LOOK OUT! Phoenix on schedule to become the next Pittsburgh after strong draft

I just love coming up with headlines that sound so newspaper-esque.

Alright, maybe it won’t happen exactly in 08-09. Maybe we’ll even have to wait two or three years.

But with all the players they just got, along with who they already have, doesn’t anybody see how Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Columbus could turn into major powers in the next few seasons?

Let’s look at Phoenix, I’ll show you why:

First of all, Phoenix’s roster already boasted a few young players that will make the team strong next season. Radim Vrbata, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Daniel Winnik, Daniel Carcillo, Joel Perrault, and Craig Weller all played key roles last season up front. Arriving at forward next year; Kyle Turris for sure, and Bill Thomas and Enver Lisin could make the team as well. Acquired in a trade, Olli Jokinen will be the Coyotes top center next season. He could play with veteran captain Shane Doan and Vrbata. Steve Reinprecht will stick with the team as well, but may be relegated to a third line role in order for Mueller to continue his development.

On defense, the Coyotes are still relatively strong. Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard were traded, but the rest of the group is still fine. Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris are the two veterans of the group, while youngsters Keith Yandle and Matt Jones will surely be in the lineup as well. Ryan Caldwell will try and earn a full-time job on the third pairing, while it’ll be interesting to see whether Phoenix pushes for a free agent defender as GM Don Maloney has said at the NHL draft, or if they let college ‘D-man’ Chris Summers earn a top six spot as well.

Phoenix’s goaltending is locked up. Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason that Phoenix nearly made the playoffs last season, and a full season from him will benefit the team. Mikael Tellqvist looks to be a steady back-up, while Josh Tordjman is playing solidly in the AHL.

As for propsects that haven’t had any NHL time yet, the Coyotes have two forwards in the system who could make an impact next season. Kevin Porter had a strong collegiate season with Michigan (CCHA) and has a complete game. Most seem to think that he will max out as a third-liner, but if Phoenix is lucky, he’ll produce at the NHL like he has in college. The other forward is Brett Maclean, who has had a starring season in the OHL. He plays alongside super-youngster John Tavares, and many say that’s the reason he scores so many goals. Then again, you have to be able to put the puck in the net. Maclean looks to be with the team in 09-10.

Phoenix also drafted two solid forwards in Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov. It’s hard for me personally to get a read on Tikhonov, but I’m guessing that he’ll make the NHL in two or three years, mainly because of his Russian contract status and such. Boedker, though, is already in North America and has had a solid year with Kitchener of the OHL. I could see Boedker in the NHL next season, but it’s most likely that Phoenix will allow him to develop one more year in major junior. He’ll get a long camp look, though.

Well, I was going to take a look at Columbus and Los Angeles too, but I guess that’ll come after I finish watching the rest of the draft. In the mean time, enjoy debating about how weirdly I see the Coyotes turning out compared to how you guys see it.


Late blog for the Awards

Well, the usual and expected players were announced for various awards in the NHL yesterday.

Nick Lidstrom won the Norris trophy. Again. For the sixth time. Geez, does anyone else even play defense in this league? When he retires, we'll just call it the Lidstrom Trophy. Jack Norris was the owner of the Wings anyways, he wouldn't mind having his trophy renamed for his best defenseman ever (with all respects to Red Kelly).

Alex Ovechkin, already the proud owner of Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies, completed the hat trick by winning the Hart trophy in a landslide. While Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla had good performances, it was all but guaranteed that Ovechkin would get the hardware. Conrgats to the best Russian in the league (with respects to Pavel Datsyuk, Geno, Evgeni Nabokov [Although he's from Kazakhstan, right?], and a lot of other Russian guys that are really good out there). Ovechkin also won the Lester B. Pearson trophy, so it looks even other NHLers like his style of play.

Speaking of the Russian-Red Wing-Wonder (you like that one, right?), Datsyuk picked up the Lady Byng trophy and the Selke trophy. I'm kind of mad at Youtube and the NHL highlights, because I've only ever seen Datsyuk in one game, in which he mostly played offense because the Wings already had the No. 1 seed and the Presidents trophy locked up. I haven't seen any proof that Datsyuk was a great player other than his plus/minus-, and that could easily be brought up by points scored while being on the ice with Lidstrom, who's definitely a great defensive player (hence the multiple Norris trophies). Even for Zetterberg, I've only seen one picture of him making a defensive play during the Cup Finals. So the reason I'm mad at NHL highlights is that I can't go look up "Datsyuk big defensive play". If I did, it probably would have no results, because most people would only care about how many points he scored. I'm not saying that Datsyuk isn't any good at defense, but I'm disappointed that I haven't been able to get proof that he's a Selke-type player.

