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

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

Reviewing the Sharks Offseason Thus Far

It’s been a while since the last hockey game of the 2009-10 season, and the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (bleh) are being dismantled.

Sharks public enemy No. 1 Dustin Byfuglien was traded to Atlanta, and a slew of other bottom-half forwards left Chicago.

San Jose has gotten in on the fun by signing Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (RFA) to an offer sheet.  Four years, $3.5 million per year.

Not bad, Doug Wilson. Not bad.

Hjalmarsson would be an excellent pickup for the Sharks, whose defense is the weak link of the team. Behind the incredibly bizarre resigning of Niclas Wallin for $2.5 million per year, and Jay Leach being resigned, Sharks fans have been left wondering if DW is really leaving the defense for dead.

There is hope that Douglas Murray or Devin Setoguchi could be traded for Toronto d-man Tomas Kaberle. If DW could somehow maneuver around the cap to sign Hjalmarsson and Kaberle, the defense would be a definite upgrade.

Boyle-Hjalmarsson

Kaberle-Vlasic

Huskins-Wallin

Whether they trade for Kaberle or not, another top-4 defenseman must be added. Former goalie Evgeni Nabokov was not resigned and will now play in the KHL in Russia. DW decided to sign Antero Niitymaki, which again left Sharks fans puzzled.

I’ve always seen Niity as a viable goaltender and hard to beat. Of course, now that he’s on the team, I’m worried about him — especially considering there were other options such as Chris Mason and Marty Turco who have better resumes.

That leaves the offense. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski were signed for what looks like hometown discounts. The top four players seem to be set in stone. Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi have long been trade bait to fans including this one. If one were traded for a defenseman, that would leave a fairly significant hole to be filled by a youngster.

I’d rather sign another winger as the Sharks have way too many centers to go around. Logan Couture, Torrey Mitchell, Scott Nichol, and now-rumored Mike Modano would be fighting for two center spots on the bottom lines.

Owen Nolan or Arron Asham are options at wing but salary would be the biggest question there.

Either way, I expect one or two trades to clear some space and a few more free agents to be signed.

Hopefully, this new roster will be enough to win the Cup.

–Ray

July 9, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ITSC, Game 2 vs. Avalanche

WOW!

They finally smarted up and came to play — well, all except two players.

Everything was against the Sharks tonight; it’s like the Sharks are banned from winning and banned from getting in breaks in the playoffs.

Countless times, I hear dings from Sharks shots going off the posts, pucks fumbling away from Sharks players, pucks bouncing right toward opponents, bogus penalties on the Sharks when they aren’t called against opponents, the list continues….

But somehow, these men picked up their lunch pail and went to work. I’ve never seen a harder working Sharks game ever. Constant battles along the boards, players moving their feet and winning 50/50 battles.

There’s no doubt the Sharks deserved this win.

It took overtime to do it, though. 6-5! That’s right, 6-5!

The two reasons why it wasn’t 5-1 or 6-1? Douglas Murray and Evgeni Nabokov. It’s quite possible they played some of their worst hockey in their lives.

They single-handedly were the cause of four goals. Murray blew coverage twice giving Nabby no chance to stop shots. Then on two others Nabby had brain farts and couldn’t make simple stops.

San Jose annihilated Colorado in every aspect of the game besides those plays. The Sharks are too big and on this night, too determined.

I haven’t even mentioned how bad the referees were. There were so many holding, hooking and interference penalties on the Sharks that went uncalled. But then of course when Rob Blake lowers the boom on a precious Av, it’s a penalty.

Ovvverrr Nine Thousssaaannndddddddd!!!! (From SJSHARKS.com)

In the overtime, the exact same play Rob Blake did happened to Ryane Clowe; an Av came in a decked him into the boards, and it was a clear interference call. Nope, not called.

Luckily, the refs smarted up for one play when Adam Foote bolted Jed Ortmeyer into the net, which was called a penalty.

Devin Setoguchi cashed in on that power play by deflecting a shot and sending the Sharks to Colorado with a 1-1 series tie.

Fantastic work by every forward. I can’t state that enough. I’d like to single out Scott Nichol. That man has some engine in his body. I think he was the reason the rest of the Sharks worked as hard as they did. And guess what? Nichol was rewarded with a goal in the game.

Craig Anderson is not that great. A random thought, but I need to say it. Guarantee he will go back to being a nobody, average goalie next year. One-hit wonder.

One can only hope the Sharks can bottle this energy up and unleash it again in Colorado. This could be an organization-changer.

You know those NHL commercials where they show old highlights in reverse saying “What if so and so didn’t happen?

There could be one in 10 years showing Setoguchi’s overtime goal.

Hard work needs to be rewarded, and thankfully it was tonight.

–Ray

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 82

Quite the rip-roaring game for the Sharks as they kept their hot streak alive with a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Things got nasty in the third period and there ended up being 96 penalty minutes.

Gotta love it.

This was a great game for the Sharks all around. They showcased their offense, defense and some heart, giving Sharks fans everywhere hope heading into the playoffs.

It was a playoff atmosphere. The pace started off fast and Vancouver was pressing hard, but the Sharks pushed back and struck first on a Joe Pavelski goal. That goal was all thanks to Ryane Clowe’s boardwork and deking. Clowe’s ripping opponents to pieces on the scoresheet, and he also fought Aaron Rome tonight.

Clowe is what we like to call a prototypical hockey player.

San Jose kept the gas pedal down by exploding for three goals in the second period. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Manny Malhotra tallied the markers.

Torrey Mitchell assisted on Couture’s and Malhotra’s goals, which gave him his first multi-point game of his career. Torrey is officially back.

The third period is where things got scrappy. The Sharks took three penalties in quick succession to put Vancouver on a decade-long power play. And guess what? The Sharks killed it all off behind spectacular goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov.

After Jamie McGinn skated out of the penalty box, he had an altercation with one of the Sedins, and McGinn received a ten-minute misconduct for some odd reason. That’s what sparked everything.

Devin, we're back in first in the West. Show me your "O" face! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Scott Nichol cross-checked Mikael Samuelsson in the back, who dived like a little punk. When Samuelsson came back, he tried to stir the pot with Rob Blake, and Blake proceeded to punch him right in the face.

Samuelsson is a wuss. I’ve never liked him — to me he was never a Shark — which stems from his Red Wing days. He’s just an annoying pest who can’t take physicality. Much like the entire Canuck team and his former Detroit team.

Joe Thornton was getting into it with a Sedin, still talking trash for some reason. These Sedins really need to shut their mouths before they get hurt. Yap yap yap all you want twins, but someone is going to wreck you with a giant hip check one day.

Sensing that his meatball-less teammates were in trouble, Alexandre Burrows blatantly interfered with Thornton. That started a pile up, with Thornton in the middle throwing punches and ripping the helmet off a Sedin (as you can tell, I don’t know which twin but it really doesn’t matter).

Niclas Wallin and Ryan Kesler actually dropped the gloves, but it was a nice, cozy bearhug.

After all of this, the Canucks finally got on the board and ended Nabby’s shutout. Vancouver scored again soon after to actually make it a game.

Knowing that it wasn’t over, the Sharks calmed down and locked the game down for good.

This is the kind of game I’ve been wanting to see for a while now. I mentioned a while back how I wanted to see a brawl and the team needed it. Well, this was close enough and when you see Thornton getting in the mix, it always bodes well.

It would have been a good last regular season game, but there’s still one more.

Three teams in the West are tied with 98 points, so it’s still a mystery as to who the Sharks will play. The Kings, Predators or Avalanche are fine, but not Detroit. I hear some talk of “you shouldn’t be afraid of Detroit and to face them early.”

Yea, about that. I’ll take the easiest road possible to the Stanley Cup, thanks. While there would be no doubt of an explosion of optimism if the Sharks could beat the Wings in the first round, I don’t want to take chances. I’m sure people were saying similar things about the Ducks last year — anybody but Anaheim. Look what happened there.

Seto’s effort

This is worth mentioning: in the third period, Devin Setoguchi blocked a shot, took it and skated all the way down the ice, and put a shot on goal. That block had to have hurt, but he sucked it up and started a dangerous forecheck. That counts as a point in my book.

Right Wing Jason Demers?

Coach Todd McLellan is experimenting with Demers up front with Nichol and McGinn. It’s not permanent as he does play some defense during the game, but I like the concept. It’s like a mini Dan Boyle playing forward.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 22  VAN 16; Setoguchi and Pavelski both had three.

The Sharks finish the regular season with a home game against Phoenix, Saturday.

–Ray

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 81

Quite the rough-and-tumble game for the Sharks as they held on to all but eliminate the Calgary Flames from the playoffs, winning 2-1. No Jarome Iginla in the playoffs, no worries.

Most impressive was the Sharks ability to withstand and neutralize any sort of Calgary onslaught at the beginning of the game.

It wouldn’t have come as a shock to see an early Flames 2-0 lead. Sharks coach Todd McLellan may have been right, before the game, when he said they were well aware the Flames would be desperate.

Pardon me for questioning the Sharks psyche. It’s not like I’ve had any reason to.

Part of the solution was Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby played great tonight, and it’s slowly becoming realized that he’s getting into a rhythm. Perfect timing.

Even more fantastic is the Sharks secondary scoring is hot. Jamie McGinn scored in the second period for his second consecutive game with a goal. McLellan’s been on his case to pick up the pace and it’s working.

"Goalie's gotta biiigg butt!" (From SJSHARKS.com)

Logan Couture played well again also. One thing I notice about him is that he takes the shot — always. It doesn’t matter where he’s at, he will take it. He does it more than Dany Heatley does. Great things are coming from Logan in the playoffs.

Ryane Clowe continued his scorching pace with yet another assist.

After that forgettable debacle in Dallas, Jason Demers returned to the lineup and added an assist.

The planets may be aligning folks — and now that I said that, watch the Sharks lose 8-0 to Vancouver next game.

None of the big three registered a point or a +/- rating. That might be alarming to some but not for me right now. What was alarming was the laziness of Patrick Marleau defensively. He may have caught the Jumbo-shrimp syndrome; he coasted around the defensive zone not pressuring anyone.

Patty’s played well enough all year that I’ll let the last few games slide so long as it ends in the coming days.

A big criticism tonight was the third period. San Jose couldn’t generate any consistent forecheck, which kept Nabby on his toes. Luckily he obliged, but the Sharks have to learn to push back in situations like those.

In the meantime, I’ll rejoice for another Pacific Division title — until next week.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 11  CGY 22; Four players had two.

For those wondering, Rob Blake scored the first goal. No suspension for that hit on Mueller, and there should not have been.

All away games are done with for the regular season. San Jose returns home for the last two games. Vancouver is in town Thursday.

–Ray

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 79

Quite the Hello! McFly! game for the Sharks as nobody was home, and Dallas beat them handily again 5-1. Adding insult to injury was the mega-terd Steve Ott with a hat trick — yes, a hat trick.

How do you let a goon like that score so much? Oh I know, don’t cover him. Just let him frolic to the front of the net and let him receive passes right in front of Nabokov.

It’s what the defense did all night. Just when you think they turn a corner, whammo! You get hit with this ginormous piece of garbage.

Jason Demers played his worst game as a pro tonight. Pairing him with Niclas Wallin was a dumb decision. They teamed up to show us the worst tandem in NHL history — kudos to you guys.

Every other defenseman was a turnover machine. It was like watching an infinite loop; you’d see a Shark flail his arms around at the blueline trying to turn around while a Star skated in the other direction. Time after time. No Cyndi Lauper here.

If there’s any retired NHL defenseman out there, I’d like to ask how hard is it to mark your man? Is it really that difficult to be between the goal and your man? Actually, don’t bother because I know the answer. It’s about as hard as blinking.

The boneheadedness wasn’t limited to the blueliners either. Patrick Marleau caught the syndrome and boy was it ugly. Twice he tried through-the-legs passes and both times they ended up on a Dallas stick on a breakaway. Once led directly to a goal.

Scott Nichol was kind enough to show us what this game was with one image. (From SJSHARKS.com)

These turnovers weren’t just coming on 5-on-5’s. Shockingly, they came on power plays. I probably shouldn’t even say shockingly because that would be giving the Sharks credit. How they are third in power play percentage is beyond me. I can tell you they are first in “whoops!” percentage.

