Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mailbag: Versus, Don't Miss A Second-- Miss Entire Periods!

So, checking the Anaheim Calling inbox this morning, I found a message from a Versus rep, inquiring into whether or not Daniel and I would like to be pimped-

--ahem --

That is, whether or not we'd like to participate in an NHL on Versus promotion. Rather than give them a straightforward 'yes' or 'no,' Daniel and I thought we'd do an honest write up, and then take it from there.

So, Daniel, as someone trying to watch the Ducks games from an Illinois grad school-- who ended up missing the 1st period of Game 6 on Monday --what's your beef with Versus?

Well, first let me start by saying that I had prepped a meal for puck drop and everything. So, here I am with taquitos and guacamole that I made from scratch-- God that sounds so stereotypical --rocking my Ducks sweater, only to have the Blackhawks on Versus AND the local channel. Now, I can understand feeding the Blackhawks game to Illinois if there is no local coverage, but if there IS local coverage, why am I watching the Hawks game on two channels when there's a deciding game in another series? I could have been on Hockey overload. My cable guide said I should have been watching the Ducks game. I'm just wondering how Versus is going to let me know, as a fan, which game I will be watching.

Yeah, there's a lot of that sort of mismanagement. I also don't see how their advertising campaign was "Don't Miss A Second," and then on the night playoffs start, we missed the 1st period of the last two games. They missed 2,400 seconds on the first night of play!

Though, in their defense, they're a startup cable network with ONE channel trying to manage the rights to air three hockey games in one night. But let me just say this, and you know what I'm going to say: hockey fans were spoiled by the TV deals in the '90s.

Oh, here we go. Are you going to be preaching for long? Should I get a drink and come back?

When they signed with FOX in '94, the NHL hadn't been on network TV from 1981 to 1989, and they hadn't signed a long-term deal since they left CBS in 1972. That's 22 years out of the spotlight.

Now, I grew up in the Bay Area in the 80s. We had no team, and I had no cable. No USA network. No ESPN network. Certainly no Sportschannel America. And so, no NHL. And there was a time when that was the story: if you moved away from Canada/the Canadian border or a major hockey market, then you lived in a hockey-less world. Even if you had cable, you got a handful of games and the channel that carried the NHL kept changing.

So, you can't convince me that no coverage is better than coverage. The NHL went a long time without any kind of TV deal, at all. And since Bettman scorned FOX and refused to give ABC a discount, he's stuck with NBC and Versus. He may end up putting every non-Finals game on Center Ice or NHLTV, and out-of-market fans will have to pay just to watch the playoffs.

Okay, I'll admit that hockey fans have come to expect a little more from hockey TV coverage after the 90s, but is that really an excuse for Versus not to get their act together?

I grew up on ESPN double headers and NHL2Night. I think Versus can do a lot more in terms of coverage. Even a nightly show a la NHL2Night would go a long way in keeping more viewers interested in the few games they can actually watch. I'm saying that Versus may have limited resources, but there's certainly more they can give us to make sure fans see a little more hockey related content on a regular basis. Plus, it'll increase general traffic for their channel and possibly raise viewership for the more obscure sports the station airs.

Well, I definitely agree that it does wonders for the NHL and its stars to show Ovechkin's and Malkin's highlights every night, and break them down for the casual fans. I don't know how much it would cost to produce an NHL2Night. Maybe not more than that Sports Soup show that Versus has, and maybe it's a wise investment with how much they're paying for their TV contract with the league. But that's all assuming Versus WANTS to invest in its NHL coverage.

Let me break you off with a little trivia, here. First of the major sports broadcast on ESPN? NHL games. They negotiated TV contracts with the Whalers and Capitals. Versus is probably using the NHL the same way that ESPN did back then. They're just trying to show the other major sports that they can handle a broadcast. I'm sure they don't want Bettman any more than he wants them.

That's a fair observation; I certainly don't think Versus treats hockey like a flagship sport. Not the way a TNT treats the NBA. I know TNT doesn't have a nightly NBA show, but they have programs other than sports. Versus advertises itself as a sports channel. They don't have to go ad nauseum like ESPN, but give me something.

TNT at least has a great personality that mixes things up for the rest of the group, one Sir Charles Barkley. That's the main difference between what happens with other sports and what happens with the Versus coverage. The Versus crew doesn't have a lot of personality. Sometimes I feel like I'm watching a bunch of guys who know nothing about hockey. Not because the info isn't good. Engblom, Clement and Jones know their stuff. They just never seem comfortable in front of the camera. They laugh awkwardly and just aren't engaging. I teach public speaking, and I'm not convinced these guys took it in high school or college. They stare at the camera and they seem to get excited about all the wrong things. I don't know. I'm just never excited when I watch the games, and I don't feel like I get the insight into the game that I do when I listen to Hayzie (Brian Hayward for those of you unfortunate enough to not know who he is). I know a lot of fans don't like Hayzie, and think he's a homer, but you haven't heard these midwest commentators. These motherf***ers are something else.

I agree that the Versus crew needs a Barry Melrose-type, but here's the thing, how easy was it for ESPN to replace Barry Melrose this year? Suddenly, Scott Burnside *shivers* is a hockey expert? Maybe there aren't a lot of old NHL coaches/players that have personality.

At the end of the day, Versus is not avoiding those basic scheduling mistakes that plague an upstart cable network and they need to invest in more NHL programming and better color guys. BUT I'm glad someone's carrying hockey, and really, it's not their fault that a fledgling network has to carry the majority of the NHL programming. It's Bettman's.

That is the truth, and we, as Hockey fans, just have to deal with Bettman's mistakes...all the time. I hate that guy.

Okay. Keep this in mind, folks, Arthur and I will be doing a split experience for Game 3 at the Ponda Center (eat it Honda that stadium will forever be the Pond and y'all just piss me off) for CLS. That is, I will be talking about what it's like watching the game on Versus, and Arthur will be providing you with his analysis as a live fan. It's gonna be different-- we hope --and hopefully you all will enjoy it. This was Anaheim Calling to the Hockey world. Enjoy your playoffs.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Trimming The Playoff Tree 2: Bonsai Edition

So, the first round is over, and it's time to look at how we did. If Buccigross can admit his shortcomings, then we at Anaheim Calling can do the same. So let's do it, Arthur. Tell us what happened that affected your predictions in the first round, and lay down some predictions for the 3 series of the Conference Semis that don't involve our Ducks.

First, I'll point out to our readers that Daniel and I don't do series predictions for the Ducks because that's 7 years bad magumbo. And Daniel remembers what happened when I said the Sabres would win the Cup during the '99 All-Star Break and when I said it was the Ducks' year to win the Cup during the 2003 All-Star Break. Although, in my defense, the Sabres still haven't lost that '99 Finals (and they better hurry up and finish those games before Guy Carbonneau dies). For our breakdown of the keys to the Ducks/Wings series, head over to the CLS mini-blog.

On my first round calls, I got my winners right 5/7 and correctly predicted a Boston sweep. However, I was VERY wrong about the Blues, and I overestimated Brodeur. Though in my defense, Brodeur was the difference in those last two games. If he focuses as the clock winds down, it's NJ in 6.


Washington-Pittsburgh: From the regular season matchups, I want so desperately to pick the Capitals. Watching Ovechkin laugh and push Crosby around while Sid is on the verge of tears-- priceless. But the Capitals had trouble last series, and they had trouble at home. Fedorov AND Ovechkin would have to take this series over. And I don't think they will.
Pens in 6.

Boston-Carolina: After the end of their series with NJ, the Canes clearly have the hockey gods on their side. Boston's Irish Catholic population might be the only thing that can combat that. I'm going to say that Cam Ward has at least one bad game, and that Chara shuts down Staal. And since you have to score to win...
Bruins in 5.


Vancouver-Chicago: I picked the Hawks in a sweep last round and Vancouver losing a in a long series. Since I got those totally backwards, you'd think I'd pick the 'Nucks right? Nope. Unless I see a 100% Mats Sundin, I say Chicago keeps rolling.
Blackhawks in 6.

Well, I was also 5/7 in my predictions, probably because we picked the same teams. Sadly, we'll do it again, although for different reasons. I'd also like to point out that I had exact matches on 3/4 of the Eastern Conference series, and was sorely let down by Brodeur. I have nothing but shock over that game 7. I still don't know how Carolina did it. As for the Blues, I just don't know where they went. They didn't look at all like the team we'd seen at the end of the year, and maybe all that youth just wilted in front of Luongo and the Sedins. So, predictions for the next round:

Eastern Conference

Boston-Carolina: My heart wants to pick Carolina: they're coming off a great upset of New Jersey, Cam Ward looks like he could steal some games and that top line with Staal and Whitney looks pretty dangerous. I love a good upset as much as anyone, but Boston has too much up front and Tim Thomas doesn't look like he's getting rattled anytime soon. Still, I think Carolina gives Boston a little bit of a scare.
Bruins in 6.