Martin Broduer won his fourth Vezina trophy. New Jersey fans get a reason to cheer, but the rest of the NHL burns as they wonder why Evgeni Nabokov, who posted better stats and went farther in the playoffs, didn't win the trophy for the first time in his shorter but fantastic career. New Yorkers, on the other hand, might start a cross-river war as Broduer beat out rival Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who also went further in the playoffs. Nevertheless, Broduer is an all-time favorite goalie who's a lock to make the Hall of Fame, already has a great NHL record in his name (most single season wins), essentially owns the New Jersey goalie record book, and might even catch Patrick Roy as the winning-est goalie ever if he plays long enough. Sorry, 'King' Henrik, but the Emperor of New Jersey isn't ready to give up his reign yet.

Who doesn't feel happy for Jason Blake? If you don't, be ashamed of yourself. Even if a 15-goal, 52-point season wasn't the expected numbers for his contract, he still had a comeback year that's admirable among the likes of Saku Koivu, Mario Lemieux, and Phil Kessel. Blake was diagnosed with a rare but fortunately treatable type of leukemia in early October. Let me tell you this; If I was anyone, and I had been diagnosed with any type of cancer at all, I would've stopped everything and tried really hard not to panic. Blake, on the other hand, merely announced it to the league, kept playing hockey, and is now cancer-free after treatment. He played in all 82 games. What a great guy, I'm glad I have his autograph, so I can remember that one of the most courageous NHLers actually took time to sign a small scrap of paper for a 13-year-old kid that he couldn't even see.

Bruce Boudreau is another happy story in the NHL. After being a career minor-leaguer, both as a coach and a player, he finally got his chance to coach in the big league after the Caps started off way below .500 under Glen Hanlon. Boudreau set the team on a total turnaround immediately. The team didn't take long to get back above .500, and although the playoffs were uncertain all year, Boudreau and the Caps put on a late-season tear and ended up winning the Southeast division. Many Caps, including Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Brooks Laich, enjoyed productive years, and their play picked up when Boudreau arrived. Congrats to a great coach who should enjoy a productive coaching career at the NHL level.

Patrick Kane won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, and he was definitely deserving of it. After being drafted 1st overall by the Blackhawks in 07, there were many people who wondered whether or not Kane (only 5' 10") could really play at the NHL level, despite scoring 145 points in only 58 games in the OHL the previous season. Kane took it all in stride and responded with 21 goals, 51 assists, 72 points, 7 power-play goals, 4 game-winning goals, 191 shots on goal, and only a minus- 5 on a defensively weak Chicago team. Kind of a "What now?" response to all his critics, I guess. He'll have an awesome NHL career.

That's all I have to write for now. I might not be able to think of anything else until the NHL draft.



Thoughts on the Stars Prospects

I'm really looking forward to seeing a few rookies in the Stars' lineup next season.

James Neal and Fabian Brunnstrom (who I stupidly forgot in my last post when mentioning players who could make the lineup next season) are the two brightest forwards in the system.

Brunnstrom dominated in Sweden over the past two seasons, leading his Swedish Div. 1 team in scoring with 73 points before jumping to the Swedish Elite League and scoring 9 goals and 37 points in 54 games. He's got electrifying potential, as shown in a highlight video I posted from Youtube earlier in the year when Dallas first signed Brunnstrom.

James Neal is a more intriguing prospect. He had a strong career in major junior, with seasons of 44, 58, and 65 points. He did suffer from injuries, but they were minor and not considered a problem. However, when he reached the AHL in 07-08, he was not the kind of player the Stars expected. He had a weak October, and starting in November, he looked like a lot of seasoning would be needed for him to reach the NHL. However, when Decmeber reached it's mid-point, Neal was looking strong. He was scoring often, and could've been an emergency call-up until a knee injury knocked him out in late December. After missing all of January, Neal came back in late February and resumed his fiery pace. He finished with 18 goals and 37 points, but many of those points came late in the year.

The only problem I could foresee with Neal making the team is that he may have a similar first NHL season as his first AHL season. He may start off slow and have little impact, but he also might not have the chance to improve later if his start is too slow. Not many prospects that start out with 0 points in 9 games end up sticking for the whole year. But, if Brett Hull and Les Jackson think that Neal can have another strong season-ending performance, he may stick the whole year. We'll have to wait and see.

The defense is shored up, so no prospects will see that much time there. However, Tobias Stephan has the inside track to play back-up behind Marty Turco.

That's all for now, but I'll be writing tomorrow after the NHL awards show.

STARS RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


As for other news...

...that I just found out…

Matty Norstrom officially retired today. The 36-year-old ‘D’ decided that he would go out looking good.

Norstrom had a strong playoff with the Stars, going all the way to the Conference Finals, but decided that the time was ripe for retirement. His family is already in Sweden, so it’s not like he’ll have to figure out too much.

