Hockey GBU 12-30-15: Flyers @ Sharks

Good: Joe Thornton was engaged the whole game and really dominated the affair.  Claude Giroux’s faceoff goal was a thing of beauty.

Bad: The amount of penalties in the game broke the flow considerably.

Ugly: Again, NBCSN (a national broadcast) utilized announcers that were clearly not impartial.  In this case, they syndicated the Flyer’s broadcast.  Now I understand that this saves money, but it is unbecoming nevertheless.

This was a decent tilt, although the sheer amount of penalties broke up the flow considerably.  Early in the game, the Flyers made the poor decision to try and antagonize Sharks center Joe Thornton.  The grizzled veteran subsequently proceeded to dominate and looked like the Joe Thornton of old scoring a goal and adding an assist to boot.

The former Broadstreet Bullies were assessed nine minor penalties in the game and were more or less dominated after the first period because of it.   Rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere in particular looked every bit his age tonight, as his two late minor penalties virtually ended any hope of a Flyers comeback.  Three Power Play markers by a dominant-looking Sharks PP were clearly the difference in this one.  Joe Pavelski netting two of those might be the league’s best  PP forward.  His ability to tip the puck and get open are almost unmatched.

You aren’t going to win many games taking that many penalties.  Clearly discipline was a problem tonight for the Flyers, but I’d argue that most of the penalties tonight were caused by the tremendous pressure of the Sharks forecheck and cycle game.  San Jose controlled the play and deserved the the victory tonight

Cliff Notes: San Jose was fully deserving of the victory and frankly the Flyers were lucky that the game was this close.


Hockey GBU 12-30-15: Flyers @ Sharks

Vatanen Needs to Go Through No Fault of His Own

The Anaheim Ducks on the whole are having a season to forget.  Virtually none of their players are performing up to the lofty expectations set before the start of the 2015-2016 campaign.

Offensive-minded defenseman Sami Vatanen is one of the few players on the roster performing above and perhaps even beyond expectations.  So far in just nineteen games, Vatanen has five goals and fourteen assists good for third overall on the team in terms of points.  This is partially due to his strong possession numbers where he is well over fifty percent on both CORSI and FENWICK.  He is also a minus 1, which does not sound impressive until you realize that Vatanen is also near the team lead on this stat on a team with a negative twenty-one goal differential.  As he has been his entire career, Vatanen is a top possessing player  So, far from being a liability on the defensive side of the puck, he is very solid and surprisingly physical for someone his size.

What the stats do not say though is the dynamism he brings to the table every single game.  He is an absolute gamer and you can always count on Vatanen to make things happen offensively.  This goal was basically orchestrated entirely by Vatanen’s speed and skill.  Not many defenseman at all in this league are capable of such a play.  On a team bereft of creativity and scoring prowess, he is a very valuable piece indeed.

However, of course there is a catch.  The Ducks have a well known “internal cap” that is below the cap ceiling set by the NHL.  The current budget is about eight million below the cap ceiling likely near the self-imposed team cap.   With big long-term contract commitments to Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler and large contracts to under-performing players such as Clayton Stoner and Kevin Bieksa, the Ducks suddenly find themselves a bit strapped for dollars.  The cash they do have will likely go towards extensions.  The even younger Hampus Lindholm is due for a new contract as is enigmatic goaltender Frederik Andersen and up-and-coming skill forward Rickard Rakell among others.

Vatanen is playing incredibly well, but he might be pricing himself out because of it.  With the need for scoring dire in Anaheim, Vatanen might be the team’s best trade asset to utilize to acquire offensively gifted forwards.  The Ducks have the depth on defense (including top prospects Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore) to execute such a trade, although the long-term injury to recently extended Simon Depres is a concern.   With the team in such dire straits and the cap looking as it is, I’d be surprised if Sami Vatanen was still in a Ducks uniform in a years time.


Vatanen Needs to Go Through No Fault of His Own

If Arizona is Going to Work, It Won’t Happen in Glendale

There is a lot to like with the Arizona Coyotes.  It is a young team on the rise with budding stars such as Anthony Duclair and Max Domi.  Here’s another fact: Hockey unequivocally cannot and will not work in Glendale.

First a little history is in order.  In 2003, the Coyotes decided to relocate from the substandard designed-for-basketball America West Arena in downtown Phoenix in search of greener pastures.  The original plan was to move to an arena in Scottsdale (a location close to Downtown), but this fell through. Then came along this brand new arena in Glendale and ownership made the choice to commit to this suburb.  Now Glendale is a fair distance from Phoenix and it takes about twenty-thirty minutes to get there from Downtown Phoenix.  The lure of a new modern arena designed to accommodate hockey was too strong though.

It turned out to be a colossal mistake.  The team did enjoy a slight bump in attendance the first years in Glendale, but then took a nosedive both in terms of fan attendance and on-ice success.   It became difficult to justify the long commute from Phoenix to watch a team that was under-performing.  Even diehard Coyote fans will not make that trek to Glendale very often, especially on a weekday.   The whole thing is more akin to a complicated soap opera, but to sum it up eventually the team declared bankruptcy and the NHL was forced to step in and acquire the team in 2009.  Only in 2013 was a new owner found.

Attendance has been on the decline with an average of 13,345 tickets sold per game last season good for twenty seventh in the NHL.  The team is burning through money.  Last season in March, the team reported it lost just under twenty million dollars and it expects to lose more money this season.  The City of Glendale clearly was having some second thoughts about the lease agreement it signed that brought the Coyotes to Glendale. The city was subsidizing team losses in the millions of dollars on an annual basis.  Using a flimsy excuse that the Coyotes had “breached conflict of interest language in the agreement by hiring two former city employees to work for the team.”,  the City Council went so far as to cancel this legally binding lease agreement.   Ultimately facing lawsuits, the City Council agree to renegotiate the lease with a much shorter term expiring in only two years.  This virtually guarantees that the future of Coyotes hockey will not include remaining in Glendale.

By all intents and purposes, it is a beautiful arena, but it is just too far away from Downtown Phoenix.  A poll cited by Business Pulse declared that a plurality of hockey fans in Phoenix (44 percent) would gladly attend more games if the team was based in Downtown.  This is even an issue in hockey crazed Canada where attendance in Ottawa ranks in the bottom fifteen in the NHL in no small part thanks to its arena which is a significant distance from Ottawa proper.  There is no guarantee that hockey can work in Arizona.  But it sure won’t work in a city that is too far away from the fans and unwanted by the local government.  It’s time to end the experiment.



If Arizona is Going to Work, It Won’t Happen in Glendale

12/22 Kings-Sharks GBU

Good: Joe Pavelski did it again, it’s official – he is not a fluke. He is an elite goalscorer

Bad: Ehrhoff had a critical penalty in the third period that really cost the team the game.

Ugly: When you have two games play on a national network, it would be a good idea if the announcers for this game were neutral. It would be especially bad if the announcers you ended up choosing were away announcers and represented a smaller market. NBC once again – you suck at covering hockey.

It was a great game, just a reminder to me of why a competing team is not sustainable forever. There was a time in the recent past where a game between the Kings and the Sharks was like some wizened uncle schooling a child in a game of ping-pong or pool. Then the Kings started stealing some wins away from the Sharks. The Kings were on the rise and the Sharks did not get any better. Once 2013 and 2014 saw epic 7-game series between the two teams, everything changed. Every time the Sharks play the Kings now they have something to prove, and every time they win they are winning a little piece of the Stanley Cup away.

The Sharks are now on a growing list of teams that play the Kings this way. The Canucks, the Coyotes, the Blues and the Blackhawks too, they all play extremely competitive games with the team. A championship team that lasted long enough would eventually create enough rivals that no game would be an easy one.

Back to the game itself, the Kings almost ran the Sharks out with two early goals and an extremely strong forecheck. Credit to Deboer, the Sharks survived and had captured the momentum by the early stages of the 2nd period. The third period could have gone either way, but a pair of penalties that were both avoidable gave the Sharks two consecutive powerplays, which were easily scored upon to give them the win.

12/22 Kings-Sharks GBU

The Spectacle of the Spectacle: The World Junior Championships

Every year around this time the Canadian media becomes obsessed with a team of 17-19 year old boys and no, it’s not because they are an anglophone society (ha!), it’s because the IIHF World Junior Championships are the second most important international tournament, in the minds of Canadians, after the Olympic games. It’s that time where we get to hear Pierre McGuire do this:

Or this:

And unfortunately also this:

First let me say, from a hockey perspective, the WJC is probably the most over-analyzed event compared to its real-world consequences in the world of hockey. Occasionally there is a Jordan Eberle or a Ryan Ellis who makes his name in the tournament, but for every player like this there is a Dustin Tokarski or a Brayden Schenn for whom the tournament is the highlight of their careers. Instead I am much more fascinated by the sideshow that develops around these young adults. Here are some things I have observed about the spectacle of the spectacle.

  1. Canadians take this event effin’ seriously: It’s gold or bust. Actually let me scratch that – it’s zero losses or bust. The first thing I realized about the Canadian fans (from reading message boards) is that they are deeply committed to their team. To be honest, when I watch the tournament, I’m rooting for my team’s prospect to do well or for the Ducks’ prospects to do poorly. I’m no Canadian so I can’t speak with the authority of knowing about hockey-dad zealousness on the ground level, but this event represents everything about the insane pressure this country puts on its children at playing a sport. Luckily this pressure is matched by the fact that the Canadians have the most talented roster almost every year. Except in one key area…
  2. The Goalies are Always Screwed (for Canada): For some reason Canada does not produce a number of elite goalies that corresponds with its talent level in other positions. This means that the team will occasionally have a down year, which really means that their goalie will be equal to the goalies of other nations. When you place this goalie behind a defense the result is that they will not see many shots, which means that there will always be a bad goal, somewhere along the line. The goalie (a 17-19 year old boy) becomes the focal point of hatred for an entire nationCheck out how Marc-Andre Fleury, Stanley Cup winner, let in the game winning goal way back in 2004. As if 30 million voices suddenly cried out in hockey-dad anger and were suddenly silenced by alcoholism/politeness.
  3. Politics Holds Back the Cold War Rivals: Let’s start at one end of the spectrum: the Americans and the Russians are very capable of underwhelming performances. The Swedes generally do well and the Canadians always medal (boohoo if it’s not gold), but sometimes the Ruskies and our own boys just don’t put out a great team. A huge part of it is politics. As the Canadians are very eager to remind us, every year some Americans and Russians are left off their respective national team for refusing to play in the appropriate national league (the USHL/NCAA for Americans and the VHL for Russians) and instead choosing to play in the Canadian junior system. This year the Americans are leaving off Jeremy Bracco and Connor Garland, who are putting up incredible offensive numbers, for political reasons (let me say that this doesn’t stop America from exceptional cases like Patrick Kane, who was playing in and destroying the OHL).
  4. The Little Guys Can Win: I am going to focus on two other countries: Finland and Switzerland. Neither of these countries is a talent powerhouse, although recently Finland has started to produce some pretty interesting players like Granlund, Barkov and Rantanen. Yet both of the national teams these countries put out are always well-prepared and ready to play a defensive style of game. For whatever reason these players, and their coaching staff, possess a cohesion that is lacked by the other countries. The fact that Finland medaled at all is a good achievement, but the fact that they secured gold in 2014 is a testament to the fact that talent is not always the most important factor for success. Switzerland has yet to medal recently, but they always keep games tight with the best of them despite having at best 1 or 2 NHL prospects on their squads.
  5. This Event is not Intended for Americans: I am a bit cynical about this event, so clearly I am missing something. This is because I am American – the event is of interest to an American as an opportunity to watch the next wave of great prospects play. For example, this tournament allowed me to see current NHL players like Doughty, Tavares and Carlson for the first time. Once my team stopped having enough elite prospects to place in the tournament it lost a lot of interest for me. Having followed the circus that the Canadians throw for this seeming exhibition series, I think I get it now. They see this as a serious competition. They see a gold medal at this tournament as a bragging point for the fact that their hockey system is indeed the best in the world. It isn’t good enough to win point to previous achievements. Even a single loss will allow other nations to besmirch the good name of Canadian hockey.



The Spectacle of the Spectacle: The World Junior Championships

The Re-build the Ducks Never Had

My first hockey memories as a fan were not my beloved Kings beating the rest of the league into submission the way they do now. In fact, my first hockey memories were not about the Kings at all, but about stupid little arguments with my high school peers about the Kings and the Ducks. I would try my best to argue that Blake and Visnovsky were indeed a superior pair to Niedermayer and Pronger. Then the Ducks won their cup in the glorious fashion and with a team that was similar in style to the Kings teams I saw win it.

