Stanley Cup Final Preview

Here we go!  The Stanley Cup final is here and I for one would love to take this opportunity to brag that I had 1 of these 2 in the final.  But, of course most people had the Pens coming out of the East and I’m sure they will run away with the Cup.  Nobody can matchup with them down the middle, their D is very good and with Marc-Andre Fleury in goal I just don’t see any way that anyone will beat them….

See, if you had told me on April 7th that only 1 of the teams I picked to play for the Cup would get there I would have just saved myself the time and wrote that opening.  Instead, I wrote the opening anyways and wasted even more time.  Kings and Devils.  Also something I never thought I would see is the Devils come into the final as the flashy team!  Seriously!  A Lou Lamoriello team is flashy and has the bigger name players!

The Kings are most people’s pick but there is something about this Devils team that just knows how to get it done when they have to.  It really started against the Panthers.  They showed up when they HAD to in that series.  Then vs Philly they just kept getting key goal after key goal (like they ALWAYS do to you, right Flyers fans?  Claude Lemieux?  Patty Elias?).  And much of the same against the Rangers.  They bent but never broke, and here they are.  And they play an aggressive forechecking style.  2 guys up….Lou had only ever seen that on 5 on 3’s until this season.

As for those Kings…MY pick to go to the final in the West as stated on Twitter (@TJ_Soups) April 7th, probably around 10:30-11 PM that night, they aren’t a typical 8th seed as everyone knows by now.  And how bout that Darryl Sutter?!  He can’t run a team, but he can run a bench with the best of them!  This is the 2nd team Sutter has taken to the final, and the Kings were his 3rd team he took to at least the Conference final (and was a win away from a 4th with the 02 San Jose Sharks).  I said to a buddy of mine the other day, he is a lot like Pat Burns was.  He has a shelf life, but in those 3 years or so he will be GREAT.

It’s not just Sutter though obviously.  The biggest reason I picked them to go this far was because of how incredibly deep they are at centre.  When you are pushing a damn good 2nd line centre to the wing (Jeff Carter) not because he can’t do the job but rather they don’t need him there…you’re freaking good in the middle!  Then of course there d is more of a throwback to the early 2000’s with Greene, Mitchell, Scuderi playing prominent roles.  Voynov made Kings fans quickly forget about Jack Johnson, and that Doughty character isn’t bad…

I don’t even need to mention Quick, nothing more needs to be said about his greatness this spring.  That’s how good this team is.  They are the favourites and deservedly so.  But I do believe the Devils are going to make this very interesting.  And I hope when I say that it’s not just from a long series point of view but an exciting series.  Again I go back to the fact that it blows my mind the Devils are the more exciting team.  3 superstars in the hockey world.  Brodeur is a house hold name in the States, most fair-weather fans will know who Zach Parise is thanks to his heroics in the 2010 Olympic gold medal game, and Kovalchuk is one of the most exciting players in the game. 

A long and exciting series could be HUGE for the NHL.  The league is on the up swing in the States, they have serious momentum.  Sure they would have preferred New York, but this has big potential.

My prediction: LA in 6.  Jersey takes game 1 due to being a little less rusty then the Kings could be, then the Kings rattle off 3 in a row, the Devils hold them off at home in game 5, the Kings win a tight game 6 to win their 1st Stanley Cup and shorten that list of teams that haven’t won since ’67….how does that taste Leaf fans?!  I kid, I kid…sort of.

 

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Consistently inconsistent

Well they laid a beat down on the O’s tonight to stop the bleeding.  And the Jays didn’t come into this season expected to win the AL East.  No, the fans are extremely excited about this team (TV numbers and radio numbers are both up).  They love the new/old uni’s, love the youth, love the personalities on the team, but I don’t think anyone was claiming they would win the AL East….MAYBE the 2nd wild card spot.

But while they’re keeping themselves in the hunt, it’s been frustrating to watch.  This team always looks like they’re just about to take off.  They will win 2, 3 or 4 in a row.  And then a loss, followed by another loss, and usually 1 more just for good measure.

And you can’t really trace it back to the starting rotation.  Sure, sometimes Romero and Morrow will throw gems and Henderson Alvarez will follow with a solid outing.  But lately it’s been all over the map (see Ricky Romero’s late night fit he threw on twitter last week…his twit-fit).  

You can’t trace it back to the bats either.  The bats kind of are what they are.  Bautista has broken out of his early season slump, Encarnacion has been well above expectations as has Kelly Johnson, but Rasmus still isn’t producing at the plate (incredible in the field though) and Lind was horrific until his demotion. 

Then you have the bull pen and for some reason, despite Alex Anthropolus overhauling it from last season it is still a mess even beforeSantoswent down.  It’s just a team that can’t seem to keep its focus for a long.

But hey, it’s only the end of May.  Something baseball fans always want to do is act like the season isn’t 162 games long.  If anything got proved during last season is that you aren’t out of the race until at least September!  If the Jays can finally put that incredible streak together winning 10 of 12 or 15 of 18 then they could find themselves in 1st in the division at the All-Star break.  But at this point this team is just as likely to put a streak together losing that many.

 

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So wrong, yet so right

It wasn’t the most exciting Memorial Cup final to watch.  In fact, the Hunter brothers did a fantastic job this spring trying to set hockey back 10 years.  Remember how in 2006 we all were pleading for the game to go back to 1-0 and 2-1 games…

But if you are a sucker for great endings like quite frankly most fans are then that was your kind of game.  The home team winning in OT, the tournament underdog…dare I say afterthought coming into the tournament, having to go through the tie breaker, playing 3 games in 3 nights, 4 in 5, knocking off the tourney favourite and defending champions along the way, just a story book!

 However, I just can’t help but say at the end of the day….this in no way decided the top team in the CHL.  Shawiniganwas bounced in the 2nd freaking round of the playoffs and there for those 3 games in 3 nights, 4 in 5 shouldn’t have in any way affected them because they were well rested and had home ice advantage!

Meanwhile, and trust me I in no way have a Western bias when it comes to this event, the Edmonton Oil Kings clearly ran out of gas after having to fly back and forth playing Portland in a flat out grueling 7 game series, then fly across the country to play in the Memorial Cup (and yes I am heeding Don Cherry’s words and making certain I call it the MEMORIAL Cup).

It is a phenomenal event that I quite frankly believe doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.  If it were back on TSN I can’t help believe that they would promote it to the level of the World Jr’s and in my mind that is the level it deserves to be on.  I don’t understand a lot of things about the way Sportsnet covers it but then again we all don’t understand a lot of things Sportsnet does.  One example would be having Jeff Marek, a junior hockey encyclopedia, doing the CHL games all year only to get bounced for Darren Millard and 2 analysts that hardly cover any junior hockey…

But I digress and will get back on topic.  In a lot of ways it is a big shame that the CHL champion gets decided in such a compressed and unfair manner.  But at the end of the day it’s so exciting to watch and it just adds to the drama.  As I said in the title: so wrong, yet so right.

 

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Seems different, but still the same

That was a great series between the Caps and Rangers despite it being very tough defensively.  The 2 teams couldn’t have been more equal.  Love them or hate them, the Caps really learned how to play playoff hockey despite losing.  Dale Hunter did a tremendous job.

But having said all that…the Caps still didn’t get out of the 2nd round.  This team is now 2-4 in game 7’s since 2008.  They haven’t made it out of the 2nd round in the Ovechkin era.  Now, I think they took a major step in these playoffs, but I doubt the critics will see it that way.

Great news however for Caps fans.  This team is likely more setup then any other team in the league.  2 1st round picks in this year’s draft, have seemingly found there goaltender (although don’t be shocked if Holtby doesn’t live up to expectations next year and if that happens don’t sell your stock on him), Ovechkin despite not getting much ice time in the playoffs was pretty clutch and will learn how to be a more complete player having gone through this.

Some would also say that Mike Green has finally figured it out….don’t buy that stock (I’m all about the stock market today).  Green played great with D partner Roman Hamrlik.  Just like Dion Phaneuf did, just like P.K. Subban did.  Hamrlik doesn’t get the respect he deserves as a VERY solid defenseman.  He maybe didn’t live up to expectations in this league as a number 1 d-man, but he has been very underrated in the back 9 of his career.  Good news for the Caps is they have Hammer for another year.

