February 7, 2014

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2014 Sochi Olympics Men’s Ice Hockey Power Rankings

By: Matt Bowen

Before we begin let’s get one thing straight—nothing is better than the Olympics. The 2014 Sochi Olympics in no exception. Perfectly sandwiched between the end of the 2013 NFL season and the beginning of the 2014 MLB season the Sochi Olympics is a dream come true. The Sochi games begin February 6 and the Opening Ceremony is on February 7. All Olympic events are interesting for one reason or another but one stands out amongst the rest in these games. All eyes will be on the men’s ice hockey tournament as the best in the world play for pride.

Canadian Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team

Will Canada's Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team bring home the gold in 2014?

With that being said Olympic hockey is a bit different from the NHL. Unlike the 2010 Vancouver games which used the standard NHL rink size of 200’ long x 85’ wide the Sochi games will use a standard Olympic sized rink which is 200’x100’. Now the extra 15’ may not seem like that much of a difference but it changes the how the game is played. Also keep in mind that the bigger ice is the prevalent choice of leagues outside of NHL. Olympic hockey in an Olympic rink is much more of a symphonic ballet than the NHL. The presence of the forecheck is replaced with puck control and finesse. Many may think that speed will make up the difference but it will be stick handling that tilts the scales. In a sense it can become a game of cat and mouse, a game of keep-away. The teams with a pristine blend of veteran wisdom and youthful exuberance will do well here.

With that in mind, let’s power rank the top six teams in the 12 team tournament.

Group A: USA, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia

Group B: Canada, Norway, Finland, Austria

Group C: Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia

Bonus Pick: Slovenia

This is the Olympics; the bonus pick is just giving credit where credit is due.

While these guys don’t really have a chance to medal, they’ll sure be fun to watch. Led by Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar, Slovenia will put on a show. Although Kopitar is the lone Slovenian currently playing in the NHL that means the rest of the team is comfortable on bigger ice. This gives them a slight advantage.

Sleeper Pick: Czech Republic

Hey, it wouldn’t be a good article without a sleeper selection.

The Czech Republic sports a veteran-heavy roster with a touch of youth in Sochi. They make the list because of the playmaking ability of star Jaromir Jagr. He has a strong supporting cast but something seems to be missing on this roster. Still, with the puck in open space Jagr is magical. He’ll keep his country in the mix for a medal run.

No. 6: Slovakia

There are 14 Slovakians in the NHL and all are present on the national team for the Sochi games. Headlining the bunch are Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa who will put it on themselves to lead their people to Olympic glory. Although they’ll represent themselves well they’ll miss the podium. Still, they are an exemplary model on why this is hockey at its finest. A team this rich in talent only measures in at No. 6.

No. 5: USA

From here on out is like pulling teeth. Yes, I’m an American but no, I don’t think we’ll medal in Sochi. I’ll be rooting for the team all the way, but I don’t expect much. The USA has a very good team with a lot of youth and speed, but something isn’t right. Beyond Patrick Kane, who will be the scorer? Who will be the guy that steps up and leads his countrymen?

Those are questioned that have yet to be and can only be answered in Sochi. Not to mention, if this was the World Cup, the USA would be in the dreaded Group of Death. Group A is straight stacked—it will be hard to advance to the medal round. With that being said, the USA loves to play the role of the underdog.

No. 4: Finland

Finland is as well-balanced as they come in Sochi. Led by star Teemu Selanne in his final Olympics the Fins may shock the world and win it all, but have been conservatively ranked fourth right now. Selanne is an all-world playmaker and the Fins are solid between the pipes with Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask to choose from in the net.

Finland also has a young star named Mikael Granlund that will be the beneficiary of Selanne’s craftsmanship.  Beware of Finland. They may just spoil the party reserved for one at the top of the podium.

No. 3: Sweden

Whoa doctor! Call your mother the Swedes are good. Try to pick a weakness in their game—there are none. They have experience, youth and a world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. The most important thing they have is the young combination of Carl Hagelin, Marcus Kruger and Gabriel Landeskog. If you haven’t heard of them before now is the time.

These three kids will be the difference for their country in the tournament.

No. 2: Russia

What a debate it has been on just where to put host-country Russia. While they certainly have the advantage of playing at home all the pressure is on them. Alexander Ovechkin is the top goal scorer in the world right now and the mighty Russians will dazzle at times during the games.

Another young player that will announce his presence during the Olympics is Vladimir Tarasenko. He is simply something to see. Combined with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk and the Russians are stacked.

In the end the pressure will get to them in the final game.

No. 1: Canada

To many this is no surprise that the Canadians will be the last man standing. The defending Olympic champs look to repeat as gold medalist in Sochi. Their roster is basically the NHL All-Star team. Just looking at it is somewhat breathtaking. One can only think of power. If they have one weakness it may be in net but even that is a stretch.

Sydney Crosby looks to take his team to Sochi and leave where they started–on top. Albeit the favorite every opponent will give Canada their best shot.

Regardless of who wins the gold this tournament is something to cherish. The whole world is in for a treat.

July 5, 2011

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Jaromir Jagr’s Road Ends In Philadelphia

By: Anson Whaley

When former NHL star Jaromir Jagr announced he was open to returning to the league, it was one of the few hockey stories that could cause a stir during the summer. Usually during this time, sports fans are discussing the MLB All-Star game, the NBA Draft, and NFL training camps (or, more importantly, Fantasy Football drafts). But this year, with two ongoing lockouts, the NHL found its way into the spotlight.

The Jagr tale is a curious one to be sure, having so many twists and turns that a compass would be needed to accurately follow it. It didn’t always look that way, though. Jagr appeared headed back to Pittsburgh near the end of the process without much controversy. He played the majority of his career with the Penguins, still has a home in the area, and had talked to owner Mario Lemieux (who he credits for his successful NHL career) about a possible return. But leave it to the enigmatic star to cause some drama and we should have all known it would never be quite so simple.

It all started with rumors that three teams were involved for Jagr’s services – the Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, and a mystery team. Various reports, including one from the reputable Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, spoke of a possible contract being in place even before Jagr’s flight landed in the U.S. as he traveled from Russia. But from there, it got murky – he didn’t arrive on time and his agent reportedly didn’t even know where he was for a brief time. The deal with Pittsburgh that seemed to be in place dissolved. From there, more teams got involved in the bidding, the Penguins and Red Wings both pulled their initial offers, and Jagr was off to the Philadelphia Flyers for a one-year deal worth more than $3M.

So what kind of impact can the former All-Star have on next year’s Flyers team? It’s safe to say that anyone expecting the Jagr of the 1990s will be disappointed.

While still a serviceable wing (and one that could have greatly helped a team such as the Penguins who are desperate for pieces to play alongside centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin), Jagr’s game has predictably seen a steady decline. In his last three years in the NHL, his scoring plummeted from 54 goals to 30, then to 25. While 25 goals is still worthy of first-line minutes, the quick decline he had from those three years from 2005 – 2008 needs to be noted. And despite playing in the KHL, a Russian hockey league that isn’t on the same level as the NHL, his scoring further declined over the past two seasons. Jagr’s 2010-11 total of 19 goals with KHL club Avangard Omsk was the first time in his career that he dipped below 20 since joining the NHL as a rookie in 1990.

Now at the age of 39, Jagr will be hard pressed to score much more than 20 goals next season. Joining the Penguins would have meant playing alongside Crosby or Malkin and the Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk could have been ideal fits as well. Either team would have offered innumerable scoring opportunities and a 25-goal season might have been within his reach – not to mention a legitimate chance to play for a Stanley Cup. But Jagr is joining a Flyers team which has cleared house this offseason, dumping nearly 80 goals in production by dismissing centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and forward Ville Leino. What does it all mean? With fewer scorers, Jagr should have more chances with the puck, but in losing its top two centers, he will be left trying to score on his own creativity. And at 39, that will be a bit tough to do.

Mix in the fact that Philadelphia is a big-time hockey town and one of the major media centers of the U.S., and Jagr will be feeling an enormous pressure to score.

When you add it all up, I’m not sure it spells disaster. But there were certainly better fits for Jagr than Philadelphia

June 24, 2011

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Top Trends in Sports This Week

By: Lionel

 If you thought Bruins fans were done celebrating, you thought wrong. Bruins Fatheads have dominated our weekly top ten seller list once again with the Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup Champions Logo in first place and Tim Thomas in 3rd and 4th place. Looks like the celebration will continue until the NFL fans start up again… that is if there is actually a NFL season.

Official Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Champions Logo

The top ten selling Fatheads of the last week (6/18 to 6/24):

  1. Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup Champions Logo
  2. Dwyane Wade Drives
  3. Tim Thomas
  4. Tim Thomas – Stanley Cup
  5. Aaron Rodgers
  6. Tom Brady
  7. Dirk Nowitzki
  8. Derrick Rose
  9. Derek Jeter
  10. Paul Pierce

April 11, 2011

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Who Will Bring Home the 2010-11 Hart Trophy?

By: Anson Whaley

The NHL 2010-11 regular season is winding down, and it’s time to take a look at some of the leading candidates to take home the league’s Most Valuable Player award – the Hart Trophy.

Last year’s honoree, Henrik Sedin, is a candidate to become a repeat winner. With a second consecutive trophy, Sedin would join an exclusive club consisting of only 11 players including greats such as Wayne Gretzky, Dominik Hasek, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe. Sure, he doesn’t score much (Sedin has a modest 19 goals this year and has never scored 30 during any season in his career), but he sets up other scoring plays as few others can and has more than 150 assists over the past two years.

Sedin’s stiffest challenge for the award could ironically come from twin brother and Vancouver Canucks teammate, Daniel Sedin. Despite a spectacular 2009-10 season in which he tallied 85 points in only 63 games, Daniel didn’t figure into the Hart Trophy voting. A foot injury that cost him several weeks of playing time last season wiped out any chance he had of gathering any votes for the award in 2010. But fully healthy this year, Daniel has put up the best numbers of his career. He led the league in scoring and set career highs in goals and assists. The Sedin brothers may be competing with each other, though, since they’re on the same team and could end up splitting some votes as voters try to decide just who is Vancouver’s MVP.

Another pair of teammates are also right there for a chance at the Hart. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightningare another duo putting up a lot of points this season. St. Louis has been the model of consistency over his career, scoring at least 25 goals over the past eight seasons. As one of the top three scorers in the league, he’s sure to get at least some consideration for the trophy. Unfortunately for him, teammate Steven Stamkos is having quite a year himself, scoring 40 goals and also putting up nearly 100 points. St. Louis and Stamkos may have a similar problem as the Sedins in that they may cost each other some votes.

While the Canucks and Lightning made the playoffs comfortably, another candidate comes from a team that had to fight its way in, clinching a spot late in the season. Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks should garner quite a bit of consideration for leading his team to the playoffs. The Ducks finished near the bottom of the conference, but an argument could be made that they’re not a postseason team without the 50-goal scorer. He’s always been a reliable goal scorer, but this season went from good to great, finishing with close to 100 points. That could be the difference in him winning the award for the first time in his career.

One player a bit under the radar for the first time in a while is the CapitalsAlex Ovechkin.  Ovechkin may be the league’s most talented player, and, even though his point totals are the lowest of his career, he still led Washington to the top of the Eastern Conference. That alone should be enough to keep him in contention for some votes.

And even though the award typically goes to an offensive talent, goalies and defensemen do occasionally win the trophy. A few goalies to keep an eye on are Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Thomas is the better goalie statistically, leading the league in goals against average and save percentage. The Bruins also won the Division title and he was obviously a big reason for that. Luongo, however, plays for the NHL’s top team, the only team to win 50 games. His nearly 40 wins led the league this season. And a dark horse candidate to steal a few votes may be the PenguinsMarc Andre Fleury. The Pens have played much of the season without their two best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Fleury’s goaltending is the sole reason they are still standing. Pittsburgh has not only finished as a playoff team, but they were near the top of the entire conference. Take away a team’s two best players, and many teams would not win as much as the Penguins have this season.