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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Grand Prize Game: Another Reason to Hate/Love Sidney Crosby

A bitter pill to swallow, folks, at least if you wanted the U.S. to win.  I'm on record saying that I'm not a big fan of the Olympics, but I was definitely watching this game.  And no, it doesn't change my opinion on the matter, because it's not likely that we will see a game this big for some time.

That being said, what a game!  It was up-and-down play, and the refs were content to allow things to play on.  The only things that didn't live up to expectations were Roberto Luongo and the U.S. defense.  The former looked shaky at times, and the latter broke down multiple times throughout the game (including the 3 goals).  Everyone else made this a game to remember, and a great reason for a grown man to stay in his pajamas until 5pm (not me, of course, but this guy I know...).

Ryan Miller deserves every praise for his performance throughout these Olympics; thankfully, his play will be immortalized by his being named the MVP of the Olympics, much like we still remember that, once upon a time, Jean-Sebastien Giguere was a great goalie.

Much closer to getting a "Non Smythe" right now

So the Olympics close with Canada's confirmation that, yes, if you sport 2 to 3 of the top 5 players in the world at every position, you should win the gold.  It also closes with a young U.S. team that far exceeded the expectations of everyone, and not just because Brian Burke attempted to exaggerate about the American team's "underdog" status.  Very few (if any) people predicted that the U.S. would get so close to gold, and for that they should receive a cookie.  Or a cake.  The cake would be easier for distribution purposes.

"Her" being that melty-looking gold medallion.

Great game, good TV, let's leave it to the U.S. news networks to pretend to be interested in hockey for a couple of days.  And even more so, let's get back to that NHL season!

P.S.  If you're tired about talking Olympics hockey (which I am), give mad props to our 4-man bobsledders, who won their first Olympics gold since 1948.  America, we got a bobsled team!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Mighty Tore: Man, Myth, or Norwegian?

The Olympics have been taken by storm by the amazing feat of the Pride of the Fjords, Tore Vikingstad.  I didn't realize it at the time, but when I showed my appreciation for his mighty name I awakened a slumbering beast.  Since then, numerous blog posts have sprung up showing appreciation for the name and the hattie.

His hat trick on February 20th against Switzerland electrified (as you can see, the picture above is a treasure trove of bad puns) the Norwegian team, at least until overtime when they lost.  His one-goal game following the hat trick made us ask "Lord, when will he stop?" (a question quickly answered when we realized Norway went 0-4).

Lest we allow Tore become just a flash-in-a-pan, I want to add some humanity to his now-mythical character.

A 34-year old former Blues 6th round draft pick, Vikingstad has been living it up beating on hockey palookas in the German league.  At 6'4" and 200 lbs of straight-up Scandinavian, he's used his size to muck ze Germans around in a big way, posting 104 points in 85 games over the last two years.  In 2005-06, he received the prestigious Gullpucken, or "Golden Puck," for being the best Norwegian hockey player that year.  Which I guess is a big deal.  In Norway.  Previous winners include Patrick Thoresen, Espen Knutsen, and presumably any Norwegian that ever made it to a level of hockey you could call "professional."

Thanks to the wonderful insight of the Olympics website, we know that as of November 2009 he still enjoyed  "spending time with his family and the outdoors"; no word on whether that is still the case or if he ever chose to live dangerously and mix the two.  I'm hedging my bets on him shaving the unibrow, chucking the wife, and heading to Oslo's hot-spot The Blaa to catch some Vikingstad groupies (call them "Tore-pies") and Friday's performance of a band called The Bitch Boys.


It remains to be seen if this new-found celebrity will lead to any opportunities, but I've seen teams do more desperate things than sign a 34-year old Olympics hero (like, say, sign David Koci).  In fact, I'd like to see it happen, so instead of wasting your time giving him his humanity, how 'bout some action shots?

Give and ye shall receive.

Not quite as intimidating as the Messier Stare.  More goofy than anything.

With any luck, he'll be on the Islanders by March.  In the meantime, he'll make it rain at The Blaa after 4 goals in 4 games.  Be there, or be square, bring your $1 bills.

P.S.  I can just see him now, sipping Tanqueray and grinding with his Tore-pies.  Telling them about his "Tore-pedo."
P.P.S.  He better make sure they're 18, or else he'll be arrested as a "Tore-pedophile."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 U.S. v Canada = 1980 U.S. v Soviet Union? Why It Doesn't, and Why It Does

In light of the upset of the Canadian nation by the 2010 U.S. hockey team, we've seen a smattering of articles including comparisons of this year's game to the Miracle on Ice.  A few journalists trumpeted the great achievement, and more than a few absolutely castigated the said journalists.

1980's Miracle on Ice inhabits a sacred realm for many Americans; not so much for Russians.  It's viewed as an untouchable upset, and in many ways it is.  For the United States.  As Behind the Net points out, there's often a lot of ignorance in the American perspective of upsets.  Certainly, Switzerland defeating Canada (indeed, shutting out Canada) at Torino was pretty big.  But the Olympics are inherently about nationalism, so I'm rarely surprised when countries analyze these events through their own goggles (although said goggles are likely Made in China).

Before getting into the meat of this post, I want to preface these arguments with two undisputable facts: a.) the 2010 U.S. v Canada game has little to no historical context that could match the 1980 U.S. v Soviet Union game, and b.) the 2010 game had a bit less weight on the final results of the tournament than the 1980 game  (2010: round play that got U.S. into quarter-finals; 1980: semi-finals).  Context certainly elevates the 1980 game.

So what about the other argument, that it was (in 1980) a "bunch of college kids" upsetting the best team in the world as oppose to (in 2010) "NHL stars" beating "better NHL stars"?  Let's look at both sides of the argument of whether, talent-wise, the 1980 game was a greater upset than the 2010 game.

Arguments for 1980 U.S. v Soviet Union

- The Soviets were the best team in the world.  On numerous occasions in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the Soviet teams challenged NHL teams and beat them.  In the Super Series (mini-tournaments between NHL & Soviet teams) over this period, the Soviets would win 14 of 18 series.  The team (at the time of the 1980 Olympics) boasted Russian greats Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Vladimir Petrov, Vladislav Tretiak, and Alexander Maltsev.

- The U.S. team was a "bunch of college kids."  Indeed they were, in the truest sense, a bunch of amateurs (as they were supposed to be).  Many of the Soviets were considered part of the military to "prove" they were working to provide for themselves and not being paid for hockey.  All of the U.S. team were fresh out of college, with the exceptions of Buzz Schneider and Mike Eruzione, who had both played some minor league hockey (Schneider had played on the 1976 team).

- The same Soviet team beat the U.S. 10-3 in an exhibition before the Olympics.  Yowza.

Arguments For 2010 U.S. v Canada

- The 1980 Soviet team was in a transitional period.  A little summary of Soviet hockey history: in 1980, the Soviet team was experiencing a virtual changing-of-the-guard.  Those dominant teams of the 1970s were aging (the average # of pro games after the Olympics for Soviet greats Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, and Vladimir Petrov before retirement?  39), and in fact had been playing at about 2/3 of their peak production for the 3 seasons 1978-79 to 1980-81.  The future Soviet greats, Slava Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Sergei Makarov, and Vladimir Krutov, were very young (average age - 20) and not at their peaks, either.  Makarov was close, but the other two were years away (Note: the famed KLM line, including Krutov, Larionov, & Makarov, was not even an idea at the time).  The players that were still playing at a world-class level, including Petrov, Helmuts Balderis, and Vladislav Tretiak, were not as numerous as in previous Olympics.

- The 1980 U.S. team's talent is understated.  First of all, of the 18 skaters, 15 had been drafted by NHL teams or both NHL and WHA teams (most in the first 3 or 4 rounds).  No less than 10 would be in the NHL within a year.  College kids?  Yes.  NHL-ready?  Yes.  If you want to evaluate the Soviet team's talent by the future accomplishments of the players, then you cannot deny the high level at which Mike Ramsey, Dave Christian, Mark Pavelich, Ken Morrow, Mark Johnson, Steve Christoff, and Neal Broten played in the most talented league on Earth.
Oh, and the 1980 U.S. team won the gold medal, which I think means they might have played at a high level in the other games, too.

- Tretiak was pulled, Brodeur was not.  The classic Soviet argument was that Tretiak should not have been pulled.  And I've yet to come across someone who has reasoned that to not be a mistake.  The fact of the matter is that his replacement, Vladimir Myshkin, was not particularly good, in part because the Soviets never intended for him to play.  Brodeur, like Tretiak one of the best if not the best goaltender of his era, played the entire game.

- The "systems" argument is a wash.  The Soviets had a great system; so did the U.S.  Nine of the members of the U.S. team were former Brooks understudies at Minnesota, and as a team they played 55-65 games together.  The 2010 Canadian and U.S. teams have, in general, not had the time together to perfect a system the likes of which was seen in 1980.

- The results are inconclusive as to whether the Soviets were actually the best team in the world at the time.  They may have been the favorites at the Olympics, but they had not consistently shown the ability to defeat the best NHL teams.  Many of what were dubbed the "Super Series" games were played against middling to poor NHL teams (in part because the better NHL teams were afraid they would lose).  In general, Soviet teams compiled a 61.5 winning percentage in the Super Series spanning from 1976 to 1991. On the other hand, two years before and after the 1980 Olympics, the Soviets record was hovering around 50 percent (against mostly middling and poor NHL teams, mind you).  As mentioned before, they were in transition.

- The 2010 Canadian team boasts 1 to 2 (if not 3) of the top 5 players in the world at every position. Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, Duncan Keith, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla...the Soviets could not have made a similar claim in 1980.

