May 142014
 

After back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2008 and 2009 many predicted a decade of dominance for the Pittsburgh Penguins. How wrong we all were. With last night’s loss to the New York Rangers, the Penguins have now prematurely exited the playoffs five years in a row. With each subsequent loss the pressure mounted. Only Crosby had been immune to scrutiny. But no longer.

Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers celebrate a game 7 win over the Penguins.

Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers celebrate a game 7 win over the Penguins.

Following a dismal playoffs which saw him post only a single goal and nine points in 13 games, Sidney Crosby now must answer some tough questions. His disappearing act in the second round is one of the most surprising aspects of these playoffs and can be considered the reason the Penguins are not advancing. I do not want to take anything away from a superb performance by the Rangers, but if Crosby plays like he normally does the Penguins advance and the Rangers go home. Simple as that.

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Sep 302013
 

30 Players to Watch

Every year, before the official puck drop, I highlight one player from each team you should keep an eye on. It could be anything from a potential breakout season, a bounce back season or simply a season that is critical to a player’s development. (Click here for last year’s.)

Some names are obvious and some are not, but at the very least I hope there’s a little something for everyone.

But the purpose of this article is to really show off how much I know about everything. 

anaAnaheim Ducks – Hampus Lindholm, D

The Ducks have so many talented young players it was hard to pick just one. Peter Holland and Emerson Etem would’ve been in the mix as well, but both are coming off injuries. Lindholm, the sixth overall pick from 2012, played 44 games with Norfolk in the AHL last year.

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Jun 222013
 

Let’s get one thing straight first. John Tortorella is a good coach.

But if you’ve read anything published by the Vancouver media, by far the toughest and most annoying in the league, you’d think Tortorella was bottom of the barrel trash.

There are two main criticisms of Tortorella. First, he’s a fiery, demanding coach who doesn’t communicate well with his players. Second, he preaches a defensive style that wouldn’t be conducive to a Canucks’ offense which ranked among the league’s best under Alain Vigneault.

I have no idea what any of those references are. Bad communicator!

Not only are those two criticisms invalid, they’re products of a narrative constructed largely by very superficial observations. Tortorella is demanding, but he’s no more demanding than all the other notorious slave drivers who have graced the league, Scotty Bowman included.

(Best story about Bowman? That players hated him for 364 days of the year, except for the one day they get their rings.)

Re-watch HBO’s 24/7 series with the Rangers and Flyers. In the very first episode, Brad Richards was asked what it was like to be re-united with Tortorella.

“[Tortorella's] definitely not the same. I don’t think anybody’s the same after 10 or 11 years of doing something. He’s obviously picked up on other things, other methods.”

(In retrospect, “not the same” was a huge understatement in regards to Tortorella and Richards’ relationship.)

Tortorella’s reply:

“I’m asking more questions of them than telling them right now ’cause it’s a matter of respect. I think they have grown, and I think you need to allow them to have some input here.”

Says Marian Gaborik, who was frustrated in Minnesota when Jacques Lemaire preached a defensive system but posted two 40-plus goal seasons under Tortorella:

“He’s very honest. He tells you whether it’s good or it’s bad… He tells you directly, which is very good. You don’t have to wonder how did he mean that.”

Honest people make good communicators. Even if you don’t like what they say. Clearly, Tortorella didn’t consult a thesaurus when he said Carl Hagelin “stinks” on the powerplay, but no one can deny that Tortorella was accurate in his assessment.

It was also made clear over the four episodes that captain Ryan Callahan and Tortorella shared a good relationship, the two bouncing ideas off one another during intermissions.

That Tortorella goes out of his way to maintain a relationship with Liam Traynor, the young Rangers fan who suffers from cerebral palsy, shows Tortorella is not cold, abrasive and short-tempered all the time.

Tortorella is also outspoken about maintaining discipline and not yapping to the refs, something the Canucks obviously had trouble avoiding under Vigneault.

As for the supposed young players that Gillis wants to bring in (there’s really nobody beyond Schroeder, Jensen and Corrado, and none are blue-chippers), remember that Bobby Clarke declared live on-air that Tortorella was the best coach for young players. (Sorry, no video clip, but it was on a TSN panel. This was strictly from memory, though, I do have supporting evidence Clarke actually said those words.)

As for Tortorella’s penchant for playing defensive hockey? When the Lightning won the Cup in 2004, they had the league’s fourth-best offense. That alone should dispel any notion that Tortorella is guaranteed to instill a defensive system in Vancouver.

The Rangers don’t have anyone whose offensive abilities resemble that of an MVP like Martin St. Louis. 2013 Richards was just a shell of his former 2004 Conn Smythe-winning self. The Rangers were not built to outscore their opponents. Vigneault was a good hire because he brought something completely different to the Rangers, a calm, even relaxed, voice to the dressing room, not because he can suddenly work magic with the Rangers’ offense as Glen Sather believes he will. (There’s a chance, but don’t bank on the Rangers becoming an offensive powerhouse. They simply lack the personnel.)

And remember when Vigneault was hired as the Canucks coach? He wasn’t considered an offensive guru at all. His trump card was that he had been a coach with the Moose and was familiar with players in Vancouver’s system. His reputation for being an offensive coach came from the Sedins developing into star players and his stubborn use of zone starts.

Those who are quick to label coaches as either “offensive” or “defensive” types don’t understand that the best coaches work with what they have. Don’t be surprised if the Rangers don’t improve their overall offensive totals and still rely on Lundqvist on a nightly basis. Don’t be surprised if the Canucks’ offense continues to rank among the league’s best instead of tanking into the league basement.

Look at it this way: if you have Henrik Lundqvist in net and Girardi and Staal on defense, wouldn’t you play from the net out too? Nash doesn’t have enough weapons in his arsenal to carry an offense and Richards was never considered an elite playmaker at any point of his NHL career. There are no Art Ross winners in the Rangers lineup. The Canucks have two.

True, coaches nowadays do more managing of egos and ice-time than drawing up x’s and o’s, but Tortorella isn’t a guy you hire to make a team comfortable. If anything, the Canucks have been too complacent, too often unable to find an extra gear in the playoffs. If a team needs a dire kick in the pants, as the Canucks do having gone 1-8 in their last nine playoff games, Tortorella’s the guy.

Tortorella certainly has his faults just like any other coach. Rangers fans will soon learn about Vigneault’s stubbornness and propensity to play favourites. When Sean Avery tweeted that Tortorella had essentially lost the room and that his fiery tirades had essentially become gimmicks, there was some truth to it.

Head coaches in professional sports have a very short shelf life. That doesn’t mean Tortorella lost his job because he doesn’t communicate well. There wasn’t any other good reason for the Canucks to fire Vigneault beyond the fact that Vigneault had gone stale. With what’s being said and written about Tortorella, you’d think he was behind the Canucks bench for a decade already.

(And apparently the same criticism of poor communication doesn’t befall Dan Bylsma, who can’t seem to figure out any in-game adjustments to get his team going. I actually think the title of “poorest communicator” should go to the team who gets charged with the most too many men penalties.)

But you know the one thing that everyone has overlooked? The one glaring omission from the Canucks’ 40-plus years of existence and the most decorated Canadian team over the past decade? A championship title.

Tortorella has a Stanley Cup ring, Vigneault doesn’t. For a team that came within one game of winning it all in 2011, that’s huge.

In all honesty, Tortorella might not last very long in Vancouver, but he certainly is a coach who can push this team over the hump.

May 162013
 

Steve and I doing it again, just shooting the breeze.

Enjoy!

We catch up on Round 2 in episode 4 of Armchair Hockey’s podcast – talking Sens-Pens, Rangers-Bruins (4:51), the Leafs’ collapse (6:52), Kings-Sharks (10:10), Blackhawks-Wings (12:42), reffing controversies (20:54), Canucks and Caps (23:48) and hockey business (38:55).

