It’s been a full week since last I posted and I am pleased to report that four of those seven days were planned away time spent in South Florida doing whatever it is that resembles relaxation for the parents of young children. (I think I slept less than I normally do, in all honesty, but the kids had a nice little adventure and that’s what it’s all about.)
Now, these other three days in absentia I can chalk up to the joys of real estate transactions and I suppose a little patience on my end (and yours, perhaps) is in order, as we’re only in the very beginning stages of this endeavor.
Anyway, while I was sunning it up down Panther way, the new regime at the helm of the NHL’s residents in Sunrise were busy overhauling their roster for the upcoming season, hauling in a slew of players from the free agent waters and getting involved in their second significant trade of the off-season already as well. (They did not offer me a contract, for those wondering about my real intentions… I mean, what hockey writer – at any level – would plan a family vacation that started in the evening of the very first day of free agency without an ulterior motive?)
During my time in enemy territory, as the gracious host city saw its team spare no expense in attempting to improve their on-ice fortunes (or at least meet the salary cap floor, that is), back home here in Tampa, the Lightning were getting busy on plugging some holes in their roster too. Though the big story of the summer has yet to see its final chapter written, as in a new contract for superstar forward Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman and company have been involved in the NHL’s annual silly season sparingly, with a refreshing measure of sensibility, as compared to the overspending of so many. Sure, they met with representatives for former Bolt Brad Richards – it was a given that they’d at least inquire – but with the dollar number and term that he eventually signed for with the New York Rangers, that was every bit the pipe dream from the start as I’d pegged it to be. That aside, the small ripples the Lightning have made this summer have an aim at bigger splashes down the road, in terms of eventual impact, quality and, most of all, value.
The NHL Entry Draft is one of those annual “hope springs eternal” events. If the awards show bids farewell to a season gone by, the selection process for the latest prospect crop marks the league’s transition into next year.
Just like that, every club starts anew.
Just like that, the page is turned for all.
The Boston Bruins reign as Stanley Cup champions has just begun and yet, as of tonight, even they have work to do. 29 other teams are now gunning for what they have. And for some, reshaping their franchises to make a run at hockey’s iconic chalice will start with their first overall selection tonight.
Of course, it’s been said that there aren’t any immediate game-changers to be had among this crop – and certainly not beyond a half-dozen or so prospects atop most draft boards. But the draft itself has become such an integral aspect of building a championship-caliber team, even the late round selections will be a product of weeks and months of internal debate and study on the part of a team’s decision-making hierarchy.
For other clubs, the leap from 2010-11 to 2011-12 will be aided during draft weekend by trade. This year, with the Philadelphia Flyers kicking things off with a pair of earth-rattlers a day in advance, shipping key components Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town in separate deals yesterday, the expectation is that trade activity in St. Paul could be high. As teams gear up for free agency next week, some will look to get a jump on crazy season by filling holes and altering their salary scales with a deal or two and there is a wealth of big-name talent reportedly on the trade market already.
Filed in: Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, NHL Entry Draft, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
Game one between Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay was about what most probably expected, in terms of style, intensity, strategy and even end result. In a toss-up series that most have conceded can end up going either way, last night’s game was a small example of just that. In the end, the home squad prevailed, largely on the heroics of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and, though the final score will reflect a three-goal difference (thanks, in part to an empty netter), the teams battled in just the type of tightly-contested matchup the series itself should ultimately reflect.
From the Lightning’s perspective, they have to look at it as just one game. They can be disappointed (as well they should) and lament missed opportunities (of which, they had many) but game one is over and done with and they’ll do what they’ve done all year, win or lose, in wiping it clean off the slate and starting anew.
As for the Penguins, game one appeared to be the execution of exactly what they’d hoped to do from the start – a tight defensive game, strong goaltending and a timely goal to shift the momentum. Alexei Kovalev’s third period tally did just that and perhaps the Bolts hung their heads thereafter, even just for a moment.
That moment, of course, was one too much and, in it, Arron Asham extended the lead to 2-0. There were times during the regular season when Tampa Bay (and goaltender Dwayne Roloson, in particular) lost composure after an untimely goal against and never recovered. While this may not have been an extended repetition of just that, as Roloson and the Bolts did appear to regain confidence and poise late, it can serve as a lesson for a team short on playoff experience that in the postseason, such a singular moment of self-wallowing can prove costly.
Every year around this time, in writing this very piece, I usually begin with something along the lines of, “I swore I’d never make playoff predictions again.” For starters, everybody does it and I usually try my best to steer clear of being just like the rest of ‘em. But more than that, my repeated attempts to avoid postseason prognostication stem from my overwhelming lack of accuracy in years past. (The postseason underachievers of the world have drawn my ire time and again. San Jose, you still top my poop list for that reason.)
But worse than my failure to pick a set of winners that resembles anything close to accuracy is my perennial failure to avoid picking altogether.
Something always draws me in.
And now, I realize, I’m powerless to fight it. I’ll make my picks here today, do so again round after round and I’ll do it again next year (and the year after that, and so on and so forth). Might as well be honest with myself…
This year, the allure is in the series that will remain my primary focus, Tampa Bay vs. Pittsburgh. I have to admit, it’s still a bit surreal to see the hometown Bolts actually in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After the last two seasons of uncertainty, four seasons overall since their last playoff game and even despite the regular season success they managed early and often this year, the fact that exit medicals and getaway interviews haven’t already been conducted is still a bit of a walk through bizzarro-world for me. Better get over that, I suppose… The Lightning certainly aren’t thinking that way.
Filed in: Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
The playoffs are here and there’s much to do along with that. We’ve got predictions to be made, schedules to coordinate, stories to write and, don’t forget, beards to grow!
As far as scheduling goes, complete playoff dockets can be found all over the place but many folks have a specific focus in mind and you won’t find that readily available just anywhere. But I’ve put together a master viewing schedule for anyone with a Southeast Division focus, in particular, including AHL Calder Cup playoff matchup for Carolina, Tampa Bay and Washington fans looking to track their minor league affiliates in the postseason as well. (I would imagine that AHL Live will make a playoff package available in short order.)
Naturally, many of you (like me) will be watching as much playoff hockey as you possibly can, by whatever means necessary, making the act of planning your viewing schedule relatively pointless but, if you follow along with this, fans of teams in the Southeast (and even those who will only see playoff action through their minor league affiliates) won’t miss a second of their club’s chase for a championship. I’ll certainly aim to update this past the first round, where applicable.
Your master schedule awaits:
For a time, it looked like four teams from the Southeast Division would at least have a fighting chance at a playoff spot. As late as the end of January, while Tampa Bay and Washington remained comfortably among the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff-bound teams, both the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Hurricanes teeter-tottered in and around eighth place, making a quartet of Southeast clubs fighting to advance through the Stanley Cup playoffs a distinct possibility.
Alas, Atlanta was in freefall mode soon enough, winning just twice in the entire month of February, the Florida Panthers never contended, despite having a better showing this year than many expected, and Carolina’s impressive fight for the eighth and final playoff spot fell just short yesterday, though the final round of that battle last night left much to be desired, losing to Tampa Bay 6-2 at home in a win-and-in setting.
So, it will be the Capitals and the Lightning only representing the Southeast in the NHL postseason, which is about what most pundits put forth in preseason predictions. Flip-flop Atlanta and Carolina in the Southeast’s final standings, and the actual finish is exactly what I’d expected, though I won’t boast that as a feat deserving any sort of special recognition. By and large, the end result in these here parts was an easy call.
That being said, there were some twists and turns and surprises along the way.
Down to the wire, indeed.
Game 82 tonight for the Carolina Hurricanes, against visiting division rival Tampa Bay could very well be a “win-and-in” situation for the home squad, depending on what the New York Rangers end up doing in today’s home tilt against New Jersey (2-1 Devils early in the second, as I type this).
With the ‘Canes currently in eighth, thanks to a greater number of regulation wins (35 to New York’s 34) after an even point total of 91, a Ranger loss in regulation today renders tonight’s game irrelevant. If the Blueshirts earn a single point, Carolina must at least do the same to regain eighth. New York wins, so must the Hurricanes.
Essentially, it’s follow the leader (or the trailer, as it were, in this case).
‘Canes Still Alive (Here’s How They Get In) Plus, Bolts Players in Cut for a Cure & JJ’s “Beard-Off”
Now, it gets fun.
The hockey world thanks you, Carolina Hurricanes, for being one of the scrappiest damn teams in this league. Had you listened to the odds at any point during your playoff chase, you’d have bowed out, oh, eleven times or so by now.
With almost zero wiggle room, and in a home stretch that has them finishing their season on Friday and Saturday with their seventh set (seventh!) of back-to-back games since March 3rd, Carolina has managed a 9-5-2 record in that span to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
After last night’s gutty 3-0 shutout of the visiting Detroit Red Wings (you know, those perennial Western Conference doormats?), the ‘Canes live to fight another day or, at least two, to get all technical about it.
But until they hit Atlanta to tackle the Thrashers on Friday, nothing at all is in their hands and, even then, their fate is not totally their own to decide.
Before reviewing the hit and rendering your own verdict, take a step toward immediately leveling the playing field by forgetting that the incident in question involves Sean Avery of the New York Rangers. (Debating his value to the game is irrelevant and considering any individual’s prior history of inappropriate action is not the intent here anyway.)
Once that’s been taken care of, study the hit – which resulted, so far, in nothing more than a boarding minor for the now-unnamed aggressor – and make your ruling:
On the very night after the NHL GMs called for tighter enforcement of boarding and charging penalties after convening for a second day in Boca Raton, should not this particular hit stand as exhibit A for boarding in the trial against exactly what the managers would like to see as little as possible of in the game?
My latest collection of thoughts and opinion on recent events in the hockey world (tied together, of course, by less-than-nothing). In short, a little of this, a little of that and maybe even some of the other…
Three-Pointers Risk Diminished Integrity of the Standings
As the NHL GMs meet this week in Boca Raton, much of their agenda will focus on player safety – and rightfully so. Headshots, blindside hits and concussions will dominate their discussions.
But something not on the agenda this week that has been eating at the integrity of the standings in each conference since the lockout is the existence of the “loser point” in the all-too common three-point game – and, frankly, it’s beyond time to reconsider the way team standings are configured once again.
I won’t go railroading against the shootout again today. There seems no point in that anymore anyway, as it is here to stay, the way I understand things. The more valid argument instead is far simpler: The return of two points – and only two – on the line for each and every regular season game. The way things are now, which essentially rewards mediocrity and runs the risk of skewing the standings in such a way that deserving teams might be penalized through no fault of their own, is unacceptable.
Filed in: Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink