In Dean We Trust

Those 4 words are panacea to whatever has ailed LA KINGS fans since 2012; Dean has done such a resplendent job of turning our woefully mediocre team into a perennial powerhouse, we have come to trust our GM, Dean Lombardi, implicitly.

Well, here we are, 24hrs after the trade deadline, and the LA KINGS made these moves:

-Traded Jordan Weal and a 3rd round pick for Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn

-Traded Christian Erhoff and his UFA status at the end of the year for 37yr old Rob Scuderi, owed $1.25m

-Traded Valentin Zykov and a 5th rounder for Kris Versteeg

  • My thoughts:
  • -Erhoff was a corpse at the end of the bench/in the minors.  His play style did not fit the Kings and Sutter was clearly not impressed with his lackluster effort.  Getting Scuderi will toughen up the blue line, and his leadership in the room will be a great side-benefit.
  • -Weal was a bit….uh….diminutive for the LA KINGS and the way they play; getting Lecavalier and Schenn was, at first, a push.  This move has gotten better as the games go by; Vinny looks reborn, and Schenn is a big body who isn’t afraid to stand up at the blue line and both are contributing to the team nightly.
  • -I have yet to see Versteeg play, but from what I’ve gathered, he’ll slot into our 2nd/3rd line and contribute; a bigger guy who’s not afraid to muck it out in the corners, and has the skill to finish when given the opportunity. From all accounts, Zykov might not be NHL quality, so shipping him and a 5th for a scorer is a pretty good deal.
  • What cannot be overlooked is that this team has sat in 1st place in the Pacific Division since the year started; our lead is much slimmer now, due to a white-hot Anaheim squad, but make no mistake….these LA KINGS are for real, and they’re built for one thing-
  • Post season play.  7 game series.
  • See you boys  in June.
  • GKG!

 

Advertisements

WAIL FOR THE LOST WHALERS

During the period when future NHL expansion was rumored and then became a reality, many cities were expected to be active bidders to get a new NHL team (until the obscene $500 million entry fee and $10 million “consideration” fee were announced). Quebec, Las Vegas, Toronto, and Seattle were up front but there was speculation that cities like Houston, Hamilton, Milwaukee, and Portland might make bids. But one city was seldom mentioned, a city whom NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman specifically visited and invited to make a bid, ex-NHL member, Hartford, Connecticut.

In 2010, Bettman made a tour of the three cities which lost their franchises in the 1990s, Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford and stated the terms for readmission: adequate fan-base, good ownership, and a proper NHL arena. None of these terms were unreasonable. Each was a crucial factor that ensured long-term membership and stability.

So far Winnipeg has got its team back and Quebec which has built a new arena and has secured acceptable ownership can almost taste its returned Nordiques. But sadly, a returned Hartford Whalers is nowhere in sight.

It would not be so bad if Hartford did not bid for a team this time. The NHL’s excessive entry fee made even the most die-hard Nordiques and Vegas fan pause, wince and say, “wait until later”. But what is truly distressing about Hartford is that a returned Whalers is not even on the horizon.

Like Quebec and Winnipeg, there is no problem with an adequate fan-base, but a solution to the other two conditions, the two main reasons why Hartford lost the Whalers, a proper arena and good ownership, is a million miles away.

Quebec ought to have provided a blueprint for getting the Whalers back. The Nordiques fans were smart enough to turn the arena and franchise issues into political issues when 80,000 of them signed a petition urging the Nordiques to be returned in a proper NHL arena. This issue became a way to get votes at both the provincial and municipal levels of government and eventually Quebec’s new arena would be financed by provincial and municipal taxes. The petition also caught the attention of media giant Quebecor, which wanted to project a greater presence for itself in the province by buying and owning the NHL Montreal Canadiens. When that failed, Quebecor switched goals and announced it would pursue a returned Nordiques in a new arena instead. All the missing pieces for a returned Nordiques were now in place for Quebec.

When Bettman made his tour in 2010, his terms were received enthusiastically in all three cities. Hartford’s then mayor, like Quebec’s was in favor of using municipal money to finance a new arena as part of a downtown reclamation project. But whereas key activity was provoked in Quebec, nothing of substance has occurred in Hartford.

When NHL expansion began to catch fire last year, it was reported that Quebec, Seattle, Toronto, and Las Vegas were “done deals” for admission in 2017. There was no mention of Hartford, not a word about rich people seeking to bring back the Whalers and resolve the arena problem. All that exists are Internet stories about Whaler memories, fan reunions, and vows about not letting the Whaler legacy die. But nothing serious about a new arena and an owner.

Would a returned Whalers work? If a returned Nordiques with a proper arena and good ownership is a sure-fire winner in the Province of Quebec, then a returned Whalers with a larger market of half of New England including much of the city of Providence will be just as successful. Hartford/New England like Quebec was a mainstay of the old WHA and when the Whalers joined the NHL they carried on their rivalry with the Nordiques and established great new ones with Montreal, the New York area teams and especially with their arch New England rivals, the Boston Bruins. A revived Bruin-Whaler rivalry would be just as potent as the projected resurrection of Canadiens-Nordiques.

Hartford with a proper arena and good ownership is a no-brain choice for an expanded NHL. If Quebec and Winnipeg can get back into the NHL then so can Hartford. Gary Bettman and the NHL have left the door open. It is up to Whaler fans, Hartford and Connecticut politicians, and potential New England owners to make it happen.

No-Brainer Choice For Stanley Cup Bettors

Since the NHL playoffs are fast approaching, many fans want to know who to place their money on to win the Stanley Cup. And the soundest advice is to go with a proven winner until somebody else proves that they can take it away from them. So it is not very hard to give advice about betting based on recent NHL history. You put your money on either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings.

The current edition of each team has won the Stanley Cup each of the past four years with the Blackhawks winning another one in 2010. They are the current dynasties of the NHL. There is something different about a team once it gets over the hump and wins the big one. It is an intangible, a spiritual thing. Perhaps it is best described as knowing how to win. Somehow when these teams win, they get the key goal or save when they need it. They get players who rise to the occasion and sometimes carry the team on their backs. They do not panic when adversity strikes. They refuse to lose.

It happens in all sports, the key touchdown, interception, or quarterback sack in football. The timely hit or the great catch in baseball. The key bucket in basketball. Once you win, it is your crown to lose until somebody proves they can take it from you.

In the NHL, both the Kings and the Blackhawks still have that key core of players who have carried them to the top the last four years. It is going to be very difficult for any new team to dethrone them.

The Kings are anchored by all star goalie Jonathan Quick with Drew Doughty protecting him on defense. Up front the Kings rely on Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown. They have also picked up former Stanley Cup Champions Vincent Lecavalier from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins. They have the experience to win.

The defending champion Blackhawks are just as formidable. Corey Crawford is a proven winner in goal and he has two all star defensemen, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook to rely on. And there is that offence led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa.

Neither team has to worry about finishing first in their conference. As long as either one is in the playoffs, they are a threat to win it all. There is a good chance they will meet each other in the conference final or an earlier round and that will be the series that decides who will win it all.

So who should win it? History has also shown that neither team, no matter how good it is has been able to win back-to-back championships. And the Blackhawks let one of their key core players, Patrick Sharp, go to Dallas which not surprisingly has shown marked improvement. Is that too significant a loss for the Blackhawks to overcome? So based on recent history and Jonathan Quick possibly winning another Conn Smythe trophy, the best choice seems to be the Los Angeles Kings. But if the defending champions were to repeat, it would not be an upset.

Don Sweeney Misses The Mark In His 1st Deadline Day

Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has been an NHL GM for less than a year. His inexperience shined through on deadline day. Sweeney took over the reigns over the summer after Boston relieved Peter Chiarelli of his duties following a disappointing 2015 campaign. A large part of the criticism surrounding the now-Edmonton GM’s Boston tenure was that he’d made some very questionable trades in recent years. Chiarelli helped guide Boston to the 2011 Stanley Cup but had also let Blake Wheeler, Tyler Seguin and Johnny Boychuk escape Boston without a commensurate return. He also had a knack for signing depth players to dubious contracts, including a 4 year, $12M deal for Chris Kelly and a 4 year, $16M extension for a then-32-year-old Dennis Seidenberg, which looks worse by the day in Boston. Chiarelli’s final deadline day in Boston was rather uneventful, as he traded two 2nd round picks to Tampa Bay for Brett Connolly in his only move of the day.

Prior to being the Bruins’ GM, Sweeney served as an assistant GM to Chiarelli for five seasons. Given what we’ve seen from Sweeney so far, he learned plenty from his former boss in how to mismanage your assets and make questionable trades. His first days on the job this summer were eventful – Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic both departed Boston after several seasons with the team, and the Bruins picked three consecutive times in the first round. While the jury is still out on these moves, moving on from two established NHL players left a sizable hole in the Boston lineup.

Fast forward to the NHL deadline and the Bruins were a much talked about team. With Loui Eriksson’s contract set to expire in the offseason, many expected the Bruins to deal the winger, who’s having a career year, to a top Western Conference team looking to bolster their Top 6 at the deadline.

3 PM on Monday came and went. Loui was still a Bruin. While the retaining Eriksson allows the Bruins a chance to negotiate an extension with him, the last word on negotiations had the two sides as far as $15M apart on their expectations. Reports, and the market, suggest Eriksson wants a deal somewhere around 6 years, $36M. The Bruins last offer was reportedly in the ballpark of 4 years, $21M. This is a large gap. By this fact alone, it would have been sensible to move on from Loui Eriksson.

Instead, Sweeney retained Eriksson. The market “wasn’t there” according to Sweeney despite Andrew Ladd fetching a 1st round pick and then some from Chicago and Eric Staal nabbing two 2nd rounders and a highly rated prospect from the Rangers. It seems far more likely that Sweeney missed his opportunity by waiting on Eriksson, as both Staal and Ladd moved days prior to Monday’s deadline. It’s also possible Sweeney’s asking price was far too high for Eriksson, as it’s rumored he expected an NHL player, prospect and pick in return for the remaining 20 games of Loui’s tenure.

Considering, though, that Boston currently sits in a playoff spot with a healthy lead on the bubble teams who are chasing them, retaining a Top 6 winger isn’t necessarily a bad move. Sure, the team could have filled an enormous need if they’d accomplished the right move, but it is tough to acquire Top 4 defenseman at the deadline. You rarely see them move this time of year. Instead, Sweeney’s biggest faults on deadline day weren’t the moves he didn’t make, but the ones he did.

By Monday’s end, Boston had acquired Lee Stempniak from New Jersey for a 2nd and a 4th rounders. They had acquired Jean Michel Liles from Carolina in exchange for a 3rd, a 5th, and 22 year old Anthony Camara. Boston added two pieces with an average age of 34 between them. In total, they surrendered a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and a player in exchange for two rentals well on their careers’ back nine. Stempniak made New Jersey on a PTO this offseason for crying out loud. The moves made the Bruins marginally better, as Liles and Stempniak will play more effective minutes than Kevan Miller and Zac Rinaldo, respectively, but it’s hardly the type of move which brings the Bruins up to par with the East’s heavy hitters like Washington and Tampa Bay.

The worst part, however, was what was given up by Sweeney in the deals, especially compared to some other moves made around the league. The 2nd/4th combo which secured Stempniak from New Jersey could have acquired the younger, more effective Jiri Hudler from Calgary. Hudler was a point-per-game player last season, won a Stanley Cup in 2008 with Detroit and was sent to Florida for an identical price as the Bruins surrendered for Stempniak. Surrendering a 3rd/5th AND a player for JM Liles is even worse. Liles spent time in the AHL last season, and has been pedestrian for the ‘Canes this season. Comparatively, the 3rd/5th/player combo used to acquire could have fetched far more bang-for-the-buck. Eric Gelinas, a 24-year-old defenseman, was traded from New Jersey to Colorado for a 3rd rounder. Similarly, Jamie McGinn was traded from Buffalo to Anaheim also for a 3rd rounder. Both guys would have had a more sizable impact on the Boston roster than Liles will. Further, the 5th/player combo was the same price the LA Kings paid for Kris Versteeg. Anaheim surrendered only a 6th rounder for Brandon Pirri. Obviously, not every move can be analyzed in a vacuum. For instance, it’s unlikely the Panthers would have surrendered Pirri to a division rival at such a low cost. However, the moves illustrate what the market looked like. It doesn’t look a thing like the four picks and a player surrendered for a 33 year old journeyman winger playing for his ninth team and a 35 year old offensive defenseman with very little offense left in the tank.

While Sweeney improved his team, it appears the rookie GM whiffed on a few opportunities to make a meaningful impact to his roster. He gave away a multitude of assets to make very modest improvements to the roster. With one deadline under his belt, Don Sweeney is 0-for-1. Optimistically, he will improve with time into a serviceable NHL GM, but his deadline execution was a far cry from perfect in Boston. He missed a great chance to really improve his team at a fair price. It feels like not even Don Sweeney knows what direction his team is heading. The Bruins have been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year, playing especially weak at home. The moves signal that he thinks they needed to add veteran pieces to make a run, but even with the additions of Stempniak and Liles, it’s doubtful that Boston can match up with Washington, Tampa Bay, or other elite teams in a seven game playoff series. The moves look a bit like Sweeney panicked late Monday afternoon and added pieces without care for the cost in an effort to save face on deadline day. Now, from a big picture context, he looked like the rookie GM which he is.

Ducks or Kings: Better Option In Sharks Post-Season?

We’re in the last full month of the regular season schedule for the NHL and while there’s still time for the Sharks to take the Pacific crown, that’s much easier said than done. Especially since the Ducks and Kings can’t just lose a few freakin’ games in regulation right now.

standings

Standings at the time of this writing

It’s not impossible, but if LA and Anaheim could cool off a lot, that would be greeaattttt, thanks.

So, the biggest question on every Sharks fan’s mind right now is, ‘Would playing the Kings or Ducks in the playoffs be better?’. Or as I like to think of it, ‘Which is the lesser of the two evils?’.

Well, both are pretty bleak if you want the truth. Anaheim can actually score goals now and LA has been strong for most of the season. But, the Sharks have had more success against the Kings this season, record-wise.

San Jose is 2-1-1 against Los Angeles, and could have been 3-1 but they gave up a goal with like 12 seconds left or something, then lost in OT.

The Sharks are 1-3 when facing the Ducks, but all three losses were one-goal games, so take that how you will.

There’s also the mental factor. LA is a team that has been a thorn in San Joses side in the playoffs these past few years, so could that have an affect on affect on the Sharks? Possibly. The Ducks and Sharks have only played each other once in the playoffs and Anaheim won the series 4-2, back in 08′-09′. That the teams don’t have much of a playoff history. It’s a bit of a clean slate.

Overall, I’m going to have to go with Anaheim on this one. LA always amps up their game in the playoffs and with that reverse-sweep they pulled on the Sharks two seasons ago, I’ll take the Ducks, even though they went to the Conference Finals last year. San Jose has been scoring a decent amount of goals lately and I think their new additions from the trade deadline can strengthen the team enough to hold off Perry and Getzlaf.

Of course, in a perfect world, San Jose would steal the Pacific, then sit back and watch Anaheim and Los Angeles duke it out. They can wear each other down for a while.

Meanwhile, the Sharks would be like:

giphy (1)

*Header courtesy of ocregister.com

Pittsburgh Penguins: What Went Wrong?

Who is my nominee for the most bewildering and most confused team in the NHL? The runaway winner is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have been that way for several years now.

You remember the Penguins? They drafted the next link in Canada’s golden hockey chain dating back to Maurice Richard, Sydney Crosby, and then followed that up by drafting perhaps the most talented Russian in the NHL, Evgeni Malkin. It seemed that the Penguins were going to be the NHL’s next dynasty team. They were not only going to win the Stanley Cup, they were going to win Cups.

In anticipation, the city of Pittsburgh finally made owner Mario Lemieux happy by advancing money to build the long needed new arena for the Penguins long term future. Everything was coming up roses.

In 2009 it seemed that the promise was reaching its potential when Crosby and company captured the Stanley Cup. Malkin won the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. It was supposed to be the first of many.

Since then it has all gone wrong. Pittsburgh has suffered upset defeat after defeat in the playoffs including humiliations by a vastly inferior talented Montreal team; a disgraceful four game sweep by the Boston Bruins; and a horrible loss to arch-rival Philadelphia Flyers in which goaltender Marc Andre Fleury resembled a sieve. The only team the Penguins can beat in the playoffs any more is lowly Columbus, a team that has never won a playoff series.

The men who had put together and guided this powerhouse are long gone. General Manager Ray Shero is now the general manager of New Jersey. Coach Dan Bylsma is now coaching Buffalo. The team that was supposed to be the NHL favorite year after year is no longer favored even in its own conference. Its projected future has been grabbed by the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings.

Speaking of Chicago, historically that is who the current Pittsburgh team closely resembles. Old time fans will remember the Chicago Blackhawks of the 1960s. They too had the current link on Canada’s golden hockey chain, Bobby Hull. And doing his best Malkin impersonation was Stan Mikita. And a host of other talented players like the current Penguins have had, too many to count.

But history says that Hull and company only won one Stanley Cup, and that was an upset in 1961. Despite being the most talented team of the 1960s, less talented Toronto and Montreal would win the rest of the Cups during that decade.

This year the Penguins sit a modest seventh in their conference, no longer favored to win it all. And if the playoffs were to start there is a good chance the Penguins will meet the New York Rangers, a team that has had their number the last few years. That is one of the last teams the Penguins need to see. What is even worse is that if they were to go into a slump the unthinkable might happen: The Penguins, a team that has Crosby and Malkin might actually miss the playoffs- something that happened to Hull and Mikita in 1969.

As to what went wrong, this writer would like an accurate answer just like everybody else. Certainly one of the main culprits is Fleury who is no longer ranked as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. Certainly he can catch fire and take his team back to the top… but he can also be the sieve. Uncertain goaltending does not win Stanley cups. Overall defensive play has been bad. Bad defensive teams do not win Stanley Cups either.

These seem to be the most obvious problems but is that really the truth? Is it some irrational spiritual problem that people cannot put their finger on that is holding the Penguins back? Do they lack toughness? Do they need to resurrect perhaps the greatest psychological coach in history, Vince Lombardi of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers to get to the bottom of what went wrong?

As long as this team has Crosby and Malkin, they have the talent to win it all again. But there is one truth that will occur in the playoffs this year- if the Penguins make the playoffs. They will be the underdog team this time, something that was unthinkable just half a decade ago.

The Officials Have Lost It

Time for a bombshell: For the last few seasons, I’ve taken on an interest in the referees. It’s a long story, and I don’t want to dive into the specifics. All you need to know is what I’ve told you.

But I need to get this “rant” of sorts off my chest: Guys, you’re killing me this season.

Let me list off some of the prime examples of referee insanity in 15-16:

  • Numerous times referees have gotten in the way of plays; mainly Tim Peel. He’s been involved in two cases where a player could have been hurt (and one of those cases actually did cause injury). Let’s not forget the play that resulted in the Nail Yakupov injury as well – remember linesman Matt MacPherson grabbing onto him? Fluke accident, I know. But all of these referee/player injury interactions could have been prevented in one way or another.

 

  • And then, we have coaches and referees. Two coaches were ejected from games this month alone. Gerard Gallant’s ejection from Wes McCauley and Chris Lee was due to a player injury and an uncalled penalty. That was just a quick preview of what was to come four days later. Paul Maurice versus Francois St. Laurent, anyone? The mini-feud took place after… You guessed it. A player injury (or two) and a few uncalled penalties. This was a little crazier, because it resulted in TSN calling St. Laurent “proud” after he was seen smiling and/or laughing on camera. I won’t give you my opinion on this, because I’m just not sure what was going through St. Laurent’s mind at the time. Whatever the reason, it didn’t look good to see him with a grin on his face prior to the puck drop.

And then we have the laundry list of referee/linesman injuries this season…

  • In the “unknown” category, I’m bringing back St. Laurent. He missed time between November and January with a “something”. Dan O’Rourke lost time in November for the same reason. Linesman Brad Lazarowich was also missing in action for a while with a mystery diagnosis. All three are now back.

 

  • Peel (bringing him up again; sorry!) took a puck to the face in what I believe was this season – during the game that had his 1000th celebration – resulting in cheers from the crowd. Ian Walsh missed a game because of a possible concussion from a game in Toronto, getting the worst of a check into the boards. We all know the Don Henderson story. Concussed after Dennis Wideman cross-checked him. He may not work another game in his career.

 

  • And there are the referees and linesmen who haven’t seen ice time this season. Mike Hasenfratz has been missing since he was injured in a Philadelphia/Pittsburgh game two seasons ago. Dennis LaRue has also been absent, although he last worked a game in December of 2014, and he said he was trying to come back. Linesman Thor Nelson hasn’t seen ice time for a few seasons now, and I believe he’s also trying to get back in action in the future.

All of these moments – non-injury – want to make me facepalm. I can’t count all of the Coach’s Challenge moments, because that would be a longer list of chaos than this is right now. Do me a favor, NHL… Control your officials. This can’t go on much longer.