First up, the new rules and how it has affected hockey this year
Old Rule: Sasquatch sized goalie pads, ‘webbing’ under the pits, massive blockers, catching gloves the size of back-hoe scoops.
New Rule: Anyone else noticed that goalies are getting beat through the 5-hole now? How about the goals scored close to the goalie? In Jagr’s first game of the season he scored twice on the powerplay from the top of the circle with rocket wrist shots – both shots beat the goalie between the armpit and body (and left no doubt in my mind that he picked that space on the goalie to shoot at) – both shots would have been gobbled up in the goalies oversized jersey in the past.
Verdict: Forcing the goalies to wear human sized pads has been a long time coming.
Old Rule: Take the man on the back check, and tie him up. Leaving your man uncovered and able to accept a pass or take a shot is worse than sin (Example A: Ken Hitchcock’s teams).
New Rule: Actually, it’s just the enforcement of the rules as they already exist – namely you cannot impede the progress of a player away from the puck.
Verdict: Revolutionary. Players away from the play can build up speed and race into the offensive zone without having to drag that 220lb defender who has a stick between their legs with them. Gone is the ‘tight checking’ of the past. Gone is the ability to slow down forwards on the rush. Gone is the responsibility for ‘tying up’ a player. The result has been dramatic. Defensive defenders are now lost in their own zone as they struggle to match the speed of players they are no longer allowed to hook, interfere with, or otherwise ‘grind’ down. Goal scoring off the rush has gone way up. Wingers are now hitting a trailer in full flight (the fact a trailer is entering the offensive zone is also notable – previously they were being coached to hang back and cover the neutral zone). Goaltenders are getting shelled. Ken Hitchcock now pines for the days when coaching made a team great by instilling a defensive responsibility in all players to find and neutralize their man – now his team has to play hockey without him, and he doesn’t like it. Good.
Old Rule: Nets moved forward from the boards.
New Rule: Nets moved back to where they belong.
Verdict: I was surprised at how dramatic a change this is. Not for the reason everyone expected either. The biggest difference is not that playmakers can return to setting up behind the net (though I note that they have, see: Turgeon-C Col), no, the biggest difference is how the longer offensive zone spreads out the defenders – creating more point shots, and greater puck movement between the points and the half boards. Goals scored from long distance, especially on the powerplay, are the real result. Al MacInnis would be proud.
Old Rule: The front of the net is ‘No-Man’s Land’, a place of horror and despair you enter at your own peril. Craig Simpson, Joe Nieuwendyk, and John LeClair have all suffered from horrible back injuries by trying to claim that space as their own in the old NHL, and being fed lumber to the spine for their troubles.
New Rule: Simple, it’s called cross-checking, and the refs are calling it. Chris Pronger is probably the worst victim in all this, as he made his rep as a crease clearer – one of those guys who spots a forward camped out in the low slot or crease, and steps up to deliver abuse the viciousness of which could have him tossed in jail – but was nevertheless legal. Now, he puts the stick on a player and goes straight to the box. Hoo-Ra!
Verdict: If you can’t destroy a player for trying to get into scoring position, more players will get into scoring position. Even Paul Kariya was seen recently visiting the slot and crease area – places he’s been loathe to go since he was bludgeoned unconscious a few years back for daring to enter that space.
Old rule: 5 minutes of OT played as 4-0n-4 with the winner getting an extra point.
New Rule: After OT is played three skaters per team take turns trying to score mano-a-mano with the goalie on penalty shots.
Verdict: To my surprise, I love it. I am one of those conservatives who felt that shoot outs were 'not hockey', and frankly was sceptical about how it would play out. Mea Culpa - I was wrong. Watching the prime talent of the NHL getting the opportunity to attempt unimpeded high-light reel moves for the purpose of determing the game has been little short of AWESOME.
Some random notes:
Has a team ever been ravaged by injuries so early in the season as the Edge has been this year?They not only had trouble fielding an active roster, they had trouble fielding 3 healthy players at any position! In this light the Nash trade to the Great Whites is completely understandable (5 healthy guys including Lemieux for 5 losers and Nash), but so long as the Edge hold on to Elias as their mid-season hope for a scoring burst it won't be enough.
The next FP trade not involving the Shadowmen, will centre around Chris Pronger. Just saying.
Is their any other way to look at the Fedorov trade to Columbus then as a 'salary dump'? Says here that Doug Maclean is finished - which is too bad. His team is going through something very similar to what the Edge are - massive continuous injuries to key players.
Speaking of Columbus, it would be interesting to compare the history of their 1st rnd draft pick choices to those of the Thrashers. At some point I will do up a lengthy comparison of who picked who when. The Denis vs. Lehtonen situation alone bears mentioning.
Say what you want, but I simply don't believe that at this stage of his career Vinny Prospal should lead the Bolts in scoring.
Says here that Kolzig will be a Red Wing before the playoffs.
Owen Nolan's legal situation bears watching - the Leafs could be on the hook for his full salary giving them serious cap problems. More interesting still is where he will end up. My money says San Jose (where Nolan keeps a home), but there is an outside chance Calgary can entice him to play through a frigid Ab. winter with the playoffs a realistic possibility.
Speaking of legal issues, the Russian league wants Ovechkin back. From my reading of their claim, they may have a point. AO signed a deal with Avangard Omsk that included a right to match any NHL offer he recieved, and apparently they have attempted to do just that. It smells like extortion, but it may just be a sincere attempt by the Russian Superleague to keep it's home grown talent a few years longer. This may also have implications for Evgeny Malkin.
I see Jarome Iginla woke from his offensive slumber. With him dominating defenseman down low, the carved from granite sniper still has a chance to rise back to the top of the scoring race.
Is there a bigger surprise than Eric Staal? Actually, there is - Cam Ward.
Don't be fooled by Nylander's stats - he is a single bodycheck away from missing the rest of the season. Ditto for Straka.
Why does Boston suck so hard? Anyone? Is it the D? Raycroft? What? I'm perplexed. On paper they have all the ingredients of a playoff team, but on the ice (except for Thornton) they have played like paper tigers.
Kovalchouk is out to prove that the Bossy comparisons are apt. Says here Kovie nets at least 60 this season. There simply isn't a defenseman in the league who can skate with him.
The Calder race has two obvious candidates (Crosby and Ovechkin) but several players have emerged as possible candidates should either of them falter;
1. Henrik Lundqvist - not convinced? If he backstops the Rangers into the playoffs - a team picked by many to be a candidate in the Phil Kessel sweepstakes - he belongs in the running, and could ride a dark horse all the way to the big prize.
2. Dion Phaneuf - he won't score a ppg, he won't even be the Flames top offensive blue-liner, but he may already be the teams best all-round defenseman, and he logs obscene minutes in all situations. He is the demonic body-checker as advertised, but his game is already as good as Barret Jackman's, and you should remember that BJ's was good enough to win the ROY award.
3. Steve Eminger - Lost in the blizzard of press that Ovechkin has been getting is that the teams #2 scorer is the rookie defenseman Eminger. He has no chance of winning with the higher profile Ovechkin around, but the silky smooth D-man may end up opening some eyes if he continues at his current pace.
4. Marek Svatos - Oh how linemates can make a difference for a rook. Playing with gifted puck distributors like Sakic and Turgeon has been a boon to the skill winger. He's currently at a ppg - whether he can stay there is another question. He's a long shot to get any recognition for his year, but he should continue to develop into an above average scoring winger.
5. Mike Richards - His first goal was a thing of absolute beauty - he hits the offensive zone wearing a defender, uses his body to shield the puck, drives the net and whips a backhand to the top shelf. He can check too.
6. Pavel Vorobiev - The stumpy winger is a lot like former Nordique Andrei Kovalenko - stocky, wide skating style and soft hands. On a team as lacking in natural ability as Chicago they will be motivated to play him for his offense as much as possible.
7. Jussi Jokinen - Slick, highly skilled but small framed, he has already won himself a spot on Modano's line. A future Saku Koviu?
8. Alexander Steen - He'll never score 50 goals. He won't ever be a top end playmaker. He is likely destined to be a 2nd-3rd winger who is defensively responsible. That all said, I am very impressed with his mature NHL game. He lacks the sexy upside of the guys ahead of him, but the Leafs finally have a rookie worth paying attention to.
9. Ryan Whitney - with 9 points in 11 games, the fast skating defenseman is in the same boat as Eminger - he's a highly skilled offensive rearguard playing on a team that has already annointed its rookie of the year candidate. He currently leads all rooks in ice-time, and it is only a matter of when that he becomes an All-Star.
10 (tie). Ryan Getzlaf - the reason that Fedorov was expendable is that this rugged centre/winger has already shown he has the mustard to play in the NHL. Gradually seizing his role of powerforward, he has 'Rick Tocchet' stamped all over him.
10 (tie). Petr Prucha - out of nowhere this highly skilled waterbug of a winger shows up to kickstart the Rangers offense. He may fade as the physical game gets more intense, but right now it looks like NYR GM Sather has plucked another gem from the ether.