Friday, May 31, 2013

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 San Jose Sharks

Is there need for a change in San Jose?? After their second-round exit this season, you have to wonder if the cogs that are in place now are actually going to be good enough to move forward and be successful. With a coach that has his job in the balance, you can bet that changes will be made in off-season to give the Sharks a chance....or to rebuild.

With one year left on Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture's contracts, you can bet those names-- especially the first two-- are going to be looked at to move. Granted, Thornton and Marleau both have No-Move Clauses, as well as Pavelski and Couture being the cornerstones of the future of the Sharks-- it's hard to believe any of them can and would be moved-- though you could always make a case for Marleau, who has his name in the trade rumors forever.

While Antti Niemi is holding down the goaltending duties, the question in net is whether or not Thomas Greiss will be re-signed or stay in the NHL at all. If Greiss, who is an UFA, doesn't choose to stay; the big deal would be to get someone as a back-up to Niemi who could shoulder the load for 10-15 games for next season and give the Sharks quality starts.

Defensively, Dan Boyle turned on his offensive prowess during the playoffs after a middling during the regular season, especially since Brent Burns was converted to forward-- the blue line needed a bigger punch. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was solid on the blue line despite not playing while the lockout happened. However, one guy who is making a name for himself is Matt Irwin, who has played well in the AHL and should make a nice transition as the next offensive producing defenseman once Boyle's contract expires.

While Doug Wilson said that Todd McLellan and his staff would be back for the 2013-14 season, who knows how long into the season they'll be still there, but a lot of that depends on the moves that the Wilson makes in the off-season. For the Sharks, they've always seemed to be the team that's ready to make a big push, but they fall short in the end. There's going to come a time where these results aren't going to be a enough and there will be a huge change.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Look at the NHL Trophy Baron

We all know about Phil Pritchard, the Keeper of the Cup. He's the guy who follows around the Cup wherever it goes, keeping a keen eye to make sure that nothing drastic happens to it. Whether it's photos ops of him strapping the Cup into a seat on an airplane or calling Peggy in order to actually get a seat-- Pritchard is a legend himself for being the secret service for the Stanley Cup.

However, what about the other trophies the NHL has-- who looks after them?? You're in luck, as in a TSOoA exclusive*, I got a one-on-one with the other Keeper of the Trophies-- Travis Uriac.

"Sure, Phil gets to go out and have all the fun with one trophy-- but think of what he could do with the rest of this silver hardware??" Uriac stated while he was in the corridor of the Hall of Fame's Esso Great Hall. "I feel a little more valuable than this guy. Granted, he actually gets to go around with the players, but who has to get his mail when he's gone, ya know??"

Uriac started with the Hall of Fame when he saw a listing on their website. They were looking for someone to overlook the Great Hall and he took it upon himself to be considered the keeper of the other trophies. While he's not officially that guy, the Hall of Fame really didn't have the heart to tell him that wasn't his primary function.

Notwithstanding, Uriac takes his job seriously. He looks after the trophies most every day and even accompanies them for the annual NHL Awards. That's when he feels that he has reached the peak.

"Look, it's not traveling all over the world, but I feel my job is the same scale. I have to make sure the guys don't do something crazy with them, make sure they to the venue in one piece, all that crap. Have you ever try to put a seatbelt on the Richard Trophy?? It's a pain in the ass." Uriac laments.

The travel within itself was something that has really hamstrung Uriac's life. At times, he has to look after at least five trophies that travel to certain events outside the Awards show-- like the All-Star Game and the Draft.

"It's cute that Phil has those photo ops with the Cup in First Class, but they don't see Rows 30 and 31 where I have to make sure all that silver is safe. It annoys the hell out of the flight attendants, especially when I have to bust out the silver polish for them. So what if the oxygen masks coming down, at least they're working-- I've got a job to do. So much easier to buy them a seat than it would be to check those trunks. These things aren't light-- and with the excess baggage fee and all that junk-- it's a when I use the polish in enclosed areas."

At least, with all those trophies, Uriac has to have some great stories of interaction with players.

"No, not at all," Uriac said looking at his feet. "They don't usually let me go with the players, but I tried a couple times. First was with the Calder-- Keeper of the Calder I called myself, and it was Patrick Kane back in '07. Honestly, I don't remember much of that, but we couldn't find the trophy for a few days after the the ceremony...and I'm not allow back at the Buffalo Zoo anymore either."

"There was a happening back in '11 when I decided that I should look after the Vezina Trophy. I called myself the 'Vezina 'Visor' trying to make something of that. But, apparently, no one told (Tim) Thomas. When I showed up to his house to take him the trophy and look after it; there were some awkward times just staring at him and then making sure the trophy was safe . Let's just say it ended when he called me 'big brother' and almost threw me out the door, but luckily I got out of his grasp."

As it stands now, the players-- as they usually do-- take a photo op with the trophies at the Awards show and then get some sort of replica of it later on. Uriac feels that doesn't have the intimate feel that he would like the other trophies to get from all the players. It won't stop him from keeping up with his passion, however. He still looks over the trophies in the Great Hall and make sure that people look at them, but don't do anything too rash for his liking.

"They're my kids, I wouldn't want strangers to completely go crazy with them. They can take a look, take some times have me take the picture for them...but you know, it's something that makes people smile and creates some memories. But, with the memories, I don't want them to taint the history they have by smudging fingerprints around the cases. It's a labor of love."

It's definitely a labor of love, as Uriac didn't actually tell us what the Hall of Fame is paying him and they have not returned my emails when it came to what they thought about Uriac's job and how they feel when it comes to his sometimes over-protection of the trophies. Though one worker of the Hall of Fame who chose to remain anonymous, said that Uriac is just a support player for the Hall of Fame and is very low on the seniority totem when it comes to actually taking care of the trophies, which is why he was suspended for a time for the 2011 incident.

Uriac has taken his lumps, but continues to forge on looking after the trophies. He has done his best in order to make sure that people are able to enjoy them and that the players who win them look after them and add to the legacy of the trophy. Some may say he has gone mad with the passion he has shown towards them, but at the same time-- to have that kind of passion for any job is quite admirable regardless of how over-the-top it may seem to the outsider.

"Phil might get the glory, the face time, all the cult following like he does-- I mean, have you seen his Twitter?? Have you seen my Twitter?? Me either, they didn't even give me one. I don't know how this works. Has something to do with phones or something, I don't know. All I know is that he gets all this and loves it, but most of us don't need to be out in front and take the accolades in order to be content with their life."

*This is obviously a parody. As far as I know, there's not one person who actually looks after the trophies outside of the staff at the Hockey Hall of Fame. It would be interesting if they assigned one person to actually travel around with them, but it's not a team thing like the Stanley Cup is. Having a guy in the award-winners house and making sure it stayed safe is pretty insane and creepy.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 New York Rangers

 From a top acquisition during the summer to a power play that went flat, the Rangers had the ups and downs this season, which a couple surprises coming through the way. Yet, even with one of the top goalies in the NHL today-- the Rangers fell short of their quest for the Cup.

Among the Rangers faithful, the big question is whether or not John Tortorella will be back next season. There are some decisions and personnel decision made that many fans didn't like. It remains to be seen if Glen Sather feels the same way the fans do-- which should come down sooner rather than later with the amount of coaching out there for the picking as it is. While the benching of Brad Richards in playoffs could be his last move, Tortorella brought a solid game plan for the Rangers.

As far as the summer move of acquiring Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets, it seemed to pay off instantly. Nash had a 20-goal and 42-point season in 44 games, which are solid numbers for an oft-injured player and someone coming from a team that was in a bit of peril in Columbus. More over, Nash may have awaken the offense of Derek Stepan, who was on pace for a career season in goals and points, as he was only three off the pace in goals and six off the pace in points for a shortened season. This is the combo that could take the Rangers in the right direction.

Henrik Lundqvist was another solid constant for the Rangers and it's not a surprise. It's just a shock that he can never be that "hot" goaltender to help lead the Rangers. He was almost that last season, but the Devils got in their way. If Lundqvist was able to get more support, however, that's what could fuel him. With the Rangers relying on Lundqvist so much, it is a bit wearing and gives little leeway for King Henrik to make a mistake.

And the defense is a major part in the Rangers playoff plan, mostly with their shot-blocking. While Ryan McDonagh did provide a lot of the defensive side, the lack of Marc Staal in the line-up may have hurt the Rangers in the second round series. Staal will be coming back and will probably produce just in the same way he is, as I don't think he will shy away much from dirty stuff in front of his own net.

There's always a hope of the Rangers when it comes to the season, but falling short could cost them a coach, which may screw up the entire progress they had built up in the past couple of seasons. However, with the core still being in tact for next season, that same mentality should be there and they shouldn't be lead too far astray. Broadway should be solid for next year's Rangers and if they can get a little more offensive in the playoffs, it could do them a world of good.

Absurd Goalie Monday: Adam Berkhoel

 After a week off, we get back to the swing of things with a short, but sweet career. This week's AGM had a cup of coffee with the NHL after a stellar college career. While he was in a carousel where he was thrown into the fray in a bad situation and really didn't get another look from the NHL teams in a serious manner. This week, the profile of Adam Berkhoel.

After spending his high school in Minnesota with the Stillwater Ponies, Berkhoel moved to the USHL to play for the Tri-Cities Vulcans; playing 45 games with a 25-15-7, then went 7-6 in 13 playoff games.

Berkhoel moved to the NCAA ranks starting in the 2000-01 season with the University of Denver Pioneers, playing in 15 games his first season and finished with a 7-6-1 record, while in the second season-- Berkhoel played in 18 games with an improved 12-4-1 record. For his junior season, Berkhoel played in 26 games and posted a 12-6-4 record. During his senior season, Berkhoel had a tremendous breakout-- posting a 24-11-4 record in 39 games and helped Denver get an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament where he helped lead the Pioneers to the National Championship. Berkhoel was named to the All-Tournament Team and Tournament MVP.

While Berkhoel was in college, he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, but in the summer of 2004, the Hawks moved Berkhoel to the Atlanta Thrashers. During the 2004-05 season, Berkhoel spent most of the time in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators and finished there with a 9-10-5 record, then going 4-1 in seven playoff games. Also that season, Berkhoel was moved up to the AHL for the Chicago Wolves for a game, losing the only game that he played in.

Berkhoel played in all three top pro leagues in North America during the 2005-06 season, spending most the season in Gwinnett at 15 games (10-4-1), then in Chicago for 11 games (3-6-0), finally; getting a call-up to the Thrashers for nine games (2-4-1). Berkhoel also had a 6-3 playoff record with Gwinnett.

Without a team for the 2006-07 season, Berkhoel played mostly in the ECHL with the Dayton Bombers, potting a 23-17-3 record, then going 12-10 in the post-season, losing in the Kelly Cup Finals. Despite the disappointing ending, Berkhoel was named ECHL Goaltender of the Year and placed on the ECHL First All-Star team. Also that season, Berkhoel played in the AHL for the Rochester Americans, finishing with a 2-3-0 record in six games.

Berkhoel was signed by the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 2007 and would play for the Grand Rapids Griffins in the 2007-08 and go 10-14-4 in 31 appearances. Moving to the 2008-09 season, Berkhoel moved to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, where he would appear in 28 games and finish with the 15-11-2 record. Berkhoel played with WBS again for the 2009-10 season, playing in seven games and had a 4-3-0 record. Most of the 2009-10 season, Berkhoel went 12-11-3 in 28 games with the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers. After the season, Berkhoel retired from professional hockey.

Post-playing career, Berkhoel went into the player representation game by being a player rep for Vaughn Hockey for goalies in the pro and college ranks to outfit them with the Vaughn gear.

Though it was only nine games of glory and he ended his career at the young age of 29, his college career is one to be remembered, especially for the University of Denver faithful. Short and sweet and he still kept in the hockey industry and very closed to the game.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

On the Topic Of the Colorado Avalanche 1st Overall Pick

 There's something to be said about the top three prospects in the NHL Draft all playing in the 2013 Memorial Cup Finals, which lead to the Halifax Mooseheads beating the Portland Winterhawks 6-4. Nathan MacKinnon had a hat-trick and two assists, Jonathan Drouin with five assists, and Seth Jones with only a goal to show.

With the joy of Twitter, it made people wonder whether or not the Colorado Avalanche will shy away from what they need most in Seth Jones's defense prowess for Nathan MacKinnon's scoring touch or even Jonathan Drouin's passing ability. Yet, if the Avalanche don't go for Jones-- then maybe they really should look at another rebuild of their front office after a couple of seasons because of it.

There is no denying that MacKinnon and Drouin are going to be studs wherever they land and it looks like it'll be Florida for MacKinnon and Tampa Bay for Drouin. However, when you look at the Draft, it should be more about necessity rather than desire of player to get. Jones is the player that the Avalanche need. They have little to nothing on defense now and they have a stockpile of forwards already. While Adrian Dater of the Denver Post is playing the "Who do you pick??" game with the stats on one game, the broader scope of things should have all signs point to Jones.

Though, with the changes that the Avalanche have made this off-season, bringing back a lot of former legends to make this team a force again-- there's always that off chance that the Avs would go for someone who's much more explosive and will garner a lot more attention than a solid defenseman like Jones. Scoring will always get people talking rather than a solid two-way game, which could sway the Avalanche's thoughts.

Even with all of that-- if the Avalanche don't pick Seth Jones with the #1 Overall Pick, they better make the playoff with MacKinnon in the first year or else they will be kicking themselves for not going with a defensive prospect who wants to play there and who could actually be the keystone to fix their defense.

Colorado will not outscore many teams, so while getting pucks in the net is great in theory-- they'd also have to find a way to keep them out, too. For a team who has let up an average of three goals a game in the past three seasons; it should be clear that the Avalanche need to get someone on that blue line to help out Semyon Varlamov keep the shooters at bay and maybe support in their own end a little bit.

Neither Jones or MacKinnon or Drouin will be the quick fix for the Avalanche. They are long-term project players who will be able to be an asset in time-- some quicker than others. However, if you need defense on your roster and you have a defenseman who is highly touted on the board-- why would you choose otherwise?? Sure, the one-on-one was a bit lopsided, but one game over an eight-month season does not a prospect's worth make.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thanks for Coming Out, 2013 Ottawa Senators

The last Canadian team is out of the NHL playoffs and they extend the Stanley Cup drought for the nation to 20 years. Of course, this Senators team as a 7th seed would have been one of the most unlikely teams out there to take the Cup, but even with an injury riddled roster through the season, they were still good enough to actually make the playoffs thanks to a big enough point lead built between themselves and others.

Yet, the biggest question will be whether or not Daniel Alfredsson will come back for one last hurrah. His actions after Game Four (picking up the puck at the end, doubting a comeback) were blown out of proportions (shock), but it could be the inevitable ending to a storied career of a franchise player. Sticking with the Senators through thick and very thin-- Alfredsson will probably leave, passing the torch to Jason Spezza and hoping that his body can hold up to taking that franchise tag.

Overall, though, this is a pretty young team with a lot of unknown names to those who didn't spend a lot of time studying the Northeast Division all that much. While Spezza, Kyle Turris, and Milan Michalek are recognizable names to most; the new breed of Cory Conacher, Colin Greening, and Jakob Silfverberg are going to start making a name and if Ottawa can hold onto them, could prove to be a huge home-grown revival for the team. Add Mika Zibanejad and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the mix of young guns and this is a team that's long as they stay together.

Defensively, this Sens team is Erik Karlsson's as he has been brought up well by Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar in order to get him accustomed to the NHL game. His quick adaptation (and healing powers) is something that will help him lead other young guys like Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch. Much like the forwards, the defense has a chasing of the guard coming, but luckily have the right parts in place in order to make it a smooth transition.

Goaltending is solid, with Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner being the tandem going down the road. One of the things will be how much time Lehner will get with Anderson healthy for a full slate of games. The development of Lehner has been up and down, but it seems it's finally settling in for now.

A young team that has somewhat overachieved in the last two seasons, but building blocks for the future is what the focus is on now. With Paul MacLean being a solid coach for the young guys, the Sens should be able to get even better, though they'll have a lot more competition in the new divisional setting.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Avalanche of Former Players Taking Over Colorado

The addition of Patrick Roy to the new look Colorado Avalanche front office just adds to the glory days look that started with Joe Sakic getting upgraded to a new position. Who knows how Peter Forsberg or Adam Foote fit into it, but you can be assured that if there was a spot and they were interested-- it'd happen. But does it really mean all the things will change and start going the Avalanche's way??

So long as Greg Sherman is there-- no, it won't. While they do look good with the old time names they brought back, Sherman's decision making is still going to be there and could really hamstring the team when all is said and done. Of course, the fact that he could be getting pushed out with all these moves may change the way he goes about free agency; but rest assured that if there's a hiccup, Sherman will be the next one to go as there's no one else to place the blame on in the old regime.

Sherman aside, Roy is going to be getting the Avs the press they have lacked in the past few years. Sure, the last time we saw Roy behind the bench in the NHL; he was traded to Colorado a few days later, but it helped the Avs become who they are. A big question is whether or not he'll be able to bring his success in the Major Junior ranks to the NHL stage. Of course, the team's age is perfect for his transition with the youth already on the roster and either Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnion, or Jonathan Drouin being plugged into the line-up next year.

Considering what both Brent Sutter and Dale Hunter have done with their transition from Major Juniors to NHL, Roy shouldn't have too much of a problem. A lot of his peers, including Foote and Hunter, have said that Roy's pedigree should allow him to do well in the NHL, regardless of the past incidents he has had behind the bench and in the media. That kind of passion will probably be more harshly criticized than it would be in the QMJHL, yet I don't think getting handcuffed is what Roy or the Avs would want to happen for it to all work out.

Not all reunions work out as they are supposed to. There are times where it falls flat and then it makes people wonder why it happened at all. Roy has been rumored to be the next guy to move to the NHL for a couple years, mostly linked to the Montreal Canadiens, and if he's as good as the anticipation-- he's going to provide the Avalanche with the boost they have needed since he and Sakic have left.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Midwestern Movement Coming For SPHL

With the purchase of the Peoria Rivermen, the Vancouver Canucks wasted no time in saying they wouldn't be using Peoria as their AHL base, leaving the area without a team and the Canucks looking for an AHL locale. However, with Peoria as a free agent, a market like that won't be without a minor league team for long....and they aren't. 

It was announced that Peoria, who will use the name Rivermen-- a copy-written name of the city, and the Central Hockey League's Bloomington Blaze will join up with the "Single-A" Southern Professional Hockey League. Yes, two teams from Illinois will be joining the SOUTHERN Pro League for the 2013-14 season. 

Of course, those not familiar with the SPHL can check out the "Better Know" piece I did as the NHL lockout happened. The odd part about this is not that both teams will be owned by the same people, but that these teams in the Midwest are looking at the SPHL as an option and hope that it could form a Midwest exile from the Central League, in hopes that Quad Cities, St. Charles, and other Midwest CHL teams will be disgruntled by the way the CHL is run and move over to that side of things. 

The branching out of the SPHL is something that is good for the league perception, but at the same time-- if the finances of a "Double-A" league is in doubt when it comes to including a team from Brampton, Ontario; you can bet that the SPHL, a much smaller financed league, will have some teams be in possible trouble with the inclusion of more further travel. 

(Unrelated, the Augusta Riverhawks won't play next season due to arena lease issues they have had.)

Whether or not this brings in more Midwest teams or expands the league or just alienates their founding franchises and the SPHL slowly turns into another Midwest based league like the United Hockey League or International Hockey League will remain to be seen. There's good ideas and bad ideas when it comes to all of this, but if nothing else; it shows a market like Peoria will go to anywhere to keep their team tradition alive and well, even if it does mean travelling through the Southeastern US. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

We Hardly Knew Ye, South(L)east Division

Regarded as one of the worst divisions in the history of hockey, if not sports, is now finished. The elimination of the Washington Capitals closed the chapter of the Southeast Division, something that many celebrated for being dead because most of the time these teams were only in the playoffs because they got at least one spot for actually winning the division, putting them in the 3rd spot (at least), many times points behind the 4th finisher.

But was that division as horrific as many people thought it was?? Since the division came about in the 1998-99 season, the Southeast Division sent two teams to the playoffs in eight of the 14 seasons it was around, it yielded only one President's Trophy winner (2009-10 Capitals) and two Stanley Cup Champions (2004 Lightning, 2006 Hurricanes). The Capitals, who were the only team not to move from their original location or be an expansion team, was the division winner seven times, Hurricanes three times, Lightning twice, with Panthers and Thrashers/Jets winning it once.

Now, to look how it looked in every year against the rest of the Conference for the Playoffs:

1998-99: Carolina Hurricanes: Seeded 3rd (Ranked 8th), Lost in First Round
1999-00: Washington Capitals: 2nd, Lost in First Round
                Florida Panthers: 5th, Lost in First Round
2000-01: Washington Capitals: 3rd (Ranked 6th), Lost in First Round
               Carolina Hurricanes: 8th, Lost in First Round
2001-02: Carolina Hurricanes: 3rd (Ranked 7th), Lost in Stanley Cup Finals
2002-03: Tampa Bay Lightning: 3rd (Ranked 5th), Lost in Second Round
               Washington Capitals: 6th, Lost in First Round
2003-04: Tampa Bay Lightning: 1st, Won Stanley Cup
2005-06: Carolina Hurricanes: 2nd, Won Stanley Cup
               Tampa Bay Lightning: 8th, Lost in First Round
2006-07: Atlanta Thrashers: 3rd (Ranked 5th), Lost in First Round
               Tampa Bay Lightning: 7th, Lost in First Round
2007-08: Washington Capitals: 3rd (Ranked T-7th), Lost in First Round
2008-09: Washington Capitals: 2nd, Lost in Second Round
               Carolina Hurricanes: 6th, Lost in Conference Finals
2009-10: Washington Capitals: 1st, Lost in First Round
2010-11: Washington Capitals: 1st, Lost in Second Round
                Tampa Bay Lightning: 5th, Lost in Conference Finals
2011-12: Florida Panthers: 3rd (Ranked 6th), Lost in First Round
               Washington Capitals: 7th, Lost in Second Round
2012-13: Washington Capitals: 3rd (Ranked T-4th), Lost in First Round

In summation: 13 times were lost in the first round, four times in the second round, five times in the Conference Finals, three times to the Stanley Cup, twice winning it. It's very ugly considering the differential that many of the seeded and rankings shows us. Most cases, all the teams would seemingly shoot for is to win the division in order to get to the playoffs rather than shoot for the 8th spot. While you had both in the sights, the easier thing was to hope for a collapse of your division rivals, which at times happened.

It wasn't the prettiest of divisions, it wasn't the most notable, it didn't provide too much excitement outside of who could come up with a better punchline for it. We're all probably better off with the realignment, but it did provide some kind of head scratching goodness come playoff stretch time. While it's not like they actually had a non-playoff team make the playoffs in that 3rd spot, it wasn't as if they deserved that high ranking-- even though they did lose more often than not when given that.

Pointless Playoff Prognostication: Second Round

Only got three right in the first round, which shows-- I know nothing. But I'll try again.


(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
Prediction: Senators in 7
Reason: The Senators are healthy, rested, and handled their first round match-up somewhat easily. The Penguins barely survived the Islanders and goaltending is in doubt.

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers
Prediction: Rangers in 6
Reason: Henrik Lundqvist is on point and the Rangers are a shot blocking sensation. While the Bruins are carrying high emotions, they are beatable.


(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
Reason: This last match-up of Norris Division rivals in the Conference should be a doozy, but the Hawks are a top team and the Red Wings could be easy prey for them.

(5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Prediction: Kings in 7
Reason: Both teams are hot and this could be the best match-up we see out there, but the Kings are out on a mission and the Sharks could very well be too rested for this Battle of California.

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 Washington Capitals

In a season that looked like it was lost in the first half of it, the Washington Capitals came back with a vengeance and should have been on pace for a strong Cup run. However, the scouting report of getting in front of the shots is something the New York Rangers took to heart and in almost a repeat of the 2009 series against the Penguins; a close played series ended with the Capitals being blown out in Game Seven.

A big part of this was how Alex Ovechkin, who was up and down with his own scoring, was shut down and really ineffective in most aspects. That's not to say he didn't show his worth, throwing his body around-- but that's not his job and regardless of what is to be said-- he didn't show up. Nicklas Backstrom said that his performance was embarrassing and when Joel Ward is the leading scorer in the playoffs-- you can say that the rest of the offense needs to heed this as a big wake-up call.

With Mike Green being injured and still being able to produce is a good sign for him personally, while John Carlson is still growing and a great asset, especially paired with Karl Alzner. Alzner is a RFA and if the Caps want to have a stalwart stay-at-home guy; they'd be wise to sign him before an offer sheet can happen. That money could come with Jeff Schultz's falling out with the organization and probably getting him amnestied out of his last year of his contract.

Goaltending should be a great duel, as Michel Neuvirth and Braden Holtby will be doing battle and considering they are both in DC for the next two years, it could be a great tandem or just a battleground for controversy. Not to mention, Philipp Grubauer coming up the pipeline, the Caps goaltending stockade is solid-- but is it enough to give them a solid Kolzig-esque presence??

If the Caps were to get a full year out of Adam Oates's system, it could be a solid year from start to finish for the Caps, should they all buy in. You could see how they bought in during the season and it worked wonders. It's a matter now of whether or not the Caps can actually get it done in the playoffs, something they haven't truly done since 1998.

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs

It was nine seasons since the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs and they almost made a huge comeback when they came back from down three games to one. They were up 4-1, but then it just all collapsed and the Leafs are left with questions on how to build from this rather than loom on it.

There's no doubt that James Reimer is the guy for the Maple Leafs. He's kept them in the games, he was able to help carry them through the season, and while he may not have stopped the last shot-- he was able to give the Leafs a chance in every game. Nothing will stop momentum more than if the Leafs were to trade for a goalie who could threaten his starting position.

Another big bright spot is the tandem of Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri, both who carried the offense of the Leafs, especially with Joffrey Lupul out with injuries during the season. James van Riemsdyk also was able to prove his meddle during the season, which should be solid when he gets a full season under his belt with the Leafs. To compliment those scorers is the grinders who are actually going provide a balance of mixing it up and potting some points here and there.

Defensively will be interesting to deal with this summer. Only Dion Phaneuf, J-M Liles, and Jake Gardiner are under contract and the Leafs could be able to upgrade or at least sign Cody Franson and then fill it out from there-- but for a team like the Leafs-- you know they'll probably gun for the top price free agent and hope that it works out-- though culture change could have come with Brian Burke out of the GM position.

Overall, it was a great season for the Leafs, albeit during a shortened season. The fans are back and they have life now, which should be annoying for most people out there dealing them, but to have that market back in the playoffs should be profitable for all that are involved. So long as they can close out a Game Seven with a three-goal lead, of course.

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 Anaheim Ducks

While it looked like they were primed to be a contender out of the West, the Anaheim Ducks met with the stalwart of the Western Conference in their last hurrah, as the Red Wings took them out in the full seven making the Ducks wonder how a dream season turned into a nightmare at the end.

One of the interesting moves was the decision to play Jonas Hiller over the Viktor Fasth. While Fasth didn't have the experience Hiller had and may not have had the drive for it, there's no denying that Fasth was a hot hand most of the season. Their numbers were identical in most aspects, but since Bruce Boudreau wouldn't platoon the goalies in the playoffs-- we won't know what would happen if Fasth went in there.

An upside to it all was the emergence of guys like Kyle Palmieri, Nick Bonino, and Emerson Etem for the Ducks, even though they picked up the slack for Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne; both who didn't have the best playoffs in their careers. For Selanne, it could be his last playoffs as his future again hangs in the balance on what he may do with his career after this season. Fellow Finns Saku Koivu could be in the same situation, as his season wasn't overly memorable, but I doubt the two guys don't want to go out like they did.

Defensively, the core will be there for a while, with two veterans in Sheldon Souray and Francois Beauchemin to guide the likes of Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa to lead the next direction of things. The tightness of the play will be definitely a question, as outside of Souray and Beauchemin, Ben Lovejoy (+4) and Bryan Allen (+1) were plus players of the regular defensemen. A cause for concern, but something that should come with time.

With Bruce Boudreau at the helm, the Ducks could very well be a force to be reckoned with, if they can actually play in the playoffs with the vigor they did in the regular season. Their main players are locked up for the long-haul and will be in Anaheim for a while, so they'll have time to work together and find their niche....or blow up entirely.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Absurd Goalie Monday: Marc Behrend

While we get through the playoffs, we move to a goalie who was great in the college playoffs and helped a team get to their first NHL series win. This week's AGM had a soft spot for his hometown though and gives back to the community that gave so much to him. This week, the profile of Marc Behrend.

After graduating from LaFollette High School in Madison, Wisconsin; Behrend went to play for the University of Wisconsin starting in the 1980-81 season, finishing with an 11-4-1 record and helping the Badgers to a National Championship; where Behrend would go onto the All-Tournament Team and win Tournament MVP, as well. For the 1981-82 season, Behrend compiled a 21-3-1 record and would go to the WCHA Second All-Star Team, but for the 1982-83 season; Behrend went 17-1-1, helping the Badgers to another National Championship where he would, again, go the All Tournament Team and win Tournament MVP-- only the second player in NCAA history to do so.

Despite being drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1981, Behrend decide to play for the US National Team instead to start off the 1983-84 season in preparation for the 1984 Olympics. Behrend played 33 games in warm-up for the event, and then 1-2-1 in four Olympics games.

Behrend would move to the Winnipeg Jets at the end of the 1983-84 season, playing in six games and posting a 2-4-0 record, then went 0-2 in the playoffs. In the 1984-85 season, Behrend went to the AHL to start, playing in seven games with the Sherbrooke Canadiens and posting a 2-3-2 record before being called up to Winnipeg, going 8-10-3 in 24 games then having a 1-1 record in four playoff games, the win being in the first series-clinching win for the Jets in the NHL. The majority of the 1985-86 season had Behrend staying Sherbrooke while posting a 16-5-2 record, then recalled for nine games in Winnipeg with a 2-5-0 record. With the 1986-87 season coming up, the Jets would keep Behrend in Sherbrooke, where Behrend would play in 19 games and compile an 8-5-0 record, then one loss in his only playoff appearance. Behrend would retire after that season.

Post retirement, Behrend returned to his home in Madison, Wisconsin to become a firefighter for the Madison Fire Department, which are his last known whereabouts. Behrend was also named to the NCAA All-Time Tournament Team in 1997.

Making a splash was something that Behrend did with his venture into college hockey, but on a team with a logjam in net and in desperate need for a critical stopper, Behrend got buried in the fold. However, he was able to get a life after hockey-- something that he seemingly is happy with and has some memories of his time in the big time with him always.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 New York Islanders

While they kept it close with one of the Cup favorite, two OT losses and two blow-out shut-outs is what killed the New York Islanders hopes to pull off the upset special and continue their trend of beating the Penguins in the playoffs. And while many people believe this young team finally put themselves on the map, I don't know if I'm so optimistic.

One of the big things that will need to get fixed for stability of this team is between the pipes. Despite acquiring Tim Thomas('s salary) and sending down Rick DiPietro, you have to wonder if they believe Evgeni Nabokov and/or Kevin Poulin is the answer. The good thing is that the Islanders will have a low payroll and could be a destination for a team trying to sell off a goaltending controversy on their roster. Considering both goalies who ended out the season on Long Island are free agents, it makes you wonder if the Isles will go for the trade market or if they'll pin their hopes on Nabokov for one more go-around.

From one of the unstable things to one of the stable things for the Isles, the forwards. John Tavares finally is stepping into the national scene and has taken this team on his back to get them to this point. Odds are the future captain of this team will be given more of a look in a full season and get the press he deserves as a former #1 overall pick. Plus, he has a solid cast around him in Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, and so on. That's pretty much one thing that the Isles don't have to worry about, unless they want to bring a veteran onto the roster for the youngsters.

Defensively is pretty hit or miss. Mark Streit is 35 and while an offensive contributor; not so good in his own end. Lubomir Visnovsky, though much maligned, was very solid and has two more years on the Island, which could prove to be the best for him to shine. Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic, and Thomas Hickey are going to be the new wave, but they'll be more on their own end than leading the rush-- at least at this time. With their six defensemen drafted in the 2012 Draft, the Islanders know it's a weak area and are trying to address as much as they can.

While they did make strides in advancement, who knows if this is a team that could keep up to the full grind of a season. If they tie up the loose ends, they could be in the hunt-- though they'll be in one of the tougher division in the NHL, which could be quite the challenge for this growing team.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 St. Louis Blues

Despite not getting swept, the St. Louis Blues lost four straight to eliminate them this playoff season by the same team that took them out last playoffs-- the Los Angeles Kings. While it looked a bit promising to start off with, the Blues couldn't carry the momentum from their first two games to the rest of the series and the Kings took that momentum and got a few lucky bounces to go their way. 

Bounces or not, the fact that Ken Hitchcock wasted no time calling out his team after the series ended showed that he knew that it wasn't just the bounces that got him-- his team just didn't deliver, especially the "home grown" players the team was building their nucleus around. Though the players are still young, this is their third playoffs together and by now, they should have the experience in order to know how to adjust their game on the fly. 

Brian Elliott did he all he could to keep the team in the game, putting up a solid 1.90 GAA during the series and returning to his All-Star form he once had, though he did have some shaky spots and only got his role back with an injury to Jaroslav Halak. A question is whether or not Jake Allen has proven himself enough for the Blues to get rid of one of the current goalies to get a shot at being a full-time back-up or a 1-B starter. 

More over, how much will they be able to give to their RFAs?? Both Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo will get their money, but after that-- will there be enough left to give to Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Chris Stewart, and Patrik Berglund?? Do the Blues actually want to keep all their RFA guys around?? With the money they are pay to Jay Bouwmeester for another year and Andy McDonald a free agent, the Blues can either make a choice of keeping the money in-house or trying to get some bodies in that know how to win with a younger team. 

Wherever they go next year, Ken Hitchcock has a whole training camp to get his message through to these guys that there needs to be a sense of urgency for his team if they want to make and succeed in the playoffs. With two short stints the last two seasons-- you can bet the team and Hitch are going to be on the hot seat. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 Minnesota Wild

After making a big splash in the summer with two big free agents landing-- the stumble the Wild had at the start of the season and then barely squeaking into the playoffs makes many wonder how much they are going to be overrated for the years to come.

Granted, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter did come along as the season happened, they both seemingly disappeared in the playoffs combining for a single point and a minus-12 rating. Of course, not many showed up for that series, seemingly-- only seven goals scored by the Wild in the five games-- but that's not the bread and butter for the Wild. Even with that, the support of P-M Bouchard and Matt Cullen helped-- but both are unrestricted free agents. Despite the Wild being under the cap as it is, they could sign both and be at the cap risking their moves during the season.

Plus, with the youth movement of Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker coming up through the pipeline, the need to sign Cullen and Bouchard is probably not as urgent as it once could have been. Zucker did create a lot of offense, despite it not showing up in goals and assists. With having Cal Clutterbuck as a RFA, odds are Coyle and Zucker will have an advanced role next season as Bouchard and Cullen will probably be cut loose.

One of the big questions is whether or not Niklas Backstrom will be re-signed. While he did have a solid season and the health of Josh Harding and stability of Darcy Kuemper may make the Wild give him a one or two-year deal with the Wild. Nothing too long-term and something that would make him easy to unload if it comes to that point.

Going into next season, Mike Yeo will have to do a lot with the talent of the team or else he could be on his way out of there. Chuck Fletcher has done a lot to make hockey in Minnesota competitive again, but for that to happen-- he'll need to have the right person at the helm for that. Yeo may or may not be the guy for that, but if he's not-- you can bet it won't be long for Fletcher to pull the trigger on bringing in someone who can do the job the way he wants.

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 Montreal Canadiens

Even though the Senators helped them get to that 2nd-seed, the Montreal Canadiens may believe now that it was a trap, as the Sens handled the Habs in five games in the series which had the most gamesmanship in the first round by a long-shot. Verbal jabs aside, the Habs couldn't get anything working past Game Two and despite some bad breaks along the way-- they could get over them and now look ahead to next year.

It wasn't a total lost year for the Habs, as they did rebound nicely from the dismal season they had last year and utilized a youth movement with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher playing a big role in the Canadiens rebuild this season, especially with all the injuries they had to deal with (13th in Man Games Lost). Max Pacioretty came back with a vengeance  leading the team in scoring with the returning Michael Ryder almost being a point-per-game player (21 pts. in 27 games) when he moved back to Montreal. Yet, the Habs are probably not going to be a high scoring team when they get back to a full season, but they do get a lot of contribution from the defensive side of things.

That's where PK Subban and the oft-injured Andrei Markov come in, both putting up 30 points and having 10 or more goals and 20 or more assists in their columns. Had Raphael Diaz played a full season, he'd be up there, too-- but injuries definitely held him back. There's a lot of promise in Diaz, so that's a high spot.

And there not much more you can say about Carey Price, who had a solid first season with his new contract in tow. More over, Peter Budaj showed how much of a valuable back-up he could be with his 8-1-1 record and coming in to perform solidly and give Carey Price a rest.

Even with all of this success and what Marc Bergevin has done with this team, the mishap in the playoffs will be what most fans will remember, especially with the bit of a slip-up they had in the last weeks of the season. It's always a grind in Montreal, a bigger one when they fall out of the playoffs in a premature fashion.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Long-Layoff in a Short Season

In most cases, teams may dread a long layoff in the playoffs. It's too much time between series for them to get rusty to the game action and for them to lose an important game to start, which could kill their hot streak. Yet, in a truncated season like this-- it could actually go on to help the San Jose Sharks.

The grind of a short season is something that affected all the teams, most of which had to have a playoff mentality through the midway point of the short season to make it to the playoffs. For the Sharks, this would also help in the healing of players like Martin Havlat, Tommy Wingels, Jason Demers, and Adam Burish, who heal up from their wounds from Round One. Luckily for the Sharks is that they ranked 21st in Man Games Lost (249), which should just allow a small breather for players like Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Antti Niemi, and Joe Pavelski.

But can the momentum be regained quickly?? With the hot hands of Pavelski and Logan Couture; the thought that if they don't get out there sooner rather than later would lose the magic touch is out there, regardless of the grind they went through during the season. Also, with the Sharks as a 6-seed, they'll start on the road unless Red Wings and Wild pull of upsets. The lack of home-ice advantage would be rough in order to shake the rust off for a long-layoff, but at least knowing their destination ahead of time will leave great time for them to travel to either Chicago or Anaheim.

Throwing to the comparison of the 1995 Playoffs; the Devils, Flyers, and Red Wings won their first round match-ups in five games; their second round match-ups had the Flyers and Wings sweep with the Devils winning in five; then the Devils over the Flyers in six, with the Wings beating the Blackhawks in five, then the Devils sweeping the Wings. All the early movers in the first rounds used the rest to their advantage, and maybe the Sharks can draw off of that tidbit of short-seasons past.

