, and the bravery to stand behind moves like the waiving of Ilya Bryzgalov.
Basically, no matter his flaws and strengths, Burke was a high-profile GM and hockey personality, and he added relevance to the Anaheim Ducks. His coming to SoCal legitimized the franchise and fixed its focus on winning, and without that, the team's fortunes could have gone in a very different direction -- probably one without a Stanley Cup. There's definitely been some baggage to Brian Burke, but the upside has been pretty spectacular.
What I'll miss most about Brian Burke:
What I'll miss least about Brian Burke:
The answer to both of these is his mouth, which has definitely been a regular source for amusement, but also has diverted many of my blogging man-hours to defending the guy's often-malicious quotes. For better or worse, there is no topic in hockey that Brian Burke is too timid to discuss, usually with the spirit of antagonism. There's no doubt that I'm going to miss that mouth -- it sure beats the usual media-timidness that most hockey personalities have, but I won't lie. It's also going to be nice to have a little less controversy coming from the GM's mouth, as well.
Entertaining quotes occasionally do come at a price, not only in terms of franchise perception but also with burnt bridges as well. Anyone want to put an over/under on the number of months before we see another Anaheim-Edmonton trade?
A classic example of Burke's mouth making headlines.
Bottom Line: Overall, I'm a huge Burke supporter, even though over Burke Week I've split my positives and negatives pretty evenly. The upsides to having a strong-willed GM far outweigh the drawbacks (though it's important to remember those, as well). As a Ducks blogger, I've never had much desire to interview Ducks players (though nobody's really given me any opportunity) -- generally, I am disgusted enough with bland cliches that I don't think I'd do very well in that setting. That said, I would have loved to have an opportunity to interview Brian Burke -- even though the interview would have been generally awful (I'd probably conduct it at a bar and wouldn't write or record anything), I imagine shooting the shit with Burke would be ten times as entertaining as doing the same with any player.
Ultimately, Burke built a Stanley Cup Champion team in Anaheim, and nothing should take away from that. We'll miss you, Burkie, and wish you limited success in Toronto/wherever.
So that's the scattered last chapter of my Burke Week -- I definitely had a lot to say about the guy and what he did in Anaheim. For the comments, what's your final analysis? What grade would you give Brian Burke for his GM job in Anaheim, and how much do you think he will be missed? Any final thoughts are welcome in the comments.
Prediction: Ducks win 4-2. Goals by Ryan, Getzlaf, Pahlsson, and Pronger.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Gotta admit, it looks pretty sharp. I hate the crest but the jerseys look pretty amazing while the action is going on. My favorite part are the socks, to be honest. If they put the crown from the regular jerseys on the front, I could see these jerseys becoming full-time. What do you guys think?
-John Zeiler should be shot into the Sun.
-Jarret Stoll should have about 30 goals by now.
-Drew Doughty played 29 minutes last night.
-When is Kopitar going to create a goal for himself?
Saturday, November 22, 2008
LA Kings (8-8-2) vs. Colorado Avalanche (8-10)
7:30 PST, Fox Sports West
The Stars have imploded and just lost their best player. The Coyotes haven't sparked offensively and their youth hasn't quite lived up to the height so far. The Ducks look to be rounding into shape after a slow start but aren't quite the dominant team they've been in years past. The Sharks... well, the Sharks are amazing. But after them, there isn't a team that has really made its mark in the Pacific Division. Why not the Kings? They're sitting at .500 right now despite losing their best defenseman in the 2nd game of the season. Their top scorers from last year have underperformed, their goaltending in the first 10 games of the season was subpar, and they just now put together a legitimate top scoring line. And yet they're right there. The Kings have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs, assuming the Stars continue to fall apart and need to use the next month to build up points before they spend the 2nd half of the season on the road. Let's start today.
Prediction: Kings lose, 4-1. Goal by John Zeiler. Fuck these guys.
WOW. Someone just played Panic's entrance music. If things looked bad for the Stars just a few days ago, now the team is pondering meteor shower insurance. Rudy posted the news but if you have anti-scroll disease, Brenden Morrow is out for the season.
