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

ITSC, Round 2, Sharks vs. Red Wings

It’s unfortunate that this matchup had to happen, but I wouldn’t expect anything less.

There’s a 0% chance of the Sharks winning this series.

Detroit in five or six.

–Ray

April 28, 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. 54

Quite the justice game for the Sharks as they took down the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 tonight. The win puts the Sharks 5-0 against the Ducks this season.

Say what you want about regular season games and getting vengeance against teams who ousted you in the playoffs, but this feels awesome. If the Ducks did make it to the playoffs and the Sharks faced them again, these five wins mean nothing, but I’m living in the moment. Cross that bridge when or if they get there. Right now, we beat the Ducks at their best so enjoy it.

First thing that must be addressed was the awful feed of the game on NHL GameCenter. I think the feed is up to the broadcasters and Anaheim did a poor job with their cameras. The game looked like it was being viewed through a smog filter. On top of that it was blurry and you have the boring Ducks announce team. A recipe for a non-fun viewing experience. Nevertheless, I and other Sharks fans endured.

The Sharks had to endure this game without Dan Boyle’s services because of an upper body injury. From the reports I’ve read, he’ll miss the big inter-conference showdown with Buffalo on Saturday, too. He should be back next week.

Being on this hot streak recently, the Ducks tried to send a message with a couple fights and keeping things intense. It backfired.

Ryane Clowe and George Parros had a dance four minutes in. It was a welcome change from seeing Jody Shelley always fight Parros. Clowe beat down Ron Jeremy, Jr., and it started off the game fantastically.

Brad Staubitz and Nick Boynton tangoed six minutes later. Haymaker after haymaker ensued, but Bitz got the best of Boynton putting the Sharks in control of the momentum.

Take seat, duckling. I make Swedish bonesaw--errr, meatballs-- for you. (From SJSHARKS.com)

The Ducks were charged with a four minute high-sticking penalty, and it took 3:55 for the Sharks to convert. Better late than never, of course. Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored off a wrist shot near the blue line.

Anaheim started to build their own momentum, but it was crushed when Rob Blake found the twine. He was set up by an absolutely beautiful pass from Joe Thornton.

As you probably already guessed, goalie Evgeni Nabokov allowed his trademark one goal. Again. The Sharks held on to win.

Penalty Destroyers

No extra-man goals for the Ducks. The Sharks’ penalty kill unit stopped all five chances.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 24  ANA 22; Jody Shelley led with four.

As I eluded to earlier, the Sabres continue their road trip by playing San Jose on Saturday.

–Ray

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 30

Quite the just-like-old-times performance for the Sharks in their 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks roster finally looked like it should be with a couple exceptions. And with the added aspect of facing former Sharks, Christian Ehrhoff and Steve Bernier, it was a reunion of sorts.

Got to mention the injuries, returns and transactions. Devin Setoguchi and Rob Blake returned to the lineup tonight; Benn Ferriero and Jason Demers were sent down to Worcester because of that. Of course this was Torrey Mitchell’s second game back so he’s still getting used to NHL-level speed.

Jody Shelley and Brad Staubitz are still out with injuries, so Frazer McLaren played on the fourth line. Derek Joslin retained his spot on the defense upon Demers’ reassignment.

OK so the game — a slow back-and-forth game. One team would control for 10 minutes, then things would switch. Vancouver got on the board early in the first and controlled the play. McLaren scored his first NHL goal to tie things up before the first ended. He took a big hit behind the goal-line but stayed on his feet and kept his stick on the ice. Joe Pavelski found him and it was an easy tip-in. Glad to see Frazer add his name to the list of first-time scorers this season; Ferriero, McLaren, Demers, Logan Couture and Ryan Vesce all have scored their first NHL goal so far this season.

The Sharks dominated the second period, outshooting Vancouver 15-4; however, they only managed one goal, which came from Dan Boyle on the power play. It was a cool goal to watch on the replay because you saw how much Boyle moves on the man-advantage. One second he would be up high at the point, five seconds later he was down low. Always keeps his skates moving in a very fluid motion.

Captain Rob Blake made his return against Vancouver (From SJSHARKS.com)

San Jose backed off during the last frame but withstood a fierce Canucks forecheck. The Sharks capitalized on a counterattack, as Manny Malhotra deked — yes deked — goalie Roberto Luongo fairly easily. Thirteen seconds later Jamie McGinn notched his fourth goal of the season after Jed Ortmeyer battled beyond the goal line and sent the puck to the crease.

Let’s go back to the decision to send Demers down to Worcester. Coach Todd McClellan cited bad play in the defensive zone as the reason for the reassignment. Demers and Joslin were battling for the final defenseman spot with Rob Blake returning and T-Mac said Joslin played better over the last 10 games. Demers has definitely not played up to par lately. I think back to last game where Demers attempted a stretch pass only to have it intercepted and turned into an Edmonton goal.

T-Mac said before he likes how Demers takes risks, and now he’s going back on that? I don’t get it. Demers is clearly learning from Boyle how to be an offensive threat and doing a pretty good job at it. He has one goal and 12 assists in 27 games. He’s been one of the league’s most surprising rookies and you choose Joslin over Demers? I’m sorry, but this is a dumb move by T-Mac. Joslin is a joke of a player and isn’t going to amount to anything.

Perhaps it will help Demers not to play with Kent Huskins and actually someone good down in Worcester. Huskins was on the power play tonight again. Stop doing that T-Mac. Just stop. Demers needs to be on the power play and Huskins needs to be sent down. No one will claim him off waivers.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 16  VAN 14; Jamie McGinn (4) and Devin Setoguchi (3) led the team.

The Sharks wrap up November with a 9-2-3 record and are the first team to reach 40 points.

All eyes will be on San Jose on Tuesday when the Sharks battle the Ottawa Senators. Dany Heatley versus his ex-girlfriend. Should be good.

–Ray

 

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 25

Quite the blinding performance by the NHL, Versus and Comcast by not showing the Sharks-Predators game last night (Nov. 17). There isn’t much for me to describe about the game except to look at the score and stats.

Well, the Sharks lost 4-3 in Nashville to have their 12-game point streak snapped. Thomas Greiss started in goal for the Sharks, and from looking at the bad-quality highlights on the Sharks website, the goals were a combination of bad positioning by Greiss and bad defense; no surprise on the defense side of things.

I can tell you the Sharks outshot the Preds 32-31. Even though they outshot the Preds 14-9 in the second, the Sharks’ best period usually, the Preds outscored San Jose 2-1 in the second frame.

Scott Nichol scored his first goal as a Shark from a tip-in play. He received the feed from Jed Ortmeyer. Other goal-scorers were Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

Scott Nichol celebrates his first goal as a Shark (From SJSHARKS.com)

The highlights also showed some huge hits, which is normal for a game between these two.

It was the third road game in four nights for the Sharks, and I’m guessing it caught up to them. Coach Todd McClellan vowed to use the fourth line more in the game, and he did in the first period. After that, they hardly received any ice time.

As for why the game wasn’t on television, to my understanding Versus has some sort of exclusive broadcast window from 7-9:30. I think this game was one of the options to show, but they chose to air the Rangers-Capitals game instead. What a shocker. Come on now. When you look at the schedule in September, did anyone really think Versus would air Sharks-Predators instead of Rags-Caps? Let’s not kid ourselves; East Coast bias at its finest.

Sharks and Preds fans had to suffer. This was absolutely absurd. It’s the year 2009, with all kinds of technology and satellites, and no one wanted to broadcast the game to paying fans?! This is why the NHL needs to stop dry humping Versus and find a new partner.

Other Notes

Brad Staubitz and Devin Setoguchi were out of the lineup with injuries. Bitz had a puck hit him in the eye during practice, and Seto reinjured his leg last game.

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 17  NSH 19; Douglas Murray led the team with three.

The Sharks play Philadelphia on Friday.

–Ray

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment