Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The New York Yankees of Hockey??

This is in rebuttal to Brian's reasoning for why he started hating the Red Wings, based on them being the "New York Yankees of hockey". My comment was getting way too long, so I decided to post it here instead.

This is one of my favorite topics to debate with people who are fans of small market teams. I damn near got in a fight in a bar in Buffalo over it (though that was more frustration over the screwjob against Minnesota that took place 2 hours earlier).

The Oilers have been my "second favorite" for a little while (same Comrie, love the crowd, LOVE the third jerseys). And I say "second favorite" very very loosely in that I'd never jump up and down if they won a game, but if they're playing anyone other than the Wings, chances are, I smile a little when they score.

The audacity to call ourselves Hockeytown? Eh. Our marketing department is better than yours. No big deal. I don't think there's a whole lot of people out there that necessarily believe that.

On to the finances:
I feel bad for teams that couldn't necessarily afford to keep the guys they've drafted, but like I said on the Yost Post, I don't feel like the Wings should have to apologize for the US dollar and having a rich owner.

The big difference between the Wings and the Yankees is that
1: The Yankees spend more than probably 15 teams combined. The Wings weren't so out of line with a lot of the league. The Avs, Blues, and Rangers jump right to mind as people that were right up there in terms of spending, with varying degrees of success.

2: As I said before, during their last Cup run, Hull & Robitaille were the only players that could be considered "high priced free agents" on the entire roster.

Fact is, that team had 6 free agents on it, whose total contract value was probably right around $10 million (or one Bobby Holik signing, good one Rangers). Also when you take into account that before that season, they lost one of their homegrowns in Martin Lapointe to a team that was willing to outbid them, the net that they spent on free agents was pretty minimal.

Yes you've got guys like Chelios who were deadline deals, yes you've got guys like Hasek who we traded for (and if we were a small market team we may not have been able to do that). But they were mortgaging the future to win now. Their good drafting gave them guys that they could later move for the pieces they needed.

In addition, the lack of a salary cap didn't stop teams like Calgary, Anaheim, Minnesota, Carolina and Tampa Bay from making runs at the Stanley Cup in the very recent past.

I recognize the points that have been made, and yes it has to be maddening to see your team have to give up guys like Weight when the Wings have no trouble matching a ridiculous offer to Sergei Fedorov (again, not Detroit's fault Karmanos went nuts on that one). But why should Detroit have to apologize for that? They built the bulk of their Cup teams through good drafting (Fedorov, Yzerman, Lidstrom, Konstantinov, Kozlov, ::cough:: Osgood ::cough::). It ain't their fault they can afford to keep the guys they do draft.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dale Jr. to run Dale Sr.'s Paint Scheme

This is just absurdly cool. Dale Jr. (along with his teammates) are going to run Dale Sr.'s paint scheme at Talladega this weekend as a tribute to Sr. since it would have been his birthday this week.

Let me be the first to say that this will be the highest selling Die-Cast car of all-time. This is going to be the "Tickle Me Elmo" of die-cast cars (and yes, I have to have me white trash if you want).

Can't wait to see the famous black car back on the track!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Wings 1-1, Pistons 1-0

The Wings:
No panic yet. As long as they split in Edmonton we're still in good shape, and being that they're the best road team in the history of the National Hockey League, I'm pretty confident they'll at least split out there. It's been slightly alarming to see how poorly Mathieu Schneider has played in this series, and somewhere in the back of Ken Holland's mind he's got to be at least thinking "Crap. Has Lilja signed that deal yet?" Lang was great in game one, and was much less great in game two. Ditto Maltby and his lazy play in his own zone.

Also slightly alarming is that the Wings have only scored one legit goal in this series (Lang's). The rest have been of the garbage variety (or in Williams' case, the downright weird/borderline illegal variety). This series just seems to be going the way of series' past, and hopefully Babcock is able to handle things better than Lewie. The "it's not a trap" trap has been giving the Wings fits so far, and Roloson is trying to do his best Giguere impersonation (minus the back spasms and huge pads).

But still, no panic. I'm pretty sure Detroit can't play a lot worse than they did in game 2, and they are a stronger team on the road than they are at home. They need to be more conscious of the point, and not letting Pronger get shots off like he's been able to thusfar. Either that or they need to bring back Dmitri Mironov to take another slap shot at his chest.

Oh yeah, and that thing with Zetterberg? Penalty shot all the way.

Game One was just like every other game for the past two months it seems. Pistons get down early, wake up, realize that they can smoke this team if they want, Sheed gets T'ed up, make a huge run, coast the rest of the way.

There's no reason they shouldn't sweep this team. Too many matchup problems for the Bucks. Really? Magloire and Bogut against the Wallaces? Redd on Hamilton? Tiny TJ Ford on Hamilton after they decide Redd is getting worn out? As long as Rip's ankle is remotely healthy, this series isn't going more than 4. I guess if Redd shoots the absolute lights out, they could take one game, but I'm not expecting it.

Other quick thoughts on the playoffs thusfar:
-I'm pretty surprised that Colorado beat Dallas that soundly in game one. If they get out to an early lead tonight, there's going to be some doubts creeping into people's minds about Turco, as much as I hate to say it.

-Not sure why there was such a huge contingent of people picking the Rangers to do something in the playoffs. The Devils were the hottest team in the league, the Rangers choked the division away. Even if Lundqvist is great, the Devils still have Brodeur. That's a great, experience team against a team that's just happy to be in the playoffs. Not hard to see this coming. And now they're putting Kevin Weekes in and Jagr's out? They aren't winning a game in this series.

-How impressive was San Antonio with their win over Sacramento? Holy crap. So much for Artest changing that series. He did get himself suspended though.

-Indiana taking down New Jersey is another shocker. I can't decide how I want that series to go. On one hand, it'd be nice to have NJ eliminated in round one, because it just makes Detroit's road that much easier. On the other hand, it gives Miami a much easier second round matchup (assuming they win) and we'd only have to play one of those two teams anyway, so maybe it's best that they just bang on each other in the second round. Plus I hate Indiana.

Trevor Lewis and Aaron Palushaj each had an assist in Des Moines 2-0 win in game one of the USHL Championship best of five series. Louie Caporusso had an assist on the OPJHL Championship winning goal for St. Mike's and they're off to the Hewitt Cup again. It looks like there will be some streaming video for those games. Nice to see some of our guys getting big game experience. Though sadly, it won't help them at Michigan unless they're getting "Losing in Overtime" experience.

And lastly, we're getting Ryan Mallet. That should help with the recruiting eh? Too bad he's not a point guard.

Friday, April 21, 2006

NHL Eastern Conference Review

In case it gets buried beneath this gigantic post, I posted my predictions for the NBA & NHL playoffs below.

Oh the humanity! As good as my predictions were in the Western Conference, that’s how bad they were in the East. Actually, bad doesn’t begin to cover it. Check out two of the top three for instance:

1. Boston Bruins (actual finish 13th, 39 points out of 1st):
Might as well just go in the tank right from the start. This team had 100+ points two of the last three seasons, and brought back almost everyone from a team that finished 2nd in the East before the lockout.

They had a ton of free-agents and managed to get most of them signed. Hilbert
wants out, and Boynton isn’t signed, but the B’s managed to lock up pretty much
everyone else. They lost Gonchar and brought in Leetch. Brad Isbister is a
player that you never hear a ton about but still puts up some pretty decent
numbers. They’re a team that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with, but when you
look at the rosters, it’s quite possible that they’re the best team in the East.
Deep up front, decent defense (though if they get Boynton signed, they’re set on
the blue line), and a proven goalie. They return almost everyone from a team
that finished 2nd in the East before the lockout.

