Credit: USA Today

Better Late than Never: Overtime Boxing with Blackhawks (3) and Stars (2)

Credit: USA Today

Credit: USA Today

Through four games, the Blackhawks have won in seemingly every way possible.

They’ve dominated (Kings), simply outscored the opposition in a game with shoddy goaltending (Coyotes), jumped out to a big lead and held on for dear life (Blues) and battled back from a multiple-goal deficit – the latter being a 3-2 overtime win over Dallas on Thursday night.

Patrick Kane, who continues to play out of his mind, made a beautiful backhand pass to a waiting Marian Hossa for the winner to complete the comeback from two goals down.

The ‘Hawks have won their first four for the first time since the 1973-74 season and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. I saw a tweet during the game that the Blackhawks were showing signs of fatigue due to the condensed schedule, and I don’t believe that’s true for a minute.

Sure, Michal Rozsival farted away a puck in his own zone that led to an easy goal that put the ‘Hawks behind 2-0, and Patrick Sharp wasn’t exactly thinking straight when he blindly fired the puck to center ice that led to a late penalty that could’ve cost the ‘Hawks the game. But tired? I saw jump all night.

And how good were the special teams? The Blackhawks went 3 for 7 with the man advantage, marking the first time they’ve scored three power-play goals since going 4 for 9 in a 4-2 win over Calgary on Dec. 5, 2010.

We saw very little standing around and plenty of puck movement, as evidenced by Sharp’s feed to Jonathan Toews for the equalizer in the third, followed by the Kane-to-Hossa masterpiece.

Other stuff…

Corey Crawford was taking a beating on social media after allowing that first goal, and then again after Duncan Keith saved his ass at the end of the second period. While there aren’t many excuses for letting that puck trickle through his legs on the second instance, Crawford deserves credit for making the initial stop with a man bearing down on him full speed on a breakaway. He stopped a penalty shot and made a key save on a redirected puck in OT with the ‘Hawks a man down. Not sure what else everyone is expecting from the man.

– Speaking of Keith, he played a fabulous game tonight and has been extremely solid through four. Brent Seabrook on the other hand? He’s just not looking very sharp yet. The penalty shot was his fault after he took his eye off the puck and let it slip under his stick.

Nick Leddy is playing good hockey, and he would’ve gotten much more praise tonight had Hossa been able to beat Kari Lehtonen – who stood on his head most of the night – off Leddy’s great feed. Leddy’s one-man charge into the zone on the power play was a thing of beauty, and his pass to Hossa was a great find. More of this, please.

Onto Boxing. Click to enlarge…

Boxing1-24Hawks-3-Stars-2-Full

Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

The Lockout-Shortened Sprint: Looking Back at the NHL Through 48 Last Season

Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

It’s not rocket surgery. Getting off to a good start in a season shortened because of children’s antics is paramount. And after three games, the Blackhawks have done what’s necessary.

Sweep a back-to-back against the defending Stanley Cup champions and the team that knocked them out of the playoffs? Check.

Dominate the majority of a home-opener versus an annoying division rival? Check.

It’s difficult to say “There’s a long way to go” when we’re already at the 45-game mark. And if you did, it’s really only half-true anyway. While 45 games means there’s plenty of time for the standings to shift, it also means there’s little margin for error if a team isn’t on pace with the rest of the conference’s top eight from the get-go.

Here’s a look at the 2011-12 playoff picture after each team played 48 games:

West

*Detroit – 32-15-1 – 65
*Vancouver – 29-15-4 – 62
*San Jose – 28-14-6 – 62
St. Louis – 29-13-6 – 64
Chicago – 29-13-6 – 64
Nashville – 28-16-4 – 60
Los Angeles – 23-15-10 – 56
Minnesota – 23-18-7 – 53
________________________________

Colorado – 25-21-2 – 52
Dallas – 25-21-2 – 52
Calgary – 22-20-6 – 50
Phoenix – 21-19-8 – 50
Anaheim – 18-23-7 – 43
Edmonton – 18-26-4 – 40
Columbus – 13-29-6 – 32

East

*Rangers – 31-12-5 – 67
*Boston – 32-14-2 – 66
*Washington – 26-19-3 – 55
Philadelphia – 29-14-5 – 63
Pittsburgh – 27-17-4 – 58
Ottawa – 26-16-6 – 58
New Jersey – 26-19-3 – 55
Florida – 22-15-11 – 55
______________________________

Toronto – 24-19-5 – 53
Winnipeg – 22-20-6 – 50
Tampa Bay – 21-23-4 – 46
Montreal – 18-21-9 – 45
Islanders – 19-22-7 – 45
Buffalo – 19-24-5 – 43
Carolina – 16-24-8 – 40

Take a quick look at the final standings. While 15 of the 16 playoff teams remained the same (Phoenix replaced Minnesota, we’ll get to that in a minute), the playoff matchups were much different.

If last season ended after 48 games, Detroit would have ended up with home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs, starting with a Minnesota team in the midst of what would turn out to be a horrible collapse.

Instead, Detroit ended up as the No. 5 seed and went on the road to start its series with Nashville, which it lost in six games. Rather than Minnesota parlaying its hot start into a playoff berth, it fell completely apart and ended up 12th in the conference.

On the other end of the spectrum, Phoenix would have been headed home after a rough 48 – three games before it began an 11-0-1 tear that propelled it back into contention. The Coyotes wound up winning the Pacific and making the franchise’s first appearance in the conference finals.

Save for Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, each first-round playoff matchup would have been different in both conferences in a shortened season.

Simply put, a quick start leaves less time to blow it (Minnesota). And if you struggle off the bat, there’s less time to make an epic run and recover (Phoenix). It’s not groundbreaking, but important to note nonetheless.

If last season ended after 48, we wouldn’t have had to endure that shitty nine-game losing streak that began with Game 49 and contributed to the Blackhawks dropping to the No. 6 seed to face a red-hot division winner in the first round.

It’s not so unfathomable to be discussing how their 3-0-0 start to this season is a solid move toward a nice playoff standing by shortened-season’s end. Yes, there’s plenty of time left and a bitch of a six-game road trip upcoming.

Still, there’s no reason to dismiss how far the Hawks’ fast start can take them in the grand scheme of things. But if the ‘Hawks fart away nine games again with little time to recover, it could be the difference in hosting the opening playoff game to watching the postseason on their expensive couches.

Credit: Chris Swede, Chicago Tribune

Eat Crow: Home-Opener Boxing with Blackhawks (3) and Blues (2)

Credit: Chris Swede, Chicago Tribune

Credit: Chris Swede, Chicago Tribune

First things’s first: I can’t begin to explain how excited I am to be doing Boxing again. Sitting in Section 326, Row 12, Seat 9 sporting my Duncan Keith No. 3 Michigan State sweater made me forget about everything that transpired over the last six months. It felt great to be back watching hockey at the United Center, and I can’t wait to get back there Sunday.

As for the game, the Blackhawks’ onslaught of first-period odd-man rushes yielded only a single goal when Patrick Kane put a sweet move on Brian Elliott to complete a 3-on-0 as the Blues napped after a turnover. Somehow, after seemingly dominating the majority of the period, the ‘Hawks were outshot 9-7 and headed into the second period short a man after Marian Hossa took a tripping penalty with less than 20 seconds left.

Goals from Brent Seabrook in the second (originally credited to Keith) and Viktor Stalberg in the third were enough to hold off St. Louis, which made things interesting with a pair of goals in the final period.

Other things…

The Blackhawks are off to a 3-0-0 start, which would seem pretty arbitrary during an 82-game season. With this campaign already being at the 45-game mark, earning six quick points could go a long way. And if you told me they’d be unbeaten after facing Los Angeles, Phoenix and St. Louis to open the season, I would have asked who replaced your sanity with the optimism of Richard Simmons.

So, it looks like the Kane trade talk can pipe down for, like, another couple days, eh?

Corey Crawford was damn good. He made the saves he was expected to make, and then plenty more. He snuffed out St. Louis’ comeback attempt when the momentum shifted and played big during the Blues’ final burst to end the game. There shouldn’t be any question that Crawford gets the start Thursday in Dallas.

Brandon Saad shook off a slow start and questionable decision-making to have a second solid game. He seemed very timid in the first period but by the third he was very aggressive getting into the Blues’ zone.

I know I need to accept that Joel Quenneville will continue to dress someone for the sole purpose of him playing roughly five meaningless minutes, but why Brandon Bollig deserves to wear an NHL sweater at this point is beyond me. I mean Christ, even the Blues scratched Ryan Reaves.

Let’s get to the season’s first Boxing, including my channeling into the mind of Jonathan Toews. There’s one image for the summary, another for the box score. Click on each to enlarge….

Boxing1-22Hawks-3-Blues-2Sum

Boxing1-22Hawks-3-Blues-2Box

Blackhawks 6 – Coyotes 4 : ‘Hawks collect points out west

If your day was anything like mine, you sat on the couch for a solid ten hours and watched a lot of football and even more hockey. It was glorious fun, yes, but somehow one can still feel exhausted after such a marathon. It’s really late so we’ll have a somewhat abbreviated recap. Here’s a few thoughts on a sloppy, but entertaining hockey game:

- Marian Hossa was outstanding for the second straight day. As Jonthan Toews alluded to after the game, we’re witnessing Hoss playing a whole different sport than everyone else right now. Seeing him punish the team that employs the scum who probably lowered his quality of life at some point in the future made it that much sweeter. Good on Hoss.

-David Bolland as the second line center is working out just fine. Two goals tonight for Bolland, including one of the strangest, funniest goals I’ve seen in a long while. I only wish we could have seen Mike Smith freak out like that during the playoffs last year.

-Speaking of Smith, he has now let in ten goals in two games. Enjoy that stat and brandish it if happen to run into one of the six Coyote fans in the world tomorrow.

- We’d rather see Marcus Kruger than Andrew Shaw on the third line, but they was effective all night long. Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg (both guys who were rumored to be on the move at certain points of the offseason) clicking together certainly didn’t seem likely, but they’re doing just that and I think we’re all okay with it. Stalberg had several chances tonight, finishing one of them in the second period off a nice feed from Bickell. He missed on a breakaway in the third frame, but was a key factor in Bolland’s powerplay goal in the first – battling in front of Mike Smith with Dave Derek Morris and giving Patrick Kane the space he needed to set up Bolland. Stalberg gave Morris such a problem that Morris threw him to the ice in frustration after Bolland scored. Good job, Vik.

- The fourth line was talked about a lot on Twitter during the game and did have a few dominant shifts in the Phoenix zone in the first and second periods. However, Michael Frolik and Kruger each finished the game -2. Brandon Bollig got his ass kicked in a fight with BizNasty and didn’t play much after taking a completely unnecessary tripping penalty about as far away from the ‘Hawks net as you can get.

-I’ve avoided dealing with the awfulness that is Ray Emery’s goaltending because I didn’t want to spoil the good time. So, I will not fret over our backup goaltender. I will not fret over our backup goaltender. I will not fret over our backup goaltender. I will not fret over our backup goaltender. I will not fret over our backup goaltender……..No, screw it, I’m fretting. Emery was putrid and made what should have been a good old fashioned ass kicking a nail biter at one point. This situation has been allowed to fester and should reflect poorly on Stan Bowman if it ends up costing the Blackhawks.

-Not related to tonight’s game, but please appreciate Rockford IceHogs goalie Carter Hutton beating the absolute shit out of Grand Rapids Griffins goaltender Petr Mrazek in a bench clearing brawl two night ago. Damn.

- The game on Tuesday night against St. Louis is shaping up to be a regular doozy. What could make it more awesome? Well, Bartl will be back with Boxing.

Meteor Showers and Tidal Waves : Hawks Destroy the Champs & Phoenix Preview

Apologies for the late recap today. By now you all know the Blackhawks walked into Los Angeles and put a damper on an otherwise memorable afternoon for the Kings and their fans. Marian Hossa dominated. Corey Crawford made the saves he had to and the Blackhawks weren’t giving an inch in their own zone all afternoon.

We won’t do a full narrative summary of this game only because you’ve probably read summaries elsewhere and after a long day of drinking, I simply can’t remember all the details. We’ll give you a couple of quick thoughts on the game from yesterday before we move on to the Phoenix game tonight.

- Marian Hossa went a long way toward alleviating fears that he may not be the same player after Raffi Torres nearly killed him last year. Hoss dominated almost every shift he took and had one of his best games as a Blackhawk. If he does this all year long, it’ll be awfully hard for Stan Bowman to sell the idea of buying him out.

- Corey Crawford’s performance will keep the mob off his back until at least Tuesday when Vladimir Tarasenko and Blues come to town.

- One can’t help but feel good for Michael Frolik. There’s no question he’s been an offensive disappointment since being acquired from Florida, but that wrist shot over the glove of Jonathan Quick was a thing of beauty and he put in some tough minutes on the penalty kill as well. Frolik may not be the player ‘Hawks fans thought they were getting, but he’s a guy that’s easy to pull for. Here’s hoping Frolik turns it around this year.

- Joel Quenneville rolled four lines and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook both played under 24 minutes. This is a recipe for success. Sure, it was easy to do yesterday as the ‘Hawks dominated from the get-go, but we’d all like to see more of this.

Moving onto the game tonight in Phoenix:

Ray Emery will get the start in goal tonight against Phoenix. Many would like to have seen Crawford get a chance to build on his outing last night, but Q and Co. have the condensed schedule in mind and this decision was probably made a week or so ago.

In other lineup news, Daniel Carcillo suffered some kind of leg injury yesterday and will miss the next month of the season. We may not be the biggest Carcillo fans, sure, but it sucks for a guy who rehabbed for months to get injured in his very first game back. A tough blow for Carcillo, to be sure. However, his injury gives Brandon Saad a shot to crack the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if Q just slots Saad into Carcillo’s spot with Jonathan Toews and Hossa – or changes the lineup entirely. Could this be Viktor Stalberg’s chance to enter the top six again?

We’re still waiting to hear if Michael Rosival will replace Sheldon Brookbank in the lineup tonight. Rosival played for Phoenix last year, but Q usually will stick with a lineup as long as it wins. We’ll see.

The odds favor Academy Award nominee Mike Smith starting in goal tonight for Phoenix. While he let in four goals against Dallas last night, the Coyotes don’t play again until Wednesday and Jason LaBarbera sort of sucks.

The Coyotes may be a boring team, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad one. All the usual suspects (Vrbata-Doan-Hanzel) are still around for Phoenix with new additions Steve Sullivan and Matthew Lombardi providing some depth. But their blue line is their real strength, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle and the newly acquired Zbynek Michalek leading the way. The ‘Hawks best effort will be required if they are to come home for the Blues game Tuesday night with 4 points.

…and yes, Raffi Torres is still suspended. If you were hoping for shenanigans, tonight probably isn’t the night.

We’ll be around later with a (full) recap.

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

CtA Season Preview: Northwest Division Edition

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

Credit: Bill Turianski www.billsportsmaps.com

(Now we’ll take a look at the division the Canucks win every year in a cakewalk and managed to feature exactly one playoff team last year.)

Northwest Division

2011-2012 Standings
#1 Vancouver (111) Calgary (90) Colorado (88) Minnesota (81) Anaheim (80)

Vancouver Canucks

New guys: Jason Garrison (I wanted him), Cam Barker (you’re all horrible people for making fun), Jim Vandermeer (?) and Derek Joslin.

Gone: Samuel Pahlsson (yup, that one), Sami Salo (one ball joke) and Aaron Rome.

Not yet gone: Roberto Luongo

Young players to keep an eye on: There really isn’t a whole lot here. With injuries to guys like Ryan Kesler and David Booth, hulking winger Zach Kassian will get a shot to play in the Vancouver top six. Chicago Wolves defenseman Kevin Connauton scares the shit out of me – but at least it looks like he’s at least another season away from leaving Rosemont. Should Kesler or Booth miss more time than expected, puny 5’8 center Jordan Schroeder could be called upon to fill the void. Due to all the injuries, 2011 1st round pick Niklas Jensen will get a shot to make the roster out of camp, but that appears to be a long shot.

Outlook: Think a team with Barker and Vandermeer can’t make the playoffs? Think again. Edmonton and Minnesota aren’t pushovers anymore, sure, but the Northwest still belongs to the Canucks. Their depth looks questionable, but as soon as it *really* starts to hurt, they can pull the trigger on a Luongo deal and probably improve multiple spots. Garrison should more than make up for the loss of Sami Salo and I can’t imagine the Sedin’s letting this team nose-dive. As much as you don’t want to hear this, it looks like Vancouver probably gets home ice for at least the opening round.

Edmonton Oilers:

New guys: Nail Yakupov (clearly a cancer in the dressing room) , Justin Schultz (this guy could have played anywhere in the NHL and chose Edmonton), and Mark Fistric (became an Oiler just the other day).

Gone: Taylor Chorney.

Young players to keep an eye on: All of them. Yakupov, Schultz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and the list just goes on and on. All of these damn guys are probably going to be superstars (if they aren’t already) and constitute a fine young core for Edmonton. How the hell they plan on paying all these #1 picks in the future is beyond me – but that’s their problem. Should injury strike their defense, 6’3 Swede Oscar Klefbom (a fine hockey name) could see his first NHL action. 2011 2nd rounder David Musil would be another option here.

Outlook: Is this team closer to the ’07-’08 Blackhawks or the ’08-’09 Blackhawks? It’s impossible to say. Some analysts have suggested that the lockout could benefit younger teams. If that’s the case, then the Oil should be in decent sharp – even with Nikolai Khabibulin in net. In my view, the weakest area on this team is the blue line. Yes, Schultz is a great young prospect, but this isn’t a unit many teams are going to fear as they move into the Oilers zone. The offensive potential is pretty much unlimited. If the trio of #1 overall picks click right away, those defensive problems may not matter much. Edmonton is one of the tougher teams to judge this year. Could go either way. Sorry, total cop-out.

Minnesota Wild

New guys: Zach Parise (now sporting a Mr. Monopoly monocle at all times) , Ryan Suter (ditto Parise), Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell and Torrey Mitchell.

Gone: Guillaume Latendresse, Erik Christensen and Mike Lundin.

Young players to watch: The Wild have a pool of prospects that should make any Blackhawks fan who supports realignment strongly reconsider. They are stocked pretty much everywhere. Center-icemen Mikael Backlund and Charlie Coyle, along with defenseman Jonis Brodin and Matthew Dumba, are elite prospects. While it’s unlikely any of them except Backlund (and maybe Dumba) see time in the NHL this year, all are worth keeping an eye on in the future. Guys that have seen NHL time like Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker could be called upon again if needed. Mario Lucia, Zach Phillips, Johan Larsen and Matt Hackett round out their prospect poll. Not too shabby. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying.

Outlook: As good as this team may one day be, expectations are probably set a little too high for this season. While you can’t blame Minnesota fans for being excited with the arrival of Parise and Konopka Suter, there are still a lot of question about this teams defensive depth and nobody knows how quickly this semi-overhauled roster will take to gel. The improvements are impossible to ignore, but this is still a team that looks scarier for what they might one day become – as opposed to what they currently are.

*We should mention that their owner, Craig Leipold, was a big driver of this lockout on the owners side. So fuck him and his team. Hating Minnesota is going to be a lot of fun.

Colorado Avalanche

New guys: PA Parenteau (the rare player who wants to leave the Islanders), Greg Zanon and John Mitchell.

Gone: Peter Mueller (getting a second chance with Dale Tallon) and Jay McClement.

Young players to keep an eye on: Colorado’s defense is a disaster, so guys like Ty Barrie, Stefan Elliott and/or Duncan Siemens could get a look once this team is out of the playoff race – which will probably be about three weeks from now. Often injured prospect Joey Hishon may finally get a look if they can’t lure back Ryan O’Reilly from Russia. Mark Olver went to Northern Michigan University, which makes him awesome.

