New York Hockey: Mark Staal

Six (kinda silly) All-Star observations

January, 30, 2011
For those who have never been to an All-Star Game weekend, the emphasis is about 10% on the on-ice action and 90% on the fan-friendly environment off of it. There's been plenty to do and see for hockey fans in the great town of Raleigh, N.C., where I've done my part to support the local economy by indulging in a little Carolina BBQ goodness.

While we wait for the game to get underway in about 30 minutes, here are a few quick observations from the weekend thus far.

1.) Michael Grabner skates with the speed of a well-caffeinated ice leopard.
Seriously, he's fast. In last night's skills competition he blew past fleet-footed rook Taylor Hall twice to earn Team Staal three fairly meaningless points in a similarly meaningless competition. While at first glance his physical gifts may have given him the wins, I wouldn't underestimate the cunning strategy he used to claim the races. "I just wanted to go out there and skate as fast as I could," Grabner answered in response to the incisive, post-race question of "what was your approach?" It was a bold plan and it paid dividends for the Isles' rookie.

2.) Marc Staal skates with the speed of a large pack animal. This isn't to say the Rangers' D-man was particularly slow -- heck, his brother thought enough of him to put him in the fastest skater competition after all -- but I think he lost his race by the largest margin for any non-goalie. But let's just say that if there were a pride of Grabners skating down a pack of Marc Staals, the Grabners aren't going to go hungry.

3.) Jeff Skinner is a rock star. You've probably heard the Justin Bieber comparisons by now. Lame as they may be, they're kind of accurate. The 18-year-old Carolina Hurricanes rookie is the youngest all-star in NHL history and the fans in are absolutely in love with this kid -- granted the 18 goals he's scored this season have helped just a wee bit. He signed autographs at the fan fest Saturday and the line had to be 200 yards long, with most fans wearing the rookie's jersey. If for no other reason than the kid's marketing potential -- and believe me there are plenty of other reasons -- the Canes have themselves a dynamite pick from the 2010 draft.

4.) Club ideologies carry over. Typical of his big-market team, Nicklas Lidstrom "out-spent" Eric Staal by about $400K when you combine all player salaries on their All-Star fantasy rosters. Gary Bettman needs to tighten the cap for the next game.

5.) Pigs are much more attractive to me when they're on a bun and smothered in Carolina BBQ sauce. That is all.

6.) More creativity can't hurt. Look, it's nice that Team Staal and Team Lidstrom honor their distinguished captains by carrying their monikers. But wouldn't it be better if these fantasy teams had actual fantasy team names? Fans should be able to nominate team names and then vote on the winners. I bet you'd get some pretty funny entries.
His team had already gotten six points in the first four games of this rigorous stretch of five games in seven days, but Rangers head coach John Tortorella admits he got a little greedy. He wanted to grab more against the Florida Panthers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Unfortunately for Tortorella, he would have to settle for six points as the Rangers came up short against the Panthers, losing 4-3.

“You need to get greedy, I thought we were going to squeeze out a point tonight, I thought we played well enough to squeeze out a point,” Tortorella said. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll sit down and we won some guys we didn’t deserve, I think it all evens out but it would’ve been nice if were 4-1 instead of 3-2.”

The schedule makers did not do the Rangers any favors by pitting them in five games in seven days to close the first half of the season. Considering the Rangers have been decimated by injuries, this could’ve been a speedbump, but the Blue Shirts performed admirably by winning three of the first four games.

It’s the last game, thought, that left the Rangers wanting more of the stretch. With a chance to grab two more points against a team that had lost seven of its last 10 games, the Rangers fell victim to a couple of goals that came off deflections, including the game winner that bounced off one Rangers’ back and over goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

“We wanted it tonight, obviously, we want to win them all, it’s disappointing right now. It’s a good grind with some injuries but it’s not an excuse,” forward Brian Boyle said. “I think we had a chance tonight where we could’ve played better in some areas…It’s good we get a break, our team needs it, but we got some good points, we got some good road wins, we just want to win at home and its disappointing.”

Yet, even with the loss hanging over their heads, the Rangers are glad the break is coming at this time. The six-day break gives the team a chance to get healthy and allows an exhausted team a chance to recharge the batteries for the second half.

The team already has some good news on the injury front as it announced Tuesday night that forwards Vinny Prospal and Ryan Callahan have been activated from injured reserve.

Now, its time to focus on the playoff push.

Said defenseman Mark Staal: “We’re looking forward to the rest and to heal up and get ready for the end of the season.”

The NHL's biggest bargain players

September, 2, 2010
It seems fitting that with a $100 million contract waiting in limbo for Ilya Kovalchuk, a pair of articles discuss the idea of value in today’s salary-capped NHL.

Yesterday, ESPN’s E.J. Hradek provided his All-Bargain Team (Insider), which was headlined by Devils winger Zach Parise. Parise’s production has been huge relative to his salary, but the Devils won’t enjoy that disparity for much longer as his contract expires at the end of this season. In fact, if the Kovalchuk contract goes through, they might not enjoy his production at all. But that’s another topic for another time.

Puck Prospectus, the hockey brethren of the better-known Baseball Prospectus think tank, also recently released a list of the players who provide the best bang for the buck.

Using their proprietary stat, Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), which calculates all of a player’s statistical contributions, both offensively and defensively, and collates them into one tidy number, they looked at the production of all NHL players relative to their cap hit.

Here’s their top 20:
  1. Duncan Keith, Chicago
  2. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington
  3. Alex Burrows, Vancouver
  4. Zach Parise, Devils
  5. Tyler Myers, Buffalo
  6. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver
  7. Patric Hornqvist, Nashville
  8. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay
  9. Marc Staal, Rangers
  10. Ian White, Calgary
  11. Chris Stewart, Colorado
  12. Jussi Jokinen, Carolina
  13. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
  14. Alexander Semin, Washington
  15. Loui Eriksson, Detroit
  16. Rene Bourque, Calgary
  17. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver
  18. Andy Greene, Devils
  19. Matt Moulson, Islanders
  20. Tomas Fleischmann, Washington

The vast majority of these players are still under club control and have yet to reach unrestricted free agency, and some of them have already signed extensions. Marc Staal, on the other hand, is in the midst of negotiating his contract for next season. Looks like his camp just got some more ammunition. Check out the full article for some deeper analysis.

Morning Links
  • In case you missed it -- and if you did, here’s a hearty congratulations on recovering from that coma – the NHL and NHLPA agreed to delay the league’s decision on the latest Kovalchuk contract to Friday at 5 p.m.
  • The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti summarizes the late-day Kovalchuk madness here. Among the interesting notes: Though GM Lou Lamoriello has said he’s okay with the extension, he did not answer when asked if Kovalchuk was also okay with the delay. It had been previously speculated that the Russian winger had a set a deadline for the Devils to get a deal done before he packed it in and stayed in Russia with a KHL team for the season.
  • While Lamoriello may be okay with the delay, In Lou We Trust, is … uh … not.
“I'll be brief: This is garbage. It's just about excremental as it just stinks all the way around.”