Monday, December 27, 2010

TVOS at The Hockey Writers: Spezza Injury Could End Senators Playoff Dream

Jason Spezza will be
out of action for at least
4 to 6 weeks
(Slidingsideways/Flickr)
The Ottawa Senators defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 3-1 score on Sunday evening at Scotiabank Place. However, the win was a costly one for Ottawa, as the team announced today that their most dynamic playmaker, Jason Spezza, is sidelined for at least 4 to 6 weeks with a right shoulder injury. Can the offensively challenged Senators survive without Spezza as they attempt to catch the Boston Bruins for the 8th and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference?

Read about the injury, the reaction, and Ottawa's hunt for a playoff spot at The Hockey Writers

Friday, December 24, 2010

TVOS at The Hockey Writers: "Ask the Alumni" - Send Us A Question For Theo Fleury

Working with the NHL Alumni Association, The Hockey Writers has started an exciting new feature - "Ask the Alumni".

Readers now have the opportunity to be part of my interviews with members of the NHL Alumni Association and see their answers in articles posted at The Hockey Writers. We are pleased to announce that our next guest for the "Ask the Alumni" series at The Hockey Writers is Theo Fleury!

We are accepting your question for Theoren Fleury until January 9th, 2011 at thwnhlalumni@gmail.com

The Voice of Sport at The Hockey Writers: Can The Christmas Break Cure Hurting Senators?

20-year-old Erik Karlsson is
second in team scoring
 with 20 points
(Dan4th/Flickr)
The Ottawa Senators head into the Christmas Break on a winning note, with a 2-1 victory in Nashville over the Predators. However, this far into the season, GM Bryan Murray did not expect the team he assembled to be 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins currently hold the 8th and final playoff position with a six point lead and three games in hand.

Murray thinks his squad is a playoff team but the numbers tell a different story.

You can find the full article at The Hockey Writers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Voice of Sport at The Hockey Writers: Interview with Georges Laraque

Georges Laraque with his fellow
Deputy Leader of the Green Party
Adriane Carr
(Photo by Brent Granby/Flickr)
For the casual hockey fan, the name Georges Laraque conjures up images of one of the true heavyweights in the history of the NHL; a man that took on any challenger in his role as a fighter in the league. However, there is much more to this "enforcer" then his knockout punch. He is very passionate about the environment, better treatment for our animal friends - becoming a vegan in 2009, and last summer he became the Deputy Leader of Canada's Green Party. He is also active in helping numerous charities. Very open and honest, it was a thoroughly enlightening conversation.

The December guest for my "Ask the Alumni" series is Georges Laraque - Read the interview at The Hockey Writers

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Would A New Coach And GM Help The Calgary Flames This Season?

Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, a trip through Alberta for a NHL team almost certainly meant a two-game losing streak. Once Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and the Oilers were done dazzling a team with their goal scoring abilities, it was off to Calgary to face Lanny McDonald, Al MacInnis, Theo Fleury, Doug Gilmour and the rest of the red-hot Calgary Flames. It was a part of the schedule that no team enjoyed.

Lately though, a trip through Alberta has been a little easier to handle. While the Oilers are showing signs of life with some great young talent, for some reason, the Flames have lost their sizzle and find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference and searching for solutions.

It is often said that there are no “must win” games in October, November, and early December. Teams that get off to a slow start have plenty of time in an 82-game schedule to establish their systems and rebound from a poor beginning. Having said that, I am a firm believer that when a team does get off to a slow start, there are “have to” win games; not out of desperation, but as a means of gaining confidence and finding a winning attitude.

For the Calgary Flames, the “have to” win games are behind them, they are clearly in must win mode. The Flames started the season with a 4-0 loss to their provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers, and have been hit-and-miss since then. They have some convincing victories (a 6-2 win over Columbus on October 22nd and a 3-2 shootout victory in Philadelphia on November 26th for example), to go along with some embarrassing losses (a 7-2 loss to Washington on October 30th and a 7-2 loss to their division rivals from Vancouver on December 1st).

Thirty-two games into the season and they have a 14-15-3 record and 31 points, not a terrible beginning, but an inconsistent one. In the difficult Western Conference, Calgary must find their winning attitude - and quickly, or they risk falling out of contention for the final playoff position. As it stands now, they are only four points out of a playoff spot in 13th place, but more was expected of this team. If you read the news coming out of Alberta, many fans believe it is time for a change behind the bench and in the General Manager’s office.

At this point in the schedule, it is time for the Flames to put together a winning streak, if the losing continues, it could be said that the season was lost in October. Last year, the St. Louis Blues finished the season with 90 points, ninth in the Western Conference. It appears a similar point total is required to reach the playoffs this year. Several of the teams in the West appear ready to race towards the finish line - Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Vancouver have all played solidly, which leaves four playoff positions left for the remaining 11 teams. Teams like Chicago, San Jose, and Colorado will make a strong push for the playoffs in the New Year and that will put even more pressure on a team like Calgary.

The problem in Calgary is not necessarily scoring goals; they have only been shutout on two occasions this year. Overall, they are 17th in the league with 89 goals for (2.69 goals per game). The Flames are not allowing an alarming number of goals either; they rank 18th in the league in the goals against category (93 goals allowed, 2.84 goals per game). Much like the Ottawa Senators and their struggles in the nation’s capital, the inability to win back-to-back games is leaving the Flames in a chase position instead of being in control of their own destiny.

There is little doubt that Brent and Darryl Sutter are knowledgeable hockey men, but whatever systems they are trying to sell in Calgary, the players and the fans are not ready to buy into it. Unlike the Oilers, a team that admits they are in a rebuilding mode with a 5-7 year plan, the Flames are built for right now. One cannot help but wonder if the fire and brimstone of the Sutters and the era of running a team with an iron-fist have passed. Players with long-term contracts know they can outlast any coach in today’s NHL, and if the team as a whole stops listening to their head coach, it is usually only a matter of time before a change is made.

Miikka Kiprusoff is still one of the elite goaltenders in the league, Jarome Iginla (his 14 goals and 16 assists leads the team) is still the heart and soul of the franchise, but they cannot get the job done by themselves. The Alex Tanguay signing appears to be paying off (2nd on the team in scoring with 9 goals and 16 assists), as is the Brendan Morrison deal (5 goals and 14 assists).

Looking at Olli Jokinen’s second stint in Calgary though and you realize that the support a player like Iginla requires is not present. Matt Stajan’s $3.5 million cap hit hurts this team, as does the $3 million to Niklas Hagman and Ales Kotalik. When you are thinking about contending teams, having those three players near the top of your payroll does not conjure up images of Stanley Cup parades. The age of the players leading the way in Calgary illustrates the point that, unlike their Alberta rivals in Edmonton, this team was supposed to challenge for the Stanley Cup now - not in 3-5 years.

What does the future hold in Calgary? There is no easy answer to that question. Even with changes at the top or behind the bench, the poor decisions on some contracts will not go away any time soon. Matt Stajan is a Flame until the end of the 2013-2014 season; Kotalik, Hagman, and Jokinen have another year remaining on their contracts. In today’s NHL, trading away these players will be difficult - to shed a bad contract, a team will have to acquire a bad contract.

For an organization that has not seen the second round of the playoffs since before the lockout and did not qualify for the post-season last year, it is difficult to say that the future looks bright in Calgary, with or without a change in management. Heading into 2011, the Flames have officially entered “must win” territory.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Montreal Canadiens: Team Chemistry, Carey Price, and Jaroslav Who?

This article was first published in the December 15th edition of Main Street Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Magazine delivered right to your inbox.

A wonderful year at Main Street Magazine is wrapping up and 2011 is right around the corner. As 2010 ends, it is a great time to share a few thoughts on the Montreal Canadiens and their first 30 games.

Team Chemistry: When the Canadiens backed their way into last season’s playoffs, most hockey analysts expected a first round loss to the Washington Capitals. However, as they rode the hot-hand of Jaroslav Halak, the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge came together as a group and fought their way to the Eastern Conference Final. After defeating the heavily favoured Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the clock struck midnight on their fairy tale trip through the post-season.

Coming into the 2010-2011 season, the team has proven that while Halak was a key contributor in the post-season, perhaps his brilliance overshadowed another element to the team - chemistry. With a full season together, this year’s squad has marched straight to the top of their division and the conference. There is still a long way to go, but at this point, it looks like the Boston Bruins are the only Northeast Division team capable of catching the Habs. The players have become familiar with Jacques Martin’s coaching style and they appear to genuinely like each other. They are having fun on and off the ice; confidence and chemistry can take this team deep into the playoffs again this season.

Jaroslav Who? After Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier traded goaltender Jaroslav Halak, all eyes looked towards Carey Price. Could Bob Gainey’s “thoroughbred” finally become the team’s next great goaltender? As the team passes the 30-game mark, we are well on our way to knowing the answer.

