November 02, 2009
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
I woke up on Sunday morning (we'll call it morning anyway, it was pretty close to noon) and started going through the inter-nettery I'd slept through. Most of my regular sites were quiet, it being Sunday morning and all. Same with Twitter.
Then I stumbled across this tweet by USA Today's Kevin Allen: "This morning I count 110 NHL regulars injured or ill and there are more I don't know about. That's roughly 18% of NHL players sidelined."
Eighteen percent? I knew my fantasy teams had taken a beating over the last week or two but the scope of that is just crazy. One out of just about every five players is so hurt or sick that they can't play. Let that sink in. Your favorite NHL team probably has four guys missing games right now.
And the names on these guys, too: Evgeni Malkin(notes). Ilya Kovalchuk(notes). Marian Hossa(notes). Marc Savard(notes). Jonathan Toews(notes). Valtteri Filppula(notes). Jason Spezza(notes). Dany Briere. Simon Gagne(notes). Sergei Gonchar(notes). TJ Oshie(notes). Andy McDonald(notes). Phil Kessel(notes). Johan Franzen(notes). David Booth(notes). Andrei Markov(notes). Daniel Sedin(notes). Patrik Elias(notes). Roberto Luongo(notes). Marian Gaborik(notes) just came back from injury for Sunday's game. Mike Green(notes) was questionable. And then Alex Ovechkin(notes) went and got himself hurt against Columbus.
Those, by the way, were off the top of my head, and that doesn't count guys who have, had, or will get the freaking swine flu. So what gives?
(Coming Up: Sidney Crosby(notes), hockey goon, pummels another foe; Sabres souring on Myers; Brad May's(notes) bench injury; mocking Habs fans; praising Pavelec; the mess that is Carolina; and when bloggers admit their teams' vulnerabilities.)
Well lucky me, I found my answer nice and quick when, in the course of my preparation for this column over a nice cup of tea, I was provided an answer by Bryan Murray who, for once, seemed like he was actually on the ball for, like, half a second.
His theory that this is all predicated on the incredible speed of the game is probably true. They had a feature on Hockey Night in Canada's After Hours (or maybe one of the intermission breaks, I'm not sure) showing a number of guys crashing headlong into the end-boards over the last two days. They were all going at phenomenal rates of speed when they lost their footing. The footage was legitimately scary.
"It's the game," Murray said Friday, when asked about why so many top NHL players have been hit by injuries early this season. "Without the red line (allowing two-line passes), with the stretch passes, it's a faster pace. Some guys are getting blindsided, guys are looking back for passes and other guys are coming at them from the side. We've built so much speed into the game, but as a result, there's now more contact at different spots on the ice."
Yes, Bryan Murray is, in a roundabout way, advocating for the game to be slowed down, even going so far as to mention the stupidest rule in NHL history: the two-line pass (no relation). His hypothesis was intriguing, his solution, as usual, was idiotic.
The problem is that there's nothing the League can do to cut down on player injuries that wouldn't slow the game down and make it quote-unquote "less exciting." And the League, being so phobic of doing anything that might alienate the casual sports fan (the hardcore fan not so much), wouldn't do anything like that, right?
With all those superstars out now, it is at least in an interesting situation: Somehow slow the game down -- and I'm not making any proposals on how to do that -- to make things slightly safer, or keep it the way it is and endanger players' health and careers. As Dany Alfredsson says in that article, the game is only going to get faster over the next few years. Close to 20 percent of the league is hurt already, and again, a lot of those players are legitimate superstars.
The fact is the league has painted itself into a corner. Can't slow the game down, can't keep guys safe. The answer here is that there is no answer.
Kinda sad, isn't it?
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Anaheim Calling said early Saturday that the Ducks' success is predicated upon the play of its bottom six, with almost all their most important points over the last few games coming from the third and fourth lines. That night the Ducks lost in OT to Phoenix with only Corey Perry(notes) and Teemu Selanne(notes) getting goals. Coincidence?! ... Probably, yeah.
Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers did a pretty cool thing last week, inviting a number of bloggers to come talk to some team representatives like Chris Thorburn(notes), Coach John Anderson, GM Don Waddell and a pair of broadcasters. The most shocking revelation is that John Anderson isn't necessarily against Ilya Kovalchuk taking four-minute shifts.
Boston Bruins: One big reason the Bruins barely escaped October above .500 (a loss to the Oilers on Saturday would've left them 5-6-1) was that Zdeno Chara(notes) actually had an impressive game for probably the first time this season.
Buffalo Sabres: The honeymoon is over for Tyler Myers(notes) and Sabre fans, who were literally begging the team to keep him up for the remainder of the season like a week and a half ago. "He has made some suspect plays the past two nights and he single handily gave away the Islanders first goal. He hung is goalie Ryan Miller(notes) out to dry and put the Sabres behind the eight ball," says Die by the Blade. When you lose 5-0 to the Islanders, it's usually the 19-year-old's fault.
Calgary Flames: The Flames had maybe the most drawn-out homestand of the entire season and did more or less nothing with it. They went 3-2-0, with losses in two straight, and now have to play 10 of 14 in November away from home. Not the way to set a tone.
