Tuesday, May 30, 2006

All Things Hockey

Hey All - Just wanted to let it be known that I am being featured as a guest Columnist on http://allthingshockey.com right now. He is running my Sid-Sational Season for Sid column that ran here a few weeks back. Check it out. It is a nice site that offers a lot of info....we will let them slide on the fact that they are slanted toward Ovechkin and the Washington Caps!!! Just kidding. Thanks again to John over at All Things Hockey. The Link is embedded and available on the right under our links.

What Is Next??

Well, well, well, it is getting a lot closer to the Stanley Cup final, which is exciting just because there will be some teams that haven't been involved for a while. The NHL couldn't have asked for anymore than this. Not a single big market team is involved, the big boys were bounced early and the this years playoffs sort of reminded me of the that other league you may have heard of, you know, the NFL: where parity is king and everyone has a chance to win. Is the NHL on the verge of becoming a league in which all fans can believe in October that there will be a chance for meaningful hockey in April? Well, time will tell, but it certainly is looking that way.

Notice the common ground between this year's final four. They were all made up of players, that for the most part, were groomed from within the organization or acquired early in their careers. They also have many smallish, skilled forwards who can skate the like wind. Players like Joffrey Lupul in Anaheim, and Eric Staal in Carolina were given big roles on their teams, especially in the playoffs and it has paid huge dividends. Daniel Briere has made a name for himself this post season in leading Buffalo to the conference final, as have players like Ales Hemsky in Edmonton.

Another interesting fact entering this post season was that these teams were able to afford to pick up the final few pieces necessary to take the next step. Edmonton, typically selling it's players at the deadline, went out and acquired Dwayne Roloson and Sergie Samsonov, a move they could never have made in the past. This is exactly the type of thing that this new CBA was supposed to do....allow the entire league to compete on the same level. Hopefully this is the first year of an exciting trend in the NHL.

This time of year also brings with it the excitement of the NHL Entry draft and free agency. The Pittsburgh Penguins are picking 2nd overall and no one is quite sure what to expect from new General Manager Ray Shero. I personally would stand pat and wait to see what the St. Louis Blues are going to do at number 1. There is a strong belief that the Penguins covet big blue-liner Eric Johnson, and there were rumors circulating that the Penguins were trying to swap picks with St. Louis to get him. That move would surprise me at this point. If the Penguins had not changed GMs I would think it still feasible, but Mr. Shero has stated that he does not look at this draft as one with a clear cut number one pick. He sees it as one that has 5 talented kids sitting at the top and depending on a specific teams need, one may rise to the top. This could be a smoke screen to throw people off, but I don't think that he was in town long enough to assess the needs of the team to be setting himself up. Look for the Pens to do what is necessary to grab Johnson, but don't be surprised if that stay put and draft Kessel or Staal.

Will the Penguins grab a scoring winger for Sidney Crosby? I am not certain that a big name will be brought in to compliment the kid, but we can dream! They do not need to break the bank for a player, some one like Anson Carter, Mike Knuble or Fredrik Modin could fit the bill nicely. A skilled player who can finish and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty in front of the net could be just the ticket for Sid and linemate Colby Armstrong.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

It's Official - Shero is the Man

The Penguins held a press conference announcing the hiring of Ray Shero. It does seem to be a nice fit. He has experience building teams from the ground up, having been involved with two expansion teams.

Shero intends to bring a high tempo game to Pittsburgh, patterned after teams such as this years Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers or Carolina Hurricanes. He seems to have a great understanding of how the new NHL system works and stated that it isn't about going after high priced free agents and making one year runs at the Stanley Cup. He intends to build a team that will be competitive year after year. He also said that you have to earn respect in this league. A team needs to go out and take care of it's business on the ice, compete and win. With that comes the respect of others. Shero also said that he is going to see that the team adheres to that standard. They shouldn't go around whining about the arena situation etc. He seems to have a clear plan of what he wants to do this off-season. He does have faith in the scouting department and he trusts them to make the draft picks, but he takes the ultimate responsibility for it.

Shero also said that he has faith in Michel Therrien and he intends to keep him. He has seen Therrien in the minors, in the NHL and knows that he is a good coach. He liked the way the Therrien had the team playing at the end of last season and felt that they were disciplined and working hard, both things were attributed to Therrien. Shero said that he intends to win the Stanley Cup with the staff he has here.

Mr. Shero also mentioned getting a cell phone message from Mario Lemieux welcoming him to Pittsburgh. He got it around the time he was picking his sons up from school and he played the message for them. They were elated to hear their father getting a phone call from Mario Lemieux.

All in all this is great hiring for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The man seems to bring excitement to the organization and wants to win. He is young, experienced and will infuse the organization with new blood. Something that it hasn't had in quite some time. Hopefully the Penguins have done it right this time.

Penguins Call 12:30pm Press Conference

The Pittsburgh Penguins have called a press conference for 12:30pm to announce the hiring of Ray Shero as the new General Manager of the team. Shero has spent the past 8 seasons as the assistant General Manager in Nashville. He also spent the 7 years prior to that as an assistant in Ottawa.

