The Christmas break has come and gone, with little in the way of news while we were away. Boring, really. In this week’s installment, injuries plague teams good and bad, the Winter Classic nears, and a small matter of interest occurs in Cowtown.
The neighbours took a another injury hit on Tuesday in their loss to the Sabres. Ryan Whitney’s ankle gave way, with a lengthy recovery time allegedly in the cards. The Oil now have exactly one top-four NHL defenseman on the roster, which might be what, roughly three below the proper number? Give or take? They play the Avs this evening in a game that might turn into a no-defense track meet. Colorado doesn’t exactly try to play things tight, and they have their own injury issues on the back end, although it appears that Kevin Shattenkirk will play despite taking a puck to the face in Monday’s loss to the Red Menace. Neither of these two teams could kill a penalty if their lives depended on it, either. Seriously, tonight’s game might end 7-5.
The Canucks are still cruising along, with a smoking of the Flyers in the rear view, and Sami Salo is on his way back to what passes for health on his part. I don’t know if there’s any market for him, but he’s the pending UFA that the Dys should trade rather than Kevin Bieksa at this point. Salo would need to waive a NTC, but the guy is ridiculously injury-prone and 36 years old. If the Canucks can move him anything at all, that seems like a pretty clear move to make. Vancouver has to sacrifice someone for cap reasons. Why not him?
The Wings have continued to roll despite a series of injuries to various forwards. The Datsyuk injury is the major item of interest, but they also lost Dan Cleary this week, and Hank Zetterberg’s back was acting up before yesterday’s trouncing of Dallas. At some point, even a team with Nik Lidstrom playing at a very high level has to suffer a bit from losing top end talent, but there’s been no sign of that from the Red Wings as of yet. The Wings also managed to get Chris Osgood his 400th win on Monday in Denver. That’s a nice round number, but he’s no Hall of Famer unless the voters decide that the current Wings deserve the ’67 Leafs treatment.
St. Louis loved and lost this week, as they signed Marek Svatos to a contract, then had him snatched away by the Predators. He was subject to waivers after his return from the KHL, a requirement colloquially known as the Reijo Ruotsalainen rule, which was named for the Finnish rearguard that Glen Sather routinely recalled from Europe in the late 1980’s. Svatos was kind of a marginal player in Denver, really, only being productive when he shot a very high percentage. He is cheap, though, and that sort of inexpensive gamble is what Nashville has to take when it can. I do wonder if that kills the market for Evgeni Nabokov, or if the normal gentleman’s rules among GMs will resume. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Nabokov was a serviceable goalie with inflated win totals during his tenure in San Jose, but he might be better than what a few teams are sporting in net if he comes back cheap.
Being available at half-price didn’t make Brian Rolston any more appealing, though. That contract is as bad as it gets, even at 50 cents on the dollar. I don’t wish any actual ill-health on anyone, but I do hope Lou Lamoriello metaphorically chokes on a few of his deals, and the Rolston one is a contract he might be stuck paying in full. Elliotte Friedman suggested that the Islanders might take the plunge on the aging forward, but New York’s actions this week hint at a team that isn’t interested in any older players or pending UFAs. Moving James Wisniewski to the Habs for a couple of picks fits that mode as well, and although I don’t mind him as a player, Wisniewski’s not much more than a 4th or 5th D and PP guy on a competitive team.
The Isles were involved in last night’s primary on-ice story as well, as they ended Sid Crosby’s scoring streak. I watched a fair bit of the proceedings, and was left with a couple of thoughts. First, the people that don’t look for nuance in the game are missing out if they ignore the abilities of Frans Nielsen as a hard minutes center. He’s a player that Kent and I have discussed in the past as being as big a bargain as there is in the NHL, and he went head to head with Crosby last night, never once looking out of place. He plays on a very bad and very unfashionable team that’s about 8th or 9th in its market in terms of media attention, give or take the Nets, but he’s doing superb work without a lot of help.
The other idle thought that struck me was that the day that the Penguins move Geno Malkin might not be so far off, if they can find a taker for that contract. He’s as physically talented as any player you might want to mention, but there’s a disconnect between his style and everyone else’s on that club, and he’s one of those players that’s gotten away with relying on his raw talent for so long that his development as more than a soft-minutes guy has stalled. He might need to move on for his own benefit, as much as anything else, and the Penguins could use a bit of variation on their roster.
It was interesting watch last night’s installment of HBO’s 24/7 with that thought in mind, because Bruce Boudreau went out of his way to emphasize to his club that Malkin could be goaded into stupidity, and Malkin obliged the Capitals by taking an ill-advised run at Ovechkin after they’d bumped him a bit. Last night also allowed people to hear first hand that Sidney Crosby might know a few naughty oaths, but for all the tongue-clucking about the language, I’ll confess that the series, although beautifully shot, doesn’t feel incredibly ground-breaking in terms of content. Maybe I’m just a terrible old cynic, but finding out that Bruce Boudreau likes Haagen-Dazs or Mike Rupp’s kids had a pile of Christmas presents isn’t striking me as greatly surprising.
I also notice that for all the trumpeting of raw access, the moments where the two teams are away from the rink are pretty family-friendly, or saccharine, take your pick. I don’t mean to suggest anything too nefarious, but in my experience being around the odd pro athlete, they do like to get out after a game for a pint every now and then, and they might even enjoy a casual bout of flirting with an attractive young woman or two on occasion. Yet, other than Max Talbot’s playful suggestion to Santa in episode one, we might presume that every last one of the 46 players on the two rosters is either a steadfast husband/boyfriend or as ascetic as a Tibetan monk. I don’t doubt that there may be privacy and permission issues with players and non-players that would preclude anything too over-the-top being shown, but it still rings a bit too cutesy for me.
Nothing like leaving the best for last, I suppose. I’ll start by reposting the conclusion of a piece I wrote in March over at the other place:
Things didn’t really get any better over the summer or early fall, obviously, and now Daz is gone, leaving a capped team with a questionable future as his current legacy. I do try to see things in full, though, and Darryl Sutter deserves every last bit of of the praise that Ken King lavished on him Tuesday afternoon when the subject of his role in the rebirth of the franchise came up. He was at the heart of rebuilding a moribund operation, and for all his crap depth signings in the first couple of years of the cap era he did have a pretty decent team on the ice for several years running.
It was from the first Jokinen trade onward where he began to act as if there was no cap hole he couldn’t escape, and I think the last couple of seasons were proof that he wasn’t immune to the realities of the modern financial era of the game. It was almost certainly past time for him to move on from the organization, and his removal might give the organization a chance to re-examine its mildewed thought processes regarding where it should scout for talent.
All that noted, I don’t really wish Darryl Sutter any serious ill, because it’s just a damned game and I’d like to think I can reserve my true enmity for more worthy targets, so I think it’s not unreasonable to thank the man for his work and wish him well in his future endeavours. At any rate, it’s time to let Jay Feaster do as he will and see where that leads us.
That’s all for this time around. It will be very nice to talk about an actual hockey game tomorrow.