Monday, December 29, 2008

Dark Days

Before I get into what I want to write, I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and is enjoying time with their families.
Something I have been wanting to discuss was brought to light a few days ago when it was reported that the Phoenix Coyotes were having financial troubles. You can read the full length article from ESPN here
Jerry Moyes, the owner, is set to lose $30 million while the team is having trouble staying afloat with the NHL stepping in to look for new investors.
The one protection that the Coyotes have had against moving is the lease agreement with the city of Glendale where the mover would have to pay a very hefty price tag to just have the franchise move out of the desert. However, this protection is in jeopardy because if the team does go bankrupt, which is a distinct possibility, the lease would be null and void. A prospective buyer could swoop in (Jim Balisille) buy the team for a relatively cheap price and move them wherever. 
So what does this mean? A team that is finally getting some luck on the ice with an acquisition like Ilya Bryzgalov last year and Olli Jokinen at the draft, the up and coming young players such as Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, and others is getting bad luck elsewhere. Unfortunately, it is in an area that threatens the franchise's very existence. 
I have already experienced the loss of a team when the Hartford Whalers moved down to Carolina in the late 90s. Sure I wasn't a die hard Whaler but I always liked them being from Connecticut. However, to lose a team that you passionately love is something I cannot imagine and would never wish it on anyone. 
I will admit that Phoenix is a fair weather city. I have seen it with the Diamondbacks, the Suns, the Cardinals, and the Coyotes. When the teams are doing well, they draw fans but eventually it tapers off. I remember the Coyotes selling out America West Arena for playoff games and then seeing games where the arena was half empty. But for those few die hard fans, this team is everything to us and there is a bright future on the ice developing, something that has taken many years of losing and suffering. And all of that could be taken away in an instant. 
Even though people may not know who the Coyotes are, I am proud to call myself a passionate Coyote fan. It is my hope that more fans start going to the games and see this great young team. Being young means alot of learning and losing but that should not discourage anyone from the bright future that is ahead for the franchise. The entire city of Phoenix should embrace this team that is on the brink of finally being relevant in the NHL again. 
I have to say it would be one of the saddest days of my life if the Coyotes left Phoenix. 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh Holy Hell

Sorry for the lack of posts. Finals week has been nothing less than the title of this post. I will try to do a "mid year" review of the three teams I cover here and make a prediction about where they are going. Mats Sundin signed with the Canucks...I was disappointed but the Rangers have shown that they don't need him to win. I have moved on and I hope you have too. 
The Coyotes are doing well right now and the Rangers are as well. The Hatters are on a roll too. Good things all around so far as 2008 closes out. 
Look for some new stuff after this weekend. 

Image found here

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Thoughts on Mats Sundin

I am taking a short break from studying for finals to offer up my thoughts on Mats Sundin.
As many of you know, the NHL rosters freeze on December 19th, this Friday, for the Xmas Roster Freeze. No transactions can be made after that date until a later date. 
As many of you also know, Mats Sundin is still a free agent. If you didn't then I would love to know where you have been these past 6 months or so. However, Mats is close to a decision....finally. His goal is to start playing in January and while he has been working out, it might take a little while to get back into the swing of the NHL game. 
Today it was reported in the Philadelphia Daily News that the Flyers are out of the running for Sundin. They really don't need him at this point anyway. It would be too hard for them to move salary. With the elimination of Chicago plus any team below 6th place in either conference, a picture is finally starting to form here. 
The top 3 teams are believed to be the Vancouver Canucks, Les Canadiens de Montreal, and the New York Rangers. Personally, I think Mike Gillis should start looking elsewhere. Mats doesn't want to be in a place where travel is crazy and the Northwest division is not the place to go if that is the case. Despite the fact a 2 year $20 million contract offer is still on the table in Vancouver, Mats won't go there. Supposedly he isn't in it for the money.
So that leaves the Habs and the Rangers. Both are near the top of the Eastern Conference with the Canadiens having games in hand on the Rangers. But more importantly, both teams would like to be doing better. 
After a hot start, the Rangers are 6-4 in their last 10 while the Canadiens are 5-3-2. Both of them would love to be scoring more goals. The Rangers have 88 goals in 33 games while Montreal has 85 in 29 games. It seems like both are identical but there is one advantage, if you want to call it that, that the Rangers have in this sweepstakes.
The Rangers, despite cap issues, can come up with the money for Sundin easier than the Habs can. By simply sending Lauri Korpikoski down to Hartford and waiving Petr Prucha, the Rangers could free up more than $2 million. Heck, trading Rozsival would free up $5 million. Now whether Sather can convince some team to take Rozsival or Redden or whoever else is another story. 
Montreal doesn't have players it can just dump to make room. Moving pieces for them would require big names to be moved such as Andrei Markov, Alex Kovalev and so on. They will not trade players like Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, or Mike Komisarek because they want to retain them in the offseason. 
Also, the Rangers have the Swedish factor. Whether this actually plays into the decision Mats will make is one thing but it is present. Obviously Henrik Lundqvist is a huge plus as he is regarded as a world class goaltender. Markus Naslund is one of Sundin's best friends as they have played together many times over the course of their hockey careers. Markus has been scoring but maybe Sundin is the guy who can get Naslund back to that high level of offense. 
Where will Mats ultimately end up? Nobody knows. However, this week is a huge week in his decision making process. Maybe the Rangers will be have a nice gift waiting for them in New York when they return from California...