The Stars are effectively "fixed." As in they've been de-balled.
With Marty Turco having a mini-meltdown and Brad Richards giving weepy interviews in emo shirts, trading away Jussi Jokinen and Mike Smith is looking closer to Bochenski for Versteeg these days. Honestly, Richards had enough positive moments in the playoffs that he gained a ... sort of flattering nickname in the "Five Dollar Shake." No Pulp Fiction jokes for him now, though. Although perhaps a "do I LOOK like a bitch?" might work.
So, with chicken little getting on the first trip to DFW Airport, I thought it might be fun to look at the different ways this mess can shake out:
1. The put-your-head-between-your-legs-and-pray approach
The plane's losing cabin pressure. Oxygen masks just popped out over your head. Babies are crying. Virgins are tearing off each others clothes and all you can do is prepare for a fiery grave.
In the Stars case, they are hoping the after-life includes one of the top two draft picks. There seems to be some hockey nerd slap fights over who's going to be the number one pick, but it's pretty hard to imagine John Tavares suffering an Angelo Esposito-type fate (or Aaron Rogers type fate, for you hockey borderliners). But even if Tavares suffers from a Fannie Mae-ish drop in stock, the Stars could benefit from getting the next big hype machine (Tavares) or Victor Hedman, Sweden's answer to Zdeno Chara.
Let's face it, kids, Smokin' Sergei Zubov is aging as hastily as Meg Ryan (seriously, what butcher of a plastic surgeon made her lips into couch cushions?). Turco's struggles are well documented, but even if he rights the ship he's not exactly a young man either. And the Stars' offense is anchored by really old players (Modano) and guys who are hovering around the dreaded 30-zone (Morrow, Mike Ribeiro). (Oh, and of course douche bags like Sean Avery)
In other words, this might be the perfect time for the Stars to have a free fall to a high-end pick. Dallas doesn't have NHL draft savants like Detroit so those perpetual playoff runs and future mortgaging trades make it tough to bring in high-end offensive talent. The defense has some guys who still have a chance to be good again, but no Jack Johnson, no Erik Johnson or any other future franchise D guy not named Johnson.
So maybe the Stars can pull a San Antonio Spurs - a team that hovered around good for years, had one atrocious year and ended up with Tim Duncan. Just sayin'.
2. Us against the world?
Something tells me that Linda Cohn and Co. left the Stars bandwagon in a ditch somewhere in podunkia. Allowing awful end of the period goals, taking stupid penalties and generally shitting the bed means that the Stars can go back to being way under the radar.
Could that be a good formula for a rebound? Stranger things have happened and Morrow, despite his playoff heroics, was struggling too this season. *Shrug*
3. Liquidation time!!! Clearance sale!!! All underperforming players must GO!
Then again, the Stars COULD go apeshit and go into full-on rebuild mode. After all, the economy is shit and the crowds will get sparser by the meltdown. Carrying an expensive losing roster might not be feasible with the economy getting gang raped. And if nothing else, the Stars have some big contracts and big names who could actually have decent trade value.
Turco might not exactly be at his most valuable level, but he has a huge contract. Who knows ... maybe a miracle could happen and they could move him for Jason Spezza.
WOW! This is fun! Making up completely unsubstantiated rumors is almost as fan as playing Gears of War 2!
In all seriousness, the Stars could look to shop players (kinda doubt Turco will go anywhere though). Zubov is a high-skill, high-age guy who could be a splendid trading deadline candidate. Richards might be too expensive, but he's still a very talented player. Ribeiro is a tool and an injury faking douche. This is undeniable. But he's also been a point per game player. He actually was really good in the playoffs and didn't writhe around on the ice like an asshole last year.
Would there be anyone crazy enough to take Avery off their hands?
If there's anything the NHL has shown me, it's that stupid trades and free agent signings happen all the time. It would be nice if the Stars came out on the winning end this year.
So, those seem to be the three paths the Stars can take. Without bias or any "research" to get in the way of my opinions. Hope you enjoyed it.
Friday, November 21, 2008
So, you may have heard there's this little thing called, erm, BlackArmor debuting against the Caps on Saturday night. It's black (duh) and not a heck of a lot different from the old black jerseys. Guess those early reports were wrong.
(The good news? There's not a Seagate logo to be found. Fortunately, Euro-style sponsorships haven't crept into the league as some had feared.)
Still, you guys know that I'm just a teeny tiny bit superstitious. The old black jerseys were seemingly cursed, at least for the first few seasons. I don't have specific numbers but I believe that the team's record when wearing them was roughly 0-19573893-2. They did eventually start winning with the black jerseys on, so whatever curse they had was apparently shaken off.
History does tend to repeat itself though, and with the Sharks wearing the new duds on consecutive nights (Caps and Wednesday night against the Blackhawks), I say this: if you lose both games, burn them. Burn them all and never speak of them again.
Oh yeah, and some dudes named Alexander Something-or-other are going to be skating. Fingers crossed that Jose Theodore will be in net. What are the odds of a Donald Brashear/Jody Shelley fight -- and what's the over-under on number of punches Shelley actually gets in before Brashear takes over?
You know, I've been predicted every season for the past 6 seasons that the Stars were going to falter, and every season they've made me look like a jackass. This season I finally don't predict a letdown and this looks like the season they finally falter. Just thought you'd like to know how this is affecting me personally.
-Can't score? Check.
-Can't keep the puck out of their own zone? Check.
-Takes 2 penalties, including one when the opposing team has the puck stationary behind their own net? Check.
That Zeiler-Boyle-Ivanans line is terrible. Can make Derek Armstrong a coach, waive Zeiler and bring up Matt Moulson and Ted Purcell?
The Maxi-PAD line was matched up against Ovechkin's line all night, with Dustin Brown pretty much shadowing Ovy all night. Ovechkin was getting frustrated and in the third period took it out on Dustin Brown, blindsiding Brown with a little bit of an elbow in front of the net when the puck was in the corner; unfortunately for Ovy, Brown's skate got up and clipped Ovechkin in the ear. He fell to the ice and rolled around for a little while before he got up and realized he was getting a penalty for interference. Suddenly his ear wasn't bothering him that much anymore. Exactly one minute later, Dustin Brown scored on the power play. Hilarious.
Does anyone else feel bad for Alex Frolov? He and Kopitar are the opposite: I keep looking at Kopitar's stats and can't understand how he has as many points as he does, while I keep expecting Frolov to have a lot more points than he actually does. He made a great play to get Jarrett Stoll wide open right in the slot but Stoll rang it off the pipe. If we can ever get Anze and Alex going at the same time, the Kings will be pretty dangerous.
It's important not to read too much into last night's game. Yeah, the Kings played well and limited the Caps to only 21 shots, but the Capitals were missing this season's best offensive player, their best offensive defenseman and their best checking forward. Plus, the Caps were worn out from lighting up the Ducks so many times the night before. It was a good win but we need to keep perspective about the whole thing.
Anaheim Ducks (10-8-2, 7th in west) at St. Louis Blues (6-8-2, 15th in west)
Ducks had better have a better start or somebody's going to the dentist!
So for Part IV of this series, I thought I'd take a look at some of the ways that Burke was a very good general manager -- things that worked for the Ducks not only on their Cup run but also looking forward. Think of these as a bit of a primer for good ol' Bob Murray, or more accurately, Part IV: What I like about Burke the roster-builder.
Lesson One: If you want depth, don't acquire depth players; instead insert talent at the top of your roster.
While I've stated before that I’m not overly impressed that Burke had the "wisdom" to acquire Niedermayer, Selanne, or Pronger, I don’t want to take away from the fact that Burke knew what he was going after – a superstar. His focus wasn’t on filling in his roster with supplementary depth players, though he certainly put those pieces in place as well; he was looking to acquire top-flight players for the top end of his roster and let his existing roster form the depth. Not only was a superstar able to drop players down to more manageable roles, but Carlyle could even form a legitimate pairing with Scott Niedermayer and a league-minimum Francois Beauchemin, for example, and further benefit from an all-star's abilities. In a nutshell, if you ask me how Burke was able to build a cup winner, the answer is that he took a franchise with a lot of supporting parts and inserted talent at the top. By doing so, he made everyone more effective.
