Friday, May 30, 2008

Tortorella out of Tampa?

TSN is reporting that John Tortorella may be out of Tampa Bay this summer with Barry Melrose stepping in, if incoming owner Oren Koules has his way.

For those who don't know, Melrose is currently a hockey analyst with ESPN and used to coach the Los Angeles Kings - he even got them to the Stanley Cup Finals back in '93.

If, indeed, Torts is out, where will he go? Surely, he won't be left out on the market very long; someone will snatch him up very quickly.

Two teams looking for coaches are the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators. I can only imagine the sound bites if Torts agreed to coach a Canadian team. After all, it would be in the middle of enemy territory: TCM (The Canadian Media).

TCM must certainly be salivating at the thought of having Torts around town. I bet they are arming themselves with video cameras and microphones, ready to capture every insult on tape to broadcast every night and every morning on SportsCentre. Heck, they could probably create a Top 10 of Tortorella's media rants every single month.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

So young he was...

The hockey world and the small province of New Brunswick were stunned today when Canucks defenceman Luc Bourdon was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was driving his motorcycle and lost control, hitting a transport truck head-on.

He was only 21 years old and showed great promise as a hockey player. Drafted 10th overall in 2005, he played for Canada at the WJC twice. His first tournament was in 2006, where he had 6 points in 6 games and won gold for Brent Sutter's team. He came back to the Maritimes and found himself moving from Val d'Or to Moncton. While with Ted Nolan's Wildcats team, he made it all the way to the Memorial Cup finals, where the team lost to the Quebec Remparts.

This year, Bourdon split the season between the Canucks and their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. He was a plus-7, with 2 goals, in 27 games with Vancouver and he showed great promise as an NHL defenceman. Teams thought so highly of him that Tampa Bay wanted him in a deal for Brad Richards, but then-GM Dave Nonis refused to let him go.

It's never easy to hear of someone losing their life at such a young age, especially when their future looked so bright.

Don't plan the parade just yet, Detroit.

I admit, I was a little depressed after watching the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pittsburgh team that I had seen all playoffs - all year - had magically disappeared and left a scared group of young hockey players in its wake.

True, I had predicted that Detroit would win the Cup in six games, but I started to question whether it would be sooner than that. Perhaps...a sweep.

I support my team to no end (prediction aside), but I was becoming more and more convinced that Pittsburgh's lack of experience had squashed their confidence, leaving them to run around the ice like chickens with their heads cut off. I know that I am not alone on that front.

With the series shifting to Pittsburgh, we all knew that it was a must-win game. Cliché, yes, but an accurate assessment. Sure, a team needs to win 4 games to win the Stanley Cup, but history is not exactly on the side of those teams who find themselves in a 0-3 crater-sized hole.

Add to that the fact that a couple of streaks were on the line. First, the Pens have not lost a home game since they lost to San Jose in late February - over 3 months ago. Second, MAF hasn't lost a home game since No-freakin'-vember. A loss in game 3, at home, would be catastrophic.

Coming into this game, I knew that the Pens had to score early to prove to themselves that Osgood is not a wall - that the Red Wings' defence is not impenetrable. I figured if they could just get a forecheck going...score their first goal of the Finals...then maybe they'd have a chance after all. A little confidence can go a long way.

I was understandably nervous as 9PM approached. As foolish as this seems, I gave in to my superstition and left my 'Crosby' jersey where it was. I figured if I didn't wear it, as I did for the first two games, then maybe - just maybe - Crosby would score and the Pens would win.

My applause goes out to the thousands of fans at Mellon Arena, who stood and chanted "Let's Go Pens" for minutes on end before the game began. The CBC broadcasters were wisely silent as the cameras panned the crowd, and it was a truly amazing sight. I wish I could have been there to take part.

For anyone who witnessed the first period of the game, you could see that this was a different Pittsburgh team than the one that played in Detroit. Sure, most of the players were the same, but it was as if they lost their jitters and figured out how to play against the Red Wings - and it made all the difference in the world. When Crosby scored his first goal of the game, I actually had tears in my eyes because I knew that the team I love was back.

So now the series score is 2-1 and the immediate future looks promising. I know that the Pens are still in a hole, but at least they know that Detroit is beatable.

If Crosby and the Pens show up and play the rest of the Finals like they did in game 3, who knows what could happen.

Fifteen hundred people showed up to watch the game at Cole Harbour Place - maybe they'll gather again later this summer to see their favourite son bring back the Stanley Cup.

You just never know what could happen with this Pittsburgh team.

You just never know.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Playoff Predictions: The Finals

We are now down to the wire: The Stanley Cup Finals

It's Pittsburgh's young guns vs. Detroit's experienced crew.

Predicting who will win Lord Stanley's Cup this year is virtually impossible. I started thinking it when the Pens and Wings were up 3-0 in their respective conference finals, and I only made a decision on Monday. It was probably the hardest decision I've made so far in these playoffs, and the most painful.

You see, I predict that the Red Wings will win in 6, with Lidstrom taking home the Conn Smythe.

Both teams have great offenses, and I'd give Pittsburgh the edge in this respect. Detroit has the Datsyuk/Zetterberg line, which is fantastic, but Pittsburgh has two number one lines centred by Crosby and Malkin. If Detroit gets Johan Frazen back (and it looks like they will later on in the series), then the Red Wings' offense pretty much matches Pittsburgh's.

Where this series will be won and lost is with defence. Pittsburgh has an underrated defensive corps and they will make things hard for the Red Wings, but they have yet to come across a team that is as solid defensively as Detroit. Ottawa was a mess, New York was inexperienced, and Philly was injured. The Red Wings are healthy and very good. The top two Pittsburgh lines will have to penetrate either Lidstrom/Rafalski or Stuart/Kronwall, and that will be very difficult to do. Add to that the fact that those top two defensive pairings for Detroit are very good offensively, and you have a team that will make it hard for the Pens to maintain puck possession.

Did I mention that Datsyuk and Zetterberg are also Selke nominees this year, or that Detroit is #1 in face-offs (and Pittsburgh is dead last)?

The buzz word going into this series is 'experience' - will Detroit's experience trump Pittsburgh's lack of experience? I tend to lean towards yes; Detroit has 20+ Cup rings on its roster, compared to Pittsburgh's three (if you count Sydor). Detroit also has a cast of players who have experienced failure in the playoffs, whether it be from defeat to the 8th seed (in 2006) or from defeat in the Conference Finals (in 2007).

If you look at history, lack of experience tends to go against a team in the Finals. Look at Edmonton's first run at the Cup in the early 80's, when they ran over the West but were then swept by an experienced Islanders team. Or how about last year's Ottawa Senators? Or how about Lebron James' Cavaliers in last year's NBA finals? Sometimes you need to lose it all before you can win it all.

All of this doesn't mean that I believe that the Red Wings will easily beat the Penguins. Heck, I think that there is a very good chance that the Pens can steal the Cup from the Red Wings. They have overcome so much adversity this year that it should not be surprising if Sidney Crosby leads his team to the ultimate prize. I WANT Pittsburgh to win, and I will be cheering for them to no end, but my gut feeling is telling me that Detroit has just a little bit more of an edge.

[Go Pens]

Okay, so now that I've stated my reasons for predicting that my team will not win this year, let's see what everyone is thinking. Faceoff Factor has an ever-updated list of what the media is thinking.

Duthie: no response
Milbury: DETROIT
Panger: no response

And here's an updated look at the standings so far:
Ashley: 11/14
Susie: 5/14
Maggie: 9/14
McKenzie: 10/14
Duthie: 6/10 *
Panger: 7/10 *
Milbury: 7/10 *
* I don't have the 2nd round predictions for Duthie, Panger or Milbury. I suck.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Looking at the bigger picture

It is often said that, in team sports, bronze is better than silver because you have to win to get bronze, whereas you lose to get silver. I’m sure Team Canada would agree with that thought today after losing the World Championships in overtime.

It is certainly a tough pill to swallow. The 2008 Team Canada was said to be one of the strongest teams Canada has sent to the World Championships. In over 540 minutes of hockey, Canada trailed for less than 3 minutes. Dany Heatley set a number of modern day Canadian records, and half of the tournament’s top scorers wore the maple leaf. At the end of the day, though, they will have to settle for second best.

The pain on their faces was heartbreaking. You can hear the emotion in their voices as they talk about their failure.

But can this tournament really be considered a failure for Canada?

Sure, the mentality in this country is that, when it comes to hockey, it’s gold or nothing. However, you have to look at the bigger picture and the bigger prize – Vancouver 2010.

Although the end result of the 2008 World Championships did not favour Canada, it’s hard to deny that things look good for the 2010 Olympics. With the pressure of having the Olympics on home soil, this tournament gave Team Canada a small taste of what it will be like in 2010.

The World Championships is not usually high on the radar of most hockey-loving Canadians this time of year, since the NHL playoffs are in full force, but having the tournament in Canada and having all Canadian teams eliminated from the playoffs certainly made a lot of people pay attention.

You could argue that this World Championship team will not be the same team sent to Vancouver and there is certainly some merit in that argument, but the dominant play of this team at this tournament would lead me to believe that a lot of them will get the call. It has been said all tournament long that this was an audition for 2010, and a number of players played their way onto that team. Barring injury, I would fully expect Mike Green and Brent Burns to play again for the red and white. It is also a given that Dany Heatley, Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf will form Canada’s top line in 2010. And how about Jason Spezza on the checking/energy line? This tournament has allowed Hockey Canada to see how players adjust to a new system and to new linemates. A Sidney Crosby-Joe Thornton-Jarome Iginla line has been talked about for 2010, but no one really knows if it could work; we know that Heatley-Nash-Getzlaf works.

We also need to consider international rankings. Hockey nations are ranked according to their performances at international events, and the rankings at the conclusion of this tournament are going to be used for 2010. Since Canada did so well, and Sweden lost in their bronze medal game, Canada took over the number 1 spot in the world. This means that Canada will play in the first group at the Olympics with the 6th, 7th and 12th seeded teams – which, in theory, should make it easier for Team Canada.

So although this loss hurts to players and fans alike, we should all be proud of what has transpired at the 2008 World Championships. Lessons will be learned and taken to Vancouver in two years, where the ultimate prize will be up for grabs.

Few people remember Canada’s gold medal performance at Worlds in 2004, but we all remember the team that won in Salt Lake City.

I’ll take Olympic gold over a World Championship any day.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

To Pens Fans:

Put down the beer and stop the celebrations.

Sure, the Penguins managed to squeak their way into the Stanley Cup Finals, but they don't belong.

Many misguided fans will point to Pittsburgh's 12-2 record as a sign that this team is special, that this may be our year. They declare that the Pens are unbeaten on home ice since mid-late February, so dreams of Stanley are surely in our future! Mad, I say!

Are you all so blind as to think that today's game against the Flyers, a game in which the Pens won 6-0, is a true representation of the present-day Pittsburgh Penguins? I, for one, believe that the Penguins are much more like the team that showed up for game 4 against the Flyers and Rangers.

Everyone hails Marc-Andre Fleury as the second coming of Patrick Roy and they are certainly blind to his flaws. Perhaps the new white pads have made everyone believe that his game, or lack thereof, has truly changed for the better. I am not fooled. I have noticed his rebounds - I believe I counted 2 - MAYBE THREE! - today. An NHL goalie should be ashamed of himself for being so fundamentally unsound. I say bring back J-S Aubin!!

I was utterly appalled when he pulled his diving act today. I suppose he didn't get the memo that said that a professional hockey player is supposed to act as though nothing has happened when they get hit in the head with a hockey stick. I thought it was common knowledge that NHL players are not to even blink when hit with a stick, even a crosscheck to the jaw, but I guess that doesn't apply to the Penguins. The refs must be biased here, seeing as they clearly robbed the Flyers of a goal late in the second period. If that goal had stood like it should have, then Philly would have easily roared back and won the game.

Stupid refs, they all want Pittsburgh to win the Cup. It must be Gary Bettman, telling them to fix the game.

