Cross Checks: Andrew Ladd

It tells you a lot about the progression of Andrew Ladd’s career that he was invited to Canada's Olympic camp last month.

The Winnipeg Jets' captain continues to push his game to new heights and really turned heads with his game last season.

"It was another step in my career and hopefully I can keep elevating and get to be one of the top guys in the league," said Ladd.

He was among the Blackhawks’ salary-cap discards after helping the team win the Cup in 2010. Now he’s a Team Canada camp invite. That tells you where his game has gone in just a few years.

"It’s something that maybe earlier on my career I thought was a pipe dream," Ladd said of making Team Canada. "But the last couple of years, I’ve made it a goal of mine to put myself in contention for that team."

He’s a wild card to make Team Canada given all the big names that are in play. But it’s the kind of game he plays that makes him an interesting choice.

"I don’t think I’m a guy that his whole game is surrounded by scoring and offense; I think there’s more to my game," said Ladd. "That’s where it started, playing a strong, 200-foot game and being detailed. That’s how I would make that team. I’ll just focus on that."

Eberle's Olympic dream

Oilers star forward Jordan Eberle wants to make Team Canada badly, but he’s not going to give himself added pressure every night in thinking Olympic management is watching.

"It's tough to go into a game and say, 'If I play well tonight, maybe they're watching.' You have to put that in the back of your mind. The way I look at it, if Edmonton gets off to a good start and you're making a strong contribution, that gives myself a chance,” said Eberle. "The biggest thing is that they’ll be looking at guys that can play 200 feet. Everyone knows I can score and I’m an offensive player, but if you can add the other dimension to your game, that’s how teams win and that’s the type of player they’re looking for."

Of interest during his interview with ESPN.com last week in New York: Eberle referred several times to wanting to play better defensively, not just individually, but as a team. He said the Oilers as a whole had to buy into that concept, and he underlined that Chicago’s star-studded team won the Cup only because the Hawks played a 200-foot game.

Are the young Oilers finally getting it?

Bob the goalie

Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t hiding his Olympic-motivated goals for the season.

It’s on his mind, big time, as his country gets set to host the Sochi Games in February.

"Yes, that would be an unbelievable experience to play in front of our fans at home," said Bobrovsky. "That chance comes once in a lifetime; not every sports men can have this chance."

Just like when Canada hosted the Games in 2010, Bobrovsky spoke of a hockey-mad nation dreaming of gold.

"They’re getting more and more excited. There is really big emotion right now in Russia."

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside contributed to this report.
From the official NHL release:

LADD, RICHARDS AND COUTURE NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK


NEW YORK (April 22, 2013) – Winnipeg Jets left wing Andrew Ladd, New York Rangers center Brad Richards and San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending April 21.

FIRST STAR – ANDREW LADD, LW, WINNIPEG JETS

Ladd led the NHL with eight points and six assists in three games to help the Jets pick up five out of a possible six points in their push for a playoff berth. He recorded three points (2-1—3), plus the shootout clincher, in a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning April 16. Ladd then tied a career high with three assists, including the primary helper on Dustin Byfuglien’s overtime winner, in a 4-3 triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes April 18. He capped the week by collecting two assists, including the primary helper on Bryan Little’s game-tying goal with 2:01 left in regulation, in a 5-4 shootout loss the New York Islanders April 20.
Ladd is currently on a career-high seven-game point streak (4-10—14) that dates to April 4. In 45 games this season, the 27-year-old Maple Ridge, B.C., native leads the Jets in goals (18), assists (28) and points (46).

SECOND STAR – BRAD RICHARDS, C, NEW YORK RANGERS

Richards led the League with four goals and tied for second with seven points in four games as the Rangers earned six out of a possible eight points to remain in the top eight in the Eastern Conference. After being held off the scoresheet in a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers April 16, Richards rebounded with a goal and an assist in a 6-1 win over the Florida Panthers April 18. He recorded his first career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in an 8-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres April 19. Richards then closed the week by posting two assists in a 4-1 triumph over the New Jersey Devils April 21. The 32-year-old Murray Harbour, P.E.I., native has played in 43 games this season and ranks third on the Rangers in both points (30) and assists (20).

THIRD STAR – LOGAN COUTURE, C, SAN JOSE SHARKS

Couture totaled 3-3—6, including two game-winning goals, in four games to help put the Sharks on the verge of clinching their ninth consecutive playoff berth. He scored the winning goal in a 4-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes April 15. Couture then posted a career-high four points (2-2—4), including the game-winner, in a 6-1 triumph over the Minnesota Wild April 18. He finished the week with one assist in a 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets April 21. In 45 games this season, the 24-year-old Guelph, Ont., native leads the Sharks with 19 goals and ranks second on the team in both points (35) and assists (16).

In terms of two teams headed on divergent paths, Thursday night’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets offered an interesting tableau.

In a game that promised little by way of cachet and buzz when the schedule came out in January, the match actually turned out to be one with significant implications as the Jets leapfrogged the Rangers in the standings with a 3-1 win at home and earned a spot among the top eight teams in the East.

The Jets, 4-0-1 in their past five games, are surpassing expectations and making a legitimate push to bring a playoff series to the MTS Centre this spring. Winners in seven of their past 10 games, the Jets are in eighth place with 30 points and 21 games left to play.

Leading the way for Winnipeg is captain Andrew Ladd, who tallied his 14th goal of the season Thursday. He’s getting help from Nik Antropov, who has six points in the past four games, and netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who has given up two goals or fewer in the past four games.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are skidding again after a four-game winning streak earlier this month that seemed to indicate they were shutting the door on their middling play.

Reamed out and ripped by coach John Tortorella for a wholly forgettable performance in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the downtrodden Sabres, the Rangers failed to respond again Thursday night.

As a result, the Blueshirts are now on the outside looking in as the Eastern Conference playoff picture continues to take shape. As of Friday morning, New York is in ninth place with 28 points.

Struggling sniper Marian Gaborik was held off the score sheet again despite a prime scoring opportunity on a breakaway and a subsequent penalty shot in the first period. Gaborik, whose streaky and inconsistent production has made him a liability and target of Tortorella’s fury, came up short on both against Pavelec.

Gaborik’s numbers aren’t shabby -- eight goals and 17 points -- but his play hasn’t been dependable enough to earn the trust of Tortorella or a lock on the team’s first two lines. Coming off a 41-goal season, Gaborik has scored once in the past 13 games and in only five of the Rangers' 26 games total.

Gaborik is not alone, as plenty of the Rangers’ offensive weapons have been less than stellar this season.

There is still plenty of time for the Rangers to right the ship. Heck, a lower playoff seed might not be the worst thing for them, either. (Imagine them getting a No. 6 seed, which would earn them a first-round series against whoever wins the weak Southeast division title.)

But the signs are not good. And with the parity (read: mediocrity) in the bottom half of the East, the Rangers will have to fend off some dark horses during the stretch run. As of Friday morning, both the Islanders (10th place, 27 points) and the Flyers (11th place, 25 points) are knocking on the door. Wouldn’t both those teams love to spoil the Rangers’ fun?

The Rangers wrap up a four-game road trip against the streaking Penguins on Saturday. If that’s not enough of a wake-up call, they might be in some real trouble.


Both sides in the NHL’s labor impasse are a little gun shy with new proposals.

You have to think that will soon change, but there have been no new proposals tabled by either the NHL or the NHL Players’ Association since their dueling, rejected offers on Sept. 12.

The NHL has been front and center in saying the process won’t progress until the players bring forward a new proposal.

The NHLPA in return feels like it’s been the only side willing to compromise at all in any of its previous offers.

My sense, in speaking to various sources over the past few days, is that both sides, to a degree, are a little trepid to drop the next new offer for fear that the other side will simply pocket whatever compromise is included in that new offer and then use it as part of a future offer.

There’s history here.

When the NHLPA dropped a bombshell offer in December 2004 to roll back salaries 24 percent, the league indeed pocketed that juicy baby in every single version of its future proposals, and, when the lockout ended in 2005, the 24 percent rollback was part of the new CBA.

Hence, the trepidation, especially from the NHLPA, of moving too soon with more compromises in a new offer.

The players’ negotiating committee (60-plus players) held a conference call Monday in which NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, according to sources, chatted with them about the fact the league wanted a new offer. The sense on the call was that the players feel like they’re negotiating against themselves at this point if they make another offer soon.

The league, conversely, will tell you it is the only side that has tangibly changed its offer three times, while the players -- in the NHL’s view -- keep offering a similar version of the same deal.

Regardless of the rhetoric from both sides, the only thing that will change this stalemate is a new offer with real compromise.

I think one of the theories on the NHLPA side is that because there’s no meaningful financial pressure until November on the players -- due to the fact the players are getting escrow checks from last season this month -- the league and owners are simply waiting them out.

Hence, when is the right time to deliver the next proposal?

Tick tock ...

NHL schedule



The league canceled two weeks’ worth of regular-season games Thursday, with more to come if bargaining talks remain at a standstill.

If and when there’s finally a new CBA, you can expect the NHL to try and cram as many games as possible into a schedule -- although not quite as crammed as the NBA made its schedule last season after its own lockout-shortened the year, the NHL cognizant of the safety factors for its players.

The 1994-95 NHL lockout-shortened season didn’t see a Stanley Cup awarded until June 24, and a source confirmed to ESPN.com that the NHL is comfortable using all of June to fit in a refitted schedule if need be.


More to Europe



With Claude Giroux now off to Berlin, that makes it four of the top five NHL leading scorers from last season taking their services overseas.

Giroux, third in NHL scoring last season, joins Evgeni Malkin (No. 1), Jason Spezza (No. 4) and Ilya Kovalchuk (No. 5) as lockout refugees across the pond.

That leaves No. 2 point-getter Steven Stamkos (who led the NHL with 60 goals) still here in North America. For now ...

It also leaves the game’s top player still on this side of the ocean. Sidney Crosby has indicated an interest in playing overseas at some point in time depending on the how the lockout went.

"Sidney continues his training," his agent Pat Brisson of CAA Sports told ESPN.com on Thursday. "There hasn't been any indication for him heading to Europe, although we are entertaining conversations with teams and leagues overseas. If the lockout persists, the conversations might become more serious."

Meanwhile, Martin Brodeur told ESPN.com via text message Wednesday that he would likely wait until the end of the month before deciding whether or not to pursue opportunities to play in Europe. While it’s generally harder for a goalie to find a job, given the smaller amount of openings, you have to imagine teams overseas would be lining up to have a chance to dress the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie.