Pittsburgh-Washington: I love Ovechkin, like I'd-let-him-date-my-daughter-if-I-had-one love him. He plays a style that the league hasn't seen in years. I know everyone knocks him for celebrating too much, including me, but the kid is just exciting. Whenever he touches the puck I'm waiting for something amazing to happen. But you know what happened to Wayne Gretzky when he ran into Patrick Roy, the same thing that's going to happen in this series. I'm not saying Marc-Andre Fleury is Roy-- I'm not stupid. I'm just saying that Pittsburgh wins the goalie battle by a lot. And I think people who pick Washington are forgetting something, Kunitz used to play on a very defense-oriented Anaheim team, and that guy knows how to piss people off. If I'm Bylsma, I let Kunitz go loose all over Ovechkin. The Pens are too strong up front, and they have the experience. This isn't Washington's year.
Penguins in 5.

Western Conference

Chicago-Vancouver. If I love Ovechkin enough to let him marry my hypothetical daughter, then the youth movement in Chicago can date my sister. Not all of them at the same time,-- this isn't that kind of website --but Toews, Sharp, or Kane can take a shot and try to tame the shrew.* The Sedins might be the best workers in the league that don't reside in Anaheim. They can cycle on a level similar to the RPG line. It's not really their game, but I've seen them do it. Sadly, that's not going to be enough. Mats isn't 100%, no matter how much rest he's had. Mostly because he is just out of gas. Chicago is too young, too fast and they just look hungry. They had so many opportunities to fold to the Flames, but they kept coming back. Others might say that Luongo can win this series for the Canucks, but I think he's going to be blinded by the glint coming off Khabibulin's '04 Cup Ring. That's right, I said it!! The Bulin Wall is going to outduel Vancouver's darling of the pipes. Look for Luongo to give up another softy when it matters most, like he did in Vancouver's defeat at the hands of the '07 Ducks.
Blackhawks in 6.

In reference to Daniel's sister: I wouldn't call her a shrew, but I AM surprised I've never found her on "that kind of website."


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Handshake Line - WCQF 2009: San Jose

The history books will tell you that Canada's English settlers instituted hockey's traditional handshake line, hoping to imbue the rough and tumble game with an air of sportsmanship. However, I prefer to believe, as I do about fighting, that the practice has its roots in the Iroquois lacrosse tradition. Tribes would settle their disagreements on the field in ferocious competition, but the field is where the disagreement stayed. You battled as hard as you could, but you accepted the final score, if not out of respect for your opponent, then out of respect for the game.

We respect the handshake line here at Anaheim Calling, and would like to start a handshake tradition of our own. So, Daniel, walking through the line of Sharks fans, Sharks players and the Sharks coaching staff, what are the positives beyond 'good game' that you would like to express?

I'd be lying if I said I didn't hate the Sharks, but maybe it's the hate that makes me like them so much. I don't know what I'd do without the Sharks. My dislike of them makes my love of hockey that much stronger. I didn't get to attend any games, but from what I watched on TV, props to San Jose fans for sticking it out. They never gave up. Too often, fans know the series is over and will resign themselves to waiting for the end to come. I'm always impressed by San Jose fans' undying loyalty to their squad despite the recent failings. I once dated a Sharks fan; she was crazy. But, she did take me to a playoff game after we broke up, which was very classy, especially since I broke her heart. The important thing to remember is that you still have the most talented corps in the league; your day will come. I just hope it's never at our expense.

[To Dan Boyle]
You tried as much as any D-man can to strap this team to your back. You had so many bounces go against you, and you had to battle what might be the best cycling line in the NHL, night in and night out, and you made them earn every inch of ice. Your performance in Game 3 pulled your team back from the abyss and made this a series. You showed incredible poise and work ethic. You put a mark on this team, and showed a leadership that will last this team well into next year and possibly/hopefully long after.

[To Rob Blake]
What do you say to the best hip checker in the league except don't go. One of the most memorable defensive plays I've ever seen belongs to you. I remember neither the team nor the game, but you were, as you usually were and rightfully so, wearing a Kings sweater and you reached around a forward protecting the puck with his body, got all puck and then finished by taking him to the ice. In this series, you showed again why you will be in the Hall of Fame, battling and still unleashing that bomb from the point. I haven't seen anything that says you're done, and if Chelios can still go, you've for sure still got it in you.

[To Joe Thornton]
I think you finally get it. The Joe Thornton that showed up to the last 3 games of this series is the Joe Thornton that all of Hockey has been waiting to see in the playoffs. I'm excited and worried. If the Sharks are smart, they'll keep you and Marleau and put you on a line with Cheechoo, again. One day you'll put your hands on the Cup and it'll be sweet.

[To Patrick Marleau]
You're a lifer; don't go anywhere! Just as I need to hate the Sharks, I need to hate you. You were a captain this series, a real one, the one that the Sharks always knew they had. You belong in a Sharks sweater, and when you finally hoist your cup for San Jose you'll be what Arthur and I always wanted Paul Kariya to be, the franchise player who won the Cup where he was supposed to win the Cup. You are synonymous with San Jose Hockey and that's how it should be.

[To Jonathan Cheechoo]
You are a sniper, and you are gritty. You are not a third line winger, and perhaps the abundance of talent in San Jose has been bad for you. I don't know. What I do know is that you can still win another Richard, and you showed in this series how you did it. You didn't find the back of the net as much, but I still remember why you were so deadly, and you will be again.

[To Todd McLellan]
Your system is great; you just ran into a great goalkeeper. You transformed a team coming off a sour playoff performance and got them to focus on the task at hand. You'll be around for a long time. And I hope that you and Carlyle can match wits for years to come.

[To All Sharks Fans]
I was able to shake a few hands and say, "good series" when the San Jose fans in my section made their way out. That sentiment goes for all Sharks fans. You made the Tank raucous and inhospitable, you brought an impressive contingent into the Ponda Center and you never stopped cheering a squad that wasn't always rewarded for its play. A team could not ask for more from its followers.

As to the personal fights or NorCal vs. SoCal trash talk, I'm afraid I'm handicapped in that debate. You see, I'm from the Bay Area-- born San Francisco General, raised ten blocks from Candlestick in the 80s, die hard Niners fan, die hard Giants fan. I moved away the year after the Sharks were formed, and by the time I came back to attend Berkeley, I was parading my Kariya jersey through HP Pavillion. If there's some kind of regional war, I'm afraid I'll have to opt out.

[To Patrick Marleau]
You went out there with a bum wheel (or some other lower body car part), and you produced to the tune of 2 GWG. The "C" is the heaviest patch on the jersey and you carried it well, presumably on one leg.

[To Joe Thornton]
I knew I was looking at a different Joe when I saw you jawing at Getzlaf during the opening faceoff of the 2nd period in Game 5. Then you backed it up to open Game 6. That's the playoff Joe we've been looking for. I hope to see him next year, though I hope we don't play him next year. Oh, and secure your fight strap next time you go toe-to-toe, will ya?

[To Devin Setoguchi]
They say you can't teach size, and you can't coach poise. You came out swinging in Game 1. And far more impressive than your 65-point sophomore campaign was the goal you scored in Game 5. You knew you were facing a hot goaltender, but you took what you knew from scouting him, you gave yourself space and you were patient with the puck. You're a playoff performer, and you will be for years to come.

[To Jonathan Cheechoo]
You ran the spectrum in Game 2: the Verbeek-ian grit that draws penalties and the Bossy-an hands that force a team to pick its mistakes out of the back of the net. You're a duck killer. We were lucky to get away.

[To Todd McLellan]
After they shut you down in the neutral zone, you made all the right moves. You might've breezed through this series if the goalie had been more cooperative.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Follow Up: PK - John Moore

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

This is a follow up to my Penalty Kill profile on John Moore. If you read this post, where I admitted that I tend to agree with Bryan Murray on Draft day, then you were probably scratching your head when I weighed the Ducks' blueline options this summer, and came up with Moore-- making NO mention of the top secret European player that the Senators GM told USA Today was "not as ready" but "could be better than Hedman."

I'm willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that Murray is talking about Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. I'm guessing Larsson because a scout alerted Murray to this mystery player's existence, and I think it was the same scout who came back from Sweden last year insisting the Senators pick up Karlsson in the first round. Also, the buzz on Ekman-Larsson is mammoth, especially after his strong tournament play. As of April, he is now officially projected as a top ten player in the ISS Rankings.

Does that mean I'm going to recant my declaration of Moore as the 3rd best blueliner? Hell no. First of all, I don't live and die by the ISS Rankings. Ekman-Larsson went from 28th to 9th in a matter of weeks, and I refuse to believe the U18 Canada-Sweden game proved he'd addressed everything they were worried about in February. Central Scouting is high on him, too, placing him as the 2nd best International defenseman, but Central Scouting is also down on Cowen, meaning that as far as they're concerned Moore is still the 3rd best defenseman overall.

In Ekman-Larsson's defense: I don't read Swedish, I'm skeptical of any player whom I can't follow from scouting report to scouting report and I refuse to believe everything I read on the Hockey's Future message boards. But he's got tremendous promise, and I feel about him now the way I did in February-- he's all potential, and teams will either see that as a project or a perfect fit, meaning he'll either go in the top 10 or the last 10 of the first round.

