Jesper Jensen stretchered off after Marcus Nilson’s check in Swedish Elite League (VIDEO)

15 Oct

Here's one of those litmus tests for hockey fans: Was Marcus Nilson finishing his check on Rögles defenseman Jesper Jensen, or was this a late hit into the boards well after Jensen released the puck?

The incident occurred in a Swedish Elite League game on Saturday between Rögles and HV7, the home of former AHL scoring hero and beloved NHL journeyman Jason Krog. Jensen's head slammed into the boards near the HV71 bench, and he remained flat on his back until he was finally stretchered off the ice.

He was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a concussion. The first period was postponed until after the first intermission, when it was completed. HV71 won the game, 3-2, in overtime.

Another look:

Nilson, who played for the Florida Panthers and the Calgary Flames in the NHL, didn't receive a penalty on the play, which is surprising for one reason: politics.

It had been less than a week since HV71 forward Oscar Sundh hit his head on the ice and their game against Lulea was postponed to a later date for completion. Do you think there might have been a penalty in the NHL given that context, and their penchant for overreaction?

As for Jensen, a point of concern: He's two years removed from a devastating concussion suffered when he was 18 years old, and this was his third concussion overall. According to, Jensen will miss two weeks after the Nilson hit.

Tags: , , , , HV71, Jason Krog, Jesper Jensen, , litmus, Marcus Nilson, , stretchered, Swedish Elite League
No Comments Share Read More

NHL 2012-13 Campaign Preview: Washington Capitals

08 Oct

Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals had retooled during the summer, jettisoning a few players (including the Semyon Varlamov trade) and bringing in veterans like Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, with an eye on finally finding postseason success.

But first, they had to find regular-season success again: Two days after a humiliating loss to a depleted Buffalo Sabres team, the Capitals fired Coach Bruce Boudreau following a 12-9-1 start (that included benchings for both Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin). Boudreau had a record of 201-88-40 for the Capitals, led the team to the playoffs in each of this seasons there and once did an entire interview on HBO with food on his face.

Enter Dale Hunter, the Capitals legend who had coached the London Knights for the last 11 seasons. Long coveted by GM George McPhee, Hunter brought a conservative defensive style that the team finally bought into in the postseason; leading to a win over the Boston Bruins in the first round and the ascendance of rookie goalie Braden Holtby to postseason star. Alas, the run ended at the hands of the New York Rangers in Game 7.

After the season, Hunter walked away from the Capitals to return to juniors, and Washington inked another former player to replace him: New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates.

Can he be the one to finally get the team past the second round of the conference playoffs?

"Finally Drained of Semin"

As was just crudely mentioned, Alex Semin and the Capitals finally parted ways after seven years of brilliant offensive moments but frustratingly inconstant play and questions about work ethic. It was time for a change for both teams, as Semin signed with the Carolina Hurricanes -- but his offense isn't easily replaced.

The Capitals bid farewell to goalie Tomas Vokoun, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins; forward Mike Knuble, who was unsigned; defenseman Dennis Wideman, who signed with the Calgary Flames; winger Chris Bourque, was traded to Boston fro Zach Hamill; center Keith Aucoin, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs; and center Jeff Halpern and defenseman Sean Collins, who signed with the Rangers.

The Capitals weren't overwhelmingly active in free agency — they added Wojtek Wolski, Ryan Stoa, Jack Hillen and Joey Crabb — but swung for the fences with a big trade: Acquiring C Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for C Cody Eakin and a second-round 2012 draft pick.

At forward … Alex Ovechkin finished with the lowest points per game average (0.83, the first time he was under a point per game) of his career, although he surged to 38 goals with a late-season push. Having center Nicklas Backstrom limited with 42 games due to a concussion was no doubt a factor. With Oates behind the bench, perhaps Ovechkin can make up some of the points he's lost on special teams in recent seasons.

Backstrom had 44 points in 42 games, skating to a minus-4. Having Ribeiro on the second line will help take some of the pressure off the talented pivot, rather than having a revolving cast of characters as the second option at center.

Marcus Johannson was third on the team in points, but managed only 3 in 14 playoff games. Still, he showed solid offensive promise in his sophomore season skating with Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Ribeiro should have Troy Brouwer on his line, as the former Blackhawk netted 18 goals last season. Mathieu Perreault is undersized but can create his own chances, as he frequently did in scoring 30 points in 64 games last season. Or perhaps, the Capitals will give speedy Jason Chimera a look after his breakout season with 20 goals.

Brooks Laich had 16 goals and 41 points on the season, and should be able to slide back into a defensive mode with the top two center spots solidified. Joel Ward, hero of Game 7 (well, at least to some) against Boston, will settle into a checking role again for the Capitals. Washington has several other truculent options down the lineup, like fan favorites Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks.

