A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Guest Column: The Boys Of Summer (Offseason Review)

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

If anyone predicted this for Kovalchuk, please tell me my future.

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.

Nixing Niemi

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.

Anybody want a Stanley Cup winning goalie?

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.

-Nathan

Advertisements

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column: NHL First-Round Predictions

Nathan Skytta is back again — this time with predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs.

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Detroit Red Wings will not start their run towards the Stanley Cup at home in front of the fans at Joe Louis Arena. In a season that was plagued with injuries, featured a rookie between the pipes, and contained league diversity with no real powerhouse, the Wings struggled out of the gates.

Led by gold medal winning head coach Mike Babcock and a plethora of skill and determination, the Wings overcame their injuries and got their lineup back together. Oh and that rookie in net? Well, he turned out to be a possible rookie of the year finalist.

The Wings finished fifth in the conference and are going to take on the fourth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes, in the first round of the playoffs. The Coyotes will put up a challenge for the Wings, but after finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, the Wings should be favored in advance.

RED WINGS IN SIX.

In another matchup in the Western Conference, it’s the No. 1 San Jose Sharks versus No. 8 Colorado Avalanche — a matchup that will be worth watching. The Sharks barely missed having to face Detroit, but the road to the second round didn’t get any easier when they were paired up against the Avs. The Sharks need to be on their ‘A’ game in order to have any chance of advancing.

SHARKS IN SIX.

The No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks will take on the No. 7 Nashville Predators. This may be the highest scoring series out of the eight first round playoffs because each team has struggling goaltenders and stars that can put up big numbers when given the chance.

PREDATORS IN SIX.

In the last Western series, it will be the No. 3 Vancouver Canucks facing off against one of the scariest teams in the league, the No. 6 Los Angeles Kings. Both of these teams have great goaltending, but it will be the matchup of the Kings defense against the all-star duo of the Sedin twins that determines who comes out victorious.

The Kings are the Cinderella team of the NHL this season and are unpredictable, so this series is one worth watching.

KINGS IN SEVEN.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals versus the Montreal Canadiens. This matchup pits Capitals starting goaltender Jose Theodore against his former mates from Montreal.  The Capitals have too much firepower for the Canadiens and should win this series convincingly.

CAPITALS IN FIVE.

Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur will lead his No. 2 New Jersey Devils against the No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers, in hopes of clinching another Stanley Cup title. This is the time of year where Brodeur seems to always step up his game — just what any team wants to hear when facing the goaltender with the most wins in NHL history.

DEVILS IN FIVE.

Silver medal-winning goaltender Ryan Miller and his Buffalo Sabres face the Boston Bruins and their rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are going to have a challenge beating Miller and his teammates, so the Sabres should easily win this series, but at this time of year, anything is possible.

SABRES IN SEVEN.

Last but not least, it’s the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins versus the No. 5 Ottawa Senators. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins should advance. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should lead the charge against the Senators, who lost their star Alex Kovalev to a torn anterior cruciate ligament this past week. The Senators have a challenge ahead of them, but hopefully they can make it an interesting series.

PENGUINS IN FIVE.

Anything can happen in the first round of the NHL playoffs, so tune in and see some of the exciting hockey that the last 16 teams in the league have to offer. Versus and NBC will have all the coverage starting Wed., April 14.

–Nathan

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My NHL Playoffs Preview

It’s that time of year again for 16 teams to lace up the skates and compete for the most coveted trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup. No postseason compares to the NHL playoffs — the speed, the excitement, the will to win it all.

The Eastern Conference features a lot of the same faces this time around like Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Washington. The Western Conference showcases some fresh faces with Phoenix, Los Angeles and Colorado. Pittsburgh and Detroit have faced off in the Finals the last two years, and a three-peat isn’t quite out of the question. Series by series, here are the matchups and predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 Montreal

The Capitals put up 121 points and 54 wins this season and are bulldozing through their opponents. If Alexander Ovechkin didn’t miss time from injuries and suspensions, he would probably have won the races for goals and total points. But this team is going to need a goalie to lead them to the promise land. On the heels of a stellar comeback-type season, goalie Jose Theodore will get an easy first matchup against Montreal. Montreal will wish they had never made the playoffs.

WASHINGTON IN FOUR.

No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 Philadelphia

Has there been a more confusing team this year than the Flyers? Pegged by many to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ve been in disarray throughout the season. Starting goalie Ray Emery didn’t pan out and ended up injured and out for the season. Captain Mike Richards is going to need to put the team on his shoulders once again. And it’s no surprise the Devils are here. Last season, the Devils were ousted by an upstart Carolina team, but it’s hard to see that happening again. It will be a tough series, though.

NEW JERSEY IN SEVEN.

No. 3 Buffalo vs. No. 6 Boston

It’s hard to believe it was just last year when Boston made it to the Conference Finals. Since then, they traded Phil Kessel and lost Marc Savard to injury, which put their offense in a serious grind. It didn’t help goalie Tim Thomas struggled mightily, but now they have 23-year-old Tuukka Rask who suffocated opponents with a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. The goalie on the other side is no slouch either — USA starter Ryan Miller. This series comes down to whom can put the puck in the net. Buffalo has 12 players with 10 goals or more, and Boston’s leading goal-scorer has just 22.

BUFFALO IN SIX.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Ottawa

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins find themselves facing a somewhat surprising Ottawa team. With all the talent Pittsburgh has, it’s a mystery as to why they never compete for a top seed. But the regular season doesn’t matter anymore, of course. This is where the Penguins excel having been to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row. The Senators were already overmatched, and now after losing Alexei Kovalev for the year from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Sens are the dead horse preparing to be beaten.

PITTSBURGH IN FIVE.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 8 Colorado

If there’s any NHL topic that’s been exhausted, it’s the playoff woes of the Sharks. They dodged a bullet in not having to face a red-hot Detroit team. The Sharks shouldn’t have any problem taking out the Avalanche early. The Avs haven’t played well since the Olympic break, goalie Craig Anderson’s massive workload has caught up to him, and key players Peter Mueller and Matt Duchene are recovering from injuries. With that being said, the Sharks still don’t have the confidence to sweep a team in the playoffs or beat them in five games. San Jose will take the series, but not without shooting themselves in the foot a couple times.

SAN JOSE IN SIX.

No. 2 Chicago vs. No. 7 Nashville

This could get ugly really fast. Chicago must be disappointed with blowing a golden opportunity in the last game of the season against Detroit. If they won, it would have meant a number one seed and home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. That puts Nashville right in the crosshairs of an angry team led by seemingly-always disgruntled coach Joel Quenneville. The Predators have heart, though, and they never quit. Despite the high probability of being skinned alive, Nashville will give it all they have.

CHICAGO IN FIVE.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Los Angeles

Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams, only Vancouver has a losing record away from their building. This gives the Kings a chance to pull off maybe the only upset of the first round. Los Angeles has a young core of players similar to what Chicago has. The Kings have players like Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar that can keep them a playoff threat for many years to come. For Vancouver, it’s all about goalie Roberto Luongo and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. If you stop the Sedins, you’ll win. It’s a simple concept, but few teams can accomplish it.

LOS ANGELES IN SEVEN.

No. 4 Phoenix vs. No. 5 Detroit

Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a typo. The Coyotes really are in the playoffs and a fourth seed no less. They shocked the hockey world after being in fire and brimstone the last several years. Ownership questions, gambling scandals and relocation considerations bogged down this franchise. But with new coach Dave Tippett, Phoenix got revitalized and finished with 50 wins and 107 points. Their reward? The hottest team since the Olympic break. Near the midpoint of the season, the Red Wings were out of the playoffs dealing with a stockpile of injuries. But they’re back to Stanley Cup form and are once again dangerous. The Western Conference can only hope Phoenix can pull a miracle and oust Detroit. But let’s be real. This is Detroit and these are the playoffs.

DETROIT IN SIX.

–Ray

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 26

Quite the suhweeeet performance by the Sharks in their 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Sharks withstood the punches and counterpunches, both figuratively and literally, and sealed the win.

The man of the match was Dany Heatley who notched his ninth career hat trick and second with the Sharks. Winning co-man of the match was Joe Thornton who received the primary assist on all three Heater goals and added a fourth assist.

It was just an unbelievable game all around. The Flyers haven’t beaten the Sharks since 2000, but the games are always entertaining. They bring out the best in both teams, and I hope this is a Stanley Cup Finals preview.

Everything for the Sharks worked tonight: the even strength forecheck, the power play, the penalty kill. All exceptional. Well, I may be wrong about everything working. The defensive zone giveaways were enough to give fans and coach Todd McClellan migraines. If it weren’t for those, it would be a 6-0 victory.

Philly sure didn’t like Sharks ice. They saw it as a slip-and-slide, with public enemy #1 Chris Pronger as the main slip-and-slider. One of his slips ended up being a Heater goal. It really was home-ice advantage tonight.

Heatley’s hat trick was the EPS Trifecta (trademark pending). Even strength, power play and shorthanded goals. Two were carbon-copies. Joe would receive the puck in what looked like a perfect shooting opportunity, but it he would stop right to the side of the crease, wait, wait, wait for the defenseman to make a move, then BAM! Pass to Heater’s stick and it’s as easy as an Ovechkin toothless smile.

Dany Heatley notched his second hat trick as a Shark (From SJSHARKS.com)

San Jose now has its top two lines set in stone for at least the next month. McClellan saw some great play between Heatley-Thornton-Marleau last game and decided to start them tonight. That choice proved epic as every time they took the ice, something good happened. Remember when everyone shook in fear from the Marleau-Thornton-Cheechoo line? Multiply that by 10,000.

The second line was Malhotra-Pavelski-Clowe and they meshed talent with will. This line will probably be broken up since Devin Setoguchi will come back from injury. Move Clowe to left wing and put Seto on the right. While Malhotra did net a goal tonight, he also netted a goal for the Flyers; for some reason he tried to handle the puck in the crease during a scramble, and instead of just knocking it out, he thought it best to backhand it first — bad idea.

The Sharks still haven’t lost in regulation at home either. Oh, how sweet the confines of HP Pavillion are.

Friday Night Fights

Frazer McLaren, up from Worcester took on Daniel Carcillo and McMan-handled him. I this kid is better than Staubitz and should get a few more looks. And he will because Staubitz is out for a couple weeks with an injury. I wish it were under better circumstances, but whatever the situation, cease your opportunity F-Mac.

Wait…Who? And he’s fighting who?

That’s right, my friends. Marc-Edouard Vlasic showed a nasty side tonight. Don’t know if someone stole this pickles from the pickle jar, but he was angry tonight. He dropped the gloves for the first time in his career with Daniel Briere and earned the win. Vlasic was the only one to throw a punch, and he also took Briere down. Vlasic also was featured in some scrums. I really hope this continues; I don’t want another Thornton situation where a guy plays better angry, but chooses to be angry once every leap year.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 25  PHI 26; Jed Ortmeyer (6) and Douglas Murray (5) led the team.

With the amazing play of the top two lines, the fourth line saw as much action as a young Bill Gates. McLaren played for two minutes, Benn Ferriero played four and Logan Couture played six. That’s fine with me if I can get first-line production like this every game.

The Sharks travel to Anaheim to face the Ducks. In their first meeting, the second game of the Sharks’ season, San Jose pummeled Anaheim 4-1.

–Ray

November 21, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 14

Quite the wide-open performance by the Sharks in their 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday. It wasn’t a dazzling display, but it was efficient, and that’s all you can ask for.

First, I need to give credit to Manny Malhotra for scoring two goals tonight, his first two of the season. One goal was all hard work and the other was a nice wrist shot from the faceoff circle. Don’t expect another multi-goal game any time soon from him because I think he’ll dive back into mediocrity next game.

The game belonged to Sharks goalie Thomas Greiss, however. He made several spectacular/lucky saves to preserve the win. He outdueled Philly backup Brian Boucher, who was with San Jose last year. I really hope Greiss gets a lot more looks after this performance. Evgeni Nabokov is a stubborn guy, but it’s time he start conceding to Greiss more.

Goalie Thomas Greiss looks on as a battle for the puck ensues (From SJSHARKS.com)

Goalie Thomas Greiss looks on as a battle for the puck ensues (From SJSHARKS.com)

I want Greiss to get at least 25-30 games in barring any Nabby injury. Greiss stopped 37 Flyers shots and looked extremely comfortable in net. He was very aggressive, challenging every Flyer player who dare enter his area.

The Sharks scored first for the second game in a row — which was stunning — but it didn’t take long for Philly to knot it up at 1. The whole first period was back and forth and physical. Jody Shelley fought Ian Laperriere and actually won. By my count, that’s his first victory of the season.

After the first period, though, things got really slow. I’m going to say that’s because of the back-to-back situation for both teams. They were feeling it. The game sort of dragged on with no team securing a fair amount of time in the offensive zone.

Jed Ortmeyer scored his third goal of the year to finish off the Flyers. Analyst Drew Remenda said it was his best game as a Shark. Jed accounted for three shots and three blocked shots. As balanced as you can get. Good stuff.

Jason Demers — Tough Guy?

Jason was roughing up Ole-Kristian Tollefson in the second period. As surprised as many fans were, he did really well in handling the situation. Nice to see such a calm-demeanor type guy taking care of business.

Logan Couture and Jamie Mcginn

Logan and Jamie were called up to replace Ryan Vesce and Devin Setoguchi, who were both injured against Atlanta. Jamie was his usual speedy self, while Logan didn’t do much. In his first NHL game, Logan had two shots, two PIMs and was 60% in faceoffs.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 15  PHI 18

The Sharks were outshot again; this time it was 38-28 Flyers. They’re playing solid defensively and capitalizing on minimal opportunities. No reason to be worried about that yet.

The Sharks finally come home Wednesday, October 28, to face the Los Angeles Kings.

–Ray

October 26, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 13

Quite the fast performance by the Sharks in their 4-3 win over the Atlanta Thrashers. The Sharks just looked quick and agile all over the ice, and Atlanta just couldn’t keep up — despite what the score indicates.

The first period was the opposite of what fans are used to as San Jose scored the first two goals. It was the second time all year the Sharks scored first — not a very good stat at all, huh? Not to mention the first goal was scored only 45 seconds into the game.

After criticizing Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley last game for having a grand total of 0 shots on goal combined, look who gets those first two goals: Thornton and Heatley. For the record they finished with eight total shots (four each).

Patrick Marleau tallied his eighth goal of the year just 55 seconds into the second period and should have had another soon after that. Patty broke away from Atlanta defenders and got pushed into goalie Johan Hedburg. The whistles blew but the replay clearly showed the puck in the net. The referees reviewed and somehow suffered temporary blindness; they called it no-goal. Analyst Drew Remenda was livid, which was amazing to hear because that’s what fans were saying.

The review booth in Toronto passed along that it the goal was called off because the whistle blew before the puck went it. This time it was temporary deafness that officials suffered from. The broadcasters played back the goal real-time with sound, and low-and-behold the whistle was WAY after the puck went in.

I describe this play in detail because right after that, Atlanta scored. The momentum of the entire game changed from a potential blowout into a squeaker.

Patty did get his revenge with his second goal of the night, but things didn’t feel the same.

Dany Heatley works the defense to fire a shot. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Dany Heatley works the defense to fire a shot. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Atlanta put forth a lot of effort into making the score 4-3 but Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov was up to the challenge. The Thrashers racked up 27 shots to the Sharks’ 24.

The Sharks are such a different team shot-wise this year. Remember last year when they put up 40 shots a game, every game? Seems like decades ago. I think the Sharks were trying to be too much like Detroit, and since that’s where coach Todd McClellan came from, the Sharks became Detroit #2.

San Jose is still trying to find their own distinct identity, so that might be a valid reason for their inconsistency so far, but like I’ve said before — no excuses.

Train Wreck

I think this is the third game in a row that I’ve seen two Sharks collide in the neutral zone. They’ve done it at least once a game it seems. What in the blue hell is that all about? I didn’t realize eyes are such a hinderance. Keep your head up or next time you’ll end up like R. J. Umberger in the 2006 playoffs. (If you haven’t seen that hit, take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3Gvfr9GUC0)

Ryan Vesce

He earned an assist tonight bringing his scoring streak to four games. Hes always taking shots, finding open spots on the ice. He’s a pleasure to watch. I do not think his scoring is because of being on the top line. He works his own magic.

Other Notes

Hit-o-meter: SJ 13  ATL 8

Brad Staubitz and Eric Boulton received fighting majors in the first. Not much to report on it, though. By the time the cameras got to them, they were on the ground. I really think Todd needs to choose between Jody Shelley and Brad Staubitz. I think another speedy offensive guy could plug in for one of those two tough guys. We don’t need both. Bring up Logan Couture; he’s been on a tear in Worcester.

Next game is tonight against Philadelphia. We’ll see if Todd starts Thomas Greiss in goal because of the back-to-back games.

–Ray

October 25, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHL 2008-2009 Predicted Final Division Standings

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Atlantic Division

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Southeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Central Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northwest Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Pacific Division

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment