Archive for January, 2009

All-Decade Team Goalie: Can anyone challenge Martin Brodeur?

January 29, 2009

Among hockey’s great minds (and my name is not on that list … hopefully mine is at least on the list of “people who can function and happen to enjoy the NHL”), the importance and relevance of statistics is of considerable debate. For the most part, my allegiance is somewhere down the middle.

Sometimes it’s just flat out difficult to deny dominance. When it comes to sheer quantity from the seasons ’99-00 to current day, no other goaltender comes within spitting distance of Martin Brodeur.

His numbers are just staggering. On these numbers alone, you could quite possibly have a Hall of Fame career:
  • 343 wins
  • 62 shutouts,
  • approximate save pct. 91.3%
  • at least 70 GPs every year except 2008-09
  • Two Stanley Cups
  • 5 All-Star appearances
  • 4 Vezina trophies
  • 2 Jennings GAA trophies
  • three time First Team All-Star

There isn’t another goalie who approaches many of those totals. Some, like Dominik Hasek, saw their best days before the turn of the century. Others, like Henrik Lundqvist, came along too late or have yet to enter their prime.

That being said, Brodeur has had his fair share of detractors in his career. Certainly, the Devils are enjoying a considerable amount of success with their famous goaltender nursing an injury. Some say that Brody simply was in the right place at the right time, a solid goaltender who happened to luck into New Jersey’s suffocating trap defense.

One of the most reasonable and interesting critics of Brodeur is The Contrarian Goaltender, who runs the aptly titled (and regularly fascinating) blog Brodeur is a Fraud. We had the pleasure of exchanging an e-mail on the subject of Brodeur as goaltender of the decade, and while admitting that ” … the time frame (99-00 to present) does line up pretty well for Brodeur, since all his main rivals from the 1990s retired in that period” the CG says that the one goalie who may stand a chance is Roberto Luongo:

“I tend to place a greater importance on individual save stats than team success, as well as a heavier weighting on peak play than longevity, and I generally distrust goalie award voting. All of these are reasons to pick Luongo over Brodeur. I think save percentage is the best goalie stat, and according to that stat Luongo was the best goalie of the decade (.919 save percentage compared to .914 for Brodeur, with Luongo likely facing tougher shots on average). I think Luongo’s 2003-04 season was quite possibly the best single season by any goalie between 2000 and 2008. Brodeur’s best season was unquestionably 2006-07, and yet I would have given my Vezina vote to Luongo that season. Brodeur has the quantity, team success, and award voting, but in my view Luongo has the superior quality.

… Brodeur is definitely the safe choice and the consensus opinion, but if it was my call I’d go with Luongo.”

Throughout this process, the main things I’ve been focusing on revolve around stats, peak years and awards although other subjective and outside influences will come into effect.

This is part of the reason I’m putting together a “secret tribunal” to ultimately decide this All-Decade Team. Any of the other contributors are welcome to base their decisions on any number of factors (the only rule: consider the time frame of 99-00 to current).

It will be interesting to see what kind of debates spring up along the way. So, what do you say: is Brodeur a no-brainer or is Luongo a better goalie stuck on lesser teams?

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Two extraordinary articles that are extraordinarily different

January 28, 2009

Laughing and crying:

The Pensblog knocks it out of the park with a heel turn for Sidney Crosby. TPB usually kicks ass (they do, after all, share the same initials as the penultimate Canadian mockumentary “Trailer Park Boys”) but this post is just unmatched. Laughingmyassoffblog.

On the other end of the spectrum, check out this well-written ode to the oft-injured Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly. Along with the unlikely comeback of Steve Sullivan, it’s hard to argue with putting puck partisanship aside and rooting for a guy who’s faced such tough luck.

Just had to pass along those two links since they dwarfed even some interesting stuff in the previous News Cycle.

News Cycle: Do any NHL players fit Sports Guy’s "underrated" criteria?

January 28, 2009
Tim Thomas provides a rare flair for the dramatic in net

  • Last night, I posted a stream of consciousness about an exciting Washington Capitals – Boston Bruins game. One of the lines was, “Marc Savard is still underrated.” After reading a new column by Bill Simmons, it got me wondering: are there any NHL players who are truly underrated?

It’s tough to say. Savard does indeed meet some of the requirements since he has been producing at an impressive level for quite a few years without being mentioned in the upper ranks of NHL forwards. That said, he did make the All-Star team and there is a question of if he “matters” much in the grand scheme of things on a deep, talented Boston Bruins team.

Tim Thomas might actually be a more appropriate case, because he’s putting up one of the better cases for the Vezina trophy this year – and has a knack for producing highlight reel saves.

Can you think of any NHL player who would fit the Sports Guy’s standards of underrated?

  • One player who absolutely is not underrated is Montreal’s Carey Price (or “Jesus Price”). There’s a pretty interesting little feature on Price in ESPN the Magazine which focuses on the pressures that come with being the Montreal Canadiens’ netminder.
  • Big news out of Detroit: the Red Wings signed Henrik Zetterberg to a massive 12 year, $72 million contract. As with most contracts that feature big money and long terms, it’s a mixed bag of a deal.

On one hand, the Red Wings will keep Zetterberg around for a cap hit of only $6 million per year, which is only one million more than Mike Ribeiro. That’s a very nice deal for a player who produces nicely and plays a solid two-way game.

That being said, Zetterberg is a little bit on the fragile side. He’s not quite as delicate as, say, Patrice Bergeron but he tends to miss about 5-15 games per year (career high GP: 79; career low GP: 61). At 29, Zetterberg might already have his peak years behind him.

It’s not an awful contract overall, but it’s possible the last six years could cause the Red Wings some issues.

Now the hot topic changes to: can the Red Wings find a way to keep Marian Hossa or Johan Franzen? It would be impossible for most teams, but you never know with Detroit.

“Does he LOOK … LIKE … A … Bouwmeester?” just doesn’t have the same ring to it…

The photo of Bowmeester in glasses brings back memories of Pulp Fiction, when Quentin Tarantino says that Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta look like “a bunch of dorks.” Bowmeester is a pocket proctector short of getting an atomic wedgie, right?

Stop the presses: Versus chooses best game of the night

January 28, 2009

After watching a fantastic Washington – Boston game on Versus, it’s hard to argue against taking the plunge and ordering NHL Center Ice. Chances are, it will be a part of the old rotation by this weekend. (At least if that $50 discount still applies)

Juggled the game along with a less interesting Atlanta – Dallas contest, so my viewing was a bit limited. But from what was witnessed, these two teams legitimately look like the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Boston, in particular, looks about as impressive as its record. It just seems like the Bruins have been put together with competence from top to bottom.

Marc Savard might still be the most underrated player in the NHL. Everyone “in the know” loves budding power forward Milan Lucic. The Bruins have been able to cope with injuries, so who knows what kind of fireworks the team is capable of with a healthy Patrice Bergeron (it was great to see him back tonight) and Phil Kessel. Their defense is well coached thanks to Claude Julien and Norris-level D Zdeno Chara.

But Tim Thomas may typify the Bruins experience more than anyone else. No one really wants to believe it, but Thomas deserves serious Vezina consideration. He made some fantastic saves in that game tonight, particularly in the OT period. Thanks to a great 1B in Manny Fernandez (who may never escape 1A-1B rotations after Boston and Minnesota), they can ride the hot hand in the playoffs.

Just a well balanced team. They don’t miss the eternally fragile Marco Sturm that much because they have great guys like Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler and Chuck Kobasew in addition to their near-elites.

It will be VERY interesting to see who the Bruins can hold onto, since David Krejci, Kessel and their two goalies are going into various states of free agency.

In my predictions column, I misfired badly. The sexiest team in the NHL is probably the Washington Capitals, not the Edmonton Oilers. Last year, they were up-and-coming but now the team is more than just its irresistible force in Alex Ovechkin. Washington features a nice collection of entertaining players: Mike Green is perhaps the best offensive defenseman on a semi-under the radar level. Alex Semin is dynamic when healthy. Even though he’s been on the trading block and hasn’t worked out, Michael Nylander is a nice passer and Nicklas Backstrom is a fabulous (if a bit too pass-happy) playmaker. With a cavalcade of other Russians including Sergei Fedorov, the Caps are a team the NHL should root for them to go on a long playoff run.

The biggest question is in net with Jose Theodore. Theo wasn’t too bad tonight, but it’s a shame that the Caps lack an elite goaltending prospect going forward. Imagine how scary the Caps would be if Theodore can give them consistent to great goaltending.

In the next week or so, I’ll look at some possible intriguing first round matchups. Because you can feel a subtle gravity toward the postseason now that games are heating up and the All-Star break is over.

All-Decade Team: D

January 27, 2009

The cliche “defense wins championships” especially fit the first half of the ’00s, as trap-heavy teams such as the New Jersey Devils raised the Cup and generated many Cinderella stories. But even once the lockout expired, great D were still at a premium. Although the Carolina Hurricanes managed to win the Cup without a dominant shutdown D, both the Ducks (Pronger and Niedermayer) and the Red Wings (Lidstrom and Rafalski) allocated huge chunks of cap space for top notch D.

Is there any point in even going on with a charade that Lidstrom wouldn’t get the first defensive spot? My answer is an emphatic “no” but if you feel differently (or if I left anyone out) say so in the comments.

Nicklas Lidstrom
Points: A Shitload
Awards: A fuckton
Respect: Oodles and noodles of,

With six Norris trophies, plenty of points and two Stanley Cups is there really any way to deny Lidstrom is the best defensive player of the decade? Honestly, it’s not crazy to ask if the guy is the MVP of the ’00s, period. It’s difficult to quantify Lidstrom’s immaculate abilities until you get the chance to watch the surefire Hall of Famer in person.

Just a Beautiful Hockey Mind.

Chris Pronger

401 regular season points, 69 playoff points
Four All-Star games, one First-Team All-Star, one Norris and one Hart(!) trophy. Won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim; was a huge factor in the surprise SCF run of the Edmonton Oilers

If there’s one elite D who rubs/elbows people the wrong way, it’s the man who has been known as “The Orbs” and “Stompy” during his impressive career. Right around the turn of the century, Pronger accomplished the rare feat of winning not only a Norris trophy but also an MVP trophy to boot.

Along with being one of the most intimidating D in the league, Pronger’s shown some impressive chops as a powerplay point man. Although he left Edmonton prematurely and on bad terms, his work with the Oilers proved he could take a team to the Finals without much help.

Scott Niedermayer
385 regular season points, 58 playoff points
Four All-Star teams, one Norris trophy, one Conn Smythe trophy, three First Team All-Star selections

While Scott Stevens and Pronger intimidated forwards, Niedermayer combined great defensive instincts with sublime offensive skills to collect three Stanley Cups in a dominant decade of hockey. He plays well in big game situations, hitting double digits in post-season scoring three times including an impressive 18 points in the 2002-03 Cup run with New Jersey.

Niedermayer also accomplished the rare feat of snaring a Norris trophy during Lidstrom’s reign of terror.

Brian Rafalski
401 regular season points, 74 playoff points
Two All-Star games

It’s stunning to see that Rafalski actually outscored Niedermayer in the playoffs and the regular season in this decade, but it shows just how quietly impressive the American born offensive defenseman has been. Much like Niedermayer, Rafalski earned his last Cup playing outside of New Jersey alongside a star D (in his case, Nicklas Lidstrom).

Rafalski was one of the best free agent signings of the post-lockout era and is enjoying another great season in 2008-09.

Rob Blake
408 regular season points, 43 playoff points
Five All-Star games

This year’s been a bounce-back year for Rob Blake. After struggling for a few years on some bad Los Angeles Kings teams, it looks like Blake will make at least one more significant run at adding another Stanley Cup to his resume with the Sharks. Although he’s not the dominant combination of intimidation and skill he was in the earlier part of the decade, Blake’s terrifying point shot and physical presence are still hard to top.

Honorable mentions: Wade Redden (kind of), Zdeno Chara (kind of), Dion Phaneuf (too young), Andrei Markov, Dan Boyle, Mathieu Schneider and a few who missed time with injuries.

Hockey Orphan: Anne from Sabretooth’s House on Buffalo

January 26, 2009

(Note: Thanks to Anne from Sabretooth’s House for the great Hockey Orphan offering. Be sure to follow Anne and Co. for all your Buffalo Sabres needs)

The Buffalo Sabres have been one of the more successful teams coming out of the lockout. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals in the first two seasons after the lockout, nabbing the 2006-2007 President’s Trophy for best record in the league. Woooooooooo!! Being a Sabres fan was a GOOD TIME… until the Summer of 2007.

Suddenly, the Sabres were hemorrhaging captains. Briere? Flyers. Drury? Rangers. Numminen? Heart surgery. Suddenly the Sabres went from fierce competitors to floundering middle-of-the-packers with a bunch of “I’m not the most vocal guy in the room”s blindly leading the charge into mediocrity.

2007-2008 was a mostly forgettable season in which the Sabres took their fair share of lumps. The $50 million man, Thomas Vanek, signed to an INSANE offer sheet by Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and then matched by the Sabres in Summer 2007, was VASTLY underproducing until the second half. Ryan Miller, our rock in net for the previous 2 seasons, was giving up goals (particularly in the shootout) like they were perfume samples at the mall. Our defense was laughable and our best puck moving defenseman was sent to San Jose at the trade deadline.
Why in GOD’s name would you CHOOSE to be a Sabres fan? Well, let me tell you!

Goaltending: After a rocky 2007-2008 season in which Ryan Miller set a franchise record in games played (76), he has rebounded into his old form. In 2006-2007 he was a healthy 10-4 in shootouts, in 2007-2008? 4-7. Ouch. However! This season? Miller is already 6-1 in shootouts and has his familiar swagger back in net. I challenge you to find a goalie in the East who’s playing better in 2009.


Goals: Speaking of the shootout, did you know that the Buffalo Sabres roster boasts the player with the most game-winning shootout goals? That man is Ales Kotalik. Buffalo also boasts one Mr. Thomas Vanek, NHL All-Star and current #3 ranked goal scorer in the NHL. Who were the #2 and #3 point producers in the second half of the 2007-2008 season? Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. One of the best puck handlers in the NHL? Tim Connolly. One of the fastest skaters in the NHL? Maxim Afinogenov. Basically if you like zippy offense, you will like the Sabres.

Defense: In spite of what the dolts on Versus would have you think, the Sabres have not had solid defense for quite some time. If Dmitri Kalinin is in your top 4, you are in DIRE straits, friends. However, there has been a personnel shift on the blue line. Campbell, Kalinin and Pratt out. Rivet and Sekera IN, Teppo BACK. Rookie Chris Butler is really proving himself since being called up from Portland in December.

Captaincy: The Sabres have had a rotating captaincy since Stu Barnes left the team in 2003. Our most successful tandem was Danny Briere and Chris Drury, with veteran Teppo Numminen wearing the “A”. When Drury and Briere left, everyone assumed Teppo would get the “C”.

However, Teppo required open heart surgery and would miss (almost) the entire 2007-2008 season, and Lindy Ruff decided to try a rotating monthly captaincy. This proved to be, um, not effective. When the time came to choose a new captain this season, Coach Ruff left it up to the players. To the surprise of many, the players voted newcomer Craig Rivet, recently acquired from the San Jose Sharks, to the job. Rivet is a veteran defenseman with an attitude that lets opponents know you don’t mess with the Buffalo Sabres. He dropped the gloves in his first home pre-season game. The Sabres are more confident and physical with Rivet in the line-up and his presence brings intangible value like you would not believe.

Physical Presence: The Sabres are a HARD hitting team. Boasting such “slammers” (as my 11 year old cousin calls them) as Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Toni Lydman and Adam Mair. Mess with one of our younger players? Adam Mair has something to say about it. Paul Gaustad tends to take exception to such matters and his fists of fury will let you know. Gaustad had to have surgery to repair his thumb after a pre-season fight. Mess with Ryan Miller and Cap’n Craig will straighten you out.

Youth: The Sabres boast a few up and comers to keep an eye on. On the offensive side we have Nathan Gerbe, the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four MVP and offensive whiz kid. Adding to his overall appeal is his diminutive stature. Love Marty St. Louis? Then Gerbe is your man. He’s 5’5” and 160 lbs of offensive piss and vinegar. Also keep an eye on Sabres prospect and Team Canada defenseman, Tyler Myers of the Kelowna Rockets.
“In this together”ness: In the Summer of 2008, the Sabres sent a message to their fans that their favorites weren’t going anywhere. From their days in Rochester, there was a group of players who came up through the ranks together and have become close friends and teammates. Those players are: Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller. Vanek and Roy signed in 2007 and in the Summer of 2008, Gaustad, Pominville and Miller made their commitment to the team and to the community to stay here and try to bring the Cup to Buffalo. Being from a city that no one wants to live in, that kind of commitment to this team and community really resonates with fans.
Overall, I’d give the 2008-2009 Sabres a B. They’ve had some horrendous games but have won games they had no business winning. They’re in 7th place in the East right now, and if they keep playing the way they have been, they have plenty of opportunity to move up in the standings.

LET’S GO BUFF-A-LO!

(Thanks again, Anne.)

Think dodging the All-Star game is safe? Think again…

January 22, 2009

There’s been a lot of bitching and moaning about players backing out of the All-Star game. Ninety percent of them are claiming injuries to things other than playing in meaningless games and going through the motions. But, remember, nothing in life is completely safe.

With that in mind, let’s look at some dangers the non-participants may face:

  • Eye strain related injuries from rolling eyes at wife
  • Remembering how annoying those kids are
  • The dreaded snowblower/leafblower from Hell
  • Third-degree burns after falling asleep with a cigarette while watching the All-Star game
  • Throwing out your back because of extra time with mistress
  • Dangerous new addiction to “Friday Night Lights”
  • Getting pulled over because of fellatio-inspired reckless driving
  • Simply being Pavol Demitra

See? Maybe next time you’ll play it safe and go to the All-Star game. We hear your wife hates Montreal in the winter.

All-Decade Team: Wings

January 19, 2009

Jaromir Jagr

(737 points – 301 goals and 436 assists in REG; 62 points – 22 goals, 40 assists in playoffs)Awards: Two Art Ross trophies, two Lester B. Pearson trophies, four time All-Star, three time First-Team All-Star

If you read my treatise on Jagr you already know where I stand. Just to recap: he was a deadly goal scorer with sublime passing skills. Jagr had the strength to shed checkers and the speed to leave the best defensemen in the dust. Simply a Frankenstein monster of offense.

Daniel Alfredsson

(677 points – 265 goals and 412 assists in REG; 61 points – 30 goals, 31 assists in playoffs)

Awards: two-time All-Star

There seems to be two camps regarding “Alf.” On one side, there are the Alfredsson enthusiasts who point to his multi-dimensional and unselfish style of play. Yet on the other side of the fence, there are the people against him who criticize his playoff performances (not to mention the way he acted toward Scott Niedermayer in the SCF).

Whatever way you lean, it’s hard to deny Alfredsson’s impressive body of work. He might not sport the emotional leadership of Iginla or the offensive flashiness of Jagr, but Alfie is one of the best of his era.

Dany Heatley

(512 points – 240 goals and 272 assists in REG; 35 points – 10 goals, 25 assists in playoffs)

Awards: Calder trophy, First-team All-Star once, two time All-Star

Heatley went from tragedy in Atlanta to an impressive run to the Stanley Cup Finals in a short period of time. Over the last few seasons, he’s established himself as one of the game’s most devastating snipers alongside Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Jarome Iginla

(680 points – 330 goals and 350 assists in REG; 43 points – 24 goals, 19 assists in playoffs)

Awards: Four time All-Star, First team All-Star, two Rocket Richard trophies (one in a three-way tie with Rick Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk, one won outright) Lester B. Pearson trophy

There were a few years in which I advanced this argument: if J.S. Giguere gets a Conn Smythe in a losing effort, then why not Jarome Iginla a year later? Yes, Brad Richards had an amazing playoff run. But Richards was one of three stars in Tampa would could come up with big plays – Iginla carried the Flames offense by himself. All the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Still, that Smythe trophy voting was acceptable … but the way he was robbed of a Hart trophy was atrocious. Despite the fact that Iginla lead the league in scoring with 96 points on an awful Flames team, one voter left him off the ballot altogether. This move allowed one year wonder in Jose Theodore to win the MVP and raised legitimate questions of racism.

Beyond all that, Iginla’s had a borderline HOF decade. Only Jaromir Jagr beats him in points among wingers. Plus, “Jarmoe” brought more to the table than a wicked wrister. He’s been the ultimate leader: combining clutch scoring, toughness and a willingness to drop the gloves if need be.

Naturally, dropping the gloves forced him to miss some games and might hurt his standing with some voters.

Martin St. Louis

(547 points – 224 goals and 323 assists in REG; 48 points – 23 goals, 25 assists in playoffs)

Awards: four-time All-Star, first team All-Star once, one Art Ross, Pearson and Hart trophy

It doesn’t get much more Disney than the story of Martin St. Louis. He went from being an unwanted, undrafted free agent to becoming the league’s MVP and a Stanley Cup champion. If ESPN’s bitter hatred had not been at an all-time high at that point, his would have been one of the sport stories of the year.

Marian Hossa

(662 points – 306 goals and 356 assists in REG; 59 points – 25 goals, 34 assists in playoffs)

Awards: four-time All-Star

Though they were unable to keep him in Atlanta, getting Hossa for Heatley might qualify as the only time “Thrashers GM Don Waddell” and “impressive job” could be mentioned in the same sentence without words like “completely un-” because Hossa might be Heater’s equal. His defensive skills make up for a slight loss in pizazz.

Nearly half of Hossa’s playoff output came last year during the Penguins run to the SCF. That performance showed what Hossa is capable of with a top-end center.

Markus Naslund

(640 points – 286 goals and 354 assists in REG; 30 points – 12 goals, 18 assists in playoffs)

Awards: four All-Star games, Pearson award, three time First-Team All-Star

Recent years haven’t been too kind to the Swedish sniper, but Naslund was one of the true elite forwards in the NHL during his peak years in the early part of the decade.

Brendan Shanahan

(539 points – 256 goals and 283 assists in REG; 50 points – 22 goals, 28 assists in playoffs)

Awards: three All-Star games, one time First-Team All-Star

Most of Shanahan’s best years came before the decade started, but he still put up some very nice power forward numbers. Being on three Stanley Cup winners with Detroit cannot hurt either (although two of those Cups came before the time period in question)

Not enough yet: Alex Ovechkin (if the lockout didn’t happen he might be close enough), Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash

News cycle

January 19, 2009

Not sure, but I do know that he makes it in my “better double check the spelling of that last name” HOF. That’s gotta count for something.

It’s not great news for anyone, really, but will this prompt the Stars to be more warmly receptive to bloggers? It’s something all NHL teams should consider in an economy that is struggling.

  • Sunday was a great day for Steeltowners as the Steelers advanced to the SuperBowl and the Penguins shut out the Rangers 3-0.

Too bad the Rangers looked as flat as Kate Hudson in that game.

  • Say what you will about “The Masked Avenger,” anyone who mocks the obnoxious duo of Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury cannot be all bad.

The pathetic little slapfight the two talking heads displayed during NBC’s coverage was just embarrassing.

At least I now know my "mute" button works

January 18, 2009
For the love of God don’t allow this woman within three feet of a microphone

It’s no secret that NHL games struggle to find sponsors, so when hockey games feature a bad advertising campaign it’s something you’re just going to have to deal with. But even so, few commercials reach the decibel level of obnoxious quite as much as the Progressive Insurance commercials.

The worst one involves “a New Year’s resolution to save money” in which the annoying female lead goes into an off-key kazoo solo. Since I’ve been sick this weekend, I will find my recuperative slumber disrupted by this horrific collection of dead animal noises.

Never has the remote’s mute button be so useful. This makes the Esurance commercials seem like the Mean Joe Green Coca Cola ads by comparison.