Stanley Cup Final Preview- Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Stanley Cup Final 2013 Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks

bruins vs blackhawks

  • Game 1-Wed June 12 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 2-Sat June 15 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBCSN
  • Game 3-Mon June 17 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBCSN
  • Game 4-Wed June 19 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 5-Sat June 22 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 6-Mon June 24 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 7-Wed June 26 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC

Here we are hockey fans; the Series is upon us. Today, the Stanley Cup Final gets started in Chicago and, as hockey fans, we should be in for a treat. Both teams enter the series on incredible tears with Chicago going 7-1 in its last 8 games, and Boston boasting a 9-1 record in its last 10 contests. Both teams were top choices from the outset of the season to make it this far, but the paths have been very unique. Chicago is fresh off of a President’s Trophy-winning regular season, and is primed to cause damage to the scoreboard in the Final. Boston will have an idea of its own, fresh off its shockingly dominant sweep of the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. Let’s take a look at some keys to this series and what to anticipate.

1. These Teams Are Good

Obviously at this point of the season it goes without saying that the two best teams are left standing. Both teams have been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs, and for good reason. They are both built to win now. Both teams feature great coaching in Claude Julien for Boston and Joel Quenneville for Chicago. Both coaches were the coaches for these teams the last time each won the Stanley Cup, so they are battle tested. Although neither team’s goaltender has won the Cup as a starter, both have been fantastic this year, and both will look to continue to excel in the Final. Also, both teams will roll four lines throughout the series, and rely on depth scoring to lift the silver challis at the end of the series.

2. The Bad Boys

Boston did a great job last series of using physical play, and the mental challenges that accompany it, to its advantage last round against Pittsburgh. Entering the series, one of the questions was how Pittsburgh’s stars would respond to the in-your-face physical style that the Bruins play, and the answer was loud and clear: two goals in four games for the mighty Penguins. Players like Shawn Thorton, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand goaded the Pens into bad penalties and loss of focus at times, and you can believe they will look to do the same to Chicago’s stars. That is why the aforementioned players for the Bruins, and their counterparts in Chicago will be huge factors in the outcome of this series. Guys like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw will have to walk that thin line that, as agitators, they always walk. The Penguins did not have an answer for the Bruins, but Chicago might. Shaw and Bickell will have to keep their cool and try and get under the big boys for Boston’s skin, without taking bad penalties. It should be one of the more interesting “game within the games” of this series.

3. Star Power vs. Team Power

Like the Penguins, Chicago boasts elite high end talent with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp in the lineup, and like with the Penguins, Boston will have to have a direct gameplan to shut these guys down. The first key is to not put the star power on the power play, and when they do, if Boston can blank the Hawks on the PP as they did with Pittsburgh. That will go a long way to helping the B’s win. Boston may not lean on one particular player, but they certainly rely on a team and getting contributions from up and down the lineup. The Penguins and Rangers had no answer for the Lucic-David Krejci-Horton line, but the Bruins still relied on the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid to advance. Look for Boston to implement a similar game plan against Chicago to neutralize its stars.

4. Goaltending, Goaltending

At this point, I am not sure why we even talk about it, but it is too crucial to not mention. Both goalies have their name on the Stanley Cup already, but neither was the starting goalie when their respective teams won. Tuukka Rask would love to take over this series as some feel he did against Pittsburgh last round, but I feel that Boston’s defensive gameplan and execution were a bigger factor than Rask’s goaltending last series. There is no doubt he will have to be as good as he has been, if not better, to stop Chicago. Corey Crawford played behind Antti Niemi when Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, and has had a sensational season this year, but many are claiming it is because of the team in front of him. This will be his moment to prove that he is The Man, especially with making a dominant Jonathan Quick look fairly pedestrian last series versus Los Angeles a not so distant memory. It will presumably be a close, tight checking series in which the first goal will be HUGE in every game. There will be no room for error for either netminder and this will nearly certainly be the difference maker in this series.

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Prediction:

Chicago is not the Pittsburgh Penguins, and are the President’s Trophy winners for a reason. Its speed, skill, and grit will be too much for the Bruins to handle. Chicago in six.

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Pat Davis
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Stanley Cup Final Preview – Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Stanley Cup Final 2013 Boston Bruins vs. Chicago Blackhawksbruins-vs-blackhawks

  • Game 1-Wed June 12 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 2-Sat June 15 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBCSN
  • Game 3-Mon June 17 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBCSN
  • Game 4-Wed June 19 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 5-Sat June 22 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 6-Mon June 24 Chicago @ Boston 8 p.m. (EST) NBC
  • Game 7-Wed June 26 Boston @ Chicago 8 p.m. (EST) NBC

Here we are hockey fans; the Series is upon us. Today, the Stanley Cup Final gets started in Chicago and, as hockey fans, we should be in for a treat. Both teams enter the series on incredible tears with Chicago going 7-1 in its last 8 games, and Boston boasting a 9-1 record in its last 10 contests. Both teams were top choices from the outset of the season to make it this far, but the paths have been very unique. Chicago is fresh off of a President’s Trophy-winning regular season, and is primed to cause damage to the scoreboard in the Final. Boston will have an idea of its own, fresh off its shockingly dominant sweep of the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. Let’s take a look at some keys to this series and what to anticipate.

1. These Teams Are Good

Obviously at this point of the season it goes without saying that the two best teams are left standing. Both teams have been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs, and for good reason. They are both built to win now. Both teams feature great coaching in Claude Julien for Boston and Joel Quenneville for Chicago. Both coaches were the coaches for these teams the last time each won the Stanley Cup, so they are battle tested. Although neither team’s goaltender has won the Cup as a starter, both have been fantastic this year, and both will look to continue to excel in the Final. Also, both teams will roll four lines throughout the series, and rely on depth scoring to lift the silver challis at the end of the series.

2. The Bad Boys

Boston did a great job last series of using physical play, and the mental challenges that accompany it, to its advantage last round against Pittsburgh. Entering the series, one of the questions was how Pittsburgh’s stars would respond to the in-your-face physical style that the Bruins play, and the answer was loud and clear: two goals in four games for the mighty Penguins. Players like Shawn Thorton, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand goaded the Pens into bad penalties and loss of focus at times, and you can believe they will look to do the same to Chicago’s stars. That is why the aforementioned players for the Bruins, and their counterparts in Chicago will be huge factors in the outcome of this series. Guys like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw will have to walk that thin line that, as agitators, they always walk. The Penguins did not have an answer for the Bruins, but Chicago might. Shaw and Bickell will have to keep their cool and try and get under the big boys for Boston’s skin, without taking bad penalties. It should be one of the more interesting “game within the games” of this series.

3. Star Power vs. Team Power

Like the Penguins, Chicago boasts elite high end talent with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp in the lineup, and like with the Penguins, Boston will have to have a direct gameplan to shut these guys down. The first key is to not put the star power on the power play, and when they do, if Boston can blank the Hawks on the PP as they did with Pittsburgh. That will go a long way to helping the B’s win. Boston may not lean on one particular player, but they certainly rely on a team and getting contributions from up and down the lineup. The Penguins and Rangers had no answer for the Lucic-David Krejci-Horton line, but the Bruins still relied on the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid to advance. Look for Boston to implement a similar game plan against Chicago to neutralize its stars.

4. Goaltending, Goaltending

At this point, I am not sure why we even talk about it, but it is too crucial to not mention. Both goalies have their name on the Stanley Cup already, but neither was the starting goalie when their respective teams won. Tuukka Rask would love to take over this series as some feel he did against Pittsburgh last round, but I feel that Boston’s defensive gameplan and execution were a bigger factor than Rask’s goaltending last series. There is no doubt he will have to be as good as he has been, if not better, to stop Chicago. Corey Crawford played behind Antti Niemi when Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, and has had a sensational season this year, but many are claiming it is because of the team in front of him. This will be his moment to prove that he is The Man, especially with making a dominant Jonathan Quick look fairly pedestrian last series versus Los Angeles a not so distant memory. It will presumably be a close, tight checking series in which the first goal will be HUGE in every game. There will be no room for error for either netminder and this will nearly certainly be the difference maker in this series.

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Prediction:

Chicago is not the Pittsburgh Penguins, and are the President’s Trophy winners for a reason. Its speed, skill, and grit will be too much for the Bruins to handle. Chicago in six.

Eastern Conference Preview- Pittsburgh vs. Boston

sidchar52931

Eastern Conference Final Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins

    As we come down the home stretch in the playoffs, the matchups are becoming much tighter and the stakes are much higher. Every team remaining in the postseason has won a Stanley Cup within the last four years, so the experience is there. On Saturday night, the Penguins and Bruins will face off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final in Pittsburgh, and it should be one hell of a series. The big bad Bruins will try and impose their will on the skilled Penguins, and the Penguins will try and make the Bruins play defense constantly. Let’s take a look at some of the top storylines to watch in this series.

1. Style vs. Style

This is going to be a series of clashing styles, as the Bruins like to play a physical brand of hockey that sees them send a lot of traffic to the opposition’s net, while the Penguins play a puck possession game in which they want to spend as much time as possible making their opponents play in their defensive zone. Whichever team can establish the style of play that they want faster than the other will have a distinct advantage.

2. The Crosby Effect

It’s a widely accepted fact that the Penguins possess the best player on this planet in Sidney Crosby. Stopping Crosby is nearly impossible, so the best most teams can hope for is to slow him down, and the Bruins will look to do just that. The dilemma that the Bruins face will be how to do it. You can be assured that Zdeno Chara will be in between Crosby and Crosby’s shadow every shift. But Chara has looked tired and a step slow throughout these playoffs, so the Bruins will probably have perennial Selke contender Patrice Bergeron out against Crosby along with Chara on every shift. Enter the Crosby Effect:with your best defensive forward and defenseman out against Crosby, who will be matched up against James Neal,  Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang? The Bruins will have to “pick their poison” so to speak as to which line they want to take their chances with. If I were a betting man, I’d say Bergeron and Chara shadow Crosby, and the Bruins will be comfortable with the Nathan Horton-David Krejci-Milan Lucic line to outduel the Neal-Malkin-Iginla combo.

3. Keep Your Cool

Perhaps the biggest key to the series for both teams will be discipline. Because the Bruins like to play a physical brand of hockey, they may be able to goad the Penguins into taking some bad after-whistle and frustration penalties. Malkin and Neal both struggled with this during the regular season. Conversely, because of the skill and speed of the Penguins mixed with their ability to mix it up a little as well, the Bruins will have to watch the hooking and holding penalties. Both teams want to stay out of the box because both teams have been very good, if not great, on the power play this postseason, Likewise, neither team has been overwhelming on the penalty kill. Discipline is a sign of a well-coached team, and both coaches are in the top tier of coaches in this league. Limiting the opponents’ special teams play will also be important as both teams like to roll all four lines to get into the groove of the game. Chances are whoever scores the most special teams goals will win this series.

4. Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending

If you have read any hockey article on TheCover4, you’ll probably notice that we believe goaltending to be the biggest factor in any NHL game, and this series will be no different. Quietly, Tomas Vokoun has posted a 6-1 record in this year’s playoffs, with a .941 save percentage, trailing only Jonathan Quick in that department. However, many will give the goaltending advantage to the Bruins and Tuukka Rask. Like every other aspect of each of these two teams, it is very close. Rask has been very good for the Bruins all year, and it is clear that he is their guy between the pipes. On the other end of the rink, you have the aforementioned Vokoun, who took over for the embattled Cup-winning Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the Penguins’ first-round series against the Islanders. Vokoun has been good when called upon, but questions still remain about how long his leash is should he falter a bit. You know Fleury is biding his time and wants to get back in as soon as possible, but which Fleury will the Penguins get if that time comes? The Fleury of their ’09 Cup run? Or the Fleury of the ’12 Flyers series? Hopefully for Pittsburgh fans, they won’t have to find out, and Vokoun will keep up with his solid play.

5. Emotion

Hockey is a very emotional sport and there will be many emotions flowing throughout this series. Both Pittsburgh’s ConsolEnergyCenter and Boston’s TD Garden are tough venues for visiting teams. With Boston still recovering from the tragic Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent craziness that ensued, the city has rallied behind the Bruins, and the Bruins have reflected the sentiment by wearing “Boston Strong” decals during games and police, fire and armed forces clothing in their postgame interviews. While I’m sure it is not their main motivation, never underestimate that little extra motivation. In addition to that, the Boston players will surely want to make Iginla see the error of his trade deadline choice to nix a trade to Boston, in order to be dealt to Pittsburgh where he felt was his best chance to meet Lord Stanley. In addition to Iginla seeking his first Cup, the Penguins also feature the likes of Neal, Douglas Murray, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, Vokoun  and Brandon Sutter all looking for their first Cup victory, so the hunger will still be there for the Pens. Once we get into this series, I am sure you will see some very intense, emotional hockey played.

Who Ya Takin’?

From early into this season, many have been eyeing a Bruins-Penguins Eastern Conference Finals. They have been the two best teams all year in the East and have past experience to help them. Many picture this series going seven games. While at first glance it looks like an even match-up, the Penguins just seem to edge the Bruins in nearly every department: depth, speed, skill, scoring. But the two departments that the Bruins are at least their equal, if not superior, are goaltending and physicality. Luckily for the Bruins, those are two huge departments. As Ottawa showed against Pittsburgh, a good goalie can steal at least one game single handedly. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Craig Anderson in Ottawa is better than Rask, and Rask has yet to see an offensive dynamo like the Penguins. I just don’t think that the Bruins have the players to get it done. The Penguins skill and puck possession will be the difference in this series.

Penguins in 6.

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Pat

Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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Game 7: What It’s All About

asdasThere are probably no two words that conjure up a bigger realm of emotions for sports fans than “Game 7”. Excitement, anticipation, fear, hope, the list goes on and on. It is the game where legends are made. If your team is in Game 7, it is the epitome of a rollercoaster ride. The magnifying glass of the sports world is on you for (at least) 60 minutes. Every mistake is scrutinized, every coaching decision is questioned, and it only ends one of two ways, wondering “what-if”, or a shining moment that will stick with you for a lifetime, for both fan and player alike. For every major North American sport except football, Game 7 is what separates the best from the rest. There are many different ways to get there, but none of that matters once the game starts. A blown 3-0 series lead, a comeback from down 3-0, a couple bad calls from games earlier in the series; all forgotten. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is the final score, and that is what makes game 7 beautiful. Hockey is no exception, and the drama of Game 7 is unmatched. We have had a few in this year’s playoffs, and with the teams remaining being that much more even, you can be sure there are more to come. The drama of a game 7 is incredible, it’s the reason the players finish that second work out of the day in summer training, it’s the reason that the die-hard fan doesn’t shave that playoff beard, it’s the reason the coach watches that extra 15 minutes of film, to do everything you know how to do to make sure that your team has that shining moment, and not wondering “what if”. Anyone can be the hero, the long-time team captain, an underrated role player, a struggling star, or the last person on earth that you would ever guess. It’s a beautiful thing.

Let’s take a look at some of the faces of game 7.

dive_display_imageThe Moment: 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Darius Kasparitis’ OT Goal

This lends to one of those game 7 moments from an unlikely hero. Darius Kasparitis was a feared hitter on the Penguins blueline for many years, but was not known for his scoring prowess. After Mario Lemieux tied the game late to send it to Overtime, Kasparitis sailed a shot passed future hall of famer Dominik Hasek and became the unlikely hero. In his elation, he took off down the ice, ending in a home plate slide through center ice.

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Alex-Burrows-Ryan-KeslerThe Moment: 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals, Alex Burrows’ OT goal

For the two seasons prior to 2011, the Vancouver Canucks enjoyed a successful regular season leading to high post season hopes, only to be eliminated both years by the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs. Nursing a 1-goal lead at home in Game 7, the Canucks gave up the tying goal to captain Jonathan Toews, leaving many in attendance to fret “Not again”. Chicago defender Chris Campoli botched a clearing attempt that Burrows jumped, caught and dropped to the ice, skated to the slot and buried a slap shot behind Chicago netminder Corey Crawford. As the Vancouver crowd went wild and the team celebrated, CBC announcer Jim Huson put the moment perfectly, “Finally, after 3 seasons for Vancouver, it’s a great day for an exorcism”. Vancouver went on to face the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose in… you guessed it, 7 Games.

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9008195_448x252The Moment: 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, The Comeback Completed.

In 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks, but their road to the finals was nothing short of spectacular. In their Semifinals series against the Boston Bruins, not only did the Flyers trail the series three comes to none, but after erasing that deficit to force game 7, they were down three GOALS to none in Game 7. They slowly erased the deficit, and Simon Gagne’s third period Power Play goal capped the comeback, giving the Flyers a 4-3 lead in the game, that they never relinquished.

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talbot-topperThe Moment: 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, Max Talbot Scores 2.

After losing to the Red Wings in 6 games the season prior, Pittsburgh found themselves matched up in the Finals once more against the Wings. A long, well played series culminated in Game 7 in Detroit. Unsung role player Max Talbot was the Game 7 hero for the Penguins, potting 2 goals in the game. Talbot’s first goal was typical of him, taking the puck and swinging it towards the net to see it go in, but his second goal was very atypical for Talbot. Coming on a 2-on-1 against goaltender Chris Osgood, Talbot looked off the pass and picked a corner, a true goal scorers goal, and in celebration and realization of the moment, Talbot slid to his knees pumping both fists, becoming one of those indelible images, at least to Penguins fans.

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MessierThe Moment: 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, The Wait Is Over.

New York’s 54-year quest to recapture Lord Stanley’s old silver mug came to an electrifying conclusion in the deafening confines of Madison Square Garden. The Rangers saw their leads of 2-0 and 3-1 trimmed and had to hang on through a tight third period. One of the most compelling playoff runs in NHL history, that included “the guarantee”, the Rangers capped it off in thrilling fashion to finally dispel the chants of “1940!!!!!!” that echoed through their cross-town rival Islanders’ arena for decades.

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Pat

Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Ovechkin Skates in Washington, DC

 

With the NHL season winding down and the playoff races start to get tighter between fewer teams, let’s take a look at the playoff-bound and contending teams in the Eastern Conference. We’ll start with the preseason projections and see how all the teams are now in the playoff race.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Clinched No. 1 overall seed in the East and Atlantic Division title

Preseason scoop: “Pittsburgh Penguins – No doubt that the thought of a healthy and extra-motivated Sidney Crosby playing with defending MVP and scoring champ Evgeni Malkin is going to cause many coaches and players to lose some sleep in the coming weeks. The two-headed monster spearheads a potent offensive lineup with the likse of Kris Letang and James Neal hiding in Crosby and Malkin’s shadows. The big question for the Pens will be on the blueline, and in net after that colossal defensive breakdown versus Philadelphia in last year’s playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury will need to return to his dominant form from the regular season, and put that playoff series behind him.”

It didn’t go according to plan for the Penguins this year, but it’s clear that they are thinking cup or bust. Crosby has been sensational in all the games that he has played, and despite missing the last quarter of the season with a broken jaw, he is still likely to win the MVP.Reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin has battled injuries and inconsistency this season, but is getting plenty of time to fully heal down the stretch. General Manager Ray Shero went all-in around the trade deadline acquiring veterans Douglas Murray, Jussi Jokinen, Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla. The Pens are surely the team to beat in the East.

2. Boston Bruins – Clinched playoff berth and are neck-and-neck with Montreal for the No. 2 seed in the East and Northeast Division title

Preseason Scoop: “Despite former MVP and Conn Smythe-winning All-Star goalie Tim Thomas sitting the season out due to personal reasons, the Bruins are still sitting pretty in the drivers seat of the division. Tuukka Rask is a more than capable starting goaltender, and there won’t be much of a drop-off for the B’s in the crease. Zdeno Chara captains a roster that will see the return of a healthy Nathan Horton, who was dealing with concussion issues last  season. The big, physical Bruins should be in control of the division from the get-go, especially if their offense starts hot.”

It has been an emotional season for the Bruins. They started by making a “paper trade” of Tim Thomas (although he was sitting out the year, he still counts against the salary cap, so he was dealt to the Islanders so New York could have more salary on the books and the Bruins would have cap room) early in the season. They have been battling with the Canadiens for the division all season, and that race will go right down to the wire. The big story about the Bruins this year is how they will bounce back long-term after the terrorist attack and subsequent man-hunt through the streets of suburban Boston, causing them to have to postpone two games. When play returned to the TD Garden, emotions ran high and were capped by a touching rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the Boston crowd. With the situation over, and the season winding down, look for the Bruins to get back to business and try and lock up the Northeast.

3. Washington Capitals – Three points ahead of Winnipeg for the Southeast Division with three games left

Preseason Scoop : “Led by superstar Alex Ovechkin, the Caps look to find their winning ways again. A perennial playoff team, and often times a legitimate threat to win it all, the Caps have kept finding ways to blow it. They have yet to put a significant playoff run together, and their goaltending can go from perfect to disastrous in a matter of days. Loaded upfront with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and new addition Mike Ribeiro, the Caps cut dead weight in Alex Semin, and Braden Holtby proved in last year’s playoffs that he is a franchise-caliber goalie. If Backstrom can shake his concussion issues from last year, and defenseman Mike Green and Ovi can find their form from a couple years ago, and solid role players like Brooks Laich can hold the fort in the defensive zone, the Caps can be a truly dominant team.”

The Caps struggled mightily early in the year and at one point, looked to be a lottery pick. They were losing game after game in ugly ways, letting stupid penalties and disastrous turnovers doom them, and the goaltending was nowhere to be found. Brooks Laich was hurt for most of the year, and Alex Ovechkin’s production was OK, but his desire came into heavy question. Now, Ovechkin has hit the 30-goal mark, which is good for a player in ANY season, let alone a 48-game one (in which he still has three games left). The Caps, if they get in, are going to be very dangerous come playoff time. They’ve gotten hot at the right time, winning nine of their last 10, and Ovi and Mike Green have found their potent offensive forms. Only question will be goaltending for the Caps (as it is for every team).

4. Montreal Canadiens – Clinched playoff berth, battling with Boston for the Northeast Division

Preseason Scoop: “It was a rough season last year for the Habs that saw them finish dead last in the Eastern Conference, and third-worst in the entire league. There is not too much reason to believe this year will be much better. Young star defenseman and future franchise player P.K. Subban has yet to report to camp as a restricted free agent, and the Habs feature an aging lineup of veterans with some young upstart players like Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty. Unless Carey Price can stand on his head night in and night out and steal more than his fair share of games, the 48-game season will feel like an 82-game season in hockey’s promised land.”

Time to eat a little crow on this one. I completely wrote off the Habs at the beginning of the year, and totally underestimated the effect that new coach Michel Therrien would have on Montreal. He got the most out of every player on that roster on a nightly basis, including rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. PK Subban finally signed after a holdout, and now leads the Canadiens in points on the year and is a budding star in the NHL. Carey Price has stolen his fair share of games for them this year, but the majority of the Habs wins have been team wins. As of late however, Montreal has fallen into some inconsistency and some troublesome goaltending. Many feel that Montreal overachieved early in the year, and it’s possible it did. It is also possible that it is just hitting a rough patch that nearly every team has hit and will snap out of this in time for the postseason.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs – Clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2004.

