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.
Nathan Skytta graces us with his presence yet again! This time, he talks about the importance of “goons” in the hockey world and presents us with a list of some of the best.
Whether you support it or not, fighting is part of hockey, and it is going to be part of hockey for seasons to come.
Fighting in hockey is on the decline and has been since the mid-1980’s. Fans today see less than one fight a game, partly because of the two-minute minor for instigating which can be assessed to the player who starts the fight. Fighting is not the same as it was during the “Gretzky Era,” but it is still around and is much needed to protect the stars of the league.
Now, what non-hockey fans don’t understand is that it’s not the stars of the league that fight (with a few exceptions of course). There are players today who get paid to protect their star teammates and get paid to stand up against the other teams “antagonists.”
Yes, some players do let their emotions get out of control, but if you have ever attended a hockey game where a fight has broken out, you’d see the fans jump out of their seats and cheer on their players.
Even the players on the bench of the teams support their teammate — usually with a simple tap of their stick on the side of the bench. The “goons” gain the respect of their teammates and fans by being the protector of the star athletes.
They give it their all to prove to the other team that if they want to attack the star players, then they are going to have to mess with the tough guys. The goons in the NHL have earned a spot in the sport, and that’s what makes the NHL different than any other sport.
From the 1950’s when fighting in hockey included stick swinging and bench-clearing brawls, to nowadays, goons have earned their right in the history of hockey. Players like Tie Domi and Tiger Williams made their money not by leading the leagues in goals or assists, but by punishing the other team with strength.
They made sure others did not attack the smaller players of the league. Here’s a top ten list of goons:
10. Red Horner
9. Donald Brashear
8. Tie Domi/Marty McSorley
7. Stu Grimson
6. Gordie Howe
5. Clark Gillies
4. Terry O’Reilly
3. Joey Kocur
2. Dave Schultz
1. Tiger Williams.
This list is just a basic idea of how the times have changed. Ever since the lockout in the NHL in 2004, the NHL has required more speed and more skill than ever before.
For the first time in hockey history, the bigger the player, the less likely they are to get big contracts. Players such as Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk will flourish for years to come because they are fast and have more puck-handling skills than players such as Brashear and Todd Bertuzzi.
The goons in the league have had to improve their skill with the puck instead of sitting on the bench and waiting for the chance to start a fight.
There are players in the league that have a mixed combination of both size and agility, though. Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are two stars that have brought their teams from the bottom to the top of the league.
They’ve done so by using their force and strength but also by flying past their opponents and putting the puck in the back of the net. The more skills a player has and the faster they are, the more ice time they will get.
Hockey nowadays requires speed and skilled hands, but power and strength will always be a necessity in the sport of hockey. So, for those who think goons have lost their place in hockey, you have lost your mind. Hockey would not be the hockey it is today if it wasn’t for those goons who spent their careers doing their best to protect and preserve the star players.
1. San Jose Sharks 13-3-0
Entering Nov. 11, the Sharks boast the NHL’s loan undefeated record at home (9-0). The “Shark Tank” as fans call it, has been a dead zone for opposing teams as well as an imminent loss. Under the new coaching regime, the Sharks offense is reaching is potential, with the most goals for in the league. The defense has stepped up with the offseason acquisitions of Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, providing leadership and guidance for the Sharks fairly young defense. Most importantly, San Jose has shown character in being able to come back in games in which they trail, something absent the last few years.
2. Detroit Red Wings 9-2-2
The defending Stanley Cup Champs find themselves at number two in the power rankings. Marian Hossa has been exactly what they expected, netting 8 goals and adding 9 assists, in only 13 games played. Detroit is still playing as advertised, with a tough defense led by Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Goalie Chris Osgood has split time with backup with Ty Conklin and neither has put up stellar numbers, making it difficult on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings offensive juggernauts. Both carry the Wings offense again this year, although Datsyuk has only put in 3 goals. With right-winger Johan Franzen coming off injury, Detroit is going to start spreading the wealth.
