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So just like that, the Antti Niemi Era has ended . . . almost as unspectacularly as it began.
This week, the Blackhawks let their rookie Stanley Cup-winning goaltender walk away from a $2.75 million arbitration ruling and ushered in Dallas castoff Marty Turco as his replacement.
Make no mistake: The Niemi Era was short lived, but spectacular.
It began in fits and starts with no small amount of organizational waffling as Joel Quenneville and the Hawks brain trust bent over backwards giving Cristobal Huet every possible chance to cling to the starter’s job. But throughout the regular season, Huet ran from lukewarm to cold, leaving many to wonder about the kid from Finland who was exceptional in most of his backup stints. This went on and on and sometime in March – long after it became apparent to everybody with a functioning pair of eyes that Niemi was the man – Huet gagged hard in an 8-3 loss to lowly Columbus and the Hawks had no choice but to make it official: Huet was toast and Niemi was the Hawks new #1.
If somebody walked up to me and asked, “So, how do you fancy having Nik Antropov on your team?”, I would probably exclaim “Very nice!” with my hands giving the double thumbs-up sign like Kazakhstan’s most famous commercial “product”, Borat. But for those of us who reside here in Thrasherville, we know full well that Sacha Baron Cohen’s kooky Kazakh character plays a close second to the most accomplished export from the former Soviet state, Nikolai Antropov. The imposing and skillful hockey player from Ust-Kamenogorsk has already made an indelible impression on the fans of the Atlanta Thrashers for his hard work, quiet leadership and adroit use of a hockey stick. Our only complaint? We just wish he would shoot the puck more!
With August only a few days away, a surprising number of quality free agent forwards are still available. And with the way the market is moving, there’s no reason to believe all of these players will be scooped up in the next month.
What we’re seeing is another byproduct of the salary cap era in the NHL. Many of the expected Stanley Cup contenders for next season are looking at big holes in their lineups and little cap room to fill those voids. The non-contenders, builders, and small-market franchises are more willing than ever to hit the cap floor and then fill in with youth. The result? Dozens of solid veterans, 3rd and 4th liners—some of whom are strong penalty killers or have the talent to move up to the 2nd line in a pinch—are waiting out the general managers who know they can strike late and get a bargain.
It’s not an entirely bad situation for these free agent forwards. The best example from last season is that of Manny Malhotra going to San Jose in September on a pseudo-tryout basis, then signing an under-market, one-year, $700,000 contract with the Sharks. Malhotra is a solid all-around centerman, excellent in the faceoff circle, a decent penalty killer who was coming off his best offensive season, a 35-point campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
it seems like philly is pretty desperate for a goalie…. I’m wondering what they’d give for Osgood right now?
Seems like a crazy move and the Wings would probably never do it, but the fact is it’s a transitional year anyway and there’s some outstanding talent in the Wings minor system. Daniel Larsson is chomping at the bit. He was the best goalie in the entire Swedish Elite League a few years back and was an AHL All Star last year… with Jimmy Howard as the other goalie on his team! He’s been as good if not consistently better than Howard his whole time with the Griffins. It just happened that it was Howard’s turn… he could no longer be sent down to the minors. It was time to see what he could do in the NHL. And we’ve seen it. Could Larsson be even better?
What’s more, the kid playing behind Larsson in Grand Rapids is Thomas McCollum a 20 year old first round draft pick who is supposed to end up the best of them all!
And what’s more, is the kid wasting away on the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL, waiting to get called back up to Grand Rapids, is Jordan Pearce… the best goalie in all of college hockey last year. Pearce had a 1.68GA and a .931SV% for Notre Dame.
So with the return of Johan Franzen, barring any other injuries, the Wings are going to have to trim salary to stay under the cap. As was pointed out yesterday in this MLive Article , there are only a few ways out of the financial thicket and it’s starting to seem obvious what Ken Holland is going to do… waive (or trade, but I’m not sure what other GM would want to bale out the Wings) Ville Leino.
Well, I am here to say that I think it would be a mistake. (did I just dare question the greatest GM in professional sports?!). It’s true that his options are very limited. I think it’s clear that Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves are off the table. They have more than earned roster spots on this squad and will both likely be resigned. And if only waiving Brad May were enough, because he is not likely to be picked up and we will not really need him in the playoffs (I realize how controversial this last statement is to the “protect our stars at all costs” crowd. But the thing is, when’s the last time Brad May was on the same line as a star anyway? How do you protect Datsyuk when you aren’t on the ice with him? Staging a fight with the other team’s goon in your 6 minutes of playing time?). Regardless, if he were to clear waivers, we could recall him for the playoffs anyway (or next injury, which we all know is right around the corner). But as most of us are aware by now, waiving Brad May still leaves the Wings around $100k over the cap. Enter Ville Leino…
According to Pittsburgh Insider William Depaoli, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been scouting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the past month. Head scout Derek Clancey has been seen at Air Canada Centre many times with winger Alexei Ponikarovsky being a player of interest for the Penguins.
Alexei Ponikarovsky (Getty images)
Ponikarovsky, 29, is a big winger (6′4”, 220 lb) with great hands that has 15 goals and 14 assists for 29 points in 48 games with the Maple Leafs this season. Poni is in the final year of his contract that pays him $2.5 million this season; his cap hit is $2.1 million.