Preseason Scoop: “The hockey-crazed city of Toronto has been desperate for a winner, and this year maybe its year. To say Toronto is a longshot to win the Cup may be an understatement, but I for one am a beLEAFer. After a monumental collapse late last season, Toronto may be a team to benefit from a shortened season. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul had fantastic seasons last year and look to pick up where they left off. The forward unit is bolstered by the addition of James van Riemsdyk who was traded at the draft from the Flyers for Luke Schenn. While Schenn will be a tough loss, the blueline was and is the Leafs deepest spot, and JVR is a stud. Of course, we can’t for get to mention that  James Reimer needs to be lights out. If the Leafs get into the postseason, you never know what could happen.”

After my “eat crow moment”, here comes the “I told you so moment.” Despite Phil Kessel starting off horribly slowly, and Joffrey Lupul missing a huge portion of the season with a broken arm, the Leafs have returned to the postseason for the first time since 2004, and they are a team that could make some noise. James Reimer has stood tall in net for the Leafs all year, and while they could finish as low as eighth still, look for them to take the fifth seed. Kessel has come on lately and since returning from injury, Lupul has been nearly unstoppable. James van Riemsdyk has been phenomenal for the Leafs, and Nazem Kadri finally had his breakout year in the NHL, showing that they were right to develop him slowly. You have to feel for former GM Brian Burke though, who was fired at the beginning of the year (for refusing to trade for Roberto Luongo according to the rumor mill), he was the one that put this team together, and his last move as GM (trading Luke Schenn to acquire JVR) was arguably his best move yet as GM.

6. New York Islanders – Clinched playoff berth. Currently in a three way tie for sixth place.

Preseason Scoop: “An intriguing team to watch, the Islanders have been a perennial basement dweller in the Atlantic, however they boast an emerging star in John Tavares, backed up by the likes of Matt Mouslon and Michael Grabner. The Islanders are a young team that may benefit from playing every other night, and if they develop of winning streak early, they can be a contender for a playoff spot.”

Again, not many saw the Islanders contending for the playoffs, but for us here at TC4, we are not surprised. John Tavares continued his development as a former first-overall pick to quietly emerge as an MVP candidate. Tavares is 14th in the league in points with 45, but is third in the league in goals with 26, and has really come on the second half of the season. The captain-in-waiting of the Isles has been tremendous, and his supporting cast has done the job too. Moulson has kept pace with Tavares in points with 42, and free-agent signee Brad Boyes has been effective, posting 32 points. Goaltending has been the crutch to this team as Evgeni Nabakov (who refused to even join the team in 2010-11 when it picked him up off of waivers) is tied for the league lead in wins with 32. If he can get to 33 wins, the Isles will be headed to the dance.

7. Ottawa Senators – Clinched playoff berth. Currently in a three way tie for sixth place.

Preseason Scoop: “The Sens present one of the most balanced lineups in the NHL. They’re backstopped by Craig Anderson in net, who is one of the most underrated keepers in the league. In addition, the feature a balanced forward lineup of veterans like Daniel Alfredsson , Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Chris Neil that compliment defending Norris Trophy champion Erik Karlsson’s solid D corps. Injuries have taken a chunk out of the D corps however, and those suiting up will have to play to their max ability right from the hop for the Sens to compete for the division.”

Every player mentioned in our preseason preview for the Senators has missed an extended period of time, with key forward Jason Spezza and defending Norris champ Erik Karlsson still out of the lineup. Injuries have been the storyline for the Senators all season long, but despite having an injured list equal to their active roster, the Senators are in good position to make the playoffs. With only three games left, and a three-point lead over the ninth-place team, their fate lies in their hands, and they are getting healthy. Anderson is back, playing at his Vezina-worthy level, leading the league in GAA and save percentage, but he may have missed too much time due to injury to win the Vezina. If Ottawa gets in, it can present a tough matchup for any team because of Anderson’s play.

8. New York Rangers – Clinched playoff berth. Currently in a three way tie for sixth place.

Presseason Scoop: It’s Stanley Cup or bust for the Rangers this season. After having an impressive season last year despite under-production from superstar free-agent signee Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist was lights out and carried them to the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, the Broadway Blueshirts have added yet another star in Rick Nash, and feature an impressive young blueline with Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi. Up and down, the Rangers boast the most formidable lineup in the Eastern Conference.”

The most surprising team in a certain position, the New York Rangers are teetering on the edge of the playoff picture, currently sitting in the final position in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They underachieved for most of the season, and many were wondering if coach John Tortorella, only a year removed from the Eastern Conference Finals, was on his way out of Broadway. Underachieving star winger Marian Gaborik was shipped out of town, and star defenseman Marc Staal suffered a terrible eye injury after taking a shot to the face, and his return this season is questionable at best. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Rangers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, and seem to be catching fire at the right time. There is no room for error anymore, which has them playing “playoff hockey” early, and if they can get in, WATCH OUT. Henrik Lundqvist has been sensational all season and is the single biggest reason that the Rangers are still in the hunt, and not talking golf with the Lightning, Panthers and Flyers. Everyone’s preseason pick for Eastern Conference champs still may pull through.

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Pat Davis
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Iginla to the Pens: Shero’s Mastery or Feaster’s Failure?

There’s no denying Penguins general manager Ray Shero is damn good at his job. He’s assembled quite a supporting cast for the cornerstone players he inherited when he took over for Craig Patrick in May 2006 (Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby).

But let’s ease up on the credit being given to Shero after Thursday’s early morning surprising trade in which he managed to steal Calgary legend Jarome Iginla for a first-round pick, a soft pack of Winstons and some plywood.

No, it wasn’t Shero’s mastery — which has been displayed in acquiring Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Matt Niskanen and Chris Kunitz for a couple of used needles. It was the complete and utter incompetence of Calgary general manager Jay Feaster, who since taking over the position, has been on a consistent run of franchise-crippling decisions.

Let’s give a little background on Feaster. Sure, he’s a Stanley Cup-winning general manager (Tampa Bay in 2004) but he is on an impressive streak of mind-bogglingly stupid decision-making. Since taking over for Darryl Sutter following the 2010-11 season, Feaster has managed to make people around hockey wonder how he created a Stanley Cup-winning roster in Tampa.

The biggest mistake happened at the end of February. Feaster signed Colorado center Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year offer sheet worth $10 million. For those of you unfamiliar with the workings of NHL contracts, O’Reilly was a restricted free agent. Any team could sign O’Reilly, but Colorado could match the offer and O’Reilly would have been forced to go back to Colorado. If Colorado didn’t match, the Avalanche would receive a first and third-round pick.

Feaster and the Flames decided that O’Reilly was worth the draft picks, but Colorado quickly matched. OK, no big deal. The risk was worth it, right?

Not so fast. Feaster neglected to recognize that O’Reilly played a couple of KHL game after the NHL season was underway. Because O’Reilly wasn’t on the Flames’ reserve list, he would have had to go through waivers in order to join Calgary’s roster. O’Reilly would have certainly been claimed, thus Feaster would have his lost his first-round pick (almost certainly a top-10 pick) as well as his third for nothing.

Feaster was also widely mocked for signing bottom-pairing defenseman Dennis Wideman to a five-year, $26.25 million contract. Additionally, he spent his first-round pick on Mark Jankowski, NHL Central Scouting’s 43-best player, from a Quebec high school that has yet to produce an NHL player.

Iginla shouldn’t have been a Flame this year. Calgary has been downtrodden for a few years, but Feaster refused to recognize the need to rebuild. Had Feaster done the smart thing and tried to trade Iginla at the trade deadline last year, the return would have been much higher.

So yes, Shero was dealing with one of the NHL’s most incompetent general managers when negotiating for Iginla. Shero had shown has wasn’t adverse to overpaying for rental players, sending top prospect Joe Morrow to Dallas for Brenden Morrow and two second-round picks to San Jose for Douglas Murray. For some reason, Feaster failed to recognize that and gave Iginla away when he didn’t have to.

The trade deadline was still six days away and if Iginla, as reported, was only willing to waive his no-movement clause to go Pittsburgh, Feaster could have waited a couple more days and continued using Los Angeles and Boston to drive up the price from Pittsburgh.

Instead, Feaster crumbled under pressure and likely secured his firing at the end of the season.

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Brendan Shorts
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NHL Midseason Report

blackhawks

It seems like just yesterday that this NHL season may have been canceled, but cooler heads prevailed, and it was salvaged – although it’s an abbreviated 48-game season. Now, every team is past the halfway point, and like always with 24 games left, the playoff picture is rounding out, story lines have emerged, and surprises have appeared. Let’s check out the midseason recap with the top story lines in the league at the midway point.

Top 10 Storylines:

10. The Toronto Maple Leafs – In hockey’s Mecca, there is reason for hope. The Leafs have not made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season and currently hold the longest playoff drought of any NHL franchise. I’m sure the Toronto fanbase is not ready to declare their team a playoff team and are still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but the team has put itself in a good position. While they are still having some growing pains, the Leafs show up to play every night and are pretty well coached. They are getting the goaltending right now, and after 26 games, they sit at 31 points, five points ahead of ninth-place Winnipeg. With Phil Kessel slowly starting to round back into form after a slow start and Joffrey Lupul working his way back from injury, there is reason to be a beLEAFer.

9. Steven Stamkos – As expected, Steven Stamkos has picked up right where he left off before the lockout. He’s potting goals at a torrid pace again, and after 25 games, he leads the league with 19 goals, and trails only Sidney Crosby (45) in points with 37. The downside for Stamkos is that his team is flirting with last place in the East, as he and Martin St. Louis seem to be the only two who truly bring it offensively each game. Now that may seem like a bold statement seeing as the Bolts rank in the top-three in total offense, but after starting out strong, they now sit in 13th place, leading last-place Florida by only one point. Stamkos will garner some consideration for the Hart Trophy, but if his team isn’t competitive, he has no shot to win. The good news however; Tampa plays in the wide open Southeast, and only trails division leading Carolina (which just lost its star goalie) by eight points.

8. Edmonton Oilers – It’s time to crap or get off the pot for the Oilers. It takes time to develop players in this league, but the Oilers are clearly progressing slowly. Their lineup is LOADED with players who are “oozing with potential,” yet after 25 games, they sit in second-to-last place in the Western Conference and are just one point ahead of rival Calgary for last in the West. Edmonton is currently fifth-worst in the league in points, placing them in position for ANOTHER lottery pick. The trio of first-overall picks that the Oilers ice every night ─ Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov have combined for 44 points on the year. That is one less point than Sidney Crosby has In addition to the trio, the team sports impressive rookie free agent Justin Schultz on the blueline along with veteran Ryan Whitney. Young forward talents Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner have been producing, but the wins are not there. The Oilers are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games and are showing no signs of coming on. Perhaps it is time to move some pieces to get a bonafide NHL starting goalie, some skilled grit in the top six or a top-four defenseman. What they have ain’t working.

7. Lindy Ruff – After 16 seasons as bench boss of the Buffalo Sabres, Lindy Ruff was fired on February 20, following Buffalo’s severe stumble at the start of the season. . While shocking to the players, it couldn’t have been that surprising, seeing as the Sabres players were getting outworked nightly. Even dating back to last season, Buffalo has not come close to meeting the lofty expectations set following new owner Terry Pegula’s purchase of the team in February 2011. During the 2011 offseason he showed the Buffalo fanbase that there was a new sheriff in town who was willing to pay for free agents to make Buffalo competitive. The only problem with that is that he overpaid for players like Ville Leino and Christan Ehrhoff, only to see them underachieve and become unmovable due to their contracts. This year Tyler Myers is the second-highest paid defenseman in the league, and he has shown few signs of earning it. After a fantastic rookie year, Myers has been average at best, and Ryan Miller hasn’t been able to carry the team on his back. After 26 games, Buffalo has 21 points… yikes.

6. The Philadelphia Flyers – After a pretty good season last year that saw the Flyers knock out archrival Pittsburgh from the playoffs in a classic series that threw all logic of both teams out the window, the Flyers have struggled to find themselves early. While Ilya Bryzgalov has not been bad for them, he has not been able to consistently steal points for the Fly Guys which is what they NEED him to do. After trading a rising star in forward James van Riemsdyk for “shutdown” defenseman Luke Schenn, the Flyers appear to have lost that trade. The resurgent Jaromir Jagr has moved on to Dallas and top forward Scott Hartnell has missed a ton of time due to an injury. Newly appointed Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux has not lived up to the superstar potential he is capable of, and Max Talbot has a mere 7 points in 27 games after posting 34 in 81 games last season. Wayne Simmonds has been a bright spot, bringing it every night, and GM Paul Holmgren brought back veteran Simon Gagne from Los Angeles to help bolster the scoring. The Flyers are trailing the eighth-place New York Rangers by three points, but the Broadway Blueshirts still have three games in hand. The Flyers are not out of it yet, but they’re flirting with disaster, and coach Peter Laviolette’s chair just may be getting warm.

5. The Washington Capitals – Caps nation has come back down to earth in recent seasons. After a few great regular seasons with disappointing playoff finishes, the Caps are now struggling in the regular season, appearing as team with no identity. At first, the only consistent player they had was Alex Ovechkin, but recently his undisciplined and lackluster play has been of huge concern and has even begun to put his name quietly in the trade rumor mill. Since Ovechkin’s rookie year in 2005-06, he has been compared side-by-side to his fellow rookie that year, Sidney Crosby, for whom Ovechkin beat for the Calder Trophy. Since that, however, Crosby has put to rest the Sid-Ovi debate by leading the Pens to two Stanley Cup Finals, and one win (while knocking Ovechkin’s Caps out of the playoffs en route). Crosby has also led the Pens to more sustained success, despite missing more than a full year with concussion problems. The Caps have had three coaches over the last two seasons, and are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, boasting a mere 21 points after 24 games. The Mike Ribeiro trade statistically looks good, but he fits the EXACT type of player mold that the Caps need to get away from; talented, but a spotty work ethic. He is Alex Semin as a center.

4. Sidney Crosby – Hockey has its best player back and healthy, and playing at an ABSURD level. Since returning to game action for good last March, Crosby has posted more points than the Hall/RNH/Yakupov trio combined, and even more than Ovechkin and Giroux combined. He has 20 points in his last eight games and 140 points in his last 89 games. We all knew that Crosby was capable of these types of numbers, but it’s great for the game that he is officially playing, healthy and back to pre-concussion form. Crosby’s star shines brightest on a squad that has 50 goal-scorer and last season’s MVP in Evgeni Malkin, the NHL’s highest-scoring defenseman in Kris Letang, surprise player of the year and third-highest scorer in Chris Kunitz, and the league-leader in power play goals in James Neal. The Penguins, who are the league’s highest scoring team, lead the Atlantic Division with 36 points in 26 games, trailing Eastern Conference-leading Montreal by two points.

3. The Montreal Canadiens – Speak of the devil. The Canadiens are tearing it up this season under new head coach Michel Therrien. With a tough coach who requires accountability from his players, the Canadiens are perched atop on the Eastern Conference after 26 games, and lead archrival Boston by one point in the Northeast Division. With a newfound gritty, workmanlike mentality under their new coach, the Canadiens are tougher to play against on a daily basis, and free agent signee Brandon Prust has been a big part of that. Although Prust was recently sidelined for 10-14 days with a shoulder injury, the Habs should be OK since they are getting world-class goaltending from Carey Price, and solid two-way play from the rest of the team. They show up every game and try to get to their game early, and the results, so far, have been great. Rookie studs Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have both been pleasant surprises and have played big roles in the Canadiens’ turnaround from last season’s last place finish in the Eastern Conference.

2. The Anaheim Ducks – If it wasn’t for the absurdity of the Chicago Blackhawks incredible points streak to start the season, the Ducks would be the talk of the league. After putting up only 80 points last season, the Ducks have come out flying (no pun intended…maybe) this year, their first full season under coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau was hired around midseason last year after the Ducks let former head coach Randy Carlyle go (now the head coach of the Maple Leafs), and the Ducks finished the year strong, but there was no indication that they would come out of the lockout with the league’s second-best record, posting 39 points in 24 games. WOW! Of a possible 48 points, the Ducks earned 39, thanks in part to the tremendous goaltending tandem of Jonas Hiller and Victor Fasth. Teemu Selanne continues to amaze and the top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan is just getting going. Nick Bonino has had a breakout year and veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin has put together a Norris Trophy-caliber first half of the season. A formerly Disney-owned team has had a storybook season thus far as it trails the mighty Blackhawks by a mere six points (Anaheim has two games in hand), but with the uncertainty surrounding Perry’s future with the team, midnight may be coming soon for the Cinderella Ducks.

1. The Chicago Blackhawks – OH MY GOODNESS! What a run the Chicago Blackhawks put together to open the season. The Hawks earned points in their first 24 games of the year (half of the shortened 48-game schedule) and collected 45 of a possible 48 points. The truly impressive thing is the Hawks did it every way possible. They got world class goaltending from starting netminder Corey Crawford, and when he went down to injury, Ray Emery stepped in and played the best hockey of his career. Marian Hossa returned to play fully healthy after suffering a nasty concussion in last year’s playoffs and has been fantastic. Sophomore Marcus Krueger has improved his game by leaps and bounds, and Viktor Stalberg has been fantastic as well. The D corps has played great in all three zones down to a man all season, and the Hawks have showed up to play EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. Their streak came to an end in Colorado last Friday, but that doesn’t take away from the magnificence with which  they have displayed in the first half of the year. Patrick Kane has returned to superstar form, and captain Jonathan Toews has made a strong case to be with Stamkos and Crosby in the Hart Trophy discussion. The Hawks could sleepwalk into the playoffs from here on out, but don’t expect them to let up; they have their eyes on the prize and want the Cup, and are off to a near perfect start… watch out!

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Pat Davis
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The NHL Needs Sidney Crosby

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Let’s flash back to March 2012: The Pittsburgh Penguins were flying high in the midst of a dominant season from Evgeni Malkin, which saw him score 50 goals and win the Hart Trophy for most valuable player.. The entire team was clicking, despite star defenseman Kris Letang and captain Sidney Crosby both being out with concussions. It was the second time Crosby missed extended time during the 2011-12 season due to concussions. The outlook for Pens fans in regard to their captain was not one of tremendous hope. After a triumphant return on November 21 against the Islanders that saw Crosby burst back into the game with a four-point night and a highlight reel goal  in the opening minutes, Crosby looked to be right where he left off after suffering two concussions in early January 2011. His recovery was a long and arduous process that began with him unable to even watch TV due to his post-concussion symptoms, which eventually progressed toward light practices and then eventually full practices. The sports reports were flooded with stories like “Crosby working towards comeback,” “Crosby progressing” and “no timetable for a return” being thrown around on a daily basis. Upon his triumphant return, the excitement brewed, only to crash with the news less than a month later that his concussion symptoms had returned.

At this point, serious questions arose about Sid’s career being over and it was more than warranted. With the increased scrutiny in professional sports about the long term effects of concussions, and the examples of players like Marc Savard and Eric Lindros, the focus the turned into concern for his health and quality of life. Thankfully for Pens fans and hockey fans in general, Crosby was able to return in March 2012, and has not missed a game since. After a ridiculous, unfathomable playoff series against Philadelphia last season that saw the Pens make an unexpected first-round exit, but also saw Crosby remain healthy through the end of the season and the playoffs, the topic of his health did not matter anymore. In addition to that, the three-month long NHL lockout only put more time between Sid’s last headshot, only helping him to heal further.
So here we are, just past the quarter-point of the shortened season and Sid is back to his old form. He is currently one point behind Steven Stamkos for the scoring lead and has posted six games this year with at least three points. When their respective teams met head–to-head on Sunday night, Crosby tied and passed Penguin great Rick Kehoe for third place on the team’s all-time scoring list. The Penguins have had some of the greatest players in hockey history over the years: Larry Murphy, Joey Mullen and Ron Francis, in addition to players who have had long-term success in Pittsburgh like Martin Straka, Kevin Stevens and Mark Recchi. Sidney Crosby, at the ripe old age of 25 years old, now sits third on that list, trailing only Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux.

Love him or hate him, the NHL NEEDS Sidney Crosby. He is one of the most polarizing figures in professional sports today. Some describe him as incredible, others a diver. Some would say he’s a class act, others a baby. There is no doubt that more venom is sent Crosby’s way than anyone else in the game today, some for personal reasons (he’s a whiner, he’s a baby, etc.) and some just because of his skill, yet he handles it with class daily, all while performing at the highest level. His interviews are boring because he just says the right thing every single time, and it’s truthfully never worth watching one of his interviews. He passes the credit people throw at him around, downplays his accomplishments and focuses on the next task. The game is better with Sidney Crosby in it, and the NHL needs him. They need him for the rivalries with the Flyers, Rangers and Capitals. They need him to draw fans to opposing arenas to boo him every time he touches the puck. They need him as an ambassador to the game, and they need him for the exposure and notoriety. With everything that “The Kid” has been through the past couple seasons, Penguins fans and hockey fans alike should be glad he is back in the game and healthy, returning to his peak dominant form,  whether you’re rooting for the Pens to win, or to lose. Let’s face it, even if you are not a Penguins fan, a healthy Sidney Crosby makes any game your team plays against them just that much more exciting.

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Pat Davis
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Captains

Perhaps the most revered role in all of team sports, being named team captain is one of the most prestigious honors a player could be awarded. While “captain of the football team” tends to carry with it the negative stereotype of a womanizing man’s man, it is the apex of the high school social pyramid. We all remember the captain of the football team from our childhood years —whether it’s because we resented or revered that person — and we can remember the mystique that surrounded them. The captain of the football team may be the point of reference for our mental picture of a team captain as a society, but for all the athletes and former athletes out there, we can remember nearly every team captain of every team we have ever played on and how they influenced our teams.

Perhaps the most unique of all the major sports captains is the captain of the hockey team, and more specifically, captain of an NHL team. Being named team captain of an NHL team is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon an individual in sports, if not the highest. The sport of hockey in general is a dynamic, physical game. There is hitting, fighting, finesse and plenty of gamesmanship constantly taking place throughout a game, and the captain is looked upon to set the tone with their play game in and game out.

If you, a casual hockey fan, were to sit down and look at a list of the captains of every NHL team, you may wonder why so-and-so is captain of a team or furthermore not even know who the player is (i.e. Andrew Ladd of Winnipeg or Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff). To answer the question “why are they the captain?” you have to understand what goes in to being the captain of an NHL team.

The role of captain carries tremendous responsibility and accountability. The captain is truly the engine that drives the team. They are chosen because they are the players who “get it.” The role of being a professional hockey player, the ones who learn their craft, the ones who are always looking to improve themselves and their teammates, the ones who hold themselves and everyone accountable, they are the leaders, whether vocally or by example. A true captain is the heart-and-soul of their team, not necessarily the public face of their team.

To be successful in the NHL as a team, you can’t just have a captain, you have to have the RIGHT captain. The beauty about being the leader of an NHL team is that you don’t have to be the most skilled player, there are different types of players that are awarded the honor, so  to better illustrate the importance of the “C”, let’s take a look at the last five Stanley Cup Champions.

2012 Stanley Cup Winning Captain -Dustin Brown- LA Kings

Dustin Brown

What makes him captain: 

Dustin Brown is a classic version of an NHL captain and the cliché “a blood and guts leader” may be the best way to describe him. He brings his lunch pail to work not just every game, but every day, whether it is practice, film study, training camp, etc. He leads by example and is a coach’s dream because he does all the little things well. He blocks shots, finishes his checks, plays well in all three zones and scores timely goals. To succeed in the playoffs and ultimately hoist the Cup, attention to detail is huge, and Brown pays it. He doesn’t have the skills of an Alex Ovechkin or the Sedin twins, but he combines his offensive skill with a fourth line mentality, is never afraid to drop the gloves and will stand up for any of his team mates.

2011 Stanley Cup winning captain – Zdeno Chara – Boston Bruins

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What makes him captain:

Chara is a mammoth presence on the Bruins blueline, checking in at 6 feet 9, 255 pounds. He is one of the rare athletes in professional sports that combine immense size with immense talent and athletic ability. He knows how to use his size to his advantage, often utilizing his ridiculous reach to make up for his foot speed and terrorizing opponents skaters, goalies, and I’m sure even his own teammates with the hardest shot in the world. Chara has been in the league for 14 seasons and has played on three teams; he’s seen it all. The calmness of experience and confidence mixed with his extremely unique skill set and his constant work ethic make him a consummate professional and one of the better captains in the league. He can lead by example, but is not afraid to speak up on the bench or in the locker room to help keep goals out of his net and sending them to the back of the opponents.

2010 Stanley Cup winning captain – Jonathan Toews – Chicago Blackhawks

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What makes him captain:

The only player on our list to win the Conn Smythe trophy for MVP of the playoffs, Jonathan Toews is the heart and soul of the Chicago Blackhawks. On a star-studded team with the likes of Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, Toews’ star shown the brightest throughout their Cup run and that wasn’t by accident. Known as a quiet leader, Toews is the one who holds everyone accountable by his actions. He pushes the pace in practice, forcing his teammates to perform at their best to get better and he brings it EVERY SHIFT; he scores beautiful and dirty goals alike, and when his team needs a boost, they look to him and he delivers. Lifelong hockey nerds such as myself can see striking similarities between Toews and Hall of Fame Detroit Red Wing, Steve Yzerman. Their quiet demeanor but conversely loud work ethic are nearly identical and their knack for scoring HUGE goals is uncanny. Toews is the youngest captain in the history of the NHL but you wouldn’t know it by the way he plays and carries himself.


2009 Stanley Cup winning captain – Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins

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What makes him captain:

This one isn’t nearly as difficult to see as some other choices for team captain. Sidney Crosby is not only the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but also the face of the NHL and the face of the sport of hockey today. He is the most recognizable name in the game, mainly because of his otherworldly talent and skill and his seemingly infinite list of highlight reel goals. TheKid has scored from his stomach, his rear end, behind the net, but that isn’t what makes him a leader and a captain. Sid is the captain because, despite his overwhelming talent and God-given ability, he understands what is expected of him as a player, and is one of the hardest working, if not THE hardest working player in the game. Growing up in Canada, the attention and scrutiny placed on him from an age as early as nine years old is nearly unimaginable, yet he has always carried himself with class. Not known for fighting in the least, when the time has been right he hasn’t been afraid to drop the gloves. Each year he has focused on improving another aspect of his game, and each time he’s done so, the results have been evident. Mature beyond his years and gifted, he has earned the reputation from his teammates him as an intense competitor and true leader. At the time the Penguins won the Cup, he was the youngest Cup-winning captain, however he was unseated from that spot the following season by Jonathan Toews.


2008 Stanley Cup winning captain – Nicklas Lidstrom – Detroit Red Wings

lidstrom

What makes him captain:

One of my personal favorite hockey players of all time, Nicklas Lidstrom is one of the best captains in the history of the NHL. Recently retired, Lidstrom is a first-ballot hall of famer, playing 20 seasons in Detroit, winning seven Norris Trophies for top defenseman in the league and also a Conn Smythe Trophy. Lidstrom appeared in more than 1,500 NHL games, and posted over 1,100 points as a defenseman. Known as one of the quieter captains when he played, Lidstrom was a master of the little plays as a defenseman: getting the puck deep when he had no play, making tape-to-tape outlet passes from his own end to jumpstart a sometimes insane Red Wings offense and generating offense many times, including scoring his fair share of goals. The best way to describe Lidstrom is that he did all the right things on and off the ice very well.. Always winning and losing with class, always putting in his best effort, always showing younger teammates how to be a good NHL player, Lidstrom will be in the Hall the first time he is eligible, and don’t be surprised when it comes time to retire his jersey in Detroit, an honor he will share with the likes of Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman and Ted Lindsay.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip into understanding the intangibles that it takes to be a captain of an NHL team and why being captain is such an honor in the NHL. In a sport and a league that is high paced, often times physically brutal and always in the spotlight, the captains are the ones who persevere through everything that the game and life can throw at them. They come to work every day and lead by example, doing what is asked of them.. They work hard because they love what they do and put all of their efforts into doing it better each day than the day before. In a game that constantly showcases skill, toughness and physical sacrifice, these guys are the starting point for any franchise to be successful. Whether they have spent their career learning the ropes from players before them and becoming a captain later in their career, or whether they are child prodigies thrust into the spotlight and responsibility at a young age, these players are what makes hockey the best game on earth and to see them put everything out there every time you watch them play is truly inspiring.

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Pat Davis
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The Draft Day Blues

blues

The Draft Day Blues

In the NHL, two of the most anticipated days of the year are the trade deadline, and the opening of free agency. Some of the most important and consequential franchise-altering moves that a team makes can be made on these days. Case in point, last summer, the Minnesota Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts four days into free agency. When looked back upon in about 10 years that moment will either be the turning point that ushered in an era of success, or it will be looked at as the point in which they handcuffed their future by throwing too much money to two players who never lived up to expectations. I tend to believe that it will be the first stated outcome, but regardless, the first day of free agency 2012 was the beginning of the new Wild era and represents the thinking of many teams in the league.  In today’s professional sports, the income is in the billions and often times money is thrown around to make teams competitive NOW. The problem with this approach is that if too many teams are doing it (let’s face it, the majority of the teams try it), you wind up overpaying for players and not getting your money’s worth out of them. In the desperation to “win now” many teams have lost sight of how to truly build a strong team because they overpay for free agents and trade draft picks away at the trade deadline to land certain players. With all the fuss about trade deadline day and the opening of free agency, many have lost sight of the most effective way to build a contending team for a period of time —  the NHL entry draft. One team in the NHL today has drafted better than any other team; the St. Louis Blues.

Generally, when you think of draft-built NHL teams, you think of a team like the Edmonton Oilers who feature first overall picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov. In addition, other first-round picks like Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky are playing big roles.  The problem with the Oilers is they are not a competitive NHL team, although they are flashy and exciting to watch. As of Thursday night, the Oilers are second in the Northwest Division, with eleven points. This may prove to be the year they make the playoffs. However, they are coming off of three consecutive  seasons in which they earned the first overall pick. The Oilers are coming up, but they aren’t there yet.

The St. Louis Blues are here already and they are not going anywhere. Of its active roster today, 12 of St. Louis’ 23 active players are draft picks of the Blues and the majority of them play significant roles on the team. The number of home-grown draft picks now playing on the Blues speaks volumes of the people who constructed this team. While not responsible for every draft pick still playing with the Blues today, the architect of the St. Louis Blues that take the ice today is John Davidson. For many of our casual hockey fans, Davidson was an NHL goalie-turned broadcaster, and was hired as the president of hockey operations of the Blues in 2006. Davidson recently left the Blues to take over the same position with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but during his time with the Blues he took them from having the fewest points in the league to Central Division (arguably the toughest in all of hockey) champions last season. Davidson slowly built the Blues up through the draft, not rushing his draft picks along to hope they live up to their potential at the expense of their development, and at different stages along the way, made other key personnel changes such as hiring GM of the year (2012) Doug Armstrong and coach of the year (2012) Ken Hitchcock. John Davidson is not a name that you might recognize unless you are immersed in hockey, but as we look at the Blues, he is a name that must be mentioned and remembered.

Now that we have covered the builders of the team, let’s look at each home-grown player for St. Louis.

Center – David Backes – 6’3” 225 lbs. – 2003 2nd Round Pick (62 overall) Team Captain

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Although he is a pre-Davidson pick, Backes serves as Blues captain and falls into the category of underrated. He is a big guy and he uses his body effectively. Backes is an all-around player who can score, posting 274 points in 450 career NHL games. Backes was drafted in ‘03 and played at Minnesota State-Mankato for three seasons until starting the 2006 season on St. Louis’ AHL team before being called up later that season. He now leads the Blues with his combination of tough, physical and agitating play, along with his offensive ability.

Center – Patrik Berglund – 6’4” 219 lbs.-2006 1st Round Pick (25 overall)

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Another large body that they like to use on the forecheck, Berglund is an interesting player. Drafted as a first-round pick in 2006 (their second first-round pick of that draft), the expectations were high  on Berglund coming out of the Swedish Elite League. He was consistent 20-goal scorer in Sweden, but his offensive upside was never realized. Despite only missing a total of 18 games over four NHL seasons, Berglund has only totaled 78 goals, and 168 points in 316 NHL games. What’s kept him around then? He is pretty responsible defensively and he is a great skater. In addition, he carries a low cap hit of $2.25 million and with his potential and previous proven 20 goal-scoring ability, that is a very reasonable price.

Center – T.J. Oshie – 5’11” 195. Lbs. – 2005 1st Round Pick (24th Overall)

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T.J. Oshie is one of the core players for the Blues, and will be for years to come. Oshie is on a 5-year contract that sees him signed through the 2016-2017 season at a cap hit of $4.175 million. In a mere 268 NHL games, Oshie has 66 goals and 180 points and Oshie is coming off of his first healthy season last year in which he played in all but one game. Despite not hulking over 6-foot-tall like many of his teammates, Oshie isn’t undersized, standing at 5-foot-eleven and weighing 198 pounds. He has great speed speed, pretty good hands and is a physical player. He goes to the front of the net and gets dirty goals, a knack for agitating the opponents, yet himself is very well disciplined, posting a total of 133 PIM over his entire career. Look for him to also be a staple on Team USA during international and Olympics play.

Winger – David Perron – 6’0” 200 lbs.- 2007 First Round Pick (26th Overall)

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The 24-year old-star winger is perhaps the most skilled played in the Blues lineup. He can stick handle in a phone booth and has a fantastic wrist shot. The knock on Perron early was consistency, as his goals totaled 13, 15 and 20 in his first three seasons, until he suffered a major concussion during the 2010-11 season, playing in only 10 games. Perron wouldn’t return from the hit he received from Joe Thornton on November 4, 2010 for over a year, before returning on December 4, 2011. His return season saw him play in 57 games and post 21 goals and 42 points. This season, although only ten games in, he has two goals and eight points. If Perron can stay healthy, which it now looks like he can, look for him to lead the way in scoring.

Winger – Vladamir Tarasenko – 5’11” 202 lbs. – 2010 First Round Pick (16th Overall)

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Without much of a body of work, this kid has made a HUGE impression on the NHL community. Getting his shot with the NHL club, Tarasenko has jumped out to a fantastic start. In ten games for the Blues this year, he has 5 goals and 5 assists. The goals have all been beautiful. The Russian got his start playing in the KHL since the 2008-09 season, starting in the league playing against grown men at 15 years old. This experience has left him ready for the NHL and fearless, despite being slightly undersized at 5 foot 11, although he does weigh a healthy 202 pounds. Tarasenko looks like he’s here to stay, so lets sit back and watch the fireworks.

Defenseman – Alex Pietrangelo – 6’3” 205 lbs. – 2008 First Round Pick (4th Overall)

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One of the key pieces of St. Louis’ success already and moving forward, has to be Alex Pietrangelo. After being drafted fourth overall, expectations are high for this kid  and so far, he is living up to them. A big body at 6 foot 3, he anchors the Blues top-four defensemen and would have to be considered the franchise player. Pietrangelo does it all, hits, skates well, passes well, can score, his positioning is spot on and pretty much any other aspect of the game that you could name, the kid does well in. Pietrangelo has posted fantastic offensive numbers in his brief NHL career, netting 25 goals and 104 points in only 183 games played. One of the most unheralded young star players in the game today, his future, along with the Blues looks bright.

Defenseman – Barret Jackman – 6’ 205 lbs. – 1999 First Round Pick (17th Overall)

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Barret Jackman is one of your old-school NHL defensemen. Cut from the same mold as Chris Pronger and Scott Stevens, Jackman is a veteran of the league and one of the last players from the generation of players that I have been watching my whole life. In hiseleventh season of his career, he has seen the best and worst of the St. Louis Blues. He is  left over from the Keith Tkachuk, Al MacInnis and Scott Mellanby era, an era that  saw St. Louis always in the playoff mix and has seen the lows of the Blues being cellar dwellers. He is a tough, physical presence on the blueline and a leader both on and off the ice. With his career reaching the latter stages, there is probably no one on the Blues more motivated win now than Jackman. As a hockey fan, Jackman is a guy you love to watch for the way he plays the game and if you’re a fan of a rival team, you probably hate him. Mean and nasty at times, he clears the front of his net and works his own defensive corners very well. He also has a blast of a shot and sees some power play time too.

The Others Playing

Jaden Schwartz – Winger – 2010 First Round Pick (14th Overall)

  • Another young guy playing on the NHL club full time. Due to the talent in front of him, he sees less ice time, but still is a staple in the lineup with tons of potential still to reach.

Ryan Reeves – Winger – 2005 Fifth Round Pick (156th Overall)

  • He’s the team goon, his stat line says it all: 93  GP 5 G 3 A 8 PTS and 221 PIM. I am still a believer that a tough guy is a needed person on your team and that it creates more room out there for the skilled players. Reeves, despite his size at 6 foot 1, 229 pounds, is a pretty good fourth liner.

Ian Cole – Defenseman – 2007 1st Round Pick (18th Overall)

  • Another first- round pick and another solid player. Despite not seeing the accelerated success of a Pietrangelo, Cole is still a solid D-Man and so far this year is averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time per game.

Roman Polak – Defenseman – 2004 Sixth Round Pick (180th Overall)

  • A staple on the Blues blueline for a while now, Polak is a guy you may not notice, but that can be a good thing, a la Rob Scuderi.

As you can see, the Blues have had tremendous success on draft day and have turned dark years into excitement for years to come. Along with the players they have drafted, two huge additions to the team are in net with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. Perhaps the best tandem between the pipes in the league, these two can bail out the young Blues at any given time when mistakes are made. And don’t let the star players of the Blues fool you, while they have some young players making up their core, they also have great experienced veterans supplementing the youngsters, such as Scott Nichol and Alex Steen and former Cup winners Andy McDonald and Jamie Langenbrunner.

While we are on the subject of draft picks too, we can’t forget the trading of number one overall pick Erik Johnson to Colorado last season for the dynamic Kevin Shattenkirk on defense and prototypical power forward Chris Stewart, who adds more size to the forward ranks at 6 foot 2, 232 pounds.

So here we are, in the waning days of February in this shortened NHL season and the Blues sit in one point out of second place in the Central Division at 6-4. After knocking the perennial Western Conference contending Sharks out in the first round last playoffs, they were derailed by the eventual cup champion Kings in four games. Now that the youngsters have had a taste of playoff success and the veterans knowing what it takes to sustain that success in the playoffs, the draft day Blues are poised to contend for hockey’s holy grail this year, and for many years to come.

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Pat Davis
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