I wonder what Joe Thornton thought of his teammates — he was sidelined again with his lower body injury. One can only hope he thought to himself, “Ooohhhh so that’s what I look like.”

STEVE FREAKIN’ OTT! Sorry, I just can’t get over this. After the stunt he pulled on Marleau in the last meeting, he was supposed to get payback. Nah, just rewards.

Whatever happened to the away-ice advantage in this series? San Jose always won in Dallas and vice versa. That’s gone down the crapper.

Let me guess… Interference!

All the refs ever wanted to call was interference. Seven interference penalties were called. Apparently, the “officials” don’t know what finishing your check is.

What’s the point?

Demers dropped the gloves with Mark Fistric in the closing seconds. It was a hugfest.

Hockey is for Everyone ads

I’ve been meaning to mention this, and since I’m already in a bad mood, it’s the perfect timing. Gamecenter and the NHL network really need to stop running these ads. NHLnet already runs the same commercials over and over again, but these ones are so incredibly annoying. It’s hilarious these commercials run on channels and internet software that must be paid for. I think the “everyone” part the NHL is looking for is not going to have enough money to pay to see the ads.

Then we get Wayne Simmonds in the ads who looks completely miserable. If you see the ad again, pay attention. Simmonds looks like he just wants to get the hell out of dodge. Great face for this campaign, huh?

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 31  DAL 40; Douglas Murray led with six.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn’t play tonight after re-injuring his leg. Ryane Clowe didn’t return after the first period. Thomas Greiss started the third period.

Perhaps it’s a good thing the Sharks play Minnesota on Friday, since they were the team that got the Sharks out of their previous slump.

–Ray

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 76

Quite the vengeance game for the Sharks as they shut out the Dallas Stars 3-0. After last week’s debacle to the Stars, it was great to see the Sharks rebound by blanking them. Enjoy the playoffs from the couch, Stars!

San Jose continued the defensive focus tonight, and with the exception of the early stages of the game, there weren’t many turnovers to report. Hard to believe I know.

The lines were pretty much the same from last time with the big three broken up. I don’t see any reason to bring them back together anytime soon either.

The win helped clinch a playoff spot for the Sharks, but that was already a foregone conclusion. I have this awful feeling the Sharks are going to play Detroit in the first round. That would be the worst luck in the world. I’d much rather see Chicago play them so their fans can endure what we did last year against Anaheim. Bye bye Chicago.

Couture overlooks a dead-looking Turco ready to be buried (From SJSHARKS.com)

It was also goalie Evgeni Nabokov’s 50th career shutout. I’m sure some Sharks fans will say it was bound to happen sooner or later. These would be the same ones saying his play declines with more starts.

Dan Boyle and Rob Blake scored goals in the second period on the power play. Blake was injured at some point during the game as he didn’t play but half a minute in the third. Hopefully, it’s not too serious. The last thing the Sharks need is another defenseman to go down.

Logan Couture scored his second career goal in the third period after Devin Setoguchi made a tough drive to the net. Setoguchi hasn’t been lighting the lamp much at all but his physicality rivals Ryane Clowe this year.

But with all Dallas game, you have to deal with rats like Steve Ott and Stephane Robidas. Robidas already showcased his recklessness last game when he steamrolled Clowe into the boards. This time he went after Couture in the corner and Couture was slow to get up.

It was incredibly disappointing to not see any Shark go after him. This guy deserves some payback and needs his teeth knocked out.

Now Steve Ott thought it would be a good idea to elbow Patrick Marleau in the head behind the play. I am so disgusted by Ott. He is not a hockey player anymore than Lindsay Lohan is straight edge. Ott dropped the gloves with Marleau but Patty was overwhelmed by the goon before he could do anything.

Luckily, Ott was tossed from the game like he should have been. I hope he gets suspended for that elbow; I’m not entirely sure if it was really brutal because the camera didn’t zoom in, but it’d be a good precedent to suspend him following the head shot rule passing today.

A Bitz Late

Brad Staubitz fought Krys Barch in a minor tussle. Bitz got the better of him and took the victory. Been a while since I’ve been able to say that.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 21  DAL 24; Setoguchi led with three.

The Canucks march into town Saturday.

–Ray

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment