- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Hey folks ... just a reminder that I'm looking for "rants," not "questions" in the Rant Blog. If you want to ask me something, you can do it in my weekly chat on Wednesday. Luckily, there were indeed some quality rants this week:
NotfeelinDucky: What's with the Ducks? Our top line is now producing, but our defense looks terrible (with the exception of Cam Fowler). Even [Jonas] Hiller looks out of sorts. Should we bring in another goalie to challenge Hiller for the top spot? After all, he played much better when [Jean-Sebastien] Giguere was waiting in the wings. Maybe it's the 35-plus shots he faces every night. Or perhaps it's not really him at all, but a defensive system that no longer functions under [coach Randy] Carlyle's tutelage. Is it time for Carlyle to go? Arghhh!
My take: The blue line is definitely an issue and has been since before the puck dropped this season. GM Bob Murray knows that and has been diligently working the phones to try to make something happen. Losing Andy Sutton didn't help matters. Not sure I'm ready to lay any blame on Jonas Hiller. The Ducks are dead last in the NHL in shots allowed per game (40). I don't care if you're Jacques Plante -- that's a lot of rubber. As for coach Randy Carlyle, he's been there a long time, no question, and eventually players tune out the coach, but I hate blaming the coach. Carlyle, in particular, is a smart hockey man. The problem lies on defense, and the GM will try to address it between now and the trade deadline.
Picciuto17: Pierre, I can effectively state that the panic button has been pressed in devils land. Seriously what is going on? You have one of the biggest offseasons in devils history and not only is the team stinking up the joint, but there's no people in the seats. is it too soon to say this season is headed for disaster?
My take: Well, you'd figure I'd get a few Devils rants, right? I picked two, and here's the first. I would reserve the panic button until after this road trip. The next five games in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Chicago will tell us what we need to know, for better or for worse. I spoke with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello on Monday, and one thing he said is that although he's concerned with his team's record, he is encouraged by the number of scoring chances he believes his team is getting. I'm not convinced I'm seeing as many chances as he is, but I will bow to his more impressive hockey pedigree. Let's talk in a week.
hockeykid304: What's up with the Devils? This is an incredibly deep and skilled team with a plethora of leaders to look to, yet no one seems to be stepping up. ... Our goaltender is the greatest of all time, but he's playing like a Flyers goalie. Parise, Zajac, Kovy, Elias, Langenbrunner, Arnott, Zubrus, Rolston, Clarkson, the talent on this team is ridiculous but they aren't even playing halfway decently. Every aspect of their game is terrible, sloppy, and unacceptable.
Is it John MacLean? I don't think so; look at how well he did in Albany last year, and how well he did when Lou fired head coaches. MacLean ran Devils' practices and made many of the decisions behind the bench and those were some very deep playoff runs. So, what gives? Oh, and Matt Taormina and our other young guys are the only bright spot right now. Our rookies are doing exceptionally well and putting in 150% every night. Let's hope the veterans take notice and learn from the young guys.
My take: One thing that bothers me so far is all the line juggling coach John MacLean has done. The goal should be to find chemistry among the top forwards, and you're not going to find it by skating alongside a new linemate every period, let alone every game. My advice to MacLean would be to settle down, be more patient with his lines and let them find some level of cohesion.
Sorothlisberger: While everyone freaks out about the Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk, I am currently losing it over something else. Where in the world did the San Jose Sharks defense go!? It's hard to tell early on if it's the sharks D or their goaltending, but one thing is for sure -- the San Jose Sharks defense plays more like swiss cheese than sharp cheddar. I'm sick and tired of watching Kent Huskins fumble the puck and Danny Boyle do all of the hard work. When are the sharks going to sign a Big Defensemen from free agency? Why in the world has Doug Wilson not sought after the services of Sheldon Souray!?!? Please LeBrun, tell me why my sharks are so awful on defense right now!
My take: The Sharks are in the bottom third of the league in goals against, averaging 3.00 per game. That's not Sharks hockey. They finished in the top 10 in the same category the past four seasons. So far, the goalie tandem of Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki has not filled Evgeni Nabokov's skates. (Niemi, in particular, has struggled.) But they will settle down. However, I also think the loss of Rob Blake is a bigger deal than most people realize. He was still a top-four blueliner last season, and the Sharks never did replace him this past summer, even though they certainly tried. (There were talks with Toronto about Tomas Kaberle, there was the offer sheet matched by Chicago for Niklas Hjalmarsson and there was the courtship of Willie Mitchell before he went to Los Angeles.)
The Sharks' blue line has a hole, and GM Doug Wilson knows it. There is a lot of time between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline. He's a shrewd dealer. I suspect you will see him address it before all is said and done. As for Sheldon Souray, at this point, I'm told San Jose isn't that keen on him. But things can change.
drifterdino: What's the deal with Glendale's "Mega Sports Pavilion"? Went there for a game last week and I felt like I was at Disneyland -- or some off shoot of Blade Runner with the giant advertising billboards glowing in my face and overpriced food and drinks around every turn. I think a major part of the live hockey experience is to feel part of the downtown area you're visiting -- like in Denver or Vancouver, or most others. My vent session is simply that I hope this isn't a model for future stadiums and I think I now understand why it's so hard for Phoenix to get a consistent base of fans coming to their games. If I wanted to be penned in to some far away fantasy world where there is no semblance of local flavor, I'd go see a rodeo in Nevada.
My take: As one NHL executive from another team told me last week when we were talking about the plight of the Coyotes, "Their problem is that all the money is half an hour away in Scottsdale." It's definitely an issue for most Coyotes fans to travel out to Glendale. But I will say this: I've been out there now several times, and they did a great job with the Westgate area. The arena is beautiful, and the surrounding area featuring restaurants, bars, shops and a movie theater is really impressive. It's really grown on me. But I don't live in Scottsdale, and I don't have to commute out to Glendale for hockey games.
Of course, it's not the only arena set up like that. The Ottawa Senators famously built their rink a good half hour to 45 minutes (depending on traffic) from the beautiful downtown core in Ottawa. They did it because the owners at the time owned the land out in Kanata. On the flip side, a lot has been built and grown around Scotiabank Place in Kanata, and it's an impressive area now. I just hate driving there in rush-hour traffic from downtown Ottawa. The Coyotes and Senators share that issue, and it's one that's too late to solve now.
Gulvorn: As Columbus fan, can I please stop watching hockey now? A decade and no success to show from it. They can't even put together a decent effort out there on the ice in front of the home crowd. Really makes me feel like shelling out money for season tickets to watch a team coast through and collect their pay checks. I don't care so much about the wins, but losing AND skating out there like it's a preseason game?
My take: Well, if you don't buy season tickets next season, you'd join the 2,400 people or so who did just that this past offseason, as the Blue Jackets' season-ticket base apparently dropped by that many. Sad, really, because I still think if you gave this market just a bit of success (not just one quick playoff round), it could be a good place for hockey. No other sport from the big four pro sports is in Columbus, so that's why I always thought it was a good place to try to make the NHL work.
But you are right, Gulvorn; 10 years of mostly losing takes a toll. Personally, I look at the roster and I don't see any chance of the Jackets making the playoffs. But Monday night's 2-1 win over Philadelphia improved the Jackets' record to 5-3-0. Not many people expected that. So let's wait a bit longer before we chalk this up as another wasted season.
force116: What's with the Coyotes power play? They picked up Whitney in the off-season and they expected him to make their power play the best in the league. The players however still look like they don't know what to do when they have the man advantage. ... Also, they found themselves scrapping around for a center with [Martin] Hanzal on the IR. Although [Andrew Ebbett] has been playing well, do you think it was a costly mistake (no pun intended) to let [Matthew] Lombardi sign elsewhere? Will they be able to improve the offense without his play making skills that they relied on so often during their Cinderella season last year? Now I'm a die hard of the Coyotes, but I worry that with the poor attendance, that this team won't be able to have success. They need the money, and unless [Matthew] Hulsizer has it, I don't see them being able to be true Cup contenders in the near future.
My take: During a stop in Phoenix during training camp, I asked veteran blueliner and power-play defenseman Ed Jovanovski about his team's 28th-ranked unit last season. "It's got to be able to win you games," Jovanovski told ESPN.com. "It lost us more last year. We have goals on where we want to be as a group on the power play. Definitely adding Ray [Whitney], he's a crafty player who can play the point and play on the halfboards; that's going to add a lot."
Whitney, a career power-play demon, has not been able to spark it so far; the Coyotes have only two power-play goals this season to rank among the worst PP units in the league. Mind you, Whitney did miss two games with an injury. I watched the Coyotes on the power play during a game in Montreal on Monday. During one power play, not once were they able to get set up in the offensive zone; the Canadiens broke up their sequence once they got into the zone. I think there's a lack of confidence right now. Maybe the power-play goal by Derek Morris on Monday night, where he blasted one top corner on Carey Price, will help build some confidence.
Whitney will eventually be a consistent force here. A full season of Lee Stempniak can only help given his goal-producing ability on the power play. It doesn't look good right now, but I'm willing to bet they'll be closer to the middle of the pack by season's end as opposed to bottom third. As for your Matthew Lombardi question, the Coyotes didn't "let" him sign elsewhere; they couldn't afford his salary demands, but Nashville could. It was a business decision. Remember, the Coyotes were on a tight budget again this past summer while awaiting new ownership.
JonastyBeast: Something that has been bugging me a lot as a hockey fan who grew up watching Colorado and Detroit in the mid/late-'90s is what happened to all the rivalries!?!? Whether it was Roy or Osgood fighting, or even Garth Snow getting himself into a brawl, I don't really see that kind of rivalry and passion on the ice. Simply put, I miss it! I won't leave this as an empty rant, but here's what I think could be a solution: 4 divisions, 2 conferences and Divisional Playoffs!!! (Could you imagine if Crosby and Ovechkin were in the same division and squared off in the playoffs year after year??) ... I feel like no one ever brings this up and it drives me crazy! Start the change, Pierre!
My take: I'm getting old if you "grew up" watching hockey in the 1990s. Sheesh. Well, I grew up watching early-'80s rivalry hockey. Your Detroit-Colorado of the '90s had absolutely nothing -- and I mean nothing -- on the Battle of Alberta or the Battle of Quebec from the '80s. Do an Internet search and type in "Battle of Quebec/Good Friday brawl" and you'll see what I'm talking about.
But to your point, no question you're not seeing the same kind of honest hatred between teams anymore. I guess Washington-Pittsburgh is considered the top rivalry in the NHL right now, but it pales in comparison to the rivalries mentioned above. I don't think changing divisions or the schedule would do anything to restore it. I think that's just an era that's over with. I think the tolerance level of what fans, media and society at large will stomach on the ice has changed. Can you imagine how big a story an actual line brawl would be today? That used to be a weekly occurrence in the 1970s. The rivalries are more docile now, but I argue that the level of play is at an all-time high. The game is faster and better played than ever. So we'll have to take that in absence of any true rivalries.
prashanthiyer: Will somebody please give Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators some credit? Once again, they are in the thick of things, with an unbeaten record and 11 points to lead the NHL. They have gone through numerous goalie changes (Vokoun, Mason, Ellis, Rinne). They just lost their former captain this offseason in Arnott, as well as one of their top D-men in Dan Hamhuis. All they do is win and nobody will recognize this. As a Red Wings fan, it's about time somebody gives these guys some credit.
My take: Well, my friend, you're barking up the wrong tree. My colleague Scott Burnside and I write about the Preds. I've already done a Steve Sullivan story this season. We value the work from coach Barry Trotz and GM David Poile, and Burnside and I have underlined that work numerous times over the past few years. They will also be part of our Game of the Week this Thursday. Not sure what else we can do for you!
10hESPN stats & info
3dScott Burnside and Craig Custance