In the past week the match
ups for the second round of the playoffs were finally set when
Toronto defeated Ottawa in game seven to advance to the second
round, and a bloody battle with the Philadelphia Flyers. That
would make for a great story this week, but I feel the more important
story still lies within a first round match between Montreal
and Boston. With Boston up a commanding two games to none Montreal
was desperate to gain some ground and scratch and claw their
way back into the series.
The next night, the dive came back and ended up blowing up in their face, in overtime no less. During the first OT period, Alexei Kovalev was skating the puck into the neutral zone when he was tapped on his hand by Glen Murray and immediately let go of the puck to try and draw a penalty. None was called, and rightfully so. The end result was that Murray skated in and blasted a puck past Jose Theodore for the winner in OT. Who was Kovalev kidding during that play? Hockey gloves contain at least a half inch of padding on the top part of the hand, and there is no way that a tap there could have hurt one bit. I say shame on Kovalev. He is supposed to be a veteran with the savvy and knowledge of what it takes to win the playoffs; having already won a ring with the Rangers in 1994. He and Montreal got their just desserts when the puck hit the back of the net. It should send a message that the playoffs are a war of attrition and that in most cases the tougher team wins out. Unfortunately in this case, the team that decided to resort to cheap tactics won in the end. I think that Boston made a mistake for not seeking retribution in this case and just playing hard. Someone has to show the kids how its done in the playoffs and if the have any questions they should go ask Mark Messier or Scott Stevens. They know what it takes to win and to do it the right way.
In other news this week Mike Danton, a.k.a. Mike Jefferson, was arrested in a murder for hire scheme less than twelve hours after his team, the St. Louis Blues, were eliminated from the playoffs this year. The victim? My first thought was Lou Lamoriello! But seriously, his target was a supposed hit man that was sent to kill him over an unpaid debt. The debt was allegedly blackmail money to keep a secret of his quiet. What this secret is, is widely debated and ranges from alcohol abuse and promiscuity, to him being a homosexual. The fact that he thought that this was a rational answer to his problem only shows that Danton is more than just a troubled hockey player. I know somewhere I can hear my dear Uncle Lou laughing to himself saying, " I knew something wasn't right here."
April is finally here and so are the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which I like to call, "The most wonderful time of the year." While almost everyone will be turning in playoff predictions, I am not going that route, and instead we will look at four goaltenders that will be experiencing the playoff heat for the first time. Those four being Andrew Raycroft, Tomas Vokoun, David Aebischer, and Robert Esche, do not have a single playoff game under their belt and are being relied upon to bring home the silver. As it stands right now there are only three active goalies that have backstopped a team to the Stanley Cup, and those goalies are Ed Belfour, Chris Osgood, and Martin Brodeur. So what does this all add up to? This could be the year where a new net minder breaks through the barrier and becomes a playoff legend for a lucky team somewhere.
Andrew Raycroft has been nothing short of stellar for the Bruins this season, with 57 games under his belt and a 2.05 GAA this year, it appears that Raycroft is poised to break through and make his name a known one around bean town. However, there is a big obstacle in front of him in his upcoming series against Montreal, and that obstacle is named Jose Theodore. Simply put this series will pip Raycroft against a net minder with the potential to be one of the best ever. Theodore does it all well and is next to impossible to beat once he is on his game, and the rest of the Canadiens roster is nothing to joke at either with a legitimate four lines ready to roll. So for Raycroft to really be recognized he will have to best Theodore and get his team to the second round. Nevertheless, Raycroft will not have to go it alone, as he has a more than capable defensive corps in front of him, and some of the best checking forwards the NHL has to offer in front of them. Therefore, it is entirely possible that Raycroft and the Bruins could finally bring Boston to some post-season glory.
Next are Tomas Vokoun and the upstart Nashville Predators. Vokoun has been a constant on team that has been full of question marks since its inception. Vokoun since the 1998-1999 season has yet to post a GAA above 3.00 and this past year tied a career best with three shutouts. Vokoun though has his work cut out for him if he wishes to taste Cup glory this season with the always formidable Detroit Red Wings in front of him. Now those who are reading this may or may not remember that the Wings were bested by Anaheim last year in four games behind the fantastic skills of Jean-Sebastian Giguere. So is it possible that another playoff first timer could best Curtis Joseph? Absolutely. Anything is possible in the playoffs and this year will be no exception to that rule. However, is it likely? Probably not. Joseph will be damned if he lets another first round exit tarnish what is likely his best chance at a Stanley Cup and wont take a lesser team lightly again. So Vokoun finally got the Predators there, but the glory from that accomplishment will have to do this year, as the Wings will not take anything for granted this year.