Price appears to be the “real deal” in Montreal; he is near the top of most statistical categories with the league’s elite goaltenders. The young man from Anahim Lake, BC leads the league in games played (27), minutes played (1,623) and wins (17). He is second in the league in shutouts (4) and total saves (757), and his 1.96 goals against average ranks fourth overall. Not too bad for a kid with so many doubters heading into the season. Unsure of how he would perform as the team’s number one goaltender, the Canadiens wisely signed Price to a two-year contract at $2.75 million per year. With the season he is having, it may already be time to think contract extension. The more success this young man has, the more costly it will be in the end.

The “Other” Guys: When Halak went to St. Louis in a trade for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, the overwhelming sentiment in Montreal was anger. A legitimate number one goaltender traded for two unproven prospects - the fans were outraged! Halak has impressed hockey fans in St. Louis and Price has performed in Montreal, taking some of the pressure off the Canadiens GM. Having said that, Eller and Schultz will forever be known as the “other guys” in the Halak deal. So, how are they doing?

Eller has hit the ice in all but one of Montreal’s games, scoring two goals and adding four assists. The first round pick (13th overall) in the 2007 draft has demonstrated some playmaking skills, while not being a defensive liability. He will make some mistakes, as all rookies do, but he is learning on the job, which will only help his career moving forward.

Schultz has played 17 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. After playing his junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League, Schultz is considered a long-term project. He will not be in Montreal this season but his time in Hamilton will help him develop into a strong third or fourth line player.

Have a safe and happy holiday everyone - I will see you back here at Main Street in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Voice of Sport at The Hockey Writers: Alex Kovalev And The Upcoming NHL Roster Freeze


Alex Kovalev - The Russian Riddle
(Dan4th/Flickr)

The NHL's annual holiday roster freeze is set to begin on December 19th, and Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray must decide whether he will attempt to make a trade before the deadline. With four games over the holiday period, if the Senators continue with their inconsistent play, it may be too late after the break to pull the trigger on a trade that will save the season in Ottawa.

There is also a growing rift between head coach Cory Clouston and Alex "the Russian Riddle" Kovalev - How long can they coexist before the situation becomes yet another distraction for the struggling Sens?

Read about the week ahead for Bryan Murray at The Hockey Writers

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Voice of Sport at The Hockey Writers: Senators D-Man Matt Carkner and the Capital City Condors


Matt and Zachary

Three years ago, Jim and Shana Perkins created the Capital City Condors - a hockey team for children with special needs. With the help of many wonderful volunteers, including Ottawa Senators defenceman Matt Carkner, the Condors are changing lives in the nation's capital.

Read my interview with Jim Perkins and learn more about the Capital City Condors at The Hockey Writers

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Future Looks Bright For Kevin Lowe's Edmonton Oilers

A portion of this article first appeared in the December 2010 edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper.

Last year, Lachute’s own Kevin Lowe began checking in with Main Street to keep us up to date with the news in Edmonton. Once again, he has taken time from a very busy schedule with the Oilers to share his thoughts with The Voice of Sport.

The Oilers struggled through injuries last season and found themselves at the bottom of the standings and in the hunt for the first overall pick in the NHL Draft. While they would have preferred to have more W’s in the win column, having the opportunity to select a future star kept Lowe, General Manager Steve Tambellini, and the organization’s scouting department very busy behind the scenes.

“The people that put in all the leg work and hours and time on the road are the scouts; guys like Steve and myself in upper management, we put as much time in as we can, but it pales in comparison to what those guys do,” Lowe explained.

“Last year, hopefully it was a bit of a rarity for us that we got to pick first, but we knew for some time that we would have that chance. We were able to really hone in and focus a lot of attention on the number one pick. Having said that, that doesn’t mean we don’t put that kind of attention and time into every year. There is so much room for error that you have to do everything possible in terms of asking the right questions and doing the research.”

“There are no guarantees that whoever you draft, that they are going to become NHL players. You want to try to minimize the potential for error because the draft is so critical to the lifeblood of the organization. If you want to have sustainability you have to draft well, if you want to try and win a championship you have to draft well; everything revolves around the drafting.”

With that number one pick, the Oilers selected Taylor Hall, a junior star with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League and a two-time Memorial Cup winner. What was it about Hall that made him stand out from the other eligible players?

“His ability to rise in the toughest of situations; when the game is on the line, he’s the guy that appeared to be unafraid of the moment,” Lowe said. “He’s still a very young man but he has had a lot of success. When we got to meet him, he appeared to have a real genuine love for the game. Most kids do, but hockey really seemed to be his first and only focus. That really separates the great ones from all the others.”

Personally, it seems like only yesterday that I was watching Lowe lift the Stanley Cup with the Oilers, so it is hard to believe that his son Keegan, a 17-year-old defenceman with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League will soon be eligible for the NHL Draft. A long-time executive with the Oilers, Lowe could be attending the draft as a hockey dad.

“Hopefully that’s the case, he’s coming along nicely and starting to get some attention,” the proud father said. “He hasn’t made the first few lists (scouts rank the top draft eligible players), but I know that is not going to infringe or get in the way of his desire to play.”

“At the end of the day, if there was one thing that the hockey organizations could track that would be most beneficial, it’s heart and desire. If we could have a way of tracking that amongst these young players, I’d bet on the ones with the heart and desire that they will eventually find their way to the NHL. I enjoy watching Keegan’s games and it brings a special added interest for me, no question.”

Looking ahead, the Oilers are starting to accumulate some great young talent in their organization. With players like Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi, they have a solid foundation of skilled players moving forward. In a few years, with a few more key additions to the organization, they hope to bring the Stanley Cup back to Edmonton.

“We have a very knowledgeable fan base and they are very supportive, they can see the future is very bright,” said Lowe. “We had a very good draft last year and our second round picks are all playing very well in the Western Hockey League. Then we have guys in the minors that are all coming along nicely, guys like Linus Omark, Jeff Petry, and Alex Plante.”

“We have all of our picks this year and we know that there are some challenges in the near-future to stay competitive, but these guys are learning on the job. Hopefully, the fans can see what we are scripting out here, in terms of an overall plan. If we look at Chicago, and in some respects Washington, that is obviously the main template, and the final part of Chicago's plan culminated in them winning the Stanley Cup. If we fast-forward over the next 5-7 years that is what we hope we will be doing.”

“Everything is looking really good actually. You want to try and win more hockey games, but we’ve had enough nights in this season that really make us feel that we are on the right track.”

The template is in place and the future does look bright in Edmonton - since our conversation, the Oilers have won five of their last seven games, proving that the organization is indeed on the right track. As always, a very special thank you to Kevin Lowe for sharing his time with The Voice of Sport.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NHL Rookies To Watch In 2010:Logan Couture, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Eberle

In recent years, the NHL has experienced a youth movement, as the top draft picks enter the league and make an immediate impact with their organizations. Heading into last June’s draft, the talk was Taylor or Tyler - Hall or Seguin... Who’s number one? Both players are off to a great start in their NHL careers, but amongst this year’s rookie class, three other players are making their case for consideration as Calder Trophy candidates.

Logan Couture - San Jose Sharks


A first round selection (9th overall) in the 2007 draft, Logan Couture split last season between the NHL's San Jose Sharks and the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. Couture was ready to make an impact in the NHL last season but limited roster spots and salary cap implications left the young forward bouncing between the two leagues. He played in 25 games in the NHL last season, which left him eligible for the Calder Trophy this season.

With so much traveling between leagues last year, Couture may have woken up each day wondering what city he was in, but the Guelph, Ontario native always knew how to put pucks into the back of the net. In 42 games with Worcester, he scored 20 goals and added 33 assists; he scored 5 goals and 4 assists in the NHL. He also accumulated some valuable experience in the playoffs, suiting up for 15 games with San Jose and scoring 4 goals.

In his last three games, Couture has 4 goals (a two-goal game vs. Ottawa and two against Detroit, including the game winner), and one assist. He is second in rookie scoring with 18 points (12 goals, 6 assists) and his experience from last season will help him develop this year. The fact he has plenty of talent around him in San Jose may limit his ice-time, but already knowing the ins and outs of life in the NHL has to make him a heavy favourite for the Calder.

Jeff Skinner - Carolina Hurricanes

When the Carolina Hurricanes stepped on to the stage at the 2010 NHL Draft and announced Jeff Skinner was their first round pick (7th overall), many hockey fans collectively said, “Who?”

The young man from Markham, Ontario was projected to go in the second round (34th overall), but Carolina liked what they saw in the former Kitchener Ranger and made him their top pick. He wrapped up his junior career with 50 goals and 40 assists during the regular season and finished second in OHL playoff scoring with 33 points (Taylor Hall was number one).

Stepping right into a prominent role with the Hurricanes this season, the 18-year-old has proven that Carolina GM Jim Rutherford was on the right track when he grabbed Skinner so early in the draft. In 26 games, he has 8 goals and 12 assists to lead the rookie-scoring race with 20 points. He is taking a regular shift in Carolina, averaging over 17 minutes in ice-time, and as a major part of their offence, Skinner is certainly one to watch in 2010.

Jordan Eberle - Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers are always interested in players that proudly wear the national colours for Hockey Canada, and Jordan Eberle is his generation’s Captain Canada. He has been a force on the world stage with Canada’s junior team and that experience has translated into a fast start in the NHL. In 26 games, Eberle has 5 goals and 13 assists with the up and coming Oilers.

A star with the Regina Pats in the WHL, the young right-winger was a first round selection (22nd overall) in the 2008 Draft. During his final year in junior, he scored 50 goals and added 56 assists, which brought him the title of CHL Player of the Year in 2010. With a gold and silver medal at the World Junior Championship in 2009 and 2010 on his lengthy list of accomplishments, he was also named the Tournament MVP at the 2010 WJC. He is Canada’s all-time leading scorer at the tournament with 18 goals and 18 assists.

Like Skinner in Carolina, Eberle is seeing plenty of ice-time in Edmonton; averaging almost 19 minutes per game. While there will be some highs and lows in Edmonton this year as they rebuild their team for the future, as a focal point of the offence, Eberle should continue to find the net and be in the hunt for the Calder Trophy all season.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Voice of Sport at The Hockey Writers: Ottawa's Lack of Goals Leads to New Franchise Record

Sens Need More Goals From
Players Like Mike Fisher
(Dan4th/Flickr)
The Ottawa Senators have struggled to find any consistency in the offensive zone in recent weeks and they have dropped in the Eastern Conference standings with a 3-6-1 record in their last ten games. Outscored 28-13 during that time, the Senators are in desperate need of a top-six forward, or they risk falling further in the standings and out of the playoff race.

Read about the Senators and their inability to find the net at The Hockey Writers

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Voice of Sport at The Hockey Writers: Dany Heatley Returns To Ottawa

Heatley Returns to Ottawa
Photo by Dan4th/Flickr
Hockey fans in Ottawa circled December 2nd on their calendars when the NHL released the schedule for this year - Dany Heatley finally returns to Ottawa as a member of the San Jose Sharks. The all-star forward can expect a chilly reception in the nation's capital.

Montreal Alouettes Return Home As Grey Cup Champions

This article was first published in the December 1st edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox.

The Montreal Alouettes played two pre-season games, eighteen regular season games, and the Eastern Division Final to earn the right to play in the 98th Grey Cup against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. After so many games, it is hard to believe that going into the final 15 minutes of their season, they were locked at 11-11 with the Roughriders; one quarter of football would decide whether they ended their year as champions once again. The last time the Grey Cup was tied going into the final quarter was 1972 - a 10-10 deadlock between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Roughriders.

Heading into the season, the Alouettes made it very clear that they did not see another trip to the Grey Cup as an opportunity to win back-to-back championships. It was a new year and a new team; last year’s victory belonged to last year’s team. However, with three consecutive trips to the league championship and victories in the last two, it may be time to start using the word “dynasty” when describing the Alouettes organization.

Once again, it was the arm of veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo that led the Alouettes to a 21-18 win over Saskatchewan. He completed 29 of his 42 pass attempts for 336 passing yards. The Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Player was Montreal wide receiver Jamal Richardson - catching eight of Calvillo’s passes for 108 yards. Running back Avon Cobourne scored both of Montreal’s touchdowns with runs of three yards and two yards, he would finish the game with 67 rushing yards on 15 carries.

After two tremendous offensive battles in their regular season match-ups, a 54-51 Saskatchewan victory on July 1, and a 30-26 Montreal win in the rematch on August 6, the defence stole the show for much of the game in the Grey Cup. The Saskatchewan defenders reached Calvillo on three occasions for the sack and limited his options for much of the game. The same can be said of Montreal’s defence; while they only sacked Darian Durant once, they limited him to 215 passing yards and the normally dangerous rushing QB was limited to just eight yards on the ground.

The story that emerged after the game is the one that football fans in every CFL city will remember when looking back at the 98th Grey Cup for years to come. Not only had Anthony Calvillo battled the elements and the opposition to become the fifth QB in CFL history to lead his team to back-to-back championships, he did so with a tremendous weight on his mind. Calvillo revealed that he has known since his sternum injury at mid-season that he would require surgery once the season concluded. A lesion on his thyroid had been discovered, the biopsy was inconclusive and part of his thyroid must be removed before it is known whether the lesion is malignant or benign.

Having already helped his wife battle cancer during the 2007 season, the strain and the weight of such news would break most people - but not Calvillo. Instead, he went to work, capping off one of his best years statistically with the third Grey Cup title of his career. If the Montreal Alouettes have indeed become a football dynasty, there is no doubt that Calvillo is the Emperor.