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

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 33

Quite the unlucky game for the Sharks in their 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. For the second straight game, the opposing goalie made saves he has no business making. The Sharks can’t buy a goal right now.

The game was action-packed, no question about that. Thirty-six shots a-piece and 35 hits a-piece made for another playoff atmosphere.

Ryane Clowe extended his points streak to nine games with a goal tonight. That came off a rebound from Dan Boyle’s shot. Other than that it was the Mikka Kiprusoff show. He couldn’t be beat. San Jose tried everything.

One of his saves was a miracle; he was on his stomach, a shot was taken, he flung his glove up which deflected it. The puck was on its way in when he kicked his skate up to kick it out. Unbelievable. That’s how it went all night for the Sharks.

I think Kipper has X-ray vision because the Sharks stacked a bunch of players in front of him for screens. They were doing everything right according to their game plan. When you hit a hot goalie, there isn’t much you can do except pray.

It was nice to see the Sharks never give up despite all this. Any number of teams would pack it up and take a seat in the press box after seeing saves like that. The Sharks didn’t do that at all. But unfortunately “will” couldn’t win it for them tonight and they’ve lost three of their last six games.

Every broadcast the opposing announcers make mention of the Sharks being No. 1 in the NHL. Can we stop that please? I don’t care if the points say they’re in first, they’re not the best in the league. San Jose’s record is now 19-7-5. Now change the numbers up a bit and we’re 19-12 (Overtime/Shootout losses are losses.) 19-12 is mediocre. That’s not too far from being .500.

Players battle for the puck (From SJSHARKS.com)

That one stretch earlier in the season where they recorded a point in 12 straight games is why the record is what it is.

Reviewing the postgame quotes from last game against St. Louis, coach Todd McClellan was ticked off at his team for allowing that last minute goal. Coaches will say it’s a team loss that encompasses the entire game, but you could tell Todd knew it came down to that last shift. It certainly looked like he sparked something in the players tonight. Good to know they respond well to Todd’s anger.

Also from last game, goalie Evgeni Nabokov mentioned Marc-Edouard Vlasic should have blocked that shot which tied the game up. A little “90210” in the Sharks locker room? Not so much. Not that big of a deal. Nabby and Vlasic shook it off, and while I know players act like they don’t care all the time, this was an exception.

Maybe I’m spoiled, but losing three of six makes me feel like a New Jersey Nets fan (The Nets started this season 0-18). It’s never fun losing, but losing because of these redonkulous goalies is beyond frustrating. Here’s to turnarounds.

Battle of the Mc’s

Frazer McLaren took on Brian McGratton, but it was too much McGratton for the youngster. He’s officially caught the Jody-Shelley syndrome. There is no cure except to choose more weak combatants. Tread carefully my friend.

So close, yet so far

Before the game Derek Joslin was reassigned to Worcester but then immediately recalled to play. Darn. We were so close to freedom and becoming good again…

Sick Heatley

Heatley is battling flu-like symptoms and was a game-time decision. He played below average. Dion Phaneuf nailed him with a neutral-zone check, and Dany had a bunch of giveaways.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 35  CGY 35; Devin Setoguchi led the team with five.

The Sharks have three days off before facing the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. McClellan better not give anyone the day off.

–Ray

December 6, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 1

Here it is.

The season is upon us, and the Sharks are set to take ice against the Colorado Avalanche. What seems to be an easy win for San Jose, could easily turn into an ugly affair. With the bottom half of the Sharks offensive line basically brand new, and the addition of Dany Heatley to the top line, chemistry could be a big problem tonight.

Head coach Todd McClellan told the media the bottom 6 players have more grit than last year’s group. I’m trying to figure out how. Last year, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier and company seemed to be quite gritty — at least, that’s why management told us. Those players were supposed to be the gritty players we needed to get over the hump. Now we find out they really weren’t gritty enough. Just how exactly do you determine grit? Do you serve the players with bacon, eggs and toast and gauge their reaction?

I keed. I keed.

I was disappointed when McClellan sent Nick Petrecki and Logan Couture back down to Worcester for development. I believe he said they didn’t quite understand the speed of the NHL game. That’s unfortunate. I think we need younger players like that, because right now, the Sharks prospect pool is just deep enough to submerge a puck.

A couple youngsters are still in the running to make the team, though. Defenseman Jason Demers and forward Benn Ferriero remain. I’ve looked at Ferriero as Torrey Mitchell, Jr. A couple years back, Mitchell came out of nowhere to dominate preseason play and so has Ferriero. Both are short, fast and determined. They aren’t calm and collected like most of our top six forwards. Mithcell and Ferriero actually play like it’s their last shift — what I think is the most admirable quality of a hockey player.

Mitchell has tendinitis in his knee and may not be back for a couple weeks, leaving the door open for Ferriero.

As for the Sharks goaltending, I’ve been Evgeni Nabokov’s number one supporter. But his weak goals and 5-hole have weakened me to the point of “eh.” He will play 70+ games barring injury, though, because our young goalie prospects haven’t proven themselves. Goalie is our deepest prospect pool, but the likes of Alex Stalock and Tyson Sexsmith were sent down to Worcester to continue development. That leaves Thomas Greiss, who I have as much confidence in as Katy Perry kissing a girl and not liking it.

Defenseman Rob Blake was named captain of the team yesterday —  a decision a lot of fans don’t like from what I’ve read. Obviously, the team doesn’t see a long-term captain just yet and they want to go with the sure bet. I have no problem with it, especially since Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton will wear A’s. Blake is more than capable and speaks honestly with the media. Boyle does the same so maybe they should have a second C. Regardless, it’s better than having Patrick Marleau as captain. I love Patty, but he was just to quiet and reserved to be captain of a team.

It’s going to be difficult to not think about the playoffs during the 82-game regular season, but I will certainly try to keep things on a game-by-game basis as so many coaches do. (I think we all know that mentality is BS.)

Hopefully, the Sharks can exploit the Avalanche’s weak goaltending and see some offense. With the retiring of Joe Sakic’s jersey tonight, expect a lot more heart from Avs players — for about the first five minutes. Those kind of ceremonies only affect the very beginning of the game, in my opinion.

It’s a shame DirecTV and Versus are still in their childlike squabble, and I have to find some place on the internet broadcasting the game. I’ll cope. Enjoy the games everyone! Hockey’s back!

–Ray

Who’s OUT from last year?

WhosOut

October 1, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment