Should NHL Stars Play In The 2014 Olympics?

Sidney Crosby after scoring the game winner in the gold medal game against Team USA at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

Take a moment and imagine the Winter Olympics for Men’s Ice Hockey without Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.  Not a very exciting thought, huh? However, that thought could become true, but with more superstars missing than just Crosby and Ovechkin.

The NHL still hasn’t agreed to put games on hold so their players can participate in the 2014 Shochi Winter Olympic games in Russia.  The issue is still in debate and they are trying to figure out the pros and cons of the stoppage of the season and participation of players.

“Vancouver was an easy call because we’re going to play the games in Canada,” said Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner. “Salt Lake City was an easy call. Japan and Italy might not have given us in terms of focus and attention and impact what we may have hoped from taking a 17-day break.”

I understand that allowing the players to play on the North American continent is easier, but I don’t understand the difference in the 17-day breaks.  They are all the same.  Every player that was not in the Olympics had a 17-day break.

Fans are not the only ones against it, but also the players.

“I’ll go play the Olympic Games for my country,” Ovechkin said.  “If somebody says to me you can’t play, see ya.”

Even Sidney Crosby agrees with his on-ice rival.

“Russian or not Russian, I can understand,” Crosby said. “I think we definitely feel strongly, me personally and I think all the players do, that it could be the opportunity of a lifetime, especially the guys from Russia. It only happens once.”

The NHL is already competing for players with the Kontinental Hockey League, especially when it comes to the Russian superstars. If the NHL does not let their Russians compete in the games then they can say goodbye to those players. The Russians have become a big part of the NHL in the past years and not allowing them to play would be a mistake.

“Obviously, we want to play in our home country in front of our home crowd, it’s huge for us,” said Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who played for Team Russia in Vancouver. “The Russians have been playing in the league for a while and they’ve done a lot for this league and, hopefully, the NHL will reward us with the Olympics. We’re all hoping for it. Some of them are saying we have to play there, and I agree with them. Hopefully, they are going to respect our opinion.”

The NHL needs to listen to the players. The Russian players have expressed their opinions on the matter, and same with a lot of other players from other countries. They allowed the Americans and Canadians to play in front of their home crowds, so why can’t the Russians.

Another thing Bettman and the NHL need to understand, is that they gained more fans of hockey or at least more people know about the game than before. I had friends that never watch hockey of have any interest texting me about all the USA games in Vancouver. It was very exciting to see what the Olympics were doing for the game.  More people have taken in interest in hockey.

There are some people out there that think they should have amateur players playing in the Olympics rather than NHL stars.  I do not agree with them because that is what the World Jr’s are for.  It is a tournament every winter after Christmas, where players that are under 19 represent their countries.  If that is what you want to see, then watch that.  For Canada it is the equivalent to America’s March Madness.

Personally I see more reasons to allow NHL players to participate in the Olympic games than reasons not to.  I actually don’t see any reasons not to.  I hope the NHL will agree to allow players represent their countries or the league could lose some of its best players.  In the end I think Bettman and the NHL will do the right thing and allow participation.

What Team USA Needs To Do To Beat Canada

Team USA celbrating after Zach Parise's (9) goal against Switzerland.

This is the gold medal game that every American and Canadian has dreamed of.  This is arguably better than the 1980 Miracle on ice, when the USA beat the Soviets, and went on to beat Finland and win gold.

Heading into the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, no one thought that the Americans would make it this far.  For Canada it was a different story.  They were the heavy favorites to win the gold, and still are.

In the group play of the tournament, Team USA defeated Team Canada five to three.  Unfortunately the Americans have not seen what Canada is capable of, as they played poorly against the USA.  Even though the Americans came away with the victory they were not playing their best hockey either.  The main reason they won was due to the play of goaltender Ryan Miller.  The Canadians out shot the USA 45 to 23.

The General Manager of team USA, Brian Burke, was not happy with his team’s play.  He believes that his team needs to be better in order to use their seeding as an advantage and earn a medal.

“You guys are probably going to be shocked by this; I’m not happy with the way we’ve played to this point,” Burke said. “We’re playing with about 10 guys carrying us, in my opinion. I’m not happy with the way we’ve played. I’m not unhappy because we’re in the first seed, and thank god there are some guys pulling on the rope, but we need everyone pulling on the rope.”

Burke is absolutely right.  Before the six to one victory against Finland to advance to the gold medal game, top players Paul Stastny, Phil Kessel, and Patrick Kane have been pretty quiet.  Kane and Stastny both had two points against the Fins.

Team USA’s best players thus far have been forward Zach Parise, defenseman Brian Rafalski, and goalie Ryan Miller.  Other players have been playing pretty solid to, but in order for them to win gold they are going to need everyone on the same page.

A statistic going into the gold medal game that the USA hopes to continue is scoring the first goal in every game so far.  They have not fallen behind at any point in the tournament.

“We definitely wanted to get into that next game,” said Ron Wilson, head coach for Team USA. “We feel we’re prepared and we’ve gotten better every single game, which is key in a tournament like this.”

Getting on the board first is what the Americans need to get the momentum going their way.  Everyone is going to have to do their part in this game for the USA, in order to beat Canada.

Canada has been on a roll since their lost to the Americans.  They came out and defeated the Russians, who many thought would meet the Canadians in the gold medal game.  The Canadians played at the level they should have been after defeating Russia seven to three, eliminating them from the tournament.  The Canadians beat Slovakia in the semi-finals to advance to the finals.

The game against Canada is not going to be like the first meeting for the USA.  The one thing that Canadians hate most is when they lose to Americans in hockey.  Trust me I have been there.  Team Canada is not going to let that happen again and is going to come out hard, with a home crowd behind their back.

Once again the Americans are the under dog going in to this game, despite beating Canada.  Realistically Canada is the better team, but any team can win on any given day, especially in tournament play.

The Americans are going to need to come out and set the tone.  Sending hard hitter Dustin Brown out there to make some big hits might be a good way to get started.  Most importantly they are going to need their star players to show up.  Hopefully Stastny and Kane will carry on their strong play form the Finland game.  Ryan Miller is also going to need to play a big game, because he was the main reason they won the first meeting with Canada.

Stopping all four of Canada’s lines is not going to be easy, but the Americans are capable of doing it.  Thinking realistically Canada has the best chance to win and they would be my prediction, but I am still rooting for the USA.  Nothing is better to see Canadians upset about losing to Americans, especially overly patriotic ice hockey commentator for CBC and co-host of Coaches Corner, Don Cherry.  LETS GO USA!!!

Return for Jagr?

Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Rebuplic takes the puck up ice during the 2010 Winter Olympic games in Vancouver.

Ever since the Winter Olympics have started people have been wondering if future Hall of Fame player Jaromir Jagr will return to the NHL.

Currently Jagr is playing in Russia for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and is also playing for the Czech Republic in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

A popular question that Jagr has been asked is about whether or not he will be returning to the NHL next season.  He has proven so far at the Winter Olympics that he can still play with the NHL superstars.  Jagr has 3 points in 3 games for the Czech’s.  He is definitely thinking about playing in the NHL again.

“They treat me so well in Russia, but at the same, time I want to try to player here,” said Jagr. “When we get back to Russia we have to start the playoffs.  Then, I have to make a decision.  If it happens, it happens.”

No one knows what is going to happen except for Jagr himself but he is not ready to make his decision quite yet.  His contract with Omsk is a two year deal and an option for a third year if he decides to stay.  From what it seems like, Jagr is going to deny that option and attempt to make a return to the NHL.

Jagr is an 18-year veteran and began his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  While there he won a Stanley Cup.  He has also played for the Washington Capitals and the New York Ranger, his last team before heading over seas.  He has 1,599 points in 1,273 NHL games, which are very impressive numbers.

Jaromir Jagr (left) sporting his famous mullet with legendary Pittsburgh Penguin teammate Mario Lemuiex (right).

While playing for the Rangers Jagr was slowed down by injuries, and said that “the rigors of the 82 game season had worn on him.”  Reports have been saying that Jagr is healthy again, which will be important since after all he will be a 39-year old free agent.

A return for Jagr in the NHL would be great.  The fans here love him and he has excelled in the league before.  He can help out any cup contender, that is if he is willing to take a pay cut.  A return to the Pittsburgh Penguins would be ideal so he could retire there and possibly playing with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.  The Edmonton Oilers were known to have made the best offer before Jagr went to Russia, and are most likely going to take a shot at obtaining him.  If Jagr did not want to play for them two years ago, I doubt he will now because they have not improved since then.

If Jagr continues his good play at the Winter Olympics then he could see a lot of offers knocking at his door.  Maybe even an earlier return than expected because the KHL season ends before the NHL season.  I would not be surprised if Jagr is back in an NHL sweater next season.

Chicago Blackhawks looking to upgrade their defense

Chicago Blackhawks' Cam Barker (25) now playing for the Wild, keeps the puck away from the Minnesota Wild's Cal Clutterbuck (22)

The Chicago Blackhawks traded Cam Barker to the Minnesota Wild for veteran Kim Johnsson and prospect Nick Leddy.

Barker, 23, is in his fourth season and has 15 points in 52 games this season. He is still young and has a lot of potential but the Blackhawks thought they had a better shot at the Stanley Cup with a more experienced defenseman.

Johnsson is turning 34 next month has 15 points in 52 games so far this season. His numbers are practically identical to Barkers but he has played in 43 postseason games during his 10-year NHL career. This gives Blackhawks head coach Joel Queneville a more veteran defense and has different options with the pairings.

Another thing that makes this trade key for the Blackhawks is the value that Johnsson has on special teams. It all begins with penalty killing, where Barker was not used. Johnsson is also playing on the powerplay and has been used on both special teams through the first two games as a Blackhawk. He already has a goal in those two games.

Minnesota Wild's Kim Johnsson, now playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, skates up ice with the puck agaisnt the Colorado Avalanche

With the number one pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, arguably one of the top pairings in the league, not breaking apart anytime soon that leaves Johnsson to play along side Brent Sopel as the number two defensive pair. Niklas Hjarmalsson is another option. Quenneville will have it all figure out by the time playoffs come around.

Barker is still young and was no longer fit into the Blackhawks plans. He was drafted third overall behind Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, so he has credibility in that sense and some potential still left in him. However, he was not exactly playing up to what he should be after four years in the league. No one knows if Barker will ever live up to expectations but looking at the trade currently Chicago got rid of a minor contributor for a player that can make an impact right away and down the road come playoffs.

The Blackhawks also got Nick Leddy who was the Wild’s first round pick in 2009. Currently he is playing for the University of Minnesota as a freshman. Chances are he stays all four years of his college eligibility unless he can go into training camp and show that he is ready to contribute. Keep an eye on this kid as he may turn out to be the key player of this trade.

Both teams received something good out of this deal but Chicago definitely came out on top in this trade. Barker will be a top four defenseman for the Wild and be a big part of their future if he sticks around. The Blackhawks obtained a veteran defenseman that brings experience to the team and will be more of an impact in the playoffs. Leddy is the less talked about player in this trade because he is not as well known. I believe that he will turn out to be the big name in this deal once he steps in the NHL and is a steal because the Wild could have gave up a different prospect.

As of now no one has got robbed in this trade. It will all depend on whether Barker lives up to his potential, the Hawks make a deep playoff run with Johnsson, and if Leddy turns out to be a top four defenseman. Only time will tell.

Hall and Seguin Gunnin’ for that Number One Spot

The OHL looks like they are going to be producing a majority of this years first round prospects in the NHL Entry Draft.  The top ten in the Central Scouting midterm rankings consist of six players from the OHL: 1. Taylor Hall, 2. Tyler Seguin, 3. Cam Fowler, 6. Erik Gudbranson, 7. Alexander Burmistrov, 10. John McFarland.  But the real debate is who is number one between Hall and Seguin.

Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers (Left) and Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires (Right) are projected to be the top two picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Central Scouting had Seguin ahead of Hall for the number one spot in the preliminary rankings at the beginning of the season.  When the midterm rankings came out, Hall had moved back to number one.  Last fall scouts thought Hall was a lock to go first overall in the 2010 draft.  With the emergence of Seguin, scouts are now unclear on who will go number one.

It’s the closest E.J. McGuire has seen the race for the top spot be since 2006, when Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel were top prospects.  All five of them were picked in that particular order starting from number one.

Hall however, has an advantage over Seguin.  He has a more impressive resume.  Hall represented Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan.  He had 12 points in 6 games and was named to the tournament all-star team by coaches.  Canada fell short of the gold medal, and lost to the Americans in overtime and placed second.  Hall is also in his third year in the OHL. He also has led his team in a deep playoff run and been to the Memorial Cup.

Seguin however is currently leading the OHL in points and has more goals (37) and assists (49) than Hall, who is right behind him with 34 goals and 49 assists in 46 games.  He is playing only his second year in the league but has put up the same numbers as Hall.  There is no question that he will surpass Hall’s second year numbers (90 points in 63 games), as he already has 86 in 49 games.  The fact that he is a year younger than Hall may attract scouts. Seguin has less skill around him on the Plymouth Whalers, while Hall has a highly skilled Windsor Spitfires team to support him.

This debate has been going on all season and people have picked their sides but there is still no clear number one.  It is all going to be based on what the team with the number one overall pick needs.  Seguin is a center and Hall is a winger.

“We’re splitting hairs,” Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. “What does a team need? That’s how close it is. Does a team need a right-shot center (Seguin)? There’s your answer. Does a team need a speedy left wing (Hall)? There’s your answer.

In my opinion I believe that this has similarities to the Ovechkin and Crosby debate. Ovechkin is Hall and Crosby is Seguin. Hall is the more flashy player and is going to be the one making big plays and standing out. Seguin is going to be the one with a better hockey sense and be more help to his team. Basing my opinion off or what have seen and heard about Hall, he will make a bigger impact right away for an NHL club. He has more experience and is older, meaning that he is more ready to make the jump than Seguin. Hall has better hands in tight corner and is considered to be more physical. Both players are really fast but Hall has the upper edge when it comes to straight line speed. Seguin however, makes things happen and has better hands at top speed. Not that Hall cannot do those things, Seguin just has the upper hand. Seguin is also considered the smarter player. My position depends on the question. If it is who is going to make an impact to the team drafting one of them right away, Hall is the answer because of experience and has superstar potential. If a team was looking for a player to help them in the long run Seguin would be the better player because his skill level and hockey sense is going to help his team out more. Both of these players will be successful but in the end I believe Hall will stand out more and Seguin will be the overall better player. Hall will be more of a fan favorite. If I were an NHL general manager I would pick Seguin. Still Hall is a very intriguing prospect and no one knows for sure who will be better at the next level. The skill level of the two have put them above all the other prospects in the upcoming draft. Opinions can only be evaluated by what they have accomplished so far in their careers and the jump to the NHL is a big step. They are in fact two different people and players and are going to bring something different to the table. Analyzing how they present themselves off the ice might be another factor on their draft stock that no one has really looked at yet.

Seguin Feature

Hall Feature

Who would you take with the number one pick?

Maple Leafs Add Two Big Name Players To Roster

Sunday January 31, 2010, the Toronto Maple Leafs made two huge roster changes by adding defenseman Dion Phaneuf and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

The Leafs sent Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Giguere.

In the Phaneuf trade the Leafs also acquired Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie. They gave up Ian White, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, and Jamal Mayers to the Calgary Flames.

Toronto who has a disappointing 17-28-11 record and 45 points, and they are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for last in the Eastern Conference.

As of Sunday Phaneuf had 10 goals, 12 assists and 49 penalty minutes. Not exactly the numbers he has put up the last four seasons, but he is still playing solid D. Phaneuf is probably one of the best hitters in the game and has been compared to Hall of Famer Scott Stevens. Leaf’s General Manager Brian Burke says he is the “elite player” and made attempts to get him earlier in the season.

“This guy’s a warrior He’s got a cannon for a shot. He plays the game hard…I want players who play the game hard because they’re hard to play against,” says Burke.

Phaneuf says that he was surprised by the trade but has no hard feelings because “it’s part of the business.” On the other hand he says that he is very excited to be playing in Toronto because it is the biggest hockey market in the world. Hopefully he will be able to handle the media and fans, who tend to be pretty tough on the players, because he did not take it too well when his own coaching staff told him he needs to improve in certain areas.

Giguere was on his way out of Anaheim sooner or later because Jonas Hiller took the starting job from him and who also signed a 4 year extension on his contract.

Giguere has won the Stanley Cup in 2006-07 when Burke was the general manager for the Ducks and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2002-03 finals even though his team did not win. He also has a history with Toronto’s current goalie coach.

Hagman, Blake and White were probably the biggest loses for the Leafs but they came out on top in both deals. They still have Phil Kessel on the top line to carry the offense. They also have a ton of good prospects,

especially Nazim Kadri and Kyle Palmieri. Their defense is in good shape with the addition of Phaneuf. They still have Luke Schenn, Tomas Kaberle, and Mike Komisarek. Giguere gives the team a solid starting goaltender, even though his numbers are not as good as they use to be, he is still capable of being a reliable starting goaltender, something that Toronto really needs. The Ducks got a pretty good deal by scoring Jason Blake who will most likely put up better stats playing along side more star quality players that are in Anaheim. Calgary however, probably could have got more for Phaneuf from another team. I think that they panicked and went for the deal. Only time will tell.

I am interested on other people’s thoughts are on the trades and who came out winners in the deal.

UPDATE 2/3/10

Phaneuf and Giguere made their debut’s with the Leafs Tuesday Feb. 2, 2010, beating the New Jersey Devils 3-0. Giguere recorded the shutout and was named first star by making 30 saves. Phaneuf was names second star and recorded no points but had 6 hits and got into a scrap. So far it seems like things are looking good, but it is only their first game with the club.

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.