- The 2010 U.S. team would be lucky to have 1 to 2 of the top 10 players in the world at any position.  In general, the comparisons to the above list are Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, and Ryan Miller.  And that's about it. Let's put it this way...among Canadian forwards, seven have produced .95 points per game over the last 3 NHL seasons.  The U.S.?  One (Parise).  The average PPG for Canadian forwards is nearly one point-per, while the Americans sit at a meager .72 PPG.  Even defensively, the disparity is drastic: the 3-year average adjusted +/- for the Canadians in the NHL (which compares a player's +/- to his team's +/-) is nearly two times higher than the Americans.

As you can probably see, I have thought about and crunched numbers for this.  While I think the backlash against those comparing 2010 to 1980 for shallow reasons is qualified, I also think that a closer look could actually draw the nature of the upsets a bit closer.  In sum, the 1980 Russians were a tad mythologized, the 1980 Americans a bit too cheekily "underdogged", and the disparity between the 2010 teams too easily dismissed.  The 1980 game will never be matched for context, but "sacredness" of the upset itself could definitely be challenged by the amazing game played by the U.S. team a couple of nights ago.

P.S.  Behind the Net's Gabriel Desjardins commented on some of these same ideas this morning (2/24) with a little different tack.
P.P.S.  And apparently Neate Sager of Yahoo's Fourth Place Medal is taking up the cause, as well.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Olympic's Forgotten: Olympic National "2nd" Teams

Brian Burke, the GM of Team USA was recently quoted as saying that Team Canada could be competitive in the Olympics if they sent their second team, or their second twenty. This got me thinking about the relative depth of each team and how much talent each country left at home during the Olympics. Only the U.S. and Canada are full of NHLers, but there are some NHL Players from Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, and Sweden that are all watching these games just as you and I are. So, what would Canada’s second twenty look like? What about the U.S.? Who from the other teams is sitting at home watching these games?

Canada’s second twenty:

Jeff Carter (27G, 25A) of Philadelphia was obviously the most publicized omission from this team, as he was the one player who was asked to come to Vancouver in the event that Ryan Getzlaf could not go. The Tampa Bay Lightning could have fielded one line for Canada’s B-Team. Martin St. Louis (22G, 49A) and Vincent LeCavalier (15G, 40A) are veterans for Team Canada who did not get the call this year, and newcomer Steven Stamkos (35G, 35A) is likely to be donning a Maple Leaf on his sleeve at future Olympic games. Brad Richards (17G, 49A) from Dallas staged a serious candidacy for the games in Vancouver as well. Patrick Sharp (19G, 33A) of the Blackhawks has turned into an effective NHLer as well. Shane Doan (17G, 30A), a seasoned veteran has probably done enough to make the B-Team as well. The rest of the forwards would probably be made up newcomers, including Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows (26G, 25A), New Jersey’s Travis Zajac (19G, 32A), Montreal’s Mike Cammalleri (26G, 22A), Florida’s Stephen Weiss (21G, 27A), and Edmonton’s Dustin Penner (24G, 23A). Add seasoned veteran Ray Whitney (19G, 29A) from Carolina to wear the “C” for Canada’s B-Team and you’ve got some serious goal-scoring potential from Canada’s second team. Interestingly—Paul Statsny who is wearing the Red, White, and Blue but was born in Quebec would have to be a candidate for Canada’s B-team as well.
Sharp - Carter - Doan
Stamkos - LeCavalier - St. Louis
Cammalleri - Richards - Penner
Burrows - Zajac - Whitney

On defense, you would have to consider Mike Green (14G, 46A) from Washington, as one of the leading candidates, although he technically plays left wing. Chicago’s Brian Campbell (6G, 29A) would probably be his counterpart on the powerplay, peppering goalies from the point. The team would likely include Phoenix’s Ed Jovanovski (10G, 19A) and Dallas’s Stephane Robidas (10G, 23A). Add Boston’s Derek Morris (3G, 22A), Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf (10G, 14A), and Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester (2G, 21A) and you’ve got a very respectable set of blueliners. Canada has many other blueliners that would challenge for this team.
Green - Bouwmeester
Phaneuf - Robidas
Jovanovski - Morris

In net, Canada could have the potential of taking a hot hand, like Ottawa’s Brian Elliott (2.59GAA, .910 Sv %) but I think Yzerman would go with the guys that have been doing it longer. Likely candidates would include Dallas’s Marty Turco (2.63GAA, .915Sv %), Carolina’s Cam Ward (2.32GAA, .913Sv%). Nashville’s Dan Ellis (2.59GAA, .913Sv%), St. Louis’s Chris Mason (2.53GAA, .912Sv%), and youngster Carey Price from Montreal (2.81GAA, .911Sv%) would duke it out for the last spot—advantage Ellis, he’s been at it a bit longer than the other guys.

Overall, Team Canada B is good enough to challenge for a medal and if Ward gets hot like he truly can and Green remembers that he actually has some defensive responsibilities, this team could win it all.

