January 07, 2006

Hockey: Not That We're Fans or Anything

How crazy are Canadians for hockey?

The World Junior Championship relegation game between Norway and Slovakia drew over 5500 fans. The World Juniors themselves sold out eight months before the first puck dropped. We have a day designated by the CBC as "Hockey Day in Canada", and while it's not a national holiday yet, it's probably only a matter of time. I know I've got the games on, while sharpening my splitting maul and kindling hatchet and drinking a beer. Now, where's my toque?

It's the half-way point in the NHL season, so time to look over what's where, starting in the East:


What Works: Without Bondra, but still scoring like crazy.
What Doesn’t: We’ll see how they do without Holik.
What Else: A recent charge could get them to the playoffs.
What’s Coming: Lehtonen. Management can stop with the sacrifices, now.
Now What: Garnett has been improving, but that’s as much a case of his players getting to know him better as it is his play. When Dunham’s back, he’s down again.


What Works: Stuart and Sturm are doing all asked of them.
What Doesn’t: Thornton still leads the team in scoring, despite playing his last 14 games for San Jose.
What Else: Lots of teams are still scratching their heads over the Thornton trade, wondering why they weren’t asked…
What’s Coming: Eight points and five teams out of the playoffs so far.
Now What: No real reason for optimism here. With five teams well below them, there isn’t even the chance of the #1 draft pick. Need to regain some pride.


What Works: Goaltending. Miller has grabbed the brass ring.
What Doesn’t: Briere, the only point-a-game man, is out until at least mid-March.
What Else: They’re rolling four lines well and getting some scoring from lots of sources.
What’s Coming: Three goaltenders, one net. Lots of people want goalies right now, too.
Now What: Things are going great now, but they rely very heavily on special teams for goals. Trading Biron or Noronen can change that in a hurry, though other teams will probably try to get Miller.


What Works: Cole, Stillman Williams, Brind’Amour all scoring since Staal slowed down.
What Doesn’t: Staal slowed down. No biggie, he’s getting more attention now from defenders.
What Else: Gerber is holding steady, and Ward’s doing good enough for a rookie.
What’s Coming: Biggest challenge to the division title may come from Atlanta, not Tampa Bay.
Now What: Think the fans will notice if they don’t get far in the playoffs? This team deserves crowds/


What Works: Home record of 12-6-2.
What Doesn’t: Road record of Oh-Dear-Lord.
What Else: Huselius had to leave before his game came back.
What’s Coming: Talk of a goalie trade (Luongo can bring a lot).
Now What: Trade talk is on hold with McLeannan injured and, frankly, not playing very well.


What Works: Still no extended sulking from Yashin. Hooray!
What Doesn’t: Losing three top defensemen hasn’t helped the goals against.
What Else: DiPietro will have to have a stunning finish to get last season’s 5 shutouts.
What’s Coming: And he’ll have to for the Islanders to make the playoffs.
Now What: Probably not much, but with Milbury as GM, you never know…


What Works: Looks like the biggest ego holding this team back was Sather’s. Who knew?
What Doesn’t: No points from the D. Tyutin and Poti’s 13 are tops.
What Else: Four of the top five scorers are Czech, as are Hossa and Rozsival.
What’s Coming: The annexing of Madison Square Gardens by the Czech Republic.
Now What: The chemistry here is great (even with Jagr – go figure), so any serious trade is probably out, but they do need help on the blue line.


What Works: Koivu and Kovalev both scoring at a point-a-game pace.
What Doesn’t: When they (and everyone else) are healthy.
What Else: Sitting Ribeiro down for a couple of game is a calculated risk. If he doesn’t know why it happened, there could be trouble.
What’s Coming: Anyone need a big centre? Hardly used, good on faceoffs… He was a number three pick in 1994. Bonk for sale! Come get him!
Now What: They don’t have a lot to offer in trade, but what they could use most is some medical supplies.


What Works: Elias coming back from a bout of Hep A with five points in two games.
What Doesn’t: Team +/- is -76.
What Else: Paul Martin’s on defense. That’s all for the political jokes this time.
What’s Coming: I keep expecting these guys to remember who they are and go on a tear.
Now What: Brodeur is already looking forward to next month’s Olympics, where people will watch him play. Why does New Jersey have a team again?


What Works: Scoring lots; stopping opponents from scoring much. Yeah, that works.
What Doesn’t: Hasek’s back is starting to creak.
What Else: Emery should get more work, to prep him and rest Hasek for the playoffs.
What’s Coming: What could they need?
Now What: We’ll see if Coach Murray pulls a “Bowman”, mixing up his team to prevent stagnation.


What Works: Niittymaki taking the number one spot while Esche is injured.
What Doesn’t: The walking wounded. A lot of top players have missed a lot of playing time, including Esche, Primeau, Desjardins, Kapanen, Pitkanen, Stevenson…
What Else: Apparently, they can ignore injuries with impunity; a 27-8-6 record says so.
What’s Coming: A dogfight with Ottawa and Detroit for the President’s Cup.
Now What: They want a playoff goaltender, meaning they might not be interested in the names currently being bandied about (Luongo, Biron).


What Works: Keeping Fleury with the team, bonus be damned.
What Doesn’t: Shrugging when you hear the word “defense”.
What Else: Crosby has proven to be everything advertised, including tremendously composed off the ice.
What’s Coming: With Kovalchuk taunting Crosby, there could be a fantastic rivalry brewing between these two. Lets hope so.
Now What: With Lemieux’s threat to pull the team from Pittsburgh out in the open, he’s going to bite the bullet and pay Fleury the games played bonus this year. Hey, they’re losing money anyways, right?


What Works: Everyone (more or less) being healthy (more or less).
What Doesn’t: The Lightning, of all teams, not scoring enough to support their goalies.
What Else: A very up-and-down year so far, they are in a battle to make the playoffs right now.
What’s Coming: An explosion of some sort from Coach Tortorella.
Now What: Seven empty net goals against shows a team that is close to a breakthrough – in either direction.


What Works: Bryan McCabe. Still.
What Doesn’t: Lindros and Allison both injured… do you hear springs breaking?
What Else: There are nine natural centers playing on this team. A little help on the wings would be nice…
What’s Coming: Kaberle could be tempting trade bait, should they need healthy forwards.
Now What: Can McCabe actually get 100 points this season?


What Works: Kolzig, Ovechkin, Witt, Heward, and team lawyers.
What Doesn’t: Too much to list… Well, not really, but there are some vets not pulling their weight (Johnson, Friesen, Cassels) with a lot of not-ready-for-prime-time players.
What Else: Could be Buffalo all over again, if they’re lucky.
What’s Coming: Some long seasons ahead if the youngsters don’t develop as planned.
Now What: What these guys should do is send the youngsters back down for another season and rent some vets for two years. The trading away of Kolzig is going to happen this season, and not for draft picks.

West tomorrow. Probably.


posted by Thursday at 1:27 pm


Blogger M@ said...

Heh. I'm pretty impressed that my guess -- in your Oct 4 post -- is currently on top of the league. It bugs me, to be honest.

The big surprise to me is Buffalo. Where the hell did they come from!?

Anyhow, I'm pulling for all six Canadian teams to make the playoffs. C'mon, Habs...

10:11 pm  
Blogger Thursday said...

For now they are, anyways. We'll see what the injuries do to Ottawa, and you know they're going to rest Hasek as much as possible. Or they should, anyways...

The way Vancouver's going, you may have to root for them to make the playoffs by season's end *sigh*.

11:05 pm  
Blogger M@ said...

Yeah, honestly I'm a little surprised by Vancouver. I agree with your assessment of them but at the season's start I thought they of all the western Canadian teams would walk into the playoffs.

I'm not too worried about Ottawa. Yeah, they'll rest Hasek but they'll be able to more or less coast into a playoff spot. They might have a contender for the top spot in their division but that's as far as it'll go, I think.

Anyhow, good summaries. I'm actually looking forward to the playoffs this year.

8:11 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

It looks like Vancouver's just not as good as their stats indicate - a lot of those home wins (7 or 8) were against teams that had played and travelled the day before.

All six teams in would be validation for the salary cap, wouldn't it?

9:19 pm  

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