I stand by Moore because he's a good pick if the Ducks are around 15th, and because he fits the mold of Anaheim's recent first-round blueliners: Mitera (2006) and Gardiner (2008)-- both strong skaters in, or committed to, college programs.

Tune in next Penalty Kill when I take a look at the Top Sixers I think Anaheim should consider.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Penalty Shot: 3-1 On The Number 1

Anaheim Calling to the hockey world...

Game 5.

The Ducks MUST close this team out. While 3-0 is a dominating force that only two NHL teams have ever overcome, 3-1 is a bit of a manageable beast. NHL teams are 20-230 in series where they were down 3-1. A long shot sure, but as recently as 2003, the Minnesota Wild did it TWICE (to COL and VAN) to reach the Western Conference Finals.

The Ducks have a 10-2 record when closing out a series, and are 2-1 in games where they own a 3-1 lead. The Sharks are 6-12 when facing elimination, and 1-1 in games where the opponent holds the 3-1 edge. But don't forget that this is essentially the same team that forced Dallas to six games (and a bounce away from seven) last year after the Stars went up 3-0 in the series.

The Ducks are 3-2 at HP this year, and Sleek has broken down the Sharks' general home record for you. Suffice to say, the Ducks aren't afraid of The Tank, but the Sharks might have reason to be.

A Mover And A Shaker - A note on Game 4:
I prepared some earthquake info on my way home from the game, but decided to post about the empty seats at Ponda instead. Rather than waste the information, I thought I'd tack it onto the end of this short post.

Daniel and I attended the January 8th game at The Staples Center (Bobby has since signed this game program for me, though the Kings charged me $5 for it) where a 5.0 earthquake gently rocked the stadium at 7:15 of the 1st Period. After a scoreless 1st for the Ducks, Bobby Ryan opened the floodgates at 19:14 of the 2nd, closing them at 1:35 of the 3rd with a Denis Savardian spin that tied the game and capped off a natural hat trick. We were sitting up top, center ice and I wasn't wearing a hat, but I was screaming for Kings fans to throw theirs.

Then on Thursday, the aftershocks of a 4.0 hit The Ponda Center during the 1st intermission of a scoreless 1st. I had my feet up on the rail in front of me and noticed that my legs started to sway gently. Bobby Ryan scored 6:33 into the 2nd and after a 15-minute delay to fix the glass, found the net again at 10:13 of the 2nd. I was so amped, I climbed the very same rail that had made me question its structural integrity just minutes earlier.

Give him a rattle and a 15-minute break, and you basically pull the pin out of the grenade. Must be the spores in the air or something. Check this kid for milky tears!


Friday, April 24, 2009

Penalty Shot: Empty Seats

I was in the queue for the bathroom during the first intermission last night when a group of Sharks fans decided to get in line and talk trash. Normally, I wouldn't mind it. We were an 8 seed up 2-1 in the series. If anyone was going to feel self-doubt after hearing a little trash talk, it would be a San Jose fan. But these fans weren't calling out the Ducks. They were calling out Ducks fans, and the number of them that did and DIDN'T show up.

Neither Game 3 nor Game 4 sold out. And though the Ponda Center was by no means half-empty, the 200-300 levels (the TV levels) were heavily checkered. Game 3 seated 16,277 in a building that holds 17,174. And two nights later, 344 cushions remained vertical.

Now, lest you San Jose fans buy into the East Coast bias and Kevin Lowe hate on the Anaheim hockey market, I remind you that Anaheim sold out its entire schedule last season and seven straight rounds of playoff play before Tuesday night's game. The Kings haven't sold out an entire season since 1991. And the Sharks, good as you were this season, were one game short of selling out all 41.

So, why the empty seats this week? A lot of people will tell you that fans were home watching the Laker game or attending the Angels game. Or maybe that playoff ticket pre-order was poor because sales opened when the Ducks had yet to clinch a playoff spot. I don't buy any of that, really. Even if there were no scheduling conflicts and the team clinched a spot earlier (provided it was still 8th), I'd guess that the games still wouldn't sell out. The economy has been roughing up the Ducks' ticket sales all year.

I point you to the attendance numbers for Anaheim and San Jose for the past two seasons. You'll notice that Sharks average attendance increased by around 70 from last season to this season, while Ducks average attendance dropped by 200 in that same time frame. Before you go and attribute those changes to fan enthusiasm, I now point you to the Sacramento Bee unemployment map. As you can see, the Bay Area is a healthy green (only Santa Clara and Alameda are experiencing double-digits), while Southern California is hit much harder. A green Orange County is surrounded by much larger counties that are experiencing 11.3% (LA), 12.5% (San Bernardino) and 13.2% (Riverside) unemployment.

So, all of you Sharks fans that were heckling attendance? You were basically laughing at people that lost their jobs. Classy.

On the bright side, if we do eliminate you, I think we'll find some of that fan enthusiasm you accuse us of lacking.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Penalty Kill: John Moore

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Last week, Central Scouting released their final rankings for this year's Entry Draft. This is an important draft for the Ducks, who have amassed an Iowa team stocked with two-way forwards and frequently called-up defensemen. And while that is exactly the kind of team that Brian Burke intended to build, many are putting the smart money on the Ducks picking a Top Six scorer or a solid blueliner to balance out their prospect pool.

I secretly believe the Ducks will ignore those smart money decisions and pick someone like Zack Kassian, but I feel it important to profile some of these "smart" picks. If Anaheim is indeed picking a defenseman this year, they have no shot at Victor Hedman and Jared Cowen's size (despite his shiny new ACL) will get him picked in the top 10. For my money, the third best defenseman in the draft is John Moore, and he may just fall into the Ducks' wheelhouse.

[UPDATED VIDEO: feature to replace that camcorder vid.]

Moore may be higher in your mock draft (or lower-- we'll talk about that later), but as he blossomed late in the scouting cycle, I think he will be there right around 15th.* Central Scouting places him as the 6th best skater in North America and the 2nd best College or College-committed player available on draft day, while the ISS Rankings from March place him as the 17th best overall.

John Moore is a native of Winnetka, the suburb 10 miles north of Chicago that passed for the fictitious Shermer in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In 2007, after a growth spurt that carried him to the 6-ft. mark, he tried out for the USHL's Chicago Steel. Although he missed the cut, a member of the Steel roster moved on to the OHL, which opened a spot for Moore at 7th defenseman. He made the most of the opportunity, posting 4G and 11A with 2A in the playoffs and ending the season as a Top Four in the depth chart.

Moore added some juice to his scouting buzz when he helped the USA win the Gold at the World Junior A Challenge in Camrose. Among the skills he displayed on the international stage were a big shot, natural offensive talent and dynamite skating ability, which he honed under the tutelage of power skating coach Rafe Aybar.

Going into his second year with the Steel, Moore worked to improve his strength, conditioning and nutrition, bringing the 6'2" blueliner to the 190 lbs+ mark. The improved regimen showed in his puck-handling, skating and scoring touch, prompting Steel coach Steve Poapst to declare him "head and shoulders above anyone at [the USHL] level." For proof of that, you need only look to the rearguard's 2008-09 USHL Defenseman of the Year award, an honor he won with a 14G 25A campaign that featured a natural hat trick, 18P on the power play and 3P on the PK.

Moore describes himself as a puck-moving defenseman, a strong skater and a good passer. When modeling his game, he looks to players like Duncan Keith and Scott Niedermayer, who use skating ability to position themselves and be effective on both sides of the puck. As far as the improvements required to bring his game to the next level, Moore cites gap control, positioning, down low 1-on-1 and better work along the boards.**

The main concern when scouting Moore was his offensive decision making; his coach and teammates often razzed him for trying to be the fourth forward on every shift. However, halfway through this season, Moore made the conscious effort to pass on entry and to survey his options from the blue line, rather than bring the puck in and attack on his own. He's also worked hard to find consistency in his mental approach to the game. The increased discipline has shown on the ice and on the scoreboard. And his ability to make these minor adjustments shows he has a strong work ethic and a coachable personality.

Moore went undrafted by the Canadian leagues, and has committed to play at Colorado College next year. If I were Murray, I pick Moore for these three reasons:

1) Skating. No one is the 'next' Scott Niedermayer, but strong skating defensemen play well in the Anaheim system. And not only is Moore maybe the best skating d-man in the draft, but he consciously works to make skating the cornerstone of his game.

2) Still improving. The kid has a smiling and hard-working approach to hockey, and he's eager to address any shortcomings in his game. Not to mention the fact that he's still hitting growth spurts and may end up 6'4" 210lbs+ when all is said and done.

3) WCHA scouting reports. Anaheim has always had faith in the US College programs and the structured year-to-year progress reports that they offer an NHL team. If Moore indeed attends Colorado, he will be brought along properly and methodically, while being consistently tested by WCHA teams that are heavy in NHL drafted forwards.

Now, remember when I said we'd talk about YOUR mock draft, which so clearly disagrees with mine? Let's do that now. First, if you have Cowen falling out of the top ten and into the Ducks' system-- awesome, you're an optimist. I just don't think that the teams ahead of the Ducks will let a blown ACL scare them off of the second best defenseman in the draft (though he will miss the draft combine). If you agree with me there, you probably have Ryan Ellis, Dmitri Kulikov or Simon Despres as better options than Moore.

