Sunday, May 31, 2009

Penalty Shot: Joel Stein Needs Your Vote

The NHL has finally reached a point in its media coverage where it depends on its knowledgeable fans. During this year's playoffs, we've seen an effort to bring the game back to the mainstream: ESPN producers put hockey talking points in the second (and sometimes FIRST) segment on shows like PTI and Around The Horn. Yet, the panelists are rather blunt about their oblivion in regards to the sport, reinforcing the idea that it's acceptable to dismiss it, as though it were curling or a pool trick-shot competition. And at the end of the day, these lukewarm stabs at relevance do so much less for hockey than an honest evaluation from a true fan. That's why hockey needs Joel Stein on the front lines.

You may remember Stein as the man who told you that you didn't deserve the Ducks. When he wrote that, he was particularly critical of print media, as the LA Times, to which Stein is a regular contributor, no longer followed the Ducks or Kings on the road (and have since consolidated the beat into one writer). "Hockey cuts" are a pandemic in the print world, and Joel now finds himself fighting off the infection.'s managing editor, Josh Tyrangiel, recently banned Stein from writing about hockey, declaring the sport "not relevant enough to be in a mass-circulation magazine." The fate of hockey in TIME, the same magazine that once put Bernie Parent on its cover, has been put to a vote. Please vote if you haven't already (please say you have; this story is two weeks old). California and New York have contributed the most voters with an overwhelming stay of execution.

Joel loves hockey, and he's fighting to keep it on the national stage. And having a hockey fan on the national stage is so much more important than having the national stage mention the sport in passing. It's nice to have Wilbon and Kornheiser say a few favorable words about hockey, but ultimately, we know they're not fond of it and can't talk about it intelligently. We don't need those voices, effusing about as much joy and intellect as Bob Costas covering a tractor pull. We need to hear from the people who love hockey, and are dying to tell you about it.

At first blush, that may sound like a blogger call-to-arms. It isn't. Despite the fact that I decided to co-write a hockey blog, I don't think blogs should be the future of NHL coverage. I just think we can do without the sports talk-show hosts nervously discussing hockey out of obligation, as though it were the Kentucky Derby or The Olympics. We need real hockey fans talking about hockey, and we need to support them, far more than we need to clamor about getting onto PTI or the Sportscenter Top 10.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Selanne to Mont-- I Mean --Koivu to Anaheim?

[2008 IHWC: Koivu to Selanne to Kloistinen and through the side of the net.]

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

For a few offseasons now, we've heard the rumor: Selanne to Montreal. Apparently, between calls from Paul Kariya, Teemu fields impassioned pleas from his countryman, Saku Koivu, to come join him in French Canada. But as of TSN's report yesterday (a translation of an unnamed Russian paper), it seems that Koivu is done with the Canadiens, who are moving on and offering his contract and captaincy to Kovalev. It stands to reason that Saku might consider this an opportunity to go play with Teemu.

Daniel, you recently suggested we write about the free agent market, but I said the waters were a bit murky this side of July 1st. I was, however, willing to say I wanted Koivu if he was a free agent, and this report would seem to guarantee he will be. So, let's start the Koivu to Anaheim rumor. Give me your upside/downside of a Saku Koivu signing.

Now that you've confirmed your brilliant hockey sense once again, I've gotta say I'm only kind of a fan of this prospect. There's no doubt that Koivu could shore up our second line scoring. He's a natural center, and it would let us move Ebbett to the wing where his size would be less of a problem. I do like an Ebbett, Koivu, Selanne, line. It'd be two guys who have great play making abilities, which means you have two guys who can work the puck between them until Selanne is open to finish. I think that line would be a lot more deadly than people realize. Especially since Koivu and Selanne know each other well enough, in terms of playing together, that training camp will probably be enough for them to gel as linemates. The only real problem is that he lacks size and that might affect the cycle game that we like to play. It would not be a line that plays the puck possession style we like. It would be a faster line looking for transition opportunities. Not that that's bad, just it wouldn't fit perfectly into our scheme.

I think the real concern, though, has to be injuries. I'm not saying he's fragile, and certainly part of it had to do with the fact that he battled cancer in the middle of his career, but he only played 65 games last year. In fact, he's only played more than 70 games 5 times in his 13 seasons. Granted, 4 of those have been in the last 6 seasons, but I think the injury concern needs to be factored in to any contract he gets. Otherwise, I think it's a smart move. If he plays next year, it will probably be Selanne's last. We owe it to him to get someone who can keep up with him and play on the rush with him. That guy could definitely be Koivu. I think our physical style of play makes Koivu's susceptibility to injuries a greater concern for us. You've said it yourself, small guys have to protect themselves, and it causes problems. But with Koivu we have to worry if our physical game ends up taking him out of the line up.

I'm going to disagree that cycling is a concern for the second line. Selanne's recent lines have all played a speed and short-pass style, which has allowed him to play with centers like McDonald and Ebbett. Here's my Upside/Downside:

-Selanne would be happy. Teemu hasn't agreed to play next year, and can you blame him? He took a pay cut again, and we signed Brendan Morrison. We owe him this, and if Selanne's happy, you have to think he and Koivu might sign to play additional years with the Ducks. That's right, I said it. I want Selanne to play until he's arthritic in both hips.

-Instant Chemistry. Koivu is one of two veterans that knows how to play with Teemu, how to receive a Selanne pass and how to cover for bad Selanne plays. They would make each other better.

-Quick on the Draw. The Ducks have had trouble in the circle without McDonald (and then without Sammy). Koivu was 54.1% on the dot this season, 13th amongst NHL centermen who took 1000+, and he was 52.3%/21st the year before.

-Best on the market. As far as Top Six centers in this year's potential free agent market, Koivu's probably the best pickup we could make. I might've said Connolly before the Sabres resigned him, but the veterans are all retirement candidates and there are no young guns that warrant the risk of a multi-year deal. If Murray's intent on not going "0 for 3" as he put it, this is the best pickup short of a trade.

-Inconsistency. I agree that his injuries may catch up with us, but you also have to consider that in his most recent and most productive complete season, he posted a minus-21 on a 75-point campaign. Granted, the East is not about defense, but will he be able to score and still play consistent defense in the West?

-Salary. Ideally, Koivu comes in at a discount (3/3.75M) on a one-year deal to play with Selanne. A multi-year contract or a big one-year contract would be out of the question for the Ducks.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Another Duck Bites The Borscht

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

News came down this week that recent Ducks acquisition Petri Kontiola signed a 2-year agreement to play with Metallurg Magnitogorskin of the Kontinental Hockey League, the same team making a push for the services of Sergei Fedorov. This marks a second consecutive loss of a notable Ducks prospect to the KHL, following Geoff Platt's defection to Minsk last year.

The KHL appears to be operating on steady feet after last month's redraft, which cut some key (read inflated) players' salaries between 20 and 50%. Its days of stealing NHL superstars may be over, but the KHL remains an attractive (and better paying) alternative to the US minor leagues.

Daniel, the Ducks and David McNab seem comfortable with slow development, but I doubt there's anything 'comfortable' about it for the players waiting in the AHL or ECHL, as opposed to the kids finishing their time in the NCAA or the Canadian juniors. Is the Ducks' prospect pool in perennial danger from KHL poaching? And do you think the KHL can change the face of the NHL from the ground up, by stealing depth players instead of superstars, as they'd originally intended?

I don't think the Ducks talent is in serious jeopardy. Like you said, the KHL is struggling. More importantly, the league only allows 5 foreign players per team, which means that defectors will be a slightly minor issue for us. There's only so much space for foreigners, and the North American 2-way power forwards that better fit our system aren't going to have many opportunities out in the KHL. In fact, I would imagine that the clubs out there would rather use those limited slots for more established foreign-born players.

I actually think the KHL will be worse for Russian-born players and other Eurasians in the long run, if it is used as a developmental type of league. Pretty soon, it will be dealing with a situation similar to that of Japanese baseball, only worse. 18-year-olds will sign, get paid a little and then defect, leaving the league bereft of superstar talent. Also, if this starts happening, the NHL clubs will just stay away from young talent during the draft, and then poach the talent when the first contract is up. This might give people the impression that it will provide the KHL the growth it wants, since NHL teams won't be drafting Russian stars, but the fact is, the money is in the NHL, and the KHL might keep 1/2 of its major talent.

There will be enough force to draw the talent back to the NHL anyway. Two of the best young Russian players are already in the NHL: Ovechkin and Malkin. There will still be an influx of Russian talent. Even if the young stars are spending their time away from the AHL and ECHL, they will still find their way back to the NHL, because it is still where the best talent plays.

When it comes to prospects, the most important thing is ice time. If some of these players are developing in a separate league, then the only thing the NHL clubs really need to start worrying about is how to scout teams in Russia so they can start picking up the free agents who want to win the greatest trophy in sports. It will become the same as teams picking up free agents who don't get drafted in college. I'm sure we'll find a way to make it work out for us.

The combine started today, and I hear the first question to every KHL invitee was, "Will you come and play in the NHL?" as though the kid wasn't sitting there.

I agree that the NHL/KHL agreement to mutually respect contracts took steps to neutralize poaching. That, along with the KHL's new five-player limit next season, will be key in stemming temptation amongst NHL players. However, I think the danger here is not that anyone will stay in the KHL or even that they go in the first place, but that they'll break ties with the team that drafted them, develop in the KHL and raise their value before they return to the NHL. In the Salary Cap Era, that has to be a nightmare for teams trying to manage their draft picks, assets and development.