So what to do in the offseason?  Well, George McPhee stays and I guess we will find out about Hunter.  Of course the Caps want him back but if Dale doesn’t want to be there he won’t be.  If he doesn’t return I believe there are a lot of good candidates out there for the job, namely Craig MacTavish and Marc Crawford.

Now I would cover Vokoun and Semin, but I doubt either guy even recieves an offer from the team so the bigger question is who will McPhee target to replace them in the lineup?  Much like the Vancouver Canucks, the Caps could use more grit and character in the lineup.  They don’t need it as badly as the Canucks do, but still need more.  And much like the Canucks, Shane Doan would be a great target should he not re-sign in Phoenix (any team could use Doan though so I really should shutup about him).

But I would suggest a better route for the Caps would be to wheel and deal.  I could see them packaging up there own 2nd round pick with the 2 1st round picks they have to really make a splash at the draft.  I know I always harp on this but they could really use an upgrade down the middle.  They haven’t had a legit 2nd line centre since Fedorov left.  And I know he was just a shell of his former self in Washington, but he was still phenomenal defensively and could still add some offense.  Laich is somewhat that guy, but I believe you want him as your 3rd line centre, and bring in a guy that could bring that same 200 foot/gritty game with a little more offense.  They have 2 1st round picks, Cody Eakin, and a D man to deal so McPhee should be able to get that done.

I do worry that McPhee won’t do much, because he normally doesn’t.  He has done such a great job loading up the system, but he is 1 more dissapointment away from losing that job.  I would assume he will make some big splashes this offseason.  If he does, this team could finally make that jump people have been waiting for them to take.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups or the site @Soups_on_Sports

It’s BAAAAAAAACK

Just like a horror movie for hockey fans.  It’s the killer that won’t die.  It’s Freddy, Jason, that fisherman dude from “I know what you did last summer”, the E60 feature on Scott Hall, those new pictures of Lisa Turtle, the scariest thing imaginable.

It’s the return of the dead puck.  Zero forecheck, 3rd lines and stay at home d-men dominating, clutch and grab, and of course goaltenders dominating.  Of course, the REASON the goaltenders dominate is because of all the other things I pointed to.  And the league will do nothing like they always never did.

It took a year long lockout for the league to FINALLY get serious about fixing what had become a dreadful game the last time.  And they still didn’t do as much as they could.  Goaltenders equipment is still much bigger than manufacturers need to make it.  The nets are still the same size.  And you get guys in the media that will bitch about rules that were put into place to help scoring like d-men putting the puck over the glass in there own zone.

“Oh that’s gonna cost someone dearly someday, it’s a terrible rule”.  Oh ok well then by that logic we should get rid of high sticking too because that will cost someone dearly as well when they didn’t mean to do it.  Or tripping…plenty of trips are unintentional, just a player reaching for the puck.  Let’s ditch that too.

Like could the hockey world have SOME perspective?!  Most guys in the game and covering the game just become prisoners of the moment, that’s how we ended up with the crease rule in the late 90’s.  Take a page from the NFL’s books and evolve, don’t let dinosaurs rule your sport.  That’s what baseball does and it’s TV numbers have been doing nothing but declining the last 20 years.

Now, I know why this brand of hockey is back, the concussion scare.  I understand why the league would want to slow the game down.  The NHL might not be able to withstand something like what is going on in the NFL right now with over 1,300 former players suing the league.  That’s fine, understand it.  But what has happened is ridiculous.  For the last half of the season and the 1st round of the playoffs the officiating was the worst I’ve ever seen….easily.  Why?  Nobody knew what to call!  Nobody was on the same page.  Just embarrassing, but the league got bailed out with amazing 1st round action so nobody really took notice.