I cannot believe that I still hear people suggest that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world, or that he ever was. If he is so good, then why is he so bad in the playoffs? Oh, and don't give me that "how can he be so bad if he has 21 points in 14 games" crap. He has what, like 2 goals? He should be scoring at least three every night, in addition to his collection of assists. He must be supremely jealous of Malkin and it is making him play poorly. That, and he's got to be hurt. He had that ankle thing this year, and a groin injury in the past, so he must be hurt. Maybe it's his wrist or his back - he's obviously an injury-prone player, so it could be anything (and probably is everything).

Malkin is another player that really pisses me off. Pens fans have placed him on a pedestal, saying that he is a good player and all that crap, but have you guys SEEN what he did in the playoffs? Did you see him get hit by the Flyers and FALL DOWN? Stand on your feet, buddy, for goodness sake. And then he made this crap move into the offensive zone and gave the puck to the Flyers, who are so great that they scored on this glorious gift. Malkin must be jealous of the attention given to Crosby, which is why he is has been so horrible.

And Marian Hossa? What on earth was Ray Shero thinking, trading Colby Armstrong, whatshisface, and Angelo Friggin' Esposito for him??!? Can you say FLOP? Sure, he can add a goal now and then, but I think I saw him turn over the puck at some point in the playoffs. You cannot make plays like that if you want to win, so Hossa obviously wants to fail.

I am so disgusted with Michel Therrien right now that I can hardly type his name without cringing. Everyone is so in love with him, saying that he has done a good job turning the Pens around in such a short period of time, but I wouldn't trust him to coach Timbit hockey. He should be fired.

It's an absolute disgrace that the Pens are allowed to advance so far in the playoffs because of favourable treatment by the refs and the NHL. On most occasions, the opposing teams are so discouraged when playing the Pens and being on the bad end of calls that it is so hard for them to overcome this adversity. Every now and then, though, a team will find a way to rise and come out on top, despite the preferential treatment given to the Pens, but it is virtually impossible to sustain it long enough to win a playoff series.

Is there justice in the sports world?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Deep and Random Thoughts

A few random thoughts à la Stoosh:

1. The Pens-Flyers games in Philly. I noticed that the crowd seems very interested in screaming "Crosby Sucks" Is it just me, or is it strange that they didn't spend more time cheering FOR their team instead of AGAINST one player on the other team?

2. Jordan Staal. What a guy. He leaves Philly to attend his grandfather's funeral and comes back and scores two goals for the Pens. He deserves all the credit in the world for doing that.

3. I'm absolutely sick of all the Philly-lovin' going on at CBC. No, I do not expect them to shower the Pens with love, but I do expect something a little more non-biased.

4. Speaking of CBC, I'm getting fed up with Bob Cole and Greg Millen. I usually don't mind them calling the game, but I guess I was spoiled by (1) Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson in the NYR series and (2) Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire in the World Championship games.

5. By the way, I wish that EVERY GAME I watched was called by Gord and Pierre. They are smart, funny, non-biased, passionate, and they throw out these little facts and stories that don't really relate to the game but let us get to know more about the players. They assume that viewers know the game and don't need to be told every single teeny tiny little detail about the game as it unfolds. I don't like 'hockey 101' treatment by the broadcasters.

6. There is so much hockey on TV right now, with the playoffs, the WC, and the Memorial Cup, but it will all be over in just a few weeks. Hard to believe that the season is almost done already.

7. MLSE is such a friggin' mess, it's not even funny anymore. Okay, maybe a little bit. I think the media will keep feeding the 'Brian Burke will come to save us...eventually' stories until it actually happens. So, while no hockey games will be played this summer, we will have continuously updated theories on what will happen with the Maple Leafs - who will take over as GM...who will coach the Leafs...which players will have their contracts bought out...which players will be traded...which players will be suckered into coming to Toronto...I think the only thing that is for certain is that Vesa Toskala will be the number 1 guy next season, but then again, you just NEVER KNOW.

When black on white isn't enough of a contrast..

Every evening at 7:30 I sit down in front of my TV and watch SportsCentre. In amongst the World Championship highlights, the NHL playoffs stories, the MLB scores (the Jays are no longer last!), and the Academy Award-worthy drama involving the Toronto Maple Leafs, I see a story about the NHL and Versus. I guess they are cooking up new ideas to bring to the 2 or 3 fans that have access to Versus.

Or drudge up bad ideas from the past. Take your pick.

See, the word out there is that Versus is planning on introducing a brand new puck tracker sometime soon. Now, you won't have to strain to see that black puck on the white ice - you'll have this comet-like tail of light streaming across your screen!

Something tells me that this won't be a popular idea among hockey fans in the States, and if they tried to sell that crap in Canada it would go over as well as privatized health care. And if Bettman actually thinks that this piece of technology is going to draw in more fans to the sport, then he is most definitely on something.

If Versus decides to make hockey a little more 'flashy', I hope it stays States-side. I don't want that thing messing up my screen when TSN broadcasts a Penguins game using the Versus feed.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Playoff Predictions: Round 3

I know I'm a little late putting these up, but better late than never, right?

On April 23rd, I made my second round predictions, and I got half of them right. That's not too bad considering Keith Jones - who went 8/8 in round 1 - only got one correct prediction in round 2.

Here are the standings so far:

Ashley: 9/12
Susie: 3/12
Maggie: 6/8
McKenzie: 8/12
Duthie: 5/8 *
Panger: 5/8 *
Milbury: 5/8 *
* I don't have the 2nd round predictions for Duthie, Panger or Milbury. I suck.

Now, I am clearly beating everyone, even the so-called 'hockey insider' Bob McKenzie (sorry Bob, I love ya anyway).

Here's what everyone is thinking for Round 3...

Cherry - PITTSBURGH <--maybe it's because he loves Staal

Ashley - DETROIT
Maggie - DETROIT
Duthie - DALLAS
Milbury - DETROIT
Panger - DETROIT
McKenzie - DETROIT
Cherry - DETROIT

Check out Faceoff Factor for staff predictions. I'm tied for the lead because I'm just that damn good. Or, the hockey gods are smiling down on me and giving me a whole lotta luck.

Let's just hope that my predictions are spot on this time around, especially in the East. It would suck big time if Philly started prancing around with Stanley Cup dreams in their heads.

And just so everyone knows, I made my predictions Monday night before I heard what everyone else was saying.

World Championships Slideshow

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The dream is over.

The Montreal Canadiens were the so-called miracle team of the season. Few believed that they would even make the playoffs, let alone finish first in the conference. The possibilities excited Habs fans and led them to dream of La Coupe.

Looks like it wasn’t meant to be.

The Philadelphia Flyers lost the first game of the series, but came back to win the next four and vault themselves into the Eastern Conference Finals. Not bad for an organization that blew up its team after finishing dead last in the NHL last year.

There is much focus on what went wrong with the Habs. Gosh darn it, they were supposed to end the Cup drought in Canada this year. They were so good in the regular season, but average at best in the post season.

Everyone is talking about the young Carey Price. It’s pretty obvious that he let in some soft goals but he is so far ahead of the learning curve as it is that no Habs fan should be worried. He has shown us time and time again throughout the regular season that he plays a sound game. He is almost always in position and gives up few rebounds. I just think that the pressure of playing playoff hockey in Montreal got to him this past month and he was mentally tired from playing so much hockey in the last 18 months. He will learn from this experience and be that much tougher to play against next season. Who knows, maybe ‘the plan’ of winning number 25 next year – the Habs’ 100th anniversary - will work.

Something that people are not talking much about is how well the Flyers played (I can’t believe I just wrote that). They played a hard-hitting game, yet weren’t overly dirty. They got traffic in front of Price and scored and scored again. Briere was great and Biron came up with the big saves, but Umberger was the Johan Franzen of the East, scoring 8 goals against Montreal.

The Habs, on the other hand, allowed Biron to see just about every shot coming at him – it’s hard to score when the goalie sees you coming from a mile away. The Flyers also got into the heads of the Canadiens. I swear it was as though the Habs were scared of the Flyers. You’re not going to win many battles when you shy away from the opponent.

All in all, the Flyers deserved to win that series.

But thumbs up to the Montreal crowd for showing their support for their goalie even when the game was out of reach. Very classy.

[Go Pens]