The Importance of Centermen

Jim Rutherford is well on his way of building a new Pittsburgh Penguins team. I like his vision of building a roster that is strong down the middle. Having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Rutherford really doesn’t have another choice, but I like that he considers this a key thing in winning the Stanley Cup.

Centermen are generally the smartest hockey players; they see big portions of the ice and play a part in every aspect of the game. Therefore, there is no accident that most of the greatest hockey players of all time played as centers.  What differ them from all the other hockey-crazed kids growing up is their mind. Their hockey awareness is just so big that it can’t fit into another position on the ice, even as such an early stage in their careers. The center position allows them to be as involved as their skill demands. Defensemen do also have a good look of the ice, but they usually just see it from one side: a defenseman never gets the opportunity to see the game from the opponents’ side, simple because they almost always are skating backwards. Wingers a too locked into the sides of the ice, which gives them a more static view of the game.

In order to win the Stanley Cup, your great centers need to be stars and your good ones need to be character players. And all of them need to be leaders. One big aspect of winning in the playoff is the penalty kill. I always feel much more comfortable having a center as a leader of that four man group, face-offs being one of the reasons. You don’t need a great power play to win a Stanley Cup, sometimes not even a good one. But it certainly doesn’t hurt having two great centermen setting up goal-scoring opportunities in the man advantage.

Just ask any GM whom their first choice would be if they got the chance to build a team from scratch. All of them would pick a center and it would be one of these names: Crosby, Malkin, Toews, Kopitar, Tavares, Stamkos, Datsyuk, Bergeon.

Montreal’s Free Agency and Highlights

This year’s free agency was certainly interesting, but one thing I’ve learned from free agency over the years is: there is no good signing or bad signing, not until the play justifies the money. Essentially it means, there aren’t any amazing signings yet, not until these deals are two or three years in (or half way through the season if they are only for one year.) But we can assume what signings will most likely turn out great (keep in mind the hype that David Clarkson and Ville Leino got and how they have been for their teams so far. So nothing is set in stone.) I’m going to take a look at the Montreal Canadiens and how they did. I will post an article later on how I think the Leafs did and then free agency all together. So let’s be off!

Additions

C Manny Malhotra

D Tom Gilbert

D Mike Weaver

G Joey Macdonald

F PA Parenteau

 

Subtractions

F Mike Blunden

F Brain Gionta

F Thomas Vanek

D Josh Georges

F Danny Briere

In my opinion, Montreal lost a lot more than they gained. They lost a top six forward, a top four defenseman and their captain. The Montreal lineup is still very strong without those players but not as strong as they were when they went to the eastern conference finals. Losing Vanek was a big loss but with Marc Bergevin was able to get PA Parenteau to fill in the top six role that Vanek once had (at the cost of clutch performer Danny Briere.) So I’m not all too disappointed to lose Vanek. Now Brain Gionta was a fan favorite to many Montreal Canadiens’ fans but to be honest I think it was time we moved on. His play is diminishing and the role he played was to feed the puck and pump up the squad when they were down. He played on the third line and the money he was asking for was not worth it knowing that he was going to be on the third line.

Would you honestly put Gio over Gallagher and Parenteau? I didn’t think so. Maybe that third line role can be filled out better with an up and comer. Best of luck to Gionta in Buffalo! Next big piece that the Habs lost was Josh Georges. I hate this move compared to the rest of the pieces they have lost so far this off season. There was the whole situation where Montreal wanted to trade him to Toronto for a roster player. I was relieved when I heard that he didn’t accept it. Then on July 1st I heard that he got traded I was sadden. I understand that they wanted to free up some cap room but I still loved Georges. In all honesty Georges was probably their best consistent defensive defenseman (emphasis on consistent and on defensive.)

Montreal did add some good pieces in the process. I love adding center man Manny Malhotra. He was one of my favorites to watch when Vancover had their cup run. I always thought he was a highly valuable asset because of his dominance in the faceoff circle and in the penalty kill. When he was taken out of hockey because of that devastating eye injury I was stunned and scared for him. When I saw that happen I was scared for not only his ability to see but I had a bad feeling he might never play hockey again. That’s why I was over the moon to see the great comeback season he had with the Hurricanes. Now I’m stoked to have him on the Habs! He is a natural leader and he can really get the guys to rally behind him. He also a great role model for the younger players and he can help captain the already great penalty kill that the Habs have. He also relives the key defensive face offs from Tomas Plekanec .

