Saturday, March 21, 2009

Roloson leads the way for Oilers



While the spotlight has been shinning on Martin Brodeur the past few weeks as he moved past Patrick Roy's 551 career victories, another veteran goaltender has quietly been maneuvering his team into a playoff position while setting a record of his own. Thirty-nine year old Dwayne Roloson established a new Oilers franchise record for consecutive starts. Friday night's 5-4 shoot-out win in Chicago was Roloson's 27th consecutive start and he did not disappoint, making 39 saves and earning his 26th win of the season.

The previous record was twenty consecutive starts, shared by Oilers legends Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford. This is familiar territory for Roloson as he fell one short of the record in 2005-06 after being acquired at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild. That same season, he brought the 8th place Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals before a sprained knee during game one in Carolina forced him out of the line-up. The injury to their number one goalie proved too difficult to overcome as future all-star Cam Ward and his Hurricanes won the Cup after a valiant effort by the Oilers pushed the series to seven games.

It has not been an easy road to the NHL for Roloson. He went undrafted and spent four years at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, becoming a NCAA all-star and Hobie Baker Award finalist before signing with the Calgary Flames as a free agent in 1994. He spent two seasons with the Saint John Flames in the AHL before joining Calgary for the 1996-97, 1997-98 seasons, playing in 70 games total. Then it was off to Buffalo where he was the back-up to Dominik Hasek for two seasons and did not see much ice time while there.

At the end of the 2000 season, Roloson finally experienced an NHL draft - he was selected by Columbus in the expansion draft. He instead chose to sign as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues but never suited up for them. He spent the season with their AHL affiliate, the Worcester Ice-Cats. While leading them to the AHL regular season title, he also won the Aldege Bastien Memorial Award as the league's outstanding goaltender. When he joined the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in 2001 his career took off and he began to establish himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender.

Sharing the Minnesota net with Manny Fernandez, Roloson played in 45, 50 and 48 games his first three seasons with the Wild, posting his best numbers in 2003-04 with a 1.88 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. During the 2005-06 campaign, the Oilers were shopping for a number one goaltender and the General Manager at the time, Kevin Lowe, saw his man in Roloson. On March 7th, 2006, Lowe acquired him from Minnesota in exchange for the Oilers first round draft pick and a conditional pick (which became a third round pick).

Reaction to the trade at the time was mixed. A March 9th, 2006 Edmonton Sun article by Terry Jones sums up the feelings of the Oilers faithful,

"All year Edmonton has waited for the Oilers GM to get a goalie. When he finally did, the day before the trade deadline, Oilers fans didn't know whether to cheer or boo."

With one trip to the Stanley Cup finals as an Oiler already, Edmonton fans are hoping Roloson's season continues into May and June. After 71 games, the Oilers are beginning to look like a playoff team as they solidify their hold on 7th place in the Western Conference. They have 79 points, two ahead of 8th place Nashville and four points ahead of the surging St. Louis Blues. The Ducks, Stars and Wild are next with 74 points each. The last eleven games of the season will be a challenge but Edmonton appears in control of their own destiny. They play in Minnesota on Sunday before returning home to host the Red Wings. To finish the season, they will play two games against the Ducks, one more against the Wild and one game against the Coyotes, Sharks, Canucks and Kings before wrapping up their 30th anniversary season with a "home and home" series against their Alberta rivals - the Calgary Flames.

The Conference standings can change in a hurry in today's NHL. Having a dependable goaltender in Dwayne Roloson, Oilers fans are hoping that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Devil reaches Sainthood



After last season's surprise first place finish in the Eastern Conference, hockey fans in Montreal had high expectations for this year's 100th anniversary season. Nothing less then a Stanley Cup would satisfy the fans of the bleu, blanc et rouge. As the Canadians fight for their playoff lives their party plans appear to be unravelling. The headlines in Montreal have been filled with the off-ice antics of key players. Questions continue to swirl around star forward Alex Kovalev and his lacklustre effort. General Manager Bob Gainey has his hands full with numerous unrestricted free agents and coaching duties after firing Guy Carbonneau and stepping behind the bench himself. It seemed fitting in a season filled with more low points then high points that Montreal's "goalie of the future" Carey Price, was the backup to Jaroslav Halak Saturday, March 15th as history was made at the Bell Centre.

