Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alfie Returns for One More Year

This morning, news broke that the Ottawa Senators will have a familiar face return for one more year.  Daniel Alfredsson, who has long been the face of the franchise, will return to the team that drafted him in 1994 and one that he has played for since 1995.  Think about this: the Senators in their current incarnation have been in the NHL since 1992, and Alfredsson has been in a Senators uniform for all but the first three seasons of the franchise.  He won the Calder Trophy in 1996, was named captain in 1999 during the Alexei Yashin Holdout Redux, and has led the team to their only Stanley Cup Final to date in 2007.  Oh, and he leads the franchise in just about every category.  The Senators made an unlikely run to the playoffs last year, and it was no coincidence that Alfredsson was a major part of that.  Personal output aside, he has also been a great mentor to Erik Karlsson, who himself had a breakthrough year on the way to a Norris Trophy (a bit of useless trivia: Alfredsson and Karlsson are the only players to have won a major award in a Senators uniform), and will likely serve as a mentor to both Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfveberg as they prepare for full time NHL duty next season.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Going to School

You know it's a slow news day when the big news is Guillaume Desbiens signs with Vancouver, but for today's piece, it's back to school, seeing as the youngsters reading this have a few weeks until then.  When the Calgary Flames decided to make Mark Jankowski the 21st overall pick in this year's draft, many eyebrows were raised.  Today, Jankowski announced his intention to play at Providence College this fall.  Most first round picks do not make the jump to the NHL right away, and certainly, Jankowski's decision was a wise one.  He does not have to necessarily sign with the Flames right away, nor would I expect it to happen after next season.  If the Flames are patient enough, Jankowski can be what the Flames hope for in terms of a young talent that can contribute on some level.  For Jankowski, this isn't just about playing hockey to get to a point of contributing at the NHL level; it is an opportunity for him to find out what he's about and to have something to fall back on should hockey not work out.  It can end up like Patrick White (25th overall in 2007) or Zach Parise (17th overall in 2003).  Both played college hockey, and both had radically different results.  The Flames need developmental prospects, and by not being in control of Jankowski for the moment, the Flames can still monitor his progress without pressuring him to perform right away.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Leaf Dilemma

As of today, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be entering the 2012-13 season with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens (pictured) as their goaltending tandem.  Not exactly an exciting prospect, is it?  You've heard all of the rumors of the Maple Leafs being in the running for Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Bernier, but I think it is time for the Maple Leafs to end the Bernier talk once and for all.  This is not exactly a ringing endorsement for Luongo by any means, as money and other parts to be moved figure into the equation.

Why end the window shopping of Bernier?  Since the lockout, the Maple Leafs have used Ed Belfour, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, Mikael Tellqvist, Justin Pogge, Martin Gerber, Jonas Gustavsson, Curtis Joseph, Scott Clemmensen, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Reimer, Scrivens, and Jussi Rynnas.  Of those names, Belfour is a Hall of Famer, but only played the first season post-lockout (he was a Maple Leaf prior to the lockout) and Joseph was on his second go-around in 2008-09, and was clearly on his last legs.  Raycroft was traded for Tuukaa Rask, a first round pick of the Leafs in 2005, which is the most damning aspect of the Leafs' revolving door in goal, as Rask is starting this coming season in Tim Thomas' year-long absence (incidentally, Rask was a starter for most of 2009-10, but lost it the following season when Thomas did his Dominik Hasek impersonation for two years).  Raycroft proved to be nothing more than a career backup and the guy that would replace him (Vesa Toskala) had even less of a resume, backing up Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose.  Let's not forget the band-aid solutions in Gerber, Clemmensen, and Giguere, and only Giguere had any signs of success in his time as a Maple Leaf.  As for drafting, they don't do a good job of developing young talent, and truthfully, the last time the Leafs did something with a prospect was Felix Potvin, who led the Leafs to two Conference Finals in 1993 and 1994.

What does all of this have to do with Bernier, you ask?  Looking at both Raycroft and Toskala, both had a modicum of success prior to joining the Leafs, with Raycroft winning the Calder Trophy in 2004.  However, neither could replicate that success in subsequent years.  Bernier has even less of a resume than either goaltender, and given the rough nature of Leafs fans, it is unknown whether Bernier will be able to handle the transition from the laid back Los Angeles to a pressure cooker in Montreal.  Yes, Bernier has potential, but so did Reimer after his first NHL season, and so did Pogge and Tellqvist, neither of whom became starters in the NHL.  Toronto will have a steep hill to climb no matter what they do in goal, but it could be much worse if they do decide to go with Bernier.  Luongo has far more of a resume and maybe someone from the Reimer/Scrivens duo will actually seize the starting role.  Then again, the Leafs could be in the same situation this time next year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Writing a (Vora)Cek

Lost in the news (and bad puns) of the Alexander Semin signing with Carolina yesterday was the news that the Philadelphia Flyers will be with Jakub Voracek for the next four years.  Having seen Jaromir Jagr and Ryan Suter sign elsewhere and Shea Weber get snatched from under their noses by Nashville, the Flyers could use some good news, and Voracek is it.  Acquired in the Jeff Carter trade last season, Voracek has always put up good numbers, and yes, that includes the horrific Columbus teams.  He's a bug guy (6'2", 214 lbs.) who has yet to tap into his full potential, but with 49 points last season and the potential to line up on a line with either Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, or both, Voracek could see those numbers spike, and with James van Riemsdyk off to Toronto, it's time for Voracek to step up.  The Flyers are betting $17 million over four years that it will happen, and I believe Voracek will justify the investment.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shooting Semin

The Alexander Semin Watch is over, and he will be taking his act to Carolina for one year, $7 million.  At his best, he could be another offensive weapon that now boasts Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, and an up and coming defense.  At worst, Carolina headline writers will have a lot of fun with the bad Semin puns.  You know the criticism that he gets for not putting in his best effort, but when he is on, he can score 40 goals.  He's not playing with Alexander Ovechkin anymore, but the Staals and Skinner are just as good right now, and Semin will be asked to shoot off.

I'll show myself out now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Music Plays On

Nashville Predators fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief this morning.  If you didn't hear yesterday, the Predators matched the offer sheet for Shea Weber from the Philadelphia Flyers, which amounts to 14 years and over $100 million.  Why was this a great move for the Predators?  Nashville has always believed in drafting well and doing so from the goaltender out, and with Pekka Rinne signed for at least seven more years, that means both Rinne and Weber, homegrown talents, will be the foundation for which the Predators can establish themselves.  Losing Ryan Suter was a major blow, as he was a definitive minutes eating defenseman.  Losing Weber would have meant the Predators would have to try and identify a number one defenseman, and no one on their current roster can be identified as such.  Sure, the blue line is a solid group, but without Weber, there would have been no player that could carry the mail in all situations.  It would also have given the Predators the unwanted tag of being too spend-thrift and potentially placed them in the same boat as Columbus (read: in the running for the first overall pick in 2013 and Seth Jones, potentially).  Weber gives the Predators a peace of mind when it comes to who to stick out there against the best players on the opposing team, and marketing the Predators will be easier with someone to call the face of the franchise, one that will be there for 14 years...that is, if they don't pull a Jeff Carter/Mike Richards type of deal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New York Bound Redux

In the midst of the Rick Nash Saga ending, one bit of news got lost in the shuffle, that being Ichiro getting traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees.  That meant Ichiro simply had to walk over to the opposing dugout, since the Yankees were in town to face the Mariners.  More significantly, it's a sign that the Mariners are in rebuilding mode, as they need to find out who's major league ready in the field.  For Ichiro, this trade is likely his best chance at a World Series ring that has eluded him since his debut.  It is indeed an end of an era in Seattle, one that hopefully will see King Felix remain as a cornerstone for a team that is good with pitchers, but not so good for hitters in recent years.

Are You Ready for some American Football? (Part II)

Yesterday, I did a half-assed preview of the NFC and was going to do the AFC before the Rick Nash Sweepstakes came to an end around 3 PM local time.  So, today, here is the AFC preview:

AFC West: This is anyone's division to win.  Denver has the inside track to win, and certainly, Peyton Manning has a lot to do with that optimism.  The questions here are Manning's health (obviously) and whether the wide receivers can learn their routes in time.  After all, when one of your receivers admits to not having to learn routes in the Tim Tebow era, you know there's a problem.  The trendy pick for a bounce back season belongs to Kansas City, and certainly, a solid free-agency period helps.  However, which Matt Cassel will we see this season: the good (2010) or the bad (2011)?  Oakland almost made the playoffs last year and can certainly make the playoffs this year.  It will all depend on Darren McFadden's health though, as there is no insurance behind him.  San Diego is looking to rebound from a terrible season, but who will be the number one receiver?  Offensive line issues could be a factor, as well.

AFC North: Despite Terrell Suggs' injury, Baltimore remains a favorite to repeat as division champions.  Most of the pieces are still in place from last year, and all that separated them from the Super Bowl last year was a dropped catch and a shanked field goal.  Love them or hate them, Pittsburgh is the model of consistency, and it all begins on defense.  Offense is the biggest question mark, as a new coordinator and a muddied running game are concerns.  Cincinnati is not sneaking up on anyone this year, which means Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will get twice the attention.  Both figure to adjust accordingly, but the bigger concern is the secondary.  Pencil Cleveland in as the last place team here.  Far too many questions and unproven players here to even think about a playoff berth.

