Around the League – Feb 18, 2010

Thankfully we will get to see some competitive hockey this Sunday on rivalry day. The last six finalists for the Gold Medal will all play one another. In 1998, Russia lost to the Czechs and they’ll battle at 1:00pm MST. In 2002, Canada beat the USA and they’ll square off at 5:40 MST while the finalists from 2006, Sweden and Finland, will wrap up the day at 9:00pm

So far the hockey, both the men and women hasn’t been great. The women are a two-country race and the preliminaries are unwatchable, unless you are a relative or friend of one of the girls. And the men’s games haven’t been great, outside of the Czech/Slovakia tilt (more on that later). I don’t see a solution on how to improve it moving forward. There have actually been some whispers in Vancouver about the validity of women’s hockey remaining an Olympic sport.

Finland, Sweden and Russia need to improve their women’s programs or this sport might be in trouble in 2014 or 2018.

Switzerland is improving every year in men’s hockey, but they will need to continue developing youngsters before they are considered anything but an upset specialist.

It is too early to tell which of the four top teams, Canada, USA, Sweden and Russia look the best. They all won their first game, and Canada, USA and Sweden don’t have a real test until Sunday.

I’m still not a fan of the American’s defense, and with Ryan Miller looking a bit fatigued leading up to the break, I just don’t see them making it to the final.

While the hockey hasn’t been great yet, it will be starting Sunday, I’ve really enjoyed snowboard cross and short track speed skating. Snowboard cross is highly entertaining cross of speed, guts, contact and great agility. Short track has as much bumping as NASCAR, without the two hour race and endless caution flags.

So far I’ve really enjoyed the Olympics. I was in awe of the class shown by Alex Bilodeau moments after his memorable gold medal. In that moment for him to show so much class and grace and then raw emotion when asked about his brother Frederic is why I love sports.

Let’s hope the final eleven days are just as riveting and exciting.

Ice women of the week

Here are a few more Olympians that are not only skilled but beautiful.

Ashleigh McIvor is a Canadian freestyle skier and will be competing in ski-cross. I’ve never watched ski-cross, but I will now.

Kristie Leskinen is a freestyle skier and was the first women to complete a 720 rodeo, two rotations, head pointed to earth. She didn’t make the 2010 Olympic team, but she is worthy of being in ATL.

And lastly Bia and Branca Feres. They aren’t in the winter Olympics, but here is proof why synchronized swimming doubles is better than two-man Luge. These Brazilian beauties would warm up anyone dreary Vancouver day.

Random thoughts

  • I bet I could write complete gibberish right now and no one would notice after seeing those beauties.
  • Let all the talk begin about how Jaromir Jagr can help a team for the playoff run. Before you get ahead of yourself there are some hurdles. He is still under contract in the KHL. And if he did elect to come here, if a team signed him, he’d need to clear waivers before he could play for them. If he is going to come back to the NHL, and that is a big IF, it will happen in the off-season.
  • If the Buffalo Sabres don’t add an offensive threat there is no way they can compete in the east. They don’t have a twenty-goal man yet, and when you look at the firepower of the Capitals, Penguins, Flyers and Senators I don’t see them going anywhere. If the Devils and Sabres meet in the first round it could the lowest scoring series ever.
  • Sabres GM, Darcy Regier has always maintained you build your team in the summer and don’t deviate from that. That strategy has helped the Sabres develop home-drafted talent, but outside of one Cup run, it hasn’t got them very far. I wonder if he’ll decide to tweak his mind-set this year.
  • If Dominic Moore is worthy of a 2nd round pick two years in a row, why can’t Steve Tambellini get a 2nd for Ethan Moreau. Both times Moore was a pending UFA when traded. I know Moreau is a $2 million cap hit next year, but that team that trades for him would be getting his services for the playoff push and next year. Dominic Moore, for only a playoff push, garners a 2nd rounder then I’d like to believe Moreau should the same.
  • If Mikka Kiprusoff plays the majority of Finland’s games and they get to the semi finals, the Flames could easily miss the playoffs. He has looked fatigued in previous playoffs when he hasn’t played in the Olympics, so Flames fans better hope the Fins get knocked out early.
  • If Russia wins the gold with 12 forwards and eight D-men and their five-man units I wonder if other teams might look at that strategy rather than dressing one extra forward and defenseman.
  • Does Claude Julien keep track of the shootouts? Patrice Bergeron is 3 for 13 and Blake Wheeler is 2 for 13 in the shootout this year. Why are they still shooting? The Bruins have been in 17 shootouts and are 8-9. They’ve only scored 16 times in 60 shots and you wonder if Julien had let some others shoot if they’d be better. Five for 25 isn’t that hard to beat.
  • The Canucks have six forwards on pace for 50+ points. Only the Capitals have the same balance amongst six forwards. The Canucks need a D-man and 3rd line grit guy with some skill and they could be a legitimate contender in the west.
  • What a great race for the Maurice Richard trophy. The league’s two best players, Crosby and Ovechkin, both have 42 goals heading into the final six weeks of the season. Ovechkin is probably the favourite, but Crosby is so competitive I think they will battle neck and neck until the final week.
  • I find it laughable when people say that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin will only be Steven Stamkos-like and they aren’t Crosby or Ovechkin. Stamkos has 35 goals right now and will top 40 in his second season. If Hall or Seguin can produce like him the Oilers and Bruins would be ecstatic.
  • I loved the Norway men’s curling pants. Dressing with a little flair is good now and then. It takes a self-confident man to pull these off!

Leaders through the season

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

Goals:
42: Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby
38: Patrick Marleau
35: Marian Gaborik and Steven Stamkos
32: Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk
30: Alexander Semin
28: Anze Kopitar, Bobby Ryan, Rick Nash and Zach Parise

Assists:
59: Joe Thornton
55: Henrik Sedin
50: Nicklas Backstrom (eight assists this week)
49: Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis
47: Ovechkin
46: Mike Green
44: Ryan Getzlaf and Evgeni Malkin
43: Tomas Plekanec

Points:
89: Ovechkin
80: H. Sedin
78: Crosby
76: Backstrom
75: Thornton
71: St. Louis
70: Stamkos
69: Gaborik and Marleau
67: Patrick Kane
66: Dany Heatley and B. Richards

Plus/Minus:
+43: Ovechkin
+37: Jeff Schultz
+32: Backstrom
+28: Alex Burrows and Mike Green
+27: H. Sedin
+26: Daniel Sedin
+25: Semin, Jonathon Toews
+24: Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Knuble and Zach Parise

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

Hits:
252: Cal Clutterbuck
236: Ryan Callahan
226: Dustin Brown
203: Stephane Robidas
195: Brooks Orpik
193: Steve Ott
186: Matt Greene
185: Scott Nichol
182: David Backes and Mike Fisher

Shots:
283: Ovechkin
265: Parise
259: Jeff Carter
226: Crosby
218: Gaborik and Marleau
216: Rick Nash
215: Henrik Zetterberg
214: Phil Kessel, Radim Vrbata and Malkin

Final point

Hey TLP, you were ripping the Canadians and their slogan about Own the Podium, but at least in Canada we can watch the Olympics. NBC’s coverage is a disgrace.

I can understand tape delays when the Games are hosted in Asia or Australia when there is time-zone difference, but Canada is in the same time zone. Everyone in the States watches most of their medal performances on tape-delay and after they’ve already found out via twitter, email or text that an athlete has won. Great decision by NBC.

I guess the USA OWNS the TAPE DELAY. Good on them.