David Aebischer is facing an uphill battle this spring in his quest to fill Patrick Roys shoes. And those are some mighty big shoes to be filling. Roy is currently considered the best goaltender to ever play the game and brought two Stanley Cups to the mile high city. In his first year filling those shoes Aebischer has done a more than admirable job in trying to make the Denver faithful forget about St. Patrick. While playing a career high 62 games Aebischer posted 32 wins and 4 shutouts to go along with a 2.09 GAA. These numbers are not small potatoes in anyones eyes, and it shows how much he learned under Roy. But Aebischers path to glory is also blocked by an up and coming goalie with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove by the name of Marty Turco. This match up, strictly on a goalie head to head basis, is very even in this writers eyes, because as much as Aebischer hasnt won anything yet, neither has Turco. Moreover, if both goalies are playing at the top of their game, they should produce some amazingly tight games. I give a defensive edge to Dallas however because of players like Jere Lehtonen and Jason Arnott who consider defense an equal part of what they have to do to have a successful shift out on the ice. Colorado has some decent defensive forwards as well, but nothing on the scale of what Dallas has coming off the bench. That said though, Aebischer can steal this round for Colorado if he plays consistently and the forward lines hold to their responsibilities Colorado should make a strong showing in the playoffs.
Finally is the case of Robert Esche. Esche played pretty poorly down the stretch drive by giving up a nine-point lead, letting the New Jersey Devils back into the Atlantic Division race with his spotty play. The Flyers eventually backed into the Atlantic Division championship, but this happened without much help from Esche. Overall Esche had a good year for Philly, playing in 40 games and notching 21 wins and 3 shutouts to go with his 2.04 goals against average. But is this really the goalie that Philadelphia believes will finally get them over the hump? Because as I see it there are two Robert Esches, the one that stood on his head beating the Devils twice in one week, and the one who had trouble holding down the fort over the final 7 games. My evidence that he has struggled of late can be found in his record, which is 1-4-1 in his last six, and has shown a penchant for letting in at least one soft goal a game (especially from above the circles). His opponent in the first round is the best active goalie in the NHL right now in Martin Brodeur and when matched head to head it looks like King Kong versus a World War I biplane. Brodeur played almost twice as many games this season, has faced twice the amounts of shots and still has better numbers in every category with a 2.03 GAA, .917 SP, and 11 Shutouts. In addition let us not forget the always important X factor in any playoff series, experience. Brodeur has 3 Stanley Cups to his credit while this will be Esches first time in the playoffs since 2000 and he was with Springfield of the AHL. Simply put here Esche has about as much a chance of besting Brodeur head to head, as Gargamel has of catching Papa Smurf. The Flyers will still probably best the Devils in the first round of the playoffs but the play of Esche will have little to do with it.
In this weeks edition of Mullets Musings I think its time to give Canadian teams their due and recognize what changed to make these teams dangerous and a force to be reckoned with in the come April, and all the statistics I use from here on out are from NHL.com. Let me preface this by saying that, living in New Jersey, I unfortunately get very little access to these teams aside from my weekly THN, and rarely do I get to see the Western teams in action. With five out of six teams in the playoffs right now, as of writing this Edmonton was just outside, this could be a banner year for Canadian hockey, and I wouldnt bet a Loony against at least one of them making it to the finals. But it is important to understand that this did not happen overnight and that these Canadian teams got to where they are from being solid from the bench, all the way up to the corporate offices. Also remember that with a week of regular season hockey still left there is still time for all eight teams to make the cut and play well into May and June.
First and foremost has to be the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa was once a running joke of a franchise with what most would call wasted draft picks and horrible coaching and were mired for years as an Eastern Conference whipping boy. Well the ugly duckling has finally blossomed into a swan with players such as Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, Radek Bonk, and Jason Spezza leading the way to show how superior their drafting techniques have become. Couple that with some spectacular trades that were made, the most significant in my eyes being the one that brought Zdeno Chara into the fold, and you have the makings of a solid cup contender. As I stated last week the biggest knock against the Sens is that Lalime will not carry them far enough into the playoffs and relying on him will be their ultimate downfall. My question is how can you fault a man with a career GAA of 2.41, and a PLAYOFF GAA of 1.73. I mean this is a guy who took the Senators last year to within one period of reaching the cup finals. And thats not including his accomplishments from the year before, when with a lesser team he beat Philadelphia in the first round which was a major upset. These numbers show that not only is Lalime solid but he is boarder line spectacular and the Senators are deep in every position from him all the way out. So I think there really isnt a knock against this team at all and I would be surprised if they did not make it at least to the Conference Finals.
The next team north of the boarder who will be a legitimate contender has to be the Vancouver Canucks. All other controversies and cheap shots aside, this team is ready for the big time this year even without Bertuzzi in the fold. They have solid defense with the obvious leader here being Mattias Ohlund, with a supporting cast of Ed Jovanovski, and Marek Malik to name a few and you have the makings of defense that could rival anyone in the NHL. Then, you look at the forwards and most opponents have to just shake their heads. Who do you put your best defensive line against? Is it the Naslund line? Is it the Sedin line? Hell is it Lindens line? The Canucks get scoring from all over their roster and each player is a threat in their own specific way and all can put the puck in the back of the net. That said the Canucks do have one big blaring hole and its without a doubt between the pipes. The numbers just plain do not support Cloutier or Brian Burkes continued support of him. While his numbers are respectable in the regular season with a 2.66 GAA in 300 games, that number balloons to a horrible 3.43 GAA in the playoffs in just 22 playoff games. If you go strictly by the numbers he could be called a playoff chocker, but a closer look reveals that over the last 3 years his numbers have been getting better and better, but not enough to the point where he could be relied upon to rest Lord Stanley dreams upon. Could Cloutier lead the Canucks to cup glory? Anything is possible, but I doubt it. But the rest of this team is as solid as Mt. Rushmore, and should make some noise in the wild west.
Then you have the Toronto Maple Leafs. An interesting team for sure because out of the five that are in as of right now they are by far the oldest, and have the most money to work with in terms of bringing in players and resigning players. I really look at this as a last gasp attempt by the Leafs to bring it home before the roster starts receiving their AARP cards, or whatever the Canadian equivalent of that is, and will need to be rebuilt. This team though however aging they are, has tons of playoff experience and players on this team have shown that they can come up clutch in an important game. Obvious examples here start with Eddie Belfour, Mats Sundin, and Brian Leech. But they certainly dont end there, because after years of meeting with defeat in late April and early May, The leafs brass finally learned their lesson and took some of Pat Quinns power away from him and relegated him to just the Bench boss. By bringing in John Fergusson Junior they Leafs now had two good hockey minds guiding the ship and it paid dividends this year, with the best example being the trade that brought Brian Leech over for non-roster players. Its with this move that I think the Leafs realized that they needed to tighten the Defense to make a big splash this year.
Next team on the Canadian playoff radar is the Calgary Flames. I look at Calgary as a team that isnt ready for this year, but could be a serious contender in the next few years. With a bunch of solid kids finally cracking the lineup Calgary has the stuff to be a perennial contender for years to come as long as they keep the kids they have in the lineup and allow this team to grow together. The obvious leader here has to be Jarome Iginla. With his tremendous skill and ability to read plays he really is a player to build around and Sutter did the smart thing in surrounding him with players and kids alike with the skill to entice him to stay for a few years and see where this team could take him. This team really took off after they made what I would call probably the best trade in the NHL this year in acquiring Mikka Kipprusoff from San Jose for a song and a dance. Roman Turek had one stellar year followed by years of mediocrity and he will never be a player that can take a team to the next level. But Kipprusoff will take this team far and is showing poise in the net that is usually reserved for cagey veterans. This year the flames are probably one round and done, but they do have the potential to wear Cinderellas glass slipper this spring if the kids play at a peak level and veterans do what they were brought in to do, and thats keep things calm during the prolonged playoff battle.
Finally we come to the Montreal Canadiens. This team is going to surprise a lot of people this year in the playoffs and are going to at least make it to the second round for one simple reason, Jose Theodore. This guy is for real and when he is on his game is one of the best in the game, and will be for many years to come. And the team is not exactly weak on defense of on the forward lines. Sheldon Souray came into his own this year putting up the numbers and playing the kind of game that prompted Lou Lamoriello to call him a future top 2 defenseman back in 1997. Then you look at who his supporting cast is in the always steady Stephane Quintal and the resurgence of Patrice Breisbois and you have the makings of a solid and steady defenseman. I would have liked to see them bring in a better puck moving defenseman, but I think they will do just fine this spring without one. Then you have the forward lines with Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder, Mike Ribiero, and the addition of Alexei Kovalev and you have the makings of at least 3 solid lines that can roll against almost any opponent. So I think the Canadiens could be considered a dark horse team to take the east this year, but only if Theodore plays at the top of his game from start to finish of every game.