Carolina Hurricanes: Michael Leighton(notes) missed practice Friday because his wife gave birth to their daughter that morning. Fair enough. So why did Paul Maurice give him a start the next day on the road, against a very good team in Philly? Who knows, but Maurice sticks by his decision for some insane reason. Leighton gave up a six-spot on just 28 shots. The ‘Canes are still winless on the road, and losers of nine straight.
Chicago Blackhawks: A reasoned statement from a blog that a player from the team the blogger supports should be suspended for his borderline-legal hit? I've gotta get Ripley's on the phone. Kudos to Jim Neveau here.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nikita Filatov(notes) left practice with a bruised back on Saturday and didn't play yesterday against the Penguins, though Ken Hitchcock said he probably wouldn't have even if he was healthy.
Dallas Stars: Looking for someone to blame for the Stars' 4-2 loss to the Predators on Halloween? How ‘bout Mike Ribeiro(notes). Didn't do anything constructive and, in one instance, did something outwardly terrible. The Stars had a 5-on-3 power play and Jerred Smithson(notes) broke his stick, and Ribeiro just couldn't do anything with all the extra space. Said Marc Crawford: "That was probably the turning point of the game. Mike Ribeiro had probably three or four chances to make the play, and he didn't make them." Not good.
Detroit Red Wings: Brad May got hit in the eye with a teammates' stick while sitting on the bench Saturday and remained in Calgary for observation because the eye filled with blood. Now they're going to make him wear a visor. Don Cherry and I say, "WHAT A WIMP!"
Florida Panthers: It's been a long road for Victor Oreskovich(notes). After two years of junior A hockey before two years of college and then two years of major junior, he quit the sport for two years because he was understandably burnt out. Then he went to a tryout this summer with the Panthers (for Pete DeBoer, his coach in Kitchener), caught on with their AHL team and earned a call-up on Saturday.
Los Angeles Kings: Justin Williams(notes) will be back tonight on the top line alongside Anze Kopitar(notes) and Ryan Smyth(notes). Meanwhile Randy Jones(notes) won't be added to the lineup for awhile.
Any time you come away from a fight with Crosby knowing you bit off more than you could chew, you probably should not be allowed to fight any more.
Montreal Canadiens: Q: Will I ever, ever get sick of this?
A: No, I will not.
New York Islanders: Granted, the Isles have taken three straight, with two good wins against the Rangers and Capitals before destroying Buffalo, 5-0, behind a Jeff Tambellini(notes) hat trick; but it might be a bit early to start comparing them to Godzilla since they're still last in the division.
New York Rangers: Yesterday's 1-0 result was the fifth game between the Bruins and Rangers to end with that scoreline out of the last nine. You get the feeling that the whole "Marian Gaborik provides all the offense while Henrik Lundqvist(notes) stands on his head" thing is going to be a recurring theme on Broadway this year.
Ottawa Senators: It's not often you see someone praising a team for scoring once, and losing, while putting 51 shots on net. And yet here we are. True fact: If you put 35 shots on net and score once, you ran into a hot goalie. If you put 51 shots on net and score once, your offense isn't working.
Phoenix Coyotes: Paola Boivin argues that because of who Wayne Gretzky is, he should be able to come out of this whole Phoenix fiasco just as deified as he was when he entered into it. Yeah, that makes sense.
San Jose Sharks: Goalscorers for the Sharks in their 5-1 win over Carolina: Patrick Marleau(notes), Marc-Edouard Vlasic(notes), Kent Huskins(notes), Brad Staubitz(notes) and Douglas Murray(notes). A real murderer's row of Rocket Richard candidates there.
St. Louis Blues: Andy Murray came up another reason for the Blues' possible underachievement: shift length. "When our shifts are long, that's not our identity," Murray said. What does that even mean (apart from a 4-0 loss to Florida)?
Even I could have looked that bad.
Vancouver Canucks: In "really surprising news" news, Daniel Sedin will not meet his own very ambitious timetable for return from a broken ankle. But hey, the cast is off and he doesn't have to scratch his foot with a fork any more.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is day-to-day with what the Caps are calling an "upper-body injury" but is more likely a "left shoulder injury." More troubling is that he wasn't even trying to lift a bottle of Gatorade to his mouth with the left arm.
Play of the Weekend
There wasn't really a sparkling individual effort on one play in particular this weekend, so what the hell, here's Steve Reinprecht's natural hat trick in the first period on Friday night.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Paul Maurice's Carolina Hurricanes are officially the worst team in the NHL that isn't the Maple Leafs. And at least the Leafs have looked like they were getting it together over the last week or so. The 'Canes haven't won since Oct. 9 and have given up 28 goals in the last six games, including 11 in back-to-backs this weekend, and Maurice has no answers whatsoever.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
User "Lindy4Prez" would like to get rid of Derek Roy(notes). Why? "He doesn't fit in Lindy's new system but is still scoring at nearly a PPG clip." This is sound reasoning. So he made these TWO proposals in just over an hour here and here.
To NJD: Derek Roy
To NYR: Roy(4.0), Sekera(1.0)
To BUF: Dubinksy(1.85), Girardi(1.55)
These are both great.
There's only one man I've ever called a coward, and that's Brian Doyle Murray.