Isbister didn’t do anything, the net of the Joe Thornton trade (Sturm, Stuart, Primeau) didn’t match what Thornton alone put up, Andrew Raycroft was awful and ended up getting benched and almost traded. Boyes and Bergeron were the only bright spots of this season for the team from Beantown. I’m really still not sure what happened to this team.

2. Ottawa Senators (actual finish 1st, 1 point out of second):
A solid all-around team that finally has a goalie capable of taking them to the
Cup (if he stays healthy of course). Heatley/Spezza is one of the best young
duos in the league, Brandon Bochenski had a great year in the AHL last year and
Daniel Alfredsson/Bryan Smolinski on the second line isn’t a bad thing. Redden,
Chara, Phillips, Volchenkov is a nice top four back on D. Ottawa is a new start
for Dany Heatley and he could thrive in his new

Biggest Question Mark: Dominik Hasek staying healthy.
If he’s playing, the Senators are a legit threat to win the Cup. If he’s out,
they’re not. That simple. And with Hasek’s history, it’s a major question mark
if he’ll make it through the year.

And there you have it. This was probably the most accurate thing that I wrote in the Eastern Conference preview. Heatley/Spezza/Alfredsson went a quarter of the season without failing to net points. Smolinski, Redden, Phillips and Volchenkov had great years and Chara was a darkhorse candidate for the Norris. Hasek was outstanding until he got hurt (shock me shock me) and with him out and with Emery struggling as of late, this promising season might go up in smoke for them, as predicted. If Hasek’s back, they can win it though.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (actual finish 15th, 43 points out of 3rd):

Please don’t read the following paragraph if you want my predictions to have any sense of credibility in the future:

The NHL’s most improved team without question. They go from laughing-stock to
contender by adding Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, John Leclair,
Jocelyn Thibault, and oh yeah, some guy named Crosby. Lemieux has had a year off
to rest and he should be ready to go. Their defense isn’t real deep, but
Thibault is used to that, having played in Chicago and fared pretty well in the
process. What he never had in Chicago was this kind of offensive firepower.

What I meant to write was this: ”The NHL’s biggest disappointment without question. They added Recchi, Gonchar, Palffy, LeClair, Thibault and Crosby. Sid the Kid will live up to expectations, Gonchar, Recchi and LeClair will have good years (though Recchi will be moved at the deadline), Palffy will retire midseason along with Lemieux, and Thibault will be waived after starting 1-9 with a 4.5 GAA.”

Only a couple late losses by St. Louis kept my “Contender” from being the worst team in hockey. Plain and simple, this team just couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net and they didn’t have enough scoring depth (Crosby was in on almost half this team’s goals). With Lemieux and Palffy for the whole year they probably would have won some more games (as both were on a point-a-game pace), but the defensive problems would have remained. Pittsburgh needs Erik Johnson bad. With Malkin coming over, either of the top forwards would be a major luxury. They need defense in the worst way.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (actual finish 8th, 18 points out of 4th):
Calling this team “still loaded” may have been a little strong, but they did bring back Richards, Lecavlier, and St. Louis, and Prospal returned to Tampa. I never would have believed that St. Louis’s numbers would have fallen off by 30+ points with the new rules being implemented. If Gionta is going for 40+, there’s no reason that St. Louis should have only netted 31 this year.

Biggest Question Mark: Once again, the goaltending in Khabibulin’s absence.
They’re going to score goals. We know that. Can they keep them out of their own
net? We’ll see.

Goaltending was in fact a big part of the problem as neither Sean Burke nor John Grahame provided anything positive in net. The Bolts allowed the most goals of any playoff team. Not that Khabi did well in Chicago this year, but you gotta believe they wish they had filled the hole in goal better.

5. Philadelphia Flyers (actual finish t-3, 5th after the tiebreaker):
A second surprisingly accurate pick. I didn’t buy into the preseason hype of the Flyers:
All anyone wants to talk about in handing the Flyers the 2006 Stanley Cup are
the acquisitions the team made in the offseason. Forsberg, Hatcher, Rathje,
Knuble. Bobby Clarke did a great job, no doubt. But they also lost Roenick,
Burke, Zhamnov, Leclair, Recchi, Amonte. That said, if you look at their roster,
they’re in really good shape. Add the above acquisitions to top-prospects Mike
Richards and Jeff Carter along with an exisiting solid group and they’re going
to fare pretty well this year. Just maybe not as well as everyone seems to
think. Esche has done pretty well for them so far, but I’m not sold on him as a
Cup-winning-caliber goaltender.

Forsberg was excellent for them, even though he missed his required 20 games due to injury. Hatcher wasn’t the pylon I thought he’d be, Rathje had a very nice year, and Mike Knuble (who is MUCH better in real life than he is on NHL2k6) put in 34 goals for them.

The goaltending wasn’t so good though. Both Esche and Olympic sensation Niittymaki posted 2.97 GAAs, and neither cracked .900 in save percentage. Simon Gagne wasn’t mentioned in my preview, and he knocked in 47 goals this year, and led the league for a fair amount of time.

6. Atlanta Thrashers (actual finish T-9, 10 points out of 6th):
This position appears like it was very optimistic for them, but when you take into account that starting goalie Kari Lehtonen missed upwards of 40 games due to a groin injury and they replaced him with Steve Shields, Adam Berkhoel, Mike Dunham, and Michael Garnett you have to start to think that maybe this team could have made the playoffs at the very least.
Kovalchuk, Hossa, and Savard nearly matched Ottawa’s top line in production, and Slava Kozlov had a very nice year as well.

They’ve got a great young team and will be a force in the years to come. They
may be a year away from being a true-contender, but the years of the Thrashers
being a joke are over. The one thing they’re missing is a true #1

Biggest Gain: Peter Bondra. He didn’t perform like
Ottawa hoped, but I think he’s got another year or two in the tank and they got
him for a bargain price.

Biggest Question Mark: No-name defense and
a young goalie. How will they hold up? Lehtonen is a stud prospect, the defense
is more iffy.

Bondra was in fact good for them, putting in 21-18—39 in 60 games. Lehtonen was impressive in net, but the group that filled in while he was hurt pretty much killed any chance this team had of making the playoffs.

7. New Jersey Devils (actual finish t-3rd, 8 points out of 7th):
A late season run of 11 straight wins elevated the Devils up to the 3rd seed from the playoff bubble. This team started the year horribly, but after the resignation of their coach and after Elias returned from a bout with Hep A, they caught fire. The top seeds in the conference breathed a sigh of relief that NJ ended up winning their division, because no 1 or 2 seed wanted to face them in the first round.

That said, Gomez, Kozlov, Madden, Parise is a nice group of centers, Elias will
be back, Rafalski is still around and he should do very well with the new rules,
and Mogilny, Langenbruner and Gionta are good players as well.

Gionta’s a good player. Yeah. Or he’s gonna go ahead and almost score 50 goals. Who saw that one coming? Mogilny missed a ton of time but did manage to put in 25 points. Elias averaged over a point per game after he returned. The defense is still a question mark. Rafalski was great for them and Paul Martin had a good season, but beyond that there’s probably not anyone that would dress for the Red Wings as more than a #6 dman. Though when you have Martin Brodeur, sometimes things like that don’t matter.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs (actual finish 9th, 2 points out of 8th):
The natives can’t be happy about this one. The face of Canadian hockey (well, one of the two highest profile Canadian franchises) out of the playoffs.

I want to like this team, but I just can’t. The defense corps looks shaky, they
look good up front for now, but what if Lindros and Allison don’t make it
through the season? The East is pretty solid all-around, and I feel like any
team that makes the playoffs has a chance to come out as conference champs, but
I think the Leafs are closer to the bottom than the top in the

Eric Lindros and Jason Allison were bargain signings,
but they’re boom or bust players. If they’re both healthy all year, Toronto gets
a pair of 60+ point players for under 3 million combined. If they get hurt, as
has been the case (Allison hasn’t played since 02-03 and Lindros is a concussion
waiting to happen) Toronto doesn’t look good up front at all.

Lindros didn’t make it through the season, only playing 33 games. Allison did however, and he put in the expected 60 points.

Belfour had a horrible year and Tellqvist didn’t fare much better. Toronto had something going with JS Aubin in net though. He was 9-0 in 11 games with a 2.21 .924, and nearly sparked a run to get the Leafs into the postseason. Too bad they weren’t able to trade a bag of pucks for Zetterberg like Toronto fans seemed to think they could.

9. Florida Panthers (actual finish 11th, 5 points out of 9th):
They were a busy team in free agency, landing Sean Hill, Eric Cairns, Joe
Nieuwendyk, Chris Gratton, Jozef Stumpel, Gary Roberts, and Martin Gelinas.
They’re also loaded in young prospects and have one of the best goalies in the
league in Roberto Luongo. They’re a playoff team in a conference that has 9 of
them. Sadly, there are only 8 spots in the postseason. It won’t be long. They
just don’t have that dominant scorer to put them over the top.

Their free agent signings were very good ones. Only Eric Cairns didn’t help, and he was moved to Pittsburgh. Hill didn’t do as much as they probably expected. They still need to give Luongo a little bit more help back on defense, and that’s probably the reason that they missed the playoffs. Olli Jokinen developed into an excellent player and it was a great move for the future of the franchise to get him locked up long-term. Horton and Bouwmeester are developing nicely.
(Still waiting for #2 seed Carolina? Keep reading!!)

10. New York Islanders (actual finish 12th, 12 points out of 10th):
Miro Satan did come in and help the team, but Yashin is still underachieving. His contract may be the worst one in pro sports right now, and they missed their chance to get out of it last year with the buyouts. He did put in 66 points, but for the amount of money they’re paying him, he needs to be up in the 90s.

DiPietro had a decent season, but as I said, you have to believe they wish they hadn’t moved Luongo in one of the more curious trades we’ve seen. Finally Mike Milbury has moved on, and maybe this franchise will get back to respectability. I can’t believe he lasted as long as he did.

This is where it gets fun:

11. Montreal Canadiens (actual finish 7th, 8 points out of 11th):
So who exactly are these guys? After you get past Kovalev, Koivu, and Theodore
they’re a mix of no-namers and young prospects with some depth players (Zednik,
Dandenault, Souray, Bonk) thrown in for good measure. Ryder is going to be a
good player, as is Rycroft [Ed note: This should have read Ribeiro], even though
I think he’s a flopper. They cycled a lot of guys in and out in free agency but
nothing jumps out good or bad really. Can’t see them in the playoffs this year
unless Theodore has a Vezina-caliber season.

Well, Theodore had far from a Vezina-caliber season and was eventually moved to Colorado in what might turn out to be the most irrelevant big-names trade in history. Cristobel Huet took the reigns and was the goalie that, with some more ice time, would have been in the running for the Vezina. He led the league in save percentage and posted 7 shutouts in just 29 decisions. So it did in fact take a super effort out of a goalie to get this team in the playoffs. I just didn’t have the goalie right.

Ryder had a great year, leading the team in goals, and Ribeiro joined the 50-50 club (50 points, 50 dives). Chris Higgins burst onto the scene for 23 goals.

I think I had this team pegged pretty well, despite being 4 spots off on their finish.

12. Carolina Hurricanes (actual finish 2nd, 34 points out of 12th):
Yikes. I did not have this team pegged as a potential Presidents Trophy candidate (though I’m sure not many people did). I actually had some nice things to say about the team:

They did a nice job in the offseason recovering from the losses of Jeff O’Neill
and Ron Francis. Ray Whitney disappeared with the Red Wings, but might thrive
when he can get some more ice time. Eric Staal is a very nice young player and
the defense corps looks very solid. Martin Gerber put up great numbers in goal
for Anaheim, but hasn’t been tested as a full-time starter. They could challenge
for a playoff spot much of the year, but they’re going to come up short because
there are too many teams that are just better than they

Biggest Gain: Martin Gerber. He may or may not be the answer,
but Irbe and Weekes definitely weren’t. Bringing Tverdovsky in was another good
move by Jim Rutherford.

Whitney did in fact have a nice year for them. Calling Eric Staal a “very nice young player” was the understatement of the year. He had 100 points and 45 goals. Gerber was solid in net, and much better than Weekes and Irbe. Tverdovsky didn’t do a ton for them. Erik Cole was a big loss for this team when he went out with an injury. Brind’Amour had a helluva year for them.

13. New York Rangers (actual finish 6th, 26 points out of 13th):
No team should be happier to see the salary cap come into the picture. Now they
can’t overspend for average players and get nothing out of them. No more Bobby
Holik, Valeri Kamensky, Eric Lindros signings in NYC. They should welcome that.
They did manage to add Straka and stole Steve Rucchin from the Ducks. The
defense is iffy with Tom Poti as their best defenseman. Kasparaitis may be
completely useless in the new NHL. Goaltending is a question mark as well. They
have great prospects, but Kevin Weekes is currently the starter. That ain’t
gonna get it done.

Holy Jagr! The season off obviously did him some good, scoring 123 points and 54 goals throughout the year. They were pretty much a two-line team, but those 2 lines were good enough when combined with stellar goaltending out of Henrik Lundqvist, who deserves all the credit in the world for his performance this year (both in the NHL and the Olympics). A 2.24 and a .927 out of a rookie goalie? Yeah, they’ll take that.

Which goalie prospect will end up grabbing the reins as the future? Lundqvist or

I guess we have an answer to that one!

Rookie Petr Prucha put in 30 goals as well, and added a nice scoring threat to their second line. Rucchin helped out, as I thought he would, and Straka had 50+ assists. Kasparaitis wasn’t as useless as I thought he’d be—actually ended up on the + side of the +/- stat, which I never would have imagined. The defense was solidified by Marek Malik (who had one of the prettiest goals of the year in that lengthy shootout) and Michal Rozsival. Peter Sykora was a nice midseason pickup as well. Their front office did a very nice job this year turning a perennial underachiever into a team that nearly won the division.

14. Buffalo Sabres (actual finish 4th, 40 points out of 14th):
Yes you did read that right. 4 straight playoff teams in my 11-14 spots including the 2 and 4 seeds (and nearly the 3rd seed as well).

They weren’t good last season and they lost their two best forwards in the
offseason (Satan and Zhitnik). Drury is a good player, but he’s not going to
carry the offensive load for anyone. The defense corps doesn’t look good despite
the acquisition of Teppo Numminen. At some point don’t they have to do something
with one of their three goalies (Biron, Miller, Noronen)? Thomas Vanek of
tainted 2003 OT goal against Michigan fame is in the lineup full-time now, after
a great year in the AHL.

Biggest Gain: Numminen. As mentioned in
the Dallas preview, he kind of disappointed there, but he’s still a guy that can
put up 30-50 points and play pretty decent defense in the

Biggest Question Mark: How long til next season?

Ugh. Well I did have a few things right. Numminen put up 30-50 points (actually dead in the middle of that). Drury didn’t carry the offensive load, but I didn’t see this team spreading things around as much as they did with 6 20 goal scorers, and 11 in double-digits. They did finally do something with Noronen at the deadline, and he didn’t help the Canucks as much as he didn’t help the Sabres this year.

Ryan Miller was awesome in net, and the USA has to wish they would’ve put him on the Olympic roster.

Like the Red Wings, they are a team that is hoping and praying the referees call the game in the playoffs the way they did in the regular season, because their special teams were outstanding this year.

15. Washington Capitals (actual finish 14th, 12 points out of 15th):
They were in fact the “Alex Ovechkins”. Alexander the Gr8 scored 106 points and led his team by an incredible margin of 49 points. He was in on roughly half of his team’s goals this year. Even though Crosby had a great year, it would be a travesty if Ovechkin doesn’t get the Calder (I could live with Lundqvist getting it as well).

Biggest Question Mark: Can Ovechkin steal the spotlight from Crosby in their
rookie years?


So I was much worse in the East than I was in the West. I hit on just 4 of the 8 playoff teams, and 2 of my top 3 teams in the conference didn’t get in—and one of them just missed out on being the worst team in hockey. I was within 1 position on just 4 of the 15 teams in the conference, and was double digit points away from their correct seed on 9 of the teams.

Overall I don’t think picking 10 of the 16 playoff teams is all that bad in a year with this much turnover on rosters and two full rookie crops coming into the league. I obviously did better with the conference that I follow more closely. I do feel good that I had the Wings still pegged as an elite team when almost no one game them a chance.

I’ll try to do better next year!

NHL/NBA Playoff Picks

The quest for the double-championship for the D begins tonight with game one of the Wings/Oilers. Tonight starts the best six weeks of the year (the pinnacle of which is next Saturday…NFL Draft all day, Wings at 3, Pistons at 8). I want to see a double parade, with Rasheed Wallace holding up the Stanley Cup, and Stevie Y wearing Sheed’s championship belt. Tonight starts the chance to salvage what has been the worst year of my sports-watching life.

The NHL Eastern Conference Retrospective will probably be up later today (as long as it stays quiet at work). This has to be done today though, so it got priority.

The picks, without a ton of analysis because frankly it’s too much work to do an NHL and NBA playoff preview. Let’s get the picks down on paper and the analysis will come later:

NHL Round One:
Detroit over Edmonton in 5—
Too much fire power, better goaltending.
Dallas over Colorado in 4—Colorado is the weakest team in the tournament, Dallas is solid all around.
Calgary over Anaheim in 7—Battle of the 2 best goalies in the conference, Kipper is a little bit better.
San Jose over Nashville in 6—With Vokoun, this is the premier matchup in the first round, without him I don’t expect SJ to have a ton of trouble getting by the Preds.
Ottawa over Tampa in 7—With Hasek they breeze through this series. I don’t think Tampa has the goaltending to pull the upset though. Too much Alfredsson/Heatley/Spezza.
Carolina over Montreal in 7—Huet makes this a better series than expected.
Devils over Rangers in 6—The Devils are rolling, the Rags are struggling, Brodeur is the only legit playoff goalie in the East with Hasek’s absence.
Sabres over Flyers in 6—I don’t trust Philly’s goaltending at all.

NHL Round Two:
Detroit over San Jose in 6—
Lidstrom and the Draper line shut down Thornton and Cheechoo. Not enough behind them for the Sharks.
Dallas over Calgary in 7—Great series ends in an overtime thriller (and I waffled about which team would win). Not enough scoring depth on the Flames.
Ottawa over Buffalo in 6—I hate Ryan Miller.
New Jersey over Carolina in 7—Should be an outstanding series. I like Brodeur over Gerber.

NHL Round Three:
Wings over Dallas in 6—
They still have Turco’s number, and the Stars won’t get the benefit of seeing Ozzie in net or having shootouts.
New Jersey over Ottawa in 6—I just don’t see Ray Emery in the Finals. If Hasek comes back, we might have to revisit this one.

Stanley Cup Finals:
Wings over New Jersey in 6—
Revenge for 1995. The Captain goes out on top.

NBA Round One:

Pistons over Bucks in 4—Get that train rolling right out of the gate.
Heat over Bulls in 6—Chicago is playing well, and Miami hasn’t been overly impressive as of late, but there’s still not enough to overcome a team that will probably have the two best players in any series they play in.
New Jersey over Indiana in 5—The Pacers aren’t a good team and New Jersey has been on a role lately.
Cleveland over Washington in 7—Lebron/Arenas should be a great matchup, and in the end James does the Pistons a favor and takes out the Wizards.
San Antonio over Sacramento in 5—Artest might get them a win, maybe two, but the Champs aren’t going down in Round 1.
Phoenix over LA in 6—I don’t think Kobe alone is enough to beat the Suns. He’ll make it fun though.
Nuggets over Clippers in 7—When in doubt, take the team with the best player.
Mavericks over Grizzlies in 5—Sets up the 2nd Round Conference Final matchup.

NBA Round Two:
Detroit over Cleveland in 5—
LeBron makes it interesting, but they ain’t winning in Detroit and I don’t think they take two in a row from the Pistons in Cleveland. It won’t go more than 6.
New Jersey over Miami in 6—Wade/Shaq vs. Jefferson/Kidd/Carter should be fun to watch. I’ll take 3 over 2.
San Antonio over Dallas in 7—Home court makes all the difference. Great series.
Phoenix over Denver in 5—PHX gets some time to rest while SA/Dallas slug it out.

NBA Round Three:
Detroit over New Jersey in 6—
I took 3 over 2, but I’ll take 5 over 3.
San Antonio over Phoenix in 7—Back to back slugfests for the defending Champions, setting up a rematch of last year’s Finals.

NBA Championship:
Detroit over San Antonio in 6—This year, the Pistons have home court, bitches. Detroit goes up 2-0, comes back home up 3-2 and takes care of business in Game 6. The rebounding edge Detroit had in both games this year isn’t going away. And Flip’s team is hungry.

Am I a homer? Sure! And I feel more confident in the Pistons than I do in the Wings. But at the same time, the Wings just went a quarter of the season without losing in regulation. Who is going to beat them four out of 7? If you answered “Mikka Kiprusoff” I might listen. It’s going to be a fun ride.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Western Conference Prediction Review

Let's start with the conference that I did ok with:

Teams listed in projected order of finish:

1. Detroit Red Wings (actual finish: 1st):

I wrote this:

Call me a homer, but I really believe they’re the best team in the West. They have the best defense corps in the league as Lidstrom and Schneider are going to be lethal with the new rules (As will Kronwall once he comes back), Fischer makes a nice breakout pass, and Chelios and Lilja are no slouches as 4-5 defensemen. Everyone’s pretty solid in their own end, and there’s a lot of offensive talent there. Everyone wants to talk about their lack of depth now, but if you look at the rosters, there aren’t a whole lot of teams that do have depth. And Yzerman-Draper-Maltby as a third line isn’t bad at all. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are two of the league’s brightest young stars, and having Robert Lang and a motivated Brendan Shanahan isn’t too bad either.

Everything I wrote was fairly accurate. Lidstrom and Schneider had career years, Chelios and Lilja were solid, Datsyuk and Z had awesome seasons, and Lang & Shanny were great as well. I cited Mike Babcock as the team's biggest addition, and the players have absolutely fallen in love with him. He actually coaches unlike his predecessor. I had CuJo as their biggest loss. They ended up not missing him very much due to Legace's outstanding performance, but they really didn't miss McCarty, Hatcher or Whitney either.

Great pick by me. They were never really challenged for the top spot in the second half.

2. Vancouver Canucks (actual finish: 9th, 20 points out of second):

They’re deep, they have one of the best—if not THE best—lines in the NHL, Bertuzzi is going to be a force with the new rules, and they’ve got a solid defense corps. But as with the Red Wings, the big question mark yet again is in net.

Note to self: Don't pick a team with VERY iffy goaltending that high ever again. Things didn't go so well for Vancouver this year. Bertuzzi forgot how to play hockey, Morrison didn't have a great year, and the team was killed by injuries to their defensemen during the Olympics. This is a team that still should have made the playoffs, and without those injuries they probably do. But really, they've only got themselves to blame as they haven't had a quality NHL goaltender in the last 8 years or so. The guy I had as their "Big Gain", Anson Carter, put in 33 goals for them, and their biggest question mark (The goaltending) was in fact the problem, with no goalie having above a .902 save percentage, and only Alex Auld cracking a 3.00 gaa.

Overall a terrible pick for second in the conference, but that's still a team that makes the playoffs as probably a 6 seed barring the injuries in the Olympics.

3. Calgary Flames (actual finish: 3rd seed, 4th in the West, 3 points out of 3rd):

I didn't buy into the love affair that everyone seemed to be having with Calgary:

I’m not quite buying all the Flames Kool-Aid that TSN, SI and ESPN have been spewing, picking them #1 in the league and whatnot. But they are going to be a very solid team, and they’re better in goal that the two teams listed above them. And they still have the best player in the league in Iginla. They’ve got a great defense corps as well. That adds up to a pretty good finish in the conference.

Overall pretty accurate. Solid all around, and they've got probably the best goalie in the West. Hamrlik didn't have a great year, but he missed 30 games or so, and their "biggest loss" Craig Conroy had 22 goals and 66 points for the Kings.

My biggest question mark about this team was who was going to score apart from the top line. The answer was Phaneuf, Kobasew and no one else. This team only had 7 double-digit goal scorers.

4. Nashville Predators (actual finish 4th seed, 3rd in points, 3 points out of 4th):

I didn't say anything of real substance about this team. Vokoun = good, Kariya = good. But everyone knew that. I said Kariya and Sullivan were the only real difference makers on the team (apart from between the pipes) and they were the only two thirty-goal scorers.
I would say I pretty much nailed this pick as well. Hit their seeding dead on.

5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (actual finish 6th, 1 point out of 5th):

I said the Ducks pulled off the coup of the free agent period by luring Scott Niedermayer away from the Devils, and he pulled off a campaign that is worthy of a Norris Trophy, though a career year by Nick Lidstrom is going to keep him from getting it. Giguere's numbers did fall a little bit, as expected, due to the limitations on goalie pads, but he still put up very solid numbers. Selanne regained his form with 40-50--90. I didn't forsee big years by Andy MacDonald and Joffrey Lupul however.

Probably an 8.5 out of 10 on the accuracy scale. Fedorov was moved, and 2 of their bigger goal scorers weren't mentioned, but I was one point out of hitting this dead on.

San Jose Sharks (actual finish 5th, 1 point out of 6th):

This pick was looking really bad early on. Enter Joe Thornton. His 72 assists in just over 50 games as a Shark were the catalyst for Jonathan Cheechoo's Rocket Richard Trophy winning campaign (who saw that one coming?)

Despite losing Rathje, the defense is still strong with Stuart, Hannah, and McLaren, and they’re strong in net with Nabokov. Up front is the same question that most teams are facing…who is going to score after the top 4-5 forwards?
Stuart was moved and Nabokov was benched. They really didn't have a lot outside of their top line, but when you've got the leading goal scorer and the leading assist man on your top line, sometimes that's enough.

I wondered about Milan Michalek's health, and he played in all but 1 game, and dropped in 17 goals and 35 points for the Sharkies. Not bad for a rook.

7. LA Kings (actual finish 10th, 6 points out of 7th):

Conroy, Demitra, Roenick, Mr. Candice Cameron. Not a bad crop of free agents the Kings signed, and I didn’t even mention their starting goalie Mathieu Garon. They also lost quite a bit though, with Ziggy Palffy, Ian Laperriere, Anson Carter, Martin Straka, Jozef Stumpel, Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh taking off.

Conroy and Demitra had great years, Roenick & Bure had injury problems.

They do, however, have a pair of young stars-in-the-making in Alexander Frolov and Michael Cammalleri. They don’t have a great defense corps in front of their young goalie however, and it will be interesting to see if he can hold down the fort.

The two youngsters both had outstanding years, with Cammalleri just edging out Frolov in points (though he played about 10 more games). Garon struggled in front of that defense corps
and as predicted, the Kings were once again hurt by injury. They still made a valient effort at the playoffs, though they'll regret giving up Tambellini and another prospect for a pair of guys that didn't get 'em in.

Biggest Gain: Jeremy Roenick. The guy can still play when he shuts his mouth long enough to do it.

Or he will net less goals than Kris Draper. And he didn't really shut up either.

Biggest Question Mark: The Kings have been absolutely ravaged by injury the last few years. “Can they stay healthy?” trumps “Can Mathieu Garon make an impact as an NHL starting goalie?”.

The answer to both those questions was "no", which is why they're watching the playoffs on TV.

8. Dallas Stars (actual finish 2nd, 17 points out of 8th):

By far my worst pick in the Western Conference. I stated that "They're going to be right on the bubble the entire year" and wondered if they had enough to even make the playoffs. That was never in doubt. They kept up with the Wings for awhile for the top spot, but faded down the stretch. They were greatly aided by the shootout, in which they were pretty much automatic. Under the old rules (allowing ties), this team would've been closer to the bubble than the top of the conference. At least I'll keep telling myself that.

Keeping Modano was in fact key, and Skoula was in fact bad enough to get moved to Minnesota. The defense was sured up by a great year out of Zubov and Boucher, and by the emergence of Robidas. Their "solid goalie" in Turco was awful early on and really pretty good the rest of the year. I mentioned that they had "no superstud prospects adjusting to the NHL" but failed to mention that guy who single-handedly got them at least 8 points by being automatic in the shootout and who tallied 55 points, Jussi Jokinen.

9. Colorado Avalanche (actual finish T-7, 3 points out of 9th):

This was my favorite pick, and I firmly believed in the Avs not making the playoffs. I was almost right. And if the Canucks and/or Kings hadn't completely collapsed down the stretch, I would have been right.

[Lacroix] also had the most curious move of the offseason, signing Brad May who put out a bounty on Steve Moore last season. The defense corps is shaky once you get past Rob Blake and Karlis Skrastins (and the fact that I give them Skrastins in the “not shaky” department says something). The Anti-Christ JM Liles is a good offensive defenseman, but he ain’t Nick Lidstrom in his own end.

May ended up with 6 points and was a team-worst -14. Probably not the numbers they were looking for out of a guy that could have upset team chemistry that bad (and was at best a PR nightmare). The defense was in fact shaky, though Vaananen should have been mentioned instead of Skrastins as the 2nd defenseman. Actually Rob Blake was the problem early on, but he put it together and had a good second half.

Hedjuk, Sakic and Tanguay are as good as any top 3 forwards you’ll find, but once you get past them there ain’t a lot of scoring punch left.

....Apart from that rookie that stole some of the spotlight from Crosby and Ovechkin in the early going before getting hurt.

I also wrote that the big question was:

Unfairly or not, is 2003-04 Vezina-candidate David Aebischer really a good goalie? Can he carry the load without a viable backup (still) and with a questionable defense corps? He had a great year in 03-04 but I’m still not sold on him. I’m biased, but I really don’t see this team making the playoffs.

The answer was no, he can't carry the load, and he was shipped off to Montreal in one of the strangest deals we've ever seen. Time will tell if it was a good move for either team, but thanks to some suprisingly adequate play by Budaj, and some luck that their competition faired even worse, the Avs backed into the playoffs, and LaCroix was spared from having committed one of the biggest gaffes of all time, by trading his starting goalie for another goalie that was injured.

It was a ballsy pick to have the Avs out of the playoffs, and I was pretty damn close to being right.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets (actual finish 13th, 15 points out of 10th):

To be completely fair to myself on this one, Rick Nash was injured for 30 games, and after he came back, the BJ's were a much better team. They were looking fairly legit down the stretch, and always played the Wings tough. I said that Foote, Hrdina and Berard were great signings. I was half-right. Foote was fairly good, but they probably wanted more out of a guy that they shelled out that much money to. Hrdina was 6th on the team in scoring was was a nice #2 center. Berard was awful. 32 points is pretty good, but he was a (yikes) -29, which was -15 more than the next worst player on the team.

