Everyone can agree that the quest teams undergo for the Stanley Cup in the NHL playoffs is the most grueling of any in professional sports. There are four rounds, each a best-of-seven. Every game is a battle in what can be compared to an all-out war. The level of play and intensity is a marked increase from that of the regular season. It is the most exciting play out of all the sports in the world. Everyone can also agree that by the time the playoffs roll around, almost every player on the sixteen competing teams is suffering from some kind of injury, ailment, or soreness after an 82-game regular season. This is why teams try extra hard to clinch a playoff spot early, to have the luxury of resting star players in-season. It also makes winning an early round series by sweep or in five games all the more important. Rest, at this time of year, is almost more important than caliber of skill.
I didn’t want Tanner Glass either, but as I said yesterday on Twitter, amidst an overabundance of complaints about his signing, if the biggest thing Ranger fans have to complain about this off-season is an annual salary of $1.45 million being paid to a fourth liner, then that means Glen Sather did not do so bad after all. It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Sather didn’t, hence the damning, and a furious one at that. The onslaught continues on social media today towards the team for signing a bottom-three grinder who really is not that good. Yes, I am disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world, and what’s done is done. In the weeks leading up to the beginning of free agency, I saw many a post from fans hoping that Sather “learned from his past mistakes” and will not sign anyone to a long-term deal. He didn’t. Now, fans complain that he did not make any big moves. Would you have rather had him blow everyone out of the water and offer perennial 60-point center Paul Stastny a seven-year deal, then complain when he does not turn into a 100-point scorer overnight? There were not that many players on the free agent market that had interest in coming to New York, or would have fit if they did, both physically and salary cap speaking. Instead of putting his ability to re-sign RFA’s Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, and John Moore in jeopardy, he went out and signed veteran defenseman Dan Boyle for two years/$9 million, a steal, brought back Dominic Moore for 2 years/$3 million, which is pure perfection, and Tanner Glass at a questionable three years/$4.35 million. Horrible? Not exactly. Puzzling? Yes. Based on the reaction from fans, it is like he is the be all, end all of signings this season, as if the fan base was promised gold and given a tin cup instead. Ranger fans are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable in all of sports, but my goodness, there certainly are some dumb ones out there.
The New Jersey Devils are coming off a season where they were the oldest team in the NHL, at just under 30 years of age. With their signings today, they have just gotten older, which is quite an accomplishment considering they had nowhere to go but down. After 27-year-old defenseman Mark Fayne followed the money trail to Edmonton, along with Benoit Pouliot of the New York Rangers, the Devils added wingers Mike Cammalleri (32) and Martin Havlat (33), and just recently as I write this, goaltender Scott Clemmensen (36) to be Cory Schneider’s backup this season. The Cammalleri contract certainly leaves a lot to be desired, but overpayment was the order of the day, and the Devils had to cough up $5 million per season on a five-year deal, which is pretty steep for a guy who has never played a full season and has been on the decline since 2009 when he signed a mega-deal with Montreal. Since then, he has not surpassed 26 goals or 50 points. As for Havlat, he is the dictionary definition of fragile, also never playing a full season, and having one of the more injured records of any player currently in the league. Since 2005, he has suffered two season-ending shoulder injuries, and played only 48 games last season due to a lower body injury. During the campaign, he scored 12 goals and 10 assists. He is not really much of a gamble, since it is a one-year deal for only $1.5 million. You could argue that it is a low risk, high reward deal, because if he stays healthy, he could really provide an offensive spark. However, speed has always been his biggest asset and a catalyst for his offense, and that too has been on a decline for the past few seasons.
Today, I will be posting some quick hits, or my thoughts on some of the signings we have seen during free agent frenzy this afternoon, which is living up to its nickname. We have seen a lot of deals so far, some good, and some bad. Here are three of them:
Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton (5 years/ $20 million)
Though he had a career year in points scored last season (15-21-36), the journeyman Pouliot was immensely and grossly overpaid by the Edmonton Oilers today, a team that has no choice but to throw the checkbook at free agents in order to sign them. Pouliot has been on five teams during his eight NHL seasons, and did not find any consistency until this past season with the Rangers, while on a line with Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard. This led many of us to believe that he would want to stay with the Rangers, so that he career might enjoy more success. However, even with how well he played last season, he did go through stretches of invisibility and was always good for a bad penalty late in a game. This was obviously a concern for the Rangers, who were not going to even come close to 3 years/$9 million, which was a rumored offer last week. Then the Oilers came in and blew everyone out of the water. He is a big body with good hands, but will he be able to keep his head in the game? That is a question that Edmonton will hopefully have answered for them in the positive. Still, this is a terrible deal for them, since much of his success last season was a byproduct of his line-mates. His career high in goals is 17 and points is 36. He is a good third liner, but that is all. I wanted the Rangers to keep him, but for that price, take him!
After taking last summer off, I have returned with my annual free-agent predictions! I cannot remember why I did not make any picks last season, as these were always a fun mainstay on whatever blog or radio show I was working on at the time. Come to think of it, I never really was much good at these picks as you can see by my percentages below, but I believe I am still more accurate than Eklund, and there is thought behind each selection. The beginning of NHL free agency is like a second Christmas to hockey fans because there is so much excitement. There is always a shockingly major signing right off the bat, the one that no one saw coming, the small market team signing a bottom-six player and showing them off like they just hit gold in order to appease a nearly non-existent fan base (remember when the Islanders signed Jon Sim in 2007? How exciting!), the one everybody expected, the Maple Leafs signing their next disaster, and of course, the blockbuster trade to make cap room mixed in with it all.
In June of 1994, while most people across the United States were listening to Gary Thorne and Bill Clement broadcast game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, hockey fans in the New York-Metropolitan Area got to listen to two familiar voices call the game: Sam Rosen and John Davidson on MSG Network. The exciting game, which ranks among the greatest in the sport, was capped off by Rosen’s legendary call upon the final buzzer, “This one will last a lifetime!” You could hear the passion in his voice as he spoke for every single Ranger fan alive as 54 years of frustration and anger were about to go out the window. While Thorne and Clement were excellent in their own right, and the same could be said for the Canadian broadcasters on CBC, the only version of that final moment that ever gets shown in any replay is Rosen’s. He was, and still is, the television play-by-play announcer for the New York Rangers, calling nearly all of the 82 games his club plays every season. A few months ago, he celebrated his 30th year with the franchise, working games for MSG. However, given that all playoff games aside for the first round have been hijacked by NBC Sports Networks, I wonder how Rosen feels that if the moment were ever to arise again, he will never call another Stanley Cup Finals game in his lifetime—I use him as an example because I am a Rangers fan, but the same can be said for every hometown announcer around the league.
My friend Chris “Gootz” Hoeler who has made several guest posts on this blog in the past, responded to a Tweet made by ESPN’s Peter Gammons the other day, when he took a shot at the sport of hockey following the melee that ensued in a game between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, where multiple fights as part of an opening-face-off line brawl escalated into us witnessing Vancouver’s hot-headed coach, John Tortorella, attempt to make his way into the Flames’ locker room to have a go at their head coach Bob Hartley. While this behavior cannot be condoned, and both coaches are a fault, Gammons, mainly a baseball reporter (a sport which is no-doubt angelic when it comes to image), had no right to insult the NHL and call them a “minor sport”, especially with recent reports saying that professional hockey is selling out more than basketball, and attendance and awareness is definitely increasing due to the excitement of the sport and instituting of several outdoor Stadium Series games this month. And now, I will turn it over to Chris for his thoughts:
The list of players out with injuries caused by intentional elbows and shots to the head is mounting in the National Hockey League, and so is the number of offending players. The only problem is, given the weakness of suspensions and the apparent lack of respect for human life, the injured player misses more games than the one who nailed him to the sidelines. This is a major problem, and something that needs to be targeted by those in charge of discipline in the NHL. The time has come for a rule change on the length of suspensions, because now, more than ever, we are seeing horrific injuries, many of which are intentional elbows to the head, and all of which can be avoided. There are times when players accidentally collide, and sometimes when players throw their arms up to brace themselves and get someone in the head—I understand that. But it seems now, even after the league has severely cracked down on said head-shots, we have seen an even more copious amount of intentional attempts to injure. It is almost as if the players just do not care, that they are going to skate around and try to end someone’s season and then laugh in the face of the NHL. In a way, I understand their mindset. They are a bottom six forward or a mediocre defenseman, and what is a two or three game suspension in the grand scheme of things, when they can conceivably knock a star player out of a game, or the rest of the season?
Schadenfreude is just one of those words I like to toss around whenever somebody does something drastic in hockey that leaves an entire fan base up in arms. The word is a fancy, German way of saying that one is finding happiness in the misery of others. Today, as a Ranger fan, I guess you can see we (and probably many Flyers fans) are experiencing a little bit of that word, because star forward Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils has retired at the ripe old age of 30 to go back to Russia to be with his family…and make more money than he can make here, in a quicker amount of time, and of course, tax-free. He can tell us all he wants about how he wants to be with his wife and children, and that is very admirable, but if he was a man with a shred of honor, and any ounce of brain matter in his head, being a multi-millionaire set for life, mayhaps he could have deduced that bringing his family here was a wiser option, especially since he was only four years into a 15 year mega-deal. What this move is about is greed, plain and simple. As a Ranger fan, yes, I jump for joy, but as a hockey fan I am quite disheartened. This could set quite a negative precedent for other skilled players who might not be on successful teams here in the NHL: when the going gets tough, leave your franchise high and dry and go back to Russia where you can be the uncontested top dog, and rake in even bigger bucks while doing it (will Ovechkin be next?). Kovalchuk, as a superstar still in his prime, can probably get upwards of $15 million a season in the KHL. The most he was ever going to make here was only a minuscule $11.800 million, with his annual cap hit being just under $7 million.
I have not written about hockey in a long time, but this is something that I felt I needed to share with everyone, because it shows there are still athletes out there who serve as class acts, and who want to do good things for their fans. A couple of weeks ago, when the New Jersey Devils were facing the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the announcers for the Devils remarked that Cory Conacher, a rookie center for the Lightning, is a type 1 diabetic, and how great it was for such a player to reach the NHL. Watching and hearing this, one of the players I coach, a 14-year-old named Jake from Middletown, New Jersey, who also has type 1 diabetes, said how awesome he thought that was, and that it was the first time he had ever heard of a player with the same condition as him actually making the NHL. I have known Jake for several years, and have seen him develop in front of my own eyes. He has a lot of skills and is one of the best players in our league, but coaching him also helped my development, because it served as a wake-up call of sorts to see a player have to keep track of his sugar levels, or maybe even pump insulin in the middle of a game, while on the bench. This might keep most people from playing such an intense sport, but it has not stopped him, and thankfully, did not stop Cory either.