Who’s Going to Replace Carlyle? The Best Options Out There for The Maple Leafs

Better late than never, am I right? The Toronto Maple Leafs have finally fired Randy Carlyle; honestly a move that should’ve happened during this past summer. Now I have nothing against Carlyle himself, in the interviews I’ve seen, he genuinely seems like a nice guy. But the problem wasn’t Carlyle’s personality it was the lack of actions he took to make the team better. The reason that the firing came now is that management had finally found a trend with the Leafs under the control of Carlyle. The fact was that Carlyle’s leafs were a terrible defensive team, giving up 40+ shots a night and really using luck to get wins rather than just using skill. But this isn’t an article shaming Carlyle’s old teaching methods and how he didn’t react to huge defensive problems that were right in front of him. The rest of this article is going to be much more positive! I’ll try my best to analyze the top five picks of people to take the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs (and all the pressure and controversy with it!)

  1. Dallas Eakins

The reason that Eakins is in the last spot is because right now he has little amount of credibility. Just being the most recent coach fired from the Oilers, not many teams are eager to pick him up. But the Leafs have a nice history with him and I think management can look past that one bad year. The problem in Edmonton wasn’t him. He just happened to be the easiest person to turn into the management’s scapegoat. The biggest factor is that Eakins already has experience with a lot of players on the Leafs’ bench. He coached Kadri, Gardiner, Reimer and less notably players like Matt Frattin and Korbinian Holzer in his days as the Marlies head coach. He can help develop these players even more and he does know how much leash he can give to each of these players. The only reason I have him on the last pick of this list is the blemish on his resume that is the Edmonton Oilers’ coaching gig. But for this reason I think he can come onto the team’s assistant coaching staff and work his way up the ladder that way. In fact I rather have him do it that way so he receives less heat. But onto the fourth and third pick.

4.) Paul MacLean and 3.)Peter DeBoer

The reason I grouped Peter DeBoer and Paul MacLean together is that they’re both coming from similar places. The only difference is that people remember MacLean’s firing better than they remember DeBoer. They both got fired because their eastern conference teams weren’t doing good enough and there had to be some kind of change. Of course, the coach is the easiest position to get rid of. I’m doing this list out of likeliness of the coach being hired. If I was doing this list by coaches that I think will do a good job with the Leafs these two would be behind Eakins. But in all likelihood either one of DeBoer or MacLean get the job because of their ‘playoff experience.’ DeBoer did make the Stanley Cup Finals recently and MacLean did help Ottawa string a few playoff wins. This playoff experience is pretty much what got Randy his job and look how his tenure went. In my eyes these two are going to have to prove a lot to keep the job for long. Most people would argue that the only reason that MacLean got his Jack Adams Award (for best coach in the NHL) is because of the extremely good play of goalie Craig Anderson that year. Now fast forward to now, Anderson has a couple of streaky seasons and MacLean doesn’t look like the genius he once was. DeBoer had an pretty good team when he and the Devils went to the finals. He also has taken a few terrible Devils teams and surprised me many times (take last year for example.) DeBoer has proven himself a few times as being able to make the most of the players he has (last season with the Devils for example.) That’s why I have him ahead of MacLean. Now onto my favorite coach out of all of them.

  1. Dale Hunter

Does this name sound familiar? Well it should if you’ve been watching the NHL for the past couple of season. Dale Hunter is the former head coach of the Washington Capitals. I was originally going to put him in the 4th or 3rd spot but I couldn’t find any reason why the others should be ahead of him other than lack of experience. That’s really the only problem, Hunter only coached in the NHL for a season. But his situation is unique, unlike everyone else on this list he left on his own terms after he made such a big impact to the Washington Capitals. Before Hunter took over the Capitals were just an offensive power house with a pitiful defense. The defense was so bad that when it came to playoff time they would get knocked out by either a goalie that went on a hot streak (Jaroslav Halak) or just a really good defensive team.

Now let me think, which team in the Atlantic division relies on their streak offense but has a laughable defensive structure. Well if you guessed the Toronto Maple Leafs then you would be right! I feel he would be able to develop the Leafs’ defensive game to make it better than in past years. The only problem is getting him here. Would Hunter give up the good life of coaching the OHL dynasty that is the London Knights to coach in Toronto? To go from a calm and winning environment to the hell that Toronto media would force upon him? Everything he does will be poked and picked a part to the very bone. We’ll see, maybe Hunter likes a challenge. Hunter is the type of coach that takes risks and action for the better of the team (like benching Ovechkin in the third period of a Game Four against the Boston Bruins and winning.) Hunter is my dream pick, the likelihood of him being the head coach are slim but I’m stating my case of why I want him to be the next head coach. Now on to our number one pick, not my favorite out of all of them but the most likely if the Leafs don’t wait for Mike Babcock.

  1. Dan Bylsma

Yes Bylsma is my number one pick, he has the most ‘playoff experience’ out of all the candidates I’ve mentioned (expect for Babcock of course.) He’s won a cup with the Penguins (which means nothing because Carlyle has also won a cup) and has made deep runs in the playoffs multiple times. He’s coached some of the best players in the world (Crosby, Malkin, Letang just to name a few) he has almost always finished at the top of the league standings. Now if he earned those stats or was it just the amount of sheer talent on those teams is up to debate. I’m pretty sure that having a team with Crosby and Malkin can coach itself but we’ll never really know the skill that Bylsma has until he takes on another team. Why is he a good fit for the Leafs? He’s not the perfect fit, he is the best option out there. Can he take an offensive reliant team like the Leafs and make their defensive game more reliable? Or can he at least develop the team to a point where they can hold a multi-goal lead and not going to a defensive shell. Bylsma is the safe pick and the most obvious one, he can bring the experience of coaching superstars and help develop younger players like Kadri and Gardiner.

 

Honorable Mentions

Those are all my likely picks but I want to have some fun now and entertain the thoughts of other coaches for the Leafs.

John Tortorella

I just smirk whenever I think of Tortz being the coach of the Maple Leafs. Him just cussing out the Toronto media because they let up a three goal lead. Just visualize it! I really hope that it doesn’t happen.

Mike Babcock

This could happen, I just don’t see it happening. Why would Babcock give up his legendary tenure with the Red Wings and tarnish it by coaching the Maple Leafs. Only way I see him ending up in Toronto is that he wants to end his career by conquering the biggest challenge of all. Ending the Leafs cup drought. It might happen at the end of the season when his contract runs out with the Red Wings.

Ron Wilson

I don’t know why, but I just think it would be fun to see this after what he said about Phil Kessel being ‘uncoachable’.

Anyways that’s all the coaches I can think of, the rest of the Leafs options rely on if said coaches’ teams release them (Adam Oates.) Or in my mind might not be able to handle the spot light and pressure that comes to coaching a hockey city. (Guy Boucher.) Hey maybe Toronto hires someone that I didn’t even think of, or maybe they hire someone that I didn’t take as a serious candidate (Jaques Martin or Brent Sutter.) But we’ll see, whoever they decide to go with I’m sure it’s going to be fun to watch. Thank you all for reading!

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The Montreal Canadiens Preview

The Montreal Canadiens had an interesting season last year. Being the only Canadian team in the playoffs and to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s safe to say that they had a successful season last year. But there is always room for improvement, they barely escaped the clutches of the Bruins and when they did they were quickly ousted by King Henrik and the Rangers in six games. But that is all in the past, now let’s preview of the 2014-2015 Montreal Canadiens.

Off Season Changes

Top 3 Subtractions

The Montreal Canadiens did a few interesting things during the offseason. They lost a lot of key pieces and didn’t get any big acquisitions to really fill in the holes. They lost top six forward Thomas Vanek, captain Brian Gionta and traded top four defenseman Josh Georges. Here is an in depth analysis for all three in particular order.

Thomas Vanek

Let’s start with Thomas Vanek had 15 points in 18 games in the regular season, which is great! In the post season he had ten points in total which is a great contribution. During the trade deadline the Habs desperately needed more offense. Also they needed some size and they got it. Vanek provided them a good amount of offense and provided more of a bigger presence. He got in front of the net and helped out here and there in the dirty areas. But the truth is: Vanek isn’t that sort of player. He uses his hands more than he uses his size in those situation. The Habs were looking for a bigger Brendan Gallagher and didn’t get it. Montreal did lose a top six forward but it wasn’t a huge lost, sure they might’ve lost some production but it just wasn’t the right fit. Vanek didn’t fit in the role they were hoping for.

Brian Gionta

Now to talk about what most people say is the biggest lost this season for the Canadiens: Brian Gionta. This year Gionta produced 18 goals and 22 assists which gives him 40 points in 81 games. Gionta has been producing around that many points for a while now (excluding his past two injury riddled seasons.) Gionta wasn’t ever the one to really be known for his scoring touch. He was captain for his leadership qualities and his role on this team was a defensive player who help mentor the younger players. Gionta lost his grip on the offensive role when younger guys began to step in (Gallagher, Eller, Galchenyuk and as of recent Bournival.) Gionta’s time in Montreal really ran out, management didn’t think of him as a vital piece to resign at a hefty price (three-year, $12.75.) Letting go of Gionta ultimately gave them more money to give to Subban in the monster contract. Looking at this now I think it’s best for the franchise, the fans and Gionta especially to move on.

Josh Georges

Now onto the move that confused me the most out of all of them, the Josh Georges trade to Buffalo . This was a result of a leak of information about a rare trade with rivals Toronto that included Georges. The deal was in place and all that needed was for Georges to wave his no trade clause. But he didn’t. This causes a bit of stir which resulted him getting traded to Buffalo instead for a second round draft pick. This move confused me for the most part, first of all why would they want to trade such a solid defensive defenseman and secondly why Buffalo of all places Josh?

Montreal is losing one of their best defenseman who really was the anchor for P.K Subban. While Subban was making plays and over extending to try and get a goal Georges was there to make sure that if Subban were to fail that at least someone would be able to keep things at bay. Georges was the main reason that Subban could do his highlight reel goals and take such high risks. Now who do you play with Subban? Do you split up Emelin and Markov?( Who were a great student-mentor pairing.) Or do you trust Tom Gilbert, Mike Weaver or one of the young guns enough to pair with Subban?

Overall I think this move forces Subban in awkward place. He knows have to really prove that he can play both sides of the game. He’s going to have to take less risks and really make sure to make the most of his situation. In the end the Habs need to work with what they got and they still have a really good core without him!

 

Top 3 Additions

There isn’t much to choose from, the Habs didn’t pick up many pieces. They many did house cleaning so they could sign P.K Subban. Here are the top three additions that the Canadiens made this offseason.

Manny Malhotra

            I really like this pickup for Montreal! In opinion probably their best one! Personally I loved Malhotra in Vancouver. He was a key penalty killer and was an ace in the faceoff dot. He was one of the best defensive center men in the league! Then came the devastating eye injury that sidelined him pretty much the entire year. Almost all the experts doubted that he could make it back into the NHL. Everyone thought that his career was over. He made his recovery but he was far from a hundred percent. After a few more seasons in Vancouver GM Mike Gillis forced him out of the lineup. The following season after that (which happens to be this last season) he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes on a tryout contract. After he officially signed and he played in his known role. He killed off penalties and took defensive zone face-offs. This is a great addition after the departure of captain Gionta. Malhotra also brings great leadership and inspiration to the younger guys. He is going to be a great example for other players to follow not only on ice but off it too. I can’t express how much I love this pick up. I see him in a fourth line center role and on the penalty kill. I really hope he works out well in Montreal.

P.A Parenteau

            I don’t know much about Parenteau. Last year he had 33 points in 54 games. Most people suggest that he is here to replace Vanek as a top six forward. Which is very concerning. But Vanek did play on the first line most of the time in where ever he was. Meanwhile Parenteau played on a defensive third line with Jamie McGinn and John Mitchell who aren’t known for their scoring touch. Maybe he’ll excel playing alongside Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk. In past season when he played for the Islanders his production has been much better. So we’ll see, he’ll be an interesting fit on that projected line.

Tom Gilbert  

            Tom Gilbert has recently became a country man ever since he left Edmonton back in 2012. He wasn’t a fit in Minnesota after two seasons there and he left the rebuild that was happening in Florida. After all of this he has ended up in Montreal. The only fit I see Gilbert in is a cheaper Josh Georges. Which amazes me since how do you replace a defensive defenseman like Georges with another offensive defenseman. It’s not like I hate Gilbert but I don’t think it’s a fair trade off. But the biggest delima here is where do you really put Gilbert? Do you trust him with a younger guy? Do you split up Markov and Emelin and put Gilbert with Markov? Or do you put him with Subban? Like I said earlier P.K’s partner needs to be extra cautious just in case Subban get’s punished for over extending. I do expect Gilbert to put up numbers but replacing Georges with him leaves a defensive void there. I expect the defensive core to step up as a committee to fill that gap.

Final Thoughts

In all honesty the Habs took the safe route. They locked up Subban for long term and for a lot of cash. That had to have been their biggest move of the off season. They also replaced some players that had to leave (either because they wanted to move to a different team or that Montreal moved them to get more money to sign Subban.) I like having Malhotra instead of Gionta (even though many will disagree with me) Parenteau will be an interesting fit in my opinion and I’ll be looking forward to see how that works out. Even though I don’t agree with subbing Georges out for Gilbert I guess I’ll have to live with it. Overall I’m just happy that the Habs didn’t make any drastic and stupid moves. The only move that might cost them down the line is Subban’s contract but I rather think of happier thoughts. Thank you for reading and we’ll see how the season turns out for the Canadiens.

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.

Eastern Conference First Round Preview

As the playoffs begin there is really only one thing that is certain. It’s going to be one great run and the victor will have truly earned it. The playoffs are going to be exciting and filled with many hard-fought battles. Let’s take a look at some of the first round match ups and other headlines going in. I only did the Eastern conference because I have a lack of knowledge of the West and I don’t think I deserve to give my opinion. Maybe next year but definitely not this years playoffs. But let’s take a look at the first round of the Eastern Conference.

Eastern Conference

Detroit Red Wings vs Boston Bruins

This is a battle of two team that have very different stories heading into the playoffs. Bruins cruised to the President’s Trophy while the Red Wings had to claw their way past injuries and find ways to win without key players. I know that this series will be a close and competitive series for the most part. You have two amazing and very experienced behind the benches that are well proven. You have two team that are willing to compete and are hungry. I think that this is going to be one of the closest matches in the first round and it’s hard to pick a winner. But I give the edge to Detroit. They have been battling all season long and are not going to give up now. Most people will disagree with me but I’m not saying that the Bruins are a bad choice. I think that this series is going to go right down to the wire but I think Detroit will go the extra mile and find a way to beat the big bad Bruins.

Final Prediction Red Wings Wins 4-3

Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lighting

Now let me say first is that I’m a huge Habs fan and I really hope that they win. This year has been a great one for the Canadiens and for the first time in a while they have gotten great performances from though out the lineup (even from their backup goalie!) I also believe that the Bolts have a great lineup and they have been absolutely stunning. I honestly thought that the Callahan trade would hurt them but it seems that they went unsaved for the most part! In fact I’m terrified to have them as an opponent but there is one X-factor to take in. Tampa Bay’s star player (in my opinion) who has carried his team on his back is injured. As of when I’m writing this article (April 15th 2014) Ben Bishop will not start game one of the series. In all honesty the performance of the Bolts goal tending will be the deciding factor. Whether it’s Lindback or if Bishop comes in half way through their goal tending will be what decides this series. Both team are dead even in all other areas and almost identical to each other. I give Montreal the win just of the fact that Bishop is out. If he were to be healthy I would give Tampa the series win. But who knows, maybe Lindback will stand on his head. All I know is that this is going to be one amazing series and I cannot wait to see the result!

Final Prediction – Canadiens Win 4-3

Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins

This will be an interesting match for sure. Pittsburgh has been a hockey super power for a long time now. But as of late they’ve looked great on paper but have failed to show it on the ice, especially come playoff time. Then Pens had a scare last season against the Islanders and I believe that the Jackets can do the exact same this year. If Columbus comes out and plays a physical and high intensity game like the Flyers play then they can get a great jump on the Penguins. For the Penguins, they have to stick to their style of play and don’t let their emotions get the better of you. The Flyers were able to push the Pens around and get them angry and off their games. If the Blue Jackets can make their style of play a bit like that but keeping their amazing scoring intact then they have the advantage over the Pens. I see a constant fore-check as a key for both teams to gain leverage. But I give the series to the Penguins just because of the amount of skill that they have and the way Fleury has been playing (make sure he doesn’t choke like he has in the past few years) then they should be good to go.

Final Prediction – Penguins win 4-2

New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers

This is a series that I am excited for. Two great physical and defensively sound teams that are also rivals! I’ve always liked a good rivalry but I’ve seen so little of it lately. I really hope that this playoff series will help rekindle that fire. I hope to see a lot of grit, a lot of shoving, and a lot of players hacking each other. You also have incredible scorers such as Rick Nash and Claude Giroux in this match up. Both players had a slow start to the season but picked up their play as the season progressed. There is also the sleeping giant Martin St. Louis! All I know is that this is going to be an exciting series! I give the Flyers the edge because they have been fighting all season and have been able to perform in pressure situations.

Final Prediction – Flyers Win 4-3

The Montreal Canadiens Trade Deadline Results 2014

The trade deadline is over and a lot of teams have made some changes. The Montreal Canadiens made two moves, one early in the day and one late trade that made a huge impact.

Trades

Devan Dubnyk – Goalie
The Habs received Dubnyk from Nashville for future considerations. Montreal didn’t lose anything vital, yet gained some more depth in the goaltending position. Dubnyk is expected to be a third goalie and a backup until Price is healthy again. Dubnyk isn’t great and isn’t terrible either, but he will most defiantly be a risk. The main reason he is being brought into Montreal for is to bring some more depth and to give Peter Budaj some healthy competition for the number one spot.

Thomas Vanek – Left Wing
In my honest opinion, Montreal stole Vanek from the Islanders. They only gave up prospect  Sebastien Collberg and a conditional second round pick. The condition is if the Habs make the playoffs, the Islanders get a second round pick, but if they don’t, there is no second round pick attached. Thomas Vanek has 21 goals and 32 assists to give him 53 points so far with both the Islanders and the Sabres. Just imagine a second line of Vanek, Plekanec and Gionta! You have the size and power of Vanek with the speed and agility of Gionta! Then there is the playmaking skills of Plekanec! Vanek can do so much for such a small Montreal team. A team that was lacking offense and needed some help scoring some goals. Maybe Vanek can help them with that problem. With the acquisition of Thomas Vanek this should help the Habs secure a playoff spot and maybe help them go deep into the playoffs.

I’m always interested in talking about hockey, so make sure to follow me on Twitter: @TheHockeyGeek12!

A Look into Team Russia and Their Chances of Getting Gold

Team Russia Preview

With Russia being the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics expectations are running high for the team. Expectations should be high for this team. Having the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Andrei Markov ,  Pavel Datsyuk and many other amazing players . But other than the all stars that crowd the lineup there are some other reasons that make Russia a deadly team and a favorite for gold. But first here is the lineup.

  • Sergei Bobrovsky     G Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Alexander Eremenko   G Moscow Dynamo
  • Semyon Varlamov           G Colorado Avalanche
  • Anton Belov          D Edmonton Oilers
  • Denis Denisov        D CSKA Moscow (KHL)
  • Alexei Emelin        D Montreal Canadiens
  • Andrei Markov        D Montreal Canadiens
  • Evgeny Medvedev      D Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
  • Nikita Nikitin            D Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Ilya Nikulin         D Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
  • Fedor Tyutin        D Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Vyacheslav Voynov    D Los Angeles Kings
  • Artem Anisimov            F Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Pavel Datsyuk        F Detroit Red Wings
  • Denis Kokarev        F Moscow Dynamo (KHL)
  • Ilya Kovalchuk       F SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
  • Nikolai Kulemin      F Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Evgeni Malkin        F Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Alex Ovechkin        F Washington Capitals
  • Alexander Popov      F Omsk Avangard (KHL)
  • Vladimir Tarasenko   F St. Louis Blues
  • Alexei Tereshchenko  F Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
  • Viktor Tikhonov           F St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)

Forwards

            Russia has a lethal offense and is best known for it. Of course you have the likes of the all stars like: Malkin, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk,  Datsyuk and to name a few. Then you have other NHL players that fly under the radar like Nikolai Kulemin,  Vladimir Tarasenko and Artem Anisimov . All of those players are good players. Now all of us in North America know how dangerous the NHL players are but how about the KHL players? They have the potential to be even more deadly than some of the NHL players. But one player as a Team Canada fan that I am scared of the most in the forward core is: Ilya Kovalchuk. Now a lot of you might be thinking, What? The guy that quit on the NHL? How is he one of the most dangerous players on their team? Well let me answer those questions for you guys.

