November 15, 2013

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Admiring the Competitive Balance of the NHL

By: Matt Bowen

Nearly 20 games into the 2013-14 NHL season and the competitive balance is evident. The future of the league is mighty bright. Even after a strike that nearly erased last season, the NHL is thriving at the moment.

The league’s decision to change the divisional structure proved to be a stroke of genius. Now, there are four divisions containing eight teams each in the Eastern Conference and seven in the Western. The league is logistically sound now—this year the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets moved east while the Winnipeg Jets headed west. Suddenly, the NHL makes sense in respect to placement of teams.

Chicago Blackhawks

Can the Blackhawks keep the Central Division lead away from the Colorado Avalanche?

Albeit early, the standings are a bit surprising at the moment. The Tampa Bay Lightning currently leads the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division at the moment with 28 points. Yes, star Steven Stamkos is out with a broken right leg for some time, but his team is flush with young talent and veteran leaders like Martin St. Louis. Seeing Stamkos go down was a punch to the gut to devout hockey fans.  The kid is miraculous on the ice, have faith that when he returns he’ll be better than ever. He’s only 23 years old and a superstar—like the Terminator, he’ll be back. The Lightning surely didn’t let his absence affect their mood as they won the first game without him on November 12, 2-1 over the Montreal Canadiens. That’s good to see that resilience.

The Lightning can’t let up now, nipping at their heels are perennial power houses in the Boston Bruins, Detroit and an up-and-coming Toronto Maple Leafs team that just won’t quit.

Another surprise are the Colorado Avalanche, who led by 22-year-old Matt Duchene are second in the Western Conference’s Central Division with 28 points. This is somewhat hard to believe, but new head coach and Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy clearly knows how to get the best out of his bunch. Top to bottom, this is the best division in hockey right now with the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. This race will go down to the wire come playoff time.

The Central Division may have the most balance, but the Western Conference’s Pacific Division is the league’s strongest. This one will be a dogfight every time teams take to the ice. The Anaheim Ducks are currently the best team in the league with 31 points, but there’s little breathing room. The Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings all have 10-plus wins at the moment. Yes, they’re all going to beat up on each other throughout the season, but they currently have five playoff teams right now.

So, who’s the best team in the league? Right now it’s anyone’s guess and that’s why it’s great.

Don’t forget about the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan division. The Penguins still have a guy named Sidney Crosby while it’s still good to be Ovi in Washington. Crosby is currently tied for the lead with 23 points while Ovechkin is atop the goal list with 14.

The bottom line is that the NHL got it right this time. Everyone should have a smile on their face. The league is as competitive as ever and here to stay. Embrace it, enjoy it, and fall in love with it.

April 2, 2013

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Why NHL Realignment Makes Sense

By: Tyler Vespa

With the NHL realignment approved for next season, the league will now feature four divisions instead of six. These would be the Midwest, the Pacific, the Central and the Atlantic. The Midwest and Pacific divisions would makeup the Western Conference, while the Central and the Atlantic divisions would make up the Eastern Conference. The Central and Atlantic divisions will have 8 teams each, while the Pacific and the Midwest will each have 7 teams.

The Red Wings will say goodbye to the Western Conference and move to the East nest season.

Here is what the NHL will look like next season:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Midwest

Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Winnipeg Jets

Pacific

Anaheim Ducks

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Los Angeles Kings

Phoenix Coyotes

San Jose Sharks

Vancouver Canucks

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Central

Boston Bruins

Buffalo Sabres

Detroit Red Wings

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Atlantic

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

The playoffs will still feature 16 teams, eight from each conference, but will not be division based with a new wild-card feature. The top 3 teams from each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs The final 4 places will be filled in by the next two highest placed teams in each conference, and will be based on regular season points, regardless of their division. This means one division could send 5 teams while another could only send three.

Regular season points will also determine the seeding of the teams. Meaning, the division winner with the most points will play the wild card team with the least points, and so forth.

This plan is exactly what the league needed after two lockouts in the past 8 seasons. Something needed to change. As you can see the only two teams changing conferences will be the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Detroit has been crying for this move for years.

With that I give you 4 reasons this plan for realignment is a win-win for the league and everybody associated with it:

Geographic simplicity: We will see fewer issues with time zones and travel. Teams in the same conference will enjoy easier travel simply because they are now crossing over fewer time zones.

More Original 6 matchups: Detroit is now in the same division with 3 other teams from the Original 6: Boston, Montreal and Toronto. Also, the Red Wings and the New York Rangers are in the same conference.

New Playoff Format: With the imbalance of teams in each division, there is talk of a “Wild Card Format” being added to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This could mean a play-in game where two teams play one game to become the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Another win or go home game would be genius.

Dream for Television: The Eastern Conference would have a rivalry game almost every night. Teams in Canada will get awesome exposure, with a myriad of Canadian vs. Canadian rivalries. New rivalries and big matchups will be made out West such as with the 3 California teams; San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Even more Canadian exposure is bred with Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

December 3, 2008

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The NHL: No Longer a Canada Thing?

By: realbigfathead

By Shawn Lucas

I was very surprised this week when reading a small article in “The Hockey News.”
Being a lifelong hockey fan, I was completely shocked when reading the names of the top ten active leaders in career points – not so much by the names as  their nationalities….

The NHL has traditionally been dominated by Canadians.  In 2007-08, more than half (52%) of all NHL players were from Canada.  The top ranks of the NHL, though still full of Canadians, is no longer a league dominated by players from The Great White North.

Today’s domination comes from stars such as Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Washington’s Alex tandem of Semin and Ovechkin and who can overlook what has been the strongest team of the last decade, the Detroit Red Wings, whose team boasts the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and the league’s best defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom?

The future of hockey definitely looks bright on the global stafe.  On the list of active NHL leaders in career points, there are only 3 Canadians – while the USA is represented 4 times, the most of any country on the list.  There are a few developments that could re-define the list this year.

If Brendan Shanahan, 1340 (CAN) or Mats Sundin, 1321 (SWE) can catch on with a team, then each would bump someone off the list.  As they are not currently active, here is the list of active players and their respective nationalities

1.    Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche, 1641 (CAN)
2.    Mark Recchi, Tampa Bay Lightning, 1393 (CAN)
3.    Mike Modano, Dallas Stars, 1294 (USA)
4.    Jeremy Roenick, San Jose Sharks, 1207 (USA)
5.    Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks, 1176, (FIN)
6.    Sergei Fedorov, Washington Capitals, 1155, (RUS)
7.    Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes, 1127 (CAN)
8.    Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis Blues, 996 (USA)
9.    Doug Weight, N.Y. Islanders, 985 (USA)
10.    Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings, 950 (SWE)

September 8, 2008

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Joe Says It’s So

By: realbigfathead

By John Fontana

There was a rumbling in the Rockies on Sept.2. It was caused by fans roaring at the news Colorado Avalanche center Joe Sakic is returning for another season.  He said during his press conference to announce his decision that he is coming back simply because he loves the game. The 39-year-old will be entering his 20th season, which is an eternity in a sport that is both graceful and brutal.

Sakic is the quintessential good guy, never turning the spotlight on himself, never spouting bravado, instead garnering attention by the way he plays.  He has two Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal, seven international World Cup and World Junior Cup appearances, three stints on the Canadian Olympic team and 12 All-Star Games. He has 623 goals and 1,629 points in his NHL career, which started when he was selected in the first round (No. 15) by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft.  Sakic moved with the Nordiques to Denver in 1995-1996 so he has been with the same organization his entire career.

The Avs aren’t what they were in the glory days, but the fan base in Denver is not deterred. In fact, Sakic has filled them with optimism for the coming season.  Last year wasn’t so bright for Sakic, who endured arguably his most difficult season on skates. He missed 38 games after surgery for a sports hernia before returning to help the Avs reach the playoffs. Instead of a storybook ending, Sakic and the Avs ended up as mere asphalt under the steamroller driven by eventual champions the Detroit Red Wings

Mr Clutch

Joe Sakic Fathead: Mr Clutch

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But that was last year, Sakic said in his recent  “I’m back” press conference that he is happy with new roster additions that include Per Ledin, Andrew Raycroft, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Darcy Tucker and Brian Willsie.
“I like what we have here, but the biggest decision for me was whether I was willing to do what it took to play,” Sakic said. “And once I started training and got the excitement, I realized I wanted to come back.”
As fans wait for the puck to drop, what do you think Sakic means to the Avs chance at the playoffs – and dare I say a Stanley Cup run?