The defense corps is good and Denis is a capable goalie, but I don’t see them quite having enough firepower yet to make the playoffs in the close West.

They didn't have enough firepower, but with Nash they would've been sniffing around the outside of the bubble. Pretty much in line with what I thought. As it stood, they got off to a horrible start, and despite some solid play down the stretch were never remotely a factor this year.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (actual finish 12th, 3 points out of 11th):

This is a team that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of. I debated putting them as high as 7th, but they end up back here and I’m not sure why. They have good forwards (Comrie, Nedved, Nagy, Doan, Hull), a solid defense corps (Morris, Tanabe, Gauthier), and a good goalie in Curtis Joseph. So why do I have them ranked 11th? No clue. I just don’t like something there and I can’t put my finger on it. They’ve got definite upward mobility from this position.

I can put that "not having them in 7th" thing in my good decision column. Comrie, Nagy, and Doan all had great years. Nedved never made an impact and was shipped to Philly, and Brett Hull didn't make it through the first week of the season. Two of the three defensemen I talked about also didn't make it very long in the desert.

Langkow's 59 points would have definitely helped this team out, as I said. Especially when you add in the fact that Nedved (their "big pick up") didn't do anything for them. CuJo was ok, and probably would have been a nice pickup for a team like Vancouver. The end is near for him though, and it's too bad.

12. Chicago Blackhawks (actual finish 14th, 16 points out of 12th):


They’re another sexy pick to have a breakout season, and while I could see it, I’m not going along with it. There’s so much young talent on this team that I feel like they’re still a year away. Tuomo Ruutu is sick though. Adrian Aucoin and Nikolai Khabibulin were great acquisitions. Making Martin Lapointe the third highest-paid player on the team was not. They have a very shaky defense corps. It’s a good thing they signed the Bulin Wall, because they’re going to need him.

Smart move to not go along with it! Though at this point it's extremely optimistic to think that they're "only" a year away. Ruutu is sick, but he was injured for almost the entire season. As was Aucoin. Khabi was a complete disappointment. He had no help in front of him, but a 3.35 and a .886 wasn't what they were looking for. Lapointe was an unbelievable -31. Only one other player on the team was worse than -14. His -31 matched his positive point total though! Probably not worth the money.

13. Edmonton Oilers (actual finish T-7, 21 points out of 13th):

Alright Brian, you win. They had enough to make the playoffs and I really underestimated their goal scoring from the previous season.

They’re fast. They should greatly benefit from the new rules. They added Chris Pronger and Mike Peca. And yet, I don’t think it’s going to be enough (sorry Mgoblog). They don’t have a lot of proven scorers up front…or…well…any that aren’t named Ryan Smyth (Peca had 3 good years, but has come back to Earth the last couple of seasons). Ed note: After watching them last night, Jarrett Stoll is gonna be a player (whether it’s this year or not) and Horcoff looks like he could break out this year. The defense corps is solid, and they expect good things from ex-UNH goalie Ty Conklin.

They did benefit from the new rules, Pronger was pretty darn good for them, even if Peca wasn't really. Smyth had a wonderful year, as Stoll's breakout season was in fact this year with 22-46--68. Horcoff, Torres, and Hemsky had great years as well. 58 assists from a winger (Hemsky) is a very nice total. All that talk about Ty Conklin though....wha happened? He was pretty awful.

14. Minnesota Wild (actual finish 11th, 19 points out of 14th):
Only six teams had fewer goals, and Rolston was a great pickup (led the team in points). He and Gaborik accounted for about 1/3 of the team's goals. They never really contended, and I don't have anything else to say about them because they still bore me silly.

15. St Louis Blues (actual finish 15th):


That playoff streak is coming to an end. There’s just no way it doesn’t, short of 7 plane crashes.

I don't even have to say much more than that. Scott Young was their leading scorer but he didn't crack 50 points and he was -32. They couldn't even keep a goalie healthy. Sanford looks like he at least belongs in the NHL. This season was pretty much just to get a good look at their team, and they can't have been real happy with what they saw. Kessel or Toews. Hell, or Erik Johnson, would look really nice. I'll root for either of the Minnesota guys to go here, because there's no way the Blues don't try to sign them immediately.

Overall I would say I did pretty well in the West. I got 6 of the 8 playoff teams, was within 1 position of 9 of the 15 teams, and was off by 3 positions or more on only 3 of the teams. I'll put that up against anyone in the MSM's predictions. The East was a completely different story....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Post-Season Hockey Blog Roundtable

Here are my answers to the questions posted by Chris from Western College Hockey:

Give a brief summary of your team's season:
The Wolverines got off to a hot start and incredibly were ranked #1 in the country after 11 games. Things went downhill faster than Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila’s career from that point on, hitting a low point when the Wolverines were swept in the College Hockey Showcase once again, and then followed that up by getting swept at Miami the next weekend. They showed signs of snapping out of their funk on repeated occasions, but could never quite put together a complete weekend. A perfect example of this was when they smoked BGSU 6-1 and lost 5-2 the next night. The most alarming aspect of the 05-06 edition was their tendency to come out lifeless against rivals such as Michigan State, which they did on at least 2 occasions. I don’t believe most Wolverine fans expected the season to go any longer than it did once the brackets came out. With a different draw, this team could have won a game, but would have been hard pressed to make it to Milwaukee.

What were your thoughts on how your team's season ended?
It was expected. Slightly disappointing that they didn’t compete against NoDak any better than they did, but not at all surprising that they were one and done. As I said earlier, in any draw, this team would have been hard-pressed to win more than one game. North Dakota looked like world beaters down the stretch, and they were clearly the better team. In my opinion, they could have played that game at Yost, let alone a neutral site, and NoDak still would have won.

What offseason improvements can your team make to be better next year?
The biggest thing that Michigan could do to be successful next year, in my opinion, is to rededicate themselves to playing team defense. That was the biggest downfall of this team last year, and if our defensemen keep trying to play like forwards, and our forwards don’t try and get back on D, it’ll continue to be a downfall. In addition, some of our forwards need to look at themselves in the mirror and ask if they were really giving an honest effort night in and night out. I can think of two off the top of my head that wouldn’t be able to answer yes to that question.

Are there any players on your team that might leave for the pros during the offseason?
I guess a complete list would have to be: Jack Johnson, Andrew Cogliano, TJ Hensick, Matt Hunwick, Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik. The latter two might be stretches, but then I didn’t see Mike Brown leaving either. Johnson says he’s coming back. Hensick and Hunwick have both indicated they’ll return, and as mgoblog pointed out, the Oilers don’t have an AHL team, plus they’ve got a couple other highly touted forward prospects. I think the best bets for defection this summer would be Brandon Naurato or Zac MacVoy. I’d hate to see either go, but I would completely understand it—especially if MacVoy transfers.

Which player(s) will be expected to carry the load for your team next season?
Hensick, Cogliano, Kolarik, Porter, Trevor Lewis, Jack Johnson, and Matt Hunwick. Hensick and Hunwick, as captains, need to have their best years as seniors. Hensick needs to be at least able to be mentioned as a Hobey candidate. Cogliano needs to show night in and night out why he was such a high draft pick, because there were far too many games this year where he didn’t. Kolarik and Porter need to put together solid seasons instead of half-seasons. I fully expect Trevor Lewis to come in and have an impact. And you all know what I think about Jack Johnson. I couldn’t be more excited to have him back for one more year. An improved Jack is a scary thought.

Which player will be most vital to your team's success next season?
Billy Sauer/Steve Jakiel. Whoever gets the starting nod will be the most important piece. BC and Wisconsin showed just how important an elite goaltender is in college hockey, but even having a solid netminder—with the offense I expect this team to have next year—would go a long way to getting Michigan back to the Frozen Four for the first time since the screw-job of the millennium in Buffalo.

What is your expectation for your team next season?
Frozen Four. If everyone returns, that isn’t an unrealistic goal, and anything less should be considered a disappointment. Is it an unfair standard? Probably. But this team needs to get its swagger back, and thus they need to have expectations for themselves above and beyond what might be “fair”. With so many guys potentially turning down big money and a chance to go to the pro ranks, it’d be disappointing to at least not see them contending for a national title. I believe Grand Rapids has a regional next year as well, so things set up nicely for a run at it.

Pumping Up My Ego

This is going to serve no other purpose than to make me feel slightly good about myself before we get to the ego-killing task of going through my pre-season NHL picks (Particularly the Eastern Conference).

Here's what I wrote back in July about Amir Johnson, after having watched him in Summer League action:

Amir Johnson: This kid is going to be a player. It might not be anytime soon,
but he's gonna be something. He's big (6'9 or 6'10) but he's very very athletic.
The kid needs to get in the weight room because he's really lanky (he looked
like he's maybe 210 or so). But he's got hops. Man does he have hops. The kid
had 8 points on dunks off missed shots alone. He was crashing the offensive
boards, and taking it back up strong (or just dunking it as it came off the
rim). He can also run the floor. He's got good speed for a big guy. He also had
a couple nice passes. I came away very impressed. One thing about him....kid's
got the most jacked up shot I've ever seen. I didn't get to see him take any
outside shots, but I can see why the knock on him was that he gets shots blocked
by smaller players. His shot starts around his belly button and he releases it
by the time it's at eye level. Really really odd shooting motion. They're gonna
need to work on that. At the very worst, he'll be an energy guy off the bench
who can get the crowd fired up. Worst case he's Ronald Dupree. But I think he's
gonna be a player.

Last night: 18 minutes, 6-6 from the field, 2-2 from 3 pt range, 4-4 at the line, 18 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists.

Now, I don't want to say that he's going to make people forget about the Darko fiasco, but let's put it this way: Amir Johnson's career high in points (18) is now higher than Darko Milicic's (16). Just saying. And I'm not all that uncertain that his ongoing development didn't play some role in Dumars pulling the trigger on moving Darko.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the sky is the limit for Johnson. His athleticism is just off the chart, he can really move for a tall guy, and he's just a kid. I don't want to read too much into one game, but I've thought all along that Dumars might have struck gold with this kid.

Now it's time to revisit my NHL picks...
::hides eyes::

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Captains Announced

Matt Hunwick has been named Michigan's captain for next year with Hensick and Dest as alternates. I like the choices. Hunwick was the better option of our returning captains from last year. They can't very well strip Hensick of his A, and Dest has probably earned the right to get a letter.

Hopefully that's a good sign that Hensick and Hunwick will stick true to what they said in last week's Ann Arbor News article that I linked a couple posts back, and return for their season seasons. It sounds like Hunwick is for sure back, Hensick's been more quiet about it. I don't think I've seen any direct quotes from him on the matter.

Trevor Lewis's Des Moines Buccaneers advanced to the USHL Championship Series, sweeping last year's champion Cedar Rapids 3-0. The Bucs are 6-0 in the playoffs now, and Lewis leads his team in scoring with a 2-9--11 line and is +5. Aaron Palushaj has a 2-3--5 line and is +2.

According to MaizeOut on the Yost Post, Wisconsin has offered Pat Kane a scholarship starting next December when he'll become elgible. If that's a route he's interested in taking, the Wolverines absolutely have to get in on that. We were his favored college choice before, but it looks like he's falling into a Peter Mueller type situation, where he wants to play college hockey, but might not want to spend another year killing people with the U-18s. The OHL has been the rumored route as of late, but if Michigan could bring him in in December, that would be absolutely HUGE for this team. He'd add a fourth potentially great player to this lineup of forwards (Hensick, Lewis, and Cogliano are the others). It'll be interesting to see if Spath or Bob Miller can find anything out from their sources on this one.

Good news in the NHL. Right now San Jose is whupping on Anaheim, meaning that it's more likely that the Sharks will get the #5 seed and face Nashville in the first round, leaving Anaheim to take on Calgary. Meaning that either Kiprusoff or Giguere will exit the playoffs in the first round. With Vokoun already gone, that bodes well for Detroit's chances. We'd have to root hard for Calgary in that series (unless you'd rather face Giguere than see the Sharks), and then either Kiprusoff or Turco would exit before a potential matchup with the Red Wings. This is setting up nicely.

It's either Edmonton or Colorado in the first round. Probably Edmonton, unless Colorado manages to lose tonight to a Canucks team with nothing left to play for.

One music note: The John Butler Trio kicks ass live. Saw them last night at the Blind Pig. They're just phenomenal, even if it was like 95 degrees in the venue and everyone came away looking like they just went swimming. That was miserable, but the show was great. JBT played for 2 1/2 hours....great stuff.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

2 Things That Should Be Getting More Attention

Two things that I think it's odd no one is talking about, though one of which doesn’t surprise me all that much:

1) Why is no one talking about that absolute beat-down that the Pistons put on the Cavs last night? The AP article talks somewhat about it, but I figured it would at least merit a mention in ESPN’s Daily Dime. Nothing. It was a statement game for the Cavs, and a statement was made. Just not by them. They tried getting physical with Rasheed, didn’t work. Really though, here’s a team that’s getting so much hype as of late (OMG LBJ for MVP!!!) and they came into the Palace and just got absolutely punched in the mouth. I’m starting to think there’s only 4 teams that can win the NBA Championship this year, and it’s Detroit, San Antonio, New Jersey, and Dallas in that order. I know it’s going out on a major limb, but a repeat of last year’s Finals seems like destiny. Though the outcome would be different IMO.

2) Why is no one talking about how asinine it was for Cleveland to have LeBron James still in the game when he got hurt? They’re damn lucky that it doesn’t seem to be horribly serious, because it was something that I just knew was coming. When I flipped back to the game and it was 54-27, I told my roommate that they needed to get LBJ out right then. 1) The Pistons have only lost 1 home game in regulation all season. You’re not coming from 27 points down against them, with LeBron or without. 2) It was a pretty meaningless game for the Cavs, except to be trying to send a message to Detroit. But at 54-27, it’s not looking so good for the chances of sending one. Get him out, call it a day, and move on to the next game. 3) Wasn’t the big controversy a couple days ago that they were playing LBJ 40 minutes a game after they said they were going to limit his minutes? Well that was a perfect situation to give him a nice 20 minute night. You’re getting smoked. He’s not bringing you back. What’s the point?

Can anyone imagine what the boards would be like today if Lloyd or (God forbid) Tommy had made a similar gaffe? Lord knows people complained enough after Lester played 2 minutes and then sat for another month or two. Was there anything to be gained by leaving LeBron in that game, apart from maybe only losing by 15 instead of 30?

I’m just surprised that neither of those issues is garnering major media attention from what I’ve seen. The former doesn’t surprise me as much because ESPN never has anything positive to say about Detroit, but Cleveland could have very easily just seen its playoff hopes go up in smoke because of an overall pretty stupid coaching move.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Stretch Run

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Breaking it Down: Wings vs. Pistons

With the NHL and NBA regular seasons winding down, it appears that both Detroit teams are going to have the best record in their respective leagues heading into the playoffs. The Pistons currently have 3 games up on the Spurs with 7 to play, and the Wings have a 4 point lead over Ottawa with a game in hand, and 6 for the Senators to play.