AFC South: Houston is the head of the class here, and if Matt Schaub can stay healthy, the Texans could make a deep playoff run.  Tennessee is not far behind, but wide receiver issues (namely Kenny Britt and his off the field problems) could derail the team.  Jacksonville is as exciting as watching paint dry, and no one expects them to do anything of note.  At least, there's still Maurice Jones-Drew.  Indianapolis is starting over, and it begins with a little Luck.  Don't expect an immediate resurgence, as the Colts are literally rebuilding, and yes, that includes the offensive and defensive systems.

AFC East: New England is still the king of this hill, and a strong draft suggests that the window of opportunity will still be open, though there is also a sense of urgency with Tom Brady winding down.  Buffalo had a strong start and an equally wretched end.  Mario Williams will help on the defense, but the Bills need a second option at receiver to help Ryan Fitzpatrick.  It would also help if Stevie Johnson could not cost his team a game or two with his on the field antics.  The New York Jets are a far more interesting story off the field than on it.  Quarterback is a mess, and someone should stop shoving a microphone in Santonio Holmes' face, as he hasn't met a mic that he didn't like.  Oh, yeah, and their running game is a mess.  Miami is the bratty kid that desperately seeks attention, but at the end of the day, they will make no impact this year.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Now Appearing on Broadway...

If you are the Columbus Blue Jackets, today's news should be something of a relief, as Rick Nash is finally an ex-Blue Jacket.  Pending finalization, the Rangers will get Nash, Steven Delisle, and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2013 and the Blue Jackets will get Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Jan Erixon, and a first round pick in 2013.  What does it all mean?  For the Blue Jackets, it is a small victory in that they managed to get the best possible value they could get.  The Rangers were not about to give up Michael Del Zotto, Derek Stepan, or Chris Kreider, and given that both Anisimov and Dubinsky have NHL experience, the Blue Jackets get the forwards they want.  Erixon is likely to make his debut next season, but given that he had been with the Flames and Rangers before even suiting up for a game (he did play 18 games for the Rangers last season), it is possible that Erixon could be this decade's Keith Ballard in that he's never had a chance to settle into one city this early in his career.  A possible late first rounder in 2013 (given the Rangers' ability to make a deep playoff run) gives the Blue Jackets a chance to reverse their Draft woes of most of their existence.

As for the Rangers, Nash gives the Rangers a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner in 2004 and now, he won't have to carry the load on Broadway like he had to in Columbus.  In short, 40 goals is not out of the question next season, and it's possible that Nash could either have Marian Gaborik or Chris Kreider as his linemate next season, and I haven't even gotten to Brad Richards.  Delisle is a former fourth round pick from 2008 who has considerable height, and since the Rangers have depth and talent on the blue line, he won't be rushed to the NHL.  There's also the conditional 3rd round pick in 2013, which the Rangers can use as they see fit.

Short term, the Rangers win this trade and Columbus is one headache less heading into September.

Are You Ready For Some (American) Football? (Part I)

On this blog, I rarely ever take the time to talk about American football, as there are many folks who believe they know a lot (cheap plug alert: Head over to Football Nation for your football fix, and be sure to give Justin Henry, one of the contributors there, a hello).  That said, this week begins the training camps for the NFL, which means that I have to give it some kind of coverage, so today, I would like to give some thoughts as to who will win the divisions.

NFC West: San Francisco is the favorite to repeat as champions in this division.  It remains to be seen if Alex Smith can repeat last year's numbers, but as long as the defense is great, a repeat is likely.  Seattle has a chance, but it also needs to solve its QB problem and brace for a possible Marshawn Lynch suspension for DWI.  St. Louis sounds like a trendy pick for a surprise run, but it does have wide receiver problems, as in who is their number one.  Arizona needs to figure out if Kevin Kolb is the solution at QB.

NFC North: Green Bay tried shoring up its defensive deficiencies this offseason, and if it happens as planned, then they should be division champions again.  After all, Aaron Rodgers is still the quarterback and a running game is optional.  Detroit should be in hot pursuit, but discipline problems both on and off the field may conspire to keep them from reaching their potential.  Chicago needs receivers, and Brandon Marshall goes a long way in solving that problem.  However, Jay Cutler needs to be more consistent.  Minnesota is rebuilding, so expecting them to be anywhere near a playoff spot is unrealistic at this point.

NFC South: If you had to pick a division in the NFC where anyone could win it, this is it.  Atlanta is the prohibitive favorite, with a sterling offense and a decent defense.  However, Matt Ryan needs to take his game to the next level if the Falcons want to be anything more than a one and done.  New Orleans is facing an uphill battle both on and off the field, and Bounty-Gate has a lot to do with it.  At least they still have Drew Brees.  If there was a window of opportunity for Carolina to seize the NFC South, this is the year.  One of their running backs is likely going to walk after the season, be it DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, and Cam Newton will look to prove himself again.  Tampa Bay is out for redemption after a diarrhea-inducing season that saw them lose their last 10 games of the season.  Discipline will be at the forefront, which means the likes of Aqib Talib better straighten up or else...

NFC East: Philadelphia is out to prove that last year was not them, and certainly, not having Vince "Dream Team" Young will help, as will locking up DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy long term.  It's all on Michael Vick to be healthy and productive.  The New York Giants will look to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, but the road will not be easy, as their running game is a question mark, and Victor Cruz will not sneak up on anyone this year.  There's still a good defense and Eli Manning, which means expectations will remain high.  Despite what the big networks say, Dallas is not the team they think they are.  Far too many questions at wide receiver (can Dez Bryant and Miles Austin play to their full potential) could derail any hopes for a playoff berth.  Tony Romo doesn't deserve all of the criticism he gets, but the pressure is on him to get the Cowboys deep in the playoffs this year.  Washington is unlikely to make the playoffs this year, but Robert Griffin III will be must-see TV.  Washington fans should be excited this year, if nothing else.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Restricted Movement

By now, you know that the Philadelphia Flyers tendered an offer sheet to Shea Weber for 14 years and over $100 million over the course of that contract on Wednesday night.  Nashville has seven days from that point to match or let him walk.  Let's look at how this will affect not only the Flyers and Predators, but also the other restricted free agents this year.

For the Flyers, they desperately need a young defenseman, seeing as Kimmo Timonen is on the wrong side of 35 and it is questionable whether Chris Pronger will play again.  The Flyers have traditionally spent to the cap, so the Weber signing will clearly be geared towards fitting within the cap.  Weber provides just about everything Pronger has been in his career, so if Pronger is unable to play again, Weber can step in right away and be a number one defenseman.  Even if the Predators do match the offer, the Flyers can help every other Western Conference team just by forcing the Predators to spend more than they intend.

For the Predators, losing Weber means that they will have lost both of their minute-munching defensemen, as Ryan Suter has already bolted for Minnesota.  The perception that they are cheap could be forthcoming, since they have traditionally built their team through the draft and more often than not, lost them once they have hit their prime.  Dan Hamhuis, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Suter: those are some of the players the Predators have drafted and seen flourish before seeing them leave for other teams.  If the Preds do match the offer, it could be a salary cap issue down the line.  However, for a team that traditionally does not like to gamble, keeping Weber would go a long way in solidifying the Predators' back end and make the transition easier for the young defensemen trying to fill the Ryan Suter hole.

Who's all of the RFAs that are still on the market?  P.K. Subban, Sergei Kostitsyn, Michael Del Zotto, Jakub Voracek, John Carlson, and Evander Kane are all still without a deal for next season, and given that most of the owners are afraid to disrupt the apple cart, most of the players will likely not be offered a deal.  Philadelphia's offer to Weber could very well open the door, since he is the biggest name to be tendered an offer sheet.  As for where Weber will end up, only one player has switched teams after being signed to an offer sheet since the lokcout: Dustin Penner by Edmonton from Anaheim.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

No MSG Added

As I was thinking about what to write today, a revelation came up, and it has a little to do with the man you see in the picture above.  No, I am not writing about Jeremy Lin, but he has a little something to do with the subject of today's piece.  As you know, the New York Knicks did not match the offer that the Houston Rockets made for Lin, which in effect made Lin a Rocket and instantly made the Rockets the epicenter for the casual observer.  What happened to New York?  Well, the group that owns the Knicks, MSG, took an 8.5% drop in the stock market in the two weeks leading to and after Lin officially became a Rocket.  What does this have to do with hockey, you ask?  It so happens that MSG also owns the New York Rangers, and the guy at the head of the MSG group, James Dolan, was shot down by the Rangers head coach John Tortorella after Dolan guaranteed a Stanley Cup for the Rangers this past season.  Is it any wonder why Dolan has little involvement with the Rangers?  After all, Tortorella is not a coach you want to butt heads with because as much as he is a media nightmare, there is a reason the Rangers have done well in recent seasons, and the head coach has a little to do with it.  Where does that leave the Knicks?  Same place they were before Lin made his short-lived impact.  Translation: stuck at the kids' table in the NBA.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All Eyes on Dubnyk

For all of the talk about the Edmonton Oilers' youth movement, there is a reason why they have drafted first overall for the last three years.  Yes, Jordan Eberle is a superstar in the making, as are Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and yes, Nail Yakupov adds an exciting element to the Oilers.  Defense is going to get better, with Justin Schultz, David Musil, and Oscar Klefbom all waiting for their chance.  However, there is one gaping hole that will likely keep the Oilers from reaching their full potential: in goal.  Currently, that space is occupied by a tandem of Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk.  Read correctly, it means a goaltender that has seen better days and a not-quite-ready for primetime goaltender are the Oilers' options right now.  Having signed a two-year extension after posting career highs in wins (20) and GAA (2.67), it is time for the former first round pick in 2004 to take control of the starting job.  As long as Cory Schneider, another first round pick in 2004, plays as well as he has in limited action (he eventually took control of the starting job last year), Dubnyk will be facing some immense pressure, and given that the Oilers are not lacking for offense and need their defense to catch up, it would be great if Dubnyk can provide the solution in goal while the other young talent develops to their full potential.  After all, someone has to stop the other team from scoring, and playing 6-5 games constantly is not good for a youthful team like the Oilers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Devil Dancer

If you've read any of my beer reviews at all, then you know that I am rather fond of IPAs.  So, imagine my surprise when I hear that there is a triple IPA from the people at Founders Brewing Company.  Called the Devil Dancer, it carries a 12% ABV and as you can tell by the color (despite it being over-poured, but that's a story for another day), it has a rich, dark color for an IPA.  The smell has some fruity undertones to it, and it has twice the taste of a normal IPA.  With the high ABV however, you better treat this thing like a wine or else it will swallow you whole.

Monday, July 16, 2012

(International) Football in Kansas City

I haven't had much in the way of hockey news lately, and until the Nash/Ryan/Luongo/Semin shoe drops, it appears that I will only hear about the signings of minor significance.  My baseball coverage is still sorely lacking despite promising quite a bit during All-Star week, so no more promises on that until I can swing by the Negro Leagues Museum, since Kansas City has a rich history in baseball.

As you may have figured by the picture above, today, I will be talking a little football.  No, not the one most Americans think of, but rather the sport everyone not in the United States calls football.  As for a specific subject, today will be all about football in Kansas City.

Kansas City Comets 1979-91
The origins of football in Kansas City date as far back as 1981, when the Comets played indoors.  Prior to 1981, the team that became the Comets played their first year as the Detroit Lightning and their second year as the San Francisco Fog.  From 1981 until they folded in 1991, the Comets would play their home games at Kemper Arena and made the playoffs seven of the ten years in existence.  However, the drop in revenue forced the team to fold after the 1990-91 season.

Kansas City Attack (1991-2001), Comets (2001-05)

Almost immediately after the Comets folded, Kansas City got another indoor football team in the Attack of the NPSL.  Originally the Atlanta Attack, that franchise moved to Kansas City after two years in Atlanta.  That franchise won the championship in the 1992-93 and 1996-97 seasons.  After the 2000-01 season, the NPSL folded and the Attack would form a new MISL with the leftover teams from the NPSL.  That move saw the team rename itself the Comets, albeit with a new logo.  That team would not see the league fold in 2008, as the Comets would cease after 2005.

Missouri Comets 2010-present

A brand new MISL formed in 2008 and in 2010, the Comets name would make a return, though they would become known as the Missouri Comets, complete with original logo.  This current Comets team calls the Independence Events Center home.

Kansas City Wiz 1996

Major League Soccer would make its maiden voyage in 1996 and Kansas City has been a part of the league from the very beginning, though it did undergo two different name changes.  The first incarnation of the Kansas City franchise was known as the Wiz.  No, not the Wizards (though that would be rectified the following year), but the Wiz.  Imagine the jokes to come from that name.  The team itself actually made the Conference Finals that year, losing out to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Kansas City Wizards 1997-2010
The team would become the Kansas City Wizards, ending an error that spawned many jokes about the name.  They would have some horrible years, but with an MLS Cup in 2000 and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2004, it's safe to say the Wizards had some success.

Sporting Kansas City 2011-present
In 2011, the franchise was rebranded as Sporting Kansas City.  To date, Sporting has had some great success, which has largely coincided with the new Livestrong Park that opened in the middle of the 2011 season.  I know there were (and still are) people that hate the name change, but I am not one of them.  The name Sporting Kansas City rolls off the tongue and presents some new marketing opportunities (many of them, remain unused).  Given that they're winning...a lot, I don't hear many complaints now, which goes to show that winning does indeed solve a lot of problems.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Applying for a Job: Canucks Edition

Now that I've got the Rick Nash news out of the way (hopefully, no more until the trade DOES happen), here is a little bit of light-hearted fun.  It appears that there is this bit of news making the rounds that Dan Ellis, he who was made silly by a Linus Omark spin-o-rama in December 2010, is putting in calls to the Vancouver Canucks.  As you know, the Canucks are ready to trade Roberto Luongo (I covered this one a while back, complete with my possible solutions) and since there is a likely opening with that impending trade, Ellis took it upon himself to contact the Canucks about being a goaltender for the 2012-13 season.  I am presuming that Ellis knows he will be a backup and not a starter, since Cory Schneider will be starting, and while it's nice that Ellis has expressed his desire to play for the Canucks, there is a reason why he is likely headed to his fourth team in two years (Nashville, Tampa Bay, Anaheim were his previous stops), and it has nothing to do with the Omark-a-rama.  When you fail to seize a starting job in goaltender-starved Tampa, that alone should tell you something.  In Vancouver, he doesn't have to be the starter and with a better blue line group in front of him, Ellis could resurrect his career IF he plays well.  That is a big IF, though.

The Neverending (Nash) Saga

By now, you know that Rick Nash wants out of Columbus.  Well, there is one thing that is standing in the way of that reality: Scott Howson, who somehow still parades around as the General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  For you basketball savants, think of this as the Dwight Howard Saga, only this time, Nash wants to go to a contender.  Okay, Howson isn't the only thing keeping Nash in a Blue Jackets uniform.  For one, there is that enormous $7.8 cap hit that the team Nash gets shipped to will have to absorb.  Who can absorb that hit?  Well, looking at some of the teams Nash wants to go to, it will require a lot of movement just to be able to absorb it, and if you're NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Detroit, or San Jose, that is a lot of salary that needs to be cleared.  The Rangers had been the front runners, but given that the young talent acquitted itself nicely in the playoffs, it's doubtful that Glen Sather will want to mess with that chemistry much.  The Flyers are also in the mix, but they need considerable salary cleared just to fit him, and where are they going to find it?  Same thing goes for San Jose, who's in worse shape than Philadelphia in the salary cap department, and they deeply need to restock the prospects cupboard.  Detroit could take it, but two things will likely kill that deal: the Red Wings are in the same division as Columbus and the Wings need a defenseman a lot more than they need a winger.  Keep in mind that these four are the prominent teams Nash has his heart set on, since there is that matter of the no-trade clause.  What is Howson wanting in return?  Some NHL ready forwards.  If I'm Howson, I would either soften those demands a little or just say some NHL ready players in general, since Columbus needs just about everything short of a puck moving defenseman (Jack Johnson says hi).

It's a mess in Columbus, and there is no way that they will be contending for anything other than perhaps the top pick in next year's draft.  Let's hope Seth Jones rubs rabbit's feet that it never has to come to that because the Blue Jackets are already misusing another Winterhawk in Ryan Johansen and the Blue Jackets need to get their pipeline back in order.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

One More Year...

The title is exactly what the Anaheim Ducks and NHL fans in general are getting from Teemu Selanne.  He's over 40, yet can still run circles around half of the NHL today, and given the uncertain future of Bobby Ryan and the consistency issues of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks could use some good news right about now.  With Selanne opting to sign for one more year, this is the good news that the Ducks desperately needed.  Depth on the front lines have been shallow for years since the 2007 Stanley Cup run, and given the team's failure to sign Justin Schultz from college, the Ducks, more than any other team, needed Selanne.  The NHL's elder statesman now that Nicklas Lidstrom has stepped into the Red Wings' scouting department office, Selanne entered the NHL with a bang (76 goals his rookie year), and has been one of the most consistent scorers, even as he pushes past 40.  The fact that he's annually in the top 3 on the Ducks in terms of scoring is not just an indictment on the Ducks' inability to develop secondary scoring, but also a credit to Selanne's work ethic on the ice.  It doesn't hurt that he's widely considered one of the top people off the ice, and that is where the Ducks will benefit the most.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Time to Shine!

Tonight is the MLB All-Star Game, which will wrap up a weekend (plus Monday and Tuesday) of All-Star festivities in Kansas City.  Tonight's game will be in every sense of the word, a changing of the guard.  Chipper Jones is playing his last season and is in the game tonight.  Fun fact for you, courtesy of a local little birdie: until last night, Jones had never stepped foot in Kauffman Stadium.  Jones has been in every stadium except the Royals' home field.  Representing the new generation?  Bryce Harper (pictured) and Mike Trout, both of whom are teen phenoms and both of whom are making their first appearances in the Midsummer Classic.  Both are riding shotgun on their respective teams, with Harper sharing the spotlight in Washington with Stephen Strasburg (expected to play tonight) and Trout playing alongside Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo (the latter putting on an impressive show in the Home Run Derby last night).  Yet, both are already making their marks in the Majors this early in their respective careers, and Harper is already a household name while Trout may very well be a household name by season's end.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Semin or No Semin?

The NHL off-season has been dominated by the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter bombshell that changed the landscape of Minnesota Wild hockey and the ongoing trade rumors surrounding Rick Nash.  Throw in the Roberto Luongo trade talks and the Bobby Ryan trade rumors, and there is no shortage of things to talk about in the NHL.  Forgotten in all of the hoopla is one Alexander Semin, who is still without a team (in the NHL or KHL).  So, why hasn't he committed to a team this late in the free-agency period?  Besides the fact that it's only nine days old, there is the ever present question of character, as in will he give 100% every night.  It's no secret that character has been his biggest question mark, and given that until this off-season, the Capitals had given him only one year deals in recent years, but when he is right, he is capable of changing the game based on his talent alone.

This is where I put on my general manager's hat and put together teams that Semin could and likely should sign with in the coming days.  So, who should take a good look at Semin?

  • CAROLINA HURRICANES: The financial commitment to Jordan Staal could be a factor in whether or not Semin lands here, but he would at worst, add a second line presence and be an offensive weapon with either Eric Staal or Jeff Skinner.  The downside?  Whether Semin's presence negatively affects Skinner.
  • COLORADO AVALANCHE: With the additions Vancouver and Minnesota made, not to mention the young talent lining up in Edmonton, Colorado could very well be eating their dust with only Calgary possibly breaking their fall.  PA Parenteau is a nice signing, but Semin could very well be what Colorado needs, and having Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene there should be a benefit for a player who needs some direction.
  • DETROIT RED WINGS: Having lost out on the Parise and Suter sweepstakes, Detroit desperately needs to make a splash.  They need a defenseman more, but the coaching is there if Semin wants it, and the leadership (be it Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk or whomever) should help in unlocking his potential.
  • PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: It's not like the Penguins need another offensive talent, but with a strong chemistry in the locker room and the chance to stick it to the rival Capitals, the Penguins could take a chance on Semin, and he wouldn't even have to be a top line player.
  • VANCOUVER CANUCKS: Not having a healthy Ryan Kesler or Daniel Sedin hurt the Canucks last year in the playoffs, and Semin could fill in the offensive blanks should injuries hit again.  Obviously, what happens to Roberto Luongo will have an effect on whether or not the Canucks are in the Semin race.
  • WASHINGTON CAPITALS: Yes, the Capitals haven't offered him a multi-year deal (which is what I presume he is looking for), but he had his most complete season last year, despite lower offensive numbers and a constant battle with Dale Hunter.  The big draw for Semin?  Playing alongside Alexander Ovechkin, who he has said in reports that he likes having as a teammate.
The Alexander Semin watch is on, and whoever signs him will have a great talent, but getting him to use that talent well is going to be the biggest challenge for whoever signs him.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

MLB FanFest

Earlier in the week, I said I was going to talk about baseball, being that the MLB All-Star Game is in town this Tuesday and the festivities are ongoing as we speak.  I am finally getting around to talk about baseball, as the free-agency period has hit a lull after the big July 4 announcement.

The All-Star Weekend festivities will have a Celebrity All-Star and Futures Game on Sunday, and if you're like me and are not rich enough to attend the All-Star Game itself (or even the Home Run Derby on Monday), there is always the MLB FanFest.  That would be your cheapest option (though at $30 to get in, the term "cheap" is relative) and features exhibits from the Negro Leagues (pictured, and if you want to see all of the Negro League artifacts, visit the Negro League Museum if you're in town), the Women's baseball league of the 1930's and 1940's, and interactive displays where you can try your hitting, fielding, and pitching skills, and even try to steal a base.  Collectors, the FanFest even has something for you, with vendors carrying baseball cards, pins, patches, balls, game worn gloves and jerseys, and even batting helmets, and yes, you can trade your baseball cards there.  The baseball lifer in me enjoyed it yesterday, though there was great temptation to spend beyond the means, as there was even an MLB shop for jerseys, caps, shirts, and various things with the All-Star label attached.  If you have a lot of money to blow and want to get your baseball fix without spending ludicrous amounts for tickets to the actual All-Star game, FanFest is for you, but it only runs until Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why Parise and Suter Will Pay Off for the Wild

By now, you know the story of the day, where the Minnesota Wild signed both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.  Opinions have wildly varied, and there are even a few folks criticizing the signings as nothing more than window dressing.  Just look at Columbus' failed spending spree from last year, with the trade for Jeff Carter and his bloated contract and signing James Wisniewski to a big deal.  Yes, Minnesota got a big name forward and a good defenseman, just like Columbus last year, but that's where the similarities should end.  Minnesota is going to be better with those signings and maybe they don't win a Stanley Cup within 5 years or so, but in the immediate future, Minnesota will be playoff contenders.

Before both Parise and Suter signed, the Wild already had a few pieces in place, with Mikko Koivu captaining the team (a role he's likely to retain despite Parise's signing), a good goaltending tandem in Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, and prospects in Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, and Matt Hackett waiting to make their mark.  Throw in signings such as Zenon Konopka, who will add faceoff ability and toughness (to go with Matt Kassian and Cal Clutterbuck), Torrey Mitchell, and Jake Dowell, and the Wild had their bottom two lines filled.  Parise will not only help in the offensive game, but he could very well lift the game of Devin Setoguchi, who had his worst season, and maybe, just maybe, help Dany Heatley find some of his lost scoring touch.  Suter instantly becomes the number one blue liner, and though questions will remain as to whether or not he can succeed without Shea Weber, he only needs to look to other former Predators in Kimmo Timonen and Dan Hamhuis for success stories after Nashville, as both play significant roles for Philadelphia and Vancouver, respectively, and not coincidentally, were important in their teams' Stanley Cup runs in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Why won't Minnesota be like Columbus of last year?  Neither will likely pull a Jeff Carter and say (or imply) that they don't want to be in Minnesota, and that happiness to be there should be a good sign for those who may think about signing with Minnesota.  Also, Backstrom and Harding are good goaltenders, and overall depth in that department is good, with Matt Hackett waiting for his turn.  Columbus had Steve Mason and practically nothing else, not even in their minor league system.  Both had suffered the inability to draft and develop players, but it seems that Minnesota is willing to be more patient than Columbus, who have had a history of rushing players to the NHL before they're ready (see: Brule, Gilbert).  Yes, 13 years is a long time and a lot of money to commit to two players, but it appears both Parise and Suter want this challenge of bringing back the credibility to the Minnesota Wild hockey team, and for that, the Wild should be thankful.