In a script that could be straight from Hollywood, New Jersey Devils goalie and Montreal native Martin Brodeur returned to Montreal Saturday night in his quest to break the record for most regular season victories by a goaltender. With Patrick Roy in attendance, the Habs fans witnessed a 3-1 New Jersey win and Roy's once unbeatable record was tied by Brodeur. After booing the Canadians off the ice at the end of the game, the twenty-one thousand fans rose to their feet to salute Brodeur's accomplishment with a lengthy standing ovation. Personally, it is the only time I can recall a visiting team leaving the ice with a victory in Montreal to a cheering crowd. Montrealers love their hockey and they know their history. Could there have been a more perfect setting to join St. Patrick in the record books? In a strange twist of fate, Brodeur can take sole possession of the record on St. Patrick's Day with a win at home over another original six team - the Chicago Blackhawks.

With the record about to be broken, the great debate among the hockey analysts on television, radio, print and the internet has become who is the better goaltender - Roy or Brodeur? Who is the best clutch performer? Who would you want in nets for the big game? In my opinion, it is impossible to pick one over the other at this time. Brodeur has spent his entire career with the Devils, perhaps the most defensively minded franchise in NHL history. Many observers feel Roy won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993 for Montreal by himself. Brodeur was pure gold in nets for Canada at the 2002 Olympic games while Roy was only average in 1998 at the Nagano games. Head to head, it was Roy's Colorado Avalanche beating Brodeur's Devils in game seven of the 2001 Stanley Cup finals. Brodeur gained some extra wins in the shoot-out era but he reached 551 in 43 less games.

While they have never been best of friends, Roy's attendance for win number 551 and the comments from both goalies after the game demonstrated the level of respect shared between the two. Both understand how difficult it is to win one game in the NHL and what an accomplishment it is to reach 551.

Roy made this comment on being at the Bell Centre in a Canadian Press article, "I'm sure Marty is excited to have it happen in his hometown, in front of his family. One day I'll say to my grandchildren that I was there to see it."

Brodeur on Roy - also from the Canadian Press, "He's a guy I looked up to when I was young. And now, tying the record of your idol, that's pretty cool. Not many athletes have a chance to do that."

Let's take a look at their career numbers...

Roy, drafted 51st overall in the third round of the draft in 1984, played 1029 regular season games. His win/loss record is 551-315-131-0 with a 2.54 goals against average. He was Rookie of the Year in 1985, he won the Jennings trophy for fewest goals against as a team 5 times and the Vezina as best goalie 3 times. He won the Conn Smythe 3 times as playoff MVP on his way to 4 Stanley Cups in 1986, 1993, 1996 and 2001.

Brodeur was drafted in the first round, 20th overall by New Jersey in 1990. Going into tonight's game he has played 986 games and has a record of 551-293-105-22 with a 2.20 goals against average. Brodeur also won Rookie of the Year honours in 1994, the Jennings 4 times and the Vezina 4 times. His Devils were Stanley Cup winners in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and are expected by many observers to battle the Boston Bruins in this year's Eastern Conference final. Another record is about to fall to Brodeur as well - Terry Sawchuck's record for career shutouts; Sawchuck retired with 103, Brodeur is only three back with 100 career shutouts.

Patrick Roy holds the record for combined regular season and playoff victories with 702. Brodeur has 644 and will certainly reach Roy's milestone sometime next season. St. Patrick will keep his record of 13 straight seasons with 30 or more wins as Brodeur's streak ends at 12 this season due to the time he missed with an elbow injury.

By the time his career is over, we may be saying without hesitation that Martin Brodeur is the best goalie in the history of the NHL. The doors to the Hockey Hall of Fame will be wide open for Brodeur upon his retirement. However, in ten or twelve years time, we may be watching Steve Mason attempt to break his idol's records. For now though, the history books have an equal place for Saint Patrick and Saint Martin... Have a great sports day everyone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lights out on the Islanders?



Kyle Okposo scored the overtime winner Thursday night in a rare road victory for the New York Islanders as they defeated the Montreal Canadians 3-2 at the Bell Centre. Former Habs prospect Yann Danis got the win in front of friends and family as he made twenty-four saves; including a stellar save on a shorthanded break-away by Chris Higgins in the first period. The Brown University star is doing all he can to earn a contract for next year as the backup to injured starter Rick Dipietro but if he does earn a multi-year deal, will the team still be on Long Island at its conclusion?

This summer while most NHL teams will be discussing which free agents to sign, New York Islanders owner Charles Wang will be pondering his next move; perhaps a move out of New York. As baseball's New York Yankees and Mets take up residence in their new state of the art stadiums and Madison Square Garden undergoes a lengthy renovation for the Rangers, the Islanders are looking to escape from the confines of Nassau Coliseum. The third oldest rink in the NHL, renovating the Coliseum has been a point of contention between Wang, the town of Hempstead and Nassau County since he took over the team in 2000. The Islanders owner feels the solution lies in his $3 billion development proposal - "The Lighthouse Project".

The Lighthouse Project is currently in the environmental review process and a six thousand page report is now in the hands of Nassau County officials. The plan is huge in it's scale and would create a whole new entertainment district on Long Island. The plan includes a new or renovated Nassau Coliseum for the Islanders, 2,300 apartments and town houses, a minor league ballpark, a sports technology center, a practise facility for the hockey club, a live performance theatre, a 5-star 300 room hotel, trolley system and acres of underground parking. The project would create seventy-five thousand construction jobs over ten years and nineteen thousand permanent jobs. Wang made this comment recently on NTV (Newsday), "I think it will be tremendous. It will give us an identity. We deserve something great for Long Island."

Wang is the co-founder of Computer Associates International and has lived in New York since the age of eight, earning his degree in mathematics from Queens University. A life-long New Yorker, he is not a new NHL owner looking to make fast money by moving his franchise but he feels a decision needs to be made on the future of his hockey club. In a MSG TV interview, he made this comment, "We must have certainty on this project - go, or no go - by the beginning of the next hockey season. After seven years, it is time."

The Islanders have been at or near the bottom in attendance figures for several years. While the poor performance of the team is certainly a contributing factor, the age and size of the Coliseum are a major hurdle in the future success of the Islanders. With 16, 234 seats and a lack of revenue generating luxury boxes, the Islanders claim Wang is losing $20 million per year by keeping the team in New York. The current lease at Nassau Coliseum expires after the 2015 season but the Islanders could be on the move well before then. A clause in the development proposal could see the team leaving as soon as possible. If the County approves the development plan, it would then go to the town legislature where they would have one hundred and twenty days to approve the new lease agreement. If they do not grant approval on the new lease or delay their decision, it essentially breaks the current lease agreement and the team can start packing.

When asked on NTV if his plan to hold an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Islanders in Kansas City was a subtle threat to the County, Wang had this reply, "I don't think it was that subtle." He went on to explain that the arena in Kansas City is operated by AEG, which is also the owner of the Kings and it was their suggestion to hold a game there.

It would be very convenient for AEG to find a new tenant for their arena and the Islanders situation makes them a possible candidate. Why not showcase the team for Kansas City fans? Whoever came up with the idea, there is no doubt that Kansas City is the favoured destination for NHL teams in trouble. With a brand new arena sitting empty and a June deadline for the approval of the Lighthouse Project, it should make for an interesting Spring in New York. If you are an Islanders fan, you might want to make that Long Island Iced Tea in a travel mug. Have a great sports day everyone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who's the Boss?



"They have everything behind them - fans, the organization, the 100th anniversary. All they have to do is play as a team and be ready to pay the price to win." - Montreal Canadians Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur in an article today at NHL.com.

"Tell me why I don't like Mondays... I want to shoot the whole day down." - Sir Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats

General Manager Bob Gainey is stepping behind the bench in Montreal for the final sixteen games of the season as Head Coach Guy Carbonneau was relieved of his duties on Monday afternoon. After starting the season 10-4-2, the Habs have struggled to find consistency this year and since November 17th, they have a 25-20-5 win/loss record and find themselves in danger of falling out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Gainey met with several key players in the past few weeks, trying to get a feel for what could be ailing his team; the general consensus was a coaching change was needed. Disgruntled forward Steve Begin was traded to Dallas and Mathew Schneider was brought in from Atlanta before the trade deadline to help the struggling powerplay, but the lacklustre play continued and Gainey began contemplating his next move. After a 5-1 loss in Buffalo on deadline day, followed by a 2-0 loss in Atlanta, Gainey decided not to travel to Florida for the GM meetings and instead took a closer look at his squad.

The GM/Coach made this comment at yesterday's press conference, "We need our players to play up to their potential and that was not playing to their potential in Atlanta."

Here are a few other comments from the press conference - available at NHL.com. "In the last eight weeks our performance has been below average and I believe that a change in the direction at ice level is necessary."

"I can't say that there could be anyone here who follows this team that hasn't had this question in their mind for the past month."

With their recent play, it had become increasingly clear to Gainey that a change was needed and so Carbonneau became the 7th NHL coach to lose his job this season. A finalist last season for the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year, Carbonneau leaves Montreal with a 124-83-23 win/loss record and three years left on his contract. He will most likely remain with the organization but will take some time to reflect on the season before a final decision is made. Many in the Montreal media felt that Carbonneau had lost the room as early as December and his friendship with Gainey bought him some time to turn things around. When the players failed to respond, his fate was sealed.

Tonight versus the Edmonton Oilers, Gainey steps behind the bench for his 457th game as a head coach in the NHL. He has a career record of 188 wins, 205 losses, 60 ties and 3 overtime losses during his time in Minnesota, Dallas and Montreal (after firing Claude Julien during 2005-2006 season). Besides the experience that comes from a lifetime in hockey, Gainey will also be bringing Hamilton Bulldogs Head Coach Don Lever to Montreal as an assistant for what he calls "a fresh voice, some fresh opinions". Montreal radio host (Team 990) Tony Marinero commented on his show this morning, "If Don Lever has signed up for french lessons, then we'll know he's the next coach of the Canadians." Lever is well acquainted with many of the younger players as coach of the farm team and that includes his AHL playoff MVP Carey Price.

Taking a look at the larger picture, many are speculating Gainey made this move to protect his own job. If he is trying to take the pressure off himself, why step behind the bench? Could it be that in his meetings with the players he was told by some of his ten UFA's (Kovalev, Tanguay, Lang, Koivu, and Komisarek to name a few) that they would not be back next season if Carbonneau was still the coach?

On a team where Andrei Markov is the top scorer with 50 points, someone needs to step up. Goals are harder to come by in today's NHL but Montreal's last 50 goal scorer was Stephane Richer during the 1989-90 season. Perhaps now that the man offering the contracts is also handing out the ice time, the Montreal forwards will find the back of the net more often while being more responsible in their own end. Gainey attended today's practise in Montreal wearing dress pants and skates... letting everyone know who is in charge. Have a great sports day everyone.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

If the Price is Right...



As the backyard rinks melt away in Southern Ontario, things are beginning to settle down in the National Hockey League after a busy week of negotiations leading up to Wednesday's trade deadline. The contenders and pretenders are trying to sort themselves out in both Conferences as the race for the playoffs heads for the home stretch. There were several small victories throughout the day but was their a clear winner? Many teams in the league felt the price was not right and few major moves were made.

Calgary pulled off the biggest trade of the day, landing Olli Jokinen from the Coyotes for Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a first round draft pick. After a 5-1 victory in Philadelphia on Wednesday evening where Jokinen scored two goals in the first period, the Flames were blown away by the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday in a 6-1 loss that ended Calgary's six game road unbeaten streak. Can Calgary be considered the big winners of trade day when many of the biggest names on the trade market stayed exactly where they were?

Florida General Manager Jacques Martin rolled the dice on unrestricted free agent Jay Bouwmeester and decided to keep his star defenseman as the Panthers try to hold on to the sixth spot in the East. If a contract can't be worked out by July, Martin could be left with nothing. He is hoping a long playoff run will entice Bouwmeester to stay in the sunshine state. Other big names like Chris Pronger in Anaheim, Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis, and Tomas Kaberle in Toronto were all pulled off the market when no legitimate offers came across the table. As teams begin to feel the reality of the current economic crisis and knowing the salary cap could drop significantly after next season, teams were reluctant to trade draft picks and prospects for a "rental" player.

One team that needed to make a move was shutout on deadline day. The Montreal Canadians added 42 year old Mathew Schneider before the deadline but many expected another move or two from GM Bob Gainey. Too small at the center position, it was believed that one or two of Montreal's fourteen UFA's would be moved for more size up front. Gainey himself identified the center position as a weakness last summer when he sent a second round draft pick to the Leafs for the exclusive negotiating rights with Mats Sundin. After the deadline passed on Wednesday, Gainey commented on his lack of moves to the assembled Montreal media, "We had a few discussions with clubs on Sunday but we didn't begin our day today with the intention of making any changes." He went on to say, "There wasn't much on the table that interested us today."

Watching the Buffalo-Montreal game on Wednesday evening, it would appear the Canadians players were expecting help that did not come. In a 5-1 loss to the Sabres, Montreal appeared to be a team lacking an identity. Their goal in the final minute of the game ended a scoring drought of 101 minutes. They followed up that poor performance with a 2-0 loss in Atlanta last night. The Canadians will hold on to the hope that the eventual return of Alex Tanguay (35 games played, 10 goals and 16 assists) and Guillaume Latendresse (43GP, 9 goals and 9 assists) will bolster the club. While they hold on to hope, can they hold on to a playoff spot? Montreal currently occupies fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 75 points headed into Saturday's games; Carolina sits in the tenth spot with 73 points. Don't look now, but with points in their last eight games, Toronto is only 8 points back of the Hurricanes.

The big winners on trade day may have been the Detroit Red Wings. They added their rental player in the summer, signing Marion Hossa to a one year contract in July. Faced with growing speculation they would need to add a goaltender before the deadline, they made no moves... except moving into a tie with San Jose for first place in the NHL with 94 points each.

Stepping away from the on ice activity for a moment, our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Hockey - Gordie Howe and his family as his beloved wife Colleen Howe passed away on Friday at the age of 76. May you find comfort in the wonderful life you shared together. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Trip to the playoffs would suit Howson



Today is the trade deadline in the National Hockey League and for the first time in NHL history all eyes are on... Columbus. Yes, Columbus, Ohio will be front and center today as General Manager Scott Howson attempts to manoeuvre the Blue Jackets into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Nationwide Arena has been silent each Spring since their arrival in the league but this season could see the lights stay on as Columbus fights through the ever-tightening standings in the Western Conference.

Almost buyers at last year's deadline, a late February losing streak led to another fourth place finish in the Central Division. This season, Columbus is 6th in the West at the deadline with a 32-26-6 win/loss record but they are not in the clear; St.Louis sits in 12th place in the West only 6 points back of the Blue Jackets. If Columbus are to hold on to their playoff spot, they will need to add scoring help. They rank 20th in the league in goals for and are 30th in the NHL on the powerplay at 12.4%.

After going 0-13 on the powerplay on their recent 3 game Canadian road trip, Coach Ken Hitchcock told Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch, "If you want to reach your goal at this time of year, you have to play with that sense of urgency and aggression. The temperature is going up and there is a competitive price to pay."

The temperature will keep rising after deadline day as the Jackets play Nashville, Detroit (twice), Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago (twice) in the next two weeks. Team Captain Rick Nash is leading the way with 27 goals and 60 points, but the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner needs some help. Calgary cast-off Kristian Huselius is second in team scoring (18-26-44 ) and former Flyer R.J. Umberger is third with 35 points (21 goals - 14 assists). While not an offensive threat, left winger Jason Chimera is now out 4-5 weeks with a groin injury. The news is currently breaking that Antoine Vermette is on his way from Ottawa in exchange for Pascal Leclaire. Vermette has struggled this season for the Senators (9 goals - 19 assists) but he has the speed and skating skills to get open and he ranks 4th in the NHL for face-off winning percentage. A struggling power play will be helped by Vermette's ability to gain possession of the puck for his team. He is not the final piece to the puzzle but he should be a good top six forward for the Jackets.

Leclaire is out for the season with an ankle injury and became expendable with the emergence of rookie goalie Steve Mason. The Oakville, Ontario native has surprised many NHL observers as the former London Knight and Kitchener Ranger claimed the number one spot in Columbus with his outstanding play. A Gold Medal winner at the World Junior Championship in 2008, the third round pick (69th overall in 2006) has played like an NHL veteran, posting a 25-15-3 record. His 2.20 goals against average is second in the NHL and his .918 save percentage ranks tenth. He leads the league with 8 shutouts so far this season, which helps an offensively challenged team like the Jackets. The only question facing Columbus and Mason, can he withstand the rigours of the NHL's 82 game schedule? More offensive help will certainly ease the burden on the young net minder.

It is 10:00 am here in Toronto and with the addition of Vermette, Howson has helped his team but he needs to add more. A puck moving D-man and another top six forward will help the Columbus playoff puzzle become a clearer picture. It should make for an interesting afternoon. Have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Halak to the Future


For the past two seasons while watching and writing about hockey in Ottawa, I would tell anyone willing to listen that the Senators needed to trade for Jaroslav Halak while the city of Montreal was still enamoured with Carey Price. Unknown to most, the young Slovak (taken in the 9th round - 271st overall) could turn out to be a better goaltender if given the opportunity and the time to develop. The Montreal media had already anointed Price as the next Ken Dryden or the next Patrick Roy and yet it is now Halak that is carrying the workload for the Canadians.

Head Coach Guy Carbonneau has adopted the "win and you're in" philosophy as he tries to find the hot hand that will lead the Habs into the NHL playoffs. What seemed like a certainty a few months ago, the Canadians are looking in their rear view mirrors as teams like Florida, New York, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Carolina make an attempt to spoil the 100th anniversary party in Montreal.


After 63 games Montreal has a 34-22-7 win/loss record. Their 75 points has them 5 points ahead of 8th place Pittsburgh after Sunday's games but as the playoff race tightens, are the Habs headed in the right direction? They have gone 5-4-1 in their last ten games and as usual they have a stellar home record at the Bell Centre (20-6-4). However, the road has not been friendly to the Canadians (14-16-3) and as they embark on a three game road trip beginning Wednesday in Buffalo, will their winning streak continue?


Their once feared, high octane power play was running on empty after losing Sheldon Souray and Mark Streit to free agency but the addition of Mathew Schneider seems to have temporarily solved that problem. Could it be that their prowess on the power play helped disguise the problem of having two inexperienced net minders? General Manager Bob Gainey certainly put all of his eggs in one basket when he traded away Cristiobal Huet at the trade deadline last season. It was a move that needed to be made in order to establish Price as the number one goalie and Halak as the back-up. There is not enough ice time for three goalies and a second round pick for Huet was better than letting him walk away as a free agent. Could it have been a case of too much too soon for Price?


A proven winner at every level, Price won a gold medal at the 2007 Junior Championships and then took the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal's AHL affiliate) to the Calder Cup finals; earning playoff MVP honours in the process. Despite the pressures of the Junior Championship, with all of Canada watching, it still does not compare to the media frenzy that surrounds the Montreal Canadians on a daily basis. I don't get paid for work at the Rumour Mill so I won't discuss possible off-ice distractions in Montreal for a young man, so lets look at the numbers.

Taken 5th overall in the 2005 draft, Price has played 38 games this season, posting a record of 18-12-6. His 2.78 GAA ranks 26th in the league and he is 31st in save percentage at .904%. He is under contract at $2.2 million, becoming a restricted free agent after the 2010 season. He was an All-Star this year but he was voted there by the Montreal fans in their attempt to have an all Montreal starting line-up. Halak currently makes $750,000 per year and he too will be an RFA at the same time as Price. What does GM Gainey do with his "franchise" goalie if he continues to be outplayed by Halak?

While Halak has not set the hockey world on fire, he has a 2.89 GAA (32nd in the league), .913 save percentage (tied for 19th) and a 16-10-1 win/loss record, he will be affordable on his next contract which would leave future cap space to re-sign some of the fourteen UFA's Montreal has at the end of this season. It would also leave room to take on Vincent Lecavalier's ten year contract should a trade with Tampa Bay come to fruition.

The most important lesson for a young goalie in the NHL is not "if" you let in a bad goal, but "when" you let in a bad one. In his last two starts Halak has a 35 save overtime victory over Philadelphia and a 46 save effort in Saturday night's win over league leading San Jose. Halak told Bill Deacon of the Canadian Press after the victory, "As long as we win, that's what matters. We needed the points."

Perhaps more important than the opinions of the media, fans or even management in Montreal, the ghosts of the past seem to have finally moved from the Forum to the Bell Centre and taken a shine to Halak. The Sharks were continually denied a third goal as they hit post after post in the third period. It was a victory that could put the season back on track for the Canadians. As Detroit continues to demonstrate year after year, it does not matter what round you are drafted in, it is what you do when you get to the NHL. Have a great sports day everyone.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Phil we trust...



