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Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Rant answers: Realignment inequity, Hawks' inept D and Caps' inferiority

By Pierre LeBrun

Realignment reaction dominated the late entries in the weekly Rant Blog, and that’s terrific. Most of the reaction from readers actually has been mostly positive, but we did find some negative feedback. Let’s take a look:


ksitar2727: Dear, LeBrun, I liked everything about the realignment except for the fact that the top 4 teams from each conference make the playoffs. The 2 western conferences have to battle with 8 teams apiece. The 2 Eastern Conferences have it easy where each conference will have a team that will potentially be a below .500 team and still make the playoffs. In my opinion it would be better to have the top 3 teams from each conference qualify automatically and then let the 4 remaining spots go to the teams with the best records (kind of like wild cards in the NFL). That is the only problem with the new realignment. On a positive note, My Wings finally get a break!

ngehrke: The new realignment is ridiculous, the teams in the conferences with only 7 teams have a better shot at making the playoffs, what’s up with that?


My take: This is pretty much the single biggest criticism. The math obviously favors two conferences over two others. No one seemed to care in the 1980s when there were six teams in the Patrick Division (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, N.Y. Rangers, N.Y. Islanders, New Jersey) and yet only five teams in each of the Adams (Montreal, Quebec, Buffalo, Boston, Hartford), Smythe (Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Los Angeles) and Norris (Toronto, Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Detroit) Divisions. And like the old Norris Division of the ‘80s, there’s always the concern that the fourth-place team in one weak conference will make the playoffs over a better fifth-place team in another. That’s now back in play. The benefit, of course, is those great divisional rivalries that were born out of those ‘80s playoff series between the same teams year after year: Think Edmonton-Calgary, Montreal-Boston, etc.

The other thing to keep in mind is that there’s always the possibility -- way down the road -- that the NHL expands by two more teams to even out the conferences. As well, don’t forget Phoenix. It was smart to put the Coyotes in one of the two eight-team conferences because now if the league is forced to re-locate the Yotes next season, it has the flexibility of dropping them in one of the two seven-team conferences without batting an eye or making any other team move.


townsend1000: Why did the Wings have to stay in the West? I am so tired of trying to watch games at 10:30 local time.

My take: For sure a move all the way east would be been the top option for the Red Wings, but I can tell they’re quite satisfied with what transpired. Remember that one of the major changes in this realignment is that the schedule matrix was revamped so that every team in the league will play all other teams in the league at least twice (home and away) a year. That’s huge and it’s something the Red Wings were lobbying hard for behind the scenes. It means less travel to the West Coast and more to the East. In the end, you have to stop thinking about the league as East and West conferences. That will no longer exist once this realignment comes to fruition. There are now four conferences and the travel is spread out more evenly. Detroit is fine with this.

“When we heard Atlanta was moving to Winnipeg, our initial thought internally was that we wanted to go east,” Wings GM Ken Holland told me over the phone from Pebble Beach, Calif., on Tuesday morning. “But as we went along, we realized there were more teams with issues than just us. Gary [Bettman] did a tremendous job to find a solution that appeased most of the teams. As we looked at this four-conference format, we realized we got every team in our building that our fans want to see. We make only one trip to Western Canada and one trip to California a year. And we get more games in prime time for television. The bottom line is that we’re happy. From a competitive standpoint and from our fans’ standpoint, we’re happy.’’


OHasia: Pierre, how worried should I be about the Blackhawks' defense? I know, I know, they are sitting near the top of the conference, but watching this leaky defense is strange and foreign to me. The offense scores on a whim, their 5 on 5 is top notch, but by golly, we can't keep the opposing team out of our zone. There are silly turnovers, lackluster board battles. I don't know how they'll make it anywhere in the post-season with this trend.

My take: A worthwhile comment there, my friend. The Hawks as of Tuesday morning were 21st in goals against per game and 28th on the penalty kill. The two clubs that finished 1-2 in goals against per game last regular season? None other than Vancouver and Boston, the two eventual Cup finalists. So tightening up will indeed be a priority for the Hawks. They can certainly play better team defense but you also have to put some of the blame on sophomore goalie Corey Crawford. His 3.00 goals-against average is 30th among the 40 netminders ranked among goalie leaders, and his .896 save percentage is 34th. Not good enough. But again, he’s not alone in this. The Hawks are not playing well defensively as a team. Beefing up the blue line will be a priority for the Hawks before Feb. 27.


Rwoodwell000: Why at times does Ilya Kovalchuk look like one of the top players in the world and at other times like he doesn't even belong in the AHL? Just in the Minnesota game he fans on a shot from the point Heatley goes and buries it and then he just trips over the blue line and Minnesota scores again for two unassisted goals in about 5 minutes. Finally later in that game he works his magic in the offensive zone fires a shot and scores. I do not get it, it’s sickening. Any thoughts about this?

My take: He has always been a total enigma to me. I know from talking to people who know him well that he’s misunderstood. He truly cares about winning. But to have his kind of talent and have only six goals in 20 games this season (plus a minus-11 rating) is truly mind-boggling. From day one, his signing in New Jersey never truly fit. His linemates often look like they’re forcing passes to him. He should have taken less money and gone to Los Angeles in the summer of 2010. I think he would have found better chemistry with Anze Kopitar, much like he had with Marc Savard in Atlanta.


Ryan Miller
What will come of Jordin Tootoo's hit on Ryan Miller?

jjg0257: Sabres fan here and I actually feel bad for Shanahan right now. Even though Tootoo's hit on Miller was far less of a “running the goalie” type hit than the Lucic hit, Shanahan is going to feel obligated to suspend him. If the Lucic hit never happened, Tootoo doesn’t get a 5 minute major and probably never gets a hearing. Shanahan blew it on the Lucic hit because Bruins don’t get disciplined and now he’s got no choice on Tootoo. But let me be clear: Tootoo definitely could have avoided his dive into Miller. Erhoff knocks the puck away from him right before he makes his cut. And just ask Ryan Kesler how to avoid hitting a goalie.

My take: Brendan Shanahan was slated to deliver his verdict Tuesday regarding Jordin Tootoo. One of the key elements that I believe Shanahan looked at when reviewing this play was that Tootoo got a five-minute major for charging, not a minor for goalie interference. There’s a big difference there. The major for charging suggests a greater level of intent on Tootoo’s part -- at least that’s what I believe the league thinks. Because of that, the league will feel a suspension is warranted. But it’s a hot-potato issue, given that Miller was involved in the original incident this season that spawned the GMs to talk about goalie safety. The decision will have political overtones regardless of the decision.

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prashanthiyer: Mandatory Visors. So many players this week took pucks, sticks and blows to the head and it’s only a matter of time before we have a career-ending injury. We saw the seriousness with Manny Malholtra and his gruesome eye injury, and it can happen again and can be much more serious. Put on a visor and use the grandfather rule to allow people in.

My take: Completely agree, and have been on record saying so for many years. It’s up to the NHL Players’ Association. It continues to get feedback from its membership every year, and every year the union says there’s not enough support to implement it. It drives me crazy. Luckily the wearing of visors is up every year. The NHLPA says the use of visors is at an all-time high, 68 percent. The day can’t come fast enough when we see 100 percent of the players wearing them.


badstar82: How long until we can expect to see what the Capitals will look like under their new coach? Dale Hunters system can’t simply be installed overnight. I realize this, and the two wobbly games after his arrival are evidence of that, so at what point do fans get the green light to start getting dissatisfied if this team doesn’t get it together?

My take: Never mind Caps fans being dissatisfied if this doesn’t turn around, what about the GM? My belief is that unless the Caps get going soon enough, George McPhee will being working the phones hard to make roster changes.


bleed_teal13: The Sharks are a defensive disaster! They can't kill a penalty to save their lives, and their star blueliner, Dan Boyle, seems to be approaching terminal velocity as he's falling from the graces of the teal faithful. He is costing San Jose games as he struggles to keep pace with opposing offenses, commits penalties and puts his awful PK on the ice. It's evident he's on the back side of his career, but the Sharks need to trade him for some youth while he still has some value.

My take: Trading Dan Boyle doesn’t make sense. He’s struggling right now, but history shows his game will turn around. What’s alarming, though, is the team’s PK -- ranked dead last in the NHL. That’s unacceptable for a Stanley Cup contender. Manny Malhotra was a big loss a few years ago in that department. I didn’t like San Jose’s third/fourth lines to begin the season. I think the Sharks need to look at the trade market before Feb. 27 to add some veteran checkers with a reliable performance record on the PK. That’s the area where I think this team could improve the most.


bbmaggiemay: You know it's coming. How could NHL ignore Jimmy Howard on NHL All Star vote. A write-in candidate. Seriously? He has been a top-10 goalie two years running. Much like Osgood, if you have a great team playing in front of you then you don't reserve respect? Red Wing goalies are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Your thoughts?

My take: Completely agree that Howard should have been put on All-Star ballot. He’s having the best season of his career right now. That’s why I had him as one of my five Vezina Trophy candidates at the quarter-pole.