Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Rant answers: Devils, Ducks and All-Stars
By Pierre LeBrun
Lots of angst this week. God bless you for it. Let's take a look:
bflo2balt: Something is rotten in the state of Pegula-ville. The Buffalo Sabres are bad. They are so bad that the love-fest that was the purchase of the team by Terry Pegula has gone from trial separation to nasty divorce. The pleasant thoughts from that February afternoon are such a distant memory that to even the most positive Sabres fan, the ownership change is now unnoticed at best. Terry Pegula has no idea what he is doing nor does he know what to do. Like a President trapped in a failing policy, he is left only to spew a "stay the course" rallying cry, which is producing more crying than a rally. The coach has lost control, the GM seems like a deer in headlights, and the team President can only speak of frustration with MSG and Time Warner Cable. Then there is Pegula, the billionaire, the passionate fan who promised a Cup in three years, watching his 11th place team wander aimlessly into the stretch producing little more than an excuse for frustrated fans to call into sports radio shows to vent, sit there and explicitly say that he will do nothing. Leaderless, inside the dressing room and out, the Sabres continue to drift wherever the team's weak will takes it. These are dark days in Buffalo and that flicker of hope on the horizon fades dimmer and dimmer as those with the power to light the torch do nothing. The bottom cannot come soon enough and "Hockey Heaven's" only hope is that this lifeless decomposing team somehow nourishes the soil in the hopes that some sort of future growth can occur and give the Buffalo faithful a reason to believe in the idea of Pegula-ville again.
My take: Now that’s a rant. I know when I spoke with Sabres CEO Ted Black a month ago, he preached patience. But I doubt he thought the losing would continue at this rate. Everyone connected with the franchise insists patience will remain. At the very least, from what I hear from other GMs, Sabres GM Darcy Regier is certainly working the phones. I would expect him to make a couple of notable moves between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline to help shake up this roster. Yes, the injuries are the most significant reason for Buffalo’s disappointing season, but it doesn’t explain everything. There just is something not right with the current makeup of this roster. Even when healthy.
smormando14: Can we finally say "enough with the boring Devils hockey" comments? On special teams, it's very likely someone is going to score in a Devils game. They throw two forecheckers in rather than sit at the blue line and wait. They're not a boring team anymore!
After putting up only four goals in his opening 17 games this season, Ilya Kovalchuk has notched 13 in his last 22 games.
My take: Agreed! One of my favorite teams to watch this season. Under Pete DeBoer, they’re playing a nice brand. They’re a quick-transition team. Anyone who says the Devils are boring isn’t really watching.
1ndago: How does Nashville, which loses at least one top player every year (to go back a bit Vokoun, Forsberg, Timonen, Arnott, Sullivan, Hamhuis, Lombardi) continuously keep winning? When will Barry Trotz and David Poile be recognized?
My take: Well, you’re preaching to the choir, that’s for sure. Both Scott Burnside and I have long lauded the Poile/Trotz regime. Poile’s work was recognized last season when he was nominated for the NHL’s GM award, although he lost out to Vancouver’s Mike Gillis. It really is extraordinary the way the Preds have been competitive year in and year out without a big payroll and while losing important players. The key is drafting and developing. They’re excellent at both. That’s the key for any small-market team. They also don’t rush young players up, they make them play some time in AHL Milwaukee. But this is very much a crossroads season for the Preds. Ryan Suter can be a UFA July 1 and, while contract talks have been ongoing, there’s still no extension with the Feb. 27 trade deadline looming large. Captain and franchise player Shea Weber will be an RFA July 1. Another huge decision is coming there in the offseason. Here’s hoping the Preds can keep at least one of those two stud blueliners.
Lipper71124: On the topic of concussions, I am not a fan of the way the NHL is allowing teams to have their own doctors confirm or deny that a player has been concussed. There have been issues/skepticism on whether a player is truly concussed. A player who is suspected of being concussed should be checked out by a independent doctor with no affiliation to either team on the ice. I am a Bruins fan and we have seen instances this year where opposing teams have played up the concussion front in order to entice the NHL, if you will, to come down with a suspension. Ryan Miller and Sami Salo (this was a cheap shot, whether a concussion was present or not) for instance, if they were diagnosed with concussions by an independent doctor, this would give more clout to the claims of players being concussed. I think this is an issue and a serious one, thoughts??
