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

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 67

Quite the persistence pays off game for the Sharks as they finally solved Steve Mason and defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1. It was looking bad early on, but Mason finally cracked.

I’ve definitely been a part of these games before — while playing video games of course — especially against Roberto Luongo. I try all different button combinations to set up the perfect pass and still get stoned by the goalie. That’s probably how the real players felt tonight against Mason.

It had been over seven periods since the Sharks last scored on Mason. Columbus shut out the Sharks right before the break, but the Sharks looked awful that night. This time around, San Jose swarmed the Blue Jackets and put on unrelenting pressure.

The team reacts to Jumbo saying he'll keep his shirt on for interviews (From SJSHARKS.com)

I really hope these types of games stay in the Sharks’ minds. When playoff time comes, you’re going to be down — no question. They may be just regular season games, but knowing you can come back against a hot goalie could pay huge dividends.

Dany Heatley scored the first goal, which came in the third period on the power play. A gigantic sigh exited HP Pavilion. Joe Pavelski skated around the back of the net and scored to take the lead.

A few timely saves by Evgeni Nabokov, specifically in the final seconds, sealed the victory.

Nichol Update

Scott Nichol, who was cheap-shotted last game, will be out 7-10 days with a shoulder injury. Ryan Vesce was called up to take his place. Vesce played seven minutes and amassed three hits.

Maxim Lapierre was suspended four games for the hit.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 36  CBJ 32; Douglas Murray led with six.

The Sharks’ next game is Thursday against Nashville, at home.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 62

Quite the feeble effort from the Sharks tonight as they lost to the Blue Jackets 3-0. It’s the first time the Sharks were shut out by a team in regulation since Dec. 18, 2008 against Detroit.

San Jose didn’t come to play until 10 minutes left in the third period. The shots are deceiving — 40-21 for San Jose. Very few of those shots had chances to go in except for a few late in the game.

The Sharks have been playing sub-par lately and this could be all that bad play adding up into one poor game. Columbus came out skating really fast and winning battles, while the Sharks were content to let goalie Thomas Greiss save them. He didn’t play too bad, but he’s certainly not at the level to steal games at will.

Most Sharks shots were with no traffic in front of net, giving an already-hot goalie in Steve Mason, confidence. Mason used that too his advantage in this third to put on a spectacular show of skill, notching his second consecutive shutout.

I think the Blue Jackets have a great coach in the making with Claude Noel. During an in-game interview he asked the broadcast guys if they were enjoying the game as much as him and ended the conversation by saying “a lot of love.” Cool guy. Hope he does well.

Newcomers Niclas Wallin and Dwight Helminen were arguably the best players on the ice, especially Helminen. When all seemed bleak, I saw Helminen zipping around the ice trying to make plays and setting up guys for chances. He finished with five hits and one blocked shot in 12 minutes of ice time.

Seto enjoying his favorite game: invisible leap frog! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Wallin, like Helminen, was one of the few Sharks who stayed even (+/-) for the game. He amassed four shots, missed another three and blocked one.

That’s pretty much all there is to say. Maybe it’s my newly acquired cold/sinus infection, but the game was noneventful from the Sharks perspective. I’ll leave it at that.

Giveaways

The Blue Jackets announcers noted the Sharks are fifth in giveaways. That sounds about right, but the Sharks actually had zero giveaways for the game. Is that probably from the way Columbus people score giveaways? Probably since Columbus only had four. Each arena scores hits, giveaways, etc. differently, but still — seeing a zero in that column is like seeing Kate Beckinsale and Carrie Underwood wake up on either side of you.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 22  CBJ 36: Helminen led with five.

The Sharks travel to Detroit for the back-end of their back-to-back. Evgeni Nabokov will get the start in net.

–Ray

February 11, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 44

Quite the facile game for the Sharks as they easily dispatched the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1. There was no doubt about the outcome tonight. The Sharks imposed their will on the wounded Oilers.

Three Sharks were back in the lineup for the first time in a long time: Brad Staubitz, Jody Shelley and Jay Leach. They replaced Manny Malhotra who is injured, Frazer McLaren and Jason Demers who were sent down. Demers was sent all the way down to the ECHL for some reason. I assume for money reasons and convenience since the ECHL affiliate is in California.

All three made a noticeable impact. Leach fought Steve Staios late in the game, but there’s nothing much to report though as it was a bear hug match. Shelley led the team with seven hits, and Staubitz had an assist.

Woohoo! This is too easy, guys! (From NHL.com)

Despite sloppy passes early, the Sharks struck first with Jamie McGinn and Douglas Murray four minutes apart. Both goals started off hard work and sheer will. I never grow tired of seeing battling like that.

San Jose tightened its grip with two more goals in the second period by Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, proving that the top line can score along with the secondary lines.

Also in the second, Ryane Clowe destroyed Jason Strudwick in a fight with an enormous uppercut.

There’s not much else to say about this game; it’s just one of those easy games that great teams are supposed to win. The Sharks came out, did not look past their opponent, and put them away early.

Perhaps it’s a good tune-up/confidence-builder heading into a big showdown with Los Angeles on Monday.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 30  EDM 38; Shelley led the team with seven.

The Sharks have now won eight games in a row.

As I said, the Kings come to town on Monday. The Sharks are 1-1-1 against the Kings this season.

–Ray

January 3, 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. 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