Where Wolski and AHLer Stanislav Galiev fit are anyone's guess.

On defense … It wasn't a sterling year for the Capitals' top two remaining puck-moving defensemen (with Wideman gone). John Carlson posted 32 goals, but finished at a minus-15, taking a step back from a stellar rookie season, Mike Green was limited to 32 games due to injury and posted seven points. He had a very strong postseason and earned a new contract; will we ever see the old Mike Green again?

Carlson should be back with Karl Alzner again, who may have been the team's best defenseman last season. Roman Hamrlik, the 38-year-old defenseman who averaged 19:13 TOI last season, will be back in the top four.

Rounding out the lineup: Defensive defenseman John Erskine and speedy Dmitri Orlov, along with Jack Hillen and Jeff Schultz. Then there's Tom Poti, still under contract but likely done.

In goal … Holtby should enter the season (whenever it starts) as the top option between the pipes, and is getting more work in the AHL during the lockout. He thrived in Dale Hunter's system; can he do the same for Oates?

Michael Neuvirth called Holtby the "weakest competition" he'll have faced in a goalie tandem, and then walked away from that statement briskly. Which ignores the fact that he's right: Holtby doesn't have the body of work in the NHL that Varlamov and Vokoun had. But Holtby's also been groomed to be the starter for years, considered by many to be a better prospect than Neuvirth. Two young goalies trying to beat the other out of a job. Not a bad problem to have for the Caps.

BEAT DAT BEAT UP! GTL 4 LIFE! (Mike Green pops collar.)

Oates arrives having never been a head coach in the NHL but having served well as an assistant with the Cup Finalist Devils last season. His hockey smarts are off the charts, and his offensive credentials are unimpeachable. If he can apply some of this power-play efficiency to this Capitals roster, their offense could roll.

That said, Boudreau lost the team and Hunter didn't feel compelled to return. Can Oates manage this locker room?

McPhee once again has attempted to add the last touches to a contender, in the hopes that this formula works. He deserved much credit for hiring Hunter and making some of the moves that paid off in the first two rounds of the playoffs (like Ward, finally). But he didn't replace Semin's offense, he may miss Wideman's points from the blue line and there's a creeping sense that the window is closing on this group — despite McPhee having locked up so many of them long term.

We'll go with Backstrom, who from an offensive and defensive perspective might be the most complete forward on the team. He's two seasons removed from his 101-point breakout, but should thrive with Ribeiro behind him and Oates there to teach him.

Orlov. He was a scratch in the playoffs, but had 19 points in 60 games for the Capitals during the regular season. He's got speed and size, and is yet another offensive option for the Caps on their blue line.

Holtby. While we think the kid has the goods, let's take a step back and see what the numbers look like without Hunter Hockey in front of him -- and with teams being a tad more familiar with him.

[Female Narrator]

"Childhood obesity. A scourge on our society. A drag on our health system.

"Candy bars and potato chips: leading causes of childhood obesity.

"And yet Alex Ovechkin violently covets these treats:

"And tries to trick our children into thinking they can be used to create rips in the fabric of time and space:

"Let Alex Ovechkin know that childhood obesity matters to you.

"And by that, I mean poke him in the belly during the offseason.

"Paid for by George McPhee."

The Southeast is a more interesting place than last season: The Carolina Hurricanes have Jordan Staal and Semin; the Lightning have bolster their blue line and addressed their goaltending; the Panthers were a division champ last season (and are waiting on Luongo). The Capitals need a smooth transition to Oates next season, because a playoff spot isn't predestined for any team that gets off slowly in the East.

That said, the Capitals should be a playoff team. And Ovechkin should reclaim his form.

Tags: Adam Oates, , , goalie, , , , , , Wolski
No Comments Share Read More

EA Sports explains how the ‘Hercules Check’ in ‘NHL 13′ really happened (VIDEO)

05 Oct

Glitches in video games are sometimes frustrating, but often hilarious. Case and point: the "Hercules Check" that we featured last week showing Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara launching Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby into the fifth row thanks to a booming hip check.

The clip went viral and EA enlisted NHL 13 producer Sean Ramjagsingh to help explain just how they captured that added bit of "realism":

If you're a golf fan, you might remember when a gamer found a glitch in Tiger Woods 08 allowing a shot to be made while standing on top of water. EA had Tiger "demonstrate" that he's regularly able to make the "Jesus shot" and that it certainly was no glitch.

Now, if we could only get them to make hits in the NHL series to mimic those of our favorite fighting games, like the "Hadouken", or just keep the already hilarious glitched reactions to some checks.

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

Tags: , , clip, , EA Sports, , , Penguins, Pittsburgh Penguins, , , Zdeno Chara
No Comments Share Read More

NHL 2012-13 Campaign Preview: St. Louis Blues

04 Oct

Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the St. Louis Blues.

After 13 games in the 2011-12 season, the St. Louis Blues were a middling 6-7. Thus ended the tenure of Coach Davis Payne, as GM Doug Armstrong called in an old friend: Ken Hitchcock, who coached for Armstrong in Dallas.

The result: Hitchcock improved the team's special teams, solidified the defense and led the Blues to 109 points and first in the Western Conference. They defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games, but lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in four games.

Can Hitchcock get the same results from a team that didn't see much turnover during the offseason, or was last season lightning in a bottle?

"Karma's a Hitch"

The Blues had a rather quiet offseason, which could be chalked up to a cautious approach from new owner Tom Stillman — or simply a desire to continue playing a winning hand.

Joining the Blues via free agency were Jeff Woywitka, defenseman from the Rangers; Andrew Murray, a center from San Jose; and Taylor Chorney, defenseman from Edmonton.

Another addition: Highly-touted rookie Vladimir Tarasenko signed after playing in the KHL. He can do this.

Leaving the Blues: Defensemen Danny Syvret (Flyers) and Carlo Colaiacovo (Red Wings), as well as unsigned veteran center Jason Arnott. They also traded grinder B.J. Crombeen to the Lightning.

At forward … David Backes saw his offensive numbers slip (24 goals, 54 points) but thrived as a leader under Hitchcock. He finally received recognition of his defensive prowess with a Selke nomination. T.J. Oshie had a career best 54 points, while David Perron rebounded from a career-threatening concussion to post the best points per game average (0.74) of his career.

Andy McDonald was limited to 25 games due to injury, but put up a strong 22 points. His frequent linemate Patrik Berglund had 19 goals. Alex Steen also battled through injuries, but was right around his expected level of production with 28 points.

Chris Stewart was a significant disappointment for the Blues, failing to fulfill the promise of his 28-goal season. He had 15 goals and 15 assists, was demoted down the lineup and was a healthy scratch twice in the playoffs. He's back on a 1-year deal.

Hitchcock liked to use Vladimir Sobotka in a number of different roles, and saw some time on the top line last season. He plays bigger than his size, and could be a good first linemate for Tarasenko.

Jamie Langenbrunner, back on a 1-year deal, is no longer a goal-scoring threat, with six in 70 games last season. But he brings some veteran leadership, and experience playing under Hitchcock. Matt D'Agostini's numbers dipped, as did his ice time. Scott Nichol, 37, returns as a truculent veteran down the lineup, and Ryan Reaves brings extra size and toughness.

The wild card at forward: Jaden Schwartz, who showed flashes of potential in 19 games last season and is a prized prospect.

On defense … Alex Pietrangelo had a breakout offensive season, and an overall campaign that deserved more Norris Trophy love. With Colaiacovo moving on, the options for Pietrangelo's new partner on the left side might be Ian Cole (15:55 TOI in 26 games last season) or Hitchcock favorite Kris Russell (plus-13 in 43 games). But really, anyone on the Blues' blueline will thrive with Pietrangelo.

Kevin Shattenkirk has posted 9 goals and 34 assists in each of his first two NHL seasons, and was a plus-20 last season. He could partner with veteran Barrett Jackman, who opted not to play the UFA game by signing a 3-year deal with the Blues. He was a plus-20 in 81 games last season. Roman Polak brings a solid defensive defenseman game, skating 18:52 per game last season. Jeff Woywitka brings depth and a rather high Words With Friends score.

Kent Huskins waits and wonders if the team needs another D-man.

In goal … Brian Elliott was snubbed in the Vezina voting after a record-setting season for the Blues. His 38 games might not have been a large enough sample, but his 1.56 GAA, .940 save percentage and nine shutouts in that span were incredible. He inked a 2-year extension with the Blues.

Jaroslav Halak found himself in another goalie platoon thanks to Elliott, but also benefitted from the Hitchcock system: 1.97 GAA and a .926 save percentage in winning 26 games in 46 appearances.

We'll go with DJ Quali-T with "Were (sic) Coming For It", because it manages to so deftly rhyme "it" with … "it."

Ken Hitchcock's Jack Adams Award-winning season for the Blues saw them go 43-15-11 under his guidance. He helped turn around their special teams, squeezed complete performances out of players like Oshie and transformed the Blues into a defensive juggernaut. He's one of the finest coaches in hockey, and a pretty good dude at that.

Armstrong's decision to hire Hitchcock could be seen as a panic move, knowing that new ownership might want its own people in place for the Blues. Whatever the case, it was a stroke of genius and earned Armstrong the chance to construct a champion with the purse strings finally loosened (one assumes).

We got a good glimpse at the St. Louis Blues without Pietrangelo and with a less-than-100-percent Pietrangelo in the series vs. the Kings. He led the team in the regular season in TOI (24:43) by over three minutes a game over the next highest ice-time earner. He's essential on the kill and on the power play.

Tarasenko is fast, strong and has been playing against professional competition since he was 16. The Blues have been eager to get him over to the NHL, and for good reasons: He's got the skills to challenge for the Calder if given the chance.

Elliott. It's nearly unfathomable that he'll be able to replicate his record numbers from last season, but we'd be happy to have been proven wrong.

[Male Narrator]

"He's tough. He's rugged. He answers with his fists. He scores dirty goals. And he's a born leader.

"So why does David Backes continue to lie about being a Canadian?

"David Backes: Plays like a Canadian. Pretends to be an American.

"Paid for by Hockey Canada."

There's no reason to believe that the Blues and Hitchcock will regress, especially with the rest of the Central Division facing some adversity (goodbye, Misters Lidstrom and Suter). They'll still need another veteran defenseman and a veteran winger to get over the hump and challenge for the Cup, but the window is wide open for this group.

No Comments Share Read More

Maple Leafs D Franson signs with Swedish club (Yahoo! Sports)

01 Oct
GAVLE, Sweden (AP) -- Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson has signed a one-year contract to play in the Swedish league, regardless of whether the NHL lockout is resolved.
Tags: club, Cody, Cody Franson, , , Franson, , Maple, Maple Leafs, , Swedish club, Swedish league,
No Comments Share Read More

NHL 2012-13 Campaign Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

30 Sep

Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Philadelphia Flyers.

Just one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the Flyers blew up their locker room in Summer 2011. Mike Richards was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Jeff Carter was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, eventually joining Richards to win the Cup with the Kings.

Other huge changes: Ilya Bryzgalov was signed to a 9-year contract, ostensibly to solve the team's longstanding goaltending issues (and, perhaps, unlock the secrets of the universe); and Jaromir Jagr put on the orange and black on a 1-year deal.

The results were positive — mostly. The removal of Richards/Carter seemed to work from a chemistry perspective, and Jagr helped turn Claude Giroux into a star. But Bryzgalov was inconsistent in goal, and a cataclysmic injury to captain Chris Pronger changed the dynamic of the blue line. The Flyers finished fifth in the East with 103 points. They ousted the Pittsburgh Penguins in an epic first-round battle, but didn't have enough left against the New Jersey Devils in Round 2, seeing their run end in five games.

Is Philadelphia on track to win its first Cup since 1975?

"Eff Crosby"

The offseason transactions begin with The One That Got Away.

The 14-year, $110-million offer sheet given to defenseman Shea Weber of the Predators would have transformed the blue line for the Flyers, defensively and offensively. But the Predators matched, leaving the Flyers with their draft picks intact and without a game-changer to replace Chris Pronger.

Jagr decided to chase the money down to Dallas, signing a 1-year $4.55 million deal with the Stars. Defenseman Matt Carle also left, signing a 6-year deal worth $33 million with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In a long-rumored trade, the Flyers sent James van Riemsdyk (and his contract) to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn, who may or may not have a sibling on the Flyers.

The Flyers added a few players via free agency: Danny Syvret, a defenseman from the Blues; Bruno Gervais, a defenseman from the Lightning; and veteran Ruslan Fedotenko, who played for the Rangers last season.

At forward … Claude Giroux is now a video game cover boy and entered into the Best Player In The World conversation at 24 years old, after a 93-point performance last season. His 1.21 points per game was a career best, and he had 17 points in 10 playoff games — along with a classic hit on Sidney Crosby.

Scott Hartnell ran shotgun on Giroux's line, tallying 67 points in the best offensive season of his career (to go along with the customary 136 PIMs). But Jagr, their running mate on one of the NHL's best lines last season, has moved on. Can Jakub Voracek, who idolized his countryman Jagr, move up to the top unit and be as effective?

Danny Briere posted his lowest points-per-game total (0.70) since 2001, managing just 16 goals after posting 34 in the previous season. He still brought it in the playoffs — 13 points in 11 games — but the Flyers need more from him in the regular season.

Wayne Simmonds, acquired in the Richards trade, had a promising first season in Philly with 28 goals; now, what does he do with a 6-year contract in his pocket?

The Flyers received a tremendous boost last season from a trio of rookies: Brayden Schenn (12 goals in 54 games), Matt Read (24 goals) and Sean Couturier (27 points, and stellar defensive play in the postseason). Schenn is expected to be a second liner with van Riemsdyk gone; what can Read and Couturier do for an encore?

