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

Guest Column: What is Too Much?

Nathan Skytta pops back in to give us his thoughts on blows to the head in the NHL.

Since the early days of the National Hockey League, the sport has been known for its intensity and its feistiness, but since the turn of the decade, the intensity in hockey has increased dramatically. There comes a point in time when the league has to draw a line between right and wrong.

On Feb. 21, 2000, Marty McSorley, while playing for the Boston Bruins, swung his stick with three seconds left in the game and hit Donald Brashear, who fell backwards and hit his head on the ice and sustained a Grade 3 concussion.

During a Sunday afternoon game on March 7, this year, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke hit Boston Bruins Marc Savard in the head with a shoulder check. Savard sustained a concussion and has not skated since. He is missing key games for his team as they fight for their lives in the NHL playoffs and yet, Matt Cooke is able to play for his team in the playoffs. Something is just not right about that, and the NHL commissioner’s office needs to set forth rules and regulations when it comes to blow to the head.

Hockey players are becoming faster, more skillful and bigger, and there is no way the equipment provided can protect the players from the vicious blows and hits that their body takes during a game. As it is now, there’s a higher risk of injuring a player by blindsiding them against the boards or even while they are skating across center ice.

An unwritten rule in hockey is that a player is not supposed to skate through the center of the ice with their head down. Doing this may lead to a crushing hit from an opposing player or a turnover — both things a player carrying the puck would prefer not to happen.

Right now, there is no rule in hockey that says hits to the head are illegal, but many players have been fined and sometimes suspended for their rough play. This punishment hasn’t stopped players from putting an opposing player into the boards.

The NHL needs to implement a rule against blows to the head before it’s too late and before someone gets permanently injured from a cheap shot.

Marc Savard was carried off on a stretcher after being hit in the head by Matt Cooke.

Out of the four major sports, those being the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL, the NHL need the rules for blows to the head the most. In the MLB, if a pitcher purposely throws a pitch at the head of an opposing player, odds are they will be ejected and suspended for at least one start.

In the NBA if a player hits an opposing player in the head, odds are they will be suspended as well — just ask Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics, who is missing game two of the NBA playoffs because he elbowed an opponent during an altercation.

In the NFL, the league has done everything possible to make the helmets as “concussion-proof.” Hits to the head in the NFL, especially on a quarterback, are illegal and can cost a player some dough and some time off the field.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association need to sit down, clearly look at the risks of blows to the head and realize that they are putting the player in danger every time a player is against the glass fighting for a loose puck. Yes, big hits are good for the game and get the fans out of their seats and onto their feet, but what the NHL needs to figure out is what is too much.

Currently, there is a temporary ruling that allows the league to punish players for hits to the head on unsuspecting players, but that only lasts until the end of the season. The league needs to be stronger on the punishments. Cooke was allowed to return to the ice after a two-game suspension for his hit to the head of Savard, but Savard has not played since. The suspension process needs to be changed in order to make the player think about hitting an opponent in the head.

If a player purposely hits an opposing player in the head, have different suspension lengths like the MLB has for steroid users. The first time a player hits an opponent in the head, or even up high, suspended him for two or three games and fine him a certain amount.

If that does not teach a player to control his antics on the ice and he hits another opposing player, then suspend him for fifteen or twenty games and have him meet with the commissioner and the league before returning to the ice.

If the player then commits the actions again, then suspend him for the rest of the season.

Hits to the head can be not only career-threatening but possibly life-threatening as well. Detroit Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja missed almost the entire regular season, and a year of hockey, after sustaining a concussion during the 2008-2009 hockey season. It took Lilja almost an entire year to recover completely and to regain the strength and courage to step foot on the ice again.

Who knows if the hit that Savard took will end his career or not, but if the league had a concrete rule about hits to the head, then maybe Savard could be helping his team right now in the playoffs and not wondering when he will be able to play again.

The NHL needs to sit down and clearly look at all its options. Do they want the game to continue on the path it’s on now and have the chance of a player getting injured, or do they want players to have to suffer the consequences of blind-siding an opponent? The NHLPA is fully onboard with implementing rules that involve hits to the head. Now the NHL needs to get on board and come up with something before it is too late.

–Nathan

April 19, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column: It’s a Goony World Out There

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.

Tiger Williams was a surgeon of fisticuffs.

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.

Tie Domi legitimized the old saying, "It's the size of the fight in the dog."

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.