And finally, Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd isn’t going to the KHL after all. Omsk announced his signing, but Ladd had a change of heart because of family reasons. A source told ESPN.com that while he had agreed to terms, the deal was never finalized.

Morning Links: Bryzgalov, CBA and more

September, 11, 2012
9/11/12
9:08
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CBA Talks:
  • Habs defenseman Josh Gorges spoke out against the owners on Monday, telling reporters, "As players we want to play. More than anything, the desire to play is what's guiding us. The owners, on the other hand, seem determined to impose a lockout. And so the players are going to use every tool at our disposal to stop them. Nothing is more destructive to bargaining than a lockout."
  • Leafs GM Brian Burke said the threat of a lockout killed the trade market this offseason, preventing Toronto from putting together the best roster to play new head coach Randy Carlyle's style, according to the National Post.
  • Sabres owner Terry Pegula wouldn't go into details about CBA negotiations because he didn't "want to lose draft picks," but said that there would be no lasting effect of the current animosity between players and owners, according to The Buffalo News.
  • With the NHLPA executive board meeting scheduled for next week, 12 to 13 Predators' players are expected to be in New York, according to The Tennessean.
  • Daniel Sedin wasn't very optimistic about CBA talks, telling The Globe and Mail, “I’m like anyone else: We’re too far apart right now to really be optimistic. But you never know, there’s four, five days to get things started. We’ll see what happens.”
  • Jets captain Andrew Ladd told the Winnipeg Sun he has looked into playing in Europe this season in case there is a lengthy lockout.


Morning jam: Overnight game facts

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
10:11
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• The Rangers completed a clean sweep of their six-game season series against the Flyers with a 5-3 win at Philadelphia on Tuesday night. It's the fifth time that a team has won every game in a season series of six or more games against the Flyers. The other Philadelphia opponents to do that were the Bruins in both 1970-71 and 1971-72 (both six games), the Rangers in 1971-72 (six games) and the Penguins in 2006-07 (eight games).

• Sidney Crosby tallied two goals and one assist to lead the Penguins to a 5-3 win at Boston. Crosby has scored 22 points in 12 games (5 goals, 17 assists) since March 15, when he returned to action after being sidelined for more than three months due to a concussion. That makes him the NHL scoring leader since that date, one point ahead of teammate Evgeni Malkin (21 points)

• Coyotes goalie Mike Smith’s 54 saves Tuesday night are the most in a shutout in the expansion era (since 1967-68).

• Patrik Elias scored the first goal in the Devils’ 3–1 win over the Islanders and he set up New Jersey’s second goal with an assist, his 50th of the season. Elias, who will turn 36 years old on April 13, has recorded 50 or more assists in one season only once before and that was 11 years ago (56 assists in 2000–01). He’s the first player in Devils franchise history (including the team’s years in Kansas City and Colorado) to register 50 or more assists in one season at age 30 or older. Before Elias, the oldest player in team history at the time he notched his 50th assist of a season was 29-year-old Scott Stevens in 1993–94.

• Maple Leafs rookie Matt Frattin scored a goal, recorded an assist and picked up the first fighting major of his NHL career all in the first period of Toronto's game in Buffalo. Frattin was only the second rookie in the last 18 seasons to register a "Gordie Howe hat trick" in a single period of one game. Brandon Dubinsky did that for the Rangers in the first period at Montreal on Feb. 19, 2008.

Derek Roy's second goal of the game capped the Sabres' comeback from a 3-0 deficit at the end of the first period and earned Buffalo a 6-5 overtime victory against the Maple Leafs. It was the sixth regular-season overtime goal of Roy's NHL and Sabres career, tying the Buffalo team record established by Thomas Vanek earlier this season (Nov. 8). Roy's two-goal performance was the 20th multiple-goal game of his NHL career and his fourth multigoal game against Toronto, his highest total versus any opponent.

• Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, who made 38 saves in his 2-1 win at Ottawa, is 12-2-6 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in the last 20 games in which he faced 30 or more shots on goal, dating back to Jan. 12.

• Andrew Ladd scored his second overtime goal in five days to cap the Jets' comeback from a 3-0 deficit and enable Winnipeg to post a 5-4 victory against the Panthers. Ladd, who beat Carolina in overtime last Friday, is the first player in Thrashers/Jets history to score two OT goals in such a short time frame. The previous record of two overtime goals in 11 days was set by Ilya Kovalchuk in 2002-03 and matched by Marian Hossa in 2007-08.

• Logan Couture ended his 10-game goalless streak with a power-play goal late in the second period that proved to be the game winner for the Sharks in their 5-2 victory at Dallas. Couture's 10-game dry spell matched the longest previous goal drought of his three-year NHL career. He went goalless in 10 consecutive games in 2009-10.

• Anders Lindback made 25 saves and went unscored upon in the shootout that earned him and the Predators a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild in Nashville. It was the Predators' first regular-season or playoff win on home ice that was recorded by a goaltender other than Pekka Rinne since Dec. 15, 2010, when Lindback beat San Jose, 3-2. Rinne, who missed Tuesday's game due to illness, recorded 40 regular-season and two playoff wins in Nashville between those two home-ice wins by Lindback.

Big night for McGinn, Karlsson, Ladd

March, 15, 2012
3/15/12
9:43
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• Jamie McGinn scored two goals for the Avalanche in its 5–4 shootout win at Buffalo, including a score-tying goal with 1.9 seconds remaining to play in the third period. McGinn has scored seven goals in the eight games he’s played since he was traded to Colorado by San Jose on deadline day (Feb. 27). He’s the sixth player in Nordiques/Avalanche franchise history to score at least seven goals in his first eight games with the team. The other players to do that were Real Cloutier (7), Wilf Paiement (7), Joe Sakic (8), Theo Fleury (8) and Marek Svatos (7).

• Erik Karlsson reached the 70-point mark this season with his score-tying goal in the third period of the Senators’ shootout loss at Montreal. The 21-year-old Karlsson (he won’t turn 22 until May 31) is the youngest NHL defenseman to score 70 points in one season since 1988–89, when the Rangers’ Brian Leetch hit the 70-point plateau less than a month after his 21st birthday.

• Andrew Ladd scored a pair of goals for the Jets in their 5–2 win over the Stars in Winnipeg. Ladd has scored 23 goals this season and 17 of them have come on home ice (including each of his last nine goals). Ladd’s percentage of goals scored in home games this season (74%) is the highest in the NHL among players with 20 or more goals. The Islanders’ John Tavares is a close second at 73 percent (22 of 30).
Rick Dudley doesn't know what his future is if the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, but he hasn't devoted too much time trying to figure it out, either.

"I don't have any control over that part of things," the Thrashers GM told ESPN.com Saturday. "Right now we have a draft coming up and meetings coming up, and obviously, we have a team to run. That's what I'm focused on. Of course, all the staff and all the scouts are nervous, but I told them we can only focus on the task at hand."

Dudley is scouting at the Memorial Cup Canadian junior championship with his staff this weekend. He is one of the game's great talent evaluators, and it is unknown what his future entails if or when True North Entertainment takes over the team, which could be as early as next week. Dudley did sign a four-year extension in January, which doesn't kick in until next season.

Meanwhile, there were more talks Friday between the Thrashers' ownership and True North Entertainment. But sources on both sides insisted to ESPN.com Friday night that a deal was still not quite done. One issue that still needs resolution requires a letter from the bank, and banks are closed Monday in Canada for Victoria Day.

Expect the purchase price to be around $170 million, which includes the relocation fee.

Talks didn't begin between Atlanta and Winnipeg until last weekend when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gave both sides the green light to commence the process, a source told ESPN.com. They were waiting for the Coyotes' situation to figure itself out first.
Once an agreement is finally reached, the deal requires full NHL Board of Governors treatment at a June 21 meeting in New York. There would be two votes on the table:

  1. The ownership transfer, which requires a three-fourths membership vote for approval.
  2. The relocation, which requires only a majority (16 votes).


And by the way, even if the Thrashers and True North agree to a deal, the board of governors and the league reserve the right to explore the possibility of keeping the team in Atlanta if a local interest suddenly pops up in the wake of the Winnipeg announcement. It's highly unlikely in my opinion, but it's a right the league has nonetheless.

Realignment would very likely wait another year, meaning Winnipeg would play one season in the Southeast Division, because the league believes all board members deserve a say on the matter. All kinds of scenarios are in play. This might be a chance to do a massive overhaul of the league's divisions and conferences, not just switch one team with another, a source told ESPN.com Friday.

Meanwhile, Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd was close to signing a long-term extension near the end of the regular season, but the two sides weren't able to close the gap. Now that's obviously on hold because of the franchise situation. But people shouldn't read into it that he doesn't want to play in Winnipeg. It simply was a case that both sides couldn't close the deal.

As you might imagine, the Winter Classic dominated our weekly rants. Again, yet another reminder that the rant blog is for RANTS. If you have hockey questions, check in with me during my weekly chats (Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET). Let's get at it:

GolfingDevil05: The Winter Classic is a great example of why the NHL is different from the other three major team sports in North America. If you try to market this as a matchup of the two best players (as opposed to it being about those players' teams), you end up with a storyline where neither of them scored a point in the game, which means that to the sports fans who know nothing about hockey, the game is a failure. Welcome to hockey: Things don't always go as planned.

For next year's game, why not think outside of the states of Pennsylvania, New York or Massachusetts? I know the press seems to [think] everyone in the country lives there, but in reality, we've got some great teams out in the Western Conference that should be showcased. I think the game that no one seems to be talking about that would be a fantastic match up is L.A. vs. Colorado at Invesco Field in Denver. Two good, rising young teams that look poised to be dominant forces over the next several years meeting head-to-head outdoors seems like a can't miss matchup to anyone who isn't myopically attached to the idea that TV audiences only matter on the East Coast.

My take: Funny you should mention Kings-Avs in Denver because that’s just the matchup I was talking about with colleagues over the weekend in Pittsburgh. Both clubs are young, exciting teams. I spoke with an Avs source who said that while the team is interested in hosting a Winter Classic, there are some factors the Avs want to examine as well. So they're a little hesitant at this point, it would appear to me anyway. The Rangers-Flyers matchup for next year, one which I reported over the weekend, is not the media's idea as you said above, but rather a concept the league is really excited about, according to a source. So don't shoot the messenger here. I'm not even sure the Flyers are that interested at this point, but I know the NHL would love that matchup. As NHL COO John Collins intimated at a news conference last week in Pittsburgh, the Winter Classic is not a democratic process in which all 30 teams will get to host it. The league will focus on big markets and maybe even return to some (i.e. Chicago, Boston) over the next decade.

kap9562: Pierre, YOU ARE A CANADIAN!!!! Since that is the case, why have you not done a rebuttal article against your buddy Scott Burnside who suggested there is no need for the Heritage Classic in Canada! I mean I agree with him that the Winter Classic is important to gain new fans in the U.S.A and I'm not even against only using American teams for it. BUT we could at least have another outdoor game for the nation that Gary Bettman himself called "the engine of the NHL," cant we? Just because Canada is a hockey hotbed does not mean it should be ignored, the mid to late 90's should teach us that when Canada gets hurt by the NHL (Winnipeg and Quebec leaving), it does effect NHL interest in Canada, which was lower than then it is now. GROW THE GAME IN BOTH COUNTRIES NOT JUST ONE! STICK UP FOR YOUR ROOTS MAN!

My take: I am Canadian, but I'm totally in agreement with Burnside on this one. I think the NHL made a critical mistake in handing out a second NHL outdoor game. What makes the Winter Classic so special is that it's once a year, it's unique, that's why sponsors, advertisers and TV folks are drooling over it. Now with two games 50 days apart, well, I think you run a great risk of diluting that product. I shared this sentiment with NHL COO John Collins, and while he agreed there is merit on both sides of the debate, he feels both events will have a way to make themselves special in their own way. Listen, I want fans in my country to enjoy outdoor NHL hockey as well. But my solution would be to have a Canadian team in the Winter Classic every four to five years. NBC may not like it, but the selling point to the TV network in my opinion is that you're preserving the uniqueness of one outdoor game a year by doing so. I'm working the Heritage Classic in Calgary next month, so it may very well be that at the end of the event I will have had a change of heart after witnessing it, but right now I think the league made a bad call in staging two of these. Not the least of which is that I’m worried for the health of NHL ice guru Dan Craig!

fbullock: Happy New Year Mr. LeBrun and the fine folks of the ESPN Rant board,

There are several subjects I would love to tee off on for my first rant of 2011, Jacques Lemaire getting more NJ love, Roloson to TB "Did Stevie Y. get the goalie he wanted or the goalie he didn't want others to get?", the price Mr. Burke is really asking for Versteeg or the fact the Caps officially found a shrink that healed those mental wounds. Instead, I will go with the masses and point out my top 3 rants for the WC. Let’s lock and load and see what falls out of the tree.

1. You have to stop play in the third period. I know we have all been told that the players didn't mind and how much they enjoyed playing outside, but I bet if you took an honest poll, some of those players would probably want to play without helmets, I mean we are talking about a league who said they are concerned about player safety, remember the concussion debate. Players play with passion, fans watch because they love the game and the sport is upheld with Integrity and I feel the NHL brass skipped out on their part of that equation.

2. The game was moved to 8 p.m. and from what I see still grabbed 4.6M viewers in the 18 to 49 range. The NHL should take a hard look at this with the upcoming TV contract, the regular season (Price $), the playoffs (Price $$), the WC ($$$) and the finals ($$$$).

3. WC came close to Mother Nature getting on the scoreboard. Come Feb. 20th the NHL better have a better plan.

My take: First of all, you take it to the bank that the WC is indeed a primary subject in the future TV talks that will take place over the next several months. But let's deal with your first point, which I totally agree with and mentioned in our wrap-up video at Heinz Field. I think the league should have delayed play when the rain came down at its hardest. I know the players told me after the game it wasn’t that bad, but it shouldn’t be up to them to make that assertion. We talked all week long about being prepared for the kind of weather delays you see at baseball games or golf events, and so I think the league could have delayed the game 5-10 minutes during the worst part of the rain shower. Still, it didn't overshadow what was once again a gigantic success as an event.

Meohfumado: Shootout is an abomination. A game is worth two points in regulation, but then goes to OT and is suddenly worth three points?

You want to keep the shootouts, fine, change the point system.

Three points for a regulation win. Two points for an OT/shootout win, and one point for an OT/shootout loss. Of course, that would make the standings look pretty silly with having to list teams "Wins, OT Wins, Losses, OT losses" ...but that's what you get with a shootout.

My take: Well, my friend, you found a receptive soul with that rant. I'm tired of the shootout. It's a gimmick. And for a long time, I've also pushed for a three-point regulation-time win. It's something that NHL GMs actually broached in February 2004 at their meeting in Henderson, Nev., the same historic meeting that produced many of the post-lockout changes including the removal of the red line for two-line passes, the crackdown on obstruction and yes, the shootout. Keep the faith, though, Red Wings GM Ken Holland has pushed for a revamp of the overtime period, which also calls for three-on-three hockey. That should, in theory, increase the chances of overtime ending with a goal and result in fewer shootouts. The GMs plan to chew on his idea once again at their March meetings. Having said that, Holland may lose in his bid because shootouts are down this season. Through Monday night, there have been 62 shootouts compared with a whopping 95 at the same point last season when the league set the record. GMs may feel an OT format change isn’t needed if it turns out last season's record number of shootouts was an aberration.

BlackhawksFan22: Why oh why did we let Andrew Ladd escape? He had obvious character for a young team on their way to the Cup last year. His leadership is evident by Atlanta naming him their team captain. His loss hurts a little more than others because we could use some of that character about now.

Shame we never found a replacement for Big Buff. The blue line sure could use a big body like him to give Keith/Seabrook a breather. Lord knows Boynton and Hjalmarsson are both lost right now.

My take: I spoke with a Blackhawks observer recently and he said as the Hawks entered the offseason readied for a massive dump of players, the one player he hoped wouldn't move was Ladd. Now we see why. The Hawks really miss his grit and size and now with an increased role in Atlanta, he's showing his hands, too. Imagine that Ladd missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals and the first three games of the Stanley Cup finals and the Hawks didn’t even miss a beat.

Used_Puck_Bag: Venting …

1. Go back to the old division/conferences... I don't care to "grow" the game at the expense of tradition. The divisions are jacked up anyway... Colorado in the Northwest? Maybe if you live in Florida... geez.

2. Bring back the old school sweaters... Philly, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto got it right, so why not other teams? Calgary's is horrid. Edmonton needs to make their third jersey their first. Buffalo... lose the pin stripe. L.A. needs their purple/yellow back so we can make fun of it again.

3. Lose the Thrashers and Panthers, and give K.C. their scouts and Winnipeg their Jets.

4. Goalies... your masks and pads look like Technicolor vomit. Again, consider "old school."

5. Loose a ref... two is too many and they crowd the ice.

6. How many more sticks are going to break at crucial moments before they bring back wooden ones? I wanna see a lumber revival.

7. Less games in the season... hockey in June is too much; 70-72 games a season is just as well.

8. Winter Classics in Canada... Montreal and Toronto with the puck drop by Bob and Doug McKenzie. An HBO TV series will follow Bob and Doug as they prepare for the game.

9. Mullets need to be mandatory for players.

10. Outlaw cheerleaders at games along with techno music. Swedish players will just have to get used to no techno.

11. Bill Clement needs to be front and center again on a national stage... he's the best announcer/host going.

My take: Bob and Doug McKenzie, Strange Brew! Get lost, eh! Great rant by the way. Nothing for me to add. Classic.

District 5ive: I've got one for you.... Jonas Hiller. Has anyone faced more shots than this guy? No. Does anyone have more wins than him? Barely -- only Howard with 20 compared to Hiller's 19. Top 5 in save percentage among starters (tied with Quick at .925). Respectable GAA with 2.54, considering the Duck's D is shaky at best. Basically, what I'm saying is that this guy is forced to stand on his head night in and night out and is the only constant that merits the Ducks fifth in the West. The Ducks game is offense. Defense is an afterthought. Jonas is left to fend for himself, and I think he is doing remarkably well. Definitely a top 10 tender in my book this year if I was building a team. He was the only guy to show up in a Swiss sweater (as expected) in last years Olympic tournament. And probably the best part about everything is his flat black bucket with a gold cage. Please give this guy his props.

My take: Hiller has indeed faced more shots, 1,159, than any goalie in the NHL. Cam Ward and Carey Price are the only other goalies over 1,000 as of Tuesday morning. Of course, the reason Hiller has faced more shots is because the Ducks' blue line has its issues, which was the expectation heading into the season. The Ducks are 30th in the league in shots allowed per game, averaging a whopping 34.6 per game. Hence Hiller's increased workload. And I agree, he's responded with an All-Star season. The Vezina? That's going to be tough competition. Right now, I think Tim Thomas and Ondrej Pavelec are 1-2. After that, I agree Hiller deserves to be in the mix along with Cam Ward, Carey Price, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist. (Can’t put Marc-Andre Fleury in there because he decided to take the first six weeks of the season off.)

Our top 10 surprises so far this season

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
11:27
AM ET

Steven Stamkos is the story of the opening quarter pole. The goal-a-game wunderkind has become an inspiring model of what hard work and dedication, combined with oodles of talent, can yield on the ice. But surprising? Not that much after last season's shared Rocket Richard honors with Sidney Crosby.

Here's a list of the 10 players that have so far surprised the hockey world (and feel free to come up with others!):

10. Andrew Ladd, Atlanta Thrashers

The newly named Thrashers captain is easily on pace to eclipse his career high of 49 points with Chicago two seasons ago, putting up 23 points (8-15) in 22 games as of Friday morning. Atlanta knew it was getting solid two-way game, leadership, character and toughness in Ladd, but did it count on him leading the team in scoring?

9. Marc Methot, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Jackets have had a lot of surprising performances but I keyed on this lad, who is playing top-four minutes while posting the second-best plus-minus on the team. Jackets GM Scott Howson also singled him out a few weeks ago to ESPN.com as a player who has delivered more than expected.

8. John-Michael Liles, Colorado Avalanche

It's safe to say no one had the 30-year-old leading all NHL blueliners in scoring at the quarter pole; combined with a plus-11 rating, he's been dynamite. Not bad for a guy seemingly always involved in trade rumors every season.


7. Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings

OK, of all the choices at hand before the season, would any Kings fan have predicted Williams would be leading the team in scoring at Thanksgiving? Three straight injury-riddled seasons made you wonder if the former 76-point scorer could ever get it together again, but this season he's been the Williams of old. Here's hoping he stays healthy.

6. Ondrej Pavelec, Atlanta Thrashers

We're happy he's playing again after that scary early-season collapse, and he's been out of this world since his return. As of Friday morning, the goalie's .942 save percentage and 1.84 GAA are both third in the league (he never had a GAA under 3.00 before in his NHL career).

5. Brian Boyle, New York Rangers

The 25-year-old had 12 goals combined in three previous NHL seasons. He had 10 as of Friday morning. What the heck is going on? For starters, he worked on his skating with former world pairs figure skating champion Barb Underhill in the offseason, as recounted in a nice "Hockey Night in Canada" feature by my pal Elliotte Friedman in October.

4. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

That a former Vezina Trophy winner is having a great season is hardly a surprise on its own. But let's be honest -- when Tuukka Rask earned the No. 1 job last season, few people thought he'd ever relinquish it, especially with Thomas on the north side of 35. But surprise, surprise, indeed. Thomas told ESPN.com earlier this season that offseason hip surgery, along with a mental recharge, helped him get reenergized for this season. At 11-1-1 with a league-leading .955 save percentage, what else can you say?

3. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Look back to most season previews in September and click on Montreal. Not too many people figured Price could fill Jaroslav Halak's skates after the Slovak's sensational (some would say miraculous) playoff performance last season. The pressure on Price this fall in one of hockey's biggest fishbowls was out of this world. And what does he do? Exceed anyone's expectations, except perhaps his own. Leading the NHL in wins at Thanksgiving? Raise your hand if you honestly predicted that would happen.

2. Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers

The naysayers were aplenty when the Thrashers announced before camp that Byfuglien would play defense this season. Why move this past spring's clutch power forward to defense? Made no sense, the critics said. Well, Byfuglien isn't going to turn into Rod Langway anytime soon in the defensive zone, but ranking second in the league among blueliners in scoring while playing quality minutes and not being a minus easily qualifies him as a nice surprise (unless, of course, you are GM Rick Dudley, coach Craig Ramsay or Byfuglien himself).

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers center Danny Briere remembers first seeing the Russian at a skate with Flyers teammates before camp.

"At first I had no clue who that goalie was. Then we started taking penalty shots at the end of the practice. We couldn't score on him," Briere said with a laugh. "I was like, 'Who's this junior kid?' Then we realized who he was and that he'd likely start the season in [AHL] Adirondack."

With Michael Leighton out due to injury, Bob the Goalie made his North American debut to open the NHL season. And with a 12-3-1 record at Thanksgiving, that is a surprise!

1. Handling Campbell situation

At this stage there are no plans for the league's owners and other big brains to discuss the Colin Campbell fiasco and/or the broader issue of how the league handles supplemental discipline at the Board of Governors' meeting two weeks hence in Florida.

The league's position on this is simple, there are no plans to discuss either topic because neither is an issue.

OK then, off to the first tee.

But surely among the 30 owners there is at least one who, having watched all of the discussion surrounding the embarrassing revelation that Campbell made snide if not wholly inappropriate comments to the former head of officiating about, among other things, his son NHLer Gregory Campbell, Marc Savard and the incompetence of some on-ice officials, might raise his hand and say, uh, wait a minute.

Surely at least one owner is wondering if Campbell is the right man to continue in the job. Surely at least one owner is wondering if some discussion of the entire process might actually benefit the game.

Anyone remember the old television series (and before that hit movie) "M.A.S.H."? One of the ongoing bits in that popular series was Col. Henry Blake blithely signing any number of documents Cpl. Radar O'Reilly placed in front of him, a human rubber stamp. The NHL's governors are viewed in much the same way. They receive information, recommendations and the like from the GMs and the competition committee and, generally speaking, nod their heads as one without so much as a single note of opposition.

In this situation, given that the integrity of one of the league's top executives has been brought fairly or not into the spotlight, it would be refreshing to see at least one of the 30 have the temerity to raise his hand and offer up some level of concern. Heck, maybe even ask for some sort of review of the entire process. Even if the league continues to insist the issue doesn't exist.

2. Semin changing perception


Regardless of just how many goals he scores and how many points he puts up, there has always been a temptation to be dismissive of Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin. In general he was considered a strictly one-dimensional player that, while wildly gifted, couldn't be counted on in the crunch.

Quietly, that notion is changing, at least internally, as head coach Bruce Boudreau turns to Semin more and more in key situations, including using him more frequently on the penalty kill even as he continues to pile up the points.

"It was a work in progress last year," Boudreau said this week. Sometimes Semin would cheat while killing penalties, worried more about creating a scoring chance.

"Now he's a lot better at it," said Boudreau, who recalled that GM George McPhee watched Semin in a more complete role for Russia at the World Championships two years ago and that sparked the idea that he could take on a bigger role with the Caps.

Boudreau and regular linemate Brooks Laich both pointed to a maturity in Semin's game.

"I think he's become consistent which is the opposite of streaky I guess," Boudreau said.

Laich thinks Semin's game can be marked by what he's not doing and not necessarily by what he is doing.

"I think he's limited his faults," Laich told ESPN.com, like cutting down on bad penalties and turnovers and knowing when to make the simple play.

How good is Semin, who began the week tied for second in the league in goals (14) and tied for third in points (26)?