After the 1967 season Phil Esposito approached the General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, Tommy Ivan and told him "We have a great team here, don't f*** it up!" (from the CBC's Life and Times). A month later, Esposito was on his way to Boston where he set scoring records and won two Stanley Cups with the Bruins. As he stated in an A&E Biography, "We could have won five cups in a row in Boston but we liked to have a good time too..." and then he smiles that famous Esposito smile. That is the challenge facing Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli as this year's trade deadline inches closer.

In his third season as General Manager, the Ottawa native and former Senators Assistant GM has his team firing on all cylinders. Leading the Eastern Conference by 8 points over Washington, the Bruins are 18 points ahead of Montreal in the Northeast Division after Saturday's games. Does he make a move to bolster his squad for a long playoff run or hold steady and ride the chemistry that Head Coach Claude Julien has brewing in the Boston dressing room?

There has been some speculation of a trade between the Ducks and Bruins that would see Chris Pronger come to Boston, with Patrice Bergeron and Phil Kessel headed West. This would create a formidable defensive pair of Chara and Pronger, perhaps the best in the league; certainly the biggest. While Chara struggled in his first season in Boston, he has worked harder than ever and become a leading candidate for this year's Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. The Bruins scoring leader Marc Savard, made this comment in a recent NHL.com interview, "Z definitely sets the tone for everything we do. I've played for some great captains. Scott Mellanby in Atlanta, Brian Leetch in New York. It makes a huge difference when a guy like that goes out and does what he does."

Savard is becoming quite the leader himself. With 21 goals and 49 assists, he will surely garner an invitation to audition for Canada's Olympic team this summer while helping bring the Bruins to the land of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Boston has scored 215 goals this season, a majority of them coming while playing 5 on 5. A look at their plus/minus stats is staggering - Savard +25, Krejci +33, Wideman +30, Chara +26, Ryder +25. Compare those numbers to the Rangers, who are in danger of falling out of the race for the cup, and you see why John Tortorella is the new coach on Broadway. New York's top plus/minus player is still Nikolai Zherdev at +5.

Among the Boston forwards, Patrice Bergeron is a tremendous talent when he is healthy, but will his $4.75 million contract become a problem if the salary cap comes down in the next few seasons as expected? Bergeron's first concussion was the result of a devastating hit from behind last season, while his most recent came while he was delivering a check in open ice and that is never a good sign. The Bruins second leading scorer, David Krejci (20-40-60 points) and Phil Kessel (26-21-47) are both restricted free agents at season's end and a decision will need to be made. Trade one in order to keep the other? Does the re-emergence of Michael Ryder (22-19-41) as a legitimate scoring threat make Kessel expendable in order to land Pronger? I guess we'll find out on Wednesday...

There has also been some debate as the trade deadline approaches about Boston's goaltending come playoff time. Despite yesterday's overtime goal from eighty feet out, Tim Thomas is indeed the man for the job and a long playoff run. The Flint, Michigan native is first in the NHL in goals against average (2.06 GAA) and save percentage (.933%), and sixth in wins. Over the past three seasons since he joined the Bruins as a UFA in 2005, his save percentage has steadily improved - .905%, .921%, .933% and his goals against has continued to drop.

To take a look at his career numbers, a road map of the hockey world is required. He has had stops at the University of Vermont, ECHL, IHL, AHL, Sweden, and Finland. Although he is only 34 years old, not being a number one goalie in the NHL until recently may actually help him. Goalies such as Dominik Hasek and Roberto Luongo have seen a lot of pucks sent there way from an early age and eventually knee, hip and groin injuries tend to develop. While Thomas has played a lot of hockey in his career, he hasn't always had to carry the bulk of the workload. A UFA at season's end, he's a steal at his current $1.1 million per year salary and he will be in the running for the Vezina Trophy as the leagues top goalie. Boston also leads the way in the Jennings Trophy hunt, allowing only 2.16 goals per game, (Minnesota is second at 2.33 gpg, San Jose is third at 2.36 gpg). At 5'11, Thomas will use any part of his body in any way necessary to stop the puck and there is no doubt in my mind his great play will continue into hockey's "second" season.

This Wednesday two things should enter Peter Chiarelli's mind. Phil Esposito's comments in 1967 and the time tested expression - If it isn't broke don't try to fix it. Have a great sports day everyone.