From a player's perspective, if you're not a part of your NHL team's long-term plans, of course you'd want to leave the AHL and ECHL. In the KHL, you get a shorter season, a better paycheck and the ability to prove yourself with some NHL-level teammates. Why not spend a season keeping pace with Sergei Fedorov, and prove your old team was foolish not to call you up?

But I think the vindication for these overlooked players could ultimately damage the NHL's farm system. Five players per team may not seem like a lot, but if you poach a few players of borderline talent from every AHL team, some AHL franchises will start to fail. How can every team afford to rent the players and staff from its NHL affiliate when they're putting nothing but career AHL players on the ice? The Ducks are already having trouble getting their money from Iowa, and the Ducks' playoff scoring this year was 42% CHOPS. Also, as a GM, how do you sign serious one-way contracts with guys that have never played in your system or under your minors coaching staff? And with your minors team depleted of future NHL players, how do you not?

I don't think the Ducks' homegrown assets are in danger, though they may be hesitant to acquire borderline-bust players from other teams, now. But I do think that, though the NHL keeps its superstars, the KHL will still have an impact on the league. Fewer teams will be able to keep players on sweetheart entry-level deals. AHL teams will have fewer future NHLers. And the risk/reward on depth players may change dramatically.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Dear David

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Pop quiz, boys and girls. Who holds the record for the longest tenure with the Anaheim Ducks?

If you said Selanne or Rucchin, good guess, but wrong. The answer is David McNab. Anaheim's longtime Assistant GM was one of three initial hires for the Ducks organization, after Ferreira and Gauthier, and he has just closed out his 15th year in the front office. Only equipment manager John Allaway, Wild Wing and the Pond itself can claim similar longevity with the franchise. McNab recently interviewed for open GM positions around the NHL, though with yesterday's announcement that Chuck Fletcher will be taking the reins in Minnesota, it's more than likely McNab will remain with the Ducks.

Anaheim Calling would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Mr. McNab, as well as our hope that he stays with Anaheim until the Ducks gain the good sense to promote him to General Manager. But first, for those who only know him from the news articles praising his NCAA free agent scouting prowess, a quick bio:

A native of Vancouver, David McNab was born into a hockey family. Most notably, his father Max played championship time at center with Gordie Howe and the '50 Red Wings before beginning a well-respected career as a general manager, which included time with the San Francisco Seals, the San Diego Gulls and a stunning turnaround of a Washington Capitals team that seemed trapped in the cellar. During his father's GM years, David attended Point Loma High School in San Diego, then travelled east to play hockey for the Wisconsin Badgers. The young McNab served as the backup goaltender for the legendary '77 team that shocked Michigan in the closing seconds and overtime of the NCAA championship game.

After college, McNab joined his father and the Washington Capitals as a professional scout. He held that position for four seasons before moving on to Hartford for a seven-year stint, which included two years as the Director of Player Recruitment. In 1989, he joined the New York Rangers, but left after four years to work for the newly minted Mighty Ducks.

In his time in Anaheim, McNab has worn various hats of varying influence, but we note the following accomplishments (only because there are too many to list to our satisfaction). McNab was the Ducks' first Director of Player Personnel, overseeing the drafts that brought players like Steve Rucchin, Pavel Trnka, Oleg Tverdosky, Mike Lecerlc, Ruslan Salei and Matt Cullen to the team. McNab also served six years as the GM of the Ducks' AHL affiliate, uprooting the franchise from its dismal circumstances in Baltimore to a very successful setup in Cincinnati. In 2007, McNab drew hockey headlines with the contribution of FIVE (McDonald, Kunitz, Penner, Shannon and Carter) undrafted NCAA players to the championship team, all of whom he'd personally scouted and counseled. The Stanley Cup win and recognition of McNab's efforts came just months before his father Max passed away. End Bio.

First, I'd like to point out that writers like Scott Burnside jumped on David McNab’s story in 2007 without noting WHY very few front offices took a chance on undrafted NCAA players before McNab: it was expensive. Before the cap, first year entry-level salaries were limited to ≈1.5M with a signing bonus limited to 50% of the player's base salary. Today, the cap is 850K/10%, giving teams a forgiving margin of error on undrafted signings. McNab put faith in kids like Andy McDonald when it was fiscally risky. And though he got in on the 'ground floor' with many players, they all drew additional attention come signing time, and would have had suitors willing to bid the league maximum were they courted in the Salary Cap Era.

But make no mistake, they still would have signed with Anaheim because McNab is persistent with these kids. Every single one of them talks about how grateful they are for the time he spent with them, not just convincing them they'd see playing time with the Ducks, but just talking hockey. You see, McNab's an old school scout, the kind that spends 50% of his time driving to games, 20% watching them and the other 30 talking to these kids. I came across my favorite McNab story in the Calgary Herald last year. In 1988, Cujo was on the fence about hockey and committing to play for Wisconsin, until he received a number of handwritten letters telling him how good he was in net, all signed by an NHL scout he'd never met, named David McNab.

I have a rather personal affection for a die-hard college hockey fan from the West Coast, and it was McNab’s faith in the NCAA that made me a Ducks fan. I cheer every time we draft a college kid or pick up one that’s supposedly busted. His passion for bringing these kids into the NHL is strong. Just look at the draft boards. When McNab left the Rangers in ‘93, NY drafted Clarkson University standout Todd Marchant in the 7th round. Three years later, the Ducks picked up St. Cloud State's Matt Cullen in the 2nd Round.

In his three decade NHL career, David McNab has increased the credibility of both NCAA and West Coast hockey tenfold. In that, his life's work is kindred with the very purpose of this blog. And while I was sad to hear he didn't find a GM position this Spring, I'm even sadder that he isn't already the Ducks’ GM.

It's hard to argue that the man knows how to find the diamond in the rough. Although, I think what endears him to me more than anything is his ability to make calm scouting decisions. If you look at the players he has acquired, they all have one thing in common: an ability to do their job. You and I have always contended that Penner has had so much trouble in Edmonton because the Oilers didn't know how to use his skills, and were asking him to be an Ilya Kovalchuk, i.e. carry the scoring load by himself at times, instead of using him as the grinder he is and putting him with size/skill guys who can get him the puck in the crease. My point is that McNab has an ability to pick out a player based on how his skills work for specific situations. All of the players he's encouraged us to sign have been contributors and strong role players.

McNab has been involved in California Hockey since before you or I had ever seen a sheet of ice. He stuck with our team through a lot of bad times, including the Disney jokes, an arrested owner and Pierre Page. I think, as fans, it's easy for us to throw praise/blame at players, coaches and general managers, but so much happens behind the scenes. Scouts are responsible for finding good players and a GM is usually following someone else's advice. For 14 years that someone else has been McNab, and he hasn’t led us down a wrong path. I don't know what else to say about the man, except he scouts great players that fit our system. He's been a model citizen, and proven time and time again that he is capable of spotting the talent our team needs to progress.

I agree that he needs to be our next GM. I think Murray did a lot in terms of getting value for his assets at the deadline, and I like his fire. But McNab has a knowledge of players and an ability to get value from picks that reminds me of what happens in the Red Wings organization. The reason Detroit has been so successful for the past 18 years or so is their ability to get the best value for their picks, and to keep those people in the organization because they like the team. I think McNab would be able to provide that kind of leadership in the GM role.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Prongs/Jiggy: Who Do You Move?

The offseason talk has begun for the Anaheim Ducks. At this point, it looks like they'll make a play for most, or all, of their Restricted Free Agents (Bodie, Brown, Christensen and Wisniewski), as an unmatchable offer sheet for any of those players is unlikely and well-worth the draft picks of any team foolish enough to tender it. In the UFA department, Hedican will likely retire, the elder Niedermayer gains you the younger, Beauchemin may become unaffordable and Todd Marchant may come back at a discount or at the same price as a permanent 3rd line center. As far as free agents on other teams, those waters are still a bit murky (though Whicker of the OC Register is ready to toss a contract Chad Larose's way).

Let's deal in the concrete, Daniel. Assuming we sign Scotty, which is not TOO great a leap, considering he'd like to be ready to play in the Vancouver Olympics next year. What's the trade you would make? Do you move Prongs for Kariya, as you suggested earlier? Do you dangle the prospect of Montreal in front of Jiggy (though WHO you could get back, not named Markov, from that free agency depleted team, I don't know)? Or do you move some other big contract for some other player I haven't even thought to consider? Who's your big move and for whom?

I have an interesting scenario. First, I'd like to say I still love a Pronger for Kariya trade. We should get a pick in the deal. I think a 3rd or 4th rounder would do, mostly because St. Louis will get more use out of a veteran blue liner than it will out of a player like Kariya. We wouldn't save a lot on the cap hit, but Kariya would do so much for us. If we can't sign Niedermayer, we need to find a way to take Kariya out of St. Louis without giving up Pronger because he can do a lot of the same rover things from the point on a power play and he would solidify our second line.

But onto trades, I think we should trade in the division. Every time I look at the list of what teams have and what they might be willing to part with, I'm very unimpressed. The free agent market is going to be great this year. Not because of all the high priced talent, but because of the sheer depth. There will be plenty of opportunity to fill need at very reasonable prices, more so upfront than on the blue line, which makes it that much harder to part with Pronger. But I think L.A. would make a great trading partner. They have the 5th overall pick this year. So, they might be more willing to part with a Top 6 forward. Plus, they have two young defensemen in need of a mentor, who knows how to teach solid play and, more importantly, how to be dominant. There have been rumors surrounding Frolov before, not very serious ones, but rumors nonetheless. I think if we get Frolov and the Kings' first round pick in the 2010 draft, it's a good deal for Pronger. The Kings look like they are on the way up. So, maybe a pick in the teens in 2010 won't be something they feel they need to hold onto. I'd also like a pick in the later rounds of this year's draft, if we can get the deal done by then, maybe 4th or later, but 3rd would be nice.

On the flip side, I see this as an equally good deal in a Giguere trade--

Wait a minute. You think the Kings would take on a 6M salary at goalie? Where they already have two goaltenders, both of whom carry GAA's at least .5 a goal better than Giguere?

I'd maybe give you Pronger because he is an asset at only an extra year, but I doubt the Kings, the SMALLEST payroll in the league, who haven't tried to keep a multi-million dollar player since-- I don't know --Ziggy Palffy, and who have only one player making 4M (though Kopitar's 7M kicks in next year) would move a single asset to add a player at a position where their depth chart is full, qualified and priced at less than 1.5M for BOTH goaltenders.

Yes, I do. I'm not sure the Kings are as SET at goalie as people think. The one problem they have always had, since Hrudey was released, has been in net. The chance to anchor that position and let the team flourish, even for just two years, should be worth any price. It's not like they haven't tried to pay a goalie before, remember Cloutier? The difference, here, is that Jiggy has a ring and a Conn Smythe that Cloutier didn't.

I don't deny that Quick and Ersberg are quality between the pipes, but they have a collected 0 playoff wins to their names and the Kings will be looking to make that jump to a playoff team this year, after a promising start to last season. Jiggy will give them the experience they need in net to make that jump. I don't see how having a 23 year old rookie sit for a year and a half behind Giguere is bad. And if they re-sign him as an RFA, Quick will still only be 25 when Jiggy's contract expires. This means he'll still have 7-10 years between the pipes for the Kings. Also, Ersberg becomes a trade asset at that point. Two years gives the Kings time to groom another backup and shop Ersberg for extra scoring or defensive depth, which they definitely need. I think the Kings can tolerate the contract in order to make sure their franchise goalie can handle the pressure of a Stanley Cup run. The Kings have been second class in So Cal Hockey since we won the Cup; picking up Jiggy could be enough to make them relevant again.

Although, if we were to deal Jiggy instead of Pronger, I would want a Kings draft pick this year. Jiggy is a Conn Smythe winner and worth two first rounders. Frolov was a first round pick; seems like a fair price. So, for those keeping track, it would be Jiggy for Alexander Frolov, the 2009 first round pick, and a late pick in this draft, possibly a 4th or, better yet, a 3rd.

I think the Giguere trade ends up being the best bet. The Kings can slow up Quick's development and have him be around a hard working goalie, who knows how to get it done at a high level. We get a forward, who scored 32 goals last year and who is very capable of playing the power style of game we like, but who also has speed and a little finesse in the transition game. This gives Carlyle much more flexibility in moving around the likes of Perry and Bobby Ryan because Frolov could play on the top line or round out the second line. Although, I'd much rather see a transition forward like Perry with Ebbett and Selanne. This also has the bonus of Giguere not moving far, so maybe he'd wave his no-trade clause and let it happen.

I'm not completely sold on moving Pronger. He became so much more of a monster when he realized he was staying for the year. If this is how he plays with job security, I think he deserves an extension with a no-trade clause. Pronger doesn't seem to be dropping off too far, and if we can somehow keep those 5 defensemen we were working with during the playoffs with us all year, we might win another division title.

Alright. I'll agree that Frolov is about the perfect size/speed of player we're looking for, which is hard to come by in the free agent market. It's probably my lack of faith in the Kings that makes me question the move.

It pains me to say this, Daniel. As you know, I'm the only one we've seen at Ponda Center who rocks Jiggy's Halifax jersey, but . . . I'd move Giguere. It's Pronger, Giguere or both, the way I see it. As far as what you get for them, I'd say you fill a hole on the team, add a superstar or get prospects and save money.

Here's the thing though, if you're going to move at least one of them, why move Pronger? We saw this team make a run without Giguere, and they were pretty good. We have no idea what they'd be like without Pronger, and Carlyle even switched to an effective Pronger/Niedermayer pairing in Game 6 against the Red Wings. It would be hard for me to see this team move Pronger, and not think of it as rebuilding. Yes, we technically prepared to move him by picking up Whitney, but we know Whitney can't actually replace him and that losing Pronger AND Beauchemin would severely deplete this defensive corps. I think losing Pronger is the Devil-we-don't-know, whereas losing Jiggy is the Devi-we've-become-acquainted-with this Spring.

So, where do you move a guy with a no-trade clause? I'd imagine Jiggy's first choice would be Montreal, and I'm sure the Habs would love to have him. The Habs may get some more players under contract by then, but for now, I'd say this is a prospect trade. We move Jiggy for a 1st/2nd Round Draft pick, Ryan McDonagh and a young NHL player (maybe Latendresse if the RFA re-signs) or rookie (most likely Max Pacioretty or Yannick Weber). If we need a goaltending insurance policy, we take Price in the deal instead of a skater. Sounds steep, I know, but a Conn Smythe backstop is hard to come by in any offseason market.

Believe it or not, I actually like a Montreal trade, both for the likelihood of Giguere signing off on it and for what it would bring to the Ducks. But since this IS a blog, and I should start a totally off-the-wall rumor: Giguere for Cheechoo. Yes, the logical suitors for Giguere are Colorado, Tampa Bay and maybe Philadelphia, but if the Sharks are down on Nabokov, you have to ask HOW down they are. The contract lengths match, the cap hit for Giguere is 12M over the next two years, the cap hit for Cheechoo is 6M over the next two years and both players make an additional 1M in salary over those numbers.

On the likelihood of such a ridiculous trade, I say the Sharks do it because they've shopped Cheechoo before, and they may truly be down on Nabokov after his performance in the First Round this year. The Ducks do it because Jiggy will probably sign off on such a short geographical jump to a legit contender in a region with similar healthcare agencies and experts for his son. And the Ducks also do it because the whole "trading within your own division" thing has never really applied to these two teams. They've done the 'big' trade before. The pre-lockout schedule means fewer games against each other, most of which the Ducks can concede to the Sharks. And both players will see an expanded role if traded, but are equally likely to be the "difference" in any series between the teams in the near future (i.e. the remaining two years on their contracts). So, Giguere for Cheechoo with Anaheim spending the extra money on a free agent.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Penalty Kill: Scott Glennie

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

So, we're still picking 15th.

If the Ducks had advanced to the Western Conference Finals, they would have automatically forfeited the 15th pick (earned by virtue of having the worse of the two 8th seed records), and drawn no better than 27th. It's not "good" news if you thought this Ducks team had a chance at the Cup, but as a Ducks fan, you have to chuckle that you were able to watch two series of bonus hockey, but you still get to pick immediately after the lottery teams on Draft Day.

In my last Penalty Kill, I said that based on Anaheim's prospect pool, the smart money is on a solid blueliner or a pure scoring Top Sixer. I chose John Moore as the best defenseman available at 15th, and I'd like to point out now that he's also a superior pick to any Top Sixer that will be available at 15th. After the lottery picks, most of the remaining forwards in the First Round are two-way players. Generally, that's a good thing, but the Ducks have so many two-way forwards in their prospect pool that they should be willing to sacrifice a little defensive sense in the name of pure scoring talent. That's not easy to find in the this year's First Round class.

If the Ducks are hell-bent on getting a Top Sixer, I personally feel that leaves them with three options (only one of which guarantees them the pure scorer they're looking for):

1) Trade Up. If the Ducks trade into the Top 14 picks, they can pick up Scott Glennie, a pure scorer who is the subject of this Penalty Kill.

2) Stay at 15th. If the Ducks stay at 15th, but still want to draft a forward, the best pick for them is probably Zack Kassian. He's a more appropriate pick at around 17th, but he's a Big Bad player who's shown enough scoring ability this year that Anaheim might be able to develop him into a power forward.

3) Trade down. The Ducks showed they were willing to trade down last year to get the player they wanted. Gardiner was overvalued at 17th, but that was as far down as Burke could trade. This year, the Ducks can trade into the last ten picks and pick up Drew Shore. Shore's got the recent Ducks pedigree: North American-born, committed to an American college (University of Denver) and a hard worker with competitive grit. Murray may find his slow development preferrable to bringing along the offensive skills of players available at 15th, like Kassian, Peter Holland or Landon Ferraro.

So, how far up does Anaheim have to trade to get Scott Glennie? I'd say they need to get at least as high as 12th (MIN), but more likely 11th (NSH) to nab him. He's ranked 19th overall by ISS, 7th (North America) by Central Scouting and projected to be drafted around 11th by TSN. More importantly, though, why should they draft Scott Glennie?

There are "hot words" when reading through scouting reports because there are things that scouts are willing to say and there are things that scouts are hesitant to say. The rare words that always catch my eye are: "NHL level speed." That's usually enough for me to go find out more about a kid, and in this case, to watch his WHL games online.

This kid is FAST. And he can score in 5th gear, or downshift and finish in another gear if the play calls for it. If you were putting any stock in Landon Ferraro winning the CHL's Fastest Skater competition at this year's Top Prospects game (tweaking his groin to post a 14.009 lap time), SELL IT. For whatever extra torque Ferraro has in the engine, Glennie has a faster top speed, not to mention 2 more inches in height with the prospect of filling out his 182 lbs. frame.

Glennie plays with the much-lauded Brayden Schenn for the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings. Brayden and Scott were the Wheat Kings' first and second picks, respectively, in the 2006 WHL bantam draft, and they combined with fellow rookie Matt Calvert to form one of the most productive first-year lines in WHL history, knotting 193 points. Glennie's share of that was 26G and 32A at a plus/minus of 10. He was quick to drop the gloves that year, and he played a physical and gritty game similar to Schenn's, despite the disparity in size between the players.

This year, Glennie cut his PIM in half (to 25), and he notched 70 points in only 55 games with a plus/minus of 22, before he broke his left elbow, slamming into a goalpost at the end of the Wheat Kings' 7-6 overtime win in Calgary on January 31st. He was out for the remainder of the season, but returned for the Playoffs to turn in an impressive performance and 18 points (as many as Schenn).

Glennie's not a defensive savant, though the Wheat Kings trust him as a penalty killer. However, between him and the projected Top 10 Brayden Schenn, most agree that Glennie is the superior offensive talent. And Central Scouting places a heavy emphasis on his ability to play a physical game in his rookie season in the WHL. For that, they welcome comparisons to Jonathan Cheechoo and Jonathan Toews-- a natural offensive ability coupled with power moves and confidence with the puck.

Glennie is an NHL level speedster, who can finish at top speed. He has a powerful and accurate shot, and he knows where on the ice to take it. He's played some time at center (which should warm Randy Carlyle's heart) and some time on the penalty kill, and while he hasn't shown defensive prowess, per se, he's been physical in the WHL, which is usually a strong indicator of a player's courage at the NHL level.

The kid needs to fill out his 6'1" frame, but remain effective. Getting dumped at high speeds has been a problem for Glennie. He needs to build some size and durability to make sure that NHL level hits don't combine with his NHL level speed to equal NHL career ending injuries. Also, Glennie is undoubtedly overvalued due to playing with a complete player like Brayden Schenn. There is some question as to whether he will ever look like an 11th overall pick, though that is the cachet in which he will be traded if any team moves picks to get him.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Trimming The Playoff Tree 3: Race to the Trunk

Alright, the Ducks are out of the picture, and the playoffs are still happening. After crying, I decided it would be better to keep blogging. Also, I wanted to get Arthur to stop making fun of me. So, Arthur, let's take a quick look at the two series that are left, and give me your picks.

A close second to my disappointment in the Ducks is the elimination of Boston. No chance of an Original Six finals, now. My alternative matchup is Pittsburgh/Chicago: Battle of the First Overall Picks. I like that storyline more than a DET/PIT rematch and more than anything involving Carolina. This is a rematch 17 years in the making (less if you count the Jean Claude Van Damme movie). Like '92, Pittsburgh would be returning to the Finals, but unlike '92 they're returning as the previous year's losers. So, no, we won't see a dynasty with this matchup (unlike a Detroit repeat). No, we don't have anyone resembling Lemieux involved. And no, we won't see Chelly whoop Larry Murphy. BUT, it would give every lottery team faith in the draft system, and I think it'd be a hell of a matchup and an explosive series.

So, I'm picking Pittsburgh/Chicago. Even though Cam Ward has never lost a series and Staal proved he couldn't be shut down. Even though Detroit was 4-2 against this Chicago team in the regular season, and have shown they're not all that impressed by the Hawks' transition game. I'm picking Pittsburgh/Chicago because Gonchar will be taking the ice, Malkin's waking up, Fleury's got larceny on his mind, Detroit looked tired in Game 7 (not a good sign in a series where they'll need their legs) and the Hawks made Luongo look pedestrian. Pittsburgh/Chicago.

Eastern Conference:

Pittsburgh v. Carolina: I have to pick the Penguins. They just came off of an epic 7 game series against the Caps where they dominated the last game. Crosby is on fire, and Fleury may not be amazing right now but he's more than acceptably solid. Right now, this series has two teams that know how to get there, so I think experience is a wash. I just don't know if Carolina has the scoring to win a 6-5 game, which they'll have to do at least twice in this series.
Pens in 6

Western Conference:

Chicago v. Detroit: Detroit just finished a dogfight with the Ducks, and they've got to be more than a little damaged. They're defense can hold, and Osgood has shown he will not be a liability this offseason. But Chicago looks great. They've comeback from multiple goal deficits throughout the playoffs. They look hungry, and they don't give up on the game no matter how far behind they are. That youngster trio looks so dangerous, and they are playing well. Not to mention, they have the Ducks old stopper in Pahlsson. Look for him to give all the Red Wing forwards fits. The rebirth continues.
Chicago in 6


Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Handshake Line - WCSF 2009: Detroit

If you missed Ducks/Wings Game 7, you missed a good one. I'd recount my memories of it, but there isn't enough scotch in the world to make typing that out bearable. What is bearable (for me, at least) is The Handshake Line.

Anaheim Calling is as much about why Daniel and I are different as it is about us both being Ducks fans. One key difference going into The Handshake Line is this: Daniel freely admits that his self-worth is tied up in the Ducks' winning and losing. Mine will never be. Perhaps that makes me a bad fan, not as fully invested as the rest of the Ducks' fan base. I just can't bring myself to think of hockey as the Ducks taking the ice to validate me as an individual.

My view of The Handshake Line is that it represents two sides accepting the outcome of the game. The most important disagreement is happening on the ice. The name-calling, gloating, etc. are exterior to that, and exterior to the game of hockey as a whole. You shake to acknowledge each other's efforts. And I would like to do that here.

So, Daniel, what, beyond "Good Luck," are the things you'd like to say to the players and personnel of the Red Wings franchise, as well as their fans?

As Arthur has attested to, I had a lot of reservations about writing this edition of The Handshake Line. Not just because I hate the Red Wings, but because I've had to listen to 7 games of commentary that have generally been disrespectful towards my team. As a sports fan from the West Coast, I'm used to being forgotten about, but this series has pretty much been an exercise in how the Red Wings "can't do anything wrong," and the Ducks "can't do anything right." I'm not saying the Red Wings didn't beat us. You make your own breaks, and the Wings worked for that goal. They deserve to go on. I'm just saying I'd like it if people would remember that Anaheim battled, and they deserve the respect of people who appreciate good hockey. I didn't write that to be a bitter hockey fan, rather I did it to admit my own character flaws and admit that, at times, even I take the game too personally, or as Arthur put it, I almost became Chris Chelios and that is unacceptable for anyone who is a hockey fan. If you don't get that reference, then you should research Chelios' handshake habits. Having said all that, I now start my handshake list:

[To Babcock]
As anyone who pays attention to any sport can tell you, talent is not enough. You stayed one step ahead, and mixed your lines so effectively that there was almost no keeping up. It wasn't just Anaheim mistakes, it was your ability to switch up lines and have those guys mesh well enough to force those turnovers. You have a mastery of your team and you know how to use your talent. Bowman might have some competition for his ring count.

[To Darren Helm]
Props to a kid who has more career playoff games than regular season games. You scored a big goal in a big game 7, and you're a testament to your organization's ability to produce a never ending stream of quality talent.

[To Nicklas Lidstrom]
Is there a better guy in the league at holding the blue line than you? I don't think you make a lot of amazing plays, and that is what makes you so amazing. You have this way of being exactly where you need to be. Personally, I think you are the hockey equivalent of Nightcrawler. There's really nothing else to say about a guy, who does nothing but make sure his team has an opportunity to win. You are the closest thing in the NHL to a security blanket.

[To Pavel Datsyuk]
In my humble opinion, the Hart trophy is all yours. For Ovechkin or Malkin to be effective, they have to score. You, on the other hand, supply enough pressure and play enough great defense that it doesn't matter if you score because the rest of the team follows your lead. Despite the fact that we kept you off the score sheet, you still wore down the defense and your play led to opportunities for your teammates. That's what a Hart winner does.

[To Johan Franzen]
You really do look like a mule, but hockey players aren't supposed to be pretty. More importantly, I'm pretty sure you have more career playoff goals than regular season goals. All you do is charge fearlessly to the net and make sure the puck goes in. That's old school hockey. I think you are just like Chris Pronger, the only people who like you are your teammates and your fans, because everyone else in the league hates playing you.

[To Marian Hossa]
Way to keep pressing on. The Detroit media was ready to skewer you after the Ducks went up 2-1 and all you did was have a monster Game 4 that gave your team enough momentum to put itself in a position to keep winning. If you don't break out in Game 4, your team might not be going to the Western Conference Finals.

[To Chris Osgood]
Everyone said you were the Achilles Heel, but you came up with some big saves. Maybe you weren't spectacular, but you did enough to win, and at this time of year, the only thing that counts is winning. You stood tall when your team needed you the most, and as you've shown before, you are more than capable of backstopping this team to another Cup.

[To the fans]
Good luck.

[To IAmJoe]
It was good working with you. Good luck blogging the next round. I hope you get your own blog up and running soon. You post good stuff.

[To Chris Chelios]
Anyone seen Chris Chelios?

[To Mike Babcock]
I never doubted you after the Edmonoton series three years ago. I couldn't doubt you now. You acquiesced, and made one change after the opening shift of Game 4. Good call.

[To Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary]
I was never afraid of Hossa or Datsyuk, not for a second. I was always afraid of the two of you. You proved me right.

[To Nicklas Lidstrom]
I remember being sad to hear rumors that you were talking about retiring in 1999, snubbed yet again for the Norris Trophy. Way to spend a decade making us all regret overlooking you. You set the tone in this series, and that's really all a captain needs to do with a good team.

[To Niklas Kronwall]
Good luck and good hits. Oh, and try to stay on your skates in the next series. Those guys are fast. You might come out on the wrong end of one of those Randy Savage Flying Elbows.

[To Jonathan Ericsson]
Even the best of the best have to fight for a roster spot on the Red Wings. So, I hope you know how much of a compliment it is when I tell you that you're the future of this team's defensive corps.

[To Darren Helm]
You were barely old enough to drink the champagne out of the Cup (in the US) when you lifted it, but I can tell you have the requisite heart to savor this success. Don't lose that, and don't let anyone take it from you.

[To Kris Draper]
A decade removed from The Grind Line, and it's still headline news that you're sidelined in a series. That's gotta warm a 37 year-old man's heart.

[To Chris Osgood]
Consistency is a young man's game. It's all about timing. Keep proving that.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Anaheim Calling

As has been mentioned by columnists on ESPN and other astute bloggers, for the past 6 seasons, the Ducks and Red Wings are the two most successful playoff teams. Anaheim has had two trips to the Finals, a Conference Final, and a First Round exit to an eventual Conference finalist. Despite all of this, Anaheim has been deemed "dirty" and the elbow by Niedermayer on Datsyuk certainly didn't help.

This question will not focus on who does or does not get away with what in this series. The question I think Anaheim fans are really interested in is why do we have this reputation? I've watched a lot of Ducks games, and I do not think we are dirtier than any other team in the league. Pronger works in his shots and we definitely play rough, but dirty is a moniker that I am uncomfortable with. I also think that this link to dirty play is what keeps us from being respected as a success story throughout the league. So Arthur, how do the Ducks shake this reputation and what is it going to take to get the rest of the league to notice that this organization is for real?

I think we have to accept that it's entirely possible the Ducks will NEVER gain the respect of the rest of the league. That's not just a Disney thing, but an East Coast bias thing. The advent of Sportscenter LA can't really fix that. How long have the Kings, the Lakers, the Dodgers and the Giants been in California, and how many writers still don't stay awake for their evening games?

As far as cleanliness, I don't think I want to see a clean Ducks team. I know you and I will disagree on this, Daniel, but I've resigned myself to the fact that we ARE the Big Bad Ducks. There's nothing wrong with that in my eyes. Just as there was nothing wrong with the Big Bad Bruins. Moreover, it's no accident that the team is like this. Brian Burke went out of his way to put this team together.

I have no irrefutable proof that Brian Burke hates Russians and Eastern Europeans, or that he thinks the 90s influx of European superstars ruined the game. He certainly likes Swedes and the Finnish. But there was SOMETHING suspect about Burke discarding every single Russian and Eastern European player in the Ducks system. I wouldn't blame him if he felt that way. There was a time in the NHL when the attitude was similar to that of the NBA-- non-Americans are soft and reliant on referee calls. However, unlike the NBA, non-Americans softly played their way into becoming the dominant superstars in the NHL, though maybe that's what bothered Burke most of all.

Burke always said he wanted "two way forwards with character," but when you look at the team he built, that reads as "gritty North Americans." And if the stereotype of the rest of the world is that they play soft, the stereotype of North Americans is that they play as rough as you'll let them: hard checkers, who take dirty shots at your skill players and expect the game's "officiating" to be done with the gloves off. Now, even if we play to that stereotype, the only "dirty" players on our team would be Pronger and Perry, who are in the trenches every shift. But a guy like Parros is fighting and enforcing strictly by The Code. His play only makes us look more physical because the rest of the league seems happy to let The Code lapse into disuse.

I said recently that we look like a time-warp of pre-90s hockey, an anachronism in the modern game. I actually feel like thanking Burke for that. Because I honestly feel that we WON'T ever be respected as a franchise. But we're earning respect the only way we can. No team comes into our building thinking it will be an easy win, now. No series with us ever seems survivable. And really, that's not at odds with the early Ducks teams, who were always dropping the gloves for respect. Only now, we're doing it a little dirtier, but it's a LOT more effective. We're no longer the team that watches Paul Kariya get cross checked to the face or laid out, and does nothing or waits a game later to start a fight. We're the team that lets you know we'll lay your guy out if you take a run at ours. So, now our guys don't get laid out as often. Maybe that's all the respect we can get, for now.

I'm always frustrated when I read commentary from national blogs or news sources, or more importantly from asshole fans, on both sides, who don't respect the game and call us dirty. Look, the wings have gotten away with plenty, Holmstrom elbowed Wisniewski while he was hobbling in front of the crease, and there wasn't even a penalty. In my opinion, if you want to argue that a player is always responsible for his elbows the same way he is his stick, then Holmstrom's elbow is as bad as Niedermayer's. I think I came up with this question because I read some fan comments that basically said Scotty was classless and taking cheap shots. Even though he'd taken a mountain of abuse from Holmstrom, who pulled him down to the ice after the whistle during a powerplay. Everyone was saying Scotty tackled him, and yeah, Niedermayer was clearing the crease, but then Holmstrom grabbed Scotty's arm and dragged him down. Scotty has done nothing but win, and everyone says the Wings would rather have the power play, but where's the respect for the game when people take cheap shots and then refuse to stand up. Say what you want about Perry, but the kid drops the gloves, something I can never recall Holmstrom doing. But we get labeled as cowardly, dirty and every other adjective. Hockey is a tough sport, and it's not for the feint of heart. Yeah, we play hard, but we answer the bell. Pronger and Perry can definitely be called dirty, but it's not like they do those things and then are unwilling to take their punishment.

When I say we aren't dirtier than any team, I simply mean that all of these types of plays have happened and continue to happen. Even if we do them more often, we are not exactly reinventing the wheel. Burke built this team to play hard. Yes two-way forwards, primarily North Americans, and that was of course to the detriment of one Teemu Selanne, who doesn't really play that style of hockey. In a way though, I think you're right in that the East Coast bias will always be prevalent. In Game 3 when Scotty had just scored a power play goal, the entire intermission interview focused on everything that was going wrong for the Ducks. The period before focused on how Detroit was doing fine even though they were down a goal. And the Puck Daddy blog on yahoo sports pointed out how a reporter was interviewing Holmstrom about the elbow to Wisniewski and when he asked for Holmstrom's comment essentially said "Holmstrom, that elbow couldn't have been a dirty play because we know you wouldn't do that sort of thing." And of course when Detroit scored a goal at the end of game 6, all the Versus commentators said "What else would you expect from a defending champion?" as if we were so far removed from our cup title that we don't know how to close out a game. I suppose my main argument is that this bias helps create our image. I don't think we are as dirty as everyone thinks, just that no one watches the games and that the East Coast bias you mentioned really works to generate and perpetuate that moniker. I like that we play a little nasty. I like that we're gritty. I think that it's the best kind of hockey. I just don't think that it's fair to call hard play dirty play simply because we've taken a few penalties, and people spend more time reading box scores than they do watching games.

I suppose my real argument is that the media has crafted this image and hung it around our neck. I know I've given Detroit examples, but that's not the only team that gets this treatment when they do this. I hate to sound like an academic, but the rhetoric used to discuss the Ducks has, in fact, created the perspective that everyone in the league uses when looking at us, as well as the vocabulary that they use when talking about us. I could explain in greater detail, but that would require source citations and would only piss off our readers. More importantly, the general lack of respect is going to create a chip on anyone's shoulder. It's what makes us play harder in my opinion. So, while I'd like some respect, maybe it would be bad for us in the long run. I just think that the general lack of respect towards us is also what causes us to play so close to the edge. In other words, if we are the Big Bad Ducks, it's not just because Burke went and got the players to bring that edge, it's because the rest of the league refuses to acknowledge that we are a legitimate hockey force.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another One For The Ages

**This was our CLS mini-blog post for today. We'll put up an Anaheim Calling exclusive post shortly**

[Pavel's still mad about that hit in 2007]

We have spent a lot of time talking about different aspects of this series, from Hiller's struggles to the contributing factors of Detroit's success and we even hated on Versus' coverage, or lack thereof, of this series. What a lot of people are forgetting is that since 2003, these are the two most successful post-season teams. We've each won a Cup, and the Ducks actually have more Cup appearances, 2 to the Wings' 1. Anyone who has followed this rivalry since the early days in 1997 knows that there is a lot of hate between these two teams. I'm sure some Detroit fans blame us for costing them a Cup in 2007, and possibly 2003. Thus, it's no surprise that there were so many fireworks at the end of last night's game. So Arthur, what makes the Anaheim-Detroit rivalry one of the most compelling in hockey?

