The NHL Off-Season: No Rest for the Wicked

The long, arduous playoff journey has come to an end, and when the final buzzer sounded it was Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins who emerged victorious as the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions.

Make no mistake, congratulations are certainly are in order. After all, the Pens did defeat a very solid Detroit Red Wings team, and did so after falling behind in the series 2-0 after a couple of bad bounces in Joe Louis Arena. They displayed their testicular fortitude (although admittedly not as much as Nicklas Lidstrom) by not backing down and ultimately persevering when they could have simply rolled over and quit against nearly impossible odds.

Yeah, that's nice. Now get back to work, slacker!

Yeah, that's nice. Now get back to work, slacker!

But you know what? All of that is completely and utterly irrelevant. The 2009 NHL season is but a distant memory now, a faint speck of recollection drifting toward the horizon of foggy reminiscence. Indeed, Pens fans, it’s time to stop living in the past — because the 2010 season starts in just over one week’s time!

Football teams get an entire week off between games. Hockey teams get two weeks off between entire seasons.

That’s right. Party’s over. Get the Cup out of Mario’s pool, because with the Draft coming up next weekend and the insanity of Free Agency only two weeks away, there’s a hell of a lot of work to be done.

So many questions to be answered, all with a massive impact on next year …

  • In which city will Dany Heatley continue be a one-dimensional, whiny little bitch? Will Jason Spezza cry himself to sleep once Heatley is finally traded?
  • Who will the Islanders select first overall? John Tavares or Victor Hedman? Or will Garth Snow continue the fine Long Island tradition of trading away can’t-miss prospects for a dozen pucks and a sack of magic beans?
  • Which GM will foolishly overpay for the likes of Mike Cammalleri and the Sedin twins?
  • Will Vincent Lecavalier get traded at the Draft? Even if he doesn’t, he should show up in Montreal wearing a Habs hat, you know, just to mess with the Montreal media. That would be fun.
  • Will Ty Conklin sign with the Boston Bruins, since they are hosting the 2010 Winter Classic? I mean, you can’t have an outdoor game without Conklin, right? It’s in the rulebook, I’m pretty sure.
Ty Conklin loves playing in outdoor games almost as much as he loves losing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Ty Conklin loves playing in outdoor games almost as much as he loves losing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

  • Just what exactly will Brian Burke do during his first summer with the Maple Leafs? Will he move up in the Draft? Will he sign a big name free agent? Will he make Justin Pogge cry?
  • Will any free agents actually want to come to Montreal, knowing full well they’ll have to play for Jacques Martin? Oh, wait … no free agents wanted to play for the Habs before Martin took over, either. My mistake.
  • Will Marian Hossa sign a deal with Pittsburgh, believing that they now offer him the best chance to win the Stanley Cup?
  • Will Marian Gaborik tear his groin simply by answering the phone on July 1?
  • What type of Reebok-sponsored abominations will various teams unveil for this year’s crop of alternate jerseys?
Somebody actually thought this was a good idea. And they got paid for it.

Somebody actually thought this was a good idea. And they got paid for it.

And those are only a handful of the pressing issues that teams across the league have to contend with over the next couple of weeks. Indeed, it seems as though the NHL season truly never ends (well, I suppose there is that dry patch in August when all of the big name free agents have already been scooped up and the only players left are guys like Anson Carter). But really, as a hockey fan, you gotta love it. It sure beats watching MLB highlights on SportsCentre, that’s for damn sure.

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The NHL All-Brother Team

Unless you’re watching a Vancouver Canucks or Anaheim Ducks game, you don’t usually think about how many amazing brother combinations can be found throughout the NHL. At the moment, we can only see the Sedins and Niedermayers playing together — but what if all of the siblings across the league were all on the same team?

Swedish twins!

Swedish twins!

In response to this question, I’ve decided to assemble my roster for the 2008-2009 NHL “All-Brother” Team. My criteria for picking players was simple — if you played the 2008-2009 season for an NHL team or its AHL affiliate (but have played in the NHL previously), then you were eligible for the team. If you used to play in the NHL but have since high-tailed it to Russia, sorry, but you’re out of luck.

With that being said, here are my picks:

FORWARDS

Daniel Sedin — Henrik Sedin — Milan Michalek

Drew Miller — Eric Staal — Mikko Koivu

Tuomo Ruutu — Jordan Staal — Rob Niedermayer

Peter Schaefer — Saku Koivu — Jarkko Ruutu

Joel Lundqvist

DEFENCEMEN

Niklas Kronwall — Scott Niedermayer

Tomas Kaberle — Marc Staal

Zbynek Michalek — Frantisek Kaberle

Staffan Kronwall

GOALIES

Henrik Lundqvist

Ryan Miller

Nolan Schaefer

You can't argue with success.

You can't argue with success.

Using only brothers, I think we’d have a pretty solid NHL team. The goaltending would be absolutely tremendous between Lundqvist and Miller, and the defence has a healthy mix of puck-movers and stay-at-home guys (although that third pairing looks a little shakey). The only problem I see is up front — while the team is considerably stacked down the middle and the checking line of Ruutu-Staal-Niedermayer is supremely awesome, the lack of scoring wingers could be rather problematic. Call it the “Mats Sundin Syndrome”, if you will.

Of course, I only have myself to blame for that. Based on my criteria, even if you played numerous seasons in the NHL but just recently signed in Russia, then you didn’t qualify. Under those terms, Marcel Hossa was not eligible — which meant I couldn’t put Marian Hossa on this team. And make no mistake, Hossa would have looked pretty nice on that top line with the Sedins.

In creating this roster, I left out a few other eligible sibling duos, such as the Kostitsyns and the Brookbanks, who wouldn’t have really added anything to the team anyway. And if this roster were to be updated next year, there’s no doubt that the Schenn brothers would crack the starting line-up.

So, what do you think of my picks? Anybody missing? Any changes to be made?

Sorry, you're cut. Better luck next year.

Sorry, you're cut. Better luck next year.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ah, mid-April. Truly the most wonderful time of the entire year. The birds are chirping, the days are getting warmer, seasonal allergies have yet to launch their assault … and 16 teams are about to embark on an epic journey in an attempt to earn the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The greatest trophy in professional sports.

The greatest trophy in sports.

Yes, tonight marks the start of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and like a kid on Christmas Eve, I can’t wait for the games to begin. Even if my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t in on the festivities (an occurrence that has happened far to frequently in recent years), it’s still playoff hockey, and I’ll be damned if I miss out on the action (even if I’m not emotionally invested on who wins or loses). The highlight-reel goals, the close calls, the great saves, the triple-overtime nailbiters, the unlikely heroes, the unparallelled passion and emotion … it’s all amplified to a whole new level in the post-season. Quite frankly, it’s “must-see TV” at its finest.

And it all start tonight — a night where, just momentarily, every team is back on equal footing. Every squad has zeros across the board. No wins, no losses … just hopes, dreams, and potential. What you did in the regular season counts for diddly now — it’s what you do over the course of the next few weeks that really matters (psst … San Jose Sharks, I’m looking in your direction).

So, who am I picking to go all the way? Well, I’ll tell you who I’m not picking — and that’s the aforementioned Sharks. I’ve been burned too many times in the past by picking the Sharks to go deep, so screw San Jose. I say the Anaheim Ducks pull off the upset and send the regular season champs packing early.

Overall, I like the chances of Pittsburgh, Boston, Vancouver, and Detroit. I feel that those four are the teams to beat this year. The Penguins have been phenomenal since Therrien got kicked to the curb and any team with Crosby and Malkin simply can’t be ignored. The Bruins have been consistently superior all season long, with Tim Thomas leading the league in GAA and save percentage. Vancouver has Roberto Luongo, of course, but unlike recent years, it seems like the Canucks actually have a bit of offence, as well. As for Detroit, well, the Wings are the Wings. Say what you will about the porous defence and the terrible stats of Chris Osgood, but when you have the likes of Hossa, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom on your team, how do you bet against them?

I’d love to see Ovie and the Caps go far, and I think they can hang with the Bruins and Pens in the East, but for Washington to have any chance at all Jose Theodore will have to bring his game to a whole new level. While he won’t run into many problems against the New York Rangers, it’ll be a different story against the likes of Sid and Geno.

Of course, my predictions could be totally wrong. In fact, they probably will be. Heck, last year I picked the San Jose Sharks to defeat the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup, and as we all saw, that didn’t come anywhere close to happening. But the unpredictability of it all is just one more reason to love the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, it could be basketball, where the underdogs never, ever win. Or it could be baseball, where the same teams make the playoffs year after year. Anything can happen during the NHL’s post-season … and I wouldn’t have it any other way (unless it results in a Carolina vs. Columbus final … I wouldn’t approve of that very much, and neither would the league itself).

Indeed, mid-April is the most wonderful time of the year. Let the games begin!

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?