Monday, December 21, 2009

Danbury Hockey Returning


For Danbury hockey fans, it seems hockey will be returning to the Hat City next season as Danbury is a charter member of the Federal Hockey League. The league had a press conference this past Thursday announcing their intentions and the teams who will be charter members will be having their own introductory press conferences over the next few weeks. The Danbury franchise will be the first team to hold one of these on December 29th at the Danbury Ice Arena. Here is the full press release:
DANBURY HOCKEY

PRESS CONFERENCE

On Tuesday, December 29th at 12 noon, the Danbury Hockey franchise of the new professional Federal Hockey League (www.thefederalhockeyleague.com) will be holding a press conference at the Danbury Ice Arena.

Danbury Hockey will be unveiling the team name, team colors, and introducing the head coach.
In addition the ownership group will be on hand to answer questions and outline their plan for the coming months.

Federal Hockey League officials,
Danbury community leaders, and partners of the team will also have speaking roles in the press conference.

All media are invited to attend.
The event is also open to the general public. All are welcome.

The Danbury Ice Arena is located on
One Independence Way, Danbury, Connecticut.

Special media requests should be directed to Herm Sorcher at 973-713-7547 or email hsorcher@aol.com.


I encourage all Danbury fans to attend this press conference if at all possible. From listening in on the press conference last Thursday this league seems to have things together. Couple that with the fact they are starting a full 10 months before the season and I would have to say this is the best shot Danbury has at a stable hockey team from the beginning since the Trashers. Check the league website for more information as well as minor league hockey message boards. There is a Facebook group for the league which you can see and join here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

World Juniors to Showcase the Future


One thing about the sport of hockey that I love most is how players are drafted and developed. For big sports like football and basketball, once you are drafted you head straight to the pros. For hockey, it is a very different situation.
Players who are drafted do not have to be immediately signed to play. They have many options including major junior hockey, European leagues, NCAAs, USHL, and others. Because of this, many drafted players will take two, three, and even four years before joining the NHL team or anyone of its affiliates.
One of the most scouted and scrutinized prospect tournaments in the world is the under 20 World Junior Championships. It is here that future NHL players go up against the best people in their age group and players who they will most likely run into at the NHL level.
The New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes will be well represented at this tournament especially on Team USA where, barring any surprises, there will be five players representing the two teams.
For the Rangers three forwards will be an integral part of the offense for the United States.
Derek Stepan is a center at the University of Wisconsin drafted in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft. Known for his playmaking abilities he is having a great year as a sophomore with five goals and 17 assists in 18 games for the Badgers. A solid skater Stepan will be a key piece to the United States attack. Team USA played an exhibition game last night against the University of North Dakota where Stepan had two assists in the 4-2 win for the United States. When Stepan will make his professional debut is unknown but there are some who believe he could be playing in the American Hockey League as soon as next season. His performance in this year's tournament will go a long way in making that decision.
Chris Kreider was the Rangers' first round pick in this past 2009 NHL draft. There was much skepticism surrounding him going into the draft. After playing at Andover Academy, scoring 33 goals and adding 23 assists in just 26 games the Rangers saw his talent and decided to take him. Many Blueshirt fans are skeptical of drafting kids out of prep schools after the Hugh Jessiman debacle but this kid has all the tools to be successful. He was considered the best skater in this past draft with explosive speed is showing major improvement this season as he is a freshman at Boston College. Scouts consider him the best prospect to come out of New England since Brian Leetch.
In the win over North Dakota, Kreider showed his value as he scored two goals to help lead Team USA to a win. There was some question as to whether he would make the team but I think he has solidified his position. He has two goals and three assists in 14 games this season for Boston College. The speedy forward will probably spend at least another season at Boston College before even considering moving on to a higher level.
The third Ranger looking to make Team USA is Ryan Bourque who was a third round selection in the past draft. The small forward is the son of Ray Bourque but plays a very different game. Despite his small stature he has the offensive abilities to be a scoring forward. He is a quick forward with a good shot playing for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With 12 goals and 15 assists in 31 games so far, he is having a solid rookie season in a strong major junior program. He did not play last night against North Dakota but has survived the first round of cuts.
The only other player in the Ranger organization who will be skating in the World Juniors is Czech forward Roman Horak. Playing for the Chiliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League, the young left winger has developed into a talented forward who plays a strong two way game. In his rookie season in North America, the Czech has put up a respectable 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points in 36 games. He is a fifth round pick of the Rangers from the 2009 draft.
For the Coyotes they will have their eyes on the World Juniors. With so much being put on the future of the organization, there are many players who will be playing key roles for their countries.
On Team USA, the Coyotes have Chris Brown looking to lock up a forward spot. As a freshman Brown is tied for second in scoring for the University of Michigan Wolverines, which has been a breeding ground for Coyote prospects. A power play specialist Brown was a second round pick for the Coyotes at this past draft. A strong forward he will be looking to impress at these World Juniors.
One of the most important pieces to Team USA will be the starting goaltender and the likely candidate was a third round pick of the Coyotes. Mike Lee is the starting goaltender at St. Cloud State as a freshman and will most likely anchor the American goal crease. The big goalie is big and has good reflexes. Team USA will be relying on him to be a rock in goal, especially against so many high powered offensive teams in the tournament.
When the Coyotes picked Oliver Ekman-Larsson with their first round pick this season, the knew they were going to get a solid defenseman who some believe will end up being better than Victor Hedman. He will be an anchor on the blue line for the Tre Kronor at this tournament as they look to solve the Canadians who they have lost two in the last two finals. "OEL" has excellent offensive abilities while being solid in his own end. Phoenix will be hoping he has an impressive showing against the world's best young players.
There are going to be many players at this tournament to keep an eye on as well as the story line of whether or not Canada can win a sixth straight gold medal. For anyone keeping track, the last country to win a gold medal at this tournament besides Canada? The United States. You know this underdog team would love to do that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taking the Next Step


*NOTE* All of these proposals are contingent upon Ice Edge getting the team and giving Don Maloney money to spend*
For years I have been waiting for the Coyotes to take the step of getting a solid head coach in control of the team. Now that this task was completed by hiring Dave Tippett it is time to take another step towards making this team into a serious contender.
I am very happy with how things have gone so far this season, in fact it is the first time in a long time that I am proud to call myself a Phoenix Coyotes fan. The team is playing well behind a new system, Ilya Bryzgalov, and a pack mentality. The defense has a snarl to it because of a mix of youth and veteran. Yet there is one thing that this team is missing which it will need if they want to become a bonafide contender for the Stanley Cup (Coyotes and Stanley Cup in the same sentence?).
Phoenix's struggles the last few years have been related to scoring. For the most part, Shane Doan has been the go to man for goal scoring the last few seasons, including a career best 31 tallies last season. But with his slow start the Coyotes have had to look to others for goal scoring help. Radim Vrbata, who scored 27 for the Coyotes two seasons ago, is at the top right now with ten goals. Behind him are Scottie Upshall with nine, then Doan and Robert Lang with seven apiece. The team is ranked 27th in the league with just 79 goals but holds a high standing in the Western Conference in the seven spot.
What needs to be done is the organization needs to go out and get a goal scorer. The team has two first round picks in the up-coming draft as well as two second round picks in the 2011 entry draft. With a plethora of young talent in the system the Coyotes can afford to sacrifice some of these picks for an elite scorer which may be available. Here are some names to consider:
Jeff Carter: The Philadelphia Flyers have been struggling recently despite the coaching change. With very little cap space and some key young players coming up to free agency in the next few years (Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk) they will need room to keep them. Carter is signed for one more year at $5 million. With his wrist shot and other offensive talents he could be a valuable asset to the Coyotes.
Eric Staal: If you are asking yourself why the Carolina Hurricanes would possibly trade their top forward, then you are asking yourself the right question. It will take a very convincing package besides picks to pry the young star out of the Southeast. But if Don Maloney can create a package centered around the picks and a top six defenseman the Coyotes could add a very talented forward who is signed for the long term. A rumor here and there about Staal possibly being available has cropped up saying he may be available.
Nathan Horton: Horton may not be as big of a name as Staal or Carter, but he can put the puck in the net. Rumors of being available have been abound this season as the Panthers find themselves in the bottom of the standings again. He would be the least expensive out of these three but would definitely be worth the package.
As I noted at the beginning of this, these ideas are all contingent on the fact the Ice Edge group gets the team and allows Don Maloney to spend money. All signs point to this being true but I have learned to never take anything for granted.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sun Shining A Bit Brighter


Taking a break from finals work because I love the fans and procrastination is at an all time high. I need to do something a bit more constructive.
For anyone in the northeast right now it is a cold and dreary day. But if you are a fan of the Phoenix Coyotes no weather can rain on this parade.
Where to start? On the ice the Coyotes are playing great hockey. Sitting in the six spot in the Western Conference Phoenix is one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They are 7-2-1 in their last ten games winning six of their last seven. The one game they did not win was a shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Six of the wins include last night's 2-1 win over San Jose as well as wins over Minnesota, Calgary, and Dallas.
What has been the key to their success? There are alot of things going right for Phoenix right now but, for me, it comes down to two specific areas:
One of the best goalies in the NHL so far this season, Ilya Bryzgalov is showing how good he can be. When general manager Don Maloney plucked Bryzgalov off the waiver wire two seasons ago, he was hoping that Ilya could become a solid starting goalie. The good humored Russian has been one of the best goalies in the league this season with a .928 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average which is second only to Buffalo's Ryan Miller. With timely saves and a solid team in front of him "Breezy" is a very big reason of why the Coyotes are where they are right now.
If you go back and look at some of the articles that I have written in the past, I always said that this team could be much better if Wayne Gretzky was not the head coach and some changes were made to the coaching staff. Right now it looks like that is partly true. Dave Tippett has come in and completely changed the way this team believes. They have turned into a hard working, physical team that relies on a "pack" mentality, believing they can do anything as a team. A sense of constant improvement and accountability has been built with everyone doing their part to get this team forward. Yet there are men behind Tippett who are making a huge difference as well.
Long time hockey man Dave King has brought a calming and experienced presence to the Coyotes roster. This is one thing that has been absent from the Phoenix organization for a very long time. Having coached in the NHL, Russia, and in other places around the world King brings an invaluable wealth of knowledge that will have a long term effect on the success of the Phoenix Coyotes.
The other assistant coach who has played a large role in the high success of the Desert Dogs is the new goaltending coach, Sean Burke. The former Hartford Whalers goaltender has taken over for Grant Fuhr, who was the most useless coach in the organization. Having been a big time goaltender, both physically and on the stat sheet, Burke knows how to handle the pressure of being relied on. He was a main cog for Hartford, Phoenix, and other teams in the NHL for years and knows the pressures that come with it. Having been very technically sound during his career, Burke is helping Ilya Bryzgalov with his positioning and the stress of being a number one goaltender in the NHL.
If you throw in the defensive play of the blue-liners, you have a very formidable team. The one aspect of the team that needs to pick up is the scoring. No one has ten goals with Radim Vrbata and Scottie Upshall tied for the team lead at nine goals apiece. While the team is playing sound defense and have hot goaltending, scoring will need to increase at some point.
The other news that Coyotes fans can smile about comes off the ice as the ownership situation finally seems to be coming to conclusion. The Ice Edge group, which showed interest during the court proceedings over the summer has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Coyotes. The NHL signed a letter of intent to sell just a day later and the Board of Governors will vote on the issue at next week's meeting in Pebble Beach, California.
The key points here are that there is no "out" clause, meaning this group believes the franchise can be resurrected financially. They knew they could not be taken seriously by the fans of the Coyotes if there was one of these clauses present. Ice Edge is also assuming the lease agreement length, which has 26 years left on it. Despite the length, I am sure Ice Edge and the city of Glendale will have adjustments made to the lease to make it a bit more appealing to the new ownership. While it will take the sale, if approved, about two to three months to go through, it seems the end of this long saga has finally come.
What could this new ownership group do? The most obvious thing is provide general manager Don Maloney with more money to spend on improving the on-ice team. Phoenix could use some scoring help. With a solid ownership group, coaching staff, and team it finally looks like Coyotes fans can start holding their heads high.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is the Answer Jesus?


Little disclaimer before I start this one. I am not saying the season is over. It is far from it.
However it is time to start looking how to fix this team in an attempt to save the season. The New York Rangers are 4-6 in their last ten games and are tied for 9th in the Eastern Conference with the New York Islanders and just one point out of the top 8. That is why the season is not done yet.
But the long slide down the standings is continuing and something needs to be done to reverse it. This is where general manager Glen Sather needs to start to figure who has been naughty and who has been nice for this team.
First things first. John Tortorella is not being fired and Chris Drury is not going anywhere. Drury cannot be moved because of the no movement clause he has and frankly no one wants his cap hit of just over $7 million. We saw the frustration he was feeling last night after Detroit scored the empty net goal when he slammed his stick on the bench and snapped it like a twig.
I am not removing Tortorella because his system has worked. It worked during the seven game winning streak at the beginning of the season and it has worked at times during the last few games. The man won a Stanley Cup using the same system. With a very new team it takes time to implement it.
Now to the nitty gritty. Here is who I will not deal no matter what:
Marian Gaborik
Henrik Lundqvist
Michael Del Zotto
Matt Gilroy
Marc Staal
Sean Avery
Artem Anisimov
All of these players have earned the right to stay on this team. A GM would be very hard pressed to force me to let one of these guys go. Lets just say anything short of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, or Patrick Roy is not going to work on this. And frankly, what other organization wants Sean Avery?
Here are people I would only give up in the right deal:
Vinny Prospal
Christopher Higgins
These two guys are ones I would rather not deal. Prospal has been very good for the Rangers and is one of the best free agent signings in the entire NHL from this past offseason. But his production and small salary will make him attractive to other teams looking for cheap offensive help. While Christopher Higgins has not put up the points that everyone has been looking for he has played very well the last two weeks or so. He is creating chances for others and getting plenty himself. Some people may see his inability to finish right now a s a reason to trade him but as a two way forward Higgins is looking very valuable.
I am not going to write down every other player on the team in this category because they don't all deserve to be here. This is the group of players who I really could care less if they were traded:
Ryan Callahan
Enver Lisin
Ales Kotalik
Aaron Voros
Dan Girardi
Brian Boyle
I know that I am going to be crucified to even THINK about letting Ryan Callahan go. He seems to be everyone's boy this season including John Tortorella's. I hate to be the bearer of bad news people but all Callahan is is a third liner. We all love effort and work ethic but when it comes down to it Callahan is relatively replaceable. Honestly, he does not belong on the powerplay. If he has such a high value then let him go and get us something useful in return. Have to give to get people.
Enver Lisin was my boy at the beginning of the season and I have been trying to defend the kid all season. He has been much better on the defensive side of things than at previous times in his career. Yet until he is out of Le Chateau Bow Wow, he will not be doing much. His offensive upside could attract teams.
Kotalik was brought in for the powerplay and he has done very well on that front. Yet his even strength play leaves much to be desired. I like the guy and would rather see him stay in New York but if a deal materializes around him then go for it Slats.
Voros? A for effort buddy but thats about it.
Dan Girardi has been up and down all season. He has his games where he looks like a solid shutdown defenseman and others where he looks just as bad as Michal Rozsival.
Speaking of Rozsival. Everyone who knows me knows how much I dislike him. I am convinced that he is a reason that Marek Malik was so bad. He is too slow in his decision making and often makes the wrong decision. His salary will be tough to move but even if Slats has to bite the bullet and just waive him, he should do it. $5 million in cap space would go a long way in improving the overall team. If there is one guy who definitely needs to go, it is him.
Wade Redden. I am sorry to most Ranger fans on this one but I am officially on the Wade Redden band wagon. Did he have an awful season last year? Yes. It was terrible and I found myself rooting against him. However I decided to give him another chance this season and he has done well. One thing people have to realize, and same goes with Drury, is that their contracts are a product of the free agent market that they were involved in. Drury will never be as good as the $7 million and Redden probably will not be worth his $6.5 million. Yet Redden has improved his play in the defensive zone and the Rangers have not done so well without him. Yes all this losing started before Redden went down to injury but look at how the defense has done without him.
What does the team need? As Ned Braden asks in Slapshot, "Is the answer Jesus?". Not quite but he would be a good start.
Pardon the expression but anyone with a pair of grapefruits will do fine in replacig Rozsival. The Rangers need a defenseman who is not afraid to mix it up and use the physical game. Too many times the last few games players have been allowed to skate all the way up the ice untouched and get a goal. See Mike Rupp and Jason Pominville for examples of this. Lundqvist has been run into too many times this season. New York needs someone with cajones.
The other thing the Rangers need is secondary scoring. The talent is there with people like Higgins, Drury, Callahan, and Avery but it is not happening. The possible return of Brandon Dubinsky in the near future may help spark some offense but Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal cannot do everything. Whether this scoring help comes from someone on the team already or someone is brought in to do it, it needs to appear fast.
Henrik Lundqvist needs to stop giving up soft goals. I love the man but he needs to be sharper. He played very well against Buffalo and made some good saves against Detroit. The team needs to put more goals up so he isn't forced to be nearly perfect every night but Henrik needs to be Henrik. Simple as that.
Like I said before it is not time to close the season down. The warning signs are there though and something needs to be planned if this team wants to be successful.