The Kiev-native had a career-year last season in Toronto, recording 23 goals and 38 assists for 61 points in 82 games. He would surely complement well Evgeni Malkin on the Penguins’ second line who is forced to play with pluggers Maxime Talbot and Ruslan Fedotenko. Talbot only has five points in 25 games this season, while Fedotenko only has 16 points in 47 games this year.
The Penguins also need help on the power play; as of today their power play ranks 29th in the league with a dismal 14.8% efficiency. You have to wonder what’s wrong in Steel Town when you have talented players like Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin and Alex Goligoski on your first unit. With his large frame, quick hands and great vision, Ponikarovsky would certainly help the Penguins in that department.
Ponikarovsky, a fourth round (87th overall) pick of the Leafs at the 1998 NHL entry draft, has spent his entire career as a member of the Maple Leafs.
Does Brian Burke envision him as a core player of the Leafs’ future success or does he use him as a trade-bait to get back some of the high draft picks he traded to acquire budding star Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins before the start of the current season?
The Montreal Canadiens announced earlier today that they have called up left winger Benoit Pouliot from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. Pouliot will join the Canadiens today for tonight’s game against the Thrashers in Atlanta.
Pouliot, who was sent down last week for a condition stint, recorded three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in three games with the Bulldogs, which were all recorded in yesterday’s 5-4 win against Rochester.
The 6’3’’, 199 lbs forward has yet to play a game with the Habs due to a wrist injury. Pouliot played 14 games earlier this season with the Minnesota Wild, recording only four points (2 goals, 2 assists), along with 12 penalty minutes, playing only an average of 11:56 minutes per game under head coach Todd Richards.
The Canadiens acquired Benoit Pouliot from the Wild on November 23 in exchange for disgruntled forward Guillaume Latendresse. Latendresse has recorded three goals and one assist in 11 games with the Wild since the trade. However, he missed Saturday’s game in Ottawa with the flu.
On another positive note, rearguard Roman Hamrlik has begun skating again, the first time since he injured his right knee against the Devils last Wednesday. No date has been established for his return, but a return on December 26 against the Toronto Maple Leafs is conceivable.
Man what a time to have a crippling, monster cold. It’s the middle of summer, the weather’s beautiful, the beer is cold, and there are all sorts of reasons to be outside having the time of your life and not thinking about hockey. For those of us without that luxury, the offseason makes for a very…. very, slow day at the house.
So here’s my attempt at injecting a little life into the blogosphere for those of us who are just bored enough to have the time to be checking these sorts of things:
- I’m appalled at the hooplah over the whole Spezza wedding thing. Ok, the Elisha Cuthbert thing was funny. This is not. For the last time, when it comes to the private lives of athletes, nobody gives a damn! And if they do, they’re rank amateurs as hockey fans go. These guys spend 3/4 of the year in the spotlight, give them a few days off for chrissakes.
- My big fat guess as to where Heatley will end up next: New Jersey; the only real contender with money to spend. My big fat guess as to when: If he doesn’t show up at the Senators training camp: October. If he does: March 2010. Disclaimer: If he ends up in Anaheim at a discount, god help us all.
What can I say, I go away for four days to spend my time floating down a river on an innertube drinking as many Modelos as the clock has hours on it and I come back and all hell has broken loose.
Oh right, it’s the draft…
Pronger To Philly
I have to say, happy to see Pronger leave Anaheim; they almost went all the way last postseason and anything that weakens them makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Also happy to see the Penguins have one more thorn in their side. Enoy him, you bastards, we’ve dealt with him long enough.
And then I check the calendar this morning, sipping my PBR at 2am PST because I’ve gotten sucked into watching a TiVo’ed goddamn 3 hour draft, and realize that July 1st is a Day Away.
Jesus, and I thought I was going to get a break from all this.
I was ready for the loss. I was ready to even come up with a phrase that the Chief might find useful for the next few years describing our defeat: “The Bullshit.” It made sense at the time; a team that played really, really hard. That arguably bent the rules as far as a team can in order to win. A team that backed that up with equally solid play. A team that played that strong forecheck and aggressive play that makes us chip and chase, which is so foreign to our system, along with the strong goalie; the formula that beats the wings every damn year that we lose a series.
However it is not so, for our man who bleeds Wings Red came through along with the rest of the team when it counted.
Props to Anaheim. Damn, you played so well I wouldn’t have felt THAT bad that we lost to you. Well played. Handshakes all around. I believe neither side would have had a pimply faced preteen crying in their pillows on YouTube.
Now comes the challenge, Chicago. Wrigley field ain’t got nothing on this.
Sat Oct 25, 2008 6 - 5 SO Win Wings
Sat Dec 6, 2008 4 - 5 SO Win Wings
Tue Dec 30, 2008 0 - 4 Win Wings
Thu Jan 1, 2009 6 - 4 Win Wings
Sat Apr 11, 2009 4 - 2 Loss to the Blackhawks
Sun Apr 12, 2009 0 - 3 Loss to the Blackhawks
This record may look like a winning one. But we eeked out those first two games. Rack the middle to up to hangover. The latter two were downright scary. I watched all those games, but the last two rattled me.
All season I knew, in my gut, or maybe lower, than it would come to this. And let me tell you, if I were a betting man (which I am outside of hockey, insomuch as my heart gets in the way), I’d put money on the Hawks. I hate to say it. But they’re going to work us over harder than Anaheim. Can we do it? I hope so. Can they do it? I hope not. The truth is, we both can. And that scares the sh*t out of me. These scrappy little youngsters care more about winning than we do right now, and we have to wake up and smell the…. well.. whatever the hell Chicago smells like.
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