Picture it: it’s New Year’s Day, snowing outside, and you’re lazing around on your couch either bored cause of the holiday or nursing your head from excess champagne the night before. Lucky for you, not only is hockey gracing your television, it’s the way hockey should be played: outdoors. The NHL must’ve made some serious bank, cause this year we get SIX games played the way it was intended: outdoors (Canadian influence) and on a rink atop a baseball or football field (American influence). Let’s break them down.
Game 1: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings, January 1, 2014 @ 1pm
This game gets the official Winter Classic billing, as it will be played on New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor. The game features division rivals who are pretty close in the standings playing at the University of Michigan. Since this is the Winter Classic, it gets the fan-favorite 24/7 series on HBO, which started last night, and really who doesn’t love watching almost strictly for the goalies? It’s always fun to watch two Original Six teams play each other, as they’re no stranger to each other; they’ve met seven times in the Cup Finals, with the Leafs dominating with six series wins. Maybe Clarkson will stop taking silly suspensions by then, but we can never be too sure. Either way, these two teams are a solid matchup and should make for an entertaining start to 2014.
I’m most looking forward to…: Steve Yzerman, my all time sports crush, participating in the alumni game on New Year’s Eve. My heart skipped a beat when I read this.
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Suit’s post yesterday was spot on about the need for grit, not goons, on this Rangers team. Though the Rangers need grit, the goons have been out in full force this past weekend in the NHL. For as long as I can remember being a fan, the debate of banning fighting has been around, but that’s not what we’ve seen this past weekend; we’ve seen extremely dangerous and unsportsmanlike hits. Let’s take a look at three of them, and what potential suspensions may arise.
James Neal knees Brad Marchand – Saturday, 12/7, Pens vs Bruins
This case is pretty ugly. Marchand is tripped and laying on the ice with his head up when Neal skates towards the puck and, en route, ensures that his knee makes direct contact with Marchand’s head. I’m not sure what’s most offensive about this play – that he kneed Marchand while he was down in the head, or that he skated off like it was no big deal. The fact that Marchand is a pesky player who routinely gets under the opposing teams skin is never an excuse to make such an abusive play. Neal had his hearing yesterday and was given a 5 game suspension, in part due to the lack of injury from the play, and also in part due to his history (Neal has been fined once and suspended once in the past 3 seasons). This was only a small part of a rough game, which saw 40 minutes of penalty time, including a game misconduct on the next play in this series…
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Staals are brothers
Today we’ll explore a subject that is near and dear to all of our hearts and livers, NHL players who are (or are they??) brothers. This topic comes about every time the Rangers play Carolina and Sam and Joe have a party over reminding us that Staals are brothers, which has become a fairly popular drinking game amongst the Rangers fan base who enjoy adult beverages from time to time. This has led me to wondering about other potential brothers, so here we go….
Last Name: Staal | Relation: Brothers
Yes, they’re brothers. Just look at them – seriously, they all look alike. The four brothers (from oldest to youngest) – Eric, Marc, Jordan and Jared – have all had more than just a minute playing professional hockey. We can thank the patriarch, Henry, for building the boys a rink in their native Thunder Bay and imbedding hockey into them at a young age. Eric has been captain of Carolina since 2010, with Jordan serving as one of his alternates since he was traded in 2012, and Marc has been a Rangers alternate captain since 2010. Jared hasn’t quite broken in yet with the Carolina organization, but it’s safe to say the genes in this family are pretty decent. Spanning from ages 23-29, the brothers have over 1,500 NHL games played with over 1,000 points (and remember, Marc is a defenseman), two Stanley Cup wins, two World Junior golds, and one Olympic gold medal. Not sure if the Rangers fans have quite forgiven Eric for concussing Marc in 2011, but next time you think your family gatherings are awkward, imagine what their Christmas must have been like that year, as Marc missed the first three months of the 2011-2012 season due to post-concussion symptoms.
Fun fact: Jordan and Eric got arrested at Eric’s bachelor party in 2007.
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The Hertl Turtle. (Photo: Photo by: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP, The Starphoenix)
This is going to be a new weekly spot, where I go around the league and touch on certain topics that are news-worthy. This includes who’s hot and who’s not, the Rogers TV deal, players to watch, and much more. If you have anything in particular you want to hear about, be sure to let me know in the comments.
Hopefully this weekly wrapup hones up your water cooler skills, especially if you’re sick of talking football all the time.