I'm going to dismiss Ellis as a good fit for Anaheim. They tried bringing a small defenseman into Carlyle's system as recently as Bergeron, and it didn't work. Ellis is good, but at 5'9" he's not a Carlyle blueliner. Kulikov is a good choice (especially if he's still available around 15th): naturally offensive but able to play purely defensive hockey when asked. He's been great in the QMJHL, but he's not quite the skater that Moore is, and he lacks the physical presence that Despres can bring. Also, the Ducks have managed to get rid of almost every Russian/E.European player and prospect in their system-- that's right, Daniel, I went there --so I don't see him as a likely pick. I like Simon Despres, and I think he offers tremendous shut down skill at the expense of offensive production. I will try to cover options like Kulikov, Despres and others if I have time in future PK posts.

*An estimation based on the end of the season standings, not a forecast of actual draft position (if you know what I mean).

**Comments culled from his interview with The Pipeline Show.

A follow up to this post is available here. Read more...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Game 3 - WCQF at Ponda Center

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

This is a solo edition of Cold Hard Stats.

While reading the Monday hype for tonight's game, I came across two things that contradicted what I think I know about the Sharks:

The first was McLellan's insistence to The Hockey News that he had no intention of changing the way his team plays as they were "one goal behind in both games, with - in my opinion - more chances."

The second was Pronger's quote to The LA Times, which estimated that, "They have a very potent power play and at some point they're going to explode."

Now, the Sharks hit some injuries and a scoring drought midseason, though they seemed to climb out of it before the trade deadline. Still, to my recollection, they hadn't won many games by multiple goals down the stretch, and they struggled heavily both on the power play and at even strength against Pacific Division teams. If that's true, it would make McLellan's quote sound rather silly, and confirm Pronger's quote to be more of a sports platitude than anything else. Let me use some statistics from the months of March and April to illustrate my view on this.

McLellan's Quote
For the months of March and April, McLellan's Sharks went 11-8 with 2 overtime losses. Three of those wins came by way of Shootout and one in OT. That gives the Sharks a regulation record of 7-8.

Of those 7 wins, only 2 were decided by a goal differential greater than 1, and the 3-1 victory over the Avs on March 22nd included an Empty Net goal by Setoguchi. That means that for the months of March and April, the Sharks won just ONE game where their opponent was not in striking distance when the horn sounded.

Now, McLellan could be saying he's staying neck and neck with a good team, and his team has the opportunity to win these games if not for the unlucky bounces-- but shouldn't Carlyle be saying that? Since when does a Presidents' Trophy team hang its hat on staying with an eighth seed (even a great eighth seed)?

Again here, let's go back to the March and April records. The Sharks dropped 8 games to teams that were 6th or lower in the Western Conference standings, including 2 losses to the Coyotes, who were cycling in minor league players. And of San Jose's 4 wins after regulation, one came in overtime against MIN and three were decided in shootouts against LA, COL and NSH (all teams placed 6th or lower at game time).

San Jose had the luxury of finishing the season against teams that were missing or were in danger of missing the playoffs, and they notched ONE convincing win. You can argue that a malaise came over the team, as they had clinched a playoff spot and were staring at an easy schedule, maybe surprised by teams with something to play for down the stretch. But that malaise is only okay if you snap out of it when the playoffs start. You DEFINITELY shouldn't be proud that you're STILL playing that way. Carlyle should be happy that these games are close; McLellan should be upset.

Pronger's Quote
Don't get me wrong, the Sharks have a great power play. They're stacked with talent and maybe only 3 teams in the league can hold the zone and move the puck as well as they do. But in a series where the Ducks are stymieing the Sharks' offensive zone entry, you have to wonder if Anaheim hasn't also figured out how to defuse much of the explosiveness of San Jose's power play after it sets up in the Ducks' end.

Let's go back to the March and April stats. In that block of time, San Jose played 10 games against the Pacific Division, going 5-5, and 11 games against the rest of the Western Conference. In those 11 games, San Jose matched up with teams like MIN, CGY, NSH and STL-- all top 10 in PK% in the league. The Sharks went 10 for 37 (27%), commensurate with their season total of 24.2% with the man-advantage.

However, against the Pacific Division, the Sharks went 10 for 52 (19.2%). And if you factor out the 3 for 7 showing April 11th against the Kings, the Sharks power play would have tallied 15.6%. Now, a 20% power play is nothing to scoff at, but consider that in the Pacific Division, only LA and SJ have competent PK stats this season. ANA, DAL and PHX all placed 23rd or worse when down a man. Yet, these teams were comfortable taking 52 penalties against the league's 3rd best power play?

I doubt ANYONE could beat the Sharks giving up 6 penalties per game, but the fear of an explosion implies you've showed this power play some respect before. You haven't, and with Phoenix beating San Jose 4-1 while turning them away 0 for 6, something on these Pacific Division scouting reports probably says you shouldn't.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shooting The Messengers

Daniel, how's the playoff beard coming?

Stubbly. Scotty's putting me to shame.

That salt and pepper puts us ALL to shame. Alright. Down to business.

Before the playoffs began, the NHL held a conference call with its general managers to let them know that "message sending" when the "outcome [of a game] had been determined" would not be allowed.

The new policy would be tested in Game 1 between the Penguins and Flyers. Down 4-1 with seven seconds left in the 3rd, Philadelphia sent Daniel Carcillo to the faceoff circle. Instead of drawing the puck, he punched Maxim Talbot in the face with the butt of his stuck. Bettman called him to the principal's office the next morning and dealt him a one-game suspension. Coach Stevens received a $10K fine.

Two days later, the league clarified its policy by not punishing Mike Cammalleri after he laid a vicious elbow into Martin Havlat's concussion-ridden chin. The league used the familiar terms, "first-time incident" and "not a repeat offender" in describing its standard of discipline.

Daniel, is it realistic for the NHL to ask teams to give up the practice of message sending? What is the value of letting it continue? And as the Ducks have a few 'repeat offenders' known to dabble in this sort of intimidation, do you think the new standard of conduct will come into play in their series with the Sharks?

The NHL cannot stop message sending. The playoffs are all about mental positioning and momentum. If you can get in someone's head and have them doubt their ability to compete, why not do it? Moreover, why would a team not remind the team that just beat them that the next one won't come easily? Message sending keeps both teams on a complete mental tilt.

More importantly, message sending keeps the fans excited for the next game. We get excited and we like to think that even if we're down 3-0, our team isn't going to roll over and die. I agree that the players shouldn't be in danger, but keep in mind just how tough these guys are. Also, good enforcers can rough each other up and send messages without injuring someone. Message sending keeps the teams and the fans anxiously awaiting the next game.

Sadly, this is a threat in the Ducks-Sharks series. The Ducks wouldn't lie down for a nap, let alone another team. We're the baddest kids on the block, and we don't let anyone forget it. We will end up sending a message, and I only hope it's not Pronger. I always enjoyed our hard-nosed approach, but if the league is hunting people down for this, we might end up on the wrong end of it.

I always take issue with the NHL's attempts to corral and codify the unwritten rules of hockey. But it's not clear to me that this policy is even being enforced. The Boston/Montreal series was allowed to boil over until Lucic took a match penalty last night, and the Cammalleri incident implies that two people can elbow each other in the head all day as long as they're both goal scorers. I'm not saying Carcillo didn't deserve it, or that Coach Stevens didn't do EXACTLY what the league warned him not to do. But Lucic and Laraque had bad reputations before they caused a Game 1 fracas, and Cammalleri tried to injure a concussion-prone Havlat as surely as Carcillo tried to injure Talbot. Why no intervention there?

As far as the Ducks-Sharks series, it was quiet on Thursday. Too quiet. I wouldn't be surprised if tonight's game ended in a brawl similar to the April 5th melee at Ponda Center. Both teams will be looking to send the message that they intend to dominate when the series moves back to Anaheim. Of course, if the game's outcome has "been determined" when they send that message, and Pronger/Perry happens to be on the ice, I doubt the league will hesitate to slap us with a suspension.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Penalty Shot: François Allaire, Le Guru des Gardiens


Update to this post available here.

The Ducks have yet to renew the following multi-year contracts: Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant, BOTH Niedermayers and François Allaire. That's right. François Allaire. For those of you who don't know who that is, SHAME ON YOU!, but also, here's a brief biography of his hockey career:

In 1975, a 17-year-old Allaire travelled the world to research and develop a systematic approach to the Butterfly goaltending style. A decade later, François found his prized pupil, Patrick Roy, with whom he fine-tuned his theories and methods at the American League and NHL levels of the Montreal Canadiens' system. Their work together filled Allaire's four tomes on the art of goaltending and produced multiple Cups and Conn Smythes for Roy. Allaire's butterfly method emphasizes consistent positioning, skilled skating and the proper use and application of equipment.