So the question is, with both teams heading into the playoffs as the favorite to take home the hardware, who stands a better chance of giving us a parade downtown this summer? Let’s break it down:

The Pistons have had a remarkable (and well-documented) string of good luck in the injury department. Their top six players have missed an incredible ZERO man-games to injury this year after having completed relatively injury-free seasons the past two seasons as well. But those in the media (::cough:: BillSimmons ::cough::) who knock their accomplishments by pointing out that Wade was hurt last year, Malone was hurt in the Finals, etc. seem to forget that without Billups rolling his ankle on Eric Snow’s foot, the Pistons could be looking to go to a fourth straight NBA Finals this year (Yes they got swept by Jersey, but the first two games were both very, very close and with a healthy Billups, they likely are up 2-0 going back to Jersey instead of down 2-0). So the Pistons know all too well what injuries can do to a title run.

The Wings have a high amount of man-games missed due to injury this year, but that number is skewed by Nik Kronwall and Jiri Fischer being out for most of the season. Legace, Lang, and Samuelsson have all had their bumps and bruises, but apart from Fischer, everyone is expected to be around for the playoffs. They’re being cautious currently with injuries to Schneider and Datsyuk, but neither appear to be far too serious and both players can use the rest anyway.

Edge: Even

Are They Playoff Ready?
With injuries (knock on wood) not a factor on either team, we move now to trying to figure out if the teams are playoff ready. With the Pistons, it’s a no-brainer. They’ve had a very successful run in the last 3 post-seasons, including a championship and another Finals appearance. The only question marks are will they be able to lock down on defense when it matters with Flip behind the bench instead of LB (indications lately have been yes), will they be able to flip the switch when they haven’t played a meaningful game in the better part of two months, and will the wear and tear on the starters get to them (we’ll get to that below). This team knows how to get it done come playoff time and I expect their postseason experience will keep serving them well this postseason. It has to be mentioned as well that Flip Saunders has not had a great deal of success in the post-season. Or a decent deal of success…The again, the West was really, really tough when Minnesota had their best teams.

It’s a little more of a gray area with the Wings. They haven’t gotten out of the second round since Scotty Bowman laced up his skates for a final skate with Lord Stanley’s Cup. Datsyuk hasn’t registered a goal in the last two postseasons. The Wings just haven’t shown an ability to get past a trapping team with a quality goaltender as of late.

That was under Ray Rhodes…I mean Dave Lewis, though. If President’s Trophies meant anything of consequence, Lewis would still be the coach of this team. Mike Babcock has already proved that he can take a team to the Finals (Anaheim 2003). And, unlike Lewis, he appears to actually be coaching during the game. The players love him, and he’s shown an uncanny knack for putting line combinations together that are immediately effective.

Manny Legace is going in as the starter once again. He got a brief stint as starter during the 2004 playoffs before getting scapegoated after the Wings struggled in the early-going against Nashville. He wasn’t bad in those games, he just didn’t get a lot of help, and the gum-chewer made a change for the sake of making a change. He’s got a Stanley Cup winner behind him, and if he falters, the Wings have the luxury of putting in a guy who can allow 90-footers with the best of them (to be fair, Osgood was absolutely outstanding in their win over Calgary a few nights ago).

The success of the Wings in the postseason will come down to how ready they are to win ugly playoff-style hockey games, if the refs are willing to keep clamping down on obstruction, and if they get anything out of their goaltending.

Edge: Pistons

How many teams in each league can legitimately challenge for the Championship? In the NBA, you’ve got the Pistons, Nets, Spurs, Heat, Mavericks, and maybe the Cavaliers (though I hesitate mentioning them when they’ll just be happy to make the playoffs). In the NHL, you’ve got the Wings, Stars, Flames, Predators, Mighty Ducks, Senators, and Hurricanes at the bare, bare minimum. I think you also have to include the Sharks, Flyers, Devils, Sabres and Rangers are teams that could at least make a decent run into the playoffs. With the Mighty Ducks and Flames in the Finals the last two seasons, and the Wild making the conference championship, it just goes to show you can’t discount a team getting a hot goalie and making a run.

The Wings are in a nice position as it appears they won’t have to deal with the Flames or Stars until the third round, but a first-round matchup with the Sharks would be far more difficult than the team with the best record in the league should get. Apart from the Sharks, the teams at the bottom of the West aren’t scary.

It also sets up nice for the Pistons, as they won’t have to see Miami or New Jersey until the Eastern Conference Finals. Getting the #1 seed is important, no? A second round matchup with the Cavs or Wizards could be interesting though. The Pistons have had their troubles this year with each of those teams.

Edge: Pistons. Yes, one player can make all the difference in the NBA, but the Pistons start 4 All-Stars. We’ve seen it time and time again how a hot goalie can upset the balance of an entire postseason, and you have to worry about so many average teams with great goalies in the NHL.

The Pistons have the best starting five in the league, and one of the best sixth-men in basketball in McDyess. After that, things start to get a little shaky. Tony Delk has been another genius pickup by Joe Dumars. He has added scoring off the bench that we weren’t getting from Carlos Arroyo. Lindsey can still lock down with the best of them and hit a three when he needs to. Mo Evans is an energy guy. I would have liked to have seen more of Carlos Delfino as he’s been great in flashes. Dale Davis is there for one thing only…to buy minutes and fouls if they play Shaq. It’s not a great bench, but with the acquisition of Delk, I’m not sure that they aren’t at least a little better off than they were last year.

The Wings on the other hand, have ten guys with thirty or more points (Draper may make it 11), and seven guys with 20+ goals (Williams could be 8). Add in the 1989 version of Steve Yzerman, who has been Detroit’s best player for the last two or three weeks and you’ve got a team with scary depth up front. They’ve got a plethora of puck-moving defensemen, and they’ve got a Stanley Cup winning goalie (albeit the Wings won in spite of him) on their bench. This team is deep, and they’re in a much better position to deal with an injury than they were two years ago when Robert Lang’s hand injury ended their chances of beating Calgary.

Edge: Red Wings

Misc. Factors:
Special teams plays a huge factor in the NHL, and the Wings are toward the top of both the Power Play and the Penalty Kill. They have the #1 power play in the league (and have all season) and are #3 on the PK (though they’ll be #1 amongst playoff teams in the West). With the increase in the number of penalties throughout hockey (we’ll see if it lasts) it can’t hurt to be amongst the best whether you’re killing a penalty, or playing a man up. They have failed to score a PPG in just 17 games this season (though four of those have come in the last 6 games).

The Wings also have had a record-breaking season on the road this year. With one more victory, they will have set a new NHL mark for road wins in a season. They’re great at home, but they admittedly play a less flashy game on the road, and just go about their business.

The Pistons are almost automatic at home, with just one loss the entire season coming in regulation at the Palace (and at 34-3 record overall). With home court advantage for the entire playoffs nearly locked up, you gotta like that statistic.

Edge: Even. The Wings are good at home and great on the road. The Pistons are great at home and good on the road. They’re both in great shape.

As the NHL and NBA seasons have gone on, I’ve started to feel more and more that I really like the Wings’ chances better than the Pistons. But a big part of that has been that the Pistons have looked completely disinterested for the better part of a month and a half. I don’t doubt that a team of their caliber can flip the switch when they want to. That said, it’s not like they’ve been losing a lot of games in the process. The Wings have been workmanlike since the Olympics and have turned a once-close division fight with Nashville into a laugher.

After breaking it down, I really do like both teams’ chances to get rings this summer, but due to the quality of the competition in the respective leagues, and their amount of recent post-season experience, I’ll give the overall edge to:

Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetroit Basssssssssssketballlllllllllllllll!

In all reality though, its:
Edge: Detroit Sports Fans