3. New York Rangers 11-5-2
After 18 games played, no one would think that youngster Nikolai Zherdev would lead the team in points, but that is just the case with 5 goals and 9 assists. Markus Naslund, a big free agent signee, has been doing his part with 5 goals and 8 assists. With the exception of a hat trick last week, center Chris Drury has been struggling. Scott Gomez has had problems with finding the net, only scoring 3 goals thus far. Drury and Gomez are key to the team’s success. They have to improve, but with a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist and his 1.99 goals against average, the Rangers will be in every game.
4. Montreal Canadiens 8-2-2
Left wing Alex Tanguay leads the team in points with 14, along with defenseman Andrei Markov. Montreal is fourth in the league in the goals per game category with 3.42. With the combination of that offense and goalie Carey Price, the Canadiens are a very dangerous team. Price has a 2.61 GAA and .917 save percentage, keeping games close. The problem the Canadiens have is on defense. With the exception of Markov, not many defenseman are contributing. Roman Hamrlik has 5 points, but the rest have 2 points or less. The offense will not be able to carry the team the whole season. The defense must get involved if Montreal expects to win the tough Northeast division.
5. Boston Bruins 8-3-3
Archrival Montreal got the nod over Boston because of their head-to-head matchup earlier in the season, a shootout victory for the Canadiens. Boston has been a very formidable opponent and the record shows that. On average, the Bruins get outshot every game, but goalie Tim Thomas has been exceptional, boasting a 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. For the offense, Marc Savard is the unquestioned leader of the team with 16 points. The next best offenseman has only 9 points. Savard is also second on the team in penalty minutes, putting added pressure on the penalty kill unit. With Savard being off the ice constantly, more players have to step up if the Bruins are to legitimately challenge Montreal.
6. Buffalo Sabres 8-3-3
Buffalo has one of the best penalty kill units in the game, which helps them cover their own mistakes. Along with doing that, goalie Ryan Miller has a GAA just over 2. Buffalo is a team that just gets it done and they score when they have to. Their records at home and away are virtually identical making them a team to bet on every night.
7. Washington Capitals 8-4-2
It’s been a breakout year for Alexander Semin so far, leading the league in points with 22 (11G 11A). Alex Ovechkin has been an assist man this year, with 7 helpers and only 3 goals. It’s safe to say an Alex is going to score every night the Caps play.
8. Chicago Blackhawks 7-3-3
Captain Jonathan Toews has been having a tough time lately, with only 1 goal in 13 games played. Patrick Kane has picked up the slack, however, leading the team with 18 points (7G 11A). The problem for Chicago is goaltending. Nikolai Khabibulin has started seven games and Cristobal Huet has started six. Rumors are swirling that Khabibulin could be traded at any time, but with a 7-3-3 record, it doesn’t look like it is much of a distraction.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins 8-4-2
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin only have a combined 7 goals, yet lead the team in points. How is that possible? Both have a staggering number of assists. Malkin has 18 assists on the year, and Crosby has 13. As good as it is to see both helping their teammates, Malkin and Crosby need to start being more selfish and put the puck in the net if Pittsburgh wants to get better.
10. Anaheim Ducks 9-7-1
After such a terrible start, Anaheim has climbed back into the hunt for the Pacific division and the Western Conference. Over the last ten games, the Ducks are 7-2-1, making them one of the hottest teams in the league right now. A troubling stat, though, is they have more goals against, then for. They better get that straightened out quickly.
Lace up your skates and hit the ice — it’s hockey time.
The NHL season starts Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic, with the New York Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. This season begins after numerous offseason signings and trades that are sure to shake up the standings. Will the Detroit Red Wings repeat? How will the local teams, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, do? Which team is the dark horse? Which team will tumble into the depths of last place? Those questions will all be answered.
Following their Stanley Cup Finals victory, the Red Wings decided it would be best to sign another sniper — Marian Hossa. Surely, this will keep Detroit in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but things will not be as easy this year. Goalie Dominik Hasek finally retired and defenseman Nick Lidstrom is one year older, as is Chris Chelios. Age has always been a factor for Detroit but they are winners in Hockeytown. However, the Central division, which Detroit is a part of, has been retooled and looks very formidable for the defending champs.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the team to watch in this division, and in the whole NHL. With their two young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both could be sophomores or juniors with us here at Virginia Tech), Chicago could easily challenge Detroit for the division crown. Its defense has been bolstered with offseason acquisition Brian Campbell, bringing offense to their blueline. The question mark for Chicago is its goaltender, Cristobal Huet. If he can match his second half of last season with Washington, Chicago will be in tremendous shape.
Let’s head back east and take a look at the defending Eastern Conference champions — the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens lost quite a few players in the offseason, namely Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and, of course, Marian Hossa. This is going to hurt them this year. They are in one of the most difficult divisions in hockey, the Atlantic.
Philadelphia is the main opponent for the Pens. There was not much movement by the Flyers except a huge contract extension for young franchise man Mike Richards. The past year allowed Richards and Briere to gel, and let Braydon Coburn break out into a top defenseman.
The Rangers lost a lot with Jaromir Jagr going to Russia. All of that experience and scoring is now halfway around the world. The pressure now solely rests with centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, both entering their second year in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers front office did help the loss of Jagr by bringing in Markus Naslund and blueliner Wade Redden. It will be a three-team race for the Atlantic title, but all three will end up in the playoffs. That means the Devils are out.
We will stay in the Eastern Conference and look at the Southeast division, won last year by Washington. Alexander Ovechkin proved again why he is one of the best players in the game, every bit as good as Sidney Crosby. There is a problem for the Capitals, though — the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa yanked Barry Melrose away from ESPN to be head coach, and with a slew of signees things look bright for the Lightning. This is the dark horse for the NHL. It would not be surprising for them to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, if they can sure up the goaltending.
Wrapping up the east is the Northeast division. Montreal goalie Carey Price, said to be the second coming of Patrick Roy, proved his worth last year. The Canadians dumped some useless salary and are still attempting to bring in will-he-or-won’t-he free agent Mats Sundin, your Roger Clemens of hockey. They should finish first in the division.
Montreal’s archrival, Boston is going to turn some heads this year. Barring any more injuries, they will be contenders, along with Ottawa and Buffalo in the division. Ottawa is going backwards, and Buffalo is at a stalemate. Now is the time for Buffalo to make its move. Watch for a big trade deadline deal for the Bruins.
Back out west, we find the Northwest and Pacific divisions. In these two, you will find some of the best goaltending and defense in the NHL. It’s all about hardnosed hockey here, with the occasional sprinkling of offensive firepower in San Jose and Detroit. The Northwest division lost a lot of talent and players shifted around to teams in the same conference. Anybody can win the Northwest — it’s that simple. Every team has a solid defense backed by exceptional goaltending.
The Pacific division is home to a perennial regular season powerhouse, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks’ problems come in the playoffs, and that is why they fired their coach Ron Wilson last year and brought in one of Detroit’s assistant coaches, Todd McClellan, to give the team a new, winning attitude. This coupled with the addition of a revamped blueline — Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich — means the pieces are once again in place for a deep playoff run.
The Stars and Ducks are going to give the Sharks everything they can handle, though, especially with goalies like Marty Turco and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Anaheim did not make any huge moves in the offseason, and Dallas lost a few key players from their Conference Finals run. That will not stop them from competing though. Both teams have superior coaches.
With all of that said, this looks to be another fantastic hockey season. More and more fans are tuning in and attending games, bringing back the love for hockey in America. It is truly a great and exciting sport. There is nothing more emotional in sports than seeing players lift the Stanley Cup after a strenuous eight-month journey. That journey begins tomorrow.