Nathan Skytta takes some time from his busy summer schedule to take a look at the NHL offseason and its many twists and turns. Note: Article written Aug. 14.
Just over two months ago, fans of the NHL witnessed the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Philadelphia Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup since the 1960-61 season. Now, with the countdown just over fifty days away from the drop of the puck in Helsinki, Finland, the Blackhawks have dismantled their championship team, the most prized free agent is still unsigned and those are just the beginning of the highlights that have made this summer so interesting for the fans of the NHL.
The Kovalchuk Puzzle
The highlight of the offseason was the signing, or so we thought, of Ilya Kovalchuk by the New Jersey Devils. The agreement was for 17 years and over 100 million dollars, but as soon as it was signed, the NHL rejected it. The arbitrator assigned to the dispute upheld the NHL’s ruling that the contract went against salary cap regulations and therefore was illegal. We are now in the middle of August, and the most heralded free agent on the market this offseason, remains just that.
Getting back to the Hawks, Antti Niemi, who was in net when the Hawks won the cup, won an arbitration hearing and was awarded a 2.75-million dollar salary. Because they are so close to the cap, the Hawks had no choice but to let Niemi, 26, become a free agent. The Hawks had a plan in place just in case they were forced to let Niemi go. The Hawks turned around and signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco. Turco, a three time all-star, had been let go by the Dallas Stars earlier this summer and was looking for a new home. Niemi remains unsigned and there’s no word on where he may end up.
Clipping more Hawks wings
Along with Niemi, the Hawks parted way with players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg, and Andrew Ladd. When the Hawks raise the banner on opening night against rival Detroit, they will have a roster that has many people wondering if they will be able to repeat.
More Interesting Moves
Some other highlights of the offseason include former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov signing to play in the KHL (Russia), Mike Modano, a Michigan native, heading home to play for the Detroit Red Wings after signing a one-year deal, the Philadelphia Flyers either acquiring or signing every free agent defenseman on the market—not really but at one time they had 10 defenseman on their roster—and Steve Yzerman taking over the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in hopes of bringing another championship team back to the Sunshine State.
A New Season Emerges
In the last 65 days since Patrick Kane snuck the championship-clinching shot between the legs of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, teams have been revamped, players have changed addresses, and some big names remain on the market. Along with the aforementioned Kovalchuk, players like Paul Kariya, Miroslav Satan, and Lee Stempniak remain unsigned.
In the next few weeks, teams will begin reporting to camp and start writing the script on what they hope is a championship season of hockey. With two outdoor games scheduled this season, a new roster for the Blackhawks, and many teams making changes to their rosters, anything can happen. So fans, get the jerseys out, the hockey packages ordered on your cable network, and get your vocal cords ready for what’s going to be another fantastic season of NHL hockey.
Quite the vicegrip game for the Sharks as they clamped down on the Los Angeles Kings and won 5-1. It was the Sharks best performance and third win against the Kings this season. The two previous wins were 2-1 affairs.
San Jose has outscored their last three opponents 18-4 and have found their groove.
This has to be one of the best stretches the defense has played all year. They’re keeping their sticks on the ice, using good positioning and locking down opposing teams’ best players. That’s a recipe for success.
Jay Leach has really surprised me. He’s learned the system and playing great defensively; he’s also been seen pinching in the offensive zone. Even his partner Kent Huskins, who I enjoy ripping, is playing well. He was second on the team in ice time tonight with 20:23. Wow! Perhaps I underrated him? Hahaha, no.
Patrick Marleau started things off quickly with a power play goal just five minutes in. Power plays were the name of the game. The Sharks were 3-3 on the man advantage and held the Kings to no power play goals on five opportunities.
Patty would score another power play goal in the second period; it came just after a Kings shorthanded breakaway that goalie Evgeni Nabokov stopped. Nabby couldn’t find the magic for a shutout though, like usual. I tell you what — the Sharks are like me playing NHL 10. I always manage to allow at least one goal and never get shutouts. It’s the same story in real life. I wonder if Nabby is wondering if he’ll ever get one again. We’ll never know because he’ll just tell the media it’s about the win. Don’t just take that answer. He’s a prideful Russian.
Ryane Clowe scored two goals as well, making it his first two-goal game since Nov. 11, 2008. Guess who was on the ice and notched the primary assist. Manny Malhotra! OK, this is the one thing I was definitely wrong about. Manny is an amazing catalyst right now especially, but he’s provided so much to the team. Every line he ends up on scores. Joe Thornton, Jr. anyone?
Maybe my favorite part of the night was the third period. Again the Sharks kept their teeth on the jugular. Dan Boyle attempted to fight Dustin Brown, but the refs wouldn’t allow it. This star player protection needs to stop. Let these guys fight. The biggest excuse is “but we don’t want them to get hurt.” I rarely ever see players get hurt in fights. Injuries happen much more after bonecrushing hits or cheap elbows.
That wraps up the season series with L.A. thankfully. The Sharks finally solved them. It only took four months to do so.
Hit-O-Meter: SJ 18 LA 28; Scott Nichol led with four.
The Sharks look to continue their Sherman-like march on Thursday when Anaheim travels to San Jose.
Quite the incredible performance by the Sharks in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings. I use the word incredible as the literal meaning, i.e. you can’t believe it, not credible.
Same old, same old. A lot of flash, lousy execution. Man this is getting annoying playing down to inferior teams. It’s the Sharks third straight loss, and fourth loss in seven games. It’s officially a slump.
The Sharks are No. 1 in the NHL on faceoffs, while the Kings are No. 20. Somehow the Sharks found a way to lose most of the faceoffs. The final tally was 52%-48% Kings. This is what made the Sharks lose. It seemed like they lost every offensive zone draw and they had to have lost a majority of faceoffs while on the power play.
Speaking of, the extra work on the power play during the layoff didn’t help. Sure they scored on PP goal, but once again they tried to be too fancy. I can think of one specific example: During a 4-on-3, a few Sharks were parked one foot from the crease. Instead of shooting, they just stood there with imaginary cement around their skates and would not shoot.
They need to revert back to last year’s philosophy of shooting everything from everywhere for the power play. This is ridiculous.
Accompanying the worthless power play was taking dumb penalties. The Sharks were asking to be scored on and they were. Two of LA’s goals were on the man advantage. I guess with all that work on the power play, the Sharks forgot about penalty killing, which they were No. 1 in the NHL.
The overtime goal was a great way to cap off the game; Dustin Brown, who had been slumping, used a spin and a weak shot to beat goalie Evgeni Nabokov. And yes, the puck went five-hole.
One good note was Ryane Clowe, who finished with two assists and a +1 rating. He now holds a 10-game point streak.
I really don’t think the Sharks can do much else to get out of this slump. It’s just one of those times of the year where nothing is going right. They’ll pull out of it eventually, but this isn’t a good time of the year to have one. Seven out of the next nine our division games, so something better happen soon.
Hit-O-Meter: SJ 27 LA 33; Scott Nichol (5) and Manny Malhotra (4) led the team.
The Sharks are now 1-1-2 on this five-game homestand.
The Dallas Stars come to town Friday.