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 35

Quite the demoralizing game for the Sharks in their 3-2 shootout loss against the Dallas Stars. The Sharks are now 0-0-2 against Dallas with both losses coming at home in shootouts.

Marty Turco is an annoying little mosquito, and I wish he would just retire. I’m sick of hearing “Save Turco.” He never goes away. I can’t stand him.

Steve Ott should be banished from the league. He isn’t playing hockey out there; he’s playing to get guys hurt, as evidenced by his blatant cross-check on Dan Boyle. Boyle got up and dropped the gloves, but it was Sharks newcomer Jay Leach who attacked Ott after.

Seriously, throw Ott out of the league. He is of no value to the sport of hockey — put him in prison.

Leach’s first game as a Shark was riddled with defensive mistakes. He turned it over in the defensive zone and was out of position. Coach Todd McClellan put Leach and Derek Joslin on the penalty kill, which is probably the worst decision I’ve seen since a World War II sniper decided not to pull the trigger on Adolf Hitler.

Joe Pavelski chases the puck, which will probably end up being a save by Turco (From NHL.com)

But the story of the game was the 11-round barnburner of a shootout. Amazingly, the Sharks scored just once out of 11 tries. That is embarrassing. Turco poke checked four or five guys and they still didn’t learn! Hello! If you see your teammates continuously poke checked, why are you going to attempt a close deke? Just shoot the puck with a quick release. Jesus Greiss.

McClellan should have put Leach out there for the 11th round. When it gets that late in the shootout, expect the unexpected à la Marek Malik against Olaf Kolzig (youtube it).

So now the Sharks finish a dreadful 1-1-3 on their five-game homestand. Surprising to say he least considering many expected a 5-0 homestand.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 29  DAL 38; Joe Thornton led with 6.

The Stars outshot the Sharks 44-35, and if it weren’t for the Sharks blocking 16, it would have been 60 shots against. U-G-L-Y, they ain’t got no alibi.

No time to think about this loss as the Sharks travel to Phoenix to take on the Coyotes, Saturday night.

–Ray

December 13, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 22

Quite the disheartening performance by the Sharks in their 3-2 shootout loss against the Dallas Stars. The Sharks looked to be on the road to victory until they broke out their trademark lazy third period performance. I’m sensing a trend, and coach Todd McClellan better address it quick.

Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe were the goal scorers tonight. Heatley scored on a behind-the-net feed from Joe Pavelski, while Clowe scored on a wrister from the point. That’s about all the offense there is to report.

The game was all about the goalies. Dallas goalie Marty Turco is probably the luckiest man on earth. He had no right making some of the saves he did. It’s so frustrating to see a goalie beat so many times, yet fling his arms or stick out and make a save. I don’t think that’s skill at all. I can only imagine what it felt like to the Sharks players.

Picture 12

Ryane Clowe screens Marty Turco (From SJSHARKS.com)

Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov matched Turco’s saves to keep the game tight. One of the Stars’ goals was a wacky deflection that Nabby had zero chance in getting. Unfortunately, that goal came back to haunt the Sharks.

Enough about the Stars’ luck, though, this third-period collapse trend is scary. I think it was a couple years back in one of Ron Wilson’s last years, if not his last year as Sharks coach, where they could never hold onto leads well. They also got complacent and lazy, and it’s coming up again. I realize I’m not a professional hockey player, but come on. Don’t you want to beat every team 10-0 every night? Why do you want to take shifts off and not try? Please tell me.

This is a rivalry game. Pummel your opponent.

Pacific Division games are boring, I must admit. I don’t know if every fan feels this way about their teams’ division games, but they put me to sleep. Playing Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas is so lackluster. Anaheim is better, but I don’t feel any intensity. Maybe some of the Sharks feel that, I don’t know.

Why did Ryan Vesce only play five minutes in this game? He looks healthy and he was on that point streak before he got injured. Give him more ice time. He deserves it, and he’s earned it.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 33  DAL 26; Douglas Murray had six hits. Jed Ortmeyer had five.

The Sharks earn another point by getting into a shootout to extend their point-streak to 10 games.

All five games the Sharks have played past regulation have gone to shootouts. They’re 2-3 in those games.

Next game is Saturday at St. Louis.

–Ray

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lace ’em up: The 2008 NHL season begins Saturday

Lace up your skates and hit the ice — it’s hockey time.

Ron Cortes/MCTPittsburg Penguins’ Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal by Ryan Malone during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

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.

– Ray

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment