I was watching the Red Wings and Avalanche last Monday night and realized how tired I was from working at the Olympics. Then I looked up and Paul Stastny and Brian Rafalski were playing a day after the Gold Medal game. I had to laugh at myself for that!
Thankfully, last week's trade deadline came and went and now everyone can get into the sprint to grab a playoff spot. With no huge deals, fans were disappointed and many general managers blamed the cap for their inability to pull off a trade of substance. I don't agree with blaming the cap - here's why.
It's not like the cap number was sprung on these guys 10 days ago. They know the number each year and many of them are trying to put three pounds of sand in a two-pound bucket. They sign the players and hamstring themselves with unmovable contracts.
So what happens if a team changes their mind on a player?
Do you think the Islanders might want to re-think Rick DiPietro's 15-year deal? Or maybe sometime this year, the Hawks wished they didn't have Cristobal Huet signed at $5 million plus for the next few years? If there has to be one firm rule a GM should have laminated on his desk, it should be one that reads, "I will not sign a player - no matter what the outside pressure is - to a contract that I can never move.” Give yourself an option! Many GMs have no options and that leads to a day like March 3 - where everyone moved their deck chairs from one side of the pool to the other.
As far as how teams did at the deadline, it is hard to think the Capitals and Coyotes didn't improve. The Capitals added a couple of role players in Scott Walker (who is playoff tested and scored two goals in his first game) and underrated centre Eric Belanger (who can play up and down the lineup, wins faceoffs and can skate). I was with the Kings when Belanger was drafted and as an older player, I immediately saw him as a threat to my stay in Los Angeles. Turned out I was not too far wrong! On defence, Joe Corvo gives the Capitals another way to get the puck quickly into their forwards' hands and another option on the power play.
I, like just about everyone else, was surprised that the Coyotes added five more bodies. For a team that has impressed all year with getting maximum mileage out of their players, these moves will give the roster an immediate boost. Adding veterans Derek Morris and - to a lesser extent - Mathieu Schneider takes some heat off an undermanned blue line, and to add three more players up front gives more depth. It also gives coach Dave Tippett more ways to hold his players accountable so that a small slip in play can result in a fresh body going into the lineup. An overachieving team will often dive late in the year because the players can't sustain their level of play. These additions will help. The addition of Wojtek Wolski for Peter Mueller was a good move. Mueller has given the Coyotes very little this year and despite his inconsistency, Wolski will help the Coyotes anemic power play. With goals in back to back games, he's off to a good start.
1) Chris Stewart has exploded this year in Colorado. His 24 goals only tell a part of the story, as many felt that – for a player with so much going for him – he was not developing at a fast enough pace. At 23, Stewart showed some signs of his potential with 11 goals last year. But he's now become a consistent physical presence - which is a must for someone who weighs north of 220 pounds. Stewart had to take some steps to get this far and the first was to realize being an NHL player can't be a part time commitment. He stayed in Colorado for much of the summer working out with the team's strength coach and worked with a skating coach as well. Players do ‘get it' at different times (and some never do), but Stewart is reaping the benefits of his hard work and is developing into the power forward the Avs have been waiting for since they drafted him 18th overall in 2006.
2) There are lots of people to cheer for (and against) each season. Jose Theodore is one to cheer for. He's undefeated in regulation since mid-January (12-0-2) and is fighting to be the starter in goal for Washington when the playoffs begin. He will have to maintain his consistency with Semyon Varlamov on his heels. It's not just his fine play that deserves recognition. It's the fact that for the first time since last summer - when his infant son died - he has spoken about the subject. And it opened a deeply wounded man. I have kids too and can't imagine his pain. He took a leave of absence earlier in the season, had to re-group and has been remarkable since the start of the new year. To one of the good guys, I say good luck Jose.
3) I worked the Canadiens-Sharks game last week and watched as Maxim Lapierre shoved Scott Nichol into the boards. It was dangerous and disrespectful circumstance and there is no honor in that play. I was angry when I saw it, said so on the air and have been thinking what was going through his head when he did it. I think I know - nothing. Vacant. And I am happy the league suspended him for that play. Just as Matt Cooke blindsided Marc Savard Sunday afternoon (no suspension levied yet as I write this), the league simply can not allow the players to not expect punishment for these plays. If Colin Campbell has to suspend 10 guys a week, so be it. These plays mar the games.
First off, I want to thank so many of you who wrote kind words this past week commenting on the Olympic blog. I have answered a few below. Please keep them coming!
I am writing to you from Umea, Sweden. I was wondering about your opinion of the Swedish efforts at the Olympics. Bengt Gustafsson has had a lot of critics for choosing to go with Magnus Johansson as the eighth defenceman instead of getting another forward, as well as choosing to go with Weinhandl instead of getting a more two-way forward that could play both in a scoring line and in a fourth line. And what was the talk around the rink about Sweden's performance? Why didn't the Sedin twins shine like they do with the Canucks? What went wrong?
A couple of things became clear as these Olympics played out. One was that players that play exclusively in Europe were generally ineffective. Ivan Baranka was the eighth defenceman for the Czech Republic and never got on the ice. Couldn't Roman Hamrlik and Jaro Spacek be a bigger help? Jarkko Immonen was a spare part as the extra forward for Finland and I know Jussi Jokinen would've improved their team if he was included. Secondly, I understand the European concept of five-man units, (hence rosters with 12 forwards and eight defencemen), but in a tournament that doesn't allow injury substitutions, I don't like that roster composition. Sweden had an injury to Patric Hornqvist, combined with a flu bug that left them undermanned with 10 forwards in a game. I was underwhelmed by Sweden's performance, they didn't appear to have much zip to their game, and their roster inclusion of Mattias Weinhandl left Mikael Sammuelsson off the team - he would've been a much more effective fit with the Sedins.
Hi Ray, I'm from Dryden, Ontario (where Chris Pronger grew up) and I'm wondering if you think there is any remote possibility of Chris Pronger representing team Canada's men's hockey team at the next Olympics in Russia (provided NHL players are allowed to play)? I know it's hard to predict as it's four years away and Pronger is aging, but what do you think? Also, what did you think of Pronger's play during the Olympics? I thought he looked good at times but he seemed fairly inconsistent. Thanks!
There is virtually no chance that Pronger would play on the 2014 team. He doesn't move as well as he used to (who does as they get older?), and by that time Chris will be 40 years old. I thought his play was not to his standards, particularly early in the tournament, but played his best hockey later in the second week.
Hi Ray - My question to you is this - Why is Martin Brodeur praised so much as the best goalie of all time? When you really examine his track record, it isn't that impressive. Now before you stop reading this email and think I am just a fan that hates hear me out. I respect Brodeur and think he is a great goalie and has a great attitude. However, since the 2003 Cup win what has he done? He has won ONE playoff round since the 2003 Cup. His entire career he played in a defense first system. So why do people praise Brodeur as this iconic goalie? Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. Great work on the blogs, TSN and on radio.
He should be praised for his incredible record, because even though he has played in a defence first system during his career, his numbers tell you he has been a fabulous performer. Now it is really hard to compare the goalies of today against the guys from 50 or 60 years ago, as so much is different. For this argument, however, I have always stated that my choice is Patrick Roy. Here's why. He won four Stanley Cups, two of them that were not exactly world beaters in the 1986 and 1993 Canadiens. His style helped revolutionize a position and I don't think any of the teams he won with would have done so without his play. And his numbers are incredible as well.
Ray, you wrote "Jonathan Toews is, in a sense, a lot like Parise - unaffected by pressure." in your last blog. Would you say Phil Kessel is the opposite? I watched every game and I don't believe I heard is name mentioned more than twice the WHOLE tournament.
I would have to agree, Phil Kessel came up small in the Olympics, he seemed to struggle grasping when to use his speed and shot and never found any groove to get going.
Razor, seriously - how good is that you get to be at the Olympics, watch the best players in the world and then go back to working in the hockey environment with the NHL? Hockey guys like me just envy that so much. By hockey guys I am not just talking about fans but fanatics, every place has them and we all recognize each other. Coaches who got into coaching after we became to long in the tooth to play competitive, coach minor hockey right through the years your kids are playing(while getting all coaching levels). At the same time coaching high school hockey and junior hockey(one year senior at the same time), living in the rink and loving it. Then coming home and watching the game on TV, yes the wife thinks I am nuts. So how good do you have it and what's it like to be around those guys?
Brian - Mount Pearl, Newfoundland
The Games were so much fun - the level of play was as good as we will see and the passion that comes from representing your country is clear to see. Like you, hockey has been my whole life, and there very few days I don't think it is still awesome to watch the best players, hang around the rink, and get the best seat in the house to broadcast from. I dreamed of being an NHL player when I was a little boy, got to live my dream, and now actually "work" by going to the rink. It is the best.
Mr. Ferraro, was just wondering what your thoughts are on the Olympic hockey OT rule of 4 on 4? I would have preferred to see an OT period of 5 on 5 before taking a man off the ice. I thought the US would be in trouble once it was 4 on 4 because the Canadians are deeper and more skilled with more ice to work with. I am sad the U.S. lost but I am happy for Canada. A loss in this game would certainly have been devastating for most Canadians. Here in the States it was business as usual with most coverage talking about the stinkin NFL combine yesterday. Give me a break!
Ron in Chicago
I didn't mind the 4 on 4 right away, but I see your point and would fully support one 20 minute period of 5 on 5 during the playoffs, then go to 4 on 4. I can't imagine the TV stations that broadcast love a triple-overtime game, because it will screw up their post-game programming. If you look at long overtimes, they often lull for long stretches as the ice deteriorates and the players' fatigue. J.S. Giguere said a few years back that it actually gets easier to play goal as the games stretch into a second or third OT, as the slower play makes it easier for the goalie to read the play. BTW, I actually thought that if the OT went into the last 10 minutes, the U.S. would have an advantage, as Canada was playing their fourth game in six days.
I appreciate you having a site that can answer my question and keep up the good work between the benches. I was a little bit flustered when I did not see any of the coaching staff for the hockey teams get any medals? Has the IOC change their format so as the coaching staff not get any medals or am I thinking of another hockey tournament. Thanks again , take care and keep up the good work.
Kent, Lancaster ON
The coaches at any Olympic sport do not receive medals. They are for the athletes only. I held one last week - they are beautiful.
I've just come from reading your review of the Olympics. The story about the Latvian back-up goalie was my favorite. It must have been an amazing and memorable experience for everyone involved! My question: Now that the Canadian men's team has won gold, is there any talk to what the players will do with their cash (deserved) reward? I suppose it is a personal decision, but in this day and age, PR means a lot.
Thanks and take care, Heather
It will definitely be a personal decision for each player. When the Canadian Olympic Committee pays the money out, each player can do what they choose with it. An example is Roberto Luongo. He says that he will divide the money between Canuck Place (the teams' designated charity in Vancouver) and a personal charity back home in Quebec. I am assuming most will do something similar, but will be done with very little publicity.
Ray, we have been having this debate. What is more important to an NHL player - Olympic Gold Medal or Stanley Cup? Also - is it different for European players than for North American players and for U.S. players than Canadian?
Thanks, Mike in Halifax
The North American player dreams of winning the Stanley Cup and everyone I have asked said the Cup is their No. 1 goal. I know it would've been mine. A personal example is that, as I said earlier, I held a gold medal last week, but would never touch the Cup or take a picture with it unless I had won it. The European player feels a bit differently, mainly because their boyhood dreams involve the Olympics.
Hi Ray! I am a HUGE Red Wings fan . I wanted to know if you think that the Wings will make the playoffs this year. In 20 years (I am only 30) I never saw my team play like ordinary players. What I mean by that is that they play with no heart and no soul. Sure, there were injuries, but that should push them down to the 5 or 6 spot in the conference...not 10! Furthermore, a lot of analysts say that it is old age...I don't think so, I really feel that they just don't have the passion and mind in the right place.
Go Wings! Nathalie in Montreal
It is impossible for a team to be a top tier team forever. If you look only at this past summer, it was certain the Wings would miss the 80+ goals that left with Jiri Hudler, Marian Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson. Couple this with some aging players - in particular a declining Nicklas Lidstrom (it pains me to say that - he has been one of my favorites for a long time), lower than usual production for Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk - and you get a team that might have to step back before it can go forward again. I do believe, however, that they will make the playoffs.
Hi Ray, do you think Halak's performance at the Olympic Games should solidify him as the Montreal Canadiens' No. 1 goalie?
This is what I do think. The Canadiens couldn't trade one of their goalies now - as Pierre Gauthier told me the other night. If they traded one, and the goalie they kept played 15 of the 18 games remaining, who plays the other three? Those are crucial points that may determine if the Habs get into the playoffs or not. Halak's play has increased his value again and Carey Price had two excellent starts after the break. If it were me, Halak would be my starter right now and there is no way I go into the draft with both goalies. I am going to get a high draft pick and a roster player (if possible) in a trade.
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