Max Talbot is the veteran anchor of the lineup's role players, along with Fedotenko. Eric Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo and Harry Zolnierczyk are in the mix as well.

On defense … the Flyers have 10 defensemen that could be in the mix for NHL jobs, and one named Chris Pronger that remains in a prolonged concussion rehab.

Kimmo Timonen is in the last year of his contract and is the Flyers' elder statesman on defense. His 43 points led all Flyers blueliners, and he skated an average of 21:14 per game. With Carle gone, the rest of the offensive load may fall to Andrej Meszaros, who had 25 points in 62 games last season and Braydon Coburn (22:03 TOI), a defensive defenseman who'll need to offer up a little more offense.

Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann are defensive stalwarts; it'll be especially interesting to see how Schenn blossoms in the Flyers' system. Andreas Lilja, Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Brandon Manning, Syvret and Gervais are all in the mix.

In goal … Bryzgalov finished the regular season with a 2.48 GAA and a .909 save percentage. In the playoffs, he ended with a 3.46 GAA and a .887 save percentage, thanks in part to that carnival act of a series against the Penguins.

But the bottom line is that for a goalie signed to be the Answer, he's just another Question Mark for the Flyers. There were times he was very good. There were others in which fans went after him like Chinese authorities chasing a tiger poacher. His HBO interviews made him a national sensation; they also underscored what a flighty mess he could be, to the point where the Flyers protected him by sitting him for the Winter Classic.

Is Bryzgalov the team's best hope in goal, or will he suddenly "disappear" to the KHL if he's not the answer?

Patrick Kane's favorite goaltender, Michael Leighton, looks to be the backup.

As we discovered on HBO, Mac Miller is terrible.

When Peter Laviolette isn't shoving opposing players in the concourse, he's a darn good hockey coach. He probably didn't get enough credit for keeping this Flyers team successful after the locker room was blown up and Pronger went down; lord knows he'll get the blame if that success subsides. But that new contract was a vote of confidence.

GM Paul Holmgren aggressively remade his roster, and there were plenty of critics ready to pounce if that failed. It didn't. But the whiff on Weber underscores the biggest concern for Holmgren: the blue line, even with Schenn, isn't good enough to win the East, let alone cover for the goaltending behind it.

Giroux is the team's best player and the new face of the franchise. He's on track to become a perennial Hart contender. The only question, besides health: How much impact did Jagr have on his 17-point increase year to year?

Brayden Schenn should get second-line duty with Simmonds and Briere next season, which means he should have every opportunity to blow up offensively.

Bryzgalov is "skinny and prepared", and has a season in the Philly pressure cooker under his belt. He's also a goalie that went from being a free agent coup to having fans calculating his buyout impact.

[Female Narrator]

"Times are tough. People are worried. Now more than ever, we need someone who will stand up for us.

"Instead, all Scott Hartnell does is fall down.

"Like, a lot.

"Paid for by People Against Fartsmell."

The Flyers are a playoff team, but how far they can advance will be predicated on Bryzgalov, the growth of last year's rookie crop and how aggressive Holmgren gets in filling the lineup's holes.

Tags: , , , Lightning, ,
No Comments Share Read More

NHL 2012-13 Campaign Preview: Montreal Canadiens

24 Sep

Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Montreal Canadiens.

The Montreal Canadiens were one fortunate bounce of a puck away from eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins during their 7-game opening round playoff series in 2011. Nathan Horton put an end to the Habs' season in overtime of Game 7 and 12 months later it was looking like a return trip to the postseason wouldn't be coming for awhile.

The season that followed was one of change and transition. A slow start eventually cost head coach Jacques Martin his job. His replacement, Randy Cunneyworth, found himself in the middle of a language dispute while holding the "interim" title. In January, a frustrated Mike Cammalleri spoke out and was dealt to Calgary a day later. GM Pierre Gauthier was finally let go, along with special advisor Bob Gainey, at the end of March; and the Canadiens would finish dead last in the Eastern Conference with their lowest point total in almost a decade.

But out with the old and in with the new. Rookie General Manager Marc Bergevin was hired in May and he decided to bring back head coach Michel Therrien, who stood behind the Montreal bench for two and a half seasons at the beginning of the 2000s. Bergevin also brought in Rick Dudley as assistant GM and retired NHLers Donald Audette and John Madden (scouting), Patrice Brisbois (player development coach), Martin LaPointe (director of player development), Sylvain Lefebvre (AHL head coach), and Scott Mellanby (director of player personnel) to fill various roles in the organization.

There was more turnover in the executive offices than on the roster, but a cleaning of house was needed in Montreal. Bergevin did invest in the Habs' future by drafting Alex Galchenyuk No. 3 overall at the NHL Draft in June and signing Carey Price (six years, $39 million) and Max Pacioretty (six years, $27 million) to extensions. Defenseman P.K. Subban, a restricted free agent, remains unsigned until the lockout ends, but he should join that list soon after things are resolved.

With a clean slate, the only direction for the Habs to go is up. The question is how big of an immediate step in the right direction will they take this season?

"Now 516 days since our last playoff game... still less than the Maple Leafs."

The on-ice product won't feature many changes from last season. Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust were brought in to provide depth and toughness up front. Armstrong only played 70 with the Toronto Maple Leafs over the past two seasons and has been inconsistent offensively throughout his career. Prust parlayed two strong seasons (18 goals, 46 points, 316 PIMs, 164 games) with the New York Rangers into a 4-year, $10 million deal.

Francis Bouillon will replace the departed (and still unsigned) Chris Campoli in the back. He'll be a veteran presence while Yannick Weber, Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz continue to find their way in the NHL.

At forward … Montreal's top three scorers all came from their first line, who each had career seasons in 2011-12. In his fourth year, Max Pacioretty broke out offensively with a 33-goal, 65 point campaign and earned that long extension. David Desharnais will be an RFA next summer and putting up another 60-plus point season will do his bank account some good. Veteran Erik Cole left Carolina to sign a big money deal with the Habs last summer and was worth the investment with 35 goals and 61 points.

All was well and good on the top line, but further down the lineup is where the production slowed. Just three other Montreal forwards finished with double digit goals (two if you take away Rene Bourque's five after being deal from Calgary) and other than the top three, only Tomas Plekanec (52 points) finished with more than 28 points on the season.

Lars Eller took a nice step forward with 16 goals, including a 4-goal night versus Winnipeg, but it'll be vital for him, Bourque, Plekanec and a healthy Brian Gionta (31 games last season) to pick up the slack. What of Scott Gomez? Only two more seasons left at a $7.357 cap hit. So, there's that to look forward to.

The bottom six will be tough to play against and the Montreal penalty kill (2nd overall, 88.6 per cent) again be strong. Prust and Travis Moen should have no problems getting under opponents' skins.

On defense … Of all non-playoff teams, Montreal finished with the lowest number of goals allowed (2.61 per game, 11th overall) and that was without Andrei Markov for 75 games. The Russian defenseman has undergone two knee surgeries in the past two years and played a total of 20 games for the Habs.  When healthy, Markov provides production from the blueline and is the powerplay quarterback. P.K. Subban, while still maturing, led the Canadiens defense with seven goals and 31 points. Tomas Kaberle was acquired in December and had 22 points in 43 games with the Canadiens. Markov's return will be a boost, but given his recent history, it's better to allow his comeback be a surprise than expect him back.

In goal … Carey Price is the face of the franchise and the barometer for the team's success. After battling Jaroslav Halak in 2009-10, Price has had the reigns all to himself the past two seasons and saw his numbers rise dramatically and fall slowly. A new contract no competition from Peter Budaj once again, Price will have to again wins some games by himself and hope that a 19-ranked offense can bail him out on nights when he's off.

Canadiens fans' hands were actually going up last season because they were just surrendering.

Whenever Marc Bergevin leaves the Canadiens, he can say he did it his way: bringing in his own people and reshaping a front office that needed an overhauling. Missing the playoffs has been something over the past decade that's occurred too often compared to the rich history of the organization. Bergevin has a plan to bring the Canadiens back to hallowed graces in the hockey world, it just might take a little bit of time.

Michel Therrien comes back to Montreal a much wiser coach. He arrived in 2000 at age 37 as a rookie. He returns with 462 NHL games under his belt, including an appearance in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final with Pittsburgh. Therrien knows the pressure that exists coaching the Canadiens and that will be to his advantage in his second tenure with the club.

The Canadiens will go as far as Carey Price will take them. After a career season in 2010-11, his numbers took a slight step back last season. Things ended prematurely after suffering a concussion in March, but when healthy can be one of the league's best. He signed a long-term extension over the summer and if Montreal is to make a quick turnaround from 15th in the East, it will begin with Price's play in goal.

In his first full NHL season David Desharnais made his presence known with a 60-point campaign. The 26-year old was helped by his linemates, Cole and Pacioretty, and a 16.3 per cent shooting percentage. With very little change to the lineup, it'll be up to his top line again to provide production, with Desharnais the center of it all.

Rene Bourque was a consistent 20-goal scorer in Calgary, but after coming over to the Canadiens in January he struggled posting just five goals in 38 games, including one in his last 20. It's vital for the success of the Habs for him to regain his scoring form that he had with the Flames.

[Male Narrator]

"Hockey. A beautiful game.

"The Montreal Canadiens sweater. Perhaps its most beautiful jersey.

"And yet there are those who choose to sully perfect with ... a turtleneck.

"Spare us Tomas Plekanec. It's not that cold and you're not Alexei Yashin."

It can't really get worse for the Canadiens. Despite returning mostly the same roster from 2011-12, a healthy one will show improvement as Montreal led the NHL with 440 man-games lost to injury. Contributions from the depth up front will help the offense. A healthy Markov will improve the defense. The Carey Price from 2011-12 returning to form will help the goals against. Michel Therrien will have his hands full as he returns as head coach, but he's shown a history of taking teams and improving them within a year.

No Comments Share Read More

NHL 2012-13 Campaign Preview: Florida Panthers

21 Sep

Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Florida Panthers.

History was made last season in Sunrise as the Panthers won their first ever division title and qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 1999-200 season. (That's three arena name changes ago now that BankAtlantic Center will be called the BB&T Center.) Despite a massive overhauling of their roster from the season prior, the Panthers shot out of the gate quickly and spent 128 days atop the Southeast Division, boosted by an NHL-high 18 points from overtime and shootout losses.

The rats returned, but the Panthers were exterminated in the opening round by the New Jersey in seven games thanks to the first of Adam Henrique's postseason heroics for the eventual Stanley Cup runners-up.

But despite the disappointing end to the campaign, there was much optimism to be had for the future. GM Dale Tallon's off-season spending spree had paid off and the passion for hockey in South Florida returned, even as the Miami Heat were en route to the NBA title. Average attendance (16,629) and sellouts (17) at BankAtlantic Center were the highest they've been since the team moved there in 1998.

So now that the Panthers finally have expectations placed upon them for the first time in forever, can they maintain their success?

"Red Rising, and we don't mean Brian Campbell's cap hit."

As was expected, defenseman Jason Garrison cashed in on a career season (16 goals, 33 points) and left for greener pastures in Vancouver. Attempting to replace his offense Tallon signed Filip Kuba (6 goals, 32 points with Ottawa) to a 2-year, $8 million deal. Where Garrison excelled on the power play (9 PPGs), Kuba and others will have to pick up the slack.

A fresh start could do Peter Mueller some good. After dealing with concussion issues the past few seasons, he signed a 1-year deal and if he can stay healthy, Mueller could be a vital part of Florida's top-six. It's a low-risk, potential high reward move by Tallon; and so far they've paid off.

Adding toughness at the bottom of the forward group will be George Parros, who replaces Matt Bradley and Krys Barch in the team "You wanna go?" department. With a number of youngsters coming through the ranks the next two seasons, Parros will provide adequate protection and also be a visible face (and mustache) in the community.

Acquired during the season, Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit), Marco Sturm (UFA) and Wojtek Wolski (Washington) were not re-signed, while veteran forward John Madden retired and joined the Montreal Canadiens' front office.

At forward … Aside from the Los Angeles Kings, the Panthers were the lowest scoring team to make the playoffs averaging just 2.4 goals per game. Seven of the eight players who hit double digits in goals will be returning, including leading scorer Tomas Fleischmann (27 goals, 67 points), franchise stalwart and likely next captain Stephen Weiss (20 goals, 57 points) and rapper extraordinaire and new $17 million man Kris Versteeg (23 goals, 54 points).

The top line did most of the heavy listing (70 of 197 goals) and they'll once again have to rely on their depth in order to make a run at a second straight playoff berth. Scottie Upshall has had an injury-plagued career, but shown he can contribute when healthy. Same thing for Mueller, who hasn't produced at a high level since his rookie year in Phoenix when he netted 22 goals. Sean Bergenheim scored a career high 17 goals in just 62 games last season, proving he wasn't just a playoff performer. Marcel Goc is likely the most underrated player in the league.

Hoping to come in and contribute right away will be rookie pivot Jonathan Huberdeau. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 Draft lit up the QMJHL last season with 30 goals and 72 points in 37 games after leading the Panthers in scoring during the preseason. He's done all he can in Saint John. It's time for his to perform on the big stage.

On defense … The blueline will miss Garrison's booming slap shot and Kuba will have to try to help fill that offensive void despite only reaching double digit goals once in his career. One of Tallon's biggest moves was convincing Brian Campbell to come to Florida and it paid off. Campbell was the team's only All-Star last season, a deserving honor. "Soupy" led all NHL players in time on ice, averaging 26:53 per game; posted a career high in points with 53 and became the first defenseman to win the Lady Byng Trophy since Red Kelly in 1954.

