Category Archives: NHL

Quick or Bernier?

Los Angeles King's netminder Jonathan Quick, makes a glove save.

One of the biggest story lines that will be taking place in the Los Angeles Kings locker room is who is the number one goalie.  As of now it is 24-year old Jonathan Quick.  As long as Quick keeps playing well his job is safe.

“There’s no gray area there. Jonathan Quick is our No. 1 goaltender,” says Los Angeles King’s Head Coach Terry Murray.  “He’s going to play a lot of hockey this year.”

According to Murray, Quick is going to be their number one guy to start the season.  However, he is going to have to be competing every time he steps in between the pipes.

Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings makes a blocker save.

Highly touted goaltender, Jonathan Bernier just won the back up job after the Kings recently placed Erik Ersberg on waivers today.  Ersberg backed up Quick last season.  Also not to mention that the club just signed Bernier for another two years.

Last season Bernier jumped between the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League.  During his time with the Kings he posted 3-0-0 record with a 1.30 goals-against average, a .957 save percentage, which also included a shutout.  Pretty impressive statistics if you ask me.

Personally I believe the Kings are doing the right thing with Bernier.  They are easing him into the starting position, rather than making him jump into the league too fast.  A mistake I believe Montreal made with Carey Price, who still can live up to his potential, but has not quite lived up to expectations.

Whether it is this season or next season, Bernier will be the starter for the Kings.  He is younger (22) than Quick, and has a lot more potential. For the time being, this is good for both goaltenders as they will be competing with each other every time they take the ice. This is the best situation any team can be in when it comes to goaltenders. No matter what, there is not going to be room for both goalies in the future. This means the club should be able to trade one of them and get something good in return.

Right now the Kings are doing the right thing, hopefully they can choose the right goaltender when the time comes.

Top Five Players to Breakout this Season

John Taveres of the New York Islanders, highfives teammates after getting his first NHL assist.

In some scenarios we see top draft picks not live up to expectations in their rookie seasons or even after a couple seasons.  There are many reasons as to why this happens.  Some players are called up too soon and may need more development with the junior team or in the minors.  Injuries can be another reason for slow starts or the team/coaching style is just not the right fit for a player.

Last year we saw former first overall pick, Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, breakout in his sophomore season.  He went from 46 to 95 points, and also finishing with 51 goals in his second season with the Lightning.  It was good enough to be a co-winner of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, awarded to the leading scorer at the end of the National Hockey League season.

Now the question is who is going to be this years Steven Stamkos.  Here are my top five picks for players to breakout during the 2010-11 NHL season:

1.  John Tavares

Tavares was the 2009 first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft.  He absolutely dominated the junior level in the Ontario Hockey League, the same league that Stamkos played in.  His best season he finished with 135 points in 67 games, which is impressive at any level.  During his rookie season Tavares looked like he was going to live up to the expectations that many had for him.  However, he finished the second half of the season not as strongly as the first.  He ended up with 54 points in 82 games, which was second among rookies.  After a year in the league, expect Tavares to make the same kind of improvements as Stamkos.  I am not saying he had a terrible rookie season but the way he finished can be considered disappointing to some.  Especially after a great start.  Tavares is the most likely candidate to do what Stamkos did last season, something that me and ESPN’s Robert Vollman can agree on.

2. Evander Kane

Evander Kane of the Atlanta Thrashers skate up ice with the puck

Atlantas 2009 4th overall pick should improve his totals this season.  Kane has too much potential to have any doubts about him being a 20+ goal scorer this year.  With Ilya Kovalchuk gone in New Jersey, expect more ice time for Kane and for his name to be called in key situations.  Also do not forget he just turned 19.  I will not be surprised to see Kane finish with 50-60 points this season on a weak Atlanta squad.

3. Joe Pavelski

Talk about clutch.  When Pavelski’s name was called to be out there in key situations during the 2010 playoffs, he came through.  Each of his four seasons in the NHL, he has put up solid numbers despite playing behind the likes of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau.  After a strong post season, many expect Pavelski to continue his strong play this coming season.  Look for him to play more minutes and be out on the ice in key situations.  Definitely a guy you want to keep an eye on this year.

4. Peter Mueller

After two in a half so-so seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, Mueller was given a fresh start on a young Colorado Avalanche team.  Before suffering from a concussion he finished the season with the Avalanche, appearing in 15 games and finishing with 20 points.  Last season, Mueller showed that he was a great fit on a young up and coming Avalanche squad.  Look for him to play his best season yet.

5. Gilbert Brule

After five seasons in the league, most would consider Brule a bust.  His development has been slowed down by injuries, but showed some flashes last year in Edmonton that made him a former 6th overall pick.  I still have faith in him and believe that this year he is ready to take his game to the next level.  After watching this guy in juniors, it is hard to count this guy out.  He is capable to be a consistent point producer in this league.  Look for this year in Edmonton for him to find his stride.  After all, there is such things as late bloomers.

Crosby or Ovechkin?

E.J. Hradek of ESPN brought to my attention the Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin debate.  Who is the better player?

Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin lineup on the ice next to each other.

Hradek was asked who he thought was better between the two superstars.  He believes that Ovechkin is the more dynamic player but thinks that Crosby is the more complete player.  Both players bring their own style to the game but if Hradek was building a team from scratch he says that he would take Crosby.

Over the years they have developed a competitive rivalry.  It was a rivalry that they did not really develop on their own.  They have been constantly compared to each other, especially when they both entered the league as rookies together. Ovechkin was drafted a year before Crosby but due to the lockout they played their rookie year during the same season.  The Calder cup went to Ovechkin that year.

When the two talk about their rivalry they do not believe it is a hate rivalry but a competitive one.

Here is what Crosby has to say about the topic:

“To say that we absolutely hate each other, I don’t think so,” Crosby said. “But

we’re competitive guys, and that’s the result of everything and the way it’s kind of built up. When you look at Canada-Russia [the players’ native countries], I mean, the list goes on and on. It’s made to be that way. We’re two different people. But you know what, I think he’s an amazing hockey player and I have a lot of respect for what he does out there for sure. I don’t think there’s any lack of respect there at all. We’re just different in a lot of ways.”

And this is Ovechkins view on the rivalry:

“I respect him like a player, like a person, but when I step on the ice, I respect only my teammates,” a jovial Ovechkin said at the team’s hotel in Pittsburgh. “Off the ice, I can shake hands and say hi like normal people, but on the ice, you don’t have friends.

“But I respect him as a player. He’s one of the best players in the league and he’s probably going to be even more unbelievable. But right now on the ice, he’s on my rival, just like everybody.”

Referee has to seperate Sidney Crosby(Left) and Alexander Ovechkin (Right)

They respect each other, but this is just what happens when you play a physical sport and compete against the same players throughout the season.

From a fans perspective they are very different.  Crosby usually tries to keep to himself while on the road.  He avoids huge group of fans but that does not mean he won’t sign autographs.  Crosby is willing to sign as long as it does not affect his teammates’ routines.  Ovechkin is a little more outgoing.  He has learned the English language pretty fast and does not shy away from meeting fans.

At this point I would say Ovechkin probably has more fans.  He is very charismatic and can finish on highlight reel plays.  Not that Crosby cannot, he just does not have that same presence that stands out like Ovechkin.

However, I think that Crosby is the better player.  He is always thinking outside of the box, plays a very good two way game, great skater, good hands, good leader, and is creative in tight situations.  Ovechkin on the other hand makes the ESPN highlight moves that fans tend to notice more.  He is a force out there on the ice, he is a very skilled power forward and posses many of the same qualities that Crosby does.  The main difference between the two superstars is that Crosby plays better at both ends of the rink.  This makes Crosby the complete player and giving him an edge over Ovechkin.  I would take Crosby over Ovechkin any day, but that is just my opinion.

When it comes to the debate they have a pretty even amount of supporters. Where do you stand? Well that is for you to decide.

Will Ilya Kovalchuk Be Traded Before The Deadline?

Atlanta Thrasher's Ilya Kovalchuk puts the puck past Buffalo Sabers netminder Patrick Lalime

For the past couple of weeks there have been a lot of different rumors that Atlanta Thrasher’s star forward, Ilya Kovalchuk, will be moved before the trade deadline.

There are many teams rumored to be suitors for Kovalchuk, but there is no clear favorite.  Some of the teams that are listed as interested in acquiring the Russian superstar are the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, and the Boston Bruins.  Also the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) are trying to bring Kovalchuk over seas and have more money to offer than any of the NHL clubs.

The biggest thing about trying to get Kovalchuk is the asking price.  Teams will have to give up high draft picks to young prospects.  His contract expires at the end of the season with no guarantee that he will re-sign at the end of the season.  Some teams are in better place to make the risk than others.

Right now the Chicago Blackhawks are my favorite to land Kovalchuk.  According to ESPN, the most likely trade scenario would include Cam Barker, Kris Versteeg and a few draft picks being shipped off by the Blackhawks.  I believe that they can give up these players for a player like Kovalchuk.  It would give the Hawks two star quality lines.  He would be joining Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa.  The Blackhawks are already at the top of the standings and are arguably the best team in the league.  With the addition of Kovalchuk they can expect to make a good run at the Stanley Cup.

Reports are saying that the Islanders, Capitals, Bruins, and Kings are interested in the chance to acquire Kovalchuk.

Any of these teams can end up with Kovalchuck but he could easily stay with the Thrashers for the rest of the season.  With the amount of teams that are pushing hard to get him, I believe that he will find a new home by the trade deadline.  Whatever team ends up with Kovalchuk will have added a pure sniper and a better shot at lasting in the playoffs.

Sources:

ESPN Rumor Central
About.com: Hockey
bleecher report

David Backes vs. Team Canada

The Olympics have not started, but David Backes is already taking it to Team Canada members.

Backes has got into scraps with members of the Canadian Olympic team the last couple of games.  The St. Louis Blues and Team USA member says these coincidental fights never crossed his mind as Canadian Olympian targets. It is hard to look at it that way but truth is that the players that have stepped into the ring with Backes are all top tier players that he is just trying to get under their skin.  Top tier players are the ones that make the Olympic rosters and are usually the best on their National Hockey League club.   Jeremy Rutherford who writes for Stltoday.com, says that Head Coach Davis Payne is putting Backes’ line out at the same time as their opponents’ top offensive players.  This would explain his recent run ins with these players.  Backes is just agitating them to take them off their game so his team has a better chance of winning. He has been noticeably getting these players frustrated and taking them out of the game for five minutes.

The first fight was against Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews, Jan. 2, 2010.

Backes was simply forechecking hard with no intentions of fighting Toews, who slashed him.

Toews vs. Backes

The next player to drop the gloves with Backes was Anaheim Ducks sniper Corey Perry, Jan. 7, 2010.  Backes mentions that the two of them have a history of getting a little rough with each other.

Perry vs. Backes

Tuesday Columbus Blue Jackets Captain Rick Nash fought Backes. It all began when Rick Nash was melting the clock on a delayed penalty. Backes was not a fan of these strategy and took a run at Nash, which lead to the fight.

Nash vs. Backes

In all of these fights Pierre Leburn, who covers the NHL for ESPN.com gives Backes the slight edge in victory.  He mentions that the Nash fight was probably the closest but these guys may think twice before getting into a scrap with Backes.

Even if these fights are all ironic, it is not a bad strategy because Backes can be a good agitator for Team USA if they meet Team Canada at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC.  If Backes can irritate these players in February and cause them to take dumb penalties, the Americans can see a lot of man advantages.  According to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski, Backes has a chance at dropping the gloves with Jarome Iginla, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, Dany Heatly, Dan Boyle, Ryan Getzlaf, Scott Niedermayer, Roberto Luongo (which is highly unlikely since he is a goalie and would have to deal with more than just Luongo), and maybe a rematch with Nash.  That would be 13 players from the Canadian roster.  I do not think that is going to happen but he has a good shot at a pretty good amount of them.

I do not have anything against Canada or the Canadian players but there is nothing more pleasing than seeing them lose or getting beat up on by Americans.

Backes recent actions are starting to get noticed by many people, including the sources below.

Story from Pierre LeBrun who covers the NHL for ESPN.com
Other stories covering the topic
Yahoo Sports – Greg Wyshynski
stltoday – Jeremy Rutherford