Outlook: This team sucks and will be even suckier if they can’t re-sign O’Reilly. Sure, Gabriel Landeskog is a monster and they have a number of talented forwards, but like we mentioned already, that defense is just terrible. The goaltending behind it is almost as bad. Not a playoff team. Moving on.

Calgary Flames

New guys: Sven Bartschi (remember this name), Roman Cervenka, Dennis Wideman (contain your laughter) and Jiri Hudler (condolences to Hudler on the recent passing of his father).

Gone: Olli Jokinen (obligatory waffle gif), David Moss and Scott Hannan.

Not gone because Jay Feaster is delusional: Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.

Young players to keep an eye on: Bartschi and Markus Granlund (coming over from Finland). The Flames also drafted John Gaudreau, but he’s a few years away. T.J. Brodie is an option on the blue line if they don’t want to torture themselves with Anton Babchuk and Corey Sarich.

Outlook: This team has some talent, yes, but still drag around entirely too much dead weight. The guys over at Hockeenight are always making fun of Flames for giving out no-trade clauses to any and all comers – and its’s completely true! It’s like this roster was carefully booby trapped to guard against any and all rebuilding efforts. Even if they wanted to give up the chasing the dragon and start over, they couldn’t do it.

Oh, and Mike Cammalleri is still a douche.

Western Conference playoff picks:

Los Angeles-St.Louis-Vancouver-Chicago-Phoenix-Detroit-Minnesota-San Jose

(That concludes the Western Conference portion of our season preview. We’ll be back in the next day or so with a look at the East.)

96-97 Bicycle NHL Aces Playing Cards

CtA Season Preview: Pacific Division Edition

96-97 Bicycle NHL Aces Playing Cards

96-97 Bicycle NHL Aces Playing Cards

(We’re moving right along with the CtA season preview. Today we take a look at the Pacific Divison which has a ton of old guys.)

Pacific Division

2011-2012 Standings:
#3 Phoenix (97) -#7 San Jose (96) – #8 Los Angles (95) – Dallas (89) – Anaheim (80)

LOS ANGELES KINGS:

New Guys: Nobody. This team is pretty much the opposite of the 2010 Blackhawks. They get to keep the band together.

Gone: Nobody. Well, Ethan Moreau retired, but he doesn’t really count.

Young players to keep an eye on: The Kings have a number of fantastic young offensive players in their system, but with every position on the roster filled, it doesn’t look like there will be a need to carry any of them. Should a center go down, Andrei Loktionov would be a candidate to fill the roster spot. Slava Voynov is the kid on the blue line and should get more minutes in his second season. While he had a quiet playoff, he’s still one of the most intriguing young defenseman in the NHL and possess with an absolute blast from the point. Dwight King, who was stellar for the Kings when they got hit with the injury bug, will also enter his second season.

Outlook: Pretty damn good. The lockout should have taken care of any hangover problems and they have the entire Cup roster ready to make another run. Watch out.

Dallas Stars:

New Guys: 112 year old Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy, Cody Eakin, Aaron Rome (eww) and Ray Whitney (also old).

Gone: Brad Richards (just rubbing it in), Mike Ribeiro (SUSHI), Sheldon Souray (has a ‘Baywatch’ wife), Steve Ott (gross) and Adam Burish (I thought he sucked but you all loved him).

Young Players to (probably not) watch: They have a couple good young prospects like goaltender Jack Campbell, Brett Ritchie and 6’7 fucking monster Jamie Oleksiak – but I’m not sure any of these guys fit into their immediate plans. There may be spots to be had on their (weak) blue line for players like Brenden Dillion and Patrick Nemeth. Personally, I love those hulking defenseman so I hope its Oleksiak.

Outlook: It’s sort of sad to see the Stars Twitterverse treating Jagr as if he were Sidney Crosby. But I guess it can’t be denied the Stars are sporting a different look this year and that should be refreshing to their fans. Roy and Eakin strengthen the Stars down the middle, yes, but that defense still looks awfully suspect. The Stars always seem to hover right around that 8th spot and I’m sure they’ll be right there again. Maybe the addition of a few seasoned vets like Jagr and Whitney will get them back into the playoffs……or maybe not. The best news for the team this offseason was the announcement that will be sporting a new uniform very soon. We can all agree this is a good thing.

Phoenix Coyotes:

New players: Steve Sullivan (still alive), Zybnek Michalek, David Moss and Nick Johnson.

Gone: Ray Whitney, Adrian Aucoin (only Columbus would have him) and Taylor Pyatt.

Young players to keep an eye on: Puck mover David Runbland should make the team. Otherwise, there aren’t many spots on the blue-line to be had and their offensive pipeline is nil.

Outlook: This team is boring as hell and I don’t want to really waste my team thinking about them. A lot depends on Mike Smith replicating his performance from last season. A dull team that competes every single night. Always dangerous. Continuing to watch Oliver Ekman-Larrson develop will be a pleasure. He should give fans in either Seattle or Quebec City something to cheer about for years to come.

Anaheim Ducks:

New Players: Bryan Allen, Sheldon Souray, Daniel Winnik and Brad Staubitz.

Gone: Lubomir Visnovsky (currently doing everything he can not to be an Islander), Sheldon Brookbank (now a Blackhawk) and the mustachioed George Parros.

Not Gone: Teemu Selanne. He’s sticking around for one more season. Admit it, you don’t give a shit about the Ducks and you wanted him to be a Jet. I sure did

Young players to keep an eye on: Devante Smith-Pelly and potentially Emerson Etem. Both are good, strong forwards on a team desperately in need of some depth behind their big three. Power forward Kyle Palmeri is another candidate to see time in the NHL.

Outlook: Bruce Boudreau will coach his first full season with the Ducks. They got some help on the back end in free agency, but this is still a team with a few glaring problems. My theroy is that Jonas Hiller struggled because he stopped wearing that badass black helmet with the gold cage. Or maybe it was the vertigo. This is a team that teases a fire sale every year, but if they stumble this season it could finally happen. I want Bobby Ryan.

San Jose Sharks:

New Players: Brad Stuart (former Red Wing) and Adam Burish.

Gone: Torrey Mitchell and Daniel Winnik.

Young players to watch: Uh, none? There’s that tool who wears #69. They have Chicago area native Tommy Wingels who played well for them last season. They also have Sebastian StalbergVik’s brother. In retrospect, they probably shouldn’t have traded Charlie Coyle.

Outlook: This is a team that has a bunch of good players but just never seems to be able to but it all together. Are Stuart and Burish what they’ve been missing all along? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. I’m always conflicted when I think about the Sharks. I want to pull for Marty and Nemo and Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are certainly likable players. But at the end of the day the fuckbaggery of Joe Thornton and guys likes Marc -Edouard Vlasic are enough to make me forget all that other stuff. Remember Thronton’s repeated targeting of the head of Jonathan Toews? Vlasic’s love of the slash behind the play? Then add the whole Hjammer offersheet thing. Yeah, screw the Sharks.

Central Division

CtA Season Preview: Central Division Edition

CENTRAL

(Over the next few days CtA will take at look at the offseason moves and potential young impact players of each team around the league. We’ll being going division by division, starting today with the teams we all know and hate in the Central. We’re damn glad to be back with you folks.)

CENTRAL DIVISON
2011-2012 Standings:
#2 St. Louis (109) – #4 Nashville (104) – #5 Detroit (102)- #6 Chicago (101) – Columbus (65)

Detroit Red Wings:

New Guys to hate: Damien Brunner, Mikael Samuelsson (again), Jordin Tootoo (you already hated him) and Carlo Colaiacovo (ahahaha).

Elsewhere: Niklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom (HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE), Juri Hudler and Brad Stuart.

Young players to keep an eye on: Brunner, Brandon Smith (Ben Smith will have his revenge) and Gustav Nyquist. Brunner is a wild-card, but he played with Z overseas and seemingly all the reports from Europe had he and Zetterberg developing a thing. Lets hope not. Nyquist, a guy I think is going to be pretty damn good, had 35 points in 34 games at Grand Rapids. We’ve all heard about Smith by this point. It’s a ‘show me’ season for him. It’s also possible we’ll see a little bit of Jakub Kindle this season.

Outlook: Yes, they look vulnerable in their own end, but they have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll find a way into the post-season. Once they get there, those cracks in the D are likely to be fatal and we’ll start the ‘Shea Weber to Detroit’ watch. Man, that’s going to be horrible.

St. Louis Blues:

New Guys to hate: Vladimir Tarasenko (please go away), Jaden Schwartz and Jeff Woywitka.

Elsewhere: Carlo Colaiacovo and John Davidson.

Young players to keep an eye on: Tarasenko, Schwartz and Ian Cole (fuck Ian Cole). The thought of seeing Tarasenko 6 times each year for the next several years makes me want to run into a dark room and cry. He and Schwartz have the potential to be Toews/Kane lite. It’s hard to judge how effective young players are going to be, but there isn’t a team on the league that wouldn’t want this tandem. What I’m trying to convey here is that I’m really freaked out about that and you should be too. Ian Cole is a douche on Twitter and probably on the ice as well.

Outlook: Their style is boring as all hell, sure, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a very good hockey club. If they get the same goaltending they got last year then there’s no reason they can’t have that same kind of success. Much like the defending champion LA Kings, the Blues have almost everyone coming back from last season, so getting into rhythm shouldn’t be much of a problem, and that’s a good thing in a short season. Barrett Jackman still plays a meaningful role on this team and you’d have to think that comes back to bite them eventually. Hopefully.

Nashville Predators:

New Guys to hate: Scott Hannan and Ryan Ellis.

Elsewhere: Ryan Suter, Andrei Kostitsyn, Alexander Radulov and Andres Lindback.

Young players to keep an eye on: Ellis and (hopefully) Austin Watson. I honestly have no idea if Watson will play for Nashville or not this year, but Ellis will, and they need someone (and probably more than just one) to help fill the void left by Ryan Suter. Roman Josi is another young defenseman who Nashville will ask to contribute.

Outlook: They still have one of the best goaltenders in the game and Barry Trotz is a coach who always gets the most out of the roster afforded him, but the loss of Suter was absolutely devastating to this teams on ice product. Will they continue to be a thorn in everyone’s side or do they begin to fade away? I’m betting on the latter.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

New Guys to pity: Brandon Dubinksy, Artem Anisimov, Sergei Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Tim Erixon and Adrian Aucoin (resist the urge to kill).

Mercifully Elsewhere: Rick Nash and Mark Methot. Methot is now hilariously being talked about as Erik Karlsson’s partner in Ottawa this year. Poor Erik Karlsson.

Young players to keep and eye on: Truth be told, Columbus has a lot of good young talent – most of it on the blue line. John Moore, David Savard and Tim Erixon are all solid prospects and could (will) all see time in Columbus this season. Unfortunately, their best defensive prospect, Ryan Murray, is out for the next 6 months, so you won’t be seeing him this season. It appears Boone Jenner will be given a shot to make the big club, although that jump just feels unlikely. Will this be a breakout year for Ryan Johansen? How the hell should I know?

Outlook: I don’t think this Columbus team sucks as bad as everyone is making them out to suck. However, that doesn’t mean they still don’t suck really bad. Rick Nash is obviously not going to be replaced by anyone, James Wisniewski is counted on to play a significant role and their goaltending is, uh, well……..

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

“Bad Faith” and Distrust: A Players’ Perspective on the Lockout

Gary Bettman and the NHL don’t seem to get it. They never have. Since Gary took over in 1993, the NHL has seen three lockouts. Briefly, lockouts occur when the league feels that it can no longer sustain its current activities without a freshly negotiated collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Note, the league is the only one who can lockout the players. If the players are the unhappy party, they can go on strike. The CBA serves as a labor contract between the league and the players’ union on a plethora of subjects ranging from revenue, to contracts, to pensions, etc., etc.

Under Gary Bettman’s tenure, the NHL moved and expanded several teams to non-traditional hockey markets. Some have been successful and won Stanley Cups and filled stands, while others have floundered. The Phoenix Coyotes, originally the Winnipeg Jets, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and the NHL had to take control of the team and they see some of the lowest attendance numbers in the NHL. The Bettman-expansion Atlanta Thrashers suffered so many losses and ownership struggles, that they moved to Winnipeg to become the new Jets, a city deprived of its original team by Bettman when he moved them to Phoenix to become the failing Coyotes. We can coin this the “Bettman cycle.”

In contract law, there is a term called “bad faith.” The gist of this term is that one of the parties to the contract intentionally or maliciously used deception to make the other party agree to the contract. We will examine this term with regard to the actions of the NHL.

Reports are surfacing that Bettman attempted a “bait-and-switch” of language in their CBA proposal regarding how the NHL could handle team punishments for hiding revenue (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). The league’s language was changed in such a way that Bettman would have sole control of the penalties.

Reports are also surfacing that the owners and their GMs told Gary Bettman, who in turn told the NHLPA, that they would welcome the opportunity to renege some of the contracts they offered to players (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). This of course angered the NHLPA, and why shouldn’t it? If someone offered you millions of dollars and wanted to take it back or even dump you from their roster, would you be happy about it or even ok with it? Of course not. Why is Gary Bettman, under the direction of the owners, doing this? Because they want to lower the salary cap of the NHL by ~$10M per year to $60M. That is a ~15% decrease for those not interested in doing the math.

The NHL was in a dire financial state in 2004 when a lockout took away the season. The reason they bounced back was savvy marketing. What could the NHL have possibly been marketing that would appeal to so many people and bring the league back to such great heights? Could it be players? Of course. And it was. Alex Ovechkin- drafted 2004. Sidney Crosby- drafted 2005. Jonathan Toews- drafted 2006. Patrick Kane- drafted 2007. Steven Stamkos- drafted 2008. New, young marketable players, appealing to young fans and fresh faces leading to increasing profits? You don’t say.

Fan attendance increased in post-lockout 05-06 for 25 of the 30 teams in the NHL. Moreover, the average cost (tickets, concessions, parking, etc.) for a family of four rose from $256 to $329 in 2011, per Forbes. The value of the average NHL team has increased from $159 million in 2003, to $240 million last year, and average NHL player salary from $1.6M to $2.4M (Forbes). Could it be that the reason more and more kids want to play hockey is due to young talents emerging every year and inspiring them? Could it be that the NHL is seeing record fan interest because the best players in the game are in their early twenties, bringing a new young generation of fans to the game? I think so.

Young, talented players like these are why the NHL was saved after the 2004 lockout. Young, talented players were able to bring more and more fans to the game and in turn allowed the league to increase its salary cap EVERY YEAR for the past 8 years. That is EVERY YEAR since the last NHL lockout. Coincidence? I think not.

In 2012, we saw ENORMOUS contracts being handed out left and right for big name players. Crosby- 12 yrs, $104M; Parise- 13 yrs, $98M; Suter- 13 yrs, $98M; Weber- 14 years, $110M. There were plenty of guys signed in the offseason who were arguably overpaid by their teams. For reference, go read articles by beat writers and read fan Twitters from the summer. Plenty of grumbling. Every one of these contracts was offered to players a few months before the collective bargaining agreement expired. The owners knew that the salary cap would be an issue moving forward in negotiating a new CBA, but they offered these contracts anyway. Here we are, 6-7 months later. It is January of the following year. We are still locked out, the players are not receiving their paychecks, and the owners want to LOWER the cap by 15%. The salary cap is STILL an issue the NHL and NHLPA cannot agree on. There is something fishy about this. I’m not saying that Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Nashville are the teams responsible for the lockout. BUT, collectively, the owners knew that the CBA was going to expire very shortly after these contracts were signed, and yet they still offered them. Now, they want to lower the cap and the GMs “regret” and want to renege some of the contracts they offered.

The NHL has shown a mechanical unwillingness to negotiate with the NHLPA. A number of times when the league made proposals and the players countered, Bettman and his cronies stood up and walked out of the room. The NHL has used fruitless, and frankly pathetic, language such as “final offer,” “only offer on the table,” and “take it or leave it” in their negotiations with the NHLPA. Sounds a bit like something a small child would say when he or she doesn’t get his way doesn’t it?

Since the 2004 lockout, NHL league revenues have increased by nearly 64%. Revenues, of course, don’t translate to team profits and there are only a handful of financially viable teams in the league. There are a number of teams struggling financially. Some are struggling due to poor ownership and mismanagement, but others are struggling, because they are in places where hockey fans simply don’t exist and hockey teams don’t belong in the first place. This falls squarely on the owners and the league, not the players. Still, the players have made concessions. They have agreed to a 50-50 split of revenues, they have agreed to limiting contracts. Still not enough. How does the NHL respond? They behave like stubborn children, say “take it or leave it” and LITERALLY just walk out of the room. They try to make a preemptive strike on the NHLPA by going to court and trying to block the NHLPA from disbanding and filing an antitrust suit against the league.

We’ve heard from numerous reporters and writers from TSN and various other news outlets that there is a strong sense of distrust between the NHL and the NHLPA. Are you surprised? I’m not. The players are the ones who bring the fans to the stands. The players are the ones whose skills allow teams to market them and bring people to the arenas. Convincing players to sign for their teams by making them believe that they will receive a large amount of money and ultimately wanting to renege those contracts by masquerading under a new collective bargaining agreement? That is the DEFINITION of “bad faith.” Putting up with the NHL’s unwillingness to compromise, hearing the NHL say “final offer” countless times, watching the NHL storming out of meetings and behave like an 8th grader who just got dumped; do these things seem like the type of behavior that builds trust? Is this behavior expected to be perceived as professional? The question you need to ask yourself is, how would you feel if you were in the players’ shoes? Would you be okay with the NHL wanting to renege some contracts? Would you “trust” them? I sure wouldn’t.

The NHL needs to keep in mind that the players are the ones who rescued the league after the last lockout. The players will be the ones who will help them bounce back from this lockout. Fans don’t come to see Gary Bettman and his golf buddies at hockey games. Fans come to see the Crosbys, and the Ovechkins, and the Toewses. This lockout won’t end until the NHL decides to accept this and start showing some more respect to the players.

Rink Empty

Opening Night – TBD

Don’t be alarmed when you turn on the NBC Sports Network tonight at 6 p.m. CST and find Brian Schactman hosting CNBC Sports Biz: Game On!That’s your regularly scheduled programming, thanks to this pissing contest between the NHL and NHLPA.

Rinks in Montreal, Philadelphia, Calgary and Colorado will be empty tonight rather than hosting Opening Night, which is now simply referred to as Lockout: Day 25. The two sides met Wednesday for five hours, and they’re apparently meeting again today. An end to the lockout, though, seems to be nowhere in sight.

From Steve Fehr, special counsel to his brother, Donald:

“I think we’re making progress in a number of the areas that were discussed, which include health and safety, drug testing issues, medical care. They were good discussions. It’s a shame that they are going on in the midst of a lockout when we could be doing it while we’re playing, or we could’ve been doing it a month ago or two months ago.”

Yes, thank you for reminding us how neither side apparently consisting of whining 6-year-olds couldn’t sit down and talk like adults much earlier.

From Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly:

“We had no discussion of the major economic issues or system issues, so that continues to be a disappointment from our perspective.”

This coming from someone representing the owners, who could continue getting their precious revenue by hosting games while negotiating. But no, let’s just shut the whole damn league down. That’ll help you make money, seeing as you’ve already bitched about losing $100 million just from wiping out the preseason.

Two weeks worth of canceled regular-season games begins accumulating tonight, eventually amounting to 82 by Oct. 24. Three previously booked nights at the United Center will now feature an empty arena and five total Blackhawks games will be sucked into the lockout’s black hole.

Tonight is the night the lockout becomes real, and not just some disagreement we thought would’ve been worked out months before it could affect us.

We’re mere days away from more games being wiped off the schedule, and my optimism for a resolution has all but disappeared.