As far as their division goes, remember that Vancouver is still in the same division, and no matter who the starter is (be it Luongo or Schneider), the Canucks still have the pieces necessary to win the division.  Edmonton has the young talent in place, but lack a goaltender, and neither Colorado or Calgary look like they'll challenge for the division title this year (or next, for that matter).  Is a division title possible?  Yes.  Deep playoff run?  Too early to tell, but with Parise fresh off a Finals appearance, the young players will be better for having a guy who has experienced big games, and along with Suter, both have international experience, with the 2010 Olympics being the highlight.  Minnesota wants to sit at the big kids' table, and Suter and Parise just might be the ones to get them there.

The State of Hockey

Today is not just a day to celebrate the birth of the United States of America, but also a day to celebrate if you're a Minnesota Wild fan.  Before today's big news, the Wild had signed Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, and Jake Dowell.  None are big name players, and I've only had the benefit of seeing Konopka, since he was an Ottawa Senator last year.  All three will have better defined roles now, since today's blockbuster has Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signing with the Wild for 13 year deals each.  Yes, you read that right, BOTH Parise and Suter, as in the two names everyone wanted this offseason.  Parise should offer a boost to the offense that was sorely lacking and should help take some of the pressure off of incoming prospect Mikael Granlund, who is expected to make the NHL roster this coming season.  Suter gives the Wild an instant number one defenseman, and while it remains to be seen if his production was a product of being with Shea Weber, he brings credibility to a team that needs it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 2 of NHL Free Agency: the Rundown

Steve Ott
Day two of the NHL Free Agency period produced no real fireworks, as Martin Brodeur signed with the Devils for two years, almost assuring that he remains a Devil until retirement.  The biggest player to move?  Olli Jokinen, who will be donning the Winnipeg Jets colors next season.  The bigger news (besides Carey Price signing a 6 year extension) is the trade that happened between the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars.  Dallas gets Derek Roy, who becomes the offensive force that Dallas sorely needs with Mike Ribeiro getting traded to Washington on Draft Day.  Roy joins Michael Ryder and Ray Whitney as the nucleus of next year's team in terms of offense.  Roy came at the price of Adam Pardy and Steve Ott, which means Buffalo just got tougher.  Pardy provides a little offense and a lot of toughness on the blue line.  Ott instantly makes Buffalo tougher to play against by virtue of the fact that he gets into the heads of opposing players.  He also provides a little offense, too (translation: he replaces Paul Gaustad).

Monday, July 2, 2012

Free Agency (and Other Things)

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is only eight days away, and I will get to it this week.  However, I've been backed up with hockey stories to the point where I'm now backlogged in beer reviews and could not get in a Euro 2012 report, and in case you've been living under a rock (or just don't like football), Spain is your Euro 2012 champions.

As for the first days of the NHL Free-Agency, the biggest signing was Jason Garrison, a defenseman, by the Vancouver Canucks for 6 years, $27 million, which translates to about a $4.5 million a year cap hit.  Garrison won't put up the insane goal numbers he did last year in Florida, but he should be a solid two-way player that would fill the need for a booming shot from the blue line, something new Tampa Bay Lightning member Sami Salo did in Vancouver.  Martin Brodeur remains a Devil for two more years (big surprise), but Johan Hedberg returns as his backup for the same amount of time.  When is New Jersey going to start thinking about life after Brodeur?  The Hedberg signing sounds counterproductive to what the Devils should be doing, like get a young guy to apprentice under Brodeur for a year.  Other deals of note: the Ottawa Senators trading Nick Foligno to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Marc Methot.  Foligno was a solid player who likely topped out as a second or third line guy, and with players like Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfveberg, Mark Stone, and Colin Greening all knocking on the door, plus the need to fill a hole on defense with Filip Kuba going to Florida, this deal happened.  Before you say anything bad about the trade, remember that Methot played for Columbus, which you shouldn't hold against anyone who's played for them.  Colorado signed PA Parenteau, who should be a good compliment to Matt Duchene, but the Avs also earn the award for Premature Signing Celebration, as Matt Carkner embarrassed them by signing with the Islanders an hour after the Avs had said on Twitter that Carkner agreed to terms with them.  And if you're wanting your Dustin Penner update, he remains a King for one more year, which means one more year of Pancake jokes (and me possibly eating them if he wins another Cup).