Sabres Go For A Clean Sweep

SABRES GO FOR A CLEAN SWEEP:

Well that certainly didn't last long. At least as far as the coach was concerned. The Buffalo Sabres fired both coach Ron Rolston as well as long time GM Darcy Regier. Look, you never like to see a guy lose his job, but Rolston was in way over his head and has been criticized from every corner of the hockey world. When Mike Milbury of all people bashes you on national television then you know that there is an issue. Rolston took over on an interm basis last February for then fired Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. He didn't even make it a quarter of the way into his first season with the head coach mantle before the Sabres brass decided that a move was necessary. That really doesn't speak well for your resume.

My take on the subject is that Rolston really didn't have a clue as how to coach in today's NHL. He was quickly developing a reputation as a guy who had little respect for the safety of the players on the ice and when this concern is paramount amongst todays NHL media one needs to be fully aware of the ramafications of the decisions that he makes and how it will reflect on his team. Say what you will about fighting, but when you give the amount of ice time to a guy like John Scott (who probably shouldn't even be in the league) and that player then is involved in two ugly incidents there are going to be questions. Rolston needed to go and the Sabres will be better off for it.

Regier is a different story. This is a classic example of a guy who is a very good general manager whose time had simply come. The Sabres enjoyed some great successes with Regier under the helm. However they have struggled mightily over the past couple of seasons despite new ownership and an infusuion of deep pockets. He will land on his feet and secure another gig somewhere else pretty soon and The Puck Hog wishes him nothing but the best.

And a big welcome back to former former Sabres coach Ted Nolan who was screwed over in his first gig as a coach for the Sabres. Just to make him feel welcome, the Sabres have already screwed him over, this time to START his new (old) gig...I mean, have you SEEN their roster?

Finally, to complete the house cleaning, give a big hello to Buffalo Sabres legend and all time leading scorer, Pat Lafontaine. Hey, it worked for Colorado and Joe Sakic. Now all Buffalo needs to do is hire former Sabres goalie Dom Hasek and it will be one big happy family...Something tells me that Ted Nolan would be thrilled about working with Hasek again!

Politics and Hockey Unite to Make A Great Save- A Man's Freedom

Hey, politicians can't ALL be bad, right?

Hello?

Well let me just offer up a story on the Charlotte News and Observer which could potentially change your viewpoint of the posed question.

Craig Adams, a much maligned right winger/center on the Pittsburgh Penguins intervened to help rescue a film maker who was wrongfully imprisoned in a Venezuelan hell hole and perhaps not only saved the man's freedom... But his life as well.

Despite being in the final stages of Lou Gehrig's disease, Cellucci displayed sheer heroism in securing freedom for Tim Tracy, the younger brother of Hurricanes announcer Tripp Tracy. Adams and Tripp just happened to be former teammates at Harvard college.

But the real story here is Paul Cellucci. A man who was dying yet still had a heart to serve. The fact that he actually passed away just three days after Tracy was released only compounds the man's effort.

If only ALL politicians could have such a heart to serve their constituents rather than themselves then this world would be one helluva great place!

You can read the inspiring article in its entirity right here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/10/01/3246273/decock-hockey-diplomacy-was-his.html

Mario Lemieux, Training Camp, The Pittsburgh Penguins and The Embarrassment of a Lifetime

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins training camp starting, I thought I would recant one of the greatest days of my life. Which quickly turned into one of the worst and most embarrassing.

It was sometime in September, the year 2000.

Since I was acquaintances with several of the Penguins players and staff, I would always get a little extra privileges out of my trips to the Penguins training camp. The Iceoplex at Southpointe   was always a fun place to watch training camp because of the restaurant that overlooks the ice where you can enjoy a great lunch while watching the Penguins battle it out for roster spots.

This was also before the Sidney Crosby hype machine brought thongs of fans to the practices, so the sessions were sparce in comparison to nowadays where you have a difficult time even breathing.

My current girlfriend and I took our spots at a table right next to the window. A spot I picked for two reasons. One of the reasons was the obvious. It overlooked the practice.

The second reason however was of critical importance to me.

There was no one inside the restaurant save for the foursome at the table directly adjacent to ours. A foursome which included then General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Craig Patrick.

Hoping to overhear an inside scoop on a trade, or perhaps a roster cut, I felt that this would be the perfect place to position myself so that I could pay attention to every detail of my experience.Rumors, on ice action and a great bacon cheeseburger.

Oh, and my girlfriend to.

While sitting down, I made eye contact with Mr. Patrick. Nodding my head in an acknowledgement gesture, he returned the nod and I took my seat.

Things were going great. I was watching first year coach Ivan Hlinka blunder his way through the drills, one of my acquaintances, Andrew Ference was getting into a scuffle and my cheeseburger tasted great.

And then it happened.

Now let me just preface this by saying that I have met several celebrities over the course of my life, and it never even phased me. I had even once accompanied Hulk Hogan in his limo to a wrestling match back in his hay day, and I was always simply fine with being myself and treating the celebrity as if they were just another average Joe.

But this time, unbeknownst to be, it would be different. MUCH different.

The door to the restaurant opened in mid bite. And in walks this really big guy followed by two others whom I hardly even noticed. In walked my idol. The great Mario Lemieux.

My girlfriend would later tell me that for the ensuing half of a minute that every single muscle in my body froze. My half eaten burger would stay inches away from my face as I prepared to take a bite. My eyes would be locked on the greatest hockey player of all time, and my mouth would remain only partially open.

Mario the Great walked right up to our table and introduced himself to us. My girlfriend shook his hand and told Mario her name. She released his hand and he turned his attention to me, extending his hand for the required handshake.

Now, honestly. I truly don't have any explanation for this. I thought being "star struck" was something reserved for teenage girls of the 60's and the Beatles. Or comparing it to todays Justin Beliebers.

At least I didn't cry.

What I DID do however, was nothing. Absolutely nothing. I didn't say my name, I didn't shake his hand. I didn't utter a syllable and I didn't move a muscle. I froze. He froze. It was a staredown which lasted about five seconds before he said, "OOOOkayyy", turned to my dumbfounded girlfriend telling her that it was nice to meet  her and promptly sat down at down at the executive table. Thus leaving my life forever.

I can't be positive about this as the seconds that had just passed were now a jumbled haze in my mind, but I think that my girlfriend kicked me under the table.

As he sat down, it was like a switch went off over my entire existence. Waking me up from a sort of coma that I was wide awake for the duration and painfully aware of every single shred of my surroundings.

What the hell?!?!

What had just happened??? This wasn't supposed to go down like this! It was supposed to go much smoother and end with me getting a tryout contract!

But the sad reality set in quickly. And that reality was that I had just made a complete ass of myself in front of the guy who was my hockey hero! My dream day had quickly and definitively turned into an unfathomable nightmare.

Yet like every Hollywood story (yes, I know we're in Pittsburgh here so just use your imagination) there is redemption. There is a happy ending. And once again, it began with my patient girlfriend whom I had ignored while in my hockey induced heaven. Bless her gorgeous heart.

It seemed like the very second that I had composed myself, without a word she stood up and walked directly over to the table of Penguins executives directly behind us. She looked Super Mario in the eye and explained that she didn't know what had come over her boyfriend. She explained that we had been dating for several years and that she had never seen me act like this. She explained that I was a HUGE fan of his and it would mean so much to the both of us if he could give me another chance.

Now you have to understand that my girlfriend at the time could be incredibly persuasive. Especially where men were involved. She was the definition of the term, "drop dead gorgeous".

I love her still to this day for my second shot at meeting Mario Lemieux.

And I love Mario the Great for stepping up to the plate and giving the idiot that I am another chance at meeting him. Not only did he introduce himself, he actually sat down at my table for almost twenty minutes and simply talked the game that we both love.

The guy is genuine and passionate about hockey. He doesn't feel robbed by his rash of injuries that kept him from the chance at possibly catching one of Gretzky's many records, but instead blessed that the game that he has given so much to has given him so much more in return.

It was the only time which I would meet Mario. Since then, I have hung out with several guys on the squad on multiple occasions. Been to an unnamed players house for a barbeque and another's for a pool party. I have even learned of several locker room incidents which were confirmed by the players who witnessed these events. I have been inside the locker room during the games.

Mario wasn't present at any of these events.

And in retrospect, none of them can even compare to the time that I sat down with greatness for 20 minutes of my life.

Embarrassment be damned, because it was well worth it.And even if I don't have the same girlfriend, I STILL have The Hockey Goddesses!

Well I called it. Chicago resigns key Defenseman

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In yesterday's blog about the Chicago Blackhawks giving netminder Corey Crawford a crazy extension, I opined that they would need to re-up defenseman Niklas Hjalmarrson before losing him to unrestricted free agency after the upcoming season.

Now I don't want to take credit, but it seems that upper management likes to read my blog as they resigned the very underrated blueliner to a 5 year contract.

As stated, I figured it would be more expensive than his current deal which pays him 3.5 million per season and it certainly is. The deal is for 20.5 million over the life of the contract which, for a player of Hjalmarsson's caliber is a steal.

Corey Crawfors new deal came in large part due to the stellar play of Niklas and we at The Puck Hog thinks that the goalie owes the defender a HUGE steak dinner. Tip included.

This is a deal Chicago absolutely HAD to get done as he is a key cog to what is arguably the best defensive corp in the entire NHL. And now this only amplifies my sentiments about The Blackhawks impending cap urgency. It should be an interesting watch to see how they maneuver in order to keep star players Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews. Stay tuned folks!

What On Earth Are The Chicago Blackhawks Thinking?!?

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Corey Crawford is a good goalie.

I can't, nor will I even attempt to say otherwise.

He backstopped The Chicago Blackhawks to their second Stanley Cup victory in the past two years (Crawford's first) and has a better than average chance at making Canada's team at next years Olympics.

Those things simply do not happen unless you are a good player.

What I AM scratching my head at is the brand new contract that Crawford signed yesterday, his day hanging out with the Stanley Cup. Kind of fitting actually.

The 6 million dollar contract makes Corey Crawford one of the highest paid netminders in the NHL and is in line with recent deals signed by franchise goalies.

So with all that Crawford has accomplished lately, it seems quite strange for me to opine that I don't consider him to be  franchise material.

Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Jonathon Quick etc. are players which pop into my head when I hear the term "franchise player", and there are obviously several others as well.

When I think of a great goalie, I think of one whom the team must lean on to carry them through a rough patch, or one who has the capacity to steal any game at any time when his team is off. I think of a dangerous weapon who is an intimidating factor for the opposition.

For all of his good qualities, Corey Crawford simply isn't that guy.

The wisdom in signing him to a six year deal is something which eludes me as Chicago has done a great job of salary cap management since having to jettison several all star quality players after the 2010 season. And because they had to make these moves based upon becoming cap compliant, they really didn't get 100% fair value in return.

Crawford's new deal kicks in after this season and even though The Blackhawks look to be in decent shape cap wise still they have the very under rated Niklas Hjalmarsson as a key player with a contract expiring following the upcoming season. And it is going to cost a "bit" more than the 3.5 million dollars he is making per season right now in order to keep him. They also have two young forwards who look promising in playoff pest Andrew Shaw and Jeremy Morin who will be coming off of their entry level deals and will need to ink a contract.

Can they re-up Hjalmarsson, Morin and Shaw while at the same time giving Crawford his huge raise?

It is the following year which looks like there could be some major trouble for The Blackhawks as there are several players which need to re-up in order to keep the "dynasty" talk going.

Both star forwards Patrick Kane and captain Jonathon Toews will become unrestricted free agents. As will core defensemen Johnny Oduya (I swear, every time I hear that name I cant believe he is Swedish) and Nick Leddy. Then you have an emerging future all star in Pennsylvania born Brandon Saad who will need a new deal. Add in yet another good youngster in Marcus Kruger (realtion to Freddie is still not confirmed).

Both Toews and Pat Kane are two of the very best of the best players in the world right now and both will be deserving of contracts which match that status. If recent deals signed after the lockout tell us anything, the number to keep players of that stature looks to be upwards of 8 million dollars per season. However, I wouldn't be in the least bit shocked to see them receive over 9 million.

And this is where the contract of Corey Crawford becomes an issue.

The Blackhawks won because of the star performances by star players this past season and throughout the playoffs.

Remove one of Kane or Toews and the case can be made that the Blackhawks don't win the cup. Remove Corey Crawford and I think that the team keeps marching right on. I realize that this is all complete speculation, but if you looking at backup goalie Ray Emery's numbers during his two seasons with Chicago it simply illustrates my point. His statline is nearly identical to that of Crawford and his winning% is EASILY the highest of his career. With all of this Success in Chicago, Emery parlayed that into a new contract of his own. A one year, 1.65 million dollar deal to backstop the goaltenders black hole that is known as the Philadelphia Flyers.

That is 4.35 million, and five years less than what Crawford signed for with The Blackhawks.

Which isn't to suggest that Emery is the equal of Crawford. Not at all. But the difference between the two isn't paralleled properly in contrasting these two deals.

I realize that Crawford played lights out hockey during the Stanley Cup run I realize that people were whispering his name in the Conn Smythe rumors before U.S. born Patrick Kane actually won the award for playoff MVP.I realize that not ANY goaltender could have played as well as he did.

But I also realize that the amazing team which plays in front of him made his job an easier task than it would be on nearly every other team in the league.

I am certain that being an NHL netminder is a difficult job. I couldn't clarify with absolute certainty as I have never done it (I typed with a sad face). That being said, there are certain teams where that particular job is made much easier than it would be in other cities and Chicago is one of them. As is Boston (for the record, I feel that Tuukka Rask's deal is almost as ridiculous as Crawford's).

In these particular cities, on these particular teams and playing in their particular systems, a goalie can be made to look almost Hasek-esque when he simply isn't. Boston is a great example of this. The system that they play in and the players which play it perfectly made a mega star out of Tim Thomas. The same Tim Thomas who couldn't even find a job in the NHL until he was 31 years old. The same Tim Thomas who spent the majority of his career bouncing from league to league and country to country. The same Tim Thomas who is two seasons removed from winning the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.The same Tim Thomas who once again, can't find a job in the NHL.