Image found via Google Image search here 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rock Bottom...And They Keep Digging

I had my optimistic article earlier today. Here is the depressing one. 
What an absolutely atrocious performance by the Rangers. I don't care that they came back from being down 5-1. Besides that 15 minute spurt, they were absolutely horrible. Henrik Lundqvist showed how bad this defense is when he is not robbing every puck away. You can't blame him for this one and he shouldn't put it on himself. 
The past couple of weeks have had horrible games for the Rangers. Despite the fact they are near the top of the NHL in the standings, the last few weeks have had games where the Rangers barely squeak by with wins they should have easily gotten. They get lucky with a very poor first 40 minutes and then decide to turn it on in the third period. You cannot do that in the NHL. A full 60 minute effort is needed. 
So what now? If you think Sundin is going to fix everything, you've got another thing coming. The defense of this team is awful without Henrik Lundqvist. Keep Staal, Girardi, and Mara. Dump the rest of them. The Lightning made a bonehead move in putting Mike Lundin on waivers...put in a claim for him. Trade the other defenseman for physical guys who are willing to get dirty and won't allow opposing players to get to the front of the net. 
Offensively, sign Sundin. Get a scoring winger for Gomez who is going to shoot the puck. I can't stand seeing this team stand around and have plenty of room to shoot. The Rangers need a goal scorer. Naslund has been alright but they need someone who is not 35 years or older to do so.  
Also fire Perry Pearn. He is the "strategist" on the powerplay. Obviously it isn't working out. Get someone in here. Take out Tom Renney. Put him in a player development role and get a coach in here who has won a Stanley Cup. John Tortorella and Peter Laviolette are two guys I would want. At least they would show emotion and are not afraid of disciplining players no matter what their contracts are. 

Holy Jumpin is Right! Coyotes Finally Figure Out Wild

I am taking a break from studying. Okay I haven't started yet so maybe this can be classified as a continuation of my procrastination...a student's best friend. 
Last week had an article about how the Coyotes sophomores, specifically Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal, were struggling. The color commentator for the Coyotes, Darren Pang, apparently read it and was none too pleased about the content of the article. You can read his take on the Coyotes website here.
But more importantly is the Coyotes game last night. If anyone has been following this team, they know the Minnesota Wild have been a kryptonite for Phoenix. Going into the game last night, the last time the Coyotes had defeated the Wild was on November 16th, 2006. Niklas Backstrom has been an absolute fiend in net coming into this contest 8-0 with 3 shutouts and a 1.13 goals against average against the Coyotes throughout his career. 
However, all streaks come to an end. Backstrom let in 3 goals including 2 in the final 30 seconds of the 2nd period. The first came from Zbynek Michalek who continues his unbelievable play as he ripped a shot from the point. 
Then just 25 seconds later Peter Mueller came down the wing with Olli Jokinen on the other side after rookie Mikkel Boedker had stolen the puck. He made a beautiful pass across the slot and over the stick of a Wild defenseman to Jokinen who put it by Backstrom. Just like that, it was 2-0. 
The third period saw the newest addition to the Coyotes make an impact. Joakim Lindstrom was acquired earlier this week from the Anaheim Ducks for young defenseman Logan Stephenson. Tonight he scored his first goal as he redirected a beautiful pass from Steve Reinprecht into the net. While it was disallowed at first, review showed the puck had hit the white bar inside the net and bounced out.  
Olli Jokinen has continued his hot streak since coming back from injury. He now has 3 goals in two games. Steven Reinprecht is also on a hot streak as he now has 6 points in his last 5 games. Ilya Bryzgalov had his best game of the season as he stopped 30 of 31 Wild shots. The Coyotes will need him to continue to play stellar if they want to succeed. 
Was this game the turning point of the season? Quite possibly. The Coyotes had not beaten the Wild in over 2 years. Maybe this is where the Coyotes start moving up. They will face a stiff test on Saturday as the Detroit Red Wings come to Phoenix. 

Image found via Google Images here 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hank "The Hulk" Carisio

Last night the Danbury Mad Hatters hosted the Hudson Valley Bears in a Saturday night match up. While the EPHL is barely two months old, the frequency of teams playing each other is building rivalries. However, the rivalry between the Bears and the Hatters runs deep.
There is absolutely no love loss as the teams were chatting and yelling at each other on the ice. At one point there was almost a repeat of last Saturday as it seemed the benches would clear for another bench brawl. General Manager Brendan Tedstone was behind the bench for the Hatters as Coach Dave MacIsaac sat in the stands serving the first game of his suspension which should be announced early this week along with other punishments from the league office for last Saturday's "extra-curricular" activities.
But back to this game. The Hatters came out flat. They were going up against a team that has a few good players but many who are not. Yet they found themselves down 2 goals within the first 10 minutes of the game. Len DiCostanzo, the Bears goalie, was stopping everything in sight and some that weren't, doing his best Patrick Roy impression as the Hatters rained shots down on him. This continued into the second period, baffling the Hatters. At the end of the middle frame DiCostanzo had turned away all 40 shots by the Hatters. 
Needless to say, the Hatters needed a spark to get the crowd in it. The Bears were hanging on for dear life with only DiCostanzo keeping them in the game. 
It could be argued that Igor Karlov's goal just 32 seconds into the third period was the spark and it probably was until Hank Carisio began being a man on a mission. Having already fought once in the game Carisio was looking to make an impact again. However it was on the scoresheet that he would. Devin Guy of the Bears took a tripping penalty at the 5:43 mark. With Carisio on the powerplay, he powered his way from the corner to the front of the net and stuffed the puck past DiCostanzo to tie the game. The crowd of 1,294 exploded as the game was tied. 
What Carisio did next has to be the most innovative goal celebration I have ever seen, and quite possibly the funniest. After celebrating on the ice with the players he picked up the pcuk he had just scored with and gave it to Bears "tough guy" Phil Esposito. The entire Bears bench exploded in rage but didn't get on the ice. While Carisio got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which he shouldn't have because that was the best thing I have ever seen at a hockey game, he had won over the fans of Danbury.
However, his night wasn't done just yet. Apparently he got marked by the Bears. Later in the period he came through the neutral zone with his head down. Just after he dished the puck off to Erik Kent to bring into the zone he was run over by Dan Malloy of the Bears. Kent went in and scored the goal to give the Hatters the lead but Carisio was down on the ice and didn't seem to be moving. 
Let me start by saying that the hit was absolutely clean. If any video should be made about why you should keep your head up at all times, this would have been the perfect hit to show. See Scott Stevens on Lindros or Kariya for a reference point.
A hush descended on the crowd as Carisio looked to be seriously injured. Scott Horvath of the Bears called for the paramedics while the trainer, Tedstone, and some players for the Hatters came out to help. They got him to his knees with Carisio having a cut on his face and looking coherent as he was talking and moving which was a great sign. 
When the neck brace was put on he ripped it off, stood up and skated off the ice on his own power to a standing ovation from the crowd. He wanted to stay on the ice but instead took a seat behind the Hatters goal to watch the rest of the game. 
Most players would not have gotten up after a hit like that. But skating off the ice, Carisio had won the hearts of the Danbury faithful and is definitely the fan favorite. 
The game was not over however. The lead was short lived as a breakaway for John Geverd just over a minute later tied the game at 3. 
A bad penalty by the Bears with just under 2 minutes left in the game lead to their undoing. With 32 seconds left, Obi Aduba scored a power play goal that would seal the deal. 
Hank Carisio has earned the name "The Hulk" from me because of one thing. Whether he is driven to fight or score, you wouldn't like him when he is angry. He finished with a Gordie Howe hat trick. 
If you haven't had a chance to check out a Hatters game yet, I strongly recommend you do so. These games are an absolute blast and are very affordable. Hope to see the stands draw more every night.  

Friday, December 5, 2008

Was I Wrong?

In one of my earlier entries I mentioned how Phoenix's 6 game losing streak was the end of their playoff hopes. Was I premature in this assumption?
Since I wrote that article on November 25th, the Coyotes have won 4 of 5 games...most of them without star center Olli Jokinen. More importantly, the Coyotes are beating teams that they will need to if they hope to make the playoffs. After losing to the Rangers, the Coyotes went to Columbus and beat the Blue Jackets. They returned home for a home stand and topped the Avalanche before narrowly losing to the Sharks. They then beat the Kings and the Maple Leafs last night. 
So what has changed? For all of these game, Mikael Tellqvist was in goal and played very well until last night's game. He was pulled after two periods after giving up 3 goals on 9 shots. Of course Tellqvist is not a starting goalie and it was time for him to get a rest. Ilya Bryzgalov has had a few games to figure out what is wrong and needs to be on top of his game for the Coyotes to battle for a spot in the tough Western Conference. Last night was a good start as he stopped all nine shots he faced. 
Martin Hanzal continues to show his brilliant flashes of offense as last night he had a hat trick and had scored 4 straight goals for the Coyotes over 2 games. While it is his defense that is making a name for him, his offensive skills are very high and the Coyotes cannot wait to see the big guy begin rumbling along and producing offense. He only needs two more goals to tie his total from last season and has almost half the points as well. If the Coyotes want to make the playoffs, Hanzal will need to turn up the offense while keeping the defensive play at an excellent level. 
The most underrated defenseman in the entire NHL is on the Phoenix Coyotes. Not Ed Jovanovski or Derek Morris. Zbynek Michalek leads the league in blocked shots and continues to become an unbelievable defenseman. When Keith Ballard left, Coyotes fans were wondering who was going to take his role as a young defensive specialist. Michalek has certainly filled that role. Along with Kurt Sauer, Michalek is helping to make one of the best shutdown pairings in the entire NHL. Of course not very many people have heard of this young man who is making a name for himself. Being a +5 isn't a bad quality either. 
Kurt Sauer is another defender who is helping to make the Coyotes blue line formidable. One must wonder if Maple Leafs Cliff Fletcher mixed up Jeff Finger and Kurt Sauer as Sauer is one of the steals of the free agent market so far this season. The Coyotes will need him and Michalek to continue their stellar play.
Continuing with the blue line, the play of Keith Yandle has put the Coyotes back on the map when it comes to offensive defenseman. At the moment, Yandle has 13 points and is growing into his own as a puck moving defenseman. His defensive play has been questioned at times but with steady improvement, he could become a top pairing offensive player.
Another surprise has been forward Enver Lisin. The speedy winger has been in the Coyotes organization known for his speed and offense but almost useless on defense. After being sent down last year he even left the Coyotes and it was thought he would never play in North America again. However, he has come back and improved on his play without the puck and it has done wonders. In 9 games he has 6 points. Along with Mikkel Boedker Lisin is the fastest skater on the team and has used it to show his worth in drawing penalties and creating offense. His continued improvement will certainly help an offense that has young players such as Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris having a hard time scoring consistently.
The Coyotes will be tested in the coming weeks as December is a tough month for them on the schedule. They play the Avalanche, Kings, and Stars two times each, not to mention the Red Wings, Wild, and Blackhawks as well. Will they prove me wrong? 

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Birth of the Danbury Mad Hatters

Despite the fact the EPHL season started back on November 1st, the Danbury Mad Hatters are still waiting for a consistent crowd to come to their games. Averaging over 1000 fans on the weekends and less so on week nights, the Hatters would like to get those numbers up. Having a losing record doesn't help the situation but Saturday night was a special moment if any for Danbury. 
The toughness of this team was somewhat unknown and fans expected toughness after the legacy of the Trashers along with a high flying offense. Up until Saturday night, neither of these had really manifested themselves fully. That was until late in the third period. 
After tying it earlier in the period, KC Caudill knocked a Brooklyn Ace through the door of the Hatter bench. A couple of punches and shoves lead to an all out bench clearing brawl by both teams. Hatters and Aces paired up on the ice, some just grabbing each other, others ready to fight. It seemed that as Hatters hopped the boards, they were ready to throw down while the Aces were somewhat apprehensive to the fact. Obi Aduba got a shot to the face and proceeded to drop his gloves, ready to fight but the Ace who punched him stood there and twiddled his thumbs. 
However, the crowning moment didn't involve players but one of the few reminders of Danbury Trasher hockey left at the DIA. Ace coach Chris Firriolo and Hatters coach Dave MacIsaac began to exchange words and gestures across the glass that separates the two benches. What was said is unknown but Dave MacIsaac went back to his Trasher roots and attempted to go join in the melee and pummel Firriolo. While he was held back, it represents an important moment.
While I have only been at Danbury for 3 games, this was the first sustained "Lets Go Hatters" chant that I have heard. It was a wonderful thing to hear considering how hard this team has been trying to get a base in Danbury. Section 102 never fails and they certainly didn't as they started the chant that filled the DIA and gave everyone reminders of Trasher days gone by. As I looked around the arena, a gentleman was waving a Dave MacIsaac Trashers jersey over the railing. It was truly a sight to see for any passionate Trasher fan. 
The Hatters did lose in a shootout which was disappointing considering the performance Derek MacIntyre put on in goal, stopping 53 of 55 shots and 3 of 4 shootout attempts. But talking to the players after the game, they were fired up and ready to go. While their next game is Saturday night against the Bears, the Hatters will be looking forward to Christmas. That week they play the Aces three times, twice in Brooklyn and once in Danbury. 
Ladies and Gentlemen...we have a rivalry on our hands. Don't be surprised to see Danbury go on a hot streak and ready for revenge when they go up against the Aces again. 

For anyone who didn't get a chance to see the is a clip of it. Not the best quality but you get the point: