Your best rants from this week

January, 12, 2010

My word, we are angst-driven puckheads, are we not? Another weekly look at some of your rants:

bmc7919: I'm an Oilers fan. Have been all my life. Been through all the highs and lows, but this has to be the lowest point for the team and entire fan base. Not only does it look like the entire team has quit and plays with no emotion and are hoping to get the number one draft pick, the whole New Years incident in Calgary makes me disappointed to be a fan of this team. There's so many things that are wrong and need to be changed that I'm not even going to list it. To be honest, the only part of the team and organization that I'd keep around right now is Pat Quinn. There needs to be changes from top to bottom starting with the front office and ending with the bottom guy on the depth chart. I'm so mad right now writing this that I'm going to stop before I punch a whole in my computer screen at work.

My take: Now that's a rant! Hang in there, bud. Hopefully some better days ahead for you and your team. For starters, let's get excited about Jordan Eberle, who is looking like a steal at 22nd overall in the 2008 NHL draft. I guess that's still not enough to dull your anger, though.

It's been a brutal season for the Oilers. The long-term injuries to star forward Ales Hemsky and star goalie Nikolai Khabibulin have been devastating. The question you have to ask yourself is whether the team would be battling for a playoff spot with them in the lineup. If you feel in your heart of hearts the answer is no, then there's a lot of work to be done here. I know it's frustrating, and Oilers fans are among the most loyal and passionate in the game. But take a look at the 2003-04 overall NHL standings, and you'll see Washington was 28th in the league, Chicago 29th and Pittsburgh 30th. My point is, as bleak as it was in those markets, the thing this salary-cap era system allows is for fairly quick turnaround.

Add a Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin or Cam Fowler to your lineup for next season, get Hemsky back healthy, make a few other changes, and suddenly the Oilers could be knocking at the playoff door. Seriously. The gap between the great and the bad in this league has never been so small.

noalbastian: Pierre, I have a question about that disallowed goal by Gagne in Pittsburgh the other night. It turns out that whoever was supposed to, didn't send all of the footage to the war room. What is the official policy on footage required to be sent up to Toronto? Can home arenas just not send some footage? (P.S.: We played pond hockey in central Virginia yesterday! How awesome is that?!)

My take: I had a quite a few rants about this situation this week. I checked with the NHL and a league spokesman said local broadcasts are "required to provide all angles."

sbrhwkp3: I'm getting sick and tired of hockey fans discrediting the Sabres for their impressive run in the first half of the season. Ryan Miller has been fantastic, but you don't end up in second in the conference without a good team in front of your goaltender either. See Luongo in Florida.

My take: Agreed. Miller has been their MVP, no question, but there's plenty more on this team, starting with Calder Trophy candidate Tyler Myers. The one thing you'll hear from Sabres players is that they are trying to be much better in front of Miller. Coach Lindy Ruff has worked hard at transforming the firewagon Sabres from 2005-06 and 2006-07 into a more balanced team that makes smarter decisions to protect its own end.

Having said all that, and not to get you mad at me, sbrhwkp3, but as of Monday, the Sabres were ranked only 24th in shots allowed per game, allowing 31.9 per contest, a little high for my liking. Among the teams sitting in a playoff spot, only Montreal and Colorado have allowed more. Still, the Sabres are third in goals against per game, which everyone on the team can take some credit for; but, given the shots against, no one more so than Miller.

moitosoa: The Bruins' luck as of late is killing me! Every time I turn around something new happens! First it was losing Kessel, then at the beginning of the season Savard and Lucic went down with injuries; then as soon as Lucic comes back he goes down. Now just as Lucic makes his return, Bergeron goes down for a few weeks THEN Savard hurts his knee and is out for 3-6 weeks! If there was ever a time to make a move for some offense now is the time …

My take: It really is unbelievable how banged up the Bruins have been all season. They are like the Red Wings East. But trading for help isn't as easy as it sounds. One thing that continues to be vastly misunderstood by fans five years into this collective bargaining agreement is how the injury/cap system works. An injured player does not "come off the cap" as many people keep believing to be the case. The only cap relief a team can get is if an injured player is gone for the year. Then the club in question can go over the cap by the same amount as the injured player's salary, but only if that player doesn't return in the same season. Otherwise, trading for a player while an injured player is on LTI only creates cap chaos when that player returns because the team must have room under the cap for both players.

Get it? That's why you saw the Red Wings do absolutely nothing all season long despite all the injuries to key players, because those key players were all due to return this season and need to fit under the salary cap. Boston is in a similar crunch. I think the Bruins will need to wait until closer to the March 3 trade deadline (when salaries have the lowest possible cap hit since the season is almost over) to make their move(s). And yes, I do think Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli will try to acquire top-six forward help at that time.

slezly: My rant is in regard to your opposition to a goalie winning the Hart Trophy. I do not see how you could argue that goaltenders do not need the Hart when they have the Vezina for best goaltender. Should defensemen also be excluded since they have the Norris? Forwards have numerous awards that they can win in addition to the Hart. I honestly just don't understand the argument.

My take: Rarely does a pitcher win the MVP award. The Cy Young is a huge honor and plenty good enough for them. Ditto for the Vezina with goalies. It's just my own personal view -- you don't have to like it!

sluesh53: Why are the Penguins last in the league on the power play!?! They have 2 of the best players in the league, including 2 of the past three Art Ross Trophy winners. Why don't they have Crosby man the short wall like Lemieux used to, and essentially make him the quarterback of the power play, which gives him an opportunity to pass to all areas of the ice and makes him a shooting threat from a close distance? Also the Penguins need to stop looking for the perfect pass, and shoot the puck at the net! It is pathetic to have a 2 of the best players in the league (plus Gonchar on the point) and have a worse power play than the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes!

My take: Sometimes great, talented players get too cute on the power play and overthink the simple plays. I think there's a lot of that going on with the Pens' power play right now. I brought in former Penguins Cup champion and current Pittsburgh color man Bob Errey for more on the team's power-play struggles this season:

"We did have the injury to Sergei Gonchar; that's obviously big, but that doesn't account for all of it," Errey told on Monday. "Another thing is that [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin like to occupy the same spot, the right-wing wall, but you can't have both there. You need one of them to accept another role. And they really don't have a natural front-of-the net presence, they haven't had that since Ryan Malone left.

"You could put Jordan Staal there, but he's so versatile everywhere that you can't play him 35 minutes a game. Maybe you try Mike Rupp? He's a big guy. In the end, it's easy for me to say. They just need to shoot more, get more bodies and pucks to the net. The common solution is usually finding a way for five guys to outwork the other four. But with the talent on this team, surely it'll break at some point."

Chimeros: Pierre, I just don't understand it. My Canes have been the worst team in the NHL this year. Aaron Ward has been a complete bust, Brind'Amour has officially quit, and it seems like the team doesn't care, except for Ray Whitney and Joe Corvo. Now, it's 2010, and suddenly, we're 3-1 in the new decade, and we actually look like a professional team again. Where was this team at the beginning of the year!?

My take: There's been a lot going on with this team, on and off the ice, which resulted in a nightmarish first half. The injuries to key guys, notably star goalie Cam Ward, hammered this team. Eric Staal had a personal situation to deal with (his sister-in-law's death), and that clearly weighed on him. Now, everyone is pretty much healthy and the team is playing like it should have to begin with. That's bad news if you're a Carolina fan because you know it's too late to make the playoffs, but it's not too late to win too many games in the second half and mess up a chance at Taylor Hall/Tyler Seguin/Cam Fowler in the draft. Lose, Carolina, lose!

applefrank: Is there reason I shouldn't kill myself? --Toronto Maple Leafs fan

My take: Ouch. Yes, as someone who lives here in Toronto, I see firsthand what you Leafs fans are going through. That the team wasn't going to be that good is hardly a revelation, but not having the first-round pick in June to go along with that performance is what is eating away at many of my buddies in this town.

But you asked for reasons not to kill yourself as a Leafs fan: How about Phil Kessel, Jonas Gustavsson, Nazem Kadri and Jerry D'Amigo. Not a long list, but a start. Also, keep in mind the Leafs have a bunch of players whose contracts are expiring. The turnover will continue. GM Brian Burke won't be shy about using that newfound cap space to go after other unrestricted free agents in July. He's also got the financial muscle to take bad contracts from other NHL teams in exchange for top picks or prospects and stuff those bad contracts in the AHL. I know it doesn't look good right now, but hang in there.

hawkjaw1: I'm so tired of my Blackhawks. I don't even recognize this team. For years I have come to love their failures and I depend on their lack of offense. I had so much to complain about, and I love to complain. Now they decide to be awesome? Great, thanks guys. Now what will I do with my time?

My take: Ah, so cute. Enjoy it now my friend; the CBA won't allow your team to be this stacked forever.

jchen16: OK, Pierre, here's ripping one on ESPN. In your recent article "Read and weep! Our midseason awards," you nominated Crosby, Thornton, Ovechkin, Gaborik, Miller, and Bryzgalov as your Hart Trophy nominees. Decent candidates, to be sure, but how come there was ZERO mention of Vancouver's Henrik Sedin? Talk about an east coast bias -- only two of your six nominees are from the West despite it being a much stronger conference and the league's leading scorer (second at the time of the article) barely got even a whisper. Not only has he solidified himself as a bona fide number one pivot, he's single-handedly managed to keep the Canucks afloat despite key injuries to Luongo, Demitra, and twin brother Dan. And did you know that the new West Coast Express has a higher point-per-game average than the previous one? ... What's up with that, Pierre?

My take: First of all, anyone who knows my work knows that I stay up at night and watch all the West Coast games (much to my wife's chagrin). I'm in constant communication with West Coast teams. I keep an eye on all 30 teams -- no East Coast bias here, my friend. Secondly, you make a great point on Henrik, and in retrospect, I should have included him as one of my candidates. But I also knew at the time of writing, Scott Burnside was going to make the case for him in our "10 Questions" piece, so I left Sedin for Scotty. Still, because I'm a big boy, I will admit I should have listed him as a candidate, even if I can't tell the twins apart. I hope you will still allow me to enter your fair city next month for the Olympics.

49ersFan79: Hey Pierre, I watched you and Scott Burnside the other day and you talked about how it will take 100 points to make it in the West whereas only 85 in the East. Now, I don't want to make excuses for my San Jose Sharks and their playoff failures, but the West has been consistently dominant over the East for several years now, if not the entire 2000s decade. … In all fairness, Crosby, Ovechkin, and Parise play in a conference where only 3 teams are very solid while a team like San Jose is always facing a top opponent that would usually be seeded 4th or 5th in the East. I am saying that it is much easier for a team in the East to go deeper into the playoffs than a team in the West.

And so after that I ask this question: At the upcoming GM meetings, is there any hope for an interconference playoff with 1-16 seedings where a team like San Jose or Chicago can play the weak East teams (the type of team they deserve to play instead of the 100 point Western team they will get) like the Rangers or Senators to cope for the lack of talent in the East with the top-tier talent of the West (7/10 of the teams sending 6-plus Olympians are in the West)?

My take: There's almost no chance the NHL will change the playoff structure so that it's one versus 16, etc., as we had briefly some 30 years ago. The NHL very much likes its playoff structure the way it is. You make an excellent point about the Western teams having a tougher road to get to the Cup finals over the last few seasons; I agree wholeheartedly with that. But it goes in cycles. Eventually, the East will be stronger and we'll be hearing these arguments the other way around.

Look at football. The AFC has been superior to the NFC for more than a decade, most will argue; but this season, most of the pundits I've been listening to talk about the amazing depth of good teams in the NFC. So perhaps the tide is finally turning around in that sport. Especially with the salary-cap system and liberalized free agency, the talent pool is constantly moving in the NHL, and eventually the East will catch up.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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