1- San Jose Sharks
If you’ve been watching the Sharks this season, you’ve been impressed. They’re absolutely tearing up nearly every team they’re playing a la the Blackhawks of last season. They may not have the points that the Hawks of this season have, but they certainly play a tough game every time they hit the ice. If you like a two way game, check out them out; they’ve got 3 players with over a point per game, the second highest (by a point) goal differential in the NHL and a rookie to watch out for that Rangers fans are too familiar with in Tomas Hertl. My player to watch: Tommy Wingels.
2- Chicago Blackhawks
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As part of a promo for the Stadium Series and the Winter Olympics, NBC is going to be following several high profile NHL players as they prep for the outdoor games and Sochi. Henrik Lundqvist will be one of the players that will be higlighted, and the cameras will be following him as he prepares for the outdoor games in January and backstopping Team Sweden in Sochi. There are rumors that the GoPro cameras will be used on the refs to follow on-ice action, which is nothing short of awesome.
The series will be a lot like the NHL’s 24/7 HBO Specials that run before the Winter Classic. The six-part series will air on 1/22, 1/29, 2/5, 2/27, 3/5 and 3/12 on the NBC Sports Network. Other confirmed players include John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Photo: Alex Brandon, AP
If you had asked me only a few years ago whether or not I thought the NHL should eliminate fighting, I would have emphatically told you no. My defense at the time was that a) it is part of the culture of the game and has been for decades b) a good fight can cause a momentum shift c) it’s entertaining.
But as the years have gone by and the game has evolved, my point of view has evolved with it. Rather than look back at fighting’s importance in the past or even its acceptance — albeit curbed — in today’s game, the brightest minds in hockey should always be looking forward.
Make no mistake, whether you think fighting in hockey should be eliminated, watered down, or even championed, the league is chipping away at its importance. The instigator penalty, the determination to eliminate staged fights, and now the crackdown on helmet removals is evidence of the league’s evolved thinking.
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In case you missed it, the NHL and the NHLPA approved a rule change for this season that implements hybrid icing for use this season. Hybrid icing was used during the preseason, and for all intents and purposes, is a race to the face off dot. If the defenseman wins the race, the play is blown dead. If the forward wins the race, the play will continue. This rule change is to hopefully eliminate injuries like this to Joni Pitkanen, who will miss the entire season with a heel injury from this race.
Since it’s going to be a slow day, I found myself over at ESPN looking at their player rankings. They did a vote of their internal writers, voting on the top defensemen and forwards for this coming season. Starting with the defensemen (top 50), Ryan McDonagh came in at #10, Dan Girardi at #14, and Michael Del Zotto at #38. At forward (top 100), Rick Nash came in at #28, Ryan Callahan at #34, Derek Stepan at #47, Derick Brassard at #87, and Brad Richards at #97.
Both articles are worth a read, even if it is just to argue that they got the rankings wrong. Personally I don’t look too much into rankings, especially since ESPN has a habit of relying too much on the previous year. I’d take career averages/trends over a hot/cold year.
Stepan > Kadri
In case you missed it, Nazem Kadri signed a two-year bridge deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs last night worth $2.9 million per season. Kadri has just 99 NHL games played –only one full season– and has a line of 23-37-63 over those 99 games. In his only full season, the lockout shortened season, Kadri put up 18-26-44. That 18-26-44 should look familiar, since it is the same line Derek Stepan put up last season. That should mean that Stepan’s market value is $2.9 million, right? Well, not exactly.
The problem is that Kadri has just one full year under his belt. He was bouncing between the AHL and NHL for the first two years of his pro career before that. Stepan cracked the roster immediately, and has three full years (without missing a game) under his belt. The point total for this year may have been the same, but Stepan has 212 NHL games played and a line of 56-84-140. That is an average of 0.66 P/G (1.91 P/60). Kadri’s average was 0.63 P/G (2.35 P/60).
Just an aside: I don’t know where I can find career –or even three-year average– P/60, which is the stat I wanted to use here. P/G isn’t terrible, but P/60 is a more accurate reflection. However, the point is still made. (Thanks George)
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Earlier this offseason, the NHL approved a few changes, ranging from smaller goalie equipment to shallower nets. Justin discussed the smaller goalie equipment, you can read his piece from the link provided in the previous sentence, but the shallower nets are something that few have discussed. The nets were made smaller from behind, but the size of the opening remain unchanged. The nets themselves were not made smaller, but the dimensions were changed in an attempt to open scoring a bit from behind the net.
The area behind the net is known as Gretzky’s Office. As you can imagine, it is an area where playmakers set up and see the play develop from behind the net. Gretzky was particularly adept at seeing the entire play develop and set up his scorers with perfect passes. While Gretzky’s Office is not utilized as much anymore, it is still an area where playmakers can sit and read the play for offensive chances.
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