Let me point out that 2002 was a Cup year for Detroit, so the Ducks don't really have an appreciable lead in Cup appearances when measuring from 2003.

In my opinion, there has never been a Ducks/Wings series without a quality storyline. Detroit has faced Anaheim following each of its last three championships, answering the bell of the Stanley Cup hangover against the same team for the last decade. When these teams first locked horns in '97, Detroit went on to win its first Cup in 42 years, and ten years later, Anaheim beat the Red Wings to advance to the Finals that brought them their only Stanley Cup. It's never a meaningless series when it's Detroit/Anaheim, but here are my three reasons that this is one of the best rivalries in hockey:

1) Fun to watch. Hradek over at the Entertainment Sports Programming Network said it best after Game 3 when he asked if we could watch these teams play a Best of 15 series instead of 7. Anaheim and Detroit declare war every time they face each other. The sweeps aren't sweeps when it's Ducks/Wings. The teams played a combined 10 overtime periods in their 1997 and 2003 sweeps of one another, and the '99 series was filled with goals knocked in above the crossbar, Kariya hitting three posts (but no net) and the general shenanigans we've come to love. In fact, if you add up the all-time Playoff OT minutes between these teams, you probably have enough for another series. And every minute of that time is filled with contentious hockey: they draw blood, they question each other's heart and grit and they steal games from their opponent more often than they best them.

2) Respect. For the longest time, the Ducks were the NHL's answer to Rodney Dangerfield. They routinely dropped the gloves, and had the most potent offensive talents in the NHL. For that, other teams regularly took runs at their skill players, and the talking heads classified them as a purely offensive team, not built for serious playoff contention. No respect, I tell ya. Detroit, by contrast, could win an entire playoff series with nothing but the respect the other team gave them. How many times did we hear a coach in the 90s say of Detroit, "We can't respect these guys too much." It was a legitimate key to the series in a best-of-7 against the Wings. There was always the danger you'd get caught watching Fedorov skate around you, or not put a solid enough check on Shanahan.

Yet, when the Ducks tangled with Detroit, they brought the most dangerous weapon possible with them: the belief they could win. At first, you could chalk it up to a young franchise being too stupid to realize it couldn't beat the Red Wings, but a lights out goaltender and a one-man forecheck in 2003 proved it possible. Since then, the Ducks have morphed into the Big Bad Ducks, but it's the same story. Like the Big Bad Bruins of old, the Ducks don't respect anyone that comes into their building, least of all the Red Wings. And that lack of respect has got to stick in the craw of a Detroit franchise with that much history, that much consistent success and that many skill players. But it's also got to stick in the Ducks' craw that no matter what they do, the Red Wings will have the reputation of being classy and skilled, while the Ducks are Public Enemy #1 for every officiating crew in the NHL.

3) Litmus test in the West. Since 2002, only ONE Western Conference Finals was played without one of these two teams. They are the lineal champions in the West. You can't EARN a trip to the Finals if you didn't go through Detroit or Anaheim. When they face each other, people are prone to speculate (as they have this year) that the Ducks and Wings are deciding the Stanley Cup champion in THEIR series, not the one played weeks later.

As I've said before, I am a long time Ducks fan, and as a result, I have a massive chip on my shoulder. That also means that I hate the Red Wings. As you already stated Arthur, the Ducks were always seen as a flashy offensive team, the Kariya and Selanne show, that never had what it took to be a serious NHL team in the playoffs or otherwise. Then, when we ground out a 7-game win over a gritty Phoenix team, back when Roenick and Tkachuk occupied their top line, it was a step in the right direction. After that, we ran into a wall against Detroit. I believe 3 of the 4 games in that sweep went into overtime. Two years later, we were swept again, and that is when I began to hate Detroit. More importantly, it's also when the Ducks decided to fight for respect as an organization.

As you've mentioned, there is a new litmus test in the West, i.e. the Cup representative has to go through us or them, but the Red Wings have always been a litmus test for Anaheim. Detroit is an Original 6 franchise, and even though they had that 42-year hiatus from Cup glory, when we were starting to develop as a franchise and create an identity, Detroit was a league powerhouse. They were a model franchise, and in a way, I've always seen them as Anaheim's older brother, at least in terms of the franchise wars. After defeats in '97 and '99, what Anaheim fans wanted more than anything was that match up in 2003. In a way, Detroit has been a gatekeeper for Anaheim's respect as a franchise, and I think that is what makes this series so amazing. It may not seem tough to people who refuse to pay attention to a west coast team, but this rivalry belongs in the mythic category. It runs deeper than teams hating each other for ending playoff runs. We fight for the respect of an Original 6 franchise that always seems to be on our path to success, as a constant reminder of what we are trying to become. Red Wings fans seem to see us as a threat, an upstart mickey-mouse hockey club that has no right to even be in the NHL, let alone deserve the honor of hoisting a Cup. In some ways. I think Anaheim/Detroit demonstrates the battle between hockey purists and those who see the economic advantages of a modern league. While we do play a more old skool style of play in Anaheim, I think some people will never forget that we only exist because Disney rode the marketing wave a little too long. Detroit, on the other hand, is an Original 6 in a renaissance that has yielded more Cups in the past 12 years than any other franchise.

As a result of this sort of clash of hockey ideology, I see the players doing more to win than in other series. The reason why the Anaheim/Detroit playoff matchups are always such great hockey is that you have two teams who refuse to lose. It's usually a long stretch of mistake free, hard-hitting, grind-it-out hockey, where a superstar can, at any moment, change the momentum of the game. I know my answer is a little abstract, but that's what makes sports so great. It is so symbolic, yet so material. All I'm saying is that this rivalry has budded into the type of thing that no one from either camp will ever forget. It has offered the promise of hard fought hockey that every fan can appreciate, and most importantly, the games matter. The Cup winner might not come from this series, simply because of the damage these two teams have done to each other, but the winner of this series will definitely have the edge and confidence to hoist the Cup should the opportunity arise.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Rap Around: Walker Escapes Suspension

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Welcome to the Rap Around, where we take a look at headlines around the league.

Boston was up 4-0 with around 3 minutes left in the 3rd last night, when defenseman Aaron Ward got into a shoving match with Matt Cullen in front of the Bruins net. The puck was along the boards about 20 feet away at the time. At the tail end of the altercation, as Cullen was falling to the ground, Carolina's Scott Walker intervened. He immediately ditched his gloves and stick, grabbed a hold of Ward (still wearing his gloves and holding his stick in his left hand) and unleashed a right cross that instantly crumpled Ward to the ground.

For his actions, Walker received an Instigator, a 5-minute Major for Fighting, a Game Misconduct and a $2500 fine, but his automatic suspension under Rule 47.22 was rescinded. Many anti-fighting stalwarts are pointing to the incident and subsequent lack of discipline as a downside of the NHL's love affair with fighting. Daniel, you and I have recently argued for the status quo of Fighting in the NHL. So, let me ask you: was this a sucker punch, should Walker have been suspended and is this proof of the danger posed to hockey players if fighting is not outlawed or controlled?

I don't think this is necessarily a reason to outlaw or control fighting more than it already is. This type of action is not uncommon and happens every year. Inevitably, someone is going to take too many liberties with a scorer, and an enforcer on the opposing team is going to step in. Was this a sucker punch? Yes. Was it unnecessary? Not at all. If someone is going to get rough with one of the skill players, which Cullen is as we both remember, then something needs to be done to send a message that it is not ok. If anything, this is more evidence about how effective the self-policing policy is.

There's no need to suspend a player for a play that is no different from what happens around the net, only he didn't have a glove on. Hockey players are tough, and one punch isn't going to take someone out. If there was an injury, then maybe a suspension discussion needs to take place. But Walker got a match penalty, the $2500 fine and I'm sure the refs and the Bruins are going to keep an eye on him. If anything, the media paying too much attention to minor incidents like this gives hockey its violent reputation. I'm not trying to deny that people get hurt playing this game, or even that fighting can lead to injuries. I'm simply arguing that the violence that does happen in hockey is a part of the game and part of its ability to separate itself from the other major sports in this North America. But, that doesn't mean that it is the only thing that makes hockey exciting. It's time for the media to stop defining hockey by the violence that happens. I bet if I checked to see how many career ending injuries happen in football compared to hockey, football would be the victor. It's time for us to stop getting bent out of shape every time a punch is thrown. Fighting is a defining characteristic of hockey, but it is not THE defining characteristic of hockey. Maybe if the media kept that in mind, we could talk about what actually makes hockey exciting, like great saves, odd man rushes and Ovechkin's crazy wrist shot, instead of the few fights that we enjoy as a tool of momentum.

I'm going to agree that it was a sucker punch, but disagree that a suspension wasn't warranted. I absolutely think Walker should have been suspended.

Yes, Ward was taking liberties with Cullen here, but there are a finite number of situations where you can start pummeling a guy who has his gloves on AND his stick in his hand. This was a normal shoving match. Ward didn't board Cullen, spear him, elbow him or draw blood of any kind. If Walker wants to get involved in that fray, then escalate things, but don't ramp them up to 11 without warning.

