NHL Week One:The Good,Bad, & Ugly

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The Cover 4.com presents you with NHL Week One:The Good,Bad, & Ugly! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

NHL Week One:The Good,Bad, & Ugly

Hello hockey fans, and welcome back. The NHL season is FINALLY underway, and there are a bunch of storylines taking place right now. How has the New York-Vancouver coaching swap worked out for both teams? Can the Blackhawks repeat? Can the Sharks get over the hump? Can the Penguins recover from an embarrassing playoff ouster? How will Tim Thomas fare in his comeback? We are about a week and a half into this new season, and we have seen some great hockey so far. Each week this season, The Cover 4 crew will give you a quick rundown of the weeks happenings in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Buckle up for the first installment.

The Good

-Alex Ovechkin has come out with guns blazing in this young season. Through three games, Ovi has 4 goals and 2 assists, and has looked like the MVP Ovechkin from the second half of last season. His release is still the most lethal in the game (sorry Steven Stamkos) and he is still finding acres of open ice on the power play. If he can keep up the pace, look for him to be in the mix again for MVP.

-The Colorado Avalanche are off to a 3-0 start this season.  They have a top-10 offense, guiding them to their third win over a previously unbeaten Maple Leafs team. Rookie forward and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon  has been very impressive thus far, and new head coach Patrick Roy has brought a new fire to the team.

-Without a doubt, the biggest story of the early season is young Czech Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are off to a 3-0 start as well, and Hertl has been a big part of that. In his three career games, Hertl has two multi-goal games, the most recent of which, a 4-goal game against the Rangers, capped by a must-see stick-between-the-legs move. Just sensational.  Despite the flash, the kid is showing he knows where to go to score goals, potting a few from the low slot, high crease area, which is right where you want to go if you want to have a long and productive NHL career.

 

The Bad

-Cory Schneider opened the season in net for the Devils when they visited Pittsburgh last Thursday, leaving Martin Brodeur to ride the pine on opening night for the first time in two decades. While Schneider is deserving of that honor, and the Devils opened with a back-to-back (so Brodeur could start at home), it is just yet another sign that one of the best goalies of all time is on his way out. My guess would be that this is Brodeur’s last season in the league, and with the Devils’ roster, it could be a long one.

-Despite the hot start from captain Alex Ovechkin (6 points through 3 games) the Caps have been less than intimidating. Already, they are the third worst team in the league in goals against, and they have played the horrible Calgary Flames, the mediocre-at-best Dallas Stars, and the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Through those first three games, the Caps managed just one win, and that was a comeback game against the Flames. The Caps still look to be a one-man show, despite Mikhail Grabovski putting up some numbers early. Luckily for Caps fans, it is still only three games into this young, 82-game season.

-The Philadelphia Flyers have stumbled out of the gates to say the least. Their newly appointed captain Claude Giroux was set back over the offseason by a freak golfing accident (something you thought a Philadelphia Flyer would have mastered by now), but he was ready for the season opener. After a less than impressive preseason and starting 0-3, the Flyers fired head coach Peter Laviolette, making him the first coaching casualty of the season, and promoted assistant coach Craig Berube to head coach. Berube got the Flyers’ their first win of the season to move them to 1-3 on the year, but if the Flyers don’t solve their goaltending issue (change the record on that one), they may be in for another long year in the competitive Metropolitan Division.

 

The Ugly

-Well it didn’t take Patrick Roy long to re-endear himself to the Avalanche faithful. At the end of his first game as bench boss in Colorado, tempers flared as Anaheim Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy appeared to hit Avs rookie Nathan MacKinnon knee-on-knee. MacKinnon was ok, but a fiery Roy got into a verbal altercation with Ducks agitator-extraordinaire Corey Perry, which led to Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau and Roy screaming at each other from the benches. Roy wound up shoving the dividing partition of glass between the benches, breaking it, and nearly pancaking Boudreau with it. “It going to be a long first year for Patrick if that is how he reacts to everything,” Boudreau said after the game.

-It happens to every goalie in their careers, and this week it happened to Jonathan Quick. A disastrous gaffe in the Kings game against the Rangers will keep Quick on hockey blooper reels for some time. After winning a defensive zone faceoff while killing a penalty, the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh cleared the puck off the glass and down the rink. As the puck headed towards the no-play trapezoid, Quick came out to stop the puck, and then move it back up to his teammates on the power play, a very routine move in the game. About two strides out from his net as he was bending down to get the thick part of his stick on the ice, Quick lost control of his stick right before the puck got to him, and the puck bounced right off of his blocker and went into his net. The shock and disbelief immediately befell Quick as reality set it. Luckily for Quick, he’s arguably the game’s best netminder, and this gaffe will quickly be forgotten.

-On opening night, an incident happened between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens that reignited the fighting debate. During their second fight of the game, Montreal’s George Parros and Toronto’s Colton Orr were squaring off, and being that they are both enforcers for their respective teams, they are no strangers to each other. At one point, Orr lost his balance, and as he was falling, pulled Parros down with him, who ultimately hit his face on the ice, knocking him unconscious and forcing him to be taken off of the ice on a stretcher. With both players involved having limited talent and one clear role on their teams (to be the fighters), the debate was kicked off again as to whether it is time to ban fighting in the game. We won’t have an answer to that question for a while, but it is moments like this that spark the debate.

 

Thank you for joining us for our first installment of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Stop back next week for more.

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Pat Davis
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NHL’s Greatest Moments: Stevie Y

STEVE YZERMANAs the off-season drags on, we will continue our look back at some of the greatest moments in NHL history. This installment will take us to Hockeytown, also known as Detroit, at the beginning of the Red Wings mid-‘90s dynasty, with Steve Yzerman, bringing us the moment.

The lead up:

It is a sports cliché that the best players are the ones who step up at the biggest time, and this series was a prime example. In a series that featured 11 present Hall of Famers, including arguably the  best player to ever play the game, it all came down to Game 7 between the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues. The game was scoreless. As any sports fan knows, it is harder to get better than Game 7, but try this on, Game 7 between two Stanley Cup-caliber teams tied 0-0, in the second overtime. This was an era before #BucciOvertimeChallenge, but had it existed then, you would not be short of viable players to choose from: Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Sergei Fedorov and Igor Larionov, just to name a few. But it was Yzerman that got it done on this night.

The moment:

As it tends to be in NHL playoff overtime games, the winning goal can seem to appear out of thin air. It was a rather routine moment in the game as the Red Wings were moving the puck out of their own end early in the second overtime. It was so routine that when you watch the highlight, you see two fans turn around and wave to the low-stationed cameras. As Gretzky, “The Great One,”  mishandled an intercepted pass just outside of the Red Wings zone, Yzerman swooped the puck up. As Yzerman carries the puck through the neutral zone, he finds a little space just inside the Blues’ blue line and decides to take a shot. Yzerman winds up and puts everything he has into the shot, and it wound up being a one-in-a-million shot. As captured so infamously by a handheld camera behind the net, Yzerman’s perfect slap shot was a hard rising shot that sailed over goaltender Jon Casey’s (who was in perfect position and was literally unbeatable all game) shoulder and off of the crossbar and in. The Joe Louis Arena crowd ERUPTED. It was the perfect shot at the perfect time from the perfect guy and the Red Wings were advancing to the next round. Yzerman, a usually calm and collected guy leaped for joy before being dog piled on by his teammates, and even coach Scotty Bowman got caught up in the euphoria and raced out to celebration pile. It was one of the first great moments of the Red Wings ‘90s dynasty, and perhaps the most heartbreaking goal in St. Louis Blues history.

NHL’s Greatest Moments.

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With the NHL season now in the distant past (relatively speaking), but next season still months away, as hockey fans we find ourselves mired in the most boring part of the season, the offseason. To help kill time during the offseason, we will bring you some classic NHL moments that we are taking a look back on, just because we are fans of the game. With such a great sport, played by great people over the course of a century, we certainly will not be short of great moments. Let’s get to it.

“Off The Floor, On The Board”

The Set Up:
​It was Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals which pitted the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim against the New Jersey Devils. As the teams took to the ice, the Mighty Ducks were in a must-win situation, as they trailed 3-2 in the series. A concern from Mighty Ducks fans heading into the game was “we need more scoring from Paul Kariya.” The Mighty Ducks captain was struggling to score, but in a pregame interview, noted the fact that he himself would like to see more goals go in. With 13:44 left in the second period, and the Mighty Ducks leading 3-1, Kariya made a pass through the neutral zone, and a second later, was absolutely leveled by Devils captain Scott Stevens. Stevens was an easy selection to the Hall of Fame, and at this point in his career, had made a living DESTROYING those who chose to skate through the open ice with their heads down, and Kariya was no exception. The hit left Kariya unconscious at center ice, and he appeared to not be breathing for a moment. After lying motionless on the ice for a few seconds, it was as if his body snapped back into it and Kariya let out a big exhale which you could see hit his visor. The doctors attended to Kariya and helped him slowly off the ice and into the locker room and presumably to the hospital.
​If you have ever watched a hockey game in your life, you know how tough every player is and the warrior mentality that they all possess, but the scene at center seemed to all that Kariya’s season was over. To the surprise of everyone, most notably Stevens, just minutes later Kariya returned from the runway to the locker room and took a quick skate during a stoppage with 9:13 left in the second period. Many a NHL player have played through an excruciating injury in the playoffs or the Final, but minutes after being knocked out cold to the point of not breathing, Kariya returning was a moment in and of itself, until…

The Moment:
​After returning to play, with just under three minutes left in that second period, Kariya took a neutral zone pass, skated over the very spot where only a few minutes ago he was lying unconscious, crossed the blue line and wound up for a slap shot. From a good distance away, Kariya absolutely blasted a perfect slap shot and blew it by future first ballot Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur, and the crowd erupted. With one of the best calls of his career, all-time great ESPN commentator Gary Thorne called the play: “SCOREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! OFF THE FLOOR, ON THE BOARD! Paul Kariya!!!”.
​The Mighty Ducks went on to force game seven, but ultimately lost in New Jersey in that seventh game. However, to any lifelong hockey fan, this was still one of those moments that epitomizes the sport of hockey and the players that play it.

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Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

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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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Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

Oh yeah, tell your friends too!

Pat

Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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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
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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The Draft Day Blues

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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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All We Want for Christmas is Hockey: Top 10 Most Missed Players

Henrick Lundqvist makes a beauty of a save! Where is he on our top 10?

Henrick Lundqvist makes a beauty of a save! Where is he on our top 10?

It is now mid-December and the NHL and NHLPA not only have yet to strike deal for a new collective bargaining agreement, but seem to be taking steps backwards as some of the biggest egos in professional sports continue to make this lockout about themselves and not the game. We are all frustrated as hell, and are sick to death of the daily public relations battles taking place in the media. So today, I’ve put together a list of the Top 10 players I miss watching play on a nightly basis.

10. Jordan Eberle – forward, Edmonton Oilers

Jordan Eberle is a fantastic young player and the captain-In-waiting for the young upstart Edmonton Oilers. The 22-year-old winger has put up some pretty good numbers throughout his brief NHL career, playing in 147 games and posting 52 goals and 67 assists for 119 points. More impressive than his stat line is actually watching this kid play. He is truly one of the smartest hockey players in the league today. I have said it once, and I will say it a thousand more times, Eberle is going to give the Crosby- Malkin- Ovechkin- Stamkos – Giroux group a run for their money as best player in the world sooner rather than later. Eberle has a knack for scoring big goals and always seems to be one step ahead of the play. His on-ice demeanor is reminiscent of Steve Yzerman…. perhaps one of the best compliments you can pay to a player.

9. Shea Weber – defenseman, Nashville Predators

If I am starting a franchise tomorrow, Weber would be the first defenseman I pick up if I have the chance. He is one of those players who dominates in nearly every facet of the game. He is big, strong, fast and skilled. Weber is the type of player that you create on your favorite video game to just dominate everyone. Weber has a supersonic shot, a snarly style of physicality and deservedly-so wears the “C” on his sweater in Nashville. He IS their franchise, especially since signing that massive blockbuster free agency deal in the offseason. You pretty much have to have the NHL Center Ice package to ever see him play as Nashville is the NHL equivalent to the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. They’re the team you always forget exists because they are never on TV and national newsworthy news rarely comes out of there, but Shea Weber is reason enough to tune in to Preds games if you have the opportunity. He is the prototypical defenseman in the league today, and the measuring stick for all others at his position