The temptation is to suggest the sky is the limit. Two years ago today, for instance, Semin had 13 goals, 14 assists and was second in the league in scoring behind Evgeni Malkin, but injuries cost him 20 games and he still finished with 79 points in 62 games.

Laich, for one, thinks the 26-year-old deserves to be considered among the best in the league.

Laich rhymes off the names of captain Alex Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom and Semin and said, "I would put those three guys up against anybody."

"They have to be top five in the NHL," he said.

Even though he's been in the league since the 2003-04 season, Semin's command of the English language remains rudimentary at best. Still, through new PR staffer Sergey Kocharov, Semin told ESPN.com that he feels honored Boudreau has enough confidence in him to use him in a variety of situations, including killing penalties.

"I'm very excited that he's trusted me to be on the penalty kill," Semin said. "I'm happy that he's given me that responsibility."

What makes the Semin situation so intriguing is that if he can indeed remain a consistent contributor, the Caps' chances of getting over the playoff hump increase dramatically. It won't hurt Semin's bankbook, either, as he can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the coming season.

3. Ladd is Thrashers best choice


Although the Atlanta Thrashers waited until the season was almost a quarter over to make a decision on naming a captain, head coach Craig Ramsay and GM Rick Dudley made what appears to be the only logical choice in sewing the "C" on Andrew Ladd's jersey.

Ladd, a role player on Cup-winning teams in Chicago and Carolina, has blossomed into a go-to guy in the Thrashers' locker room, leading the team with 21 points in 21 games.

When we sat down with Dudley before the season, the new Thrashers GM pointed to Ladd as a crucial piece to the evolving Atlanta puzzle. Although Ladd has never hit the 20-goal mark in his career, Dudley felt the former fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft had the potential for that and more given the expanded role envisioned for him in Atlanta. And Ladd has thrived under Ramsay. Not that Ladd's point totals were the only factor or even a consideration in honoring him with the captaincy.

"I think he plays hard every night," Ramsay said. "He's done everything. We've used him in every situation and he's responded. He earned the right."

Ladd's calming presence in the Atlanta locker room will be key in prodding the young team into the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. But if there's one thing going for Ladd, it's his ability to draw from his own experience.

He's watched a young captain in Jonathan Toews grow into the role in Chicago. And he watched veteran Rod Brind'Amour set the tone for a Carolina team that won a Cup coming out of the lockout.

The challenge, he told ESPN.com, will be finding the right moments to say something and when to hold back, when to address a player in private as opposed to saying something publicly.

One thing that will come naturally to Ladd will be the ability to lead by example, a characteristic that all great leaders seem to possess.

4. Hall selection committee under spotlight


With the passing of much-loved former coach Pat Burns to cancer on Friday, Burns' snub by the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee has once again became a talking point. We, like almost every hockey fan and/or observer with an opposable thumb, lamented the selection committee's oversight last June when Burns did not secure enough votes for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Instead the committee saw fit to induct marginal (in terms of Hall of Fame credentials) player Dino Ciccarelli along with former Calgary Flames owner D.K. "Doc" Seaman and longtime Detroit executive Jim Devellano in the builder category, along with two women, Angela James and Cammi Granato, in the newly established women's category.

The selection process, often under assault from the outside, has never had its integrity more questioned than with the Class of 2010.

With Burns' passing, the selection committee will once again be under the spotlight and things don't look to get any easier for a group that includes some of the most respected men in the game.

Let's assume they get it right and induct Burns next year.

Once again the committee will come under a hail of criticism for having waited a year too long to honor Burns. Worse, it will look as though they simply knuckled under to the pressure of missing the chance to induct Burns while he was still alive, even though everyone knew he was gravely ill.

The only way the Burns induction does not become sullied is if the selection process undergoes a significant change before the 2011 class is announced next June. A number of members of the selection committee have been lobbying for changes to the process.

Ultimately, if the Hall wants to avoid tarring future inductees with needless controversy, the committee needs to find a way to do away with the Byzantine process that marks the current process. The selection committee needs to make the selection process more transparent, as is the case with other sports.

Here's hoping they can find a way to do the right thing if for no other reason than to ensure that Burns enters the Hall of Fame as the worthy inductee he is without having the moment diminished by the Hall's own flaws.

5. Richardson family tragedy


A final word on an inconceivably difficult week for former player and current Ottawa assistant coach Luke Richardson and the Senators. Richardson's teenage daughter Daron, 14, took her own life last weekend. Instead of following what would have been the natural reaction, to close ranks, to turn in and away from the tragedy, the family bravely turned outward. The Richardsons celebrated their daughter's life at a memorial attended by some 5,000 people. The decision not to ignore what happened -- a press release confirming Daron's death included the cause of death, a marked departure from how these matters are normally handled -- allowed for greater discussion of the issues of teen suicide and mental health.

Who knows what good will come from an indescribably difficult time for the Richardsons, but one has to believe their handling of the moment ensures that some good will indeed come from this pain. Beyond that, kudos to the Senators, who changed their travel plans to return home for the service and then jetted to Carolina for a game that night. That the Senators lost in Carolina that night will be but a footnote to the greater story of how an organization rallied to be at the side of one of its own. There are some NHL teams that could learn a valuable lesson from the Ottawa Senators on what it means to be professional.

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