Earlier this season I grouped 15 teams
in 3 categories – contenders, pretenders, and, as they say in the Bronx –
Fughedaboudit! Well, the season has passed me by so fast I’ve barely had time
to plan my vacation to Florida – and guess what – I’m leaving tomorrow (by the
time you read this I’ll probably already be there)!!
So how did I do in predicting how the
NHL season would pan out? Let’s find out.
For the contenders I chose Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim, Philadelphia and the NY Rangers. I
was bang on with the first two. The Ducks are border line, the Flyers will be a
dark horse at best, and the Rangers – well, refer to my opening statement about
what they say in the Bronx…
It’s funny how, in hockey, as well as
in life, history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. The Rangers will never
learn, will they? Sure, you can’t blame them for playing on the biggest stage
the world has to offer and for wanting to put on a good show. But, yet, once
again, those big name, big money contracts just haven’t panned out, again (I
won’t mention any names, Markus Naslund and Wade Redden!). Glen Sather probably
thought he was being smart (and is due to receive a box of cigars any day now
from Dallas management) for claiming Sean Avery off re-entry waivers, but even
the supposed changed Avery hasn’t been much of a spark.
Anaheim, two years removed from a
championship, is looking more like their first year expansion counterparts, even
though they haven’t done much to change the face of their team. OK, so Brian
Burke flew the coop to Toronto and took Brad May with him, Chris Kunitz is now
playing with Sid the Kid, and Scott Niedermayer can’t decide if he wants to play
or not beyond this season. Their last line of defense, J.S. Giguere, had to
deal with the death of his father, which probably didn’t help matters either.
The Ducks, even though they’re still hanging around, aren’t looking too
have to say, even though Philadelphia
might end up a dark horse at best, they are gelling at the right time. In fact,
they’ve been getting it done all season with their consistent play, especially
when they go up against their Atlantic division rivals from just down the
Pennsylvania Turnpike in Pittsburgh. I’ve said this before, but the Flyers
finally have a goaltender who could lead them to the promised land, they have
decent defense, and they are lethal up front, especially on the power play.
These are all ingredients they will need in what has been a tighter Eastern
Conference than in recent years. I challenge anyone outside of Philadelphia to
name five players on this team off the top of their head.
As for Detroit and San Jose, they’ve
been the class of the NHL all season long, and it should come as no surprise to
anyone if either one of these two, if not both, end up in the final four. When
we get into the playoffs I’ll go more into detail on this.
For the pretenders, I chose Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Calgary and Washington. With the
exception of Ottawa, I was way off base. 3 of the 5 are all but guaranteed home
ice advantage as of this writing, and Pittsburgh is border line. Ottawa is
making a late season charge to try and make it in the back door, but with their
schedule down the stretch, I don’t think it’s going to happen – then again, I’m
not sure if anybody expected a month ago they’d be able to come within even 10
points of a playoff spot, let alone 7. If any team could do it, history has
shown Ottawa can, but it’s not going to be easy.
As for Calgary, they got downright scary at the trade deadline, getting
stronger up the middle with Olli Jokinen and solidifying an already good blue
line with an old friend, Jordan Leopold. The question mark is and has been for
a long time now, can Miikka get it done between the pipes? Some nights you’d
say absolutely, other nights, meh. And somehow, even though he’s had a pretty
good season, I still think there’s time for Todd Bertuzzi to put a monkey wrench
in the Flames’ program.
thought Chicago might make the
playoffs, but I never expected them to challenge for home ice. The Blackhawks
of old are back – they’re fast, they’re gritty, and they have good goaltending
again. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are as good as it gets up front. Brian
Campbell has been a stalwart on D, and the “Bulin Wall” Nikolai Khabibulin has
been there before. The Hawks will be tough for any opponent.
And if the Hockey Gods are listening
to me – we must see Pittsburgh play Washington in the playoffs – please, oh
pretty please with double cherries on top!! OK, enough. I’m done with the
pretenders. Turns out they weren’t so much.
For what I aptly entitled “when hell
freezes over – maybe!” – again, I wasn’t too far off, but with one glaring
error. I had chosen Toronto, Columbus, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and the NY
Islanders. I feel like I’m watching Sesame Street here. One of these teams is
not like the others, four of these teams are kind of the same, but one of these
teams is doing its own thing – can you guess which one? Right – Columbus!
Thanks to the often times magical goaltending of one Steve Mason, along with the
steady offense from Rick Nash, Raffi Torres, and newly acquired Antoine Vermette
(who knew he had it in him?!), the Jackets are positioned to make their first
post season appearance – and at the rate they’re going, they’re going to make
some noise once they get there, and good on them. Whether Ken Hitchcock can
help coach them beyond a second round appearance remains to be seen.
It all just goes to show, as much as
the so called experts and established writers like to think we know everything –
we really are just mere spectators. And quite frankly, there’s still a lot of
hockey left to be played, so as I always say – whatever you do, don’t blink!!
ALONG THE BOARDS
If Martin Brodeur seems preoccupied since breaking Patrick Roy’s all time wins record,
it’s for good reason. In the ongoing personal saga involving him and his
ex-wife, a New Jersey appeals court ruled Brodeur must pay $500,000 a year in
alimony, until 2020. The all time wins leader previously asked he only be
required to pay until he retires, which he estimated to be in 2012 (so soon?).
Melanie DuBois had asked for alimony payments until 2024, when their youngest
child is expected to graduate from college. Instead, the court opted to make it
2020 instead, when the child graduates high school. With that kind of coin, I
don’t think there will be any problem with tuition fees and books, the biggest
problem will be deciding where to study. The half million per year is in
addition to the $132,000 Melanie already receives. If you put this in real
perspective, Martin is making $5.2 million per year until the end of the 2011-12
season, money well spent by the Devils if he continues breaking goalie records,
and especially if he can lead them to another championship. Since I’ve always
been one to find a silver lining everywhere I can, at least it’s a fixed amount,
so my guess is those playoff and awards bonuses will come in real handy.
Ah, Montreal. What are we going to do
with you? I find it so funny how all season long we’ve had to bear witness to
endless anniversary celebrations, the All Star festivities, and such, and now,
it’s almost as though everybody is shocked and upset at the same time over the
Habs’ demise over the last couple of months. OK, sure, it’s the 100th
anniversary of the most storied franchise in hockey, maybe in all of
professional sports. Last time I checked this does not guarantee anything. Why
is it most everybody who follows le blue, blanc and rouge has the idea a Stanley
Cup is Montreal’s God given right, especially in their centennial year? Let’s
face facts people: the team is not that good. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb
right now and say this – the team is not going to even make the playoffs. It’s
not because the coach isn’t bilingual or because the owner of the team is
American, or because their supposed goalie of the future can’t stop a beach
ball. Well, perhaps the last part is kind of true. I just wish the fans and
media in Montreal would get over themselves already and see the forest for the
trees. I repeat – the team is not that good! The only person who seems to get
it over there is P.J. Stock. He’s like the Don Cherry of Montreal sports talk
radio, just without all the loud clothing. And another thing – quit with the
reports of a supposed outdoor game at the Big O – as I recall, the Habs hated
playing in the first outdoor game, let somebody else who wants to actually play
in one get a chance. We get it, OK, the team is 100 years old, they’ve enjoyed
a lot of success – quit ramming it down our throats. As for reports about owner
George Gillett considering selling the team – if he must, he must. Nobody
In case you missed some of the antics
on the ice over the last little while, let me bring you up to speed. The face
of the quote unquote “new NHL” is changing, faster than Sidney Crosby can test
market the latest Reebok skates. Today, as far as I and a lot of people are
concerned, the real face of hockey is playing in Washington and wears #8 instead
of 87. I’ll give you another hint – he’s Russian born. Alexander Ovechkin has
displayed a love for the game I haven’t seen since the Great One himself Wayne
Gretzky played. I’ll even go so far as to say even Gretzky didn’t play with
some of the extra enthusiasm you see out of O.V. I know for sure Wayne never
dropped the gloves or played physical – he didn’t have to. But, because Alex
likes to celebrate after every goal (the guy loves to score), especially after
getting his 50th for the second straight season, all of a sudden he’s
a showboat, classless, and every other negative adjective. Why? I just don’t
see what is so wrong about somebody who enjoys playing – what’s wrong with
injecting a little enthusiasm into our game? Heaven knows it could use it! As
for Don Cherry comparing him to a soccer player – as they say in the Bronx -
fughedaboudit!!!! As for picking the face of the NHL, if it really must be
from Pittsburgh, why not the guy who wears #71? Just a thought.
Well, since I’m leaving for my big
vacation tomorrow, there isn’t any time left for “Who Is This Guy”. When I come
back, the playoffs will be starting. Boy this season just flew by, didn’t it?!
Enjoy the home stretch, and make sure you leave it all on the ice. In my
immediate future: plenty of sun, sand, and Mickey Mouse. I do know one thing,
if my wish upon a star comes true…well if I tell you it, might not now, right?
Maybe I’ll find some time to catch a Bolts or Panthers game. I hear tickets are
cheap nowadays. No rush, really. I have two weeks. Talk to you all
More Puckin' Around...