But wouldn’t it be fitting to go back to garbage, no talent hockey now?  The league is finally gaining traction in the States over the last 4 years.  Along with it being some of the most exciting hockey of all time you have had Pittsburgh v Detroit twice, Chicago v Philly, Boston last year and this year MAYBE L.A. v NY…the league’s dream, and if NY loses tonight that means Ovy and the Caps will still be possible which isn’t a bad consolation prize should they get to the final.  Reminds me of 94 when the hockey was still great, the Rangers were in the final, Gretzky and the Kings the year before and ratings were going way up.  Then a lockout, followed by 10 years of increasingly terrible hockey.  Oh by the way in case you forgot the CBA is up after this season…could be another lockout.

Like how is the league continually screw up good things?!  Just when you think they might have there sh*t together these kind of things happen.  My solution: if you need to bring back some clutching and grabbing inform your officials that more will be tolerated in the neutral zone than in the offensive zones.  And actually stick to that, don’t do what you usually do where you enforce it for a month or 2 but eventually go back to the way it was.  Also decrease the size of goaltending equipment.  It is still absurd the size of gear that guys are allowed to wear.  And if goaltenders try to block it from happening (by goaltenders I basically mean the PA), then increase the size of the nets.

“That’s ******* stupid Soups!!!  You can’t increase the size of the net that’s the size they’ve always been!”  Thanks Grandpa, tell me more stories about how you used to walk up hill to and from school.  Why is it that society can evolve but our sports can’t?!  At the end of the day it has to evolve and the league has to stop fighting things like this otherwise it will be right back in the gutter it was in 2005.   Your argument may also be that increasing scoring won’t increase the quality of a game.  Well, if it’s easier to score, players will push to score more and coaches won’t be able to let there teams to sit on leads on not forecheck.  Mabye you sit on a 2 or 3 goal lead, but not 1.

These playoffs have been fun to watch despite all the defensive minded hockey, but it won’t last.  Because what will happen is that more and more teams will start playing this style and every game will be back to 1-0, 2-1.  Great for now, horrific long term.

So welcome back early 2000’s hockey….you were missed by absolutely nobody.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups or the site @Soups_on_Sports

Time for the Oil to move

 

No, not to Houston or Quebec City or Seattle….good one EH?….but rather to start molding their team.  I’ve said this a lot of late but teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago needed to catch breaks during there rebuilds. Pittsburgh’s of course was winning the Crosby lottery as Brian Burke has reminded us of. Chicago people forget had the worst odds in 07 of moving into the number 1 spot and it happened.  BIG difference between Pat Kane and Karl Alzner or Sam Gagner (both fine players, not Pat Kane).

The Oilers winning this year’s lottery wasn’t as long of a shot but it still was long odds.  The problem is that the kid who will go 1st does not in any way fit their needs.

Yakupov is going to be electric.  I’ll say it right now, he will have multiple 50 goal seasons in the NHL.  But he is a 5’10-5’11 winger.  The Oilers have plenty of those guys already (heck, another one of those kids is Tobias Reider, a 5th round pick last year who is leading the OHL playoffs in scoring).  While the defense isn’t anywhere near as bad as a lot of analysts will have you believe, it still has holes.  Another BIG hole the Oil have is down the middle…at least IMO.

Sam Gagner is in no way a fit on this team as I have said numerous times.  They are small down the middle and small in the top 6, Gagner affects both.  He isn’t as big of a talent as some people believe and he is progressing at a snails pace in the face off circle, defensively and strength on the puck.

To play behind RNH the Oilers need a guy that will play a 200 foot game and while he doesn’t have to be huge, he can’t be small.  The good news with Gagner for the Oil however is that he is still young and teams will have interest in him.

Steve Tambellini has options.  He could deal the 1st pick to fill one of those holes and I have said to friends of late I personally would be willing to deal that top pick to the Penguins for Jordan Staal.  Staal and the Penguins 1st for the Oilers 1st and Eric Belanger would be a deal that makes a ton of sense for both teams (as long as Staal agreed to sign a  long term extension on July 1st).

Staal is an elite center stuck behind perhaps the 2 best centers in the world.  As much as a lot of Oiler fans hate reading this right now, Jordan Staal would make the Oilers better in 2013 than Nail Yakupov, and he would make them better every year there after than Yakupov would.  I cannot stress enough how great you have to be down the middle in this league now days.

But there is a chance they wouldn’t have to move that pick to get Staal.  You could get creative.  Deal Gagner elsewhere (unless Pittsburgh would want him) for pieces (I would guess a 1st round pick or a good prospect) Pittsburgh would want, then flip those pieces along with Magnus Paajarvi, Eric Belanger and another prospect of Pittsburgh’s chosing.

That’s a pretty great package for Pittsburgh as well.  Some people maybe have given up on Paajarvi at 20 years old as ludicrous as that is, but I highly doubt that any GM or pro scout that watched him this season has given up on him.  The kid has the tools to be great.  Put him with Sid and he would get 30 goals next season.  Paajarvi in a lot of ways was in a “Jordan Staal” situation of his own this season.  No room for him in the top 6 or on the top PP unit.  Skilled players offensive numbers get crushed in those scenarios.

Then again, the Pens might be stubborn and hang on to Staal for 1 more season and refuse to deal him.  But a Paajarvi and Gagner package could fetch you someone that fits the bill.  You won’t find a guy like Staal, but a guy that has some of the same qualities like a Travis Zajac (just an example, don’t know if Jersey would deal him and if so what he would cost).

Another option that I believe is out there is the one I said in the latest mock draft.  1, Gagner, and 32 to Columbus for 2, Johanson and L.A.’s 1st.  Edmonton moves back to get a D man, gets there big 2nd line center, and moves up about 14 spots with there 2nd pick. Columbus gets their superstar to help them fill the building again, gets a center who is further along than Johanson, and doesn’t lose on the asset end of the deal (being that it’s 3 for 3).

Now I haven’t touched on the blueline that much yet.  The biggest key to the Oilers offseason isn’t picking 1st, and it isn’t trading for a superstar.  The biggest key is signing Justin Schultz (assuming he becomes a UFA on July 1st).  This kid has nice size (6’2, 195), great wheels, great offensive ability, and has improved his defensive game a lot this season.

The one comparison I heard is Jake Gardiner with more offense.  Gardiner wasn’t supposed to have the offensive game he showcased this season.  If the Oilers land Schultz it would be huge to there rebuild.  Then all of a sudden moving forward they would have Klefbom and Schultz to go with Smid and Petry as a future top 4 that could be great.  Also Ryan Whitney being healthy and able to train this offseason is going to be huge.  If he can play 70 games next season, watch for a 40-50 point season.

As for Schultz, there is a rumor that he chose not to sign with Anaheim because it’s his desire to play in a Canadian market. Edmonton is close to his hometown (Kelowna), he would step right into there lineup, and they have the best young group of forwards in the league.  I admit I’m an Oilers fan but putting all biases aside I really can’t understand why if all that was the case he wouldn’t sign with the Oilers.

The rebuild should be done come October 1st.  I said pretty much since day 1 of the rebuild that they needed to have the cupboard loaded by the 2012 offseason.  There could be other opportunities out there as well.  I would guess a UFA like Ryan Suter could have interest in the so called worst market in hockey with all the talent they could have up front and a hole where a guy like him could step in and be an integral piece.  But from all that you hear, he will be going to one of Detroit, Chicago or Minnesota.  Also we will see what happens with Shea Weber.  If Suter leaves it will be interesting to see if Weber signs long term.  If he doesn’t there is a chance Poile would look to deal him.  Maybe Dan Boyle is dealt in San Jose.  Plenty of possibilites.

But no matter who is out there to be had, Tambellini needs to move now.  The Oiler fans have been patient, and it will be well worth it.  Time to turn this group of talent into a group of winners.  If he doesn’t, he could be out of a job soon.

 

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Trimming the hedges in Vancouver

So I haven’t been able to post blogs for a while now but I’m coming back strong….and by strong I mean this one…which may only be viewed as average at best.  I said it on twitter as soon as the matchups were set that the Kings were a total nightmare of a matchup for the Canucks.  Great goaltending, great down the middle, great defensively, and gritty as can be.  The Kings are built for the postseason.  The Daniel Sedin “return” for game 1 sounded way too much like trying to keep the fan base calm rather than him actually being ready. 

Weather they had started the series with Daniel or not, the Kings just have an answer to everything that makes the Canucks a power.  Then add in that the Kings are a team loaded with character and the Canucks lacking it…and here we are.

For 2 years now, at least, the Canucks have been the most hated team in the NHL.  And it’s not a hate like how people hated the Philadelphia Flyers of the mid 70’s, or the Oakland Raiders of the 70’s, or the Detroit Pistons of the late 80’s.  No, this is more of a laughing at the act of some of there players, there GM, there rioting fans, and not to be left out there head cheerleader who calls the games on CBC. 

They’re to the NHL what the Mountie was to the WWE in the early 90’s.  The Mountie was a d-bag who had Jimmy Hart as his annoying manager (Jim Hughson) and would do everything as cheap as he could to win.  He once won the Intercontinental title (the President’s trophy), but his antics would never get him close to the WWE title. 

Sure he probably got a shot once, but Hulk Hogan (Boston Bruins) “ran wild” over him and that was that.  And the Mountie would never give credit to the illegal weapons like the shock stick that would help him win, the same way that you never hear Mike Gillis give Dave Nonis any credit for building this team.

Anyways, the Canucks right now are just that healthy person with the flu.  Sometimes it just feels a lot better to stick your finger down your throat and purge the system.  It might not fix EVERYTHING, but you will feel a lot better for doing it.

Let’s start with Alex Burrows.  I give him a ton of credit, this kid worked his way up from the ECHL to become a 30 goal man in the NHL.  But his act is ridiculous.  He seems to be a great kid off the ice, but on it he acts like a child.  I am very certain that if Gillis went to Joe Nieuwendyk and offered Burrows for Brendan Morrow and a little something else, Nieuwendyk would be all over it. 

Burrows has a sweet heart contract, and Morrow was rumored to be available before the trade deadline.  Morrow would have interest inVancouverobviously because he is getting older and I’m certain would love to have a shot at the Cup, something that isn’t coming anytime soon inDallas. Vancouverloses in value here, but gains HUGE in character. 

Next is very simple, dump Max Lapierre.  If Burrows act is ridiculous, Lapierre’s is a disgrace.  And I don’t want to hear Canuck fan point out how he had 7 fighting major’s this year.  7 fights can easily mean he picked a guy who had never dropped the gloves before 7 times.  The guy has some talent but he is only hurting the culture of this team, dump him.

Then there is Roberto Luongo.  I give the guy a ton of props for being a standup guy and being classy throughout the last 2 seasons with all that he has been through.  If he is asking for a trade, he should.  If he isn’t….he should.  I can’t see the Canucks getting much back for him because his contract is extremely difficult to stomach. 

And there have been a ton of miles put on this vehicle.  When looking at goaltenders I tend to not look at age as much as I do games played.  Luongo has been playing a lot of hockey since he turned 21.  Now he is 33 and his game has seemingly digressed the last 2 years.  Again, that’s a TOUGH contract to move.  But just deal the man already so the distraction is out of the room, and if the new CBA does allow an amnesty for each team then he will be that guy forVancouver.  I probably wouldn’t deal him until the new CBA is in place. 

As for what to do with the cap space they would now have, I would take a run at Shane Doan should he choose to leavePhoenix(which is getting less likely by the day).  Like Morrow, Doan will be shopping for a shot at a Cup this offseason should he not get one next month.  But even if you can’t land Doan, there are plenty of other guys with character they could land in free agency (Jordin Tootoo, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brandon Prust, Travis Moen are a few that come to mind).

Done deal.  Burrows, Lapierre and Luongo out, a lot more grit and character in.  It would be a total culture change.  They would still be close to as talented of a team, but with a lot more toughness (mental and physical) and character.  And that would rub off on guys like the Sedin’s, Kesler, and maybe just as vital moving forward is Kassian who has a chance to be a beast playing with this much offensive talent.  I believe this would be a winning formula, and I’m not talking about winning in the regular season, I’m talking winning in the playoffs.  I guess we will see if Gillis see’s it this way or not.  If he doesn’t, then I’m guessing he will be the next guy that needs to be dumped.  There are way too many up and coming teams in the West to keep waiting for these problems to work themselves out.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups or the site @Soups_on_Sports