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

So Glad to be Wrong!

Never in my wildest dreams (OK, maybe my wildest) would I have expected to beat Detroit in five games. I was completely wrong about this team.

No question it was incredibly difficult, but when it came time to dig deep, the Sharks did it.

I’m absolutely ecstatic. Unbelievable!

Wings and Takoyaki for dinner!

Evgeni Nabokov celebrates the series win. (From ESPN.com)

–Ray

May 9, 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: NHL First-Round Predictions

Nathan Skytta is back again — this time with predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs.

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Detroit Red Wings will not start their run towards the Stanley Cup at home in front of the fans at Joe Louis Arena. In a season that was plagued with injuries, featured a rookie between the pipes, and contained league diversity with no real powerhouse, the Wings struggled out of the gates.

Led by gold medal winning head coach Mike Babcock and a plethora of skill and determination, the Wings overcame their injuries and got their lineup back together. Oh and that rookie in net? Well, he turned out to be a possible rookie of the year finalist.

The Wings finished fifth in the conference and are going to take on the fourth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes, in the first round of the playoffs. The Coyotes will put up a challenge for the Wings, but after finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, the Wings should be favored in advance.

RED WINGS IN SIX.

In another matchup in the Western Conference, it’s the No. 1 San Jose Sharks versus No. 8 Colorado Avalanche — a matchup that will be worth watching. The Sharks barely missed having to face Detroit, but the road to the second round didn’t get any easier when they were paired up against the Avs. The Sharks need to be on their ‘A’ game in order to have any chance of advancing.

SHARKS IN SIX.

The No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks will take on the No. 7 Nashville Predators. This may be the highest scoring series out of the eight first round playoffs because each team has struggling goaltenders and stars that can put up big numbers when given the chance.

PREDATORS IN SIX.

In the last Western series, it will be the No. 3 Vancouver Canucks facing off against one of the scariest teams in the league, the No. 6 Los Angeles Kings. Both of these teams have great goaltending, but it will be the matchup of the Kings defense against the all-star duo of the Sedin twins that determines who comes out victorious.

The Kings are the Cinderella team of the NHL this season and are unpredictable, so this series is one worth watching.

KINGS IN SEVEN.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals versus the Montreal Canadiens. This matchup pits Capitals starting goaltender Jose Theodore against his former mates from Montreal.  The Capitals have too much firepower for the Canadiens and should win this series convincingly.

CAPITALS IN FIVE.

Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur will lead his No. 2 New Jersey Devils against the No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers, in hopes of clinching another Stanley Cup title. This is the time of year where Brodeur seems to always step up his game — just what any team wants to hear when facing the goaltender with the most wins in NHL history.

DEVILS IN FIVE.

Silver medal-winning goaltender Ryan Miller and his Buffalo Sabres face the Boston Bruins and their rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are going to have a challenge beating Miller and his teammates, so the Sabres should easily win this series, but at this time of year, anything is possible.

SABRES IN SEVEN.

Last but not least, it’s the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins versus the No. 5 Ottawa Senators. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins should advance. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should lead the charge against the Senators, who lost their star Alex Kovalev to a torn anterior cruciate ligament this past week. The Senators have a challenge ahead of them, but hopefully they can make it an interesting series.

PENGUINS IN FIVE.

Anything can happen in the first round of the NHL playoffs, so tune in and see some of the exciting hockey that the last 16 teams in the league have to offer. Versus and NBC will have all the coverage starting Wed., April 14.

–Nathan

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

My NHL Playoffs Preview

It’s that time of year again for 16 teams to lace up the skates and compete for the most coveted trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup. No postseason compares to the NHL playoffs — the speed, the excitement, the will to win it all.

The Eastern Conference features a lot of the same faces this time around like Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Washington. The Western Conference showcases some fresh faces with Phoenix, Los Angeles and Colorado. Pittsburgh and Detroit have faced off in the Finals the last two years, and a three-peat isn’t quite out of the question. Series by series, here are the matchups and predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 Montreal

The Capitals put up 121 points and 54 wins this season and are bulldozing through their opponents. If Alexander Ovechkin didn’t miss time from injuries and suspensions, he would probably have won the races for goals and total points. But this team is going to need a goalie to lead them to the promise land. On the heels of a stellar comeback-type season, goalie Jose Theodore will get an easy first matchup against Montreal. Montreal will wish they had never made the playoffs.

WASHINGTON IN FOUR.

No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 Philadelphia

Has there been a more confusing team this year than the Flyers? Pegged by many to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ve been in disarray throughout the season. Starting goalie Ray Emery didn’t pan out and ended up injured and out for the season. Captain Mike Richards is going to need to put the team on his shoulders once again. And it’s no surprise the Devils are here. Last season, the Devils were ousted by an upstart Carolina team, but it’s hard to see that happening again. It will be a tough series, though.

NEW JERSEY IN SEVEN.

No. 3 Buffalo vs. No. 6 Boston

It’s hard to believe it was just last year when Boston made it to the Conference Finals. Since then, they traded Phil Kessel and lost Marc Savard to injury, which put their offense in a serious grind. It didn’t help goalie Tim Thomas struggled mightily, but now they have 23-year-old Tuukka Rask who suffocated opponents with a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. The goalie on the other side is no slouch either — USA starter Ryan Miller. This series comes down to whom can put the puck in the net. Buffalo has 12 players with 10 goals or more, and Boston’s leading goal-scorer has just 22.

BUFFALO IN SIX.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Ottawa

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins find themselves facing a somewhat surprising Ottawa team. With all the talent Pittsburgh has, it’s a mystery as to why they never compete for a top seed. But the regular season doesn’t matter anymore, of course. This is where the Penguins excel having been to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row. The Senators were already overmatched, and now after losing Alexei Kovalev for the year from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Sens are the dead horse preparing to be beaten.

PITTSBURGH IN FIVE.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 8 Colorado

If there’s any NHL topic that’s been exhausted, it’s the playoff woes of the Sharks. They dodged a bullet in not having to face a red-hot Detroit team. The Sharks shouldn’t have any problem taking out the Avalanche early. The Avs haven’t played well since the Olympic break, goalie Craig Anderson’s massive workload has caught up to him, and key players Peter Mueller and Matt Duchene are recovering from injuries. With that being said, the Sharks still don’t have the confidence to sweep a team in the playoffs or beat them in five games. San Jose will take the series, but not without shooting themselves in the foot a couple times.

SAN JOSE IN SIX.

No. 2 Chicago vs. No. 7 Nashville

This could get ugly really fast. Chicago must be disappointed with blowing a golden opportunity in the last game of the season against Detroit. If they won, it would have meant a number one seed and home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. That puts Nashville right in the crosshairs of an angry team led by seemingly-always disgruntled coach Joel Quenneville. The Predators have heart, though, and they never quit. Despite the high probability of being skinned alive, Nashville will give it all they have.

CHICAGO IN FIVE.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Los Angeles

Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams, only Vancouver has a losing record away from their building. This gives the Kings a chance to pull off maybe the only upset of the first round. Los Angeles has a young core of players similar to what Chicago has. The Kings have players like Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar that can keep them a playoff threat for many years to come. For Vancouver, it’s all about goalie Roberto Luongo and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. If you stop the Sedins, you’ll win. It’s a simple concept, but few teams can accomplish it.

LOS ANGELES IN SEVEN.

No. 4 Phoenix vs. No. 5 Detroit

Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a typo. The Coyotes really are in the playoffs and a fourth seed no less. They shocked the hockey world after being in fire and brimstone the last several years. Ownership questions, gambling scandals and relocation considerations bogged down this franchise. But with new coach Dave Tippett, Phoenix got revitalized and finished with 50 wins and 107 points. Their reward? The hottest team since the Olympic break. Near the midpoint of the season, the Red Wings were out of the playoffs dealing with a stockpile of injuries. But they’re back to Stanley Cup form and are once again dangerous. The Western Conference can only hope Phoenix can pull a miracle and oust Detroit. But let’s be real. This is Detroit and these are the playoffs.

DETROIT IN SIX.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 47

Quite the S.S.D.D. performance by the Sharks as they once again lose to the Detroit Red Wings, 4-1. There must have been some rule put in place after the lockout not allowing the Sharks to ever beat Detroit. If they do, they get fined.

What’s most annoying is the Wings always play their best against San Jose. The Sharks can never crush them because they always play their worst against Detroit. This completely sucks. I can’t stand Detroit. I really hope they miss the playoffs, but that won’t happen.

Their goalie Jimmy Howard has been hot lately and that continued as he made 31 saves. As much confidence as this may give Wings fans, Howard will ever be a number-one goalie. He is not that good. Just watch how quickly they switch to Chris Osgood in the playoffs.

For the first five minutes, the Sharks looked ready to blow out Detroit. They looked like a Michael Johnson racing Rosie O’Donnell. They cashed in midway through the first, then everything fell apart faster than Tiger Woods’ image. Mailing it in would be an understatement. Nobody shined through the complete dismay. Everyone played poorly.

Jason Demers was called up, but even he played terrible. One of his two dumb turnovers led to a breakaway goal. Turnovers plagued all Sharks though. Ryane Clowe’s big turnover led to a breakout resulting in another Detroit goal. For the second straight game, the Sharks recorded 20 giveaways. Two games is a trend, so if it happens next game, the Sharks are in deep trouble.

Oooooooo, rubbery. (From SJSHARKS.com)

But I want to go back to this mentality the Sharks have against the Red Wings. After all the playoff failures, so many fans, media, and even coaches told the players to mimic the Red Wings. I think it’s wore on them so much and with every game against Detroit, they put so much pressure on themselves to beat them. It backfires; they lose and feel like everything they’ve been taught failed.

The only way the Sharks are going to be successful is to find their own style, and they haven’t done that in coach Todd McLellan’s tenure. He brought over Detroit’s style of play and used it throughout his first year; get people in front of the net, put 40+ shots on net, out-skate people. It worked enough to earn a President’s trophy. After being bounced in the first round, McLellan realized this isn’t Detroit. These are different players.

So this year, he’s emphasized playing the gritty style of play, which I associate mostly with the Nashville Predators. Management even brought over two Predators, Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer, to further bring the tough style to fruition. The jury won’t be out until playoff time, but I don’t like the how the Sharks always strive to be someone else. Ultimately it’s up to the players to decide who they want to be, but that’s not enough. The players must battle to achieve their goals, not wait for it to come to them.

As much as I hate to say it, this core of players doesn’t seem like they “want it.” They’re too relaxed and non-confrontational. I’m not talking about on the ice; I’m talking about their personalities. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Setoguchi Steamed

Seto got ticked at Dan Cleary for driving him into the net, and the two dropped the gloves. Seto was pumping him with fists before Cleary chickened out by throwing himself on top of Seto.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 24  DET 18; Nichol led with five.

The Sharks have lost two of three, and they will travel to Los Angeles on Monday.

–Ray

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 19

Quite the courageous performance by the Sharks, despite losing to the Detroit Red Wings 2-1, in a shootout. It ends their six-game winning streak, but they keep in-tact their seven-game point streak. Thinking about all the adversity the Sharks face coming into this game, it’s hard to be mad at them for not pulling this one out.

Allow me to discuss some of that opposition.

Let’s start with the obvious: the Sharks are injured. It’s like Stalingrad in San Jose. Players injured consist of Ryan Vesce, Devin Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell, Joe Pavelski and Rob Blake. None of those guys are expendable. Maybe Vesce, but remember he was scoring like crazy on the top line. Dany Heatley got hit hard in tonight’s game and all fans held their breath. He returned and looked fine, however.

The Sharks called up Derek Joslin and Joe Callahan. Yea, that creates a hell of a lot of opposition when you call up those two.

This was the second of back-to-back games.

The Sharks have been on the road seemingly the whole season. Constant travel and stinky motel rooms will do a number on you.

The Sharks never win in Detroit. This is just a weird fact of life. They have a few wins at the Joe, but San Jose always finds a way to come out with a loss there.

And this is all before opening faceoff! Yet, these guys came out, exhausted, lethargic and earned a point. Outstanding.

Logan Couture scored his first goal of his career tonight on a wrister between the legs of goalie Chris Osgood. I really wish this kid could get a better opportunity with a higher line rather than meandering around with Jody Shelley. With the injuries, he’s going to be sent back down to Worcester, so put him on the top or second line for a few shifts. See what happens.

Picture 9

Logan Couture celebrates his first NHL goal (From SJSHARKS.com)

OK, so let’s jump out of Optimismville and get into some criticism, shall we? Goalie Evgeni Nabokov gives me heart attacks with his puck handling. He’s been giving the puck away to opposition on a consistent basis lately. I realize he wants a quick breakout — maybe because the Sharks’ breakouts have struggled — but Nabby, don’t put your team behind by doing something you aren’t required to do.

The Sharks power play forecheck was abismal tonight. I’m sure part of it was exhaustion, but they allowed a bunch of 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s tonight, while on the man advantage. Patch that up pronto.

The shootout was ugly for the Sharks. They didn’t convert on either chance and Nabby allowed two out of 3 chances. Ryane Clowe used the same exact move he’s used in the last two shootouts. It worked the first time, but the last two chances were easy stops for the goalie. Either come up with a new move for stay on the bench.

Brad Staubitz

Bitz was a healthy scratch tonight, presumably because coach Todd McClellan was angry with his penalties against the Blue Jackets last game. He received 17 minutes worth of penalties after a fight with Jared Boll. He was eligible to return in the game, but Todd kept him benched. As a result, Couture only had Shelley as a linemate. Bitz better keep his head together. I haven’t see Todd keep anyone in a doghouse, but there’s a first for everything.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 27  DET 32; Scott Nichol, Joe Thornton and Douglas Murray combined for 14 of those.

The Sharks go home for a week, and they will play three games at HP Pavillion against Pittsburgh, Nashville and Dallas, in that order. I think Thomas Greiss needs to spell Nabby for Pittsburgh on Saturday. I know it’s baptism by fire, but Nabby needs a break.

–Ray

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment