Saturday, May 31, 2008

This Is An Oilers' Blog, You Say?


Well then its about time I posted about the Oilers, I guess. While LT and Jonathan have been posting regularly about the Oilers I have been watching the playoffs here and there and not really thinking about the Edmontons. Crosby.
With only a week left in the season, max, and the draft and free agent frenzy only weeks away, the Oilers are about to swing back into action as they prepare for next season, hoping to build off their unexpected rush for a playoff spot in the spring. So, here's what I am thinking.
The Smythe is in flux. Vancouver is in disarray (Rest in Peace Luc Bourdon, what a terrible tragedy). Colorado has some nice young talent but some question marks, especially in net and with Joe Sakic. The Wild have some bigtime parts of their team heading for free agency. The Flames are in some cap trouble and look to be running in place. Do I expect the Oilers to make some noise? Why not? Hey, optimism always reigns in the summer, right? They aren't going to be in there with the heavy hitters from Detroit and the Pacific yet but I think this club could contend in the Northwest.
I can't believe I just said that.
Things I am expecting to happen. I think Roloson gets moved somehow. The Oilers now have Fisher, Pitton, Dubnyk and Deslauriers under contract and I think they are going to give JDD a shot at the backup spot. I don't think that is going to be a move that will help them win games but I think they want to give Garon the heavy workload and sign him if that works out and I think they want to see if JDD can play as a backup in the NHL.
The back end is flush with young players with potential. I trust LT's instincts on Hrabel and he joins a crew that includes Wild, Peckham, Chorney, Plante and Petry. Throw in speedbag Mathieu Roy, wealthy Tom Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Smid, Greene and Pitkanen and there be plenty of young Dmen in town to play with vets Staios and Souray. LT is stumping for another vet back there (where have you gone Jan Hejda, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you, whoo whoo whoo) but after a couple of years with too many kids, what's another? All kidding aside I think they bring in a guy like Rourke as insurance, Roy is the seventh man and they move someone, likely Smid, this summer. They will want another year to evaluate Grebs, Joni and Greene and then come 09/10 they will keep who they think will make them a contender, ship out the guys they don't like or don't want to pay, and then fill those spots with a couple of kids. So Smid goes and when Souray goes down Roy will replace him for a couple of shifts and when they stretcher him off we will see Rourke II, Hrabel or Peckham.
Up front the first domino is Glencross. I don't blame a kid who has barely made it for looking for his payday and while I like him a lot I'm not up for paying fourth liners 2 million and up. The Oilers already have too many bottom sixers making too much dough and while that is not Curtis' fault, let him get that money elsewhere. They already have over nine million sunk into Torres, Moreau, Pisani and Stoll. Enough already. I like him but not at the dough they are throwing around.
So if they sign Glencross you can expect that Torres will be moved but if Curtis is a goner then its a LW of Penner, Nilsson, Torres, Moreau and Jacques and when Moreau goes down in TC then the big Frenchman will step in and lets hope he watched a little tape from last year because Jean Francois? Allo? See what that Glencross guy is doing? That's all you need to do. And methinks you have it in you.
RW is Hemsky, Gagner, Pisani, Stortini and maybe Reddox or a surprise although who, I have no idea. Maybe Brodziak moves to the wing and Pouliot plays centre on the fourth line.
Up the middle - Horcoff, Cogliano, Stoll, Brodziak. I think that's how it shakes out. I think they sign Horcoff because even if Stoll rebounds he's also going to get paid next year and the only thing he has on Horc is age. In every other facet of the game 10 is a superior player. Without Torres going Stoll would be the guy you figure would move and it still might happen but I think they hang onto him. If they can't sign Horc they will need Stoll going forward. If he has a rebound year and they sign Horcc then they can move him when he has some more value. I think everything points to him staying unless Lowe makes a move for a top six guy to play with Nilsson and Gagner and drops Cogliano to the third line. Then Stoll is expendable.
Or they might sign Horc this summer, move Stoll and go Horc, Cogliano, Pouliot and Brodziak. Risky but again I think this club is looking to two years from now to start making that push. Having a couple of young cheap guys up the middle in the bottom six - not a bad idea. Lets see if Pouliot and Brodziak can do the job.
Should be less interesting of a summer then the last two, which is ok by my books. Stay the course, tweak a little and see if this past spring was a mirage for some of these guys. Sign Horcoff. Move a couple of more kids in and trim a few guys who aren't going to be part of the future. Smid. Schremp. Roloson. Then see if a playoff spot is in the cards and decide who is part of this team once they really begin to contend. Pitkanen or Grebeskov? Stoll. Torres. And so on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Datsyuk


Interesting to see how Don Cherry's rant about Detroit turning the other cheek conveniently ignored Datsyuk going after first Malone and then Roberts the other night.
Doesn't fit in with his usual narrative about soft Europeans to see Pavel toss Roberts to the ice in the game ending melee.
It has been men against boys for sure and that is without Detroit's PP clicking. The only thing to hang your hat on if you are a Pens' fan is the possibility that Crosby and Hossa will get away from the big five tonight. They've played that group at evens which tells you how good this kid is and how good Hossa is. Although speaking of dummies and the stories they spin I am sure that McGuire will once again be calling Hossa Maid Marion next spring unless he starts potting three a game.
I would not bet against Crosby and Hossa having some success against some of Detroit's lesser lights but then Staal and company will have to shut down Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Datsyuk et al. Not sure if they are up to it. Not sure if any would be at this point.
This is it. Wings win tonight and its over.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Malkin


Methinks that Lurch is hurt because since game one against the Flyers he has the grand total of two points. Was in the Market Friday night sitting on a patio and explaining to my buddy how I figured the Wings could do this thing. Pretty simple really, shut down Evgeni. I like Sykora and I like Malone but if Malkin isn't rolling neither are they. Complimentary players. Good ones but they aren't winning a game without help from the big Russian.
Saturday night started as a beauty and Crosby's line deserves kudos for going even at ES against Detroit's big five. The problem? They were a minus one anyways and the rest of the team went minus two against the rest of the Wings AND they got outscored on special teams.
Franzen is back tonight and suddenly Cleary and Samuelsson are on the board (anyone who saw Samuelsson scoring two is a liar) and if Malkin cannot get it going tonight then the Pens are going down quickly. They need a split.
If I am the Pens I'm thinking a PP bounce in G1 and they had the lead, which is true. Osgood was very good in the first. Problem is when you start needing a bounce is when things start going downhill.
Finally I've been doing my best to follow the Wings' side of things over at AtoY, for my money one of the best out here on the Interweb. Take a look, at least to read his recap of G1, which he witnessed live. Its good stuff.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lidstrom


Mirtle has a nice post looking at the Finals and in it he documents this completely unbelievable statistic. When Nick Lidstrom is on the ice killing penalties the Wings have outscored their opposition.
Amazing.
A big part of me thinks this could be 1995 all over again. That year a young talented Wings' team finally got over the hump and made it to the Finals where they promptly got waxed by the Devils.
Nobody in New Jersey cared. They still don't.
Now the Penguins haven't taken a long hard road to get here. No angst in their journey, unless you count a bunch of seasons at the bottom of the league. No tortuous early round losses to veteran clubs who were weaker on paper, no learning to lose before they learned how to win. Last year they made the playoffs for the first time in years. This year they are in the final.
As for the Wings, well I've talked about them just recently. In their near two decade run at the top of the NHL they have had their fair share of angst, triumph and actual real tragedy, not the "tragedy" of a soft goal or close loss. They are a veteran club and they are favoured by most to win the Cup.
I'm going back and forth on this one. Head says Wings, heart and emotion say the Pens could do it. Considering the one time I went with my heart the Avs got swept, one would think I might learn. I'm thinking Wings in six (and yes we might see a sweep like 92 when every game was close but the series was not) but there are a couple things that might be worrying Mike Babcock a little. The Pens haven't been seriously challenged yet but the Wings are facing a team that matches up pretty well with them, I think. This isn't like last season when the Sens could not have drawn a worse team to play then the Ducks.
My biggest worry if I'm Babcock? What happens if the Pens somehow manage to find a way to match their big five. I don't think the Pens have any unit that can outscore Hank, Pavel and Lidstrom but Hossa is an allworld player at both ends of the rink, Dupuis is solid and Crosby is Crosby. Crosby.
Crosby.
I presume this is the matchup both coaches will go for, leaving Draper to face Malkin. Now I doubt Draper outscores Malkin but he may shut him down. The other option is to swap these matchups. I think Zetterberg eats Malkin alive and if Draper can stop Crosby then the series is won. Hard to say and it will be interesting to see who Babcock runs out there in game one.
Because if Crosby (lets say its Crosby) plays the big boys to a standstill then the Wings are going to need Cleary (one goal), Samuelsson (two goals) and Hudler (four goals) to outscore Malkin, Sykora, Malone and Staal. I don't think its reasonable to expect Franzen to come back and produce and the Pens have one of the few guys in the league who can probably handle him in front of the net in big Hal Gill.
So can the Pens stop or at least hold Zetterberg and Datsyuk - unlikely but if they do someone else will have to step up.
That's the key. I don't expect the Pens to run rampant, not with Lidstrom, Rafalski, Stuart and Kronwall, not to mention the fact that the Detroit forwards know their way around their own end. But they are a damn good team. They are bigger then the Wings and they are fast and they have enough individual talents to frighten any team. They have good goaltending (as do the Wings) and they're not going to be intimidated (note how they handled the Flyers whose play bordered on thuggish at times).
Having said all of that I think the Wings shut down the Pens PP, Datsyuk and Zetterberg slightly outplay Crosby and Hossa and the rest of the Wings do a job on Malkin and company. Lidstrom is the key. The Wings don't have anyone up front to match Hossa but the Pens have nobody like Lidstrom. He will be on the ice for thirty minutes a game and he will make the difference. At the end of the series people will wonder what happened to Malkin and Staal and Malone and Sykora.
Wings in six low scoring tight games.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hossa



Back from a terrific 2-4 in God's country and finally back on this horse.


More to come before Saturday but just wanted to post a few quick things.


I know this will drive the Caniacs, amongst others, nuts but I, for one, am excited to have a Final between two (two!?!) non Bettman clubs for the first time in years. No clubs from California or the southern U.S. No clubs that have moved from hockey hotbeds to hockey wastelands. No clubs where the fanbase consists of a total of 25000 terrific, passionate, knowledgeable fans but not a single person more. No New Jersey Devils.


Instead we have an original Six club in the Wings and a '67 entry, the Penguins, with a little history behind them as well. Good stuff.


Should be a fun series, a ton of story lines. I am leaning towards the Wings a bit at this point but I would feel a lot more comfortable doing so if they had a healthy Franzen. Considering how Danny Cleary has produced so little offensively (I have him in my pool) since his return from the puck in the face (I witnessed that live, by the way, the incident, not the return), I wonder if Franzen's return would have as big an impact as one might think.


Part of me thinks this could be '95 all over again, hot shot young club rolls in against a team with a little more defensive savvy and promptly eats it. Part if me thinks the Wings have ten guys who are going to make it tough sledding for the Pens but only two guys who can score and that will not be enough. Like Dallas the Pens are loaded down the middle. Unlike the Stars they have some pretty nice wingers as well. By which I mean, some guys with some serious offensive chops.


When it comes down to it the reason I will likely end up picking the Wings is one Nick Lidstrom. The Pens have nobody like him. Well, nobody does really. Plus the guys lining up behind him on the blueline are pretty fine too.


But the guy who may end up being the key for the Pens (and a good reason to pick them) is one Marian Hossa. Noted jackass Pierre Maguire went on one of his usual baseless rants before the playoffs began, calling Hossa "Maid Marian" and an abject failure in the playoffs. I know his numbers last season were awful (one assist in four games); of course he was playing with a knee injury so I'm not sure how much I put on that showing. Here are his numbers going back to the 2000 playoffs when he was 21 years old:


2000 - 6 GP - 0-0-0 (plus a minus eight - welcome to the playoffs big guy!)

2001 - 4 GP - 1-1-2

2002 - 12 GP - 4-6-10

2003 - 18 GP - 5-11-16

2004 - 7 GP - 3-1-4 (this was his last series with the Sens and he was dominant that series, every time he touched the puck he was a threat as far as I am concerned)

2007- 4 GP - 0-1-1

2008 - 14 GP - 9-10-19


Colour me stupid but after 2001 I see a guy who puts up pretty good numbers almost every single year. And this year he has been a force, even when facing a couple of pretty tough teams to play against in the Rangers and Flyers. Apparently Maguire has never been to the TSN website where I picked up this little bit of information but from where I stand I think Hossa's playoff performance looks pretty decent. And Pierre Maguire looks like an ass.


The Wings have Datsyuk and Hank, the Pens have Malkin and Crosby. Just as the Pens have no Lidstrom the Wings have nobody like Hossa.


Crosby.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wings


Beset by injuries on their blueline the Wings still came with a Niedermeyer doink off of Lidstrom's stick in the last minute of G5 last year from likely winning the Cup.
Barring disaster this season it looks like they are golden this year and likely they will be the lead contender every year until Lidstrom retires.
They have three of the top ten, maybe top five players in hockey. After a slow start to his playoff career Datsyuk has fifteen goals in his last thirty postseason games. And Zetterberg may be the better player.
Fourth liner Hudler has a dozen points, including last night's GWG, playing around ten minutes a night.
Franzen has twenty seven goals in his last twenty seven games. WTF!
Other than Brad Stuart and a few spare parts they have everyone under contract for next season.
Zetterberg has said he wants to end his career as a Wing. Think he'll sign? And he and Pavel are still young.
Kronvall is healthy and would probably be top guy on many teams.
Osgood gives them very good goaltending.
Getting depressed yet? Any way to move these guys to the East?
Because the Oilers have a long ways to go to be in this club's league. I've watched a lot of these playoffs and while the drama has not always been there the hockey has been terrific. And as much as I love the kids, they aren't playing at this level yet. A long way to go my friends.
The WIngs are tearing a very good Dallas team to shreds. The 2-1 game the other night felt like a 7-1 game. They dominated, which is weird to say because they weren't swarming Turco or anything.
They were just in total complete control. It never felt like Dallas would tie it.
Now the fact that the Wings have not won since 2002 does prove how difficult it is to win the Cup and that there are no guarantees. Hey, they may not even win this year.
But here is a fun fact - in the last 17 years! the Wings have had over 100 points thirteen times. The years they fell short they had 98 points, 94 points (won the Cup), 93 points and 70 points (48 game season where they lost in the SCF).
And this is in a league with 22 or more teams, not six. With free agency. And drafting near the end of the first round every year.
Yeah they had the money advantage all those years but then where are the Leafs' Cups?
Insanity.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lackaday!


After posting twice, twice!, the other day I had to take abed, feeling like Truman Capote must have after a weekend of Cosmopolitans and felching. I was just exhausted!
So third round and I am 8 and 4, big whoop, but not much different from everyone else. Few picked Dallas either round and Philly has also surprised but even when I was picking the Avs I knew it was dumb. Oh well.
Both conference finals could go either way as far as I am concerned. Philly and Dallas have the hot goalies right now but of course all it takes is a game to cool a guy off. Dallas is terrific up the middle but they have too many passengers on the wing offensively. Detroit has three of the best players in the league and then three more terrific defencemen plus six forwards who either hit the twenty goal or forty point mark or both. Hudler has nine points these playoffs and while there is talk of Dallas being more physical I would say the Wings are past being intimidated and for that matter Dallas frankly is not that intimidating. Ribiero has answered the bell, guy has become a player, and Morrow and Lehtinen round out a terrific line. Having said that does anyone see that line having its way with Henrik, Pavel and Lidstrom Detroit wins that matchup and pretty well every other one except maybe in net. If Turco is otherworldly the Stars have a chance but I say Wings in six.
Out in Pennsylvania it may be a great one. You look at Philly up the middle and its quite impressive - Richards, Briere, Carter. Then you look at Pittsburgh and see Crosby, Malkin and Staal and you realize that the Penguins have something special. The Flyers are deep up front with Knuble, Hartnell, Umberger, Upshall, Prospal and Lupul on the wings plus a decent fourth line but the Penguins have a lot of strength on the wing as well, including Hossa who is a head above the lot of them.
Philly is going to play their game but I don't see the Pens getting intimidated, not with Roberts and Laraque to act as deterrents, not to mention Hal Gill. I think its a good series but in the end talent will win out - the Habs outplayed the Flyers for the most part and the Penguins talent level is far beyond that of Montreal. Penguins in six, maybe seven.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?


Doo doo doo do doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo. You know how it goes.
Three posts today people. Two here and a little writeup on Neary's, a must see for a pint if you are ever in Dublin. Another half dozen and I will equal Lowetide's daily output. ;)
San Jose just minutes away from trying to get their series all even. Three teams are through now that Pittsburgh won this afternoon. Its been a weird second round. The games have been close and the hockey has been terrific for the most part but three series done in five or less. Tonight the Sharks try and take another step towards doing what only two other teams have ever done. Fun stuff and lets hope they win just to give us something memorable this round.
In a series with three OT games, two won by Dallas, its an interesting reminder, once again, of how a break here or there can turn not only a game or series but the direction of a franchise. This is San Jose's third consecutive year where they have been expected to make some noise, fourth if you include the prelockout playoff where they were knocked off by the Flames in the conference final. I'm not sure if I include that team in this exercise - it was a veteran club that was pretty well taken apart after that season. I'm thinking more of this club after the Thornton trade.
Considering how I wrote earlier today about Kevin Lowe we should look back at game three of the Sharks/Oilers series in 2006. Oilers down 2-0 in games, game three in OT. Roloson stones Cheechoo with a terrific glove save. Horcoff ends the game and the Sharks never get up off the canvas. If Cheechoo scores then the Sharks are up 3-0 and its over for the Oilers. The Sharks go on to take on Anaheim - my guess is they would have won that series. Then what? And what of Kevin Lowe and the Oilers for that matter? Two franchises changed by one save.
Instead the Sharks get knocked off and then Wilson declines to trade for Pronger, according to reports, deciding not to give Lowe Michalek. So last season they go into the playoffs and while not clear favourites the thought is that they are serious contenders. Once again they go out in the second round.
And now this season comes down to tonight. If they lose Ron Wilson will be gone and it will be interesting to see where the Sharks go next. Doug Wilson will certainly have two teams to think about. There are the Ottawa Senators who always looked to be a club who might take that next step but who after a decade as a team that most expected big things of have pretty well seen that window of opportunity slam shut once and for all this spring.
And there are the Red Wings, in their seventeenth straight year in the playoffs. The Wings, like the Sharks, built through the draft. Daryl Katz should be contacting their European scouting staff and mailing them blank cheques. Anyhow after years in the wilderness the Wings had 98 points in 1992 (this is pre Bettman points mind you when a ninety point season was impressive). That year they lost in the second round to a great veteran Chicago club who were on their way to the final. The following year the Wings finished with 103 points and promptly lost in the first round to the Leafs. The year after that they had 100 points and lost in the first round again, this time to the barely out of diapers San Jose Sharks.
There was no purge of the youngsters although there were some moves made. The Wings made the Fianls in 95 where they were swept by the Devils and the next year they were beaten by the Avs in the first of the great series between those two clubs.
Five years of disappointments.
A dozen years later they have three Cups and have been contenders every single year. Sometimes they have been done in by better teams. Sometimes they have fallen to underdogs who have ridden hot goalies past the favoured Wings. Sometimes their own goaltenders have let them down. There have been years, like last year, where injuries have finished them. And other years they have just had bad luck. Remember game five against the Ducks last season? An iffy penalty and then Niedermeyer dinks one in off of Lidstrom to tie it with less then a minute left to force overtime.
And now they are waiting for the Sharks or the Stars and they are likely the favourite to win it all after they pounded Colorado.
Tonight could mean more disappointment for San Jose. And then Doug Wilson has to look at history and figure out if he can afford to stand pat.

Flyers Move On

Flyers move onto the Conference final a year after finishing last overall.

Lowetide has a terrific post looking at Kevin Lowe's body of work. As with everything he does, its a nicely written and measured look. You might quibble with a few of his opinions but overall he gives a pretty objective look at Lowe's tenure.

Of course it doesn't take long for battlelines to be drawn when it comes to Lowe. Even his biggest detractors cannot really argue with 2006 although you will get a couple who throw the word luck around quite a bit. On the other hand you get a few who will defend everything that Lowe has done and who figure this rebuild job will be good for a few parades when all is said and done. These guys are the types who talk about all of the Cups Lowe won as a player and how that has all of the relevance in the world when it comes to putting a Cup winning club together. Sort of like saying a hero cop could be commissioner or Oscar winning actor would be able to direct a terrific movie. It can and does happen but one skillset is not the same as the other. Pretty simple stuff really.

I'm in the middle when it comes to Lowe. His work prelockout was pretty solid and I think LT or one of the commenters talks about how the things this club had to do to stay competitive then still serve him well now - digging up hidden gems on the D, drafting and development and so on. I think player procurement is slowly and surely becoming a real strength of this organization. The example that people point to as a real disaster is that area, Pouliot/Parise, really means fuckall to me really. Pouliot was highly ranked going into that draft - its not like the Oilers picked Marie Claude Pouliot from the Canadian Woman's National team. They picked a guy who was recognized as a very good prospect by all of the services across the board. Has he been a disappointment? Sure. But he wasn't a longshot reach by any means. Raking Lowe over the coals for that makes little sense to me.

It has been Lowe's work since G7 that makes me wonder and while this past spring was fun to watch this club still has finished out of the playoffs two years running and there are no guarantees for the future. The fellow in the picture is Braydon Coburn. He is twenty three years old. This year was his first full season in the NHL and he scored nine goals and twenty seven assists. So far in the playoffs he has five assists and is a plus five while playing nearly twenty five minutes a night against the other team's top opposition.

The Flyers acquired him for Alexei Zhitnik.

This is why Oiler fans get upset about all of this five assets BS when it comes to the Pronger deal.

Don't tell me that Pitkanen was part of the deal. He was not. If we're going to start talking that garbage then you better bring Roman Hamrlik, Mike Comrie and the second round pick the Oilers gave up for Jason Smith into it. Pronger was traded for Joffrey Lupul, Laddy Smid and three draft picks. Things might turn out still but if you have to start spinning me that the deal was good because they turned Lupul into Pitkanen then you better be able to spin me later whoever the Oilers move Pitkanen for and then where does that stop? Don't spin me. Pronger was one of the best defenceman in the league at the time. He had just been the probable MVP on a team that went all the way to G7 of the Stanley Cup. If the guys that came over in the deal don't stand up on their own as fair return then it WASN'T A GOOD DEAL!

You know who the Flyers got for Alexei Zhitnik? Braydon Coburn. That's who. A top two defenceman at 23. For Alexei Zhitnik.

Where did the Flyers finish last year? Last place. Where are they this morning? The Eastern Conference Finals, that's where.

Two years ago the Oilers were on a beauty run, thanks to, yes, Kevin Lowe. This year they are on the golf course, again.

I like Kevin Lowe. I hope this team wins it all, again and again although I'd be perfectly happy with once, mind you. But when he does something poorly, which he has quite often these past two years, don't keep telling me he's Sam Pollack. Because right now he's not even Paul Holmgren.