The Oilers have the potential to be a good team but I just dont see them making it this year, they are far too inconsistent and dont really have much of anything in a goaltender, which is essential in making a prolonged playoff run. If you look at the Oilers teams that beat top seeds in the mid to late 1990s they were always backstopped by either Curtis Joseph, or pre Belarus Tommy Salo. Simply put the talent could be there but its not there right now which is what they need.
For the past few seasons, it was generally assumed that the elite teams in the NHL reside in the Western Conference. This belief was for the most part true, with such powerhouses as Detroit, Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis. These teams were usually very active in seeking out many of the elite players in the league via trade or free agency, and they lured many superstars away from the "weaker" Eastern squads, taking such players as Bill Guerin and Patrick Roy, just to name two big ones. While the east pretty much traded draft picks and prospects in lieu of going after the big-ticket players (the obvious exception being the New York Rangers, but that never panned out for them). With the trade deadline expiring last week, I feel that it is safe to assume that the balance of power among the NHL has made a drastic switch to the Eastern Conference. With much of the class of the Easts rosters looking like a fantasy team, it is hard to imagine any of them just rolling over and dying in the face of a Western Opponent. In this weeks edition of Mullets Musings I am going to delve into the wonderful world of the revamped Eastern Conference.
First and Foremost are the Toronto Maple Leafs. I gotta say that this team really made some amazing strides towards capturing their first cup in almost 50 years. With the biggest addition to the team being Brian Leech. I think Spector said it best when he said that by acquiring Leech the Leafs finally got that mobile offensive Defenseman that they have been sorely missing since Bryan Berard suffered that horrible eye injury a few years back. Now with Leech in the fold, the Leafs are back and they mean business this year with a lineup that will not disappoint. With a front line that includes Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Darcy Tucker, and Nik Antropov, the Leafs are solid at all facets of the game. In Sundin, you have the versatile experienced pivot that has seen and can handle most situations that are thrown his way in the playoffs. In Nolan, you have a hard crashing big winger, who hits with ferocity and brings many of the intangibles that a team seeking success needs in order to win the big prize. Tucker is just plain and simple and agitator who will get under an opponents skin and drive them, not only off their game, but also out of their minds. In addition, Nik Antropov is a great face off man, which is a much overlooked part of the game that a team cannot live without in the playoffs plain and simple. Now with Leech there to shore up an already steady core of defenseman this will be a tough team to knock out of the playoffs. That said though they do face stiff competition from whomever they may play.
Next up is Boston. The Bruins are stacked and ready for a long playoff fight for the first time in recent memory. With players like Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, and Glenn Murray just to name a few the Bs are stacked up front, and much like the Leafs, made the smart move in making their defense more mobile. All this was done by gaining the services of Sergei Gonchar, a top point producing defenseman who isnt lost in his own end either. In Gonchar the Bs add a scoring punch and a constant threat on the point for their offense in general, but more importantly for their power play. But the big player that they brought in has to Michael Nylander. This guy is an absolute steal for them and gives them depth over all four lines. The only thing that I can see that would derail the Bs is their goaltending. Plain and simple Andrew Raycroft is a question mark in goal, only because of his inexperience. Should Raycroft have a stellar playoff run this spring all questions will be removed from his name but the expectations will go up. Personally, it is my belief that it will not be Raycroft who will be the reason the Bruins will lose, should they happen to.
The next team is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Simply put, this team must have a Red Bull IV put in their veins for the duration of every game. Never have I seen a team that flies this fast around the rink, and can cycle the puck from their zone to in front of the opponents net with such precision. With players like Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Frederick Modin, and general Patton himself, Dave Andreychuk leading the forward corps this team has a little of everything up front and can beat a team many different ways. Then by adding the always steady Daryl Sydor they really solidified their biggest question mark, which was can they play a tight checking playoff series where, what the defense does is much more important than what the offense does. The only obstacle that the Bolts face will come in the form of their goaltending situation. Easily put Khabibulin is not happy to play second fiddle to anyone, and that especially includes the likes of John Grahame. And in the same breath, John Grahame feels he has earned the right to challenge the Bulin wall for the top spot between the pipes. I feel that personally both players have earned the right to play when it matters most, but in the long run my money would be on Khabibulin he is as solid as they come, and has a little more experience come playoff time that Grahame.