Some Ducks fans may disagree with me here, as I'm sure they think they've seen this before. Didn't Chris Kunitz beat the crap out of a fetal Zidlicky not too long ago, and didn't Travis Moen jump a number of players in his time in a Ducks sweater? With Zidlicky, he dropped his stick. Roughing can still be called when you drop your stick or feign dropping your stick to goad the other player into starting a fight. Referees watch for that, and even though Zidlicky covered up and didn't throw a punch, the referees determined he was accepting the challenge when he dropped his stick. And if you watch the video, Kunitz is just shoving until he sees the stick drop. Then he starts throwing uppercuts like Tommy Hearns. As for Moen, yeah, he jumped guys, but he never opened with a haymaker. You facewash a guy, you grab his jersey and talk to him: an amuse bouche of violence, if you will. You never open with the entree.

The problem with the way Fighting is perceived by the mainstream media is that everyone assumes it's like this, and that there are no rules. Everyone who doesn't watch hockey assumes that every fight is like the Todd Bertuzzi punch on Steve Moore. They don't realize that there's a code, and that things like the Todd Bertuzzi punch happen when teams aren't following the code. That leads to frustration and mindless attacks. And I think mindless attacks should be reserved as checks to counter other mindless attacks. If Ward spears Cullen, open season. But if they're just shoving each other, it behooves you to shove him a little more and find out what his intentions are with your forward.

Walker says he heard the appropriate words to believe he was involved in an altercation, but I don't buy that. It happened too fast in a league where players still slash a leg, talk it out and then circle each other like samurai. Walker needed to issue a formal challenge, or at least get a few shoves in there before he punched him. The NHL should've suspended him because no professional hockey player should be throwing a haymaker like that when the other player still has his gloves on and a firm grasp on his stick. It's dangerous for the game, and it's dangerous for Walker, who is probably looking at Retaliation City in this series. And another thing: how is this not message sending? Losing 4-0, a guy steps into a shoving match with a right cross? He's so eager to start a fight, he's going to take a shot at a guy, who didn't agree to drop the gloves, and that's not message sending?


Friday, May 8, 2009

The Jig Is Up?

It's hard to be critical of Jonas Hiller, who has had a pretty impressive playoffs so far, but the Wings got to him in Game 4. They lit the lamp 5 times with Hiller between the pipes, and let's face it, some of the goals were pretty soft. Hiller has made his fair share of amazing stops, but some of the pucks that have slipped past him in this series have been very stoppable. I know we disagreed on the backhander that slipped through the pads in Game 3, but Hiller had 2 go right through the arm and the body, which is exactly what a butterfly goalie isn't supposed to give up. So let me ask you, Arthur, is Hiller slipping and is it time to let a Conn Smythe Trophy winner find his way to the Anaheim crease?

First, on Samuelsson's backhander in Game 3, my issue was with the declaration that that was "not a quality chance." You have to put a stick on Samuelsson and pressure the shot out of him. You can't let him streak past you diagonally, free to shoot it whenever he wants. Hiller guessed high, and any quality backhanded chance would've been high. Yes, he should've had it, but I was saying we never should have given it up.

Is he slipping? Maybe. I can tell you he didn't look sharp in the skate around. The second goal was unstoppable, but the others were all ones he should've had. Detroit got better chances this game; Hossa benefitted from playing on a different line. But by the time Hiller let that fifth goal past him, you could see the kid just didn't have it tonight.

I think he's allowed a bad game, though. In 2003, Jiggy had a phenomenal series against Detroit, opened the series well against Dallas, had a game where he had to be pulled and then closed in record-setting fashion against the Stars and Wild. I'm not saying that Hiller is destined for that same performance, but when you ask a goaltender to bear the brunt of upsetting the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the West, you have to allow him a bad game. And Allaire prepared Jiggy to bounce back in the Dallas series, just as I'm sure he's prepared Jonas.

I know a lot of people want Jiggy to ride into the crease and save the day, and I'm sure it's crossed Carlyle's mind. I just don't see that happening, though. This isn't like 2006. Jiggy lost this job in March, not in the middle of a playoff series. Carlyle owes Hillsy Sunday's start. He's the starter, and he hasn't imploded just yet.

I think we can both agree that Hiller didn't have it tonight. I don't know who he prays to, but the hockey gods were not listening. I also agree that the problem tonight was the quality chances that Detroit seemed to conjure at will. It's hard to talk about what went right for Anaheim in this game, defensively, because nothing really did. The goals Hiller gave up had one thing in common: they came from in between the circles. Hiller has done some amazing things in the playoffs, but if a goalie faces 5 or 6 quality chances between the circles . . .

I do think that Hiller has wrestled the starting job away from Jiggy, and it's going to be tough not to do something to change momentum. We got thoroughly handled in Game 4. The fact is though, if he can't rebound and play amazing in Game 5, maybe he'll never be the playoff goalie that a championship team needs. Every goalie is going to have a night like this in the playoffs. Luongo got lit up for 6 in game 2 of the Chicago/Vancouver series, and came back really strong. If Hiller does rebound, the Wings are going to have themselves an awful night sunday. If he doesn't, maybe Jiggy can save the series. I do know that Hiller needs to shake this one off, and be the same guy who had the Sharks shaking their heads in Round One.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Sports Illustrated has released the results of its Dirtiest Player in The NHL poll. The 'honor' polls fellow NHL players (324 respondents this year), who (by a 13% of the vote tie) declared Ducks' defensemen Chris Pronger and Dallas forward Steve Ott as the hands-down dirtiest (in a season where Sean Avery did not play a full season).

Daniel, many Ducks fans are critical of Prongs, and few would deny that he would push Lady Byng down a flight of stairs, given the opportunity. In fact, many have yet to forgive him for his hits on Selanne, who gladly paid the defenseman back with a brutal board into the glass in the Olympics. And yet, Ryan Whitney (Pronger's heir apparent) has proven that a large body and a big shot can't replace Pronger's defensive hockey sense and work in front of the net. Clearly, he's done something for the Ducks on the defensive side of the puck that a softer defenseman can't accomplish.

It may be early to ask this, but as many speculate he's on his way out this offseason, what's your final word on Pronger? Was he good for the Ducks? Are you embarrassed he ever wore a Duck uniform? Will you be sad to see him go?

I'm a little torn on the Pronger issue. Although I'm reminded of something Mike Myers' character said in the film Mystery, Alaska - "If you don't play this game with a big heart and a big bag of knuckles in front of the net, you don't got dinky-doo." Say what you want about Pronger, the man is king of the crease. Look no further than Game 1, when Whitney got owned by Holmstrom while Pronger did a great job keeping him at bay. In fact, Pronger has only two penalties in the Detroit series, one of which came at the 20:00 mark of the third period of Game 3. Whether or not that means he's just getting away with more is debatable. Pronger is a nasty guy, and before he came to Anaheim, I hated him. But it's hard to hate a guy who works hard and is a really solid professional. He doesn't have that Brett Favre Syndrome, where he thinks it's his job to play D and not teach anyone anything. No matter what happens, Pronger seems to be the player that fans love to have and hate to have play against them.

To more immediately answer your question, I'm not ashamed he was on our team. In fact I'm proud of the work he's done. More importantly, I'm proud of how he's recovered from Anaheim fans throwing him under the bus. We both talked about how shipping him to Boston for Kessel would have been a great deal. In the middle of the season he wasn't nearly as dominant as he was after the trade deadline. If Pronger had continued to play that way, then moving him would have been brilliant. Now that he's recovered and playing like a Norris trophy winner, having him on the team is invaluable. As I've said before, the guy is the king of the crease. I don't know if anyone plays like he does in front of the net, and let's face it, you have to be a little dirty if you're going to own that ice. Even Lidstrom isn't immune.

I think Pronger has been great for this team. I don't think we win the Cup without him, and we certainly aren't in the middle of this playoff run without him. I will be sad to see him go, and that's probably why I'll never be a good GM. I'm too sentimental. I'd love it if the brothers Niedermayer and Pronger could both end their careers in Anaheim. I feel like keeping that first Cup team together and letting it end that way for all of them would be wonderful. It was such a special moment. The first time the Cup came to California, it was a huge vindication for all of us. Look at how crazy San Jose went to get the Cup experience after that. The Kings kept the course, but it put even more life into the rivalry. Anaheim winning the Cup was great for all Hockey in California, and Pronger was a huge part of that. I'm not ashamed he plays for us, and I hope he stays at this level so he can end his career here. He's a personality, but he's not detrimental to the team. People may hate playing against him, and he punishes guys for coming to the net, but he helps every team he's ever played for. What else can you ask of a guy?

I'd like to see a poll that asks the GM's who they thought they needed to acquire at the Trade Deadline to help them win a Cup. Pronger wins that in a landslide.

There's definitely a solid defense to be mounted for Chris Pronger, but it's hard for me to do it. He doesn't have an endearing personality. And you CAN play defense that mean and still be endearing (see: Bobby Orr flying over the boards to pummel Wayne Maki after he sticked "Terrible Ted" Green in the head). I just don't feel that Pronger is a "personality." He was on Rome is Burning on Monday, and it was maybe the worst television I've ever seen.

I will say this. As someone who grew up watching Ronnie Lott, in a town that still remembered Jack Tatum, a REAL defender has to play with that edge. These flashy offensive players come into your zone, and literally TAKE from you. They occupy the space that you are charged to patrol. They blow past you when you are asked to halt their advance. And when they score, you're the fool who let them. It's like they're taking the points right out of your pocket. "You have to own the middle," Ronnie used to say, "They have to be afraid to come into your zone." And they were. Receivers got alligator arms. They heard footsteps. And the deaf or unusually brave . . . well, they didn't get to play football for very long.

When Pronger plays that way, he owns the ice. He tried to soften his play (as did the entire team) to take fewer penalties in the middle of this season. And it was just awful. It looked like Big Mama had put away the wooden spoon out there. Kids were running around like Christmas Morning. I think he learned from that experience, though. He's taking fewer truly stupid penalties. But he's got his edge back. He's taking it personally, again. And he will crosscheck Jonathan Cheechoo to the ice after the play is over to prove his point.

Is there another way to do it? Sure. Niedermayer owns the puck, instead of the ice, and is arguably more effective. He's still inside the head of the opposing forwards because they assume he'll always be in position. And the NHL seems to be moving in that direction: small strong skating defensemen chasing small strong skating forwards around the ice. The visibility of these polls declaring the league's dirtiest player (once the annual Claude Lemieux award) only helps move that transition along.

But I'll be sad when the game becomes that. First, because it is completely at odds with how the Ducks play. In a way, the Ducks are trapped in a timewarp of pre-90s North American hockey. And "Ducks Hockey" is something the league seems intent on eradicating. Through rule changes and penalties, the NHL is slowly forcing out the existence of-- and the mere idea of --enforcers, intimidators and physical play. And maybe I sound like a Neanderthal complaining about the "No Hit League," but I don't want to see a bunch of guys out there who are okay with it when they get beat on a play. I don't want to see 82 All-star games. I want every player on the team to take it personally. I want every player pushing and challenging a guy after the play. I want emotions to run high and stay high. And I don't ever want to see a forward comfortable in our zone. I want to own the middle.

I think Chris Pronger is a Duck, born to play Ducks Hockey: a first class defender and competitor, who straddles the line of what's acceptable in the physical side of the game. And whether they fear or respect him, players are aware he's on the ice. He's our wooden spoon out there. I will be sad to see ALL of the Chris Prongers of the world go.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pac Said, "Keep Ya Head Up"

Alright, Arthur. You saw it, I saw it and we can both hear the incessant griping out of Detroit, "the dirty Ducks are at it again, blah, blah, blah." I would like to point out that the first penalty called in the game was on one Jiri Hudler for a dirty elbow on Francois Beauchemin. There were a lot of things that went into Brown's hit on Hudler. I don't think it was dangerous, and I'm sure I'll get my chance to explain, but why don't you lay it down for everyone and give a level perception of what happened when Brown knocked some sense-- sorry --knocked down Hudler?


So, here's what happened. Believe it or not, the Red Wings broke discipline first in this game. At 8:00 of the 1st, Jiri Hudler elbowed Francois Beauchemin. I'd love to tell you more about the play, but I didn't see it on Versus, as they didn't show it. I saw the replay on TSN, and while it doesn't look like a hard and sudden elbow, Hudler follows through all the way, which pries Beauchemin's helmet off, and takes him out of the play.

Fast forward 3:30, and Jiri Hudler is handling the puck just outside of his zone. He tries to make a quick play, backhanding it off the boards and turning low. Mike Brown is in Detroit's zone, and puts Hudler in the train tracks right before he touches the puck. Hudler releases the puck along the boards, and we hear the appropriate number of beats that would require a player to at least let up if he's still going to execute the check. Brown charges full steam ahead, and finishes the hit with his shoulder. He catches Hudler flush, and the hit is made even more dangerous by the fact that Hudler was turning his body to skate toward Brown as contact was made. Hudler was twisting one way, and then violently twisted back onto the ice like one of those "Hit Stick" checks in NHL 09. Hudler was cut either by the ice or his visor when his head hit the ground, leaving a pool of blood. He got up gingerly, opening and closing his hands (I don't know what that's medically relevant of, but it caused me to say, "DAYUMN!").

Now, if you ask me for my unbiased hockey analysis? I think that it's a retaliation play made worse by the fact that the offensive player had his head down. If Corey Perry got blindsided with a late shoulder check to the head after he elbowed Claude Giroux, I wouldn't call it a dirty play, any more than any retaliation or the initial cheapshots and elbows that breed them are dirty plays.

Is it illegal or suspension worthy? See, this part I love. The Hockey Central crew on Versus both agreed that the play is a terrible and suspension-worthy offense. But then I read the crew over at Hockey Night in Canada agreed it was a clean hit, and decided to move on with the broadcast without discussing it. Apparently, the only broadcast to express some disagreement was TSN, where Bob McKenzie reiterated a point he explored in an article he wrote this week, where he points out that a shoulder blindside to the head is NOT an illegal hit in the books. Dirty hit? Yes. Should be excised from the sport? Yes. But does the NHL say you can never put your shoulder into a guy's head? No.

But here's the thing. It's been legal for so long that I don't think of it as dirty. When Scott Stevens took Paul Kariya out in the Stanley Cup Finals in '03, it was a blindside shoulder check to the head that was a beat or two late. He even leaned into it with his elbow. I didn't get up and scream that it was dirty, even though I was pretty sure Paul was dead (I mean, it was like his 6th concussion, 2nd major one). So, maybe I'm insensitive, but I don't care how BADLY you were hurt, if the reason that you were hurt so badly and were unable to protect yourself is that you made a play with your head down.

I couldn't agree more.

Actually, I'm furious for a different reason. Keith Jones is over in the Versus booth, crying like it was his kid who got it. He was mad like someone took his lunch money, or tried to date his daughter without bringing a condom. There's nothing more frustrating in Hockey than when good hits get called dirty because someone gets hurt. Look, the hit on Paul in 2003 pissed me off, but just like Barry said, he kept his shoulder in and then followed through. This hit wouldn't have been a problem if it wasn't for Hudler deciding to pirouette at center ice after getting rid of the puck. Someone on his team should have told him.

Look, Brown was barely on the tracks. He had stopped striding well before he went after Hudler. He is a big dude, who can generate some speed very quickly, but he kept his arms in and he only hits Hudler with the follow through. While I hear Detroit fans crying already about "if it was Getzlaf you'd want a suspension." All I can say is my guys know that if you go around the neutral zone with your head down, somebody is going to drop you.

Moreover, Hudler coming back like he did leads me to believe that the only thing that was really wrong with him was that he got cut. Since when is a hockey player getting cut such a tragedy? If all that happened was that he got cut, and he's not hurt then the hit is clean. There should be no suspension. We lost our second-best PK forward for the first game of the series, and Detroit scored 2 goals as a result. I don't know what else to say, really. Yes, the hit looks bad, but only if you don't know what you're doing. There's less than a second and a half from when Hudler gets rid of the puck and when Brown hits him, is that time enough to pull up? Sure. But if Brown is zeroed in, he's not moving. He kept his shoulders in, didn't lead with the elbow and followed through.

More than anything, I'm angry about how one bad thing seems to snowball on us. Pronger loses his head a few times, and all of the sudden the entire Ducks organization is dirty. Detroit was doing the same things we were, but for some odd reason, being from California means we don't know how to play real hockey. Wake up!!! We won the cup. We have the most postseason series victories since 2003, and we didn't accidentally upset San Jose. The refs did a great job of calling this game down the middle. I don't really disagree with the Interference call although I think a double minor would have been much more appropriate, unfortunately, there's no such call, but that's another topic. But if Brown gets suspended for this, it's just another example of how the league doesn't care about hockey in California, and is more focused on protecting its cold weather franchises.

Okay, but you agree that it was a 5-minute Major for Interference? Rulebook (56.4 and 56.5) reads that any interference with a degree of violence that results in an injury should result in a Major for Interference and a Game Misconduct. Clearly, Brown knew he was getting there a beat late, and could be called for Interference. If the guy gets injured, regardless of whether Brown meant to injure him or not, he knew he could get called. So, it's gotta be a 5-minute Major for Interference, right?

I don't think this is a 5-minute Major, and that's a problem with the rule. I know we want to stop hits to the head, but the referees need the power of discretion. I do think you can call the penalty. It's definitely an Interference call, and he did draw blood. But it should be a double Minor, not a Major. Just like with high sticking: if blood is drawn, the penalty is 4 minutes instead of 2. I'm not saying there should be an automatic 4 minutes every time someone draws blood, just that when it comes to hits to the head, a more effective tiered system is needed. With high sticking the refs don't make the decision; here they should.

But, let's take a closer look at what happened. The hit was a second late. This isn't Donald Brashear peeling off from a change to crack some guy who hasn't touched the puck for 4 seconds. This is a guy who had the puck carrier in his sights and tried to separate the carrier from the puck. Even during coverage, no one observed it was a bad hit until there was blood. That, to me, means it's not a dirty play. If it's not dirty, and there's no intent to injure, which is not the same as playing physical, then the 5-minute Major and Game Misconduct shouldn't come into play. There was no Boarding. No bad stick work. Nothing. Majors should be reserved for penalties that are malicious and seek to injure. This was neither.

I'm okay with calling this a penalty, and given the rules, I guess the refs had no choice but to call the Major. However, this rule needs to be reevaluated. I'm just not in favor of something like Interference being an all or nothing penalty. There needs to be a way for the refs to consider the degree of injury and whether or not it was directly caused by the hit. I'm in favor of rules that protect players, but I'm more in favor of players protecting players and refs being able to call the game that is in front of them.