May 072013
 

Steve and I had so much fun doing the first one and we’ve gotten some good feedback, so here it is, episode 2!

Guaranteed to be better than Attack of the Clones.

We talk about a potential Sharks sweep and the joyless 2013 Canucks (0:30), the clean Gryba hit and P.K. Subban’s hot temper (17:40) and the delay of game non-call on Alzner that cost the Rangers a powerplay (29:45).

Click to listen to Armchair Hockey Podcast Episode 2! Enjoy.

Apr 302013
 

So, once in a while, Steve and I will shoot the breeze and talk some puck. We decided to record for your listening pleasure. In the podcast, we go through every single series in the playoffs, make our predictions and, of course, make fun of Leafs Nation.

Apologies for the low sound levels and the lack of massaging to the sound. We wanted to get this up before the playoffs start so you have something to keep you busy while you wait.

It’s a long podcast, but click on the link and check out the time stamps listed below to skip to the series you want to listen to.

Cheers!

Armchair Hockey podcast no. 1

Apr 292013
 

The most exciting part of the year is here. The season was abridged, but the playoffs won’t be. Two full months of playoff hockey. Glorious.

So many story lines, so many things to go over. Can the Isles make the Pens sweat a little? How healthy will the Blues or Kings be after their series? Can the Red Wings pull off an upset over the second-ranked Ducks? Is this the Canucks’ last chance? Can a re-vitalized Ovechkin get the Caps over the hump?

Without further ado, here’s the quick and dirty for all eight playoff match-ups in the the 2013 NHL Playoffs.

1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8 Minnesota Wild

The Blackhawks were probably hoping for Columbus because no team wants to deal with Zach Parise in the playoffs. Parise had eight goals to lead the Devils last year and it was pretty clear Parise was the Devils’ MVP.

Despite the addition of Parise, who scored 18 goals this year, Minnesota has been starving on offense all season. Dany Heatley’s out for the season after getting shoulder surgery, Jason Pominville is questionable for game one, meaning their best goal scorer right now is Devin Setoguchi. Ohhh, scary.

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Apr 072013
 

1) With Marc-Andre Fluery and Kris Letang already on the shelf, the Pittsburgh Penguins suffered another major blow this week. Sidney Crosby was forced out of action after taking a puck to the face. It was later revealed that he will out indefinitely with a broken jaw. The only positive in this situation is that the Penguins have built up a huge lead atop the Atlantic Division (16 points). However their #1 seed will likely be surrendered to the Montreal Canadiens. After a 1-2 week they hold a tenuous 3 point lead over the surging Habs. Continue reading »

Mar 172013
 

1) The Pittsburgh Penguins went 4-0 this week and are now riding an 8 game win streak. Sidney Crosby has been lights out, but so has his linemate Chris Kunitz. I know that playing with the best player in the world doesn’t hurt, but what Kunitz is doing right now deserves more recognition. Kunitz has 18 goals and 22 assists in only 30 regular season games. Moreover he is rocking a +24 rating, the highest in the NHL. While Kunitz has always been blessed with extremely talented linemates (Teemu Selanne in Anaheim before Crosby), he has established himself as a durable and productive top 3 forward. I’ve never given him his due, but now I am.   Continue reading »

Mar 102013
 

1) Most of the news out of the Eastern Conference this week was overshadowed by the scary incident that took place in the Rangers win over the Flyers. Marc Staal was hit in the face by a puck and it is still unclear how severe the injury is. We all hope that he will get lucky when the news breaks. Obviously this brought the visor debate back to the front of everyone’s mind. Do I think the NHL should mandate visors? No, it is up to the players to decide. But I do think that all players who don’t wear visors need to seriously reconsider their position. To quote Dwight Schrute, “the eyes are like the groin of the head.” They need, and deserve, some protection. Continue reading »