" Police chief Jane Perlov is reporting that the NHL club, which was known as the Hartford Whalers until moving to North Carolina in 1997 and has struggled to attract much local attention, "somehow gained access to Raleigh's RBC Center earlier Monday, engaged in some sort of ritualistic violence involving sticks and nets, and then proceeded to drink heavily before heading to their cars."
The rest of the article is a perfect lesson in the crafting of irony. I dare you to read it and not laugh out loud.
As to the series this year, I have several thoughts;
- The 'New' NHL style of hockey, utterly, totally, freakin' RULES.
Remember Anaheim V New Jersey? Snore. Fest. These playoffs? Dramatic is an understatement. We had end-to-end offense, lethal powerplays, awesome goaltending, hits, breakways, overtime drama, and some of the most likeable 'stars' (Smyth, Brind'Amour) and superstars (Pronger, Staal) showcase their abilities.
The difference between the two series is multi-fold;
1. The crack down on obstruction is real.
Teams (including both Carolina and Edmonton) still played the trap situationally, it has not vanished as a system, but the inability of defending players to 'slow' the opposition rush by using, picks, hooks, holds, 'sealing them off', etc. has broken it's back as a coach-friendly offense and attention span killer. The crack down has the side-effect of creating more powerplays, which means more offensive chances, and which means that teams have a greater incentive to play attacking styles that are more likely to draw penalties. All in all, the obstruction crack creates a feedback loop in favour of offense. It showed.
2. The goals were moved back to where they belong.
One structural change to the game that Bettman was guilty of initiating was the movement of the goalposts forward away from the boards. In his mind it would increase the flow of play behind the net, bring the nets closer to shooters, and improve offense.
He was dead wrong.
The actual effect it had was to shrink the defensive zone, making it easier for penalty killers to block shots, shut down passing lanes, and move from covering the point and the half-boards much faster and more efficiently. It also all but destroyed the ability of playmakers to set up behind the net. Now, with so much room back there, opposing players couldn't be scraped off using the net as a pick, and instead of players moving back there to organize the attack, it became almost exclusively an area from which wraparounds could be attempted.
Moving them back stretches the offensive zone, brtualizes penalty killers by forcing extra steps to shift coverage, and gives the offense more room to breathe. The overall effect is an upswing powerplay efficiency, something especially for teams that had good point men options.
3. Ditching the red-line.
Not as vital as the the items above, it nevertheless proved to be the other necessary element in reducing the effectiveness of the trap. The extra room attacking players have, not to mention the long bomb options it provides for, created two more elements of the positive feedback loop that unshackled the game.
Other random thoughts on the Finals
-Samsonov and Hemsky both teased their unreal skill level, but left me wanting more. Especially from Samsonov who often looked lost.
- Did anyone go from hero to goat back to indifference because they won than Corey Stillman? That roller coaster was something else he put us through.
- Did a team ever win with a weaker defense corps than Carolinas? Brett Hedican is the top guy? Really? With a Glenn Wesley who is older than Zeus? With of all people, Sasquatch Mike Commodore (who couldn't crack Calgary's D two years ago) logging massive ice-time for them? It was bizzarre, and yet it somehow worked.
- Pronger is unbelievably, delirously good. I think he could play the whole game and still just be breaking a sweat before overtime. His first pass was always money, and he hit Carolina forwards with authority the entire series. He was the essence of dominant, and was my clear choice for playoff MVP if Edmonton had pulled it off.
- Cam Ward has to have been a million to one long shot for the Conn Smythe at the start of the year, if not a billion to one. It certainly bumped him up to the high end of our draft next year. No prospect status, or RFA status for him, he's somebody's starter.
- So it's now the 'Anaheim Ducks'. Thats better. C'mon, it's a little better. Ok, it still sucks badly, but I kinda liked the look of their purple unis with the Anaheim in script cross the front, and at least they aren't a cartoon anymore.
IF we change the rules (and I think we will), here is my list of what I think are the top players who have not played an NHL game.
Note, there are several players who HAVE played NHL games who would easily crack this top 12 list. However if we change the rules I suspect that instead of poaching prospects, these players would simply become the long-shot picks of choice for 3rd and 4th lines. Among these players I include; Steve Bernier of the Sharks, Dustin Penner of the Ducks and virtually all of the Buffalo forwards past the top two lines i.e. Jason Pominville.
Here then are my top 12
1. Phil Kessel-C USNDT
He simply didn't dominate as was expected, but the package of offensive talents can't be ignored. He's the best skater in the draft, and he has the best shot in the draft. His downsides are that he has more than a little prima donna to him, and his game at the WJC was rendered predictable by tight checking D men with size who don't bite on Kessel's outside-inside fakery.
Future impact: The bad news is he could plateau as a me-first selfish gunner ala Jeremy Roenick without the quick wit - which all things considered, isn't bad, but the good news is he has the talent to become a franchise calibre offensive force quickly. I see 50 goals a season in his future.
2. Jordan Staal-R Peterborough
The complete skill forward package, he's got the same genes for 'fear my wingspan' that his brother does at 6"4, he sees the ice well, and he has the smooth skating stride of a power winger. Rumours persist that Carolina will move Jack Johnson to the Penguins so that they can add Eric's little brother to the team. He's not the overwhelming skater that Kessel is, nor will he ever score goals at a similar clip, but Jordan should be a better playmaker, and team mate.
Future impact: 1st line playmaking winger ala Jason Allison before the concussions.
3. Bobby Ryan-Anaheim
A broad shouldered power forward with a quick release, and strong skating style, he's an offensive force and goal scorer in the making. A year older than the two prospects ahead of him, Ryan is also more likely to make his team, and have an impact sooner, but doesn't have the hype surrounding him that Kessel or Staal have going for them. The other concerns are two-fold, the first being that eternal question of whether he is on the Neely or May track - that is, whether he can develop and maintain an offensive touch in the bigs, and secondly, how long will we have to wait?(see: Bertuzzi, Iginla, Neely, etc. etc. for 'big man syndrome'). That all said, he's a tremendous talent in a good system with solid management and supporting perssonel in place (compared to say, St Louis), a gifted playmaker in future line-mate/prospect Corey Perry and his development isn't likely to be stunted by misuse or abuse.
Future impact: a bulldozer power forward in the mold of Bill Guerin and Brendan Shanahan.
4. Jonathon Toews-C North Dakota
An all-round offensive player, he lacks the upper gear of skating ability of Kessel, and doesn't have the size/genepool of a Jordan Staal, or the extra year of development like Ryan, and for me that is what keeps them as more attractive options, but otherwise there is nothing about Toews to sneeze at. Much of his movement up or down the list will depend on what NHL team he is selected by (Islanders=bad). He has better than average speed, playmaking and shot, he has great hockey sense, isn't afraid to be physical, and is responsible in his own end. Smart and affable, he also looks to be a solid citizen without head case baggage. All the scouting reports I've read remark on how well his game should translate to the next level as an offensive player.
Future impact: There is some Brad Richards in Toews game. And some Boyd Devereaux.
5. Jack Johnson-D Car
A phyical two-way defenseman, J-Johnson is the clear front-runner as FUNHL D-man prospect. He's also got great defensive presence and a nasty streak to him, which will mean he should make the big club sooner rather than later, and then stick. His offense may not show itself for a few years while he acclimates, but he has all the tools to be a top 4 defenseman for many, many years. However, the fact he declined to leave school and join the depleted Carolina defense corps in their run to the Stanley Cup may mean that Carolina won't find it hard to move him (say for the #2 overall pick so they can take Jordan Staal and do the Brian-Burke-brothers-B-better dance).
Future impact: a Wade Redden class two-way defenseman with an edge.
6. Niklas Backstrom-C Swe
A gritty, dynamic two way forward with exceptional skating ability, and heady offensive skills, Backstrom will be a little further under the radar for most FUNHL teams because of our lack of exposure to him. At least one scout I checked out had him as the top rated forward ahead of Kessel, but in part that was because his defensive game was the most developed of all the prospects, and because Backstrom displayed a toughness that makes him a dream for real world GMs, but doesn't necessarily translate well into the pure offense realm of the FUNHL.
Future impact: A Peter Stastny style two-way pivot if it all works out.
7. Justin Pogge-G Leafs
A big solid netminder with exceptional positioning and mental game, he outperformed everybody's expectations the last two years, going from afterthought walk-on as a junior rookie, to out of the blue all-star in the Dub, to backstopping Canada's WJC team. He may lack the atheleticism of other goaltending prospects (Rask), but the package of size and smarts that he brings, as well as the opportunity he will have in Toronto to be a starter sooner rather than later, make him the top goaltender on my prospect draft board.
8. Michael Frolic-R/L Czech
A strapping winger with exceptional playmaking ability, above average speed and size, and a whistling wrist shot, two years ago Frolic was the consensus prediction for top pick in this years draft. How times have changed. He stalled in his development this past year, in part because he grew two inches and added 20lbs to his developing frame, and because he had a horrible start to his season that didn't see him get rolling as an offensive force until the second half was well under way. Scouts who comment on his performance after the half-way point have returned to seeing him as a potentially high-end offensive force and first line winger. Frolic doesn't have a high gear ratio and he can't skate with the burners, but he does have massive leg drive and acceleration that makes him a handful coming off the wall, his stickhandling is superb, but his slap shot isn't overwhelming, yet. He seems to have regained his co-ordination and is back on track as far as his scoring is concerned. All in all he's got massive potential, but it isn't clear that the whole package will eventually gel into a dominant performer.
Future impact: his offensive game has a ceiling as high as Bertuzzi's (he'll never be in the same league as a hitter to Bertuzzi though) or he could remain a teasingly enigmatic washout like Roman Oksiuta. He's truly a boom/bust prospect, and the risk with him is that it might not be apparent which of those paths he is on until after several years of waiting (see: Viktor Kozlov, Milan Kraft and Jason Bonsignore as the posterchildren for boom/bust that took forever to diagnose correctly as 'bust', and Ollie Jokinen as a prime example of a big man taking his time to find his game and then going 'boom'). The team that selects him will also make a difference as to where he is picked.
9. Eric Johnson-D USNDT
He's big, strong, mean, and has a thunderous point shot. He's as a complete phyiscal package defenseman as has come down the pipe in some time. Three concerns will affect him for prospect lists; what team will he go to, how long will it take for him to dominate, and will he end up being converted into a defensive defensman (ala Chris Phillps)? Similar in size, attributes, and even university program to current Canadiens defender Mike Komisarek, E-Johnson could be an immediate contributer or take forever to put his tools into the same toolbox. Is very raw by FUNHL standards and will require patience.
Future impact: He reminds me of Rob Blake, including the prolonged incubation period required.
10. Alexander Radulov-R/L Nsh
A high octane skill winger, Radulov has been putting up excellent numbers in the AHL and played a scoring role for the Russian teams at the WJC and Worlds. He lacks a size component to make him fearsome, but his swift skating and quick shot release are what will get him a job in the NHL. Playing on the powerlay or on a line with Paul Kariya won't hurt him either. As a skill gunner, he has too many flaws (lack of elite balance, size, defensive ability, etc.) that I just don't see him making the grade as a top liner, but he is an excellent prospect even if he ends up a second line complimentary scorer rather than a 1st line threat.
Future impact: above average 2nd line scoring threat ala Corey Stillman
11. Guillame Latendresse-L Mtl
His pre-season last year was an eye-opener, with Latendresse flashing a high skill level to go with his still developing power-winger frame. Suffers from big-man development syndrome (prolonged by a shoulder injury to start his year), and maybe a true project, but he has put up serious number s in junior despite his average at best WJC. Skating speed is now the only serious concern, as the rest of the package, including a wicked shot and lots of 'fear my wingspan' moves is falling into place.
Future impact: he's definitely a 2nd line play-making winger with size, but is that just Oleg Kvasha/Nik Antropov, or can he eventually get to a 30-G, 50A ppg level of offense? Will get a legitimate shot in Montreal and be given every opportunity to put numbers up, but it may take time.
12. Dustin Boyd-C Cgy
He's got a magic combination as far as Calgary's GM Sutter is concerned, he's equal parts skill and sandpaper. Boyd was a two-way dynamo for Canada's WJC squad, showing an all-round game with few obvious downsides. At worst he's Kris Draper, but he reminds me more of a Mike Peca style agitating playmaker. Calgary's lack of skilled forwards coming up the pipe-line might also push his development curve, and finally, given the number of Calgary based Gms who will see Boyd in exhibition and pre-season play, I simply can't believe he won't find a home in the top 12 picks.
Peter Mueller-C USNDT - middle weight power winger ala Gary Roberts/Ryan Smyth
Ivan Vishnevski - QMJHL - pure offensive defenseman, lacks polish
Bob Sanguinetti-D USNDT - Mike Van Ryn part II
Ben Shutron-D Kingston - Rafalski-ish
Tukka Rask-G Tor - will battle with Pogge
Ilya Zubov-C Rus - reminds me of Datsyuk
Alexei Emelin-D Mtl - the 'evil' Darius Kasparaitis has a clone
Chris Stewart-R Kingston - see: Anthony Stewart, power winger prospect in Fla. Has played some linebacker.
Kyle Okposo-R USNDT: another in a string of power wingers the Americans have developed.