Whether or not the rust will be there for a minute, a period, or a game-- the Sharks do have some time to actually breathe and rest up and regroup-- as they luckily didn't get hurt by losing three of their last four regular season games, they just need to not get too rested or else they could get caught in the first couple games against their opponent who may have weaker legs, but more recent game-play experience.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Thanks For Coming Out, 2013 Vancouver Canucks

Well, that was quick and unexpected. The Vancouver Canucks are the first team to shake hands in defeat as they were swept by the San Jose Sharks in one of the many controversial calls made in the playoffs, which would sink them in overtime in Game Four.

Obviously, the elephant in the room until next season is going to be what to do with the goaltenders, mainly Roberto Luongo. Is there a team that will actually take a chance and trade for him or will they leave the Canucks out on the lurch in order to force their hand to buy them out?? Will they even consider putting Cory Schneider out there for a bigger return?? The quicker and more effecient the Canucks take care of that,  the better they do moving forward to filling out the other parts of their line-up.

Picking Luongo as the obvious choice to move, what can you do with the money freed up there?? Currently, the Canucks are over their cap limit for next season by $100,00 and have 17 players under contract. If they do trade someone, they need to do it for less payroll coming back and more bodies. You can imagine that Chris Tanev and maybe Mason Raymond get re-signed, then you'll have to find a way to move some parts around in order to get under the cap and get the full roster out there.

Another point of contention is probably to get some support for the Sedins. While Daniel and Henrik are the offense for the Canucks, the secondary scoring is quite scarce. Jannik Hansen could be a guy to pick up the slack, but how long can he be consistent?? Alex Burrows will most likely be called upon to bump up his production with his new contract, same going for Chris Higgins. Yet, you get Ryan Kesler for a full season and he can be the difference maker for that second line scoring.

While many of the Canucks faithful will scratch their heads over the quick elimination, the off-season could be just as dramatic with many unknowns and plenty of silliness to come through it. There won't be any dull moments from the front office and maybe the team on the bench and behind the bench will be just a touch different from this year's team.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Absurd Goalie Monday: Gilles Villemure

This past weekend was the Kentucky Derby and this is a tie-in to that...sort of. While you could define this goalie as a work horse, he also was able to have a passion for the stables, as well as between the pipes. This week, the profile of Gilles Villemure.

Villemure started of with the Quebec Junior League's Trois-Rivieres Reds in the 1958-59 season, while also going to the International League's Troy Bruins for three games, registering a 2-1-0 record. In the 1959-60 season, Villemure moved to the Ontario Hockey Association with the Guelph Biltmores, playing in 35 games there, but no record given for that year.

Moving onto the pro ranks in the 1960-61 season, Villemure would go to the Eastern League and play for the New York Rovers. With the Rovers, Villemure played in 51 games and posted a 16-34-1 record. During the 1961-62 season in the EHL, Villemure played for the Long Island Ducks and put up a 25-39-1 record in 65 games, as well as being loaned out for one game for each the Charlotte Checkers (loss) and Johnstown Jets (win).

In the 1962-63 season, Villemure would land with the Western League's Vancouver Canucks, playing in 70 games and posting a 35-31-4 record, then 3-4 in the playoffs, a season where Villemure was WHL Rookie of the Year. Villemure would go to the AHL with the Baltimore Clippers in the 1963-64 season, playing in 66 games and finishing with a 31-33-2 record while being called up to the NHL for a five-game stint with the New York Rangers, going 0-2-3 in that span.

Back to the Canucks in the 1964-65 season, Villemure appeared in 60 games and recorded a 27-26-6 record, then 1-4 in the playoffs; while in the 1965-66 season, Villemure went 32-34-3 and 3-4 in the playoffs for the Canucks.

A move back to Baltimore and the AHL for Villemure in the 1966-67 season, playing in 70 games and posting up a 34-27-9 record and going 4-5 in the playoffs. During the 1967-68 season, Villemure stayed mostly in the AHL, but with the Buffalo Bisons; going 18-13-6 in 37 games. That season, Villemure played four games for the Rangers, going 1-2-0. Back with the Bisons in the 1968-69 season, Villemure had a remarkable 36-12-14, though a 2-4 playoff record didn't help-- but it would allow Villemure to win the Les Cunningham Trophy for AHL MVP and Hap Holmes Trophy for fewest goals against. Doing it again in the 1969-70 season, Villemure won the Cunningham and Holmes Trophy (no record given for his 65 games played), as well as going 11-4 in the playoffs to help the Bisons win the Calder Cup.

The Rangers finally gave Villemure a chance in the 1970-71 season, splitting his duty with Eddie Giacomin. Playing in 34 games that year, Villemure went 22-8-4-- helping himself and Giacomin win the Vezina Trophy that season. During the 1971-72 season, Villemure played in 37 games and posted a 24-7-4 record and then went 4-2 in the playoffs; while the 1972-73 season brought a 20-12-2 record in only 34 games for Villemure, but it would account for his third straight season playing in the All-Star Game. A drastic drop for Villemure in the 1973-74 season, playing in only 21 games and posted a 7-7-3 record, while his workload increased in the 1974-75 season, playing in 45 games and finishing with a 22-14-6 record.

Prior to the 1975-76 season, the Rangers shipped Villemure off to the Chicago Blackhawks for Doug Jarrett. With Tony Esposito dominating the net time, there was little games for Villemure to appear in. In only 15 games in the 1975-76 season, Villemure went 2-7-5; while during the 1976-77 season, Villemure finished with an 0-4-1 record in only six appearances. After that, Villemure hung up his pads.

An avid horse lover, Villemure turned to training harness horses after his career was done. During his career, Villemure raced harness horse in the off-season. When his career was over, he turned to it full-time.

Villemure admittedly lived his dream of playing in the NHL and was also able to partake in his other passions of horse racing. While he could have had a better fate by sticking around with the Rangers, the success he had on Broadway and in the minor leagues helped him become one of the more recognized "absurd" names.