March 6, 2014

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5 Big Winners at the NHL Trade Deadline

By: Matt Bowen

With the Olympics put to bed, the NHL season is once again traveling at warp speed. March 5 marked this year’s trade deadline and there are roughly 20 games left before the playoffs begin. With little time to spare teams were feverously jockeying for position at the deadline. Some won, some lost and some sat back quietly. While many trades involved future draft picks we are focusing on the teams that made moves to greatly impact this season’s playoff push. Never mind the future, these teams made it clear they want to win now.

Bonus: The New York Rangers/Tampa Bay Lightning Trade

There’s no question the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning made the biggest news of the day. The two teams traded captains. Martin St. Louis went to New York while Ryan Callahan was sent to the Lightning.

I have mixed emotions on this trade—St. Louis is a future Hall of Famer that can hopefully maximize the Rangers potential. Callahan isn’t the scorer that St. Louis is but is a proven leader. The Lightning also got healthy draft picks in the trade but let’s stay focused—we’re talking about now.

Personally, I wish the best for both players and organizations but don’t like the idea of swapping the letter “C.” The Rangers dealt Callahan because of impending free agency and the Lightning granted St. Louis’ request and traded him.

The Lightning are currently fourth in the East and get Steven Stamkos back from injury soon. It’ll be interesting to see if he can score at the same rate without St. Louis setting the table. As for the Rangers, can St. Louis suddenly bring the arguably underachieving team to life?

Los Angeles Kings

Did the Kings do enough at the trade deadline to become Stanley Cup contenders in 2014?

No. 5: Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings took care of business at the deadline by trading for lamp-lighter Marian Gaborik. The 32-year-old has been often injured since being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets last trade deadline but the Kings hope his woes are behind him.

Remember, the Kings won the 2012 Stanley Cup are determined to reappear in the Finals. They have an excellent goaltender in Jonathan Quick and a well-balanced roster with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty. The team has won five straight as of 03/05 and leads the league with just 134 goals allowed.

Problem is they’ve only scored 152 and that slim margin urged the front office to add some offense. In the past Gaborik has been a sniper and with good health and a fresh start he should flourish in the City of Angels, especially on the power play. The Kings made themselves contenders at the deadline.

No. 4: Montreal Canadiens

Despite only scoring six more goals than their allowing, the Canadiens sat third in the Eastern Conference with 75 points. Those two factors were the reason why the franchise acquired playmaker Thomas Vanek at the deadline from the New York Islanders.

This is now Vanek’s third team of the season and he’ll look to stay put in Montreal. He’s scored 53 points this season in 60 games with the Buffalo Sabres and Islanders. The Canadiens are a team with balanced scoring, but no star. Prior to Vanek joining the roster the team had 10 players that have scored 20-plus points this season but P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty led with 42 points per. That’s only good enough for 65th in the league.

Vanek brings a spark and a message to the fans that the Habs are making a serious push for the Cup.

No. 3: Washington Capitals

This is a make-or-break time for the Washington Capitals. They have to make a deep run in the playoffs or face the reality of blowing up the roster and starting from scratch.

Led by Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals have immense talent but lack a premium goaltender. They addressed that need at the deadline by trading for Jaroslav Halak from the Buffalo Sabres who got him in a deal from the St. Louis Blues over the weekend. What a whirlwind week for Halak—now he lands in Washington for a team eager to win.

The Capitals currently are fifth in the NHL with 186 goals scored. Too bad they’ve allowed 184, which just so happens to be the fifth-most. Halak is the remedy they’ve been looking for.

The Caps also traded for Dustin Penner who isn’t the flashiest man on the ice but brings plenty of toughness who makes a living in front of the net.

Overall, the Capitals made themselves better at the deadline.

No. 2: Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild deserve credit—they make a number of trades that bolstered their lineup this year at the deadline.

The Wild currently sit in seventh in the Western Conference with 75 points. They spent a king’s ransom last offseason by singing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The West is definitely the stronger of the two NHL sides and Minnesota is the heart of American hockey.

The Wild have to win—now.

They made a head-scratching trade on March 4 by trading for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, formerly of the Edmonton Oilers. Bryzgalov is talented but puzzling at times. He makes for good television but is inconsistent. If the Wild can get on his level and get the most out of him they have a legitimate shot at a playoff run.

The Wild also acquired Brad Winchester who will give their blue line depth down the stretch.

Where the Wild won is by trading for Matt Moulson of the Buffalo Sabres. Moulson is as underrated as they come. The Wild have only scored 153 goals this season and struggle on the road. Moulson has scored 30-plus goals in three straight seasons from 2009-12 and 17 this season. Like the aforementioned Vanek and Halak, this too is Moulson’s third team this season.

Like the men he’s mentioned with, Moulson will make an impact in his final destination.

The Wild just made themselves better—they just made hockey better.

No. 1: St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues let it be known that they are a force to be reckoned with. Even though they had solid goaltending they dropped a bombshell when they traded for goalie Ryan Miller. Arguably the best in the world, the Blues put the rest of the NHL on notice when they acquired Miller.

The Blues currently have the largest goal differential in the league at +63 and solidified that stat by acquiring Miller. For the first time in a long time he’ll have a good defense in front of him. Now is his time to shine.

The team did trade Jaroslav Halak to get him, who’s a top-10 NHL net minder. Why trade strength for strength? After a few unsuccessful playoff runs the organization obviously see Miller as the fix they need to win it all. The window to win it all isn’t open forever.

As if they weren’t already, the Blues are now a favorite for the Cup.

June 25, 2013

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NBA Mock Draft

By: Joe Williams

Alright Miami, that’s enough celebrating. It’s time to start getting ready for next season…starting with Thursday’s draft. Many of the league experts are saying that this draft class is pretty weak and there aren’t any franchise altering players available. Maybe not. But some teams will get better. I just hope it’s mine.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers- Alex Len, C, Maryland

The Cavs must improve their defense if they are to make the playoffs next season. At 7-1 and 255lbs, Len will help clog up the middle and improve their rebounding as well. Unless of course the Cavs are able to pull off the trade that has been rumored since they won the lottery.

2. Orlando Magic – Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas

What do you do when you need help at every position? Take whoever you think has the best shot to become a star.

3. Washington Wizards – Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown

Porter fits the biggest hole on the roster and should be a good fit to play with John Wall.

4. Charlotte Bobcats – Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky

After having the most balls in the draft lottery, the Bobcats dropped to the fourth pick but they still get Noel – they guy they would have picked at No. 1.

5. Phoenix Suns – Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana

Oladipo will be a solid all-around player for Phoenix, especially defensively, where the Suns have been awful.

6. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV

I still can’t wrap my head around the switch to the Pelicans. I don’t like it. Maybe Bennett will like it. Pelicans? Really? Really?

7. Sacramento Kings – Trey Burke, PG, Michigan

Burke is probably my favorite player in this draft. The Kings get a steal here.

8. Detroit Pistons – C.J. McCollum, PG, Lehigh

Here’s another guy I really like. Detroit looks to be set inside with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond so they go with a guard who will be able to score.

Will the Pistons get a guard to go along with big men Greg Monroe (pictured) and Andre Drummond?

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia

I can’t let the best name in the draft slip out of the top 10 can I? Besides, with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love returning, the Twolves are going to need someone who can shoot.

10. Portland Trail Blazers – Cody Zeller, PF, Indiana

LaMarcus Aldridge needs some help inside. Aldridge gets what he wants.

11. Philadelphia 76ers – Shabazz Muhammad, SG, UCLA

Why not? Muhammad is one of those guys who could go just about anywhere in this draft. He is a risk/reward pick and the Sixers take a shot.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder – Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse

What the Thunder really need is a fully healed Russell Westbrook, so they take the best player available to give Westbrook some assistance.

13. Dallas Mavericks – $$$$$$$$$$ (Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga)

Everyone knows the Mavs are looking to use this pick to acquire more cap space. We’ll say they draft pick Olynky and ship him somewhere.

14. Utah Jazz – Shane Larkin, PG, Miami

Both of Utah’s starting guards are free agents. Larkin fills one of those holes.

15. Milwaukee Bucks – Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany

Brandon Jennings, Monte Ellis and J.J. Redick are all possibly going to leave town so the Bucks all a guard to the wide open roster.

16. Boston Celtics – Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville

There are countless ways this roster could wind up by the time the season starts. Assuming Kevin Garnett isn’t back, the Celtics will need a big defender.

17. Atlanta Hawks – Giannis Adetokunbo, SF, Greece

I’m not going to pretend like I know much about foreign players, but from what I’ve read it seems like the Hawks are interested.

18. Atlanta Hawks – Allen Crabbe, SG, California

You can never have too many shooters and the Hawks are getting one here.

19. Cleveland Cavaliers – Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh

In a couple years Adams and Len could be a force inside for Cleveland. But the Cavs could use this pick in a trade for a veteran player to help them win now.

20. Chicago Bulls – Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan

The Bulls should have a healthy Derrick Rose back and someone like Hardaway could provide some scoring to make Rose’s life easier.

21. Utah Jazz – Tony Mitchell, PF, North Texas

Utah will need another body if Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson leave town.

22. Brooklyn Nets – Jeff Withey, C, Kansas

Another big man behind Brook Lopez.

23. Indiana Pacers – Rudy Gobert, C, France

After giving the Heat all they wanted in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers should look to add depth to an already strong roster.

24. New York Knicks – Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego St.

With Jason Kidd moving on to the coaching ranks, the Knicks get a lot younger in the backcourt.

25. Los Angeles Clippers – Isaiah Canaan, PG, Murray State

The only thing the Clippers should worry about is getting Chris Paul back. If that doesn’t happen Canaan will take his place.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves – Sergey Karasev, SF, Russia

Andrei Kirilenko may leave so they replace a Russian with a Russian.

27. Denver Nuggets – Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil

A big man who can run and block shots would fit right in with the high-tempo Nuggets.

28. San Antonio Spurs – Reggie Bullock, SF, North Carolina

This could be the guy to replace Manu Ginobili.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder – Ricky Ledo, SG, Providence

Here’s an inexperienced kid that would be able to develop behind a solid roster.

30. Phoenix Suns – Mike Muscala, C, Bucknell

The Suns walk away from the first round with help in the front and back courts.

February 6, 2013

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Early Stanley Cup Contenders

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NHL season may be just a few weeks old, but in this abbreviated season every game, period and point are critical.

Which team will win the Stanley Cup in 2013?

Considering the season is nearly a quarter complete, the crystal ball is now beginning to clarify which teams are true Stanley Cup contenders. Some teams are in a familiar situation while others face a must-win season.

Here are the early season favorites to lift Lord Stanley at season’s end:

The Darkhorse Candidates: These teams are considered sleepers, who if they catch fire at the right moment could ride the lightning all the way to a championship. One of these such teams is the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who had everything come together at the right time to steal the deal from the No. 8 seed last season. They were one of the favorites coming into the season, but they have been plagued by injuries early on. Not to be counted out quite yet, look for Kings to right the ship.

The Edmonton Oilers are another darkhorse contender. Given, they’ve been near the bottom of the standing for three consecutive years, but have hit the jackpot in recent draft history. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov have all been the No. 1 overall selection over the past three NHL season and now all play for the Oilers. The team currently holds a playoff spot and will take their lumps as they learn the ropes of the NHL, but they’re building a winner in Edmonton.  There’s always a year when the perennial downtrodden turn the page and blossom into an unstoppable force—this is that year for the Oilers.

A team in the Eastern Conference that could go the distance is the Montreal Canadiens. The league’s most storied franchise are contenders once again. Behind all-world goaltender Carey Price, they have a real chance this season. There’s a perfect storm of youth and experience in Montreal right now, watch out for the Habs.

The Usual Suspects: To no surprise, these teams have thrown their hat into the ring—the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins look like they’ll all make deep runs in the playoffs.  Each team is well balanced and built for the long haul.

This Year’s Worst to First Contender: The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs last season, but they won’t this time around. With stars like Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, they have the skill needed to lead a franchise on the brink of greatness. They currently lead the league with a plus-18 goal differential and are scoring nearly five goals a game. Rookie Cory Conacher currently leads all first timers with 12 points and could end of the biggest surprise of the season.  He already has five games with multiple points.

Who doesn’t like a team who consistently lights the lamp?

The Lightning are simply electric this season.

The Team Facing the Most Pressure: Let’s cut to the chase—the San Jose Sharks are in a must-win situation this season. They may be somewhat forgotten about but they are stacked from top to bottom.

Thanks to the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, they can keep the opposition off balance and on edge for 60 minutes a night.

Together with Joe Pavelski, the fearsome foursome already has 10-plus points each.  Marleau is in the early running for MVP and the team’s defense is surrendering less than two goals a game.

The Sharks have been talked about early as contenders for many seasons now and without a Cup to show for it this season, the organization could decide to restructure. More than any team, they are in a do-or-die situation, but so far, they look up to the task.

June 6, 2012

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Will This Be Martin Brodeur’s Last NHL Game?

By: Matt Bowen

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012 feature New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who single-handedly owns every major record for a goalie in NHL history.

Could tonight be the last time we see Martin Brodeur on the ice?

Now that the Devils are down 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings, hockey fans are left to ponder whether or not Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals will be his last. Now 40 years old, Brodeur will become a free agent when the season ends and it will be interesting to see if the Devils bring Brodeur back for one more season.

His stats over his lustrous career speak for themselves; he ranks as the all-time best goaltender in games played(1,191), wins(656), losses(371), goals against(2,603), shots against(29,915), and saves(27,312).

While one could argue that his stats sit at No. 1 because he’s simply played more than anyone else in the history of the NHL, Brodeur has earned it. Players, especially goalies, don’t get to play based on their past accolades; they must prove that they are still worthy of time on the ice. Brodeur has won 30-plus games a remarkable seven times since turning the age of 30.

He’s a sports legend that deserves credit for playing with one team his entire career.  He’ll never don another NHL sweater and the league will never have another Brodeur. He’s won the Calder Memorial Trophy(Rookie of the Year), a four-time Vezina winner(best goaltender), three Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals with his native Canadian squad.

Coming into the Finals this year, many fans may have been thinking that there is no way that Brodeur would retire after the playoffs were done. All of a sudden, those thoughts are changing as the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer looks tired. Given, the Kings have steamrolled every team they’ve played this postseason, but Brodeur looks out of sync. It’s very difficult for a team in the NHL to make it to the Finals in any given season, nonetheless two years in a row and the chances of Brodeur playing any longer than one final season is a bit absurd.  

He still displays a competitive fire that’s hard to match, but knowing that the chance to win another Cup was so close yet unattainable may be enough for Brodeur to call it quits. If and when he decides to retire, he may as well have his own room in the Hall of Fame.

May 24, 2012

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Paying Homage to Los Angeles Kings Star Anze Kopitar

By: Matt Bowen

The Los Angeles Kings have shaken-up the sports world with their meteoric rise in the NHL playoffs all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Kings squeaked into the playoffs and look to become the first ever No. 8 seed to win the holy grail of hockey. While the Kings have been led in the playoffs by goaltender Jonathan Quick and captain Dustin Brown, it was Anze Kopitar who got them to this point.

Anze Kopitar and the Kings shocked everyone by making it to the Stanley Cup Finals as the 8th Seed.

Quick has been sensational this playoff season, posting a 1.54 goals against average with a .946 save percentage and Brown has posted 16 points, but it has been Kopitar who deserves most of the credit. The 24-year-old center from Slovenia is now in his sixth NHL season and is the most underrated player in hockey.

He’s scored 25-plus goals in five consecutive seasons and led his team with 76 points this season. It’s safe to say that his numbers would have been higher had his teammates played up to their potential this year as the Kings have just begun to click.

The Kings were expected to contend for the Cup in 2011-12 after they made some bold moves last offseason, bringing in Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a couple of highly talented players in Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Well, things didn’t go as planned as the Kings found it merely impossible to put the puck in the net during stretches of the season.

Things were going so poorly for Kings that they were forced to fire head coach Terry Murray on December 12 and replaced him with Darryl Sutter. While the Kings responded well to the change, it still didn’t quite spark the offense to their liking and they traded young stud defenseman Jack Johnson for scorer Jeff Carter at the trade deadline.

Even after all the moves the Kings made this season, it was Kopitar’s consistency that kept the Kings afloat. He now has 15 points in the playoffs and always seems to light the lamp when his team needs it most.

Despite all the obstacles that Kopitar and the Kings have faced this season, all’s well that ends well as the Kings have reached the ultimate destination.

With the Eastern Conference still up for grabs between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, the NHL will be in the spotlight in the coming weeks. The man who will shine most on center stage is Kopitar himself.