The Memorial Cup begins today in Mississauga, Ontario. It is the Canadian junior hockey championship. There is a four team tournament between the champions of the Western Hockey League (Kootenay Ice), Ontario Hockey League (Owen Sound Attack) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (St John Sea Dogs) and the host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
Here is a preview of the teams in order of their likelihood of winning the tournament:
The San Jose Sharks had a bad game today. They lost 7-3 to Vancouver. More alarming is Antti Niemi’s play. He allowed seven goals on 38 shots. He did not have a strong outing. He hasn’t had a particularly strong playoff. He has a .900 saves percentage throughout the playoffs and a 3.30 GAA. That is subpar for a goalie at any point in the season.
San Jose is not is a good position in their series against Vancouver. I think their best chance is to give Antero Niittymaki a shot in goal. Niemi may have won a Stanley Cup last year, but he isn’t a particularly good goalie. Niemi has been a streaky goalie over his career and this is not a hot streak. Niitymaki is a streaky goalie. He hasn’t played much lately. He has only appeared in six games (including two playoff games) in 2011. Who knows if he will be hot when he plays, but we now Niemi isn’t and the sharks would be advised to try something different.
The KHL is established as the second best hockey league in the world. It has shown an ability to take players with NHL talent and ship them to Russia. In many cases, the players have not stayed in Russia if they had the ability to return to the NHL, but some talented players, particularly Eastern Europeans have been gone for several years (Jaromir Jagr, Alexander Radulov, Aleksey Morozov, Alexei Yashin…). The biggest damage to the NHL has come from younger players who have been unwilling to come to North America because they would be forced to take a significant paycut.
If they were required to spend some time in the AHL before taking their NHL shot, they would be forced to play for $105,000 or less, which is significantly less than they would make in the KHL. This is because of re-entry waivers, which cover most players on two-way contracts and would make it nearly impossible to recall these players to the NHL. Thus these players are not interested in playing in the AHL, though they might have interest in the NHL. Unless they can have a guaranteed NHL job they do not come to the NHL.
The Hockey Hall of Fame announces its inductions for the 2011 year just after the playoffs complete. Usually there is no time to give a sufficient look at the candidates because the fallout from the Stanley Cup playoffs is still being discussed. Thus I like to take a break in the action in the playoffs as a time to discuss them. Since no games are played today, it is as good a break as any.
This season there is one first time candidate that I think belongs in the Hall of Fame. He is Ed Belfour. Belfour is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who is third all time in goaltender wins. He has had a Hall of Fame calibre career. He has also had some off-ice issues. Thus I would not be too surprised if he was made to wait before his eventual induction. I think this is a mistake because this creates a backlog of players who will eventually be inducted but have to wait indefinitely as new qualified players become eligible. Some of these players get overlooked for years, if not forever. If a player is good enough for Hall of Fame induction at any point, he should be inducted in his first possible year. There is no point in making a player wait. His hockey career does not improve as he stays retired.
The medal round consisted of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Here are the results:
The second round of the playoffs is over. My second round predictions were 2-2, which combined with my first round predictions gives me an 8-4 record, which means I am now guaranteed to get more series right than wrong in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, even if I get every remaining series wrong.
To show how close the playoff series were than I missed, in the Sharks and Red Wing series every game was decided by one goal, if we neglect one late game empty net goal in game six. Tampa Bay may have swept Washington, but Washington significantly outshot Tampa in the series. Both series (as well as the ones I picked correctly) could easily have gone either way.
The playoff round is played between the top four from each group in the qualifying round. It is a single elimination game with the winners moving onto the medal round.
Here are the results:
Has anyone noticed how unlikely the four players who currently lead the playoffs in goals are? James Van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers has three career playoff goals before this year. Joel Ward of the Nashville Predators has two career playoff goals before this season. Sean Bergenheim had never played in a playoff game before this year as his four previous NHL seasons were with the New York Islanders. Only Danny Briere has a track record of playoff success. Last year he was the top scorer in the playoffs. He could have been a Conn Smythe Trophy winner except there is strong pressure to pick a player on the Stanley Cup winning team even if there is a more valuable player in the playoffs on a team that didn’t win.
This is likely just a statistical fluke given that teams have played slightly over ten games. What is unlikely is that with these upset top scorers, the playoffs have been largely predictable. There are not a large number of low seed teams still remaining. Since only Bergenheim remains active of the players who are tied for the goal scoring race, it is likely that other players will take over the lead before the playoffs end.
The second round of the Calder Cup playoffs has just completed. Look back at the first round here.
These are the second round results:
Binghamton Senators defeat Portland Pirates four games to two Binghamton is Ottawa’s farm team and Portland is Buffalo’s. Ryan Potulny of the Senators leads the AHL in playoff scoring with 19 points. Ryan Keller has 16 points for third in the race. Andre Benoit has led the Binghamton defence. Robin Lehner has provided solid goaltending. Portland’s scoring is led by Mark Mancari, who missed part of the AHL playoffs as he played with Buffalo in the NHL. Mark Voakes has also contributed offensively. David Leggio has done most of the Portland goaltending, but Jhonas Enroth took over after Buffalo was ousted from the NHL playoffs.
The qualifying round of the World Hockey Championships have completed today. This is the second phase of the tournament. My recap of the preliminary round is here. The qualifying round has teams in two groups of six playing a round robin.
Here are the results:
1. Czech Republic This team is undefeated so far in the tournament and has not required overtime in any game. They have 19 goals scored and seven against. They have been led offensively by Patrik Elias, Milan Michalek and Tomas Plekanec. Ondrej Pavelec has provided very good goaltending.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???