Ilya Kovalchuk did leave the NHL to go play in his home country. Now they are using the same types of rinks that they use in the KHL for the Winter Olympics. Now every KHL player on that team is comfortable with this ice surface, they know how fast they have to go and they know how to get around it. Meanwhile NHL and North American players are used to smaller rinks and using different amounts of speed since it’s a smaller surface. Bigger ice surface = More need for speed and endurance. Not only does Kovalchuk have that knowledge of the ice surface and how fast he needs to go, but at the same time he has NHL experience that is always an advantage. Now put his experience for playing for both leagues (KHL and NHL) and put it together and you have a player that know how a lot of the players in the tournament play and a player that is comfortable playing on the big ice surface. Thus you have the Kovalchuk theory.

Some side notes for the offense is more players that follow the Kovalchuk theory. Probably the only player to be more dangerous than Kovalchuk is Evgeni Malkin. You have the player that won the Ted Lindsay, Art Ross and Hart trophy only a few season ago. Not to mention he has be amazing for the penguins this year. On top of his amazing NHL performance he also has experience playing on the big ice surface like Kovalchuk. Malkin played on Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL during the lockout on a line with Nikolai Kulemin (who I’ll get to in a second) and was pretty good. Malkin had 23 goals in 37 games and had 58 points all together. That is just mind blowing but then again it’s Malkin. Another side note is Nick Kulemin. I am going to keep it brief with him, but as a leafs fan I find that Kulemin has gone from a goal scorer into a defensive minded forward. But for some reason he seems to perform better offensively on that big ice surface in Russia. I find it amazing that he can change so much as a player on a different ice surface (or maybe it’s just that he’s playing in his home country) but whatever it is it’s great for Russia and their chances of winning.

Defense

            Russia has a great defensive core, but not the best. Now any team with the duo of Andrei Markov and Alexi Emelin is doing pretty good on defense already.  Then you add Slava Voynov and Nikita Nikitin and your lineup is looking pretty good. Of course not to exclude the KHL players, Medvedev has won a gold medal at the World Championships and has a decent plus minus. Ilya Nikulin is a much better player and is NHL worthy looking at his International Stats. He has 26 points in 66 games, success wise Nikulin has three gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze. All of them coming in the World Championships though so you never know, because the Olympics and the World Championships are different.

But I can’t say for the other players since I haven’t see a lot for the other player but I can only assume that they are just as good.

Goalies

            Bobrovsky being the reining Vezina Trophy winner he is an obvious pick. Varlamov (in my opinion) he should be number two but he get’s number three instead. Bobrovsky has been decent, not amazing but not terrible. Their goal tending might be their weakest link of their entire lineup. Bobrovsky being a risky and being the definite starter but not the same form he has been in his Vezina season (beating out Martin Brodeur). Most Olympic teams have either a sure number one/all star goalie or two goalies that are amazing or just flat out phenomenal. Canada has Price and Luongo, Sweden has Lundqvist, USA has Miller and Quick, the Czech Republic are going to have to rely on Ondrej Pavelec and so on.

This may be a weak spot but with Russia’s dynamite offense and experienced defense this might not be a huge problem but will be a weak spot. But you never know, Bobrovsky could be lights out or their KHL goalie Eremenko could be the guy. But all teams, espically in the Olympics, need good goal tending to survive.

A side note is the rink, maybe Eremenko could give the Russians an edge with puck movement/ puck control goalie wise. If Eremenko know the rinks the way Luongo knew the rink back in Vancouver (playing for the Canucks and playing in the Rogers center for a lot of his carrier) maybe the same will apply for the Russians.

Snubs

            Some big ones are Alex Semin, Sergi Gonchar, Anton Volchenkov and youngster Nail Yakupov. Now I thought Gonchar was going to be a sure thing, his veteran present and leadership alongside Markov would make a great defense. Obviously I was wrong! Volchenkov and Yakupov were bubble players for me. Volchenkov’s play has been sub-par these past few years. Meanwhile Yakupov has been absolutely terrible for the disappointing Oliers. Yakupov would be a last second decision for me, his play just hasn’t been that good for Olympic standers. But for next Olympics I see Yak making it but for now he needs some development and Dallas Eakins will do that (used to be in Toronto.) Semin was a bubble player but I thought he would make it knowing that he used to have chemistry with Alex Ovechkin. But I guess that wasn’t enough for him.

Overview

                Russia is a medal favorite for me, with the home ice advantage throughout the tournament and the “Kovalchuk theory” many already crazy good players get even more deadly. I predict that Russia will get either a Bronze or a Silver on home soil. I expect great things from this over powered team but just not gold. Not with that goal tending. But hey maybe they will surprise me with a Gold Medal. It’s possible, Canada did it back in Vancouver maybe Russia can do it in Sochi? Who know will find out in February!

Starting the Calendar Year with a Bang! (2014 Winter Classic Rap-up)

Winter Classic

This year’s winter classic was an eventful one for sure. It was a contest between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. Now you have to remember this is still a regular season game. Coming into this game the both teams were tied for fourth spot in the Atlantic division. Before this game even begins there is a little bit of drama. The Leafs were working on a trade that would bring over Defence men Tim Gleason from Carolina in exchange for John Michael Liles and a prospect (who we found out later when the trade was finalized was Dennis Robertson.)

Imagine you’re Liles, you are warming up for the Winter Classic that most player don’t get a chance to even consider. Then just as you finish warming up you get told that you aren’t playing, you don’t even get to be in the stadium and be a healthy scratch. Liles was traded the day his team was playing the Winter Classic. Now was it for sure that Liles would be playing? No, he probably was going to be scratched again. But hey at least he can say that he warm up with a team that won the Winter Classic, right?

Now enough about the trade, let’s get more into the game. The snow was falling from above and everyone was ready in Ann Arbor for some hockey. The first period was sluggish, slow and to be honest a little amusing. Seeing these world class player fumble the puck and having trouble with simple things, like puck handling out of your own zone. The first period should’ve been the Red Wings’ period, they had so many scoring chances. If they somehow got one pass Jonathan Bernier who was amazing stopping 41 out of 43 shots in the game.

Then the game began to heat up in the second period. Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring after scoring on a two on one from a great feed from Zetterberg. Knowing the conditions and how the puck acted like a basketball by bouncy all around the ice it was very impressive that he got that pass off. But in the second period it should’ve been Toronto’s period, no James van Riemsdyk’s period. He turned up the intensity and geot two amazing scoring opportunities. He was wide open at the side of the net with a yawning cage but he fumbled the puck. Then on another opportunity he was absolutely robbed by Howard in the slot, Howard had 24 saves by the way!

But finally in the last minutes of the period Van Riemsdyk got a beauty of a goal that tied it up at one. He batted it out of air up and over Jimmy Howard. It was a clean goal, so heading into the third its 1-1 and both teams now are getting chances. Bozak in the first five minutes of the final period deflects a Dion Phaneuf shot and it goes in. The visitors have the lead, but not so fast now. Justin Abdelkader then ties the game up with under ten minutes to play.

Overtime in the Winter Classic is something that is amazing to watch. Epically when you have the likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. The highlight of that overtime span was when Phil the Thrill Kessel comes into the zone with amazing speed and goes behind the net. He then see’s Cody Franson just waiting for a feed and passes it off. Franson then fires it and rings it off the post. The game should’ve been done but instead it’s headed to a shootout.

Remember the 2008 Winter Classic and it went to a shootout? Crosby won it for the Pens in the shootout. Then two years later in the Winter Olympics in overtime kind of the same thing happened. Miller wearing the American jersey while Crosby was rocking the Red and white. Anyways those are just some memories. Back to the game right now.

Everyone was a buzz, the faithful fans waited through the cold and were rewarded with one heck of a shootout. James van Riemsdyk goes first and was shut down by his team U.S.A teammate Jimmy Howard (the roster was released after the game. Then Alfredsson goes first for the Wings, the former Senator’s captain was stopped by Bernier. Then came Joffery Lupul, he scores the first goal of the shootout and stays flawless in the shootout this season. But then Pavel Datsyuk comes in a backhands it past Bernier.

So now this whole game is on Tyler Bozak’s stick. Only his second game back from injury and he was in the situation to perform for his team. So in front of all the fans that were weathering the cold and enjoying the spectacle that was the Winter Classic he takes off. He comes streaking in, he goes in forehand, backhand, forehand and then takes the shot. It goes past Jimmy Howard and the Toronto Maple Leafs win the 2014 Winter Classic. Also they pick up the extra point and are now ahead of the Red Wings in the Atlantic.