My take: I agree with you that the system isn’t perfect right now in terms of not having independent doctors at games. The cost of that for the league would be exorbitant. But I can tell you I’ve met some of the team doctors in this league and believe me when I say they would never buck to any kind of gamesmanship or team pressure. They’re doctors. They have medical degrees. You know, the Hippocratic Oath and all that. I trust doctors to put the health of the player ahead of any other goal.
maxd3012: Pierre, It is time for critics to turn their attention away from Ilya Kovalchuk. His tenure with Devils has been marked by constant questioning over his value to the team. Given the enormity of his contract and expectations, demanding high output of the star winger is just. Yet, it seems his current production and value to the Devils has gone ignored by the same who have made it their point to deride him. Prior to a pointless showing against Winnipeg, Kovalchuk was averaging a point a game on the season (his career average is .99 points per game). Despite a typically slow start, his 24 points in the last 21 contests (12 goals) suggests fair production for his $6.6 million cap hit. Beyond statistical production, Kovalchuk has developed greater versatility, notably an ability to contribute to the league’s top PK unit. Given what the Devils sacrificed to acquire his long-term services, I would be among those anticipating still greater production. But, with many preseason projections that the Devils would finish near or below the playoff cutoff, to not include Kovalchuk among the greatest contributors to their success is off base.
My take: Yes, I agree that Kovalchuk’s resurgence has not been documented nearly as closely as his struggles. For the longest time, I myself wondered if he would ever learn to fit in on that team, and I questioned his decision to sign in New Jersey. But I think that time has finally come. After putting up only four goals in his opening 17 games this season, he’s notched 13 in his past 22 games. His minus-9 rating suggests that he may never totally figure out the 200-foot game, but that’s not what he’s getting paid for. He’s tied for second in the league in shots per game at 4.2. He looks at ease on a line with Zach Parise in what is one of the most lethal duos in the league. Kovalchuk took a lot of criticism for his play in the first year and a half of that big contract with the Devils, but he’s beginning to change some minds now.
Dishquatch: This rant may be a bit premature but there is already talk of a strike/lockout for the 2012-2013 season. One commentator even speculated that the season would not start until December, if at all. Hockey hasn't recovered from the last strike, it can't take another one. Owners and players get your acts together now!
My take: I covered the 2004-05 lockout every single day for 300-plus days. So there are few people who want to avoid another one more than I! The reality is, it’s impossible to predict an accurate time frame for these things. I speak to officials at both the NHL and NHLPA all the time -- neither side has a real sense of whether or not games will be sacrificed next season. All they know is what they’re going to be willing to fight for once labor talks begin. Both sides agreed talks would begin sometime after the All-Star break. The league and owners will want to decrease the players’ share of revenues from the current 57 percent. The players will argue they already gave in big-time seven years ago when they agreed to a salary cap. There are a myriad of other issues as well. Here’s a labor preview story I wrote in early October, it helps explain what’s in store.
31beef34: What's the deal with the Wild?!?! Having a hard time understanding how a team can go from red-hot to ice-cold in the blink of an eye. Is it reasonable to fully expect a turnaround by this team after the break?
My take: If you go back and look at some of my commentary when the Wild were first overall in the league, I was on record saying I doubted they would hold on given the red flags that existed then: specifically, an offense ranked in the bottom five and a poor power play. Once the injuries started piling up, those realities were too hard to cover up. Now with Mikko Koivu’s injury, the Wild are definitely in a tough spot.
krafsurjoe1: Here is another rant, WHY DID FOUR OTTAWA SENATORS GET "Cheated" INTO THE ALL-STAR GAME? There are many more that deserve to be there. I'd say only two of those guys, if that, deserve to get in, its just the home ice voting rigged process.
My take: First of all, I want to abolish the All-Star Game, so it’s hard for me to get worked up on anything related to it. Secondly, to answer your question, the host Ottawa fans stuffed the ballot box. They’re going to this silly game, they might as well have their own players in the game. If you want to fix the obvious problem with fan balloting, strip away the ability of fans to vote for the starters.
Mdonahue4: Its great that Tyler Seguin got picked to play the All-Star Game, however, I think Patrice Bergeron once again got over-looked. Steve Yzerman acknowledged his brilliance on both ends of the ice by choosing him to team Canada. When do you think the NHL will stop over-looking him as an All-Star as well as a Selke candidate?
My take: Seguin’s game is more suited for a wide-open All-Star Game, which is more of a shinny game than actual hockey. Bergeron -- whom I picked as my midseason ESPN.com Selke Trophy winner -- is a two-way beast. But Seguin’s hands are perfectly matched to the non-defense exhibition we’ll be in store for again this year in Ottawa.
marino_14777: The league is going down a path I do not like. Suspending everything in site. Trying to take down the physical aspect of the game as well as the fighting in the league. When your at a game, what does the fan get exited about more besides a goal. A great check and a fight. League is going down the wrong road.
My take: And this is just why the league is in a no-win situation with the concussion issue. On the one hand, you’ve got legions of people hammering the league for not doing enough to curb concussions. On the other hand, when you try to bring in measures such as supplemental discipline for hits to the head or boarding to help minimize concussions or behavior that leads to these types of hits, you have people complaining that the game is being softened. It’s a no-win situation, and I don’t have the answer either.
fathertime1021: The past few years have seen a bad trend in officiating. I am okay with missed calls due to the speed of the game -- those are going to happen. I am talking about the consistency of what is called game to game. Something like 2009's playoffs when the Penguins were allowed six attackers for 25 seconds (which lead to an icing, a exhaustion penalty and a Pens goal) to this year when Fistric's hit on Weber wasn't even reviewed. Can the officials just agree on how to call games?
My take: The NHL is 95 years old. That’s how many years fans have been complained about officiating. One thing you learn after covering the NHL for 17 years: Refs will have good nights and bad nights. Over the course of a season, those calls tend to even out for each team. I haven’t been a "fan" for a long time, that’s what happens when hockey is your job, and I notice this is the one area where you see the biggest difference in how I view a game compared to fans: officiating. Calls don’t anger me, because I don’t care which team wins the game. Fans get upset and I understand that; they’re passionate about their teams. But they also view each and every game through the biased prism of their team colors. And that greatly affects how they rate the officials’ performance.
ester13069: My venting is at you, or to be fair, divided between you and Burnside. I'm a life long Devil's fan, and I'm tired of them being treated as second-class citizens. This is a franchise that has won Cups, puts together a competitive team year in and year out, and while they've struggled (by their standards, aka still making the playoffs just not going deep) since the lockout, they've been a real good team since halfway through last season, and the only time they get mentioned is so you can all talk about how great it will be when Parise leaves. Every other athlete gets the "it'd be great if he finished his career where he started, that's an awesome thing to do," but you just can't try and get Parise out of Jersey fast enough. Ridiculous.
My take: Just goes to show you that fans hear only what they want to hear. What I actually said in our weekly video on Parise last week is that I DON’T THINK the Devils will trade him. How is that hating the Devils? Mercy.
flashmesomefinnish: Pierre, I have been a Ducks fan for years now, and beyond the obvious rants about how we, well, suck, I come to you saying that we may not suck enough! Our recent resurgence in the last five games has been great to watch, but what is the point. What is the point of a midseason resurgence to climb from utter disgrace to the lower rungs of mediocrity? Anaheim is in a tricky place where if we lose Teemu, I have to believe Koivu is not far behind. Losing both of them will devastate this team. My point is, with both of them on their way out, a throw away season, what is the point of a mid to late season rally? Isn't it time for Anaheim to make a big move and start the rebuilding process? Perhaps do the unthinkable and trade the "untouchables" aka Teemu and Saku for some draft picks and a little scratch to play with, not to mention ensure a high lottery pick?
My take: You absolutely nailed it. Once it’s obvious your team is not going to make it, as a fan you should be hoping to totally bottom out and get as many balls in the lottery machine as you can. What’s the point of having a big second half just to finish 11th in the West? Players have too much pride, so you can’t ever have this discussion with them. But as Ducks fans, you should all be on board with what the above post had to say.
bnordstrom9: I understand the allure of the Original Six, plus the historic rivalry of the Wings and Leafs, but if Bettman says part of being invited to the WC is on merit, how have the Leafs earned a spot? They haven't made the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout and will likely be a 5-8 seed this year (doubt they'll get through the first round). Besides being historic, I don't think that, since the lockout, that is one of the bigger FRESH rivalries in the NHL. And how about blending a little new with the Original Six? There are other teams that exist outside Canada and New England that can play some damn good hockey that are way more merited to play in the WC than Toronto and that have some semblance of a fresh rivalry with Detroit (think SJ, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis -- teams who have actually made the playoffs the last eight years and played the Wings in those playoffs) and if the NHL really wanted to grow their audience and the game shouldn't they try and grow the less developed fan bases instead of the mature bases?
My take: Pretty easy to see why the league wants Toronto in that game next Jan. 1. There are 100,000-plus seats in the Big House to sell. It just so happens that just across the border from Detroit is Southwestern Ontario and a bottomless pit of hockey fans with money to spend.
prashanthiyer: Hey Pierre, I know this will seem like a typical rant about "Player X/Team X is not getting enough credit," but I legitimately feel that there is a serious beef here. I've seen you address this before, but how is Pavel Datsyuk not an MVP candidate? He's very quietly back in the top 10 in scoring, just six points behind the leader. After starting the season very slowly with just 10 points in his first 15 games, Datsyuk has ripped off 36 points in his last 27 games and that includes 12 multi-point games in those 27 games. We all know how good he is defensively (yet again leading the NHL in takeaways, and is 11th among forwards in plus/minus), but when his offensive numbers start to match what he does defensively, there is no better two-way player. It will be a real shame if his career ends without him getting more than just a single nomination for the Hart Trophy.
My take: You won’t get any disagreements from me. I’ve been on the Datsyuk bandwagon for a very long time. Truly one of the world’s most underappreciated superstars. One aspect of his game I truly admire is how hard he is to knock off the puck. He’s not a big man, but few players are harder to knock off the puck.