After Roy was traded, Allaire did not renew his contract with the Habs. In 1996, then Ducks GM, and former Canadiens scout, Jack Ferreira extended an offer for Allaire to come to Anaheim. When the goaltending guru looked at backstop Guy Hebert, who had trained under goalie coach and former Allaire pupil, Brian Hayward, François commented that the Ducks' goaltender looked "tout croche" (a Quebecois-ism for 'all crooked'). He straightened him out, and Hebert was selected to the NHL All-Star game that year.

Allaire maintains an influential presence in the goaltending community through his globetrotting camps and seminars, his work with École de Hockey Co-Jean and the continued success of his pupils at the NHL level, especially the Ducks' netminders. End Bio.

Now, I think of this man as family at this point, but for anyone that doesn't plan to riot if his contract isn't renewed, I thought I'd give my three reasons why we need to keep François Allaire:

1) Undeniable Guru-ness. Through Roy, Allaire revolutionized goaltending. And in that new era, only one goaltender turns his back on the coach's methods altogether: Martin Brodeur. That's actually a good thing because it means the only person who doesn't need Allaire's help is the most talented goaltender of all-time. The way François thinks the position is uncanny and unmatched. The NHL still turns to his old ideas to increase scoring. At the end of the day, every Ducks goaltender since '96 has had the benefit of learning from the master.

2) Effective coach and productive coaching plan. The Ducks have had a number of goalie controversies since Allaire came on board. And to quote Marlo Stanfield, "That sound like one of them good problems." It is. And it's a direct result of Allaire's effectiveness as a coach and his belief that every team should develop two goaltenders at once. What many teams do with scouting, the Ducks have managed to do with effective coaching. Gerber and Bryzgalov are certainly great talents, but they lost much of their shine just one year removed from training under Allaire. He's shown the ability to develop talent quickly, and keep players productive in the long term.

3) Valuable scouting and recruiting tool. Jiggy doesn't deny that Allaire is an important factor in his choice to stay in Anaheim. He trained with him as a child, and frankly, so did many of the league's better netminders. Hiller and Gerber were scouted through Allaire's work in Switzerland, and Hiller credits the goaltending consultant as one of the major reasons he chose to sign here. The Ducks have an anemic prospect pool compared to the top teams in the league. This is no time to get rid of a peerless talent hound, not to mention a REASON why goalies want to play for Anaheim.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Penalty Kill: Dan Sexton

10/31/09 Update available here.

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

You may have missed this acquisition, but the Ducks signed Bowling Green RW Dan Sexton to a two-year entry-level contract at $500K (NHL salary) per season with a $150K signing bonus. His fee at the AHL level will be $50K and $55K for the two years, respectively.* I've been following this kid since November, and I must say that I'm EXTREMELY surprised he's ended up with the Ducks. Let's take a look at Dan Sexton.

Every blogger and their mother (sorry, Adam Brady) will give you the stat line - 38 games with 17G 22A, and there's no doubt that Sexton had a breakout season this year-- he's a gifted attacker, but that's not the line that worries me. It's this one - 5'9" 166lbs. The Ducks have been down this road before with Ryan Shannon. Out of Boston College, Shannon was a smooth passer with 20/20 hockey vision. He was brought along slowly, allowed to play out his time in Hockey East then dominate the AHL. He was even welcomed onto the Stanley Cup team. But his size sealed his fate. Frequently separated from the puck and taken out of plays, Shannon could not use his diminutive height to draw sympathy from the refs, as he was playing for the most physical team in hockey. He couldn't find his game while being bounced around the ice, and he was bounced around the league until Bryan Murray could maneuver a second chance for him in Ottawa. McNab has yet to convince me that Sexton's future in Anaheim is much brighter.

In 2007, the trio of Dan Sexton, Patrick Tiesling and David Soloway led the Sioux Falls Stampede to the USHL's Tier I Championship, the Clark Cup. Tiesling and Soloway committed to Bowling Green, while Sexton continued to weigh his options, which included Denver, St. Cloud State and Alaska. He eventually committed to an East Coast school, but Tiesling convinced him to de-commit and join his old teammates with the Falcons.

That 07-08 team finished 18-21, but the rookie lines were impressive. And with players like 5'7" Jacob Cepis, Bowling Green seemed to be the right fit for Sexton, as the team was committed to growing small forwards with skill, speed and courage to match up against the CCHA's physically dominant teams. Sexton showed great two-way sense in his freshman season as a mainstay on both the power play and penalty kill, potting 3 shorthanded goals.

In their sophomore season, Sexton and Soloway were joined by senior Brandon Svendson to form the Falcons' "Axe Line." Soloway and Svendson already played on the same PK unit, but Coach Paluch was reluctant to put Sexton and Svendson on the same even strength line as neither had ever played Left Wing. However, in practice, Svendson found he enjoyed the left side, and the trio went on to post 93 points. The line was known for its passing, creativity and the talent level requisite of three players who were dangerous on the penalty kill. Sexton improved his speed and offensive vision during the course of the season, finishing as the seventh best forward in the conference, just one spot out of the First and Second All-CCHA teams.

The Axe Line made noise amongst the NHL scouts, though they were unable to save Bowling Green's win/loss record. The Falcons would play another losing season, intensifying the rumors of the impending demise of the BG hockey program and making it likely that Sexton would be poached at the end of the year.

In January, David McNab made the trip to see Bowling Green play Ohio State, and was immediately impressed by Sexton, who had 2G and 2A in the series. The Ducks' Senior VP maintained regular phone contact with the prospect, attended another Falcons series and followed four televised games before making the decision to sign him. McNab noted Sexton's tremendous offensive talent, but was quick to point out how hard he battled, something vital to succeeding as a small forward at the professional level. He placed the right wing's NHL transition as still a couple of years away, and the kid agrees that he needs to improve his size and strength, starting this summer.

It's not that I'm fond of the Ducks' unofficial rookie height/weight restriction. I don't think every kid should have to be a Ryan Getzlaf Sasquatchewan of a human being to survive in Anaheim, but Sexton has an uphill climb ahead of him. Even if he comes in at the right size and speed, we will still expect him to protect himself and stay cool headed if he gets targeted by another team, which troubled McDonald (and now Ebbett). Of course, unlike Shannon, Sexton has undeniable defensive value, and may be capable of replicating Todd Marchant's recent game-- sound defensive small forward hockey with the ability to cash-in on transition and turnovers on the forecheck. But whatever avenue he finds into Anaheim, it will be tough to stay there. I sincerely hope, both that he proves me wrong and that his talent is not wasted by trying to run with the Pampalona bulls that are the Ducks.

*UPDATED citation: figures taken from an article in Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune by Andrew Weber, dated April 7th, 2009.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Trimming The Playoff Tree

The playoff seeds are finally set and we have the Presidents' trophy winning Sharks, whom I hate. But the first round also features some intriguing matchups including the return of the Blues, who square off against the Canucks, as well as the Blackhawks, who drew the Flames. In the East, the battle of Pennsylvania continues, and there's a clash of two original 6 teams with a long history of hate, in the form of a Boston-Montreal series. So the question this time is easy and in two parts: First, what do the Ducks need to do to ruin another postseason for the Sharks, and how do you see the other playoff matches going?

The Sharks haven't lost in the Conference Quarterfinals since 2001. In fact, they've qualified for the playoffs in five of the six seasons since then, and have skated into the second round every time. Now, you can blame their recent second round exits on Ron Wilson, an exceptionally young core of talent or just bad magumbo. But Sharks management fixed two of those three things by bringing in McLellan and making the best offseason moves by a team not named the Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper, they've done what it takes. However, from playing Detroit, Anaheim is very familiar with watching the right coach and the right players not getting it done.

There is no statistical key to the first round upset. It happens because the top seed can't survive the series, the lower seed rides a dominant goaltender or because the lower seed just happens to be better on four of those seven nights. And it would be foolish of me to bring in statistics when this Ducks team has spent so much of the season trying to find itself.

I think the Sharks were exposed in last year's matchup with the Flames for their inability to stay consistent in a seven game series. If they are the same team, and on paper they're not, Anaheim will have to press them 60 minutes a game for 7 games. Anaheim has the advantage of having played well with its new lineup, both against the Sharks and the rest of the league. If this Ducks team is still improving, and I believe it is, then it has the potential to surprise the Sharks when the teams are still feeling each other out.

Detroit - Columbus: When you factor in playoff experience, it's foolish to accuse Detroit of dropping a game here. But I think the Wings have struggled of late, and will learn to perform or perish in this series. Detroit in 6.

Vancouver - St. Louis: I don't think anyone in the NHL wants to face this Blues team. They've proved me wrong down the stretch, and while these aren't the Blues of old, they have unstoppable young talent in Oshie and Berglund. I think Blues in 7.

Chicago - Calgary: Despite making moves designed to improve their playoff performance, Calgary has been on the slide. I think a consistent Hawks team will jump on them early, and crush their already failing confidence. Chicago in 4.

Boston - Montreal: The Habs are reeling from the loss of Markov and a 100% Schneider. There's no reason for them not to continue their losing ways against a stacked Boston team, even when you factor in the Tanguay-Koivu-Kovalev line. Bruins in 4.

Washington - NY Rangers: By picking up Avery, the Rangers declared war on the entire playoff tree, not just the first round. And in their defense, he's looked good in the nationally televised games. I think Ovechkin will need to take this series over, and he will. I say Caps in 6.

New Jersey - Carolina: I really like the number of old school Devils on this team and their ability to win WITHOUT Brodeur. Having Marty back, I just don't see how Carolina can bang, despite an improved Cam Ward. NJ in 6.

Philadelphia - Pittsburgh: Even with a healthy Philadelphia, I just like this Pittsburgh squad too much. Philly's defense and Biron will need to stand tall against the Pens centers, and I think they might be able to for 3 games, just not 4. Pitt in 7.

I agree that it's almost impossible to predict what it will take for the Ducks to upset the Sharks. There's no single statistic that will indicate how well the Ducks will play. Things that I like going into the series are that Hiller looked good in the last stretch and that Jiggy was solid in that last period. Jiggy has been clutch in the playoffs, and I think he won't be a liability. We've also been good on the power play and consistently finding the back of the net. The only thing that really worries me going in is the PK unit. We've given up at least one power play goal for something like 10-12 games in a row. If we give up one a game this series, it might be an early exit for us. I think if we split in San Jose our chances of winning get really high.

Western Conference

Detroit-Columbus: Detroit is just too stacked. Columbus has been hurting and Huselius may be back, but he was hurt just a week ago. Detroit has the experience and the weaponry to put Columbus away. The Jackets' only chance is for Mason to steal this one, and I just don't think the rookie has that kind of series in him.
Detroit in 5.

Vancouver-St. Louis: I love this matchup. Because you are 120% right in saying no one wants to play this Blues team. They've been on fire and I read a rumor a week ago that Kariya might come back in the middle of the series. Not to mention the Blues have their own Mason between the pipes who has been doing an outstanding job.
St. Louis in 6.

Chicago-Calgary: After the deadline the Flames looked like they might be in the same league as San Jose and Detroit; now they've tumbled all the way to fifth and are facing a really solid Chicago team. Kane and Toews are going to be an excited and tough pair to deal with and let's not forget Khabibulin looks like he can still dominate. I think Kiprusoff only steals one game
Chicago in 5.

Eastern Conference

Boston-Montreal: I'm glad there's an original 6 matchup happening, I just wish it looked like a tighter series. The Bruins are too good. They have plenty of scoring, a solid D and Thomas flirts with being great. I just can't see any scenario where Montreal even puts up a fight.
Boston in 4.

Washington-New York Rangers: This one is tough for me. This Washington group was a disappointment last playoffs and they've gotten better. Ovechkin can and will dominate, Avery will piss off everyone. My real concern is whether or not he can get into Theodore's head. Lundqvist is a Vezina finalist. If Theodore gets rattled, I don't know if Washington can overcome. Still, I don't like the Rangers and I think they're getting it done with smoke and mirrors.
Washington in 7.

New Jersey-Carolina: Props to Carolina for coming this far. They recognized a mistake and got Cole back and he's been great for them. My favorite thing about New Jersey has always been my inability to name more than 4 players on their team. I don't know how they do it, but this team is always so well put together and focused. It's truly a team in every meaning of the word. Brodeur is still great, Parise is amazing, and that D is still hard to get through.
Devils in 5.

Pittsburgh-Philadelphia: Picking up Kunitz has been great for Pittsburgh and he's going to do wonders for this team's confidence going down the stretch. Philadelphia's goaltending is suspect at best and Pittsburgh has been tearing up the league since Bylsma took over. Let's see if they've got the grit to keep the league in fear and put everyone on watch for the Crosby-Ovechkin Conference Final the press is praying for.
Pittsburgh in 6.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mailbag: Ghost of Rumors Past

As we're likely experiencing a bump in readership, I thought I'd revisit a question on the "9: A Problem Like Kariya" post. One of our readers asked me why I was so quick to believe the rumor that Kariya wanted to leave because he wasn't being protected, but so quick to dismiss the rumor that Kariya reneged on a verbal agreement.

First, let me say that I'm sure Don Baizley, Kariya's agent, put the 'protection' rumor out there. As a negotiation tactic, leaking that kind of information works very well, whether it's true or not. After the Suter crosscheck, it took on a life of its own. At the time, I agreed with it, and I still do, but I'm fully aware that it's the sort of rumor born on the bargaining table and not in the locker room.

Now, on to the 'verbal agreement.' I'm going to accuse the Kariya-haters of a little linguistic gymnastics here. I did not read EVERY piece covering Bryan Murray's comments on Kariya in 2003, but I believe I read the piece in question and I don't recall Murray attempting to depict the telephone conversations as a 'verbal agreement.' The verbal agreement that burned Murray came 6 months later when he traded Corey Perry for Mike Comrie, and Kevin Lowe tried a little Saskatchewan Shakedown. Murray had never claimed his talks with Kariya amounted to a verbal agreement, only that Kariya had no reason to be surprised that the qualifying offer was not tendered.

I declined to delve into the He-Said/He-Said between Kariya and Murray before because I don't consider any of that factual, but this is the gist of it: On June 30, 2003, Murray claimed Paul was "obviously disappointed" that the Ducks did not make a qualifying offer.  After signing with the Avs, Kariya told (I believe it was) The OC Register (but please correct me if I'm wrong) that he was surprised not to receive a qualifying offer, or something to that effect. Bryan Murray took offense to that characterization, and he recounted, to The Register, the details of the offseason telephone conversations between him and the star forward. Murray claimed he'd informed Kariya of his plans not to make the qualifying offer and his plans to pursue Teemu or another free agent, and that Paul was receptive to everything, saying he understood and that he didn't need another $10 million. Murray further explained that none of this could be disclosed to the press until Teemu entered free agency because of tampering issues. Murray's tone in the article was very gracious, and never implied that Kariya was bound to an agreement in any way, only that the parties had discussed things and seemed to arrive at a meeting of the minds. If someone can find this article, please send it to us, but from memory, that's all I think it said.

Now, let me start by saying that I love Bryan Murray. Even after he left the Ducks, he and I tend to agree on Draft day and when we look at the free agency market. But I don't automatically believe anyone just because they continued to cash checks that said "Disney" and the other guy didn't. Here are my three reasons for dismissing Murray's claims outright:

1) If Kariya had really burned him, Murray would have publicly shamed him the way he did Kevin Lowe. Six months after Kariya left, the Ducks finalized a trade for Mike Comrie off-paper, but Oilers GM Kevin Lowe attempted to insert an unprecedented clause that obligated Comrie to make a one-time cash payment to the Edmonton organization. Murray immediately went public with Lowe's actions. When Bryan was on the right side of a raw deal, he stood up for his position and tried to turn the other guy into an untouchable in the hockey community. I remember being struck by the fact that his comments on Kariya were so careful and gracious and only attempting to refute the alleged 'surprise.' To me, those were the words of a guy who wanted to keep his job and let his bosses know that he didn't make their franchise player a UFA without some kind of plan. If Murray had really justifiably relied on Kariya resigning with Anaheim, he'd have publicly shamed him without fear of backlash from the NHLPA.

2) Murray's story changed. Somewhere between "disappointed" and "surprised" the Ducks GM became uncomfortable. On June 30th, Kariya was allowed to be disappointed. After he signed with the Avs, he wasn't allowed to say he was surprised. I'm not really clear on the difference if Kariya, as Murray insists, knew ahead of time that the qualifying offer would not be made. One could blame the confusion on the verbal black-ops that Murray alleged were necessary to reunite Paul and Teemu, but I can't keep up with that. Any time I'm asked to keep track of when someone is supposed to be lying to me and when they're supposed to be telling me the 100% truth, I get confused. I'm weird that way.

3) Paul Kariya likes money. It may surprise you that that's my reason, but I never said that it was a misconception that he wanted to get paid, just that that wasn't why he held out in '97. Of course he wants to get paid. Add to that the fact that he took another major concussion in 2003, and may have been staring at a shortened career, and I can't imagine Paul Kariya the way Murray described him, just nodding along and talking about how he didn't need the money. That's not the Paul I knew. Maybe Stevens hit him harder than we thought. Or maybe the Ducks GM wanted us to believe that Paul grifted him, but I can't imagine that Murray is the kind of fool to be taken in by those cartoony sentiments when the clash between Kariya and Ferreira was so well-publicized. If the conversations were not completely fabricated, I have to assume they were exaggerated or that some deep miscommunication happened.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sharks and Stripes

I know I promised you guys would be stuck with me, the verbose one, for this month, but after a glowing recommendation from Earl Sleek at the Battle of California (Thanks Sleek!), we've convinced Daniel to shirk his responsibilities and come back for a couple of posts this week.

Daniel, good to see you amongst the living again. Here's your question:

It was raining garbage when time expired at the Ponda Center on Sunday, with the rabid faithful of Anaheim hoping to hit an official. No one, including Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick, could deny that the officiating decided the game in the closing minutes. The Ducks DID lose their legs and DID take sloppy back-to-back penalties when the game was close, but they were also denied obvious calls to even things up on the other side of the ice. And as time expired, as Getzlaf put it, "[there were] guys kicking legs out, [and] guys getting jumped from behind."