Shero brings much experience to the table as a General Manager, and also broke into professional hockey as a player agent. His chief duties in Nashville were to oversee minor league operations, negotiate contracts, working with the scouting department and preparing salary arbitration cases.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pens World Championships Participants and Some Notes

The World Championships have allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to show off some of their most talented players and prospects. Sidney Crosby is tied for the tournament lead in scoring and Evgeni Malkin is right behind him. Both have been spectacular in the preliminary round.

Sidney Crosby is playing on a line with Boston Bruin forwards, Brad Boyes and Patrice Bergeron. Together they have made up one of Canada's most dangerous lines. Sidney has posted 4 goals to go with his 3 assists giving him 7 points in the 3 games he has played. That stat line doesn't do him justice either. He has been a force for Canada and easily could have posted a few more points. Sid is also wearing an "A" for team Canada, which should be enough to dispel all criticisms of his being awarded an alternate captaincy in Pittsburgh earlier this year.

Evgeni Malkin is playing well beyond his years in the tournament as well. He is leading his team in scoring, a team that features super rookie Alexander Ovechkin. Malkin has posted 2 goals and 3 assists giving him 5 points in the 3 games he has played. Malkin has also scored what might be the most impressive goal of the tournament thus far. Malkin steals the puck and enters the zone short handed, the opposing goaltender dives forward knocking the puck away, Malkin dives over the sprawled goaltender and knocks the bouncing puck out of the air and in. Check out the video below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0kVEVUR6T4

Tomas Surovy has been a leader for his Slovakian team. Hopefully being used in a top 6 role with his national team will translate into more scoring at the NHL level next season. He has posted 2 goals and 1 assist through the first 3 games of the tournament.

Two Penguins will not be back next season. Jani Rita has signed a contract to return to Jokerit of the Finnish Elite league and Niklas Nordgren has signed a two year contract with Rapperswil-Jona Lakers in Switzerland. Rita seemed to figure into the Pens plans slightly more than Nordgren, but neither will be missed much considering that the team needs more proven scorers on the wing, and neither filled that role with the team.

The Latest Red Line Report rankings have been made available. This is how the top 5 prospects for this year's NHL entry draft shake out:

1. Eric Johnson - D U.S. NTDP U-18
2. Phil Kessel - C University of Minnesota
3. Jonathan Toews - C North Dakota University
4. Peter Mueller - C Everett
5. Nicklas Backstrom - RW Brynas

It is assumed that the Penguins covet Johnson to help solidify a defense that looks to be high on skill, but light on grit. Johnson is thought to be NHL ready and isn't afraid to lay a big hit. He is very sound positionally and can be counted on to clean up the front of the net. He would look great in Black and Vegas Gold.

Rumors have circulated via talk radio that the Blues and Penguins have discussed swapping picks. This is hard to fathom based on the fact that the Pens currently have no GM. If the Blues know the Penguins want Johnson and would be content picking number 2, why not keep their position and select their man, who is thought to be Phil Kessel.

The Penguins GM search has been very quiet. There have been no interviews announced, but the list of potential candidates seems to grow weekly. Many names have been thrown around, either by the media or by the people themselves. Some potential candidates are as follows: Pat Brisson - IMG Super Agent to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Craig Button - Former GM of the Calgary Flames, Jim Nill - Assistant GM with the Detroit Redwings, Neil Smith - Former GM of the New York Rangers. Hopefully we will see some movement on this front soon. It would be a good move to get a new GM in place sooner rather than later. That would give him a chance to get familiar with the organization and it's assets before going into the NHL Entry Draft on June 24-25.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Malkin 100% Sure To Be In NHL, but....

Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins first round choice in the 03-04 NHL entry draft, has announced that he does intend to play in the NHL next season. However, the ultra talented forward who was selected immediately following countryman Alexander Ovechkin, is under contract with his hometown team of Metallurg Magnitogorsk through the 2008 season. In past seasons this would not have been a problem since the NHL negotiates a transfer agreement with the IIHF that allows players to go to the North American team that drafted them after said team pays a "transfer fee" to their European counterpart. The hitch is that when the new transfer agreement was signed following the NHL's labor dispute, Russia decided not to sign on. They felt that their players were worth more than the possible $900,000 they stood to make by sending a 1st round pick to North America.

Rumor had circulated that Malkin negotiated his own buyout clause before the season, but that does not seem to be the case. Metallurg Magnitogorsk seems intent on playing hardball with the Pittsburgh Penguins and won't even speculate on the fee until an initial offer is made. That does not seem to be something that is imminent considering that the Pens do not currently have a GM in place. The Russians are hoping for a major payday for Malkin, a multi-million dollar one. I feel that this situation will work itself out, especially if Russia decides to enter into the transfer agreement. It seems much more likely that they would consider working something out now that Vladislav Tretiak has been named president of the Russian Federation. Tretiak has ties to the NHL and seems committed to working on a transfer agreement. This could get ugly before it gets better, but hopefully Malkin will make his Pittsburgh debut when camp opens in September.