Sadly enough, this actually works out for the Stars, who had Norstrom, Sergei Zubov, Phillipe Boucher, Trevor Daley, Stephane Robidas, Matt Niskanen, Niklas Grossman, and Mark Fistric on the roster last year. Norstrom was set to be a UFA, but he previously announced that he would rather stay with the Stars than go to another team.

I can see Zubov and Boucher continuing to run the top line, Niskanen and Robidas running the second line, and Daley and Grossman running the second line. Fistric would either be the
seventh defenseman, or an injury call-up. Seventh is more likely because the Stars do not want to lose Fistric to a waiver claim.

Another interesting thought will be if Dallas loses both Stu Barnes (considering retirement) and Antti Miettinen (UFA). If so, spots will be open for young guns James Neal and either Konstatin Pushkarev or Vojtech Polak. Neal definitely appears ready for an NHL job after playing superbly late in the year for Iowa (AHL). Pushkarev is a consistent AHL performer whose versatile ability to play all three forward positions would be useful for the Stars, while Polak has been a prospect for several years and needs to step up to lock himself with the team.

Also key is the status’ of Nik Hagman, Polak, Pushkarev, B.J. Crombeen, and Loui Eriksson, all of whom are either UFA’s or RFA’s.

I’m expecting the Stars to let Johan Holmqvist walk so Tobias Stephan can see back-up duty, and Richard Bachman can see AHL time, but that isn't confirmed yet.

STARS RULE!!!!!!!!!

Another Trade

This one could also be influential for both teams, although since I can’t magically predict who Anaheim will take in the third round, I’ll just look at the Wild’s side.

The Wild made the playoffs this year, largely because of their offensive domination. Nine players had double-digit goal totals, and two defenseman had more than 25 points.

However, once they hit the first round, Minnesota’s top scorers were shut down by the defensive play of the Avalanche, not to mention that the Avs could score too.

Marc-Andre Bergeron’s reputation is that of an offensive defenseman, but he’s also a young player who can still learn. Under the guidance of veteran Minny blue-liners Nick Schultz (+9) and Keith Carney (+8), Bergeron can learn some lessons on playing better defense.

Not to mention that an offensive combo of Brent Burns (career highs of 15 goals, 42 points last year), Kim Johnsson (27 points last year), and Bergeron (career high 46 points in 06-07) is a pretty nice deal.

Anaheim won’t get much other than another prospect unless it can hit a Datsyuk-esque late-rounder.

STARS RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!


It's interesting...

...that the first trade to be pulled off could actually turn out to be a pivotal one despite the lack of big name players.

The Flyers acquired Danny Syrvet from the Oilers in exchange for Ryan Potulny.

Each player had been spending time in the minors with each team, occasionally getting call-ups, but not quite appearing to be ready for full time.

I could see Syrvet in the NHL next season, and possibly Potulny as well, simply because each team needs those kind of players.

Syrvet could slide in well with a youthful Flyers defense that might be losing both Derian Hatcher and Jason Smith, two aging veterans who didn’t fit too well with the new NHL style. Syrvet would see third-pairing time behind Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Randy Jones, and would likely be paired with either Jaroslav Modry or Lasse Kukkonen.

Potulny will be a less certain case. He could fit well as a fourth line energy player with occasional offensive support, but the Oilers may already have that type of player in center Marty Reasoner. If leader Ethan Moreau, who has suffered from lengthy injuries over the past two seasons, decides to retire, then Potulny could switch to left wing on the fourth line. My guess, though, is that he’ll start in the minors, and then move on to the big club later in the year as a speed-dial player like Drew Stafford was, although likely without as much offense.

Let me know what you think about this, because that was mostly guesswork. I haven’t seen either player play much, but this seems like a possible result.

STARS RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


At Least We Were Beaten By the Best

It looks like no one’s going to stop the Detroit Red Wings from winning the Stanley Cup this year.

Evgeni Malkin surely hasn’t been able to.

I feel a little sorry for Geno. He had the whole NHL saying he had overtaken Sidney Crosby as the best young guy in the NHL (while I still side with Ovie). However, going pointless in four Cup Final games, at the same time as Sidney Crosby led the Penguins to their only win in game 3.

However, there’s no denying that Malkin has a lot of NHL talent, and no one should get on his back just because he didn’t score in his first Stanley Cup Final at the age of 21. He’ll be great in a few years, when the Cup does go to Pittsburgh.

As for the series, it appears to be Detroit’s to lose. A 3-1 lead is some pretty scary momentum going back home to Detroit. I’m guessing a dominating 3-1 win for the….......Wings.

Yeah, the Cup’s going back to Detroit. Ain’t all the Michigan folks happy. No one else is, though.

Then again, I’m seeing a pleasant change in the NHL next year. We’ll go back to the form of having unlikely Cup winners that send the league into a buzz rivaled maybe by only the Super Bowl. Bold prediction, but I can see it happening. Adios,

STARS RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!