The penalties for the home and home series with the Sharks tallied at 10-3 in favor of the Sharks, before you count the Misconducts and Roughings handed out at 20:00 of the 3rd on Sunday.

Daniel, the Ducks have done very little to discourage their reputation as a dirty team. One could even argue they CHOSE to be dirty this season when playing a cleaner brand of hockey didn't result in wins. As such, should the Ducks just accept losses like Sunday night's as the operating costs for a gritty hockey team? And does the NHL have a responsibility to take a second look at the way they treat the Ducks when even the teams that rarely see Anaheim (Philadelphia for example) are routinely, and sometimes rightly, complaining about the Ducks' play?

I can admit that our tough style of play is going to result in more penalties than other teams. Which is why we are last, or next to last in every penalty statistic the league keeps. My problem isn't the penalties, it is the blatant double standard that has been levied against the Ducks. Right before the high sticking call that got converted for the Sharks game winning goal, there was another high stick that didn't get called in the Sharks zone, and another one not too long after the goal was scored. Not to mention the three or so that occurred during the last two minutes when we were trying to tie the game, including Roenick hooking Getzlaf some 4 feet away from the crease with the puck on his stick, Vlasic cross checking Selanne when he was placing a high screen and the puck was at the point and Getzlaf being tackled in the crease about 2 seconds before the horn. I'd like to provide more empirical evidence, but I'm afraid I just stopped counting. It's one thing to take a lot of penalties, it's entirely different to have one thing called on you and then have it be a no-call on the other end of the ice. Someone needs to start paying attention to this.

Philadelphia is the only team penalized as much as us, so they shouldn't be hating on anyone. I also don't know what everyone's problem is. Yes, we play tough. We work in the corners and some of our guys, Perry, can really get under your skin. But we don't play dirty. We don't take cheap shots, and I challenge anyone in the league to think of a time when we weren't willing to drop the gloves and stick up for ourselves. We are not dirtier than any other team. If we take penalties that's entirely different. So I just want to take this moment to say that there is a different between taking a lot of penalties and being a "dirty" team. That is why the moniker is undeserved. Forgive me for being a rhetorical scholar for a minute, but the more we say things, the more real they become. Because everyone keeps saying we are dirty, the refs are looking for, and ultimately finding more penalties. Frequently, they find non-penalties. Moreover, If the refs think we are dirty, they might be calling soft penalties because they think they have probably missed a million cheap shots. This is the worst part of being on the West Coast. No one really watches our games, but they'll make generalizations from a box score. So what if we play tough, This is Hockey, not baseball. If you want to avoid being hit, go play a different sport. I know there isn't an argument that will move people in the other parts of the Hockey world, but it just bothers me that we get called dirty. I know Pronger loses his mind sometimes, but no one thought the Islanders were a bad team when Richard Zednik went stupid. No one blamed the Canucks for Bertuzzi losing his cool. And when Marty McSorley decided to slash Brashear upside the head, did they blame the team? No! So give it up. Call the games fair, and let's get back to honest tough Hockey, instead of the biased sideshows that Anaheim fans have been subjected to.

First, I'm going to remind you that you and I were at the Flyers game when Corey Perry elbowed Claude Giroux in the head. I believe your sentiments at the time were something to the effect of: 'Jesus! He deserves the penalty. He just came across and elbowed the guy, didn't even try to hide it.' Now, there are Ducks fans who'll argue that Perry's 6'3", Giroux's 5'11" and you have to put a body on a guy if he's going to bring the puck into the zone then skate into the middle of the ice. They might even argue, rightly, that Perry was getting it from the Flyers enforcers in that game, and Perry's the kind of guy that'll go after your small forwards when you go after him. But you have to remember that these are the videos that teams are sending to the NHL. And we don't look good in these videos of Pronger stomping on a guy's leg or Perry taking two strides into an elbow aimed at a guy's head.

Are they cheapshots? I think here, you and I date ourselves. We still think of the OLD NHL where cheapshots were spears, crosschecks to the head, intentional high sticks, two-handed slashes to the hands, Derian Hatcher's Macho Man Randy Savage flying elbow on Jeremy Roenick's jaw-- the sort of things that result in the stick dueling scene in Youngblood. I'd have to say the new NHL is stricter than that. It's not just that the days of Ted Green vs Wayne Maki are over; I think the league is genuinely afraid of anything that will remind people that hockey is, historically, a very violent game. But even there, the double standard rears its ugly head. Rob Blake wasn't suspended for spearing Corey Perry in the giblets, though the officials left the door open for the league to make that call.

[Perry and the attack on his aforementioned giblets]

I believe the officials go out there with special instructions for the Ducks, just as they received special instructions for new Hooking and Holding standards at the beginning of this season. And in many ways, that's okay. The league DOES have a responsibility to the other 29 teams. But the instructions should end at, "Get Corey Perry to stop elbowing people in the face," or "Get Corey Perry to stop making contact with goaltenders in the crease." Anything more than that, and they lose credibility in Anaheim.

It's infuriating how many objective calls the officials miss in our games. Not just the highsticks. I've counted 10 instances of bench minor Too Many Men On The Ice that went uncalled this season; it should be part of our scouting report by now-- "Don't forget to put out six skaters in Anaheim. The officials will let you do it." I really blame a lot of this on the two referee system. I haven't seen two referees agree at Honda Center since December (and that's when they both agreed we should be called for EVERYTHING). Since then, a lot of calls in our favor have to be made by the referee on the opposite side of the ice to prevent some epic whistle swallowing by the guy who's ten feet from the infraction. The NHL needs to stop worrying about the integrity of its controlled violence and start worrying about the integrity of its officiating.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Penalty Kill: MacGregor Sharp

10/31/09 Update available here.

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Some of you may have guessed from my previous posts that I keep my Slingbox in the Midwest to stream FSN North goodness into my home during the college hockey season. As such, I never miss a televised WCHA game.

When I heard that the Ducks signed Minnesota-Duluth center Macgregor Sharp, my response was a growling, "YEEEEEEESSSS!" instead of the recent Ducks fan standard, courtesy of Brian Hayward: "...*shrug* must be another McNab signing..." So, what is it about watching Sharp play over the past few years that has me so excited? Let's take a look at the story of MacGregor Sharp.

In many ways, the story of MacGregor Sharp is the story of Mason Raymond. The Alberta natives played together for four years, two years on the same junior hockey team and two years at Minnesota-Duluth. At both programs, the same pattern played out: Sharp and Raymond would post similar numbers in their first year together, only to have Raymond pull away as the superstar in the second year. Though identical in size and age, their styles were different: Mason, the speedster with great hands and MacGregor, the relentless grinding puckhound.

In 2005, Raymond won the AJHL MVP, which got him drafted by Vancouver in the second round. Sharp went unselected. In 2007, Raymond would win the UMD team MVP, which got him called up to the AHL. Sharp remained in the WCHA for his Junior and Senior years.

On March 19, in Vancouver, Mason Raymond scored his 19th major league goal, the 10th in his second season with the Canucks. He was living his NHL dream. Two-thousand miles away, in St. Paul, MacGregor Sharp was finally realizing his.

The WCHA plays a Final Five format where two teams play a wild card game, called the "Play-In," in order to qualify for the semi-finals. This year's Play-In pitted the Minnesota Golden Gophers against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Sharp was red-hot going into the tournament, having points in 10 of his last 11 games. But, if the purpose of finishing your college career is to develop your game, play on the national stage and show the scouts you can win, then Sharp appeared out of luck. The Bulldogs were on the bubble in the Pairwise Rankings, making a selection to the NCAA tournament doubtful. And while four Play-In winners had reached the WCHA title game since the advent of the Final Five format, none had ever won the tournament. But then...

Sharp followed up a shot on Gophers goaltender Alex Kangas, potting the rebound and knocking the flu-ridden Kangas out of the game. MacGregor opened scoring again the next night when he chased down a misplay by Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness, depositing the shorthanded puck in the net before the tender could return to his crease. Then, in the championship game, Sharp made a sweet pass on a 2-on-2 break on the power play, only to slide the return feed under Pioneers backstop Marc Cheverie. It was the first of Sharp's three goals that night, and the Bulldogs became the first Play-In winner to ever take the WCHA championship.

I'm sure, or I hope, many of you saw the first rounds of the NCAA tournament. A pass by Sharp set up the Miracle at Mariucci. And the center would score the only goal (and a couple of near goals) in the Bulldogs bid for the Frozen Four. I'm here to tell you that those are good indicators of his talent level.

His performance in both the WCHA and NCAA tournaments shows he's developed poise. He has great two-way hockey sense: a grinding backcheck, but equally skilled at sniffing out rebounds and anticipating bad plays. He can create relentless first man pressure, but he's also played a lot of time as the second forechecker. He plays a solid penalty kill, but his impressive passing and his ability to dangle on the halfboards made him an indispensible center on the best power play in the WCHA. If I had to pinpoint the part of his game that caught McNab's attention, I'd say it was his play in the NHL sized rink. The Final Five was played at Xcel Energy in St. Paul, and the smaller but longer zones seemed to benefit Sharp on both sides of the puck.

