Saturday, October 31, 2009

Team Russia 2010

Yeah, yeah... I know they're not the Soviets anymore, I just love the iconic jersey they wore back in the day. Anyway, here is Nitzy's Hockey Den's choices for the 2010 Rusian Olympic squad. Click the chart below to open it larger.

I tried to use guys who are eligible for the Russians (pretty sure Antropov, Ponikarovsky and others are ineligible), and I "e-scouted" the Kontinental League to see who may help round out the squad. Feel free to add or argue any picks I have made.
Anyway you look at it, it's quite a team. They will definitely be one of the favourites (along with Canada) going into the games. The Russians are absolutely stacked on Left Wing but not so much at the other forward spots. At center, after Malkin and Datsyuk are slotted one and two, the quality drops off. I went to the KHL for enigmatic Alexei Yashin who is having a fine season for St.Petersburg. Sergei Fedorov, playing for Magnitogorsk likewise would make a nice fourth-line center. I have added New York Ranger Artem Anisimov as the thirteenth forward over the likes of Maxim Afinogenov and Stanislav Chistov who has 19 points in 20 games for the Mettalurg.
The right side is the weakest of the Russians forward positions with Alexei Kovalev leading the way. Alexander Radulov of Ufa Salavat is battling Yashin for second place in KHL scoring (behind Swede Mattias Weinhandl, who should make Team Sweden) and slots in as number two right winger. Another ex-NHLer Alexei Morozov who is having a fine year with Kazan Ak-Bars should make Team Russia. The fourth RW went to hulking Evgeny Artukhin of Anahiem which gives the Russians some much needed size.
The defense is definitely hurt by the loss of Andrei Markov who for my purposes I will assume is not going to be ready for the Olympics. If he is back in time, this team obviously gets much improved. Often injured Sergei Gonchar will lead the offense from the back end along with Sergei Zubov who is having a great year with KHL's St.Petersburg. Two other KHLers, Dmitri Kalinin and Anton Babchuk round out a rather non-descript defense core, although Edmonton's Denis Grebeshkov seems to be having a breakout year.
In goal the Russians have their pick of three Western Conference tenders in Nabokov, Khabibulin and the surprising Bryzgalov. They may opt to take Semyon Varlamov as well.
All in all, this is one fine offensive machine. A powerplay with Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk and the likes will be the most frightening of the Olympics. If this team gets the goaltending, it very well could walk away with a gold medal.

Monday, October 26, 2009

NHL Teenagers

A lot has been written about this season’s terrific crop of teenagers in the NHL. There does seem to be an inordinate amount under twenty year olds excelling so far. From Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Michael Del Zotto and Viktor Hedman to Matt Duchene and Evander Kane there are a total of 14 teenagers currently skating in the league. If none of them are sent back to their junior squads as we approach the ten game mark, this could be the largest group of NHL teenagers over the last ten seasons. It will be far from the highest number of sub twenty year olds in league history.

There were also fourteen teenagers that played at least twenty games in 1999/00 led by Vinny Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, Tim Connolly and Nik Antropov. These four players were in fact the only four of the fourteen that notched at least 30 points (Connolly and Antropov just barely). The current season’s crop definitely has the chance to have far more players with at least 30 points.

The 1995/96 crop of NHL teens was the highest since 1986 and numbered 17 but it’s quality seems to have been lower than the two discussed already as Ryan Smyth and Shane Doan were the only two semi-stars produced. The six year period between 1980/81 and 1985/86 however, was a golden age for teenage NHL’ers as each season produced at the very least 15 of them. The peak was 1984/85 when twenty-four teens played at least 20 games. Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine and Cam Neely were the cream of the 84/85 teen crop. Joining these four that season was Tom Barrasso, Kirk Muller, Ed Olczyk, Russ Courtnall, Al Iafrate and Peter Zezel. A truly exceptional group of teenagers for one season that is more impressive considering there were 21 teams compared to the 30 of today.

This spike in the early 1980’s was a definite anomaly as those levels of youthful players have not been matched before or since. Prior to 1980 the most teenagers in one NHL year was 1974/75 with nine, headed by the French trio of Pierre Larouche, Wilf Paiement and Mario Tremblay.

During World War II, the shortage of players in the league prompted a rise in teenagers in the league. There were seven teens used in 1942/43 and seven more used in 43/44. The extreme of this practice of using teenagers occurred in November of 1942 when “Bep” Guidolin suited up as a 16 year old for the Boston Bruins. He would tally a very respectable 22 points in 42 games that year. As well, in 43/44 Ted Kennedy debuted with Toronto as a 17 year old and scored 49 points in 49 games.

Overall, this year’s contingent of teenage NHL’ers may not be the largest ever or the greatest ever (although time will tell), but there is a definite resurgence in the use of youngsters throughout the NHL.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maple Leafs in Vancouver

The Leafs visit GM Place this Saturday, and I will be there watching. Since moving to Vancouver in 1994 I have been to probably two-thirds of the games when my Leafs visit. I must say, it`s always an exciting atmosphere when the hated Leafs come to town.
The first game I went to was perhaps the most heart-breaking for me as it was the game that ended any Stanley Cup hopes of the Leafs in 1994. May 24, 1994 was the date that Greg Adams scored the overtime winner against Felix Potvin to send the Nucks to the finals aginst the Rangers.

Since that game, the Leafs have visited Vancouver 21 times and somewhat surprisingly, Toronto has a record of 10-7-4 even thought Vancouver has outscored them 79-74.
It seems that when the Canucks do beat the Leafs at GM Place, it`s usually by a large margin which makes my viewing experience all the less pleasurable. Vancouver has won by scores of 7-3, 4-1, 5-2 and 6-1 and has won the last two meetings at home by 4-3 and 4-2 scores. When the Leafs win here in Van City it`s most often a close contest. After a 6-2 win in March of 1996, all nine wins since have been by two goals or less (7 of the wins are one goal margins).
It used to be that the Buds would make two trips out to the coast every season, but thanks to Gary and his unbalanced schedule that hasn`t happened for six seasons. I was a little shocked to realize that this week`s game will be only the third trip here since November of 2003.

Anyway, I shall be there this weekend in my full Leaf regalia sitting beside my friend who is a Canuck fan. As I said, its usually an interesting night, either way the game goes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Toronto Maple Leafs...not so good.

My Maple Leafs are not a very good hockey club.

There, that feels good. Once in a while the truth has to be acknowledged.
The problem facing me is that this aforementioned truth has plagued me throughout my life on far too many occasions. In other words, the team which have I followed and embraced since the 1970’s has more often than not been a not very good hockey club.
To quote Yogi Berra, the current edition of The Maple Leaf Hockey Club of Toronto feels like “déjà vu all over again”.

A recent addition to the actual Nitzy’s Hockey Den is a hockey preview magazine for the 1982/83 season and the summation of the Leafs upcoming year back then is eerily similar to their current state of affairs. I will quote the comments from the nearly thirty year old magazine and compare them to today.

The Leafs of autumn 1982 were coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs by a wide margin and had allowed the most goals against in the league, exactly the same way they entered this year. In 81/82 they had also placed 17 out of 21 teams in goals for although their 298 goals would have led the NHL in 2008/09. Apples and oranges though. At least last season they managed to finish 10th out of 30 teams in scoring. In ’82 they were a team much like now that had recently ‘cleaned house’ of older established talent. Gone were Sittler, Paiement, Rene Robert, Dan Maloney, Don Luce and Ian Turnbull all were 28 or older except for Paiement at 26. The current version has purged older talent as well with Sundin, Antropov, Kubina and Moore all at least 28 years old having been sent packing.

This lack of proven scoring prompted the following analysis in the 1982/83 preview, “the Leafs can also use an extra dash of firepower if improvement is on the horizon….only two men, Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago, bettered 80 points.” Of course, in 08/09 not one Leaf cracked even the 65 point plateau, awful. So, going into 1982/83, they had one proven sniper in 22 year old Rick Vaive much as today they have one in 22 year old Phil Kessel. The second tier scoring of Derlago, John Anderson, Miroslav Frycer and Rocky Saginiuk was all between the ages of 23 and 26 much like today’s supporting cast of Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Grabovski, Mitchell and Stempniak (aged between 26 and 29). The anomaly on today’s team would be Jason Blake at age 35 although the Leafs of ’82 had a 31 year old Billy Harris patrolling the right side.
The old squad had a similar situation with today’s influx of new talent via the college free agent route although the new talent in 1982 came via Europe. Today’s addition of Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson by way of a relatively new source (college free agents) is similar to the ’82 squad taking gambles on Peter and Miroslav Ihnacak and Vladimir Ruzicka. Peter actually panned out quite nicely, his brother would not defect for another three years and frankly should have stayed home. The fourth round draft pick from ’82, Ruzicka would never play for Toronto and be traded seven years later to the Oilers.

On the defensive side the great similarity is the fact that each version of the Leafs had a defense core anchored by a European veteran and each team had a highly drafted Western League stud to pin the future upon. Borje Salming was 31 in 1982/83 and would put up 45 points in 69 games, similarly today’s Leafs are led by 31 year old Tomas Kaberle. To quote the magazine, “the Leafs reached out to draft a blue chip rearguard in the ’82 Entry Draft, and came a way with highly rated Gary Nylund, a potential superstar. Nylund comes off a flashy junior career with the Portland Winterhawks…and will certainly move right into a regular job.” Sound a bit like the hype surrounding Luke Schenn? I just hope Schenn’s career doesn’t parallel Nylund’s who would retire before the age of 30 with devastating knee problems. Gaston Gingras would be brought in from Montreal in December and provided what newly acquired Francois Beauchemin is supposed to provide, secondary blue line scoring.
In the goaltending department originally the ’82 squad was to be lead by an experienced goaltender who had spent most of his career as a capable back-up goalie (Michel Laroque) and by a young flashy goaltender (Vincent Tremblay). Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson fill these two roles quite well. Of course in mid-September of 1982, Toronto brought back into the fold a past fan favourite on his last legs in Mike Palmateer who would play over 50 games that season. If injuries to Toskala and ‘The Monster’ continue, could a return of Curtis Joseph be the final parallel to the 1982 squad? I sure hope not. In the end, 1982/83 would prove to be another fruitless year for my Buds as they snuck into the playoffs with 68 points in the weak Norris division only to lose to Minnesota in the first round. However, right about now, I would probably take a result similar to that this season.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Molson Hockey House...Joke

I had heard about plans for an Olympic hockey pavillion near GM Place a few months ago and naturally was very intersted in the concept. I actually am lucky enough to have some tickets to Olympic events including the Canada vs Switzerland mens game. I figured it would be great to hang out as close as could get to the games for a few of the days when I don't have tickets. Even if it costs 50 bucks or so to get into this hockey pavillion with it's giant screens, it would be worth it to be part of the Olympic environment.

Then, a few days ago Molson and Hockey Canada unveiled the plans for "Hockey House". Well, were my plans ever shot down....

Sure there's 40 foot screens and nightly entertainment, plus the admission includes all you can eat and drink, but come on...500 bucks? A bit much no? Let's do the math here, the Hockey House will be open daily from 11am to 2am. If I was going to be charged $500, I would arrive at 11:01am and eat three full meals, and perhaps drink a beer an hour (even though Molson Canadian is far from a good beer). Let's say twelve beers at eight bucks each, $96, three meals plus snacking all day for maybe $100. That plus my initial expectation of say $50 to get in the place and we're looking at $250 for the entire day. Of course this is considering a 15 hour day of event watching, and I can say right now, that's about seven or eight hours more than I would take or my wife would allow.

But wait, if I were to time my five hour visit correctly, on top of watching hockey on TV, I could catch the comedy stylings of Sean Cullen or Brent Butt and maybe even see some Barenaked Ladies, Gowan or Glass Tiger. Amazingly these endeavours add nothing in value to the ticket price for me.

So, what would I propose? I'd be happy to pay up to fifty bucks to get into an event like this without the "entertainment" or food and booze included. Then I could hopefully purchase a "good" beer at my own pace and desire. I wouldn't mind spending a hundred bucks inside the pavillion. The organizers of the event have admitted the prices may be "flexible," based on the response. Sadly, I know they won't come down to a level at which I will attend. It's a shame, and perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that the Olympics will be geared more toward the corporate attendees as opposed to the real hockey and sports fans.

Team Canada Darkhorse Possibilities

Each and every Olympics there is a huge debate as to who will represent Canada on the hockey squad. Usually, once the rosters are finalized, there is one or two players that make you wonder about their merit. We can call these players darkhorses that weren’t quite on the radar throughout the orientation and evaluation process.
In 1998 Rob Zaumner made the squad and could very well be described as the longest of long shots to have made a Team Canada. Also in ’98, Trevor Linden and Shayne Corson made the cut when perhaps others should have. These two were having sub-par seasons even by their standards, and Linden’s 1997/98 season really was awful, sporting a -14 rating and getting traded to the Islanders.
The 2002 Olympic squad really didn’t have any darkhorse picks on the roster other than perhaps Eric Brewer and Mike Peca, but Peca was in the midst of a career season and won the Selke Trophy that season. Perhaps this is a reason Canada won the gold that year, not a lot of gamble picks.

2006 on the other hand had a few somewhat questionable selections in Kris Draper and Bryan McCabe. Draper was 35 at the time and was basically being rewarded for a career year the season before, McCabe had really had only one full good year prior to the Olympics and probably should not have been on the squad.

On that note, I will present a few players that I think may be darkhorse candidates for selection to the 2010 team with apologies to Marc Savard who simply has too many talented centremen in front of him on the depth chart.

1. Paul Kariya LW I truly believe Kariya has a legitimate shot to make the squad if he stays healthy. If his play on opening weekend with a much improved Blues team is any indication, then he is back to prime form. Remember he has missed almost two full seasons in his NHL career, so in actuality has the wear and tear of a 33 year old, not 35. There is a definite need for wingers and his experience would be an asset. The fact that he’s a hometown boy doesn’t hurt either.

2. Alex Burrows LW Yzerman did state last year that Burrows was “on their radar”, not enough to get an invite to orientation camp however. If he shows that last year was not a fluke, there may very well be a role for him on the squad.

3. Brian Campbell D Sure he didn’t have the greatest season last year, but if the likes of Mike Green, Dan Boyle or Drew Doughty have slow starts to this season there may be an opening for a puck moving defender.

4. Brooks Laich LW/C The versatile forward who brings size and talent. I’ve been waiting for his breakout for a few years now. Could this be the year? So far so good. He may be hard for Yzerman and company to ignore.

5. Chris Kunitz LW This may be the darkest of the horses but the guy is a winner. Why look any farther for Crosby’s Olympic winger than his Penguins winger? Kunitz has quietly put together a nice career and scored 7 points in 9 games representing Canada at the 2008 World Championships.

In reality the odds of even one of these guys making Team Canada 2010 is long at best, but I do think Kariya has at least a 50/50 shot if he stays healthy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My New Book

I've been busy the last month or so finishing the artwork for my new hockey children's book title, "The Sterling Seven, Hockey's First Team Ever". I finally have the book's website up and

running and should have more time for hockey history blogging very soon! Check it out at;

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