Tom Gilbert is a defense man that I do like, but he is kind of a tossup. I hope he can help fill that void that Georges left. I like the Macdonald signing, he can help challenge the Bulldogs and gives them even more depth (Carey Price, Peter Budaj , Dustin Tokarski and now Macdonald.) So that’s more of a depth signing. Parenteau like I said before fills that top six spot that Vanek left behind. But Marc Bergevin can’t be done yet, there are still some areas that need to be improved. But overall I feel that more is needed to be done to fill those voids that have been left. Let’s hope that it can be done sooner than later.

Penguins’ new leadership brings much needed consistency

Days after former Penguins GM, Ray Shero, was fired, co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux met with Dejan Kovacevic of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The owners used two words repeatedly when portraying a vision for how they wanted their team to look. The words were “grit” and “character”. Co-owners Run Burkle and Mario Lemieux believed that the lack of locker room personalities and physical presence on the ice were the main reasons for the Penguins’ early playoff  exits the past four seasons.

Jim Rutherford’s first major move as the Penguins new GM was to hire a new head coach. The hiring process took longer than expected when Rutherford’s first two choices decided to accept other offers, but Mike Johnston was eventually trusted with the position. The next two big events on the calendar in Pittsburgh was the NHL Entry Draft and NHL’s Free Agency. While the new head coach took a step back, Rutherford worked to create the image that Mario Lemieux and co-owner Run Burkle had painted for the Black and Gold.

At the draft, a high-skilled and unexpectedly available forward in Finnish Kasperi Kapanen was selected as the Penguins first pick, giving the organization some much-needed talent up front. The later picks, however, were not used on technically gifted hockey players. Instead, big, strong, hard-working guys with net-front presence and desperate board play were preferred. For example, fifth-round pick Anthony Angello was quoted saying ”I’d definitely say my big role is a physical-presence type of guy, where the defense are skating down and they look over their shoulder and say ‘oh no, there comes Angello, he’s going to put me through the wall.”

Of course, before Penguins even made their first pick a step towards the new image was taken when Jim Rutherford traded James Neal to Nashville Predators for forwards Patric Hörnqvist and Nick Spaling. Most people, including myself, raised their eyebrows at the seemingly lack of exchange the Penguins got for a former 40-goalscorer. However, it did not take long until it all made sense. James Neal was a part of the old image created by Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma and highlighted the teams’ struggles in the playoffs. Also, Neal gets his goal from a far while Hörnqvist and Spaling battle for them in front of the net. And those are the kind of goals you score in the playoffs. Hörnqvist was an assistant captain in Nashville, he is well-known locker-room guy, he has shown his goal-scoring ability in a mediocre team, and he is a right shot. The last part was emphasized by Rutherford, wanting to give his star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin another option on the ice. In Nick Spaling, the Penguins got a hard-working player that can play both box play and power play and also does his share of goals. The Penguins got tougher, louder and an increase in goal-scoring potential in the playoffs within a matter of minutes.

The work towards the new image continued in one of the most crazy free agency days in modern NHL history. Former Penguin defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen were giving monster contracts, Deryk Engelland was way overpaid by the Calgary Flames, and even Joe Vitale and Tanner Glass managed to scramble together undeserved paydays. And out of nowhere, Jim Rutheford managed to get the best available defenseman in Chrisitan Ehrhoff at $4 milion for one year. The next three signings done by the Penguins echoed the owners’ words “grit” and “character”. Blake Comeau and Taylor Chorney were signed during the first day of free agency, while the former Philadelphia Flyer and troublesome Steve Downie was given a one year deal during Day 2.

Things are looking up for the Pittsburgh Penguins, even though they may eventually need another top-six winger. Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis cannot both be up there if the Penguins are going to be back in the Stanley Cup Final come April. A few possible free-agent targets remains, although current restricted free agents such as Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling are going to get new contracts before addition money is spent on any new players. In any case, there is a lot more excitement in the town of Pittsburgh this summer than it has been for a long time.

The Most Confusing Signings of July 1st!

July 1st. It’s Canada Day, the NBA Free Agency starting point (not that it matters though.), and the beginning of the NHL Free Agency. Every year, several signings confuse all of tremendously and this was no different. After day one of the NHL Free Agency, here are the signings that made us go, “What?”.

 

  • Dave Bolland to FLA for 5 x $5.5M

This one was sort of expected. It was known that some team would have came along and grossly overpaid Bolland. Bolland is 2nd line center on a bad team and a third line center on every other team. If you’re a GM, you don’t pay $5.5M on a third line center, and on the Florida Panthers, that’s where he’s going to be. I expect Aleksander Barkov to be the 1st line center, Nick Bjugstad to be the 2nd line center, and Bolland be the 3rd line center.

-Cap Comparables:

Blake Wheeler ($5.8M)
Patrick Elias ($5.5M)
Evander Kane ($5.25M)
Jeff Skinner ($5.75M)

 

  • Brooks Orpik to WSH for 5 x $5.5M

For  a defensive defenseman who has a +/- of -3, you’d think he’d get much less. Brian MacLellan must see something in him that we all don’t. If not, Brooks Orpik could turn into another David Clarkson.

-Cap Comparables

Paul Martin ($5M)
Brent Seabrook ($5M)
Keith Yandle ($5.5M)

 

  • Brian Gionta to BUF for 3 x $4.2M

Not sure why Buffalo would have even offered this contract… They’re rebuilding right? They also gave him a full NMC in the 1st 2 years and a limited NTC on the 3rd year? Really? Look we get that Terry Pegula is completely loaded but there’s still a salary cap. I mean if you want to flaunt your money just buy a giant billboard reminding us that the Sabres are paying millions of dollars to Ville Leino for the next six years to go home and do nothing. Alternatively, they can prove to me how much money they have by giving me a bunch of money. I promise I’ll donate most of it! Or even better, just donate a bunch of money!  All of that aside, i’m not sure why you want a 36 year old on a rebuilding team. Sure, it can be argued that he could provide some leadership on the team,  but is that not why you have guys like Drew Stafford on your team? This signing confuses me a lot…

- Cap Comparables

Mike Fisher ($4.2M)
Erik Cole ($4M)

Agree with me? Disagree with me? Let us know! Comment below, tweet me @HkyBlogger, or comment on Facebook! Make sure to keep the conversation going by sharing this with your friends and “liking” us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/NotYourAverageHockeyBlog

Biggest Steal and Reach of the 1st Round of the NHL Draft!

Just like every draft, there are some teams that get a steal with their 1st Round Pick and some tend to reach a bit ahead and draft someone out of the blue. There’s a variety of reasons these situations. Sometimes they see something in the player that no one else sees (See: Pavel Datsyuk). Sometimes they just fall in love with the player (See: Mark Jankowski). Sometimes they just want the player really bad and no one wants to trade down with them. Those are just several reasons why teams find gems and busts in the draft. However, here are my picks for the steals and the gems of the draft (so far…)

Steal:
Josh Ho-Sang (1st Round 28th Overall) – New York Islanders
Josh Ho-Sang has wonderful hands and can make plays out of seemingly nothing. It’s honestly magical. His one draw back is the reports of his attitude problems. If he didn’t have the attitude labeled stuck to him, he would be in conversations for top 10. Instead, he drops down to 28. This is a high risk-high reward pick. If he can brush off the attitude tag, he looks like a major steal. If he can’t, he could turn bust rather quickly. Being drafted 28th Overall isn’t a bad thing at all. Players like Matt Niskanen and Corey Perry were selected from this spot.

Reach:
Kevin Fiala (1st Round 11th Overall) – Nashville Predators
Kevin Fiala is not a bad player by an stretch of the imagination. He’s one of the best hockey players in the world in his age group. However, he’s not the 11th best though. Most experts had him in the 15-25 range and we had him in the 22nd slot. However, the Predators see something in him that many of us don’t. At 5’11 he won’t be expected to be a physical player but he will still need to add some muscle.

Your 2014 Stanley Cup Champion: The Los Angeles Kings

After watching the best postseason run I have witnessed in my moderately short life, it is clear that this Kings team is special.  They possess an almost indefinable quality that allowed them to persevere through a historically arduous 26 games.  A three game losing streak to start the playoffs, followed by three road game 7 wins against arguably three of the top six teams in the league, with the Kings being one of the other three, and a deceptively easy Stanley Cup Finals has been the path this team followed on their way to their second Stanley Cup in three years.

When Dean Lombardi was hired back in 2006, he looked to instill a culture within the organization, starting from the net and working out.  It seems his vision has come to fruition as the Kings are an organization that has every member buying into a possession-based, defense-first style of play.  They are a team who is greater than the sum of its parts, something that cannot be said about many other very talented teams.  The Sharks and Penguins are the first that come to mind.  Outside of the intangibles, they also have depth that cannot be matched, a world class goaltender, one of the best defensemen in the league, one of the best centers, and almost every pivotal player is under the age of 30.

As it seems to be the blueprint for champions, I too will start from the net and work my way out.  Jonathan Quick was drafted 72nd overall in 2005.  He was supposed to be a stand-in until Jonathan Bernier developed enough to become the starting goalie.  However, his explosiveness, flexibility, and mental fortitude have turned Quick into one of the most feared goaltenders in the league.  He was underwhelming in these playoffs, especially if you compare him to the 2012 playoff version of himself, but he made saves when it mattered the most.  Many critics claimed that the Kings were winning in spite of Quick, but if Quick doesn’t make the incredible glove save on Marleau in Game 7 against the Sharks, I’m not so sure the Kings win that game. Game 3 against the Rangers was certainly his most impressive,  turning away 32 shots for the shutout and stripping the Rangers of almost all hope they had of winning the cup.  He repeatedly made saves that robbed opponents of the belief that they could win at the times when it mattered most, completely swaying the momentum of games with one flash of his glove or acrobatic dive to the side, making Quick just as instrumental in this Stanley Cup run as any of the players in front of him.

The blue line could have been better throughout the playoffs, sporting a 2.69 GAA, a far cry from their league leading 2.05 GAA during the regular season.  This can be attributed to a few injuries as well as a lack of speed with a few of the veteran defensemen that was exploited by the Kings’ opponents.  There were also a number of uncharacteristic turnovers and mental lapses throughout the playoffs, most likely a result of three emotionally and mentally taxing series to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The best among the Kings’ defense corps, Drew Doughty, is only 24 years of age and continues to improve upon his stellar play and resume.  He has two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cups to his name and it appears as if he has a very bright future.  He led all defensemen in scoring in the playoffs with 18 points and played a crucial role on the defensive end of the ice in every game. The Kings have a superstar in Doughty, a player who knows how to win and continually plays his best hockey when the stage is biggest.  The Kings also have bright young players in Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, and Jake Muzzin.  Muzzin had a breakout year and was second on the Kings blue line with 12 points throughout the playoffs.  Martinez came up huge with the series-clinching goal in overtime of game 7 against the Blackhawks and the Cup-clinching goal in double overtime of game 5 against the Rangers.  This leaves a solid group of veterans in Mitchell, Greene, and Regehr that provide the experience and stability that round out the Kings’ defensemen.

The Kings group of forwards are deep, Mariana Trench deep.  Credit Dean Lombardi for this depth, as it was his trade for Gaborik that allowed a shuffling of lines that threw Williams on the 3rd line and Richards on the 4th.  The centers consist of Kopitar, Carter, Stoll, and Richards, a group that cannot be matched by any other team in the NHL.  Anze Kopitar, at 26, is finally getting the credit he deserves.  He has long been one of the best two-way centers in the league and he further proved this by leading the playoffs in scoring with 26 points and continuously shutting down the oppositions top players.  Kopitar had to match up against some of the best centers in the league in Thornton, Getzlaf, and Toews; my apologies to Derek Stepan.  With the exception of maybe Jonathan Toews, Kopitar got the better of  every single matchup, dominating his opposition at times.  This playoff run shed light on the beauty that is Kopitars’ 200-foot game and hopefully gives him the recognition that he deserves going forward.  Gaborik brought a consistent scoring threat from the wing that had been lacking in this era of Kings hockey and he executed perfectly throughout the playoffs, leading the league with 14 goals.  Carter is always a threat to score and provided stability to a line that saw youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli prove they are ready for full-time NHL duty.  Williams, the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, routinely contributed when it mattered most.  Dubbed “Mr. Game 7″ due to his knack for playing his best hockey when anything less might mean the end of the season,  he led the Stanley Cup Finals with 7 points in 5 games and had a plus-minus of  +13 throughout the entire playoffs, the best mark in the league.  Even more impressive is the fact he had 10 points, 5 of which were goals, in the 7 elimination games the Kings played. Dustin Brown and Mike Richards are players that don’t stand out on the stats sheet but consistently lead through the grit, determination, and effort they display on the ice.  Factor in depth forwards Clifford, King, and Lewis, and this group of forwards is as scary and talented as they come.

This team believes in the culture Dean Lombardi has created, they believe in the defense-first style of play Coach Daryl Sutter preaches, and they play as a single-unit driven entirely by a single motive: to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  This team is special, and they are young, and they are very talented. They have the resiliency to consistently overcome deficits to the point that they create history.  They may have some different pieces in place next year, but I wouldn’t expect this to be the last time this core group of Kings gets crowned.

Interview With Chris Lee!

We recently caught up with Chris Lee of the Magnitogorsk Metallurg! He’s one of the best defenseman in the entire KHL. He also recently won the Gagarin Cup with his team. We talked about a variety of topics, from how bad my pronunciation is, to Russian food!I had lots of fun doing this interview and my voice cracked a few times. But before you go laughing at me, make sure to follow me on Twitter @HkyBlogger, and “like” us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/NotYourAverageHockeyBlog and make sure to check out Chris on Twitter @4Chris_Lee. Without further to do, here is our interview with Chris Lee!