This team was ill-fated from the moment that the next season began. Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer both sat out the first half of the season, and while they eventually returned, the Ducks never were consistently great after that. When they got rolling they were nearly unstoppable, such as when they nearly defeated the then champion Red Wings in a 2009 playoff series decided by a last minute goal.

For whatever reason, the Ducks ownership was unable to financially support the team like they did in the glory years (and this may have something to do with the legal issues of Samueli following the win). It felt like Pronger left for this reason, and once he and Niedermayer were gone, it was quite clear to everyone that the Ducks were going to be in for a long rebuild.

Rather, it was clear that they should have gone for a long rebuild.

Instead of cutting the budget further and trading assets away for draft picks and prospects, the Ducks decided to bolster their lineup with the likes of Visnovsky, Koivu and Kesler. They hired Bruce Boudreau to supercharge the team’s offense as he did in Washington. They even went a year without a direct AHL affiliate. It worked – the Ducks were at the top of the Western Conference with relatively little talent, at least in terms of name recognition.

From a roster perspective there were two related problems with the team. They never had great depth and they never paid up to keep depth players. Without building up a large amount of prospects and picks they never had enough currency to acquire a great depth player until the Ryan Kesler trade, which was only possible when the Ducks traded away the superior player in Bobby Ryan. Fans I know have praised Bob Murray for being a shrewd GM, but not overpaying for a veteran using young players is a sign that the cupboard is too bare. When the Ducks did find good depth players, too many like Perreault and Palmieri were lost for future picks or nothing at all.

With a decent group of prospects lead by Theodore and Ritchie the Ducks might have been able to add depth this year. The weight of their previous years of mismanagement, however, had already forced the team to acquire Hagelin as a third liner and Bieksa as a top-4 defenseman. Combined with the poor show at the beginning of the season, the commitment of salary to these players precluded the Ducks from making any sort of upgrade.

It could have worked out. And if you were the Ducks management, it would be very hard to justify wasting years of Getzlaf and Perry’s primes in favor of building up the depth of the entire team. I cannot help but feel that investment into the future during the window from 2010-2014, instead of operating in a win-now mode, would have paid substantial dividends. It’s hard to Getzlaf and Perry with a supporting cap not being a consistent cup contender, especially since the formula has already worked.

The Re-build the Ducks Never Had

Rumored Kopitar Extension A Good Deal for LA

According to reliable reports, the Los Angeles Kings are close to re-signing center Anze Kopitar to a new eight year contract in the ballpark of 9.75 million a year.

Now this contract will likely have its fair share of detractors.   After all, Kopitar will be in his late thirties when the contract expires surely past his prime.  The Kings already have a dearth of cap space and this contract will surely force LA into making some difficult roster decisions in the coming years.  Milan Lucic, for example, is having a stellar campaign and will require a new contract after this season.  Re-signing him would be a difficult prospect, to say the least, with this new Kopitar contract on the books.  It’s also true that his 2014-2015 campaign was not a good one, although I believe fatigue from endless playoff campaigns played a role in the King’s demise last season.

I would counter that Kopitar is absolutely worth it despite these valid concerns.  He has brought two Stanley Cups to LA and has a realistic shot of bringing a third one this season to the City of Angels.  He is one of the best number one centers in the game in my view.  A consistent 60-70 point player, he is extremely strong on the puck and yet possesses silky smooth hands.  His years of tutelage under Head Coach Sutter have made him elite defensively and well deserving of Selke consideration.  He earned a +/- 34 in the 2013-2014 season when LA won the Cup.     In other words, he is the total package.

I distinctly remember Anze Kopitar in his very first NHL game.  I watched in awe as I saw Kopitar blow by All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger and then roof it over a sprawling J.S. Giguere for his first national hockey league goal.   I knew then, just as I know now, that this is not a player you let go.

Teams such as the Anaheim Ducks (Getzlaf) and the Chicago Blackhawks (Toews) were harshly criticized for signing their respective number one centers to large multi-year deals at rates people assumed were too large.  In hindsight, both deals look excellent.  Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi understands just as those teams did that these types of players are quite simply irreplaceable.

It’s true that there will likely be a drop off in play at the end of the contract.  General Manager Dean Lombardi and the Kings likely won’t care though if Anze brings more Stanley Cups to Los Angeles.  The window is now open and this contract will keep it open a while longer yet.

Rumored Kopitar Extension A Good Deal for LA