USA’s second twenty:

                The U.S. doesn’t have quite the hockey depth that team Canada does. Yet, there are still some guys that can light the lamp including Buffalo’s Tim Connolly (14G, 41A) and Columbus’s R.J. Umberger  (19G, 23A). Montreal’s Scott Gomez (10G, 32A) has been successful for a long time in the NHL, he would likely play alongside his longtime teammate Brian Gionta (17G, 14A). The rest of the forwards would be filled out by steady NHL second/third liners like the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo (13G, 27A), Carolina’s Matt Cullen (12G, 28A), St. Louis’s T.J. Oshie (13G, 23A), Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk (13G, 19A), Nashville’s David Legwand (10G, 22A), Rangers Brandon Dubinsky (13G, 18A), Boston’s Blake Wheeler (13G, 18A), and Anaheim’s Jason Blake (11G, 18A). NHL Veteran and Pittsburgh Penguin Bill Guerin (17G, 21A) would like have the “C” sewn on his sweater.
                Umberger - Connolly - Okposo
                Van Riemsdyk - Gomez - Gionta
                Oshie - Dubinsky - Guerin
                Blake - Cullen - Wheeler

                On the blueline, the team would be anchored by Phoenix’s up-and-comers Keith Yandle (10G, 20A), and Buffalo’s Tyler Myers (8G, 24A). Alex Goligoski (6G, 20A) from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia’s Matt Carle (4G, 22A) would likely pull on a red, white, and blue sweater as well. Washington’s Tom Poti (3G, 18A), Los Angeles’s Rob Scuderi (0G, 9A), and Carolina’s Andrew Alberts would likely fill out the team (2G, 8A).
                Yandle - Myers
                Goligoski - Scuderi
                Carle - Poti

                In net, the Americans would likely not have the luxury of picking a guy in net that has a long and storied history in the NHL. When there isn’t a guy that has consistently done it for a long time, you might as well roll the dice on the guy that’s doing it well now. I would hitch my horse to Colorado’s Craig Anderson (2.42GAA, .924Sv%), Detroit youngster Jimmy Howard (2.2GAA, .927Sv%), and I would hope that veteran Rick DiPietro from the Island (2.60GAA, .900Sv%) could be a steadying influence on these inexperienced netminders.

                This team would probably be able to beat the lesser-teams in the Olympics, Germany, Switzerland, et al., but would likely not be competitive against the top-tier teams like Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, and Canada.

Watching at home on the local Prague telecast:

While the Czech Republic has brought us lots of talented NHLers, not many guys can be more disappointed to be left off their national team than the Ranger’s Vinny Prospal (14G, 33A). Phoenix 20-goal scorer Radim Vrbata (20G, 17A) was also left off the Czech team. Up front, Columbus’s Jakub Voracek (9G, 25A) and Florida’s Michael Frolik were also disappointed (13G, 19A). On the blueline, the Czech passed up stalwarts like Montreal’s Roman Hamrlik (6G, 19A) and teammate Jaroslav Spacek (3G, 16A). In net, the only Czech goalie who has logged a noticeable amount of minutes in the NHL that was left off the national team is Washington’s backup Michal Neuvirth                          (2.75GAA, .914Sv%).
This team would likely struggle with some depth in net and on the blueline.

Finnish Forgottens:

                Up in Helsinki, Jussi Jokinen (23G, 26A) from Calgary is wondering why he was left off the blue-and-white. Other than that, the Finnish forwards represent the highest point-scoring forwards of all Fins in the NHL. On the blueline, Anssi Salmela from Atlanta (2G, 5A) could be considered, but it’s pretty unlikely. In net, Pekka Rinne from Nashville (2.80GAA, .902Sv%) and Antti Niemi from Chicago (2.16GAA, .913Sv%) are likely wondering why they were left off the team.
                Finland picked a team based largely on statistics and any blue line that is lead by Anssi Salmela is poised for trouble against the big guns.

This is Bolshevik!

                Russia probably made the most news by loudly proclaiming that there team would be equal parts NHL and KHL. In the end, the forwards were mostly made up of NHLers, but the point remains— Russia was willing to pass on the NHL talent (they did surprisingly take Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Semin, Malkin, and Datsyuk, though). Ottawa’s Alexei Kovalev (32G, 31A) is likely the first victim of this policy, as he was inexplicably left off the national team. The Kings’ Alexander Frolov (13G, 24A) was also cut from the Motherland’s team. The presence of Russian blueliners in the NHL is rather sparse, yet Dmitry Kulikov (3G, 10A) from Florida would have still liked the shot to play for his nation. In net, only one netminder who has played in the NHL was left off the national team, Pittsburgh’s Alexander Pechurski (1.67GAA, .923Sv%), although he has only played one game.
                Kovalev is the one guy who was obviously overlooked, this team would struggle to keep the puck out of their own net.

Sorrowful Slovaks

                Colorado’s Marek Svatos (6G, 4A) was left off the Slovakian national team up front, as was Boston’s Miroslav Satan (3G, 3A), although both players are not living up to their previous goal-scoring prowess. On the blueline, only Boris Valabik (0G, 2A) from Atlanta is the lone Slovakian NHL Defensemen to play and not get an invite from the national team.
                I don’t think I want to see what Svatos, Satan, and a bunch of other Slovaks can cook up—this team would likely struggle against the German national team.

Other Considerations from Stockholm

                What more could Columbus’s Kristian Huselius (17G, 30A) and Vancouver’s Mikael Samuelsson (21G, 19A) have done to make the Swedish National Team? Atlanta’s Niclas Bergfors (16G, 15A) is also due an explanation among the leading forward candidates. Columbus is also probably scratching their heads as to why Anton Stralman (6G, 23A) was left off the blueline as well. Vancouver’s Alexander Edler (2G, 26A) is also having a heck of a season and is worthy of consideration. No Swedish goaltenders other than the three selected for the national team have been logging consistent minutes between the pipes.
                The Swedes could field a second team that wouldn’t stand a chance at medaling but is probably good enough to play in the Olympics. Take the Swedish B-Team in a squeaker over Norway 5-4 in a shootout.

P.S. This is another Weagz's post, as he has obviously not taken the kind of stance that I have on the Olympics.  Great stuff, comment away!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Obligatory Olympics Post

I'm going to be honest, I don't catch the fever of the Olympics as much as other people do.  In general, I come to respect players and team styles so much my allegiances get absolutely discombobulated when they are on teams I'm not or not supposed to root for.  I think the dilemma is clear in my case, as I like my New York Rangers...

...okay, okay, let me defend that quickly.  I love hockey, first and foremost, and my liking of the Rangers is not so fierce so that I'd say ridiculous things like "Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the NHL" or "My life began in 1994."  To be honest, my Rangers fan-dom began with the decision to make Mike Richter their starting goalie.  My parents and I were huge fans of Richter from his Badger days (parents are both alum; I bleed Badger cardinal*), and so the Rangers became my team.  It became much easier after the Cup.

Now that I'm off the tangent, nowadays while I'm supposed to cheer the US team I can't help but root for Sweden because of Lundqvist.  And then I see Tomas Holmstrom and decide I want them to lose.  Badly.

Anyways, long story short I just watch hockey straight-up and can hardly decide whether I'm happy or unhappy with the results.  A lot of times, I'll just try to catch highlights, because they're pretty.

This doesn't make me cold-hearted or unpatriotic (is not liking the Olympics unpatriotic?).  I kind of liked it more when it was mostly amateurs; you had more unlikely heroes, prospects you might have never seen, and interesting goalie equipment (see cards above).  To tell the truth, the biggest kick I receive out of the "professional" Olympics hockey today is identical to the kick I get out of the old ones: highlights and goalie equipment.  For instance, the wonderful array of goalie masks these days:

Henrik Lundqvist - Sweden 

Martin Brodeur - Canada

Ryan Miller - USA

Evgeni Nabokov - Russia

Tomas Vokoun - Czech Republic

Marc-Andre Fleury - Canada

Now this screws my allegiances completely, because Vokoun and Nabokov's masks would get me rooting for the Czechs and the Motherland.

So this is my post recognizing that I cannot avoid comment on the Olympics (because everybody else seems to be on-board for it), but also explaining my lack of animated banter and witticism.  It's also my opportunity to put up a card of The Net Detective (didn't think I'd let the Jim Carey opportunity slip away, did you?), who like Mikey also played on the Badgers.  In the end, I'm just so meh about the Olympics that I'm more inclined to leave it to a different, more enthusiastic member of the crew (here's looking at you, Weagz!) to take the reins.

In the meantime, I'll be cheering for everyone, Latvia and Norway included.  On Girts, on Per-Age, on Martins, Morten, and Jakobsen!

P.S. Norway features one of the best names in hockey history, Tore Vikingstad.  It's almost as good as Petr Pohl and would look awesome on a Norwegian national team jersey.

P.P.S.  Sorry to any speakers of Latvian or Norwegian that I couldn't find proper accent marks.  I know some of these are technically spelled wrong.  Same to French and Russian speakers.
P.P.P.S.  Happy Valentine's Day!  That was also obligatory.
P.P.P.P.S.  Found a picture of Vikingstad.  Woof.
When brows unite.

*True story: my mother went to Skate with the Badgers, a promo event where you skate...well, you get the idea.  Anyway, she got a picture with Mikey where she's pinching his cheek.

Power Rankin's (week of 2/15/10)

The Olympic break will give most of the league a well-earned respite for the next couple of weeks. But for now, I give you what you've all been waiting for for 7 whole days, The Power Rankin's - Vancouver Olympics Edition!

The Caps stumbled ever so slightly during the past week after a run bested in the modern day only by the 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins' 17-game win streak. Although the West's top teams could not capitalize to take over the top spot in the Rankin's, the top 3 positions in this week's edition are as close as we have seen them, statistically-speaking.

The Philadelphia Flyers take home this past week's Big Mover award, entering the Olympic Break on a 4-game winning streak and impressing with back-to-back home-and-home sweeps over New Jersey and Montreal. Calgary, on the other hand, fell 5 spots as teams like Ottawa and Philly surged.

Phoenix remains the only team in the NHL to hold a top-10 position in all five component indices of the Power Rankin's. San Jose, however, has crept up to grab the #1 overall spot in the Strength of Victory, Strength of Loss, and Goaltending Quality categories. Throw in Los Angeles, which ranks out of the top 10 in only Goaltending Quality, and Anaheim's and Dallas' battles for the final playoff spot in the West (currently straddling the playoff positioning bubble at 16 & 17 in the Power Rankin's, respectively), and you've got a Pacific Division that really sets up for an exciting finish.

1) (1) Washington
2) (4) San Jose
3) (2) Phoenix
4) (6) Colorado
5) (3) Chicago
6) (5) Los Angeles
7) (7) Buffalo
8) (8) New Jersey
9) (9) Vancouver
10) (12) Ottawa
11) (11) Nashville
12) (16) Philadelphia
13) (15) Detroit
14) (13) Pittsburgh
15) (10) Calgary
16) (14) Anaheim
17) (17) Dallas
18) (20) St. Louis
19) (22) Boston
20) (18) Minnesota
21) (19) Montreal
22) (21) Atlanta
23) (25) NY Rangers
24) (23) Tampa Bay
25) (24) Florida
26) (26) NY Islanders
27) (28) Columbus
28) (27) Carolina
29) (29) Edmonton
30) (30) Toronto

Projected 2009-2010 Final Standings (Olympic Break/3-Quarters Poll Edition)

Take an NHL team's up-to-the-minute season performance, weight its remaining games by its remaining strength of schedule, and throw in a time-weighted extrapolation of that team's much-noted "Last 10 Games" performance and what do you get? Projections of the 2009-2010 NHL Final Standings.

At just about this time last year, I was able to correctly project that St. Louis would make the playoffs using this formula - even when they hadn't shown so much as a glimmer of hope throughout the bulk of the season at that point. I'll continue to hang my hat on that successful prediction for advertising's sake. This year, putting the Thrashers in at #8 in the East comes close, however they are only 2 points out of that spot as it is - speaking more to the erratic play of the Eastern Conference's middle tier teams than anything Atlanta itself has accomplished.

Eastern Conference
1) Washington Capitals (122 pts.; Southeast Division Champion; President's Trophy winner)
2) Ottawa Senators* (107 pts.; Northeast Division Champion)
3) Pittsburgh Penguins (102 pts.; Atlantic Division Champion)
4) New Jersey Devils (97 pts.)
5) Buffalo Sabres (95 pts.)
6) Philadelphia Flyers (94 pts.)
7) Boston Bruins (89 pts.)
8) Atlanta Thrashers (86 pts.)
9) Tampa Bay Lightning (85 pts.)
10) Carolina Hurricanes (84 pts.)
11) Montreal Canadiens (82 pts.)
12) New York Rangers (80 pts.)
13) Florida Panthers (73 pts.)
14) New York Islanders (68 pts.)
15) Toronto Maple Leafs (63 pts.)

Western Conference
1) San Jose Sharks (115 pts.; Pacific Division Champion)
2) Chicago Blackhawks (114 pts.; Central Division Champion)
3) Vancouver Canucks (100 pts; Northwest Division Champion)
4) Los Angeles Kings (110 pts.)
5) Phoenix Coyotes (104 pts.)
6) Colorado Avalanche (97 pts.)
7) Nashville Predators (92 pts.) -- tie-breaker over Dallas via wins
8) Dallas Stars (92 pts.)
9) Anaheim Ducks (89 pts.)
10) Calgary Flames (89 pts.)
11) Detroit Red Wings (89 pts.)
12) Minnesota Wild (88 pts.)
13) St. Louis Blues (86 pts.)
14) Columbus Blue Jackets (79 pts.)
15) Edmonton Oilers (56 pts.)

*Note: On September 29th, 2009, I emailed my fellow Bettman's Nightmare bloggers and took Ottawa to win the Northeast (purely based upon my exceptional hockey insight, rather than the formulaic predictions above).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Larry's Gone, Curly's In, and the Moe's are Incumbents

So the Rangers really think about their deals...

Brashear was waived a day ago...yay.  Glen Sather begins to make sense.  Hell gets a little chilly.

Glen Sather, uncomfortable in his newfound logic, wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and (later on) can't figure out why Jim Schoenfeld keeps laughing at him:

Frustrated, Slats does what he always does when Schoener laughs at him: he effs up Schoener's future team.  As Emeril Lagasse would say, "Bam!":

Sharks get:
- conditional 6th round draft pick (could become a 5th)

Rangers get:
- Jody Shelley

Awesome.  One gray-balled goon out, a new gray-balled goon in.  We're so tough.

Thought of the Day

Jonathan Cheechoo circa 2006:

Jonathan Cheechoo circa 2010:

It is a long way down from the top.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kari Lehtonen Gets Traded: Don Waddell is Proud of Himself

In the words of Walter Sobchak: "Alriggghhhtt!  Way to go, Donny!"

But seriously, just when I was ready to pass Waddell off as the dullest marble in an unimpressive bag (let's be honest, there are a lot of dolts running teams nowadays) he "totally redeemed [him]self."  I'm exaggerating, really, but there's enough for the Thrashers to like here.

Thrashers get:
- Ivan Vishnevskiy
- 4th round pick

Stars get:
- Kari Lehtonen

There will be some that say the Thrashers gave up on a franchise goalie, but the risks for Lehtonen are there, too.  He hasn't played a full season in a few years, he's been good but not great when he did play, and frankly the Thrashers have bigger fish to fry.  They need to overhaul this team and distance themselves from the all-offense, no-defense past.  The return is solid: as according to Puck Daddy, Vishnevskiy was the top Stars defensive prospect, and has had a decent year so far in the AHL (51 games, 24 points, +4 at age 21).  He's a little smallish, but plays a pretty good physical game without taking too many penalties.  In general, a former 1st rounder and a great building-block for this team.  The draft pick is generally a lottery ticket deal by the fourth round (boom-or-bust); in a sense, Lehtonen is a bit of a lottery ticket himself.  Not saying they're equal, but it helps cushion the blow.

So here's to what appears to be a rebuilding effort by the Thrashers.  By the by, I've got this damn song in my head, so I'm throwing it down here to disperse my misery.  Enjoy calm Germans:

P.S. I'm proud to say I understand what they're saying; I took 3 years of German.  We are the robots, indeed.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I reiterate: The Code is Dead

In the "good ol' days," this fantasy called "The Code" supposedly protected superstar players and provided the ability for players to police themselves on the ice. If there was ever any truth to that thought, that day is long gone.

Now, I wouldn't say myself that Jeff Carter is a superstar, but he's not bad. Yet, in Monday night's action against New Jersey, he did illustrate yet another facet of why "The Code" in hockey is dead - if it ever existed at all beyond a providing a reason for bloodthirty neaderthal hockey fans to scream and shout in support of fistfights. You see, Jeff Carter would be one of those players that opponents wouldn't be allowed to hit without enduring retribution. However, when Jeff Carter himself delivers a targeted shot to Anssi Salmela's hat rack, he proves that the idea of self-policing in order to protect superstar players is an antiquated notion - the superstars themselves are delivering the knockout blows these days (literally).

But then again, it could simply be that Philadelphia is made up entirely of goons that collectively just happen to have some semblence of hockey skills. Yeah, that seems a far more likely explanation.

P.S. I'm embedding a video replay of the hit --- Matteau:

Thought of the Day

We all know that Kronwall is a bit of a "cheap-shot artist," thus this delicious video of futility makes it, as Robert Downey, Jr. once said:

"Total, total, totally, providence."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Power Rankin's (week of 2/8/10)

First, if any of our millions of loyal readers are looking to hire an economist with boatloads of macroeconomic modeling expertise and international operations management experience, I'm your man.

The Capitals remain the unstoppable tide. Sunday's game against the Penguins demonstrated that no matter how badly things may seem for them during a game, they have the potential to storm back and make you look absolutely silly. Usually, my default position is to go with solid goaltending as the road to Lord Stanley's cup. This year, however, I'm willing to ignore convention and award the thing to The Great 8 and, with his recently inheriting the "C", what is now his crew.

Los Angeles deserves special mention this week as well. Having put together their own nine-game winning streak, the Kings get this week's Big Mover award, vaulting up the Rankin's four spots to crack the top 5, passing the likes of New Jersey, Vancouver, and Buffalo along the way.

The Atlantic Division as a whole continues to slide, and Dallas and Tampa Bay continue to scratch and claw their way about the middle of the pack as they attempt to keep post-season hope alive.

1) (1) Washington
2) (2) Phoenix
3) (3) Chicago
4) (4) San Jose
5) (9) Los Angeles
6) (6) Colorado
7) (5) Buffalo
8) (8) New Jersey
9) (7) Vancouver
10) (15) Calgary
11) (12) Nashville
12) (11) Ottawa
13) (10) Pittsburgh
14) (16) Anaheim
15) (14) Detroit
16) (13) Philadelphia
17) (18) Dallas
18) (17) Minnesota
19) (20) Montreal
20) (19) St. Louis
21) (23) Atlanta
22) (21) Boston
23) (26) Tampa Bay
24) (22) Florida
25) (24) NY Rangers
26) (25) NY Islanders
27) (27) Carolina
28) (28) Columbus
29) (29) Edmonton
30) (30) Toronto

A Pittsburgh Tradition

After watching the Steelers fall apart game after game in the 4th quarter during the 2009 season, it would really have been nice to tune in to see the Penguins play their respective sport hard for 60 straight minutes.

Pittsburgh's game against Washington on Sunday afternoon proved that to be a hollow dream.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Olympic Pain Points: Which Teams Stand to Lose the Most?

 As the Olympics start to rear their beautiful head, Lou Lamoriello (GM and Mr. Everything for the New Jersey Devils) has spoken out that he is a supporter of the Olympians. Obviously, there were some grumblings that the Devils were likely to struggle because they were sending too many players to the Olympics. Is Lou Anti-American—does he hate the Olympics? Who wouldn’t be a supporter of the Olympics? Well, we at Bettman’s Nightmare aim to explore that very question.

There is an assumption that players who play a lot in the Olympics are less likely to perform as well  as the season wears on. This assumption makes a lot of sense, because let’s face it; playing 82 games of puck is likely to wear on even the best of athletes. I agree that my guys would have more jump in their step if they used those 2.5 weeks off to relax, find their game, and get rid of those nagging injuries. Also, the Olympic organizers have made many concessions to satisfy the NHL, including an NHL-sized rink and fewer games.

At an initial pass, Lou has a reason to be perturbed with the Olympics set up, because his Devils are sending 6 players, whereas other teams (like the New York Islanders) are only sending 1 player. But, what is he complaining about? The Sharks are sending 8 players and several other teams are sending 6 and 7 players—so he surely isn’t alone. However, a closer look at the data shows that Lou has a leg to stand on. We have put together an Olympics Pain Point Scoring that looks at each team’s potential impact from their team’s involvement in the Olympics.

Here’s how it works. Goaltenders are the guys who are likely to face the biggest strain on their performance due to the Olympics because they play the most time. Defensemen are next and then Forwards would likely have the least impact from the Olympics. Additionally, if your NHL’s starting goaltender is likely to play in the Olympics, this is likely to have a bigger impact on your team than if the player in the Olympics is your back-up. Similarly, a player that is expected to be a starting goaltender for his National team is likely to face a bigger impact on his performance coming down the stretch. Thus, NHL Teams that have starting goaltenders that are expected to start in the NHL are already facing some serious fatigue issues coming out of the Olympics (Hiller-Switzerland-Ducks;  Miller-United States-Sabres; Kiprusoff-Finland-Flames; Vokoun-Czech Republic-Panthers; Halak-Slovakia-Canadiens; Brodeur-Canada-Devils; Lundqvist-Sweden-Rangers; Nabokov-Russia-Sharks).

Conversely, there are players who have been invited to the Olympics who do not even start for their team—this isn’t expected to have any impact on a team (Ole-Kristian Tollefsen-Norway-Red Wings; Andrei Kostitsyn-Belarus-Canadiens; Mikhail Grabovski-Belarus-Maple Leafs, just to name a few). The sum of all of the individual’s player pain gives the total pain-impact for the team.

NHL Teams
Total Pain
San Jose Sharks
New Jersey Devils
Vancouver Canucks
Anaheim Ducks
Detroit Red Wings
Montreal Canadiens
Atlanta Thrashers
Buffalo Sabres
Ottawa Senators
Boston Bruins
Pittsburgh Penguins
Tampa Bay Lightning
Minnesota Wild
New York Rangers
Calgary Flames
Florida Panthers
Chicago Blackhawks
Los Angeles Kings
Philadelphia Flyers
Nashville Predators
Washington Capitals
Phoenix Coyotes
Columbus Blue Jackets
Toronto Maple Leafs
Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars
Carolina Hurricanes
Edmonton Oilers
New York Islanders
St. Louis Blues

Now when you start to consider that the Sharks are sending 8 Olympians, including their entire starting 6, and 2 other guys that are expected to log heavy minutes in the Olympics—things could get dicey for the Sharks down the stretch.

Lou’s claims that he is pro-Olympics are obviously rooted in the fact that somebody caught wind of the fact that the Devils are sending most of their starting lineup to the Olympics and their stud goaltender—they are likely to not be as rested as teams in their division (also worth considering that Elias and Langenbrunner, two guys Lou would love to have in the lineup haven’t been and are likely to suit up in Vancouver). Of all of the Eastern Contenders, only the Sabres and the Senators are likely to face as much headwinds coming out of the Olympics (Montreal is not considered a contender at this point). In the west, things could open up for Chicago (who are sending a lot of players, but no goaltenders), Phoenix (who is only sending three players), and the Kings whose goaltender is listed as a third-stringer for the U.S. team.

We will revisit the Olympics Pain Points after the end of the season—stay tuned. 

P.S.  This is Weagz's inaugural post, resplendent with pictures chosen by the author.  Initially, I was going to suggest an extensive collage as the head picture: hindsight, it might have been too over-the-top.  Good stuff, Weagz!  --- Matteau