It’s time for another review of some of the items of interest from around the Nation and the league, as teams move into the middle third of the season. In this week’s overview, the Oilers hit a sour patch, the Canucks carry on without a couple of useful pieces, and the Leafs’ ownership changes hands.
Edmonton hits the ice tonight against an equally scuffling crew from Denver, hoping to turn around the current poor run of results. I don’t think the Oilers are quite as terrible as they’ve seemed in the last week or so, but as is often the case, regression to some reasonable sort of mean isn’t always gentle. It should be noted, though, that using the "I" formation is likely an idea best saved for football.
One matter that should concern the Oiler brass is the form Ryan Whitney is exhibiting. He was a lost cause Wednesday night, and the disconcerting thing might be that the fluid skating that underpins his game seems absent. There’s every chance he’s still suffering from conditioning woes, but if he’s dropped off permanently, that has to be cause for alarm.
The Oilers, for all the young depth that their organization appears to have, really don’t have enough legitimate NHL defenders even under ideal circumstances, and Whitney has to be a major presence at EV and on the PP for the club to get out of the last few places in the West. If he can’t return to form, Edmonton’s left with Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert as their only reliable defencemen. I don’t think I’m overstating the case to note that a team interested in post-season play might need an upgrade or two from that on the backend.
Most of the serious news surrounding the team in the last day has occurred in the boardroom, as two of Canada’s telecom giants have joined forces to purchase the Teachers’ 80% share in MLSE. Data Plan Puppets, indeed. At any rate, Michael Forbes’s review of the sale is worth a read, and I’m largely in concurrence. The test for the new consortium in terms of on-ice affairs will be how willing they are to write cheques without meddling in personnel matters. For all of his flaws, Brian Burke’s been fairly effective in his GM postings over the years, and the Leafs are mostly headed in the proper direction at the moment.
On-ice, the Buds are getting healthy, as Colby Armstrong and Clarke MacArthur return to action this evening, and although he’s rarely discussed, Armstrong is a fairly handy guy if he can stay in the lineup. Hot starts from Lupul and Kessel aside, the Leafs’ biggest legitimate improvement in the last couple of years is their overall depth, and Armstrong has a fair bit of history as a player that can manage against good comp. You can’t really have too many of those gents.
The Leafs should get a good test tonight, as they travel to DC for a date with Ovi and company. The Caps did manage to slow their slide, beating Ottawa Wednesday night, but they still seemed really off. High standards are a bugger to meet year after year, of course, and their D is a bit banged up, but I’ll maintain until proven otherwise that Mike Green’s absence has held Washington back more than any other single item. In other words, there’s a good chance Dale Hunter will get much smarter in a few weeks.
In River City, all is well, at least at the moment, as Winnipeg concludes their first extended home stand against the Kaberle-free Hurricanes this evening. The Jets have enjoyed a couple fo days basking in the win over the champs, and the mood at yesterday’s practice seemed fairly jovial, judging by what I could see from the stands at the Iceplex.
Winnipeg really could use a win this evening, as a road trip to Detroit is on tomorrow evening’s docket, so the return of Nik Antropov is good news. The lanky Kazakh has been solid this year, and a team shy of depth up front can always use another useful body. I’m not quite so sure dressing Randy Jones qualifies as same, though, since Kulda and Flood have been acceptable in their roles, and Jones is a replacement level D under ideal circumstances. Ron Hainsey and Eric Fehr continued to be hors de combat as of yesterday morning, and Tobias Enstrom was still sporting a no-contact jersey, so worthwhile help from the infirmary beyond Antro might need another week or two to materialize.
Vancouver’s comeback win in Montreal apparently drove Pierre Gauthier to lunacy this morning, which I suppose could be considered to be a hell of a talent for a team to possess. Kidding aside, the Canucks will have to make do without 2/3 of their second unit for the time being, as Chris Higgins fights off his second staph infection in as many years and David Booth’s knee requires a 4-6 week rehab period. Booth’s injury did result in Kevin Porter getting a bit of free time, although given the effective manner in which Higgins, Kesler and Booth were functioning, that’s likely cold comfort.
Away from the arena, the legal issues surrounding the riot on June 15 drag on, with the latest hearing concerning the ability of the police to have unfettered access to media footage, including images that were taken several hours before the festivities commenced. Absent some corroborating evidence that rioters were openly conspiring in plain view of the press at 4 in the afternoon, the order feels like a bit of an overreach, but events like this do seem to bring out the police-statist instincts in people. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Calgary beat a poor Avalanche team last night, as the PP awoke from a lengthy slumber to pot two goals in short order early in the third. The Flames really didn’t give up very much in their own end, either, and with Gio likely done until next year, that sort of tidy play has to continue to be the norm.
One player that no one is really talking about right now is Jay Bouwmeester, and that isn’t quite right. SInce Giordano’s injury, he’s been pushing 30 minutes per game, and Kent’s EV scoring chance count has him at +35/-16 during that time period, which is pretty fair work for a guy playing the other team’s better players. He’s not exactly paired with the 1998 version of Nik Lidstrom, either, so the fact that the Flames have managed to keep their heads above water over the last couple of weeks is due in large measure to his efforts.
As for this morning’s demotion, I’m actually on board with the Horak move in the very short term, because 20 year olds need to play, but if the team actually thinks he’s a real NHLer, they should clear a roster spot for him, either via trade or demoting someone else.
Unless Tomas Kaberle absolutely kills it on the PP for the next couple of seasons, his acquisition by Montreal is a poor bet. His underlying numbers hint strongly that he’s incapable of being much more than a 5th or 6th D at EV, and 4.25M for another two years is a pile of dough for a player that might finish his contract as a lesser version of Marc-Andre Bergeron. Carolina did well to discard a bad ticket, and one only hopes Jay Feaster was taking notes this morning.
In Philadelphia, the news ian’t very rosy on the injury front. Chris Pronger has "concussion-like symptoms", which translated to English means he has a concussion. Pronger is a terrific player, obviously, but he’s increasing fragile as he ages, like all of us, so it’s a good thing he has a 35+ contract running for another five years. Of course, Paul Holmgren has done so many odd things over the years that signing a guy until he’s 42 to a deal that doesn’t have a retirement escape hatch built in seems roughly normal.
Philly’s management might be a bit off, but their bloggers are first-rate. Eric at Broad Street Hockey has an excellent post today about the effect individual team mates appear to have on shooting percentages. Spoiler alert: not that much, in the big scheme of things. Gabe Desjardins and David Johnson have also examined this topic today, and all three pieces are worth a look.
The Coyotes and Realignment:
One of the most striking things to come out of this week’s restructuring of the league is the de facto admission that the conferences were structured in a manner that would allow for the possibility that the ‘Yotes might have to move after this year. The Commisioner is normally pretty careful in tamping down any sort of speculation reagrding the fate of Phoenix’s franchise, but a third year of league ownership has begun, and if anyone has any sort of evidence that a team can make a go of things in Arizona absent a gigantic public subsidy, they’ve done a stellar job of hiding it.
With that in mind, maybe it’s not so surprising that the league’s public posture has begun to shift ever so slightly, even accepting that Glendale’s council might be willing to fire another couple of hundred million down the well when matters get serious again this winter. Still, the NHL’s desire to own a team just to preserve an utterly indifferent market appears to be finally reaching an end, and as sad as it might be for the 5-6,000 legit Coyote fans, that’s probably as it should be.
That’s all for this time.