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.
Quite the humdrum performance by both teams in the Coyotes 1-0 shootout win over the Sharks. The Sharks were slapdash throughout the contest not stringing together two passes more often than not. The whole game was a giant hodge-podge. The Coyotes faired no better, and their style of play made for a top-5 contender for most boring game of the year. I really do hate Dave Tippet’s (Coyotes head coach) style of play. I can’t stand the trap — so dull; so monotonous. But Phoenix won with their tedious, mind-numbing play.
At least San Jose got a point.
The Sharks could have used to Drain-O to unclog the neutral zone, because that’s where all the Phoenix players were the entire game. San Jose tried to execute some dump-and-chase plays to get behind Phoenix, but they were always one step ahead of the Sharks.
I’d had to give the MVP to Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. He kept the game 0-0 and made so many spectacular saves — much more crucial saves than Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Phoenix’s shots were more potent and in open ice, while the Shark’s shots were just kind of “blah, here’s a shot, maybe something will happen.”
Scott Nichol and Jamie McGinn were the best players on the ice. They threw their body around and Nichol’s speed and determination were evident every time he stepped out on the ice. I thought the signing of Nichol was suspect, but he’s proven me wrong so far. Nichol had seven hits in the game and was 64% in the faceoff circle. Excellent stuff.
Once overtime hit triple zeroes, I knew the game would end in a Sharks loss. Nabby is so bad in breakaway situations — it’s nauseating. He’s now 13-16 in shootouts I believe. Yikes.
The Sharks could have really used Joe Pavelski’s amazing shootout skills, as well as Jeremy Roenick’s shootout prowess, but hey, at least they sent out Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Dan Boyle.
*Cue record scratching sound* Wait, what?
Heatley is awful in shootouts; Setoguchi has only scored one shootout goal; Boyle is 2 for 8. Why did you pick them Todd (McClellan)? Heatley shot the puck into Bryzgalov’s pads, Setoguchi shot it wide, but Boyle did make it. In fact, Boyle looked like an all-star forward with his forehand-backhand move.
The Sharks get a point, though, before heading out to their Eastern Conference road trip. They’re now 3-2-1.
Jody Shelley continued his punching bag status — this time getting beat up by Paul Bissonnette. It’s getting really old now. Shelley chooses the right time for a fight but doesn’t finish what he started.
Frazer McLaren was sent down to Worcester before the game and Steven Zalewski was called up. It was Zalewski’s first NHL game, but unfortunately for him, he only played five minutes.
The Sharks outhit the Coyotes 31-18 and and dominated the faceoff circle going 35-19.
Next game: At Washington, 7 ET. The Sharks better pick up the speed if they want to skate with the Caps and Alex Ovechkin.
The Sharks take on the Ducks tonight at Anaheim and it should be a bruising contest. In an interesting roster move, The Sharks sent Jamie McGinn down to Worcester and brought up Frazer McLaren, who is known as a tough guy. After all the things I’ve heard from coaches about playing their own game and not worrying about the other team, this throws it for a loop.
So much for playing a speedy, offensive affair as the Sharks are known to do; they plan on adapting to Anaheim’s slower, hit-filled game. I guess it’s worth a shot considering our fast style didn’t work in the playoffs last year. But alas, it’s only one player. We’ll see the effects at 10 p.m. eastern.
Things to look for
1. Saku Koivu’s debut for Anaheim
2. Will Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe line continue their first game performance?
3. Any chemistry from Thornton or Heatley?
4. Who starts in goal for Anaheim? Giguere or Hiller?
Last years division winners in the Western Conference (Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose) are off to a combined 0-5 start. Detroit was swept by St. Louis, while Vancouver dropped a game in Calgary and was shutout by upstart Colorado today.
St. Louis will be dangerous — so long as Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya stay healthy. They already have four goals combined in two games; however, one of them will get injured this year — it never fails.
Detroit’s backup Jimmy Howard played in the second game and looked, to put it lightly, sub-par. He allowed to goals in 13 seconds. I really don’t think he will ever be ready for the NHL; he’s a full-time AHLer.
Starting this week’s version, I want to say that I hope Aaron Rodgers is OK, and able to continue. I learned that Denver doesn’t know how to beat weak teams, and that my theory on the overrated Cowboys came true. Yet, the experts are completely shocked they lost? Unbelievable. Someone hold another Inquisition and execute all these dunces. They are polluting the airwaves more than the Paris Hilton sex tape. I also learned that Chicago must hate me, because every time I pick them to win or lose they do the opposite. I handed that game over to Nathan though. It’s exhausting writing about Chicago. I feel sorry for their beat writers. Scott Linehan is the first coach to get beheaded in the season. The Rams fired him this morning. Jim Haslett will take over as interim coach. Enjoy that crapshoot Jim. Anyway, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Kansas City 33 Denver 19
What the hell happened Broncos? You rolled over and laid a giant, moldy egg – the kind Fear Factor used to feed people. Beat the teams you are supposed to. At least my main man Eddie Royal did good with 9 catches and 104 yards (excluding his fumble). Jay Cutler did not look like himself. He threw 49 times; way too much in that offense. I realize that they were behind a lot of the time but, you must establish the run game a little bit. Set up play action. I sincerely hope, Kansas City fans don’t think you guys have it together now. You don’t. Your team is not going anywhere. This was a “Thank you for watching us even though we’re not good” gift. Don’t expect anymore of it. Herm Edwards needs to be fired and you know it. Where is Dick Vermeil? Maybe he can cry you guys into the playoffs. I kid. I like Vermeil. Anyways Denver, do not do this again. I thought you were the best team in the NFL before Sunday. So much for that…
New Orleans 31 San Francisco 17
I changed this pick Saturday night, along with a few others. This game was probably the hardest to figure out. San Francisco seems capable of winning but they are still somewhat confusing. The Saints are the same way. J.T. O’Sullivan was finally brought back to the planet in this game with a 59.6 QB rating. Frank Gore did OK but he needed his QB to help out. Drew Brees was the same guy he should be throwing 3 TD’s. I really don’t think this game helped out in telling me how good these teams are. I do know that whoever said J.T. O’Sullivan was going to be the next Kurt Warner “come out of nowhere” type player, they were sorely mistaken.
Tennessee 30 Minnesota 17
OK, Tennessee should not be 4-0 right now. They are really not very good. The defense does everything. The offense is just barely competent enough. Minnesota is the exact same way yet they are 1-3? It does not make sense to me. Both had running QBs that are now replaced by old veterans. The Vikings have the better RB in Peterson. It just doesn’t add up. I am not sold on the Titans and probably will never be this season. I may be in the minority, but I feel if they were to face a really good team, they would fold over faster than Ohio State in BCS championship games or against the SEC. Call me what you want, but the Titans are not good. They will make the playoffs, sure, but will make an early exit. I won’t even say anything else about Minnesota besides that they should trade AP to the Packers.
Tampa Bay 30 Green Bay 21
This was the first game where Aaron Rodgers didn’t play very well throwing 3 INT. I wanted to see how he would respond in the second half, which wasn’t very well. He did get injured, though, and for some reason Matt Flynn came in. Brian Brohm should be the second string, not Mr. One Time LSU Wonder. Also, one of my fears is coming true – Ryan Grant was a fluke last year. He just does not look the same this year. Running backs in this day and age are not doing well. There is not a consistent runner anymore. LT can’t even give us 100 yard games that much. The Packers put up an amazing 28 yards rushing for the game. Ouch. That stat speaks for itself. The GB defense did a good job of creating turnovers but the offense couldn’t help out. This game was really important because this was a loss to an average team. People expected the Packers to lose to Dallas but not to Tampa Bay. They need to regroup, hope Rodgers is healthy, come up with a new run strategy and take care of Atlanta next week by 21. Thoughts and prayers go out to Matt Bryant of the Bucs; playing Sunday after losing your child took a lot of heart.
Pittsburgh 23 Baltimore 20
Pittsburgh is not that good. Baltimore is by far the better team. Roethlisberger is garbage and will always be garbage. Flacco is the man. That is all I have to say about this game.
Update: Aaron Rodgers has a shoulder sprain and should be able to start Sunday
Dallas 27 Green Bay 16
So, for the first time ever the Dallas Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. It’s upsetting but somewhat expected. Mason Crosby, the best kicker in the game right now (especially since he is on my fantasy team.. sorry Ray) had 3 good field goals which helped me win my match-up in fantasy. I love when kickers can contribute to a winning team. (I am going to leave Tony Romo and Terrell “I’m a baby” Owens out of this blog. Thats because they are simply talked about too much. Until they win a Super Bowl, until they prove themselves worthy of my time, you won’t hear me say a word about them after this… ) The Packers are still the best team in the NFC North and will be back in the playoffs once again. Go get ’em boys!!!
Minnesota 20 Carolina 10
Wow! The Minnesota Vikings actually won a game. I guess Gus Frerotte can still lead a team to victory. The Panthers had won both games this season in the fourth quarter. Well, the Vikings did not even give them a chance to do that again. The Vikings looked like a good team. If this keeps up, they have a chance of challenging the Packers for the division.
Jacksonville 23 Indianapolis 21
A new stadium… Peyton Manning… and a Sunday Afternoon. What do you usually get? Usually its a Indianapolis Colts victory. But not this season. So far in the new stadium, they are 0-2 and have yet to take advantage of Tom Brady’s injury. They were supposed to be the second best team in the AFC and when Brady went down, that shot them straight up to the top of the League. Well so far, it looks like they need to go back to their old stomping grounds. Baltimore! Just kidding.
Miami 38 New England 13
For the first time in over a year, the New England Patriots have lost a regular season game. Joey Porter of the Miami Dolphins talked the talk, and he definitely walked the walk. The Patriots looked like they had no clue what they were doing out on the field. Matt Cassel spent more time on his back than a cheap hooker. (no offense… and no hate mail from ‘the corner’). Bill Parcells has made the Dolphins into a good team; not quite great but a good team. It was actually fun watching the Dolphins for the first time in a long time.
And now onto the most exciting thing that happened this weekend:
RYDER CUP RECAP
In Kentucky, Kenny Perry and the United States Ryder Cup Team brought home the trophy. For the first time in years, the Men beat the Boys from across the pond, in the 37th Ryder Cup.
While watching the Ryder Cup, I almost felt like I was watching a hockey game. The fans were chanting, the crowds were loud, and it was a blast to watch. When Jim Furyk’s championship clinching putt was conceded, I could not help but chant “USA, USA, USA!!!!!.”
While Phil Mickelson choked once again, Anthony Kim and Boo Weekly dazzled us Americans. The best part of this weekend was to see Paul Azinger, the captain of the American’s, riding around on his golf course doing “victory laps” and the fans chanting “BOO!!!!” after each and every amazing shot by fellow American, Boo Weekly. It was good to see the men having fun and celebrating a victory.