Then there are the Ottawa Senators, What can you say about this team that has not already been said. They already had one of the deepest forward corps in the league before they traded for Peter Bondra, and their defense is ready for the prime time. Most people though think they still have an Achilles heal in Patrick Lalime manning the pipes for them. This is complete and utter nonsense, because Lalime has the numbers in the regular season, and took the eventual champions to seven games before falling with about five minutes left in the third period. So to call Lalime the weak point on this team is unfounded, and quite the contrary I really dont see a weakness on this roster, and should they work together as a team throughout the playoffs they will end up with the cup by the time June rolls around.
When mentioning the class of the east one must never neglect to mention the Philadelphia Flyers. Here is a team that is constantly upgrading everything, except what they need the most. Philadelphia has pretty much added to each position possible in order to win it all this year before a cap is put in place. In adding players such as Danny Markov, Alexei Zhamnov, Vlad Malakov, and Sean Burke, the Flyers feel they finally have a team that can beat the reigning champion New Jersey. This idea is laughable at best. The best question that I have for Bobby Clarke is, "How many times do you have to lose until you finally get the goaltender that will really bring you to the next level?" I think we have seen this before folks, with Sean Burke between the pipes for Philly they became first round fodder for the (at the time) upstart Ottawa. Do we have any reason to think things will be different this time around? In this mans opinion, the answer is an astounding NO!
Now that we have covered the heavy hitters of the conference, its now time to look at the wild cards that exist in the East, which would be Montreal and New Jersey. Both teams are built very similarly, and are wild cards for the exact same reasons, goaltending. As Anaheim proved last year a strong goaltender can take a team very far in the playoffs, and Jose Theodore and Martin Brodeur are two of the best in the business and for that matter are better than any of the goaltending in the West. The Canadiens also boast a wonderfully diverse forward corps with players like Richard Zednik, Saku Koivu, Mike Ribiero, and Alexei Kovalev, just to name a few. These players, much like the forward lines of the Leafs, are diverse in their styles and are tough enough to play against any team that they may face come playoff time. The one weak spot that I see, at least in my opinion is the Defense. With the emergence and subsequent injury to Sheldon Souray that leaves the D with a gaping hole and it may not be enough to keep some of the deeper offensive teams off the board. But again, a hot Theodore can take them very far as we saw two years ago.
Then there is the case of New Jersey. This is a team that is just plain tough to call right now. If the playoffs started today, I feel that they are out in the first round, and routed in that first round series to boot. After all a team that was built around defense is now missing half of its starting six to the injured list is a bitter pill to swallow and one that will most certainly be their down fall in the end. Nevertheless, the interesting question here is, "What does Lamoriello know that we dont know?" Good old Uncle Lou did not pick up a defenseman at the deadline for a reason, this is just speculation here, and that reason is that Scott Stevens will be back for the playoffs. Imagine how different a team New Jersey becomes when Stevens, Rafalski, and White all return and are playing at full speed again in front of Martin Brodeur. Pretty scary for any team if you ask me, especially with the diverse interchangeable forwards up front this makes for a pretty interesting team come playoff time.
For everyone who even remotely follows the NHL, we are all aware that the collective bargaining agreement between the Players Association and the NHL is set to expire in September. With this will come a likely sweeping change in the way the game is played and treated as a business. Now instead of the NHLPA and the NHL getting together to discuss how to avoid Armageddon, the NHL general managers and the board of governors got together to discuss rule changes that should be taken into account when creating a new CBA. So far most of the discussion has centered around increasing scoring in games across the board, and the ideas that were bandied about range from ludicrous to common sense. The most ridiculous rule change to come about from these discussions is to prohibit goalies from playing the puck outside of the crease. This has to be the biggest bunch of crap to come around in years from any sports organization in years. Why hinder a player from making his team more successful is the only question that I can think of when I heard this. Allowing the goalie to play the puck behind the net gives the goaltenders team a great chance to create an odd man rush by pushing the puck up ice quicker than if a defenseman had to go behind the net to gather the puck and then play it. Furthermore when a goalie comes out of the crease to play the puck, the chances are 50/50 that he could miss play the puck and create a great scoring chance for the opposition as well. So I dont see how shackling all net minders to the crease is going to do anything but slow the game down. The best rule change that was proposed is to have a penalized player serve a full 2 minute penalty even if the opposition scores before the 2 minutes expire. This would increase scoring and clean up the game that has increasingly become more of a clutch and grab as the season further progresses. You can bet that players will think twice before taking the penalty if he knows that the opposition has a fair chance of getting 2 goals scored on them as a result of his transgression.
It is of my opinion though that nothing that the NHL discussed is really going to make a huge impact on the game itself, so I have my own rule changes I would like to bring forward here now. First and foremost is that the two referee system has to go! The ice is a limited space and there just plain isnt enough room out there for 2 Refs to be out there. Secondly the game should be called by one set of eyes alone. Games have gone to the dogs with the way they have been called for the last few years, with one ref on ice interpreting the rulebook one way, and the other ref having a totally different opinion. When this goes on you have one ref who will make calls to make up for the indiscretion of the other ref when he doesnt agree with what is being called. It just doesnt work, so change the game back to the way it was. This will open up more ice space for creativity and bad penalties will at least be consistent instead of being all over the place. My other rule change would probably never pass the NHLPA but its time to wake up and realize that this needs to be addressed. I am talking about sweeping the board and creating new rules on mandatory equipment, specifically about head gear. The NHL every year loses some of its marquee names to concussions, brain injuries, and eye injuries that can easily be avoidable. Its time to look into thicker helmets with more padding, and its time to look into having full face shields be a mandatory piece of equipment. I know everyone is going to argue this point with me but its really time to wake up and smell the coffee here. This year alone 3 teams have had 5 reported concussions (this info comes from the most recent Hockey News) and its time to make it so that we dont lose this many players year in and year out. Lets face facts here, the NHL isnt ever going to draw as well as the NBA and the NFL. But how can we hope to compete when each year we are losing superstar after superstar to needless injury. All this can be averted if the players would wear more protection on their heads and faces, and we can keep the superstars in the game for a full season, and even prolong some careers. When I heard that Jeremy Roenick is possibly suffering from circulation problems in his brain (AKA and Aneurysm) and his very life is in danger because he refused to wear any real protection for his head, I think it has to make the players realize that there needs to be a change both for their own good and for the good of the league. I personally wish for nothing but the best for JR in his path to recovery, and I hope that one of the greatest personalities in the game can come back as soon as he is able to. That said he should no longer fight the idea of wearing more head and face gear and embrace it, because he could still be playing if he were wearing the proper protection.
The Rangers gutted their team in less than 24 hours after losing for the second straight time to the Atlanta Thrashers. I have to say that I like the moves they made here, it will make them better in the long run, but the playoffs now are completely out of the question this season.
The East is bracing itself for a prolonged playoff battle this spring and everyone is loading up to prepare, except the New Jersey. As a Devils fan I am really disappointed that Uncle Lou has not really brought anyone aboard yet with the exception of Viktor Kozlov (pardon me if I dont get too excited about this one) and with Mike Sillinger today reportedly being traded to St. Louis today, that leaves only Yanic Perrault as the lone face off specialist we need thats available. I actually hope and pray that we do get someone who is going to be helping us for the long run.
In Vancouver, I think that its really time to throw the towel in on Cloutier and get a top notch goalie that can steal a few games in a playoff series. I know GM Brian Burke has total faith in Cloutier, but I can only wonder why? He has never really stolen a playoff series and he probably never will. That said Cloutier would make a great back up but as a starter in the playoffs he is bust. Speaking of Brian Burke management in Vancouver better get cracking and get him locked up to a long term contract, because you can bet he will be a hot commodity if he becomes available.
First of all I would like to welcome all that are reading this for checking out Mullets Musings. Now on with the show!
Let me preface this by saying that as a Devils fan, I personally love to see the Ranger$ in a state of disarray. But on Wednesday the inevitable finally happened, as Glen Sather stepped down as coach of the New York Rangers. Many Rangers fans greeted this news as a sign of changes to come, and they will not be disappointed, but more on that in a minute. First though my point here is that Sather or anyone else he hired will never win with the team that is in that locker room. When Sather had his glory days in Edmonton as a coach that team was drastically different from the one that plays for him now. If you look closely at the Edmonton teams that won, they were built with an even mix of energetic youth and hard veterans that would put 100% every game night in and night out. Sather simply did not have this even mixture of players on his current roster. This Rangers team is, what I would call, uncoachable. Furthermore there isn't a single coach out there who can succeed with this team. Simply put, when there are only 4 players who are committed to playing a complete game, a team will never succeed. So a coaching change isn't the tonic that will cure the Rangers, but maybe with if Sather is true to his word about why he stepped down he can help. Glen Sather stepped aside behind the bench to concentrate on his duties as a GM, and if Sather is sincere about this then let the dismantling process begin. This team was built ass backwards before Sather took the reigns, and has been even more so since. I think it is fair to say that in today's NHL a proper contender is built from the goaltender position out and since his arrival Sather has done little to help build a contender in this mold. By focusing on picking up players such as Pavel Bure, Alex Kovalev, Tom Poti, the list goes on but the success never came. These trades by most accounts looked like steals, and in some cases they were, but by doing so the Rangers strayed so far from the formula of success that an entire roster overhaul is necessary. So the question at hand is, "What can Sather do to really help this team for the long run?" Well, if there is any truth to some of the rumors coming out of New York, Toronto, and Boston. Then the Rangers should make some of these proposed moves on the condition that they get high character guys that do all the SMALL things right. By small things I am talking about winning face offs, and BOTH forwards and defense have an awareness of how to play properly in the defensive zone, being tough in the corners, and for God sakes simple passing. When a team is good at doing the small things and accomplishes those small things night in and night out, big things happen. So my thoughts here are that if Detroit wants Alex Kovalev, make sure you get Kirk Maltby in return. I know this looks a little lopsided, but if you watch the way Maltby plays it makes perfect sense. Maltby plays a simple game, he does all the little things right and he truly is a leader, and should be the model for the all the other players as to how the game should be played. And when should the Rangers the playoffs (if this happens this year. I will immediately change my sex and begin to wear a dress) Maltby knows what it takes to win especially in the playoffs, and a game like his is what wins and he has the jewelry to prove it. The other potential move that is rumored to be out there is that the Bruins are after Brian Leech. If that is the case, then the price should be Martin Lapointe. He is the same quality of player as Maltby and even plays tougher in the corners, and he brings the better leadership qualities. I realize that this contradicts what I said above about building from the goaltender out, but in this market the quality defenseman and goaltenders available aren't necessarily an upgrade, and the ones that are that could make a difference are being jettisoned because they will command too large a contract to keep them, leaving the Rangers with nothing but their youth to give up. So in my opinion these are the best possible moves available to them should Glen be true to his word in trying to concentrate on GM duties.
First I would like to start off by saying that the rumor of Kolzig going to Avalanche has to be the biggest bunch of malarkey to come out this year. The writer who wrote this piece and put it into circulation should have a guy with a shovel and plastic bag following him to pick up all the crap that he is spewing. Pierre LaCroix is much too smart to pay Kolzig 12 million over the next 2 years to underachieve and be a backup to Aebischer, who is quickly becoming a top flight goalie and has a lot of confidence. That deal will simply never happen.
Next is the rumblings out of Toronto that the Leafs have to basically give up most of their future to go for a shot this year and pick up Sergei Gonchar. I cant believe they are actually considering this. Supposedly the Leafs have some amazing prospects in their farm club and are just going to give them up to gain an aging, but great, blueliner. The Leafs need to face the fact that they are going to end up as the 4th or 5th seed in this years playoffs and are in for an uphill climb from there, because now that the Sens have found their legs, no one in the East is going to catch them. So if JFJ has any sense at all he should hold onto those young hungry stars who might have the fresh legs the will need to make a prolonged playoff push.
And finally the New Jersey Devils are also supposedly rumored to be interested in getting Gonchar and supposedly a high scoring winger. I can tell you all that the year is not 2000 or 1997. No one of Doug Gilmour, or Alex Mogilny will be wearing a Devils sweater this year, for the simple reason that this is not how Lou Lamoreillo does business. Expect Uncle Lou to pick up a face-off specialist(Perrault, Sillinger) and a defenseman(Cale Hulse, Jason Smith) other than that there will be no big trade in the swamp this year.
Again thanks for reading and if there are any questions or comments you can contact me at NJDEVILS40@aol.com
|The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in Mullet's Musings copyrighted (C) 2004 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.|