8. Pavel Datsyuk – forward, Detroit Red Wings

Entering the twilight era of his career, Datsyuk is still a treat to watch. By far the slickest player in the NHL, his hands are a gift from the hockey gods. I miss seeing Pavel trapped in a corner and tiptoe out through the defenders by putting a couple quick moves on his man, turning them inside out, then proceeding to generate a prime scoring chance.Lets face it, he finishes the play more times than not. The creativity with the puck that Datsyuk shows in one-on-one situations and shootouts is unparalleled in the league today. Quite honestly, he makes some of the best defenders and goalies in the league look ridiculous. Datsyuk and fellow Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg are the reigning faces of Hockeytown, which is reason enough to tune in to watch them play. But the flash that Datsyuk has mixed with his flare for showing how skilled he is should make any hockey fan miss watching him. In addition to the skill, he is often times nominated for the Lady Byng trophy for most gentlemanly player, so you don’t have to deal with a Sidney Crosby-esque yapping at the officials or Sean Avery-esque shenanigans.

7. Alex Ovechkin – forward, Washington Capitals

Despite The Great 8’s drop in production over the last couple seasons, there are few players as fun to watch as Ovechkin. His combination of size, speed and skill is truly unique. He has a laser beam of a shot that has the accuracy of Bruce Lee’s nunchucks and can be one of the most in-your-face players in the league. He is one of the few players in the league that keeps the crowd on the edge of their seat, no matter what arena in which he’s playing. Another aspect of Ovechkin’s game that makes him fun to watch is how physically involved he gets in games, which is rare for a star player of his caliber. He does not back down from anyone and can even take on the role of agitator, just ask Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Scott Hartnell. Ovechkin at his best is the most entertaining player to watch in the league but unfortunately over the past few seasons, Ovi at his best seems to come out only occasionally and he has had trouble consistently playing at a level that saw him pot 60 goals in a season.

6. Erik Karlsson – defenseman, Ottawa Senators

The smooth-skating Karlsson is another member of the up-and-comers club in the NHL and is coming off of his breakout season. The 22-year-old Swede finished third in the 2011-2012 season in assists with 59, and tenth in the NHL in points with 78 points in 81 games. His efforts were acknowledged with a Norris Trophy nomination for best defenseman in the league. Karlsson is a treat to watch because of his skating. He can move up and down the rink nearly effortlessly. Karlsson also has a mad offensive prowess and is a nightmare for penalty killers to defend on the power play. His shot won’t overwhelm goalies but his accuracy is surgeon-like. He can put a pass on his teammates tape from 150 feet away, or he can skate the puck out of trouble if needed. Although he is not physically dominant in his own zone, he sees the game well enough to play sound positional defense. When this youngster is playing, he jumps out at you and is a standout on a nightly basis.

5. Zdeno Chara – defenseman, Boston Bruins

“Big Z”, as he is known to teammates and friends, is a monster in multiple ways. Towering above the league at 6 feet 9 and 255 pounds, Chara is an imposing force on the back end for the Bruins. A full display of his physical strength was on display when he nearly killed Montreal’s Max Pacioretty when he checked him into the stanchion between the two teams’ benches. In addition to his freakish physical specs, Chara is a dangerous player and fun to watch because of his skill. He has the hardest slap shot in the league and he uses it quite often. He is an anchor on the Bruins power play and has the numbers to justify all the ice time he gets. I also enjoy watching Chara skate up and down the ice. With his long swooping strides, he may not be the most graceful player, but he certainly is effective.

4. Henrik and Daniel Sedin – forwards, Vancouver Canucks

The twins have been running the show in Vancouver ever since they were drafted second and third overall in the 1999 entry draft. For those of you who have never had a chance to watch these two play together, do yourself a favor and hit up YouTube and watch the mastery that the twins have in the offensive zone. Perhaps as a duo, the Sedins are the most creative and inventive playmakers in the league, tending to leave defenders befuddled and looking foolish. The two have been playing on the same line their ENTIRE life and it shows. They know where each other are at all times on the ice and together generate at least a couple tic-tac-toe or give-and-go plays per game. The Canucks pushed Boston to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Bruins, so in their 40-year existence , the Canucks have yet to capture a Cup. The brothers are in starting the downside of their careers, even though one of the brothers is always in the hunt for a scoring title and any hopes that Vancouver has rests on the shoulders of the Sedins and whichever goalie is in-between the pipes. I really wish we could watch them on their quest for glory in North America instead of the Swedish Elite League.

3. Claude Giroux – forward, Philadelphia Flyers

Giroux is coming off a fantastic season in which he emerged as one of the true superstars in this league, finishing third overall in scoring with 93 points, despite missing five games with a concussion last season. Giroux was partly responsible for the re-emergence of former superstar Jaromir Jagr when he played with Giroux and Scott Hartnell last season. Philadelphia is perhaps one of the most hostile environments in all of sports and Giroux flourishes there. He brings the mob to their feet on a nightly basis with his incredible display of skill and brains. Over the past couple seasons, Giroux has emerged as Philadelphia’s heart and soul, and a great antithesis to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Giroux can play with those guys and once the puck drops again on an NHL season, Giroux will once again insert himself into the conversation of world’s best player, as long as the Crosby-like concussion issue that he currently is dealing with clears up. Having been injured playing in Germany during the lockout, Giroux has returned to the States to seek similar treatment as Crosby had with his well-documented concussion issues.

2. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – forwards, Pittsburgh Penguins

Two of the games utmost elite talents, entering the prime of their careers and both having played the best hockey of their careers recently, what’s not to love about these two? We all remember the other-worldly tear that Sidney Crosby was on before his concussion problems derailed the better part of the next two seasons. We also remember Evgeni Malkin putting on GameShark for the 2009 playoffs and leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. Last season, Malkin had the goal of the year (which was one of 50 that he scored all year) and won the scoring title and MVP. At the ages of 25 and 26, Crosby and Malkin have won every noteworthy award between the two of them; Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, Rocket Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson award and so on and so forth. Pundits of the game have had one of these two as the best player in the game for the past three seasons or so. Both are one of a kind talents and bring different aspects to each game for the Penguins. Malkin has a blistering shot and has won the accuracy shooting at the All Star game, while Crosby is a cerebral assassin, and uses his brain as a weapon, always seeming to be in the right spot. These two are separately worth the price of admission each night, but together, it is the best deal in hockey.

  1. Henrik Lundqvist – goaltender, New York Rangers

King Henrik, for my money, is the most exciting player to watch in the NHL. He plays the toughest position in professional sports, in one of the toughest and most historic arenas in history, for one of the most demanding coaches in the league and he excels. Fresh off his Vezina Trophy victory last season for best goaltender in the league, Lundqvist will be looking to get off to a hot start next season. His play last season was truly MVP-worthy and his dominance in the playoffs helped the Rangers push the Devils to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals, only being bested by the best netminder of my generation, Martin Brodeur. There is nothing in the game more fun to watch than a goaltender put on a brilliant display in a game, and Lundqvist does it nightly. The Rangers are an Original Six team having had many great players throughout their existence, and Lundqvist is surely up there with some of the best. Henrik is one of those rare goalies that could easily be his teams captain, and garners the respect of his coaches, teammates, fans and media alike.

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Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

Oh yeah, tell your friends too!

Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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http://www.twitter.com/thecover4

Locked Out: The State of the NHL

The Cover 4 will feature a number of writers to cover a variety of topics. This article is by our very own Rick Davis, NHL insider.

As October passes and changes to November, the only thing that will be changing for hockey
fans is the page on their calendars. As we all know, the NHL is currently bogged down in its second
extended lockout in 8 years, the third since 1994, and the fourth lockout during Gary Bettman’s 19 year
stint as commissioner of the league. With each passing day, the glimmer of hope for a full 82 game
season(and any season at all for that matter) that briefly shined not long ago is fading fast.

As the news broke of the NHL’s offer to the Players Association on Oct. 16, hope spread
throughout the hockey world, and it seemed that there was a light appearing at the end of the dark,
dingy tunnel that this lockout has become. Sadly, the light wound up being a train, hitting hockey fans
head on. After expressing cautious optimism through their leader, Donald Fehr, the NHLPA presented a
trio of counter proposals that were quickly dismissed by the league and since then, all has been quiet.

Even as an avid hockey follower, the reasons for this lockout become distorted and muddled as
the NHL and the NHLPA spin the PR machine to increase their negotiating advantage. As sports fans, it is
in our nature to pick sides; Team vs. Team, Player vs. Player, or even Owners vs. Players, but in the case
of this lockout, it is really hard to pick a side.

I personally find it hard to pick a side because of one simple fact: I usually pick my “favorites”
based on what they represent. For example, most people’s favorite team is their favorite because they
represent their city, or in some cases, like those of the fans whose city does not have a team, the team
represents a storied history. Likewise, people grow found of certain players because of the individual
qualities that they represent, such as toughness, skill, perseverance, or selflessness. But the truth of the
matter of this lockout is that both sides are representing one thing: MONEY!

It’s that simple, and as passionate as hockey fans are, that is a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact
remains that the key issue in these Collective Bargaining negotiations is the division of Hockey Related
Revenues (HRR). Since the 2004-05 season was completely wiped out and the NHL was banished to the
Outdoor Life Network, the league has been on the comeback trail. Slowly but surely the league started
to regain its footing, and eventually made their way back into the mainstream, despite not having the
advantage that the other Big 4 sports leagues in America had; extensive national coverage on ESPN.

Before this lockout transitioned from threat to reality, the NHL was flying high, posting another
year of record revenues, roughly about $3.2 Billion, which was a $1 billion increase from the season
before, and in great position to continue their economic growth, having just signed a 10-year, $2 billion
television contract with NBC and Versus to continue broadcasting nationally (even though there were
serious negotiations at the time with ESPN, NBC presented the best deal for the league).

At the end of the day, the players and owners are both going to have to compromise on a deal
that splits HRR 50/50. That is going to be a very hard concept for the players to grasp, seeing as in the
last CBA, their split was 57%. The NHLPA, realistically, would have to consider any agreement that gives
the players more than 50% of the revenue split a massive success. Roughly translated, using last year’s
financial figures, the players’ share of HRR would be cut by $224 million if a 50/50 split were to be
enacted. Even to professional athletes, that is not chump change.

In addition, the owners also want to close salary cap loopholes, such as limiting term length of
contracts (therefore these absurd 15-year deals would not be around to lower the salary cap hit of a
front loaded contract), and pushing back the beginning of Unrestricted Free Agency from 28 years of
age to 30. There is also word that the owners would use salary roll-backs as a way of not honoring in
full, the massive contracts signed by players over the past couple of off seasons (see: Ryan Suter and
Zach Parise). The HRR split and the honoring of signed contracts are the key points that the players, as of
now, are refusing to budge on.

As we have all heard a million times when it comes to contracts and financial negotiations, at
the end of the day, this is a business. The owners own this business, and as a business owner, who puts
up the financial risk of fielding an NHL club, it would be bad business to not try and capitalize on the
sport’s soaring popularity and increasing your revenue. While much of the PR machine and some
media focus has, purposely or not, made the owners out to be soulless, money-grubbing monsters, the
fact remains that it is their time and money invested into these clubs, and they want the best return on
that investment that they can get. That sounds like good business to me; however they must make
concessions as well because no business at all is never good business.

So here we are hockey fans, fully engulfed in yet another lockout, with no end in sight for now,
having to watch old playoff series and notable games (with a ridiculously loose title of “classic” attached
to them) on the NHL Network to quench our hockey thirst. If you are like me, at first you were angry,
and wanted to do anything you could to get hockey back, such as heartfelt YouTube videos, threats of
boycotting the game upon its return, and wild notions of not giving ANY money to the teams once they
return, but now I have come to realize that there is, in reality, nothing we can do as fans. We wouldn’t
be fans if we boycotted after or didn’t invest our money into our clubs (ultimately that helps the teams
be competitive). So for now we just have to sit back, relax, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that NHL
13 can satisfy our hockey cravings for now.

Rick Davis

The Cover 4 Featured Sports Writer

http://www.facebook.com/patrick.d.riley.1?fref=ts

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