He's played four games in Iowa (currently at -4), where they are likely working on his faceoff game. He's much better at tying up his man than winning a clean draw, but his game in the circle should drastically improve with the minor adjustments of the Chops coaching staff. Expect to see him in the preseason.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Penalty Shot: Legion of Ducks?

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Welcome to the Penalty Shot, a new segment I'm creating for the month of April. It'll basically just be me taking a look at some piece of Ducks news. Hopefully it will ALL be objective reporting, but I'll warn you if I plan to get opinionated. Here we go.

Before the Oilers game that opened the Ducks recent road trip, Coach Craig MacTavish compared the Ducks top line of Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan to the Legion of Doom. As MacTavish played with the famed Flyers line for both the shortened 94-95 season and the 95-96 season, the press core took note of his comments. But what, other than scoring and physical size, do the lines really have in common? Let's look at the story of the Legion of Doom.

It was 1994, the last year of the NHL's then still functioning CBA, and despite a productive season from Flyers rookie Mikael Renberg (38G 44A), superstar Eric Lindros (44G 53A) and the always reliable Mark Recchi (40G 67A), Philadelphia missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

Opening day for the 94-95 season came and went, and Bettman and Goodenow descended into three months of deadlock. When they returned, the Players Association gave ground on the free agency issue, the NHL inked a TV deal with FOX and the WHA ex-patriots (excluding Edmonton) began to maneuver their way out of their respective cities. With the theme of change dominating the "new" NHL, Flyers GM Bobby Clarke made a blockbuster trade about a dozen games into the shortened season, sending Mark Recchi to Montreal in a six player deal that brought John LeClair to the Flyers. LeClair played well for the Habs. He was consistent and poised in the playoffs, but he only flashed the scoring brilliance that would define his time with Philadelphia.

In 37 games, the trio of Renberg, Lindros and LeClair chalked up 176 points, and the Flyers laid claim to the Atlantic Division. Their skill was rooted in their ability to own the puck in the offensive zone. They cycled and pressured until they ground down the opposing team, and they were the only line to seriously challenge the budding neutral zone trap that won New Jersey a Stanley Cup that season. Philadelphia announcer Gene Hart jumped on the nickname "Legion of Doom," and with national broadcasts courtesy of FOX, the name stuck, pasted to every highlight, replay and roundtable discussion. Unfortunately, the Legion of Doom never played an entire 82 game season together.

Mikael Renberg missed 30 games of the 1995-96 season, though the members of the line still managed to record 121 goals and 134 assists. Their time together was again shortened in 96-97 by a 30 game injury to the Flyers' captain, but that year, the line would put together one of the most impressive playoff runs in recent memory, shutting down Lemieux's Penguins and the Gretzky/Messier Rangers en route to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, despite looking unstoppable going into the series, Detroit swept the Flyers, and managed to hold Lindros to a single meaningless goal. The Red Wings, who were defeated by the Devils' Neutral Zone Trap two years prior, dismantled Philadelphia by utilizing the Left Wing Lock. Against the Lock, the Legion of Doom appeared to lack creativity and skating ability. They were exposed for their tendency to abandon defensive assignments. They watched from the boards as every game was won in the middle of the ice. Many viewed that Finals as a seachange in hockey.

Conventional hockey wisdom dictates that any single line should be composed of one speedster, one hitter and one finesse player. For fans of Nintendo's Ice Hockey, that's the skinny guy, the fat guy and the medium sized guy, respectively. The Flyers had been exposed for taking the ice with three fat guys in a game where the Western half of the league was increasingly dominated by puck movement and playmaking. Many Eastern Conference teams would de-emphasize physical domination in the following years. The Doom was dismantled when the Flyers swapped free agent Renberg for then "future of hockey" free agent Chris Gratton, only to trade the players back when Gratton was busted by pressure and Renberg by injury. Lindros continued to play the power forward until he was concussed out of the NHL with failed campaigns in Toronto and Dallas. LeClair had another 50G season followed by two 40G seasons, and kept plugging away until he hung them up in Pittsburgh.

When I first saw Penner, Perry and Getzlaf play together, I remarked on the spitting image of 90's Eastern Conference hockey-- the ability to own the boards, skate full speed into the net and stand tall in the crease, facing the goaltender. I would describe THAT line as the Legion of Doom. Bobby Ryan, tough though he may be, reminds the fans of how good all three players can be when away from the boards. There are fewer garbage goals with this line than there were with Penner. There are fewer power moves out of the corners. Ryan is more timid on the cycle, more likely to send the puck back to the point. And every time they take the ice, they remind you that each of them has a speed, finesse and hitting element to his game.

I will give MacTavish this, though. Just the image of three 6ft+ 215lbs+ guys swatting defenders off of them with some of the sweetest hands on God's green earth should be enough to draw the comparison. It's a rare treat in hockey.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beauch Back in Black?

A recent report in the OC Register has Beauchemin coming back, IF the Ducks make the playoffs. So here's what we're looking at: is Beauchy's return a good thing or a bad thing given the amount of rookie defensemen we have and the problems we've had in our own zone? What will this do to Carlyle's D-pairings?

You know, they say Beauchemin's been skating for some time now, and I'm sure he's working on his conditioning. So, I'm thinking this is an 80-85% Francois coming back. ACL is unpredictable, but he's a UFA and I'm sure he'd come back and work hard to pad his stats or preen for the scouts going into the offseason.

If an 85% Beauch comes back, I see the pairings as Prongs/Whitney, Nieds/Beauch, and Brookbank/Wisniewski. That leaves every rookie in Des Moines, but Mikk is having trouble moving the puck and Fest can't seem to hit the net.

I'm splitting up Wisniewski and Niedermayer because I think that pairing just doesn't work. I've been critical of Wisniewski since he joined the team. Right here on this blog, in fact. I will admit that he's scoring, he's getting more shots on net than any of our other defensemen and his play has created a legitimate second unit on the man advantage, removing the need for the first unit to be out there for the entire two minutes. 

However, his defensive hockey sense is appalling.  In both the Oilers game on the 27th and the Avs game on the 29th, Wisniewski got caught playing a hunch into the corner.  In the Oilers game, Rob Niedermayer hesitated to cover the net when Jimmy abandoned it, and Penner was able to receive a centering pass in front.  In the Avs game, Wisniewski once again decided he could come out of the corner with the puck, and left the net open while Colorado was on a Power Play.  I'm not suggesting that no good defenseman has ever played a hunch into the corner. Pronger did that to Pahlsson all season, and Sammy almost racked up a -20 behind it.  But Pronger's a veteran whose decision making can be trusted, forcing other players to compensate.  Wisniewski hasn't earned that yet. 

And with this "great chemistry" between Wisniewski and Niedermayer, Jimmy can't get it through his head that he HAS to play defensive defense once in a while. He can't follow his instincts or double up pressure without reading the play first. On another play in the Oilers game last week, all three forwards were in the corners, Scotty was below the circles and Wisniewski was on the blue line. The puck came around slowly to the half boards on his side. He actually stuttered two strides toward the puck before stopping himself. He SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED putting all five Ducks below the circles. That's inexcusable.

I think Beauchemin can easily replace Wisniewski's production on the second pairing. Beauch was rediscovering his scoring touch this season, and his decision making has always been great when paired with Scotty. And maybe pairing Wisniewski with our only true defensive defenseman will help Jimmy shine offensively. He would certainly add a checking threat to that third pairing, something its sorely missed since we traded McIver.

At the end of the day, Carlyle will mix and match until he gets what he likes. BUT I can't imagine that a former Norris Trophy winner would be pleased with Wisniewski's defensive performance of late, not enough to put Beauchemin out of the top 4.

I'm not sure where I stand on this. I'd love to have Francois back. There's no doubt that him being gone has been a problem, and I'm terrified that someone is going to throw 5.5-6 million at him instead of the 4-4.5 that we can honestly afford. Beauchy and Whitney on that second power play would make Wisniewski almost obsolete. I won't detail the many defensive lapses he has, because it would just be like rereading your post, but I will say that I'm equally afraid of us trying to make a playoff push with a third pairing that is a rookie, and a guy who looks like he'd rather be playing on the wing. I think Wisniewski gets away with a lot more because Scotty can back him up. If he was with Pronger, he'd probably already be dead. But, Scotty has the patience to put up with his mistakes and, a lot of times, cover them up.

Maybe if Scotty retires, and we trade Pronger, then maybe it's worth it keeping the kid around, but right now I think he just makes us too weak in tight games. I don't know how this guy has been a plus player while he's played for us. He has an awful habit of all his mistakes ending up in the back of the net. Overall, I say Beauchemin coming back is a bad thing. Our scoring is shaping up very nicely with the emergence of Miller on the second line. I think Hiller is just as capable as Guiguere and special teams has looked so much better over the past two weeks. But, if Beauchy comes back, maybe he impresses too many scouts, and maybe Wisniewski becomes too much of a liability playing with a rookie who can't recover from the mistakes that he makes. I know a stay at home partner would be best for him, but a rookie stay at home defenseman probably won't be enough. Maybe next year when we've had a chance to pursue a stay at home guy via free agency we can find a place for him. But, I'm starting to think that Sammy for this guy was a bad deal.