The Panthers were 12th in goals against with 2.63 per game and feature a mix of vets (Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver) and kids (Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Keaton Ellerby and potentially Alex Petrovic) on defense. The penalty kill was 25th in league (79.5 per cent) and despite spending the second-lowest amount of time in the league shorthanded (383:28).

In goal … For now it's once again the Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen show. The pair started 76 games last season with rookie Jacob Markstrom getting the nod in six games as an injury replacement. With the 36-year old Theodore entering the final year of his contract, the path was set for Markstrom to take over the job. But with the never-ending rumors of Roberto Luongo and the 10 years left on his contract returning to the Panthers, the franchise's "goalie of the future" might soon be someone else's.

If any opponents -- or say, local beat writers -- want to take shots at the Panthers, no worries, they'll just keep on succeeding and include you in a "Suck on that!" video.

The question facing rookie head coach Kevin Dineen last season was how long it would take him to find the right chemistry among the lines with so many new faces. While everyone was still learning each others' names, the Panthers started off strong and maintained their position in the Southeast Division, earning the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Now in his second season, Dineen will need to learn how to duplicate that success.

GM Dale Tallon helped build a Stanley Cup winner in Chicago -- albeit, after he was fired; and he's quickly doing the same in Florida. From behind the bench to on the ice, his changed since he arrived in May 2010 have worked to alter the culture of the organization. After years and years of losing, Panthers fans are expecting a winner now and Tallon will need to continue having a Midas touch to keep the interest level high in South Florida.

A healthy and happy Campbell meant a productive one. The 33-year old was refreshed last season and with the absence of Garrison, he'll once again need to be a stable presence out of the back. He eats minutes, contributes on the power play and helps control the tempo. Campbell is the Panther defenseman who can handle all that responsibility successfully.

Huberdeau's the easy pick. He'll enter the NHL with expectations of being a No. 3 pick, but he'll be surrounded by talent and veterans, which will make his transition go smoothly.

Filip Kuba is not going to replace Garrison's offense. Panthers fans realize this coming into the season. But Kuba's been a contract year player. He put up 40 points in 2008-09, then signed a 3-year, $11.1 million extension with Ottawa. Over the next two injury-plagued seasons Kuba combined for a total of 44 points. After last season's comeback with 32 points, he earned a 2-year, $8 million deal with Florida. Which Kuba will the Panthers see?

[Female Narrator]

"A hockey arena. A safe harbor for you and your family. A place where children don't have anything to fear.

"Unless, of course, you're in Sunrise, Florida.

"Rats. Disease carrying vermin. Flying through the air. Landing on ... your children. Or the ice. But also your children.

"The Florida Panthers. Yuck. Paid for by Cats."

What once was the known as the "South-least" Division was competitive down to the wire. The Panthers made the biggest jump, but many believed they benefited from an off-year by the Washington Capitals. Was it an aberration? We'll find out; but the results on the ice speak volumes. A number of Panthers sported career seasons, which powered them to a division title. The Southeast will once again be tight with Carolina is expected to provide powerful opposition. Can those offensive leaders once again carry the load?

No Comments Share Read More

Sabres D Ehrhoff to play in native Germany (Yahoo! Sports)

18 Sep
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will be spending the NHL lockout playing in his native Germany.
Tags: Buffalo, Christian Ehrhoff, D Ehrhoff, , , native Germany, , Sabres, ,
No Comments Share Read More

Swiss clubs sign Streit, Weber during NHL lockout (Yahoo! Sports)

18 Sep
GENEVA (AP) -- New York Islanders captain Mark Streit and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Yannick Weber are returning home to play in Switzerland during the NHL lockout.
Tags: , , Montreal, , , , , , Streit, Weber, Yannick, Yannick Weber
No Comments Share Read More
1 2 3 4 5 Next »

Recent Posts

  • Charles Woodson breaks collarbone, out 6 wks – Charles Woodson | GB
    Charles Woodson breaks collarbone, out 6...
    October 22, 2012No Comments
  • Panthers send top CB Chris Gamble to I.R. – Chris Gamble | CAR
    Panthers send top CB Chris Gamble to I.R...
    October 22, 2012No Comments
  • Donald Brown (knee) to miss one more game? – Donald Brown | IND
    Donald Brown (knee) to miss one more gam...
    October 22, 2012No Comments
  • Titans to stay with Matt Hasselbeck in Week 8 – Matt Hasselbeck | TEN
    Titans to stay with Matt Hasselbeck in W...
    October 22, 2012No Comments
  • Matchups: Matchup: Lions @ Bears
    Matchups: Matchup: Lions @ Bears...
    October 22, 2012No Comments