Around the league – Feb 11, 2010

I’m stoked the Olympics are almost here, and unlike most Canadians I actually am looking forward to more than just the hockey tournament. Of course fans will be watching every moment of the men’s hockey, and rightfully so, but do the networks really need to try and up-sell it to the fans.

On Home Soil, which aired this week on TSN and Sportsnet, the behind-the-scenes video on how the men’s hockey team was chosen was excellent. Don Metz and his crew from Aquila caught pretty much everything. It was great to see the conversations that went on regarding why Steve Yzerman, Kevin Lowe, Mike Babcock and the rest of the management/coaching staff chose the players they did.

Last night on Sportsnet aired The Olympians. It was a feature specifically on Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and it talked about the possibility of a gold medal clash between these two and their respective countries. We all know it would be awesome TV to watch Canada take on Russia in the final, of course being in Vancouver and watching it live would be even better, but only a handful have tickets.

However, when Stephen Brunt, a journalist I really respect and appreciate his writings, says things like, “Our hearts will beat like they never have before if these two meet in the final,” it makes me cringe.

If you are under 37 then it will be a major event, but even those under 37 have heard the tales of the 1972 Summit Series. I’m sorry a Russia/Canada gold medal match up featuring Crosby v. Ovechkin won’t compare. In ’72, it was an eight-game series with a volatile political landscape that isn’t here today. I know they want people to get excited about the Olympics because our country is hosting them, but let’s not make this out to be the best sporting event of our lifetime.

We will all be watching, but don’t to pretend it will be bigger than it is. And what if the gold medal is Canada v. Sweden are you telling me that Canadians won’t be just as excited/nervous watching that game?

I would argue that watching a seven-game Eastern final between Washington and Pittsburgh might be more entertaining because the drama would build over the course of two weeks. It won’t grip our National pride in the same fashion, but the build up and intrigue of a seven game series between the league’s two best players would be riveting hockey.

The Olympics will be great hockey, and I’m praying for a Canada/Russia gold medal game, but I don’t think the nation’s heartbeat will come close to the pounding Canadians felt in 1972.

Sticking with the Olympics, I think Canada and Russia are the two favourites, but you can’t discount Sweden. They are the defending champs. The Sedin Sisters are playing great, Henrik Lundqvist is a stellar tender, their defense has a good mix of puck movers and bangers, (Doug Murray is the best Swedish name ever) and their supporting cast of Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfreddson, Patric Hornqvist is under-rated. I think they will give Canada and Russia a run for their money.

The USA has Ryan Miller, but their lineup just doesn’t seem to have enough offensive fire power to compete with the top three. It will be great hockey, but I’m just as excited to see some great athletes in the other sports.

Short track speed skating is awesome, as are the aerials, moguls and down hill skiing. Let the Games begin.

Ice women of the week

With the Olympics almost here, here’s a few reasons why you might be drawn to watch some other events.

Skier Lindsey Vonn:

Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler:

And lastly Biba Golic… I know she isn’t technically in these Olympics, but she has to be the hottest table-tennis player in the world:

Random thoughts

  • Interesting move by the Stars to acquire Kari Lehtonen. It is clear they aren’t bringing Marty Turco back, but doesn’t that lessen his trade value now that Lehtonen is in the picture? When the Stars were in town Turco admitted his game wasn’t as consistent as it should be, but he didn’t feel worn down or tired. He won’t come close to the $5.7 million cap hit on his next contract, but you have to think a lot of teams would take him for $3 million for a year or two. He’ll be 35 next season, but he’s only been a starter for seven years and doesn’t have a history of injuries. He was a late-bloomer with not much wear and tear on his body.
  • The Canucks are 2-3 on their 14-game road trip and have stops in Florida, Columbus and Minnesota before the Olympic break. The Canucks need to make some hay against these non-playoff teams or they’ll be in a dog fight when they return in March.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk has no goals on 23 shots in four games with the Devils. He’ll score eventually, but you do wonder how he’ll get along with Jacques Lemaire. Marian Gaborik despised Lemaire when they were in Minnesota, and Kovalchuk is even more of a free-spirit on the ice. It will be interesting to see how those two work together.
  • An Ethan Moreau sighting last night. I think it’s been three months since anyone has seen the no-teeth grin from Moreau. I’m not surprised his best game in two months came in Anaheim, and a few more games like that will make Steve Tambellini’s job of moving his captain much easier.
  • The Coyotes just keep winning. I can’t explain it, but it is great to see. What happens if in late March and early April the Coyotes are selling out and the Oilers are playing in front of 2,000 empty seats?
  • The Sabres are reeling. They’ve lost five straight, but it’s who they are losing to that should be a concern. Losses to Boston, Carolina and Columbus this week has to make Darcy Regier a bit nervous. The Sabres had more shots in every game, but they can’t score. Regier needs to bring in a goal-scorer, because Ryan Miller can’t win every game by himself.
  • Bob Gainey steps down as GM and is now an advisor in Montreal. Kevin Lowe has a better title, but he is basically an advisor for Tambellini. Lowe’s primary focus is the running of the Oilers, Oil Kings and now Oklahoma City. I wonder if he was given the advisor title if that would have appeased frustrated Oiler fans? I think until Steve Tambellini makes this roster HIS players people will still think Lowe is involved. The ball
  • Steve Ott will be an UFA this summer, and some feel he might get between $2.5- $3 million a season. If he is recovered from his appendectomy surgery by March 1st, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Stars deal him. He is one of the best agitators in the game, and one of the best quotes in the league. The Oilers can’t afford him, but he is the exact type of player they need.
  • The Capitals could become the first team since 1992/1993 to have five 30-goal scorers. Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom are slam dunks. Mike Knuble has 21 in 48 games, while Brooks Laich will be hard-pressed to do it. He’ll need 10 goals down the stretch to do it. Vancouver and Tampa Bay have three guys with twenty goals.
  • The 1975 Sabres, Rick Martin (52), Rene Robert (40), Gilbert Perrault (39), Don Luce (33), Rick Dudley (31) and Danny Gare (31), the 1978 Islanders, Mike Bossy (53), Bryan Trottier (46), Clark Gillies (35), Denis Potvin, Bob Nystrom and Bob Bourne (30) and the 1985 Jets, Dale Hawerchuk (53), Paul Mclean (41), Laurie Boschman (32), Brian Mullen (32), Doug Small (31) and Thomas Steen (30) had six 30-goal men to share the league record.
  • Good to see some of you have been paying attention to the stats. I’ve noticed how some are just realizing now that Shawn Horcoff is in the lead for the Green jacket with a gaudy -31 ranking. I’ve been updating that every week in the stats part of this piece. Horcoff and Brind’Amour have been battling for the past six weeks, but Horcoff has jumped ahead. But Patrick O’Sullivan is giving him a run now at -28. Brind’Amour sits at -26 while Robert Nilsson at -21 and Richard Park at -20 round out the leader board.

Leaders through the season

Here are the top ten in pts, goals, assists and other stats.

Goals:
42:
Alex Ovechkin (six goals this week)
39: Sidney Crosby
38: Patrick Marleau
35: Marian Gaborik
33: Steven Stamkos
32: Dany Heatley
31: Ilya Kovalchuk
27: Anze Kopitar and Bobby Ryan
26: Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Cammalleri, Rick Nash and Zach Parise
***Looks like Kopitar is starting to heat up again with seven points this week***

Assists:
59:
Joe Thornton
53: Henrik Sedin (no assists this week)
49: Nicklas Backstrom (eight assists this week)
48: Brad Richards
46: Ovechkin and Martin St. Louis and
43: Tomas Plekanec
42: Mike Green and Ryan Getzlaf, Paul Stastny and Evgeni Malkin

Points:
88:
Ovechkin (eleven points this week)
78: H. Sedin (Zero points this week)
75: Backstrom (eleven points this week)
74: Crosby and Thornton
69: Gaborik
66: Heatley and St. Louis
65: B. Richards
64: Marleau and Patrick Kane

Plus/Minus:
+42: Ovechkin
+37: Jeff Schultz
+33: Backstrom
+27: Alex Burrows and Mike Green
+25: H. Sedin and Zach Parise
+24: Daniel Sedin
+23: Marleau, Duncan Keith and Mike Knuble

PP Goals:
14:
Stamkos and Heatley
13: Gaborik
12: Mike Richards
11: Backstrom and Marleau
10: Malkin, Crosby, Ovechkin, Kopitar Eric Staal, and Kovalchuk

Hits:
243:
Cal Clutterbuck
228: Ryan Callahan
217: Dustin Brown
201: Stephane Robidas
193: Steve Ott
189: Brooks Orpik
181: Matt Greene
180: Scott Nichol
175: David Backes
174: Mike Fisher

Shots:
274:
Ovechkin (24 shots this week)
258: Parise
250: Jeff Carter (nineteen shots this week)
219: Crosby
218: Gaborik
212: Phil Kessel
211: Rick Nash
210: Marleau
209: Malkin
207: B. Richards

Final Word

Curious who all you Citizens think should light the Cauldron in Vancouver tomorrow? Wayne Gretzky would be a great choice, but if it was me I’d have Betty Fox, Terry’s mom light it. He represented everything that was great about sports.