Lesson Two: Shelter your kids – It’s good for them and it’s good for you.
I think the way Getzlaf and Perry were brought into the league was phenomenal. Their rookie year they were played as fourth-liners, with Todd Fedoruk watching their backs – a very no-pressure environment to learn the ropes of the NHL. To effectively remove them from Calder consideration, they were even demoted for a month or so to the AHL Pirates, but played together throughout. Their sophomore year they moved up to second-liners, still sheltered from top defenders (Selanne drew those matchups) and top scorers (Pahlsson of course got those). That year was of course the cup year, so needless to say it worked out well. Then finally last year, their contract year, they were given responsibilities as top-liners, and having been groomed for the role they delivered. The payoff to the Ducks was two well-prepared top-liners who not only proved their abilities but also signed at reasonable rates ($5.6 million apiece, which certainly could have been worse). That salary in part has to do with their limited time on the top line – by holding them back not only were they better prepared but also had less career points come contract time. This also holds true for Bobby Ryan, who I can only speculate on his worth, but will certainly have limited NHL exposure come contract time two summers from now. It will be interesting to see how good Bobby Ryan becomes, or how prepared for NHL duty he is, and how much his sheltering pays off in his next contract for Anaheim.
Lesson Three: Be true to your players and they’ll be true to you.
I can't think of one time Brian Burke didn’t righteously stand up for one of his players in Anaheim – no matter how stupid or how idiotic it was. It’s one reason Brian Burke is as hated as he is by rival fans, but probably one reason why players seem so loyal to him. Whether it’s Bertuzzi’s suckerpunch, Pronger’s elbows or skateblade, Selanneidermayer’s semi-retirements, or even softer stuff like Giguere dealing with his baby’s health – Burke is front-and-center deflecting criticism and supporting his guys. He’s done seemingly honorable things in waiving Bryzgalov and proving Giguere with a no-movement clause, and I think there's payoff to those moves -- I know players are loathe to say anything controversial, but I haven't heard any player critical of Burke, even guys who have left under tough circumstances (Penner, McDonald, Schneider, Bertuzzi). Whether or not fans like or dislike what Brian Burke has to say, it does seem that players do respond favorably to it, and I think that perception is helpful in luring free agents to sign or players to re-sign.
Lesson Four: No Long-Term Deals ... Flexibility = Positivity!
This is a big one for me, too. Brian Burke has committed to two 5-year deals (Getzlaf and Perry), four 4-year deals (both Niedermayers, Kunitz, and Giguere), and only a few 3-year deals (McDonald and Carter, notably). He’s also acquired two deals with 4 years remaining (Marchant and Pronger). He’s stayed away from mammoth-year contracts, though, and I’m glad he’s done so. Burke hasn’t crippled rosters seven or eight years from now, and that has to be the wise move -- with a changing NHL landscape and a newly-implemented salary cap, it's tough to foresee what player values will be five years down the road. Now don't get me wrong -- I'm not against all long-term deals (I once advocated a fifteen-year deal for Getzlaf), but I'm glad it's not a crutch that Burke used to lure players to Anaheim. I think GMs who do that are selfish -- they are trying to win now while risking their franchise's ability to win in the future (partially it's because of mixed motivations -- the roster seven years from now is likely going to be a replacement GM's problem). So while many like to say that Burke has ruined the Ducks, it doesn't seem a long-term problem; in two or three years there will hardly be any Burke contracts on the books at all.
So that's some of the positive GM lessons that Burke has demonstrated; if you feel like I've missed anything, feel free to add your own lesson from Burke in the comments. Part V I'll try to do a wrap-up; some GM lessons I didn't like, what I'll miss most and least about the guy (first in both categories: his mouth), and a conclusion.
Prediction: Bob Murray's Ducks 5, Andy Murray's Blues 2. Goals by Perry, Ryan, Morrison, Pahlsson, and Montador.