Rask stepped in, and the Bruins didn't even miss a beat.

Then you have goalies who play great despite the team that they play on. Guys who are actually largely responsible for the success their given teams have. I am thinking of guys like Lundqvist, Rinne and Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. These are guys whom I speculate would play well on any team and in any system. Sure, their given numbers would fluctuate a bit, but they would remain the consistent, solid goalies that they are regardless.

And you also have guys who are great goalies which play on simply AWFUL teams and despite their performance, they cant pull their team out of the basement. A guy like Ryan Miller fits the bill, or even a Miikka Kiprusoff of a couple years back.

I am not slamming Crawford. From all accounts he is a great team guy and a good goalie in this league. A guy who  is 6 million dollars richer because his talent put him in the position to be in the right place at the right time.

Yet I find it hard to believe that simply because he makes 6 million dollars, his value is that of a 6 million dollar. And that is a distinction to which there is a difference.

The Puck Hog

Teemu Selanne Makes HILARIOUS Youtube video!

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It seems that living in the star studded capitol of the United States has really impacted Teemu Selanne.

Not content with being one of the greatest hockey players of his generation and arguably the best Finnish player of all time, Selanne took to youtube in order to announce his return to the Anaheim Ducks for his 21st and final season in the NHL.

At age 43, Selanne had been wavering over his decision all summer. Perhaps he was taking his time until the right script came along.

Isn't that JUST like those Hollywood types!

If you get a chance to participate in his farewell tour, make it a priority to get there and make sure you show him some love!

He is certainly one of the class acts of the NHL.

Now, check out the hilarious video announcing that he is coming back. Mad props Teemu.

The Insane Summer of The Maple Leafs

Follow on twitter @joshwitcher Nope, you didn't misread the title. And yes, the adjective chosen was one which had a purpose.

I don't use the word insane in the common sense that you find in the sportsworld to describe a remarkable save or rave over an incredible shot. Instead when describing what the Maple Leafs front office has done this offseason, I use the word as more of a clinical term. In a literal sense, such as the moves made by the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer are unequivocally and absolutely insane

. Hey, that may not be such a bad thing either.

Admit it. You were one of the people who were quick to jump the gun in condemning the Phil Kessel trade as one of the worst of all time weren't you? Perhaps you've had to pull back on that assessment a wee bit now, right?

Because maybe, just maybe there is a method to the madness. GM Dave Nonis just MIGHT, perhaps, know what he is doing? So it would only seem fair that we let this play out on the ice before TOTALLY destroying the front office entirely, right?

(But then again, there is still plenty of time for the Kessel trade to turn into the disaster that many previously had predicted. Especially if Kessel leaves Toronto as a free agent after this season).

In all honesty, I am finding it difficult to comprehend these moves, but many Leaf fans seem to support the transactions, and given how close they are to the pulse of the team it isn't like we should question them.

Now there are fans of every single team in every single sport who are ultra sensative. They read articles like this and assume that the author, being myself in this case, are simply attacking the team based on some sort of personal vendetta. And Maple Leaf fans are certainly no exception to this rule.

That being said, those types are usually obnoxious, have been drinking (the two often go hand in hand) and I've found most fans to be relatively objective, Leafs fans being no exception.

Sadly though, there are those blind, yet vocal few who find a way to be the loyal apologist even as the ship is sinking. And EVERY team has its share of those.

By now you have heard the criticism. You know, the whole outcry which goes something like this.

"Toronto gave how much to WHO and for HOW LONG"??!?

This is usually found on message boards, by fans of other teams who revel in the Leafs misery.

And I can easily see the justification in that line of criticism. The Leafs have struggled for years in the high pressure, high expectation hockey Mecca that is Toronto. They couldn't make the playoffs in what seemed like forever. They couldn't draft well. They made poor personnel decisions.

Then last season rolled around and we saw the emergence of some good young players. Homegrown talent in Nazem Kadri and James Reimer. Phil Kessel continuing his rise amongst the leagues elite. Solid scoring threats in Joffrey Lupul and James Van Riemsdyk. And a major bounce back year from Dion Phaneuf saw Toronto make the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

And then the melt down happened. Up by three goals with ten minutes left to play in game seven against the Boston Bruins, Toronto seemed poised to advance to round two in an inprobable upset. But they didn't win. They didn't advance and perhaps it is important to keep this in mind when discussing what Toronto did this summer.

The criticism goes like this.The Leafs gave big money deals to players whom aren't worth the cash value or term of the contracts which they signed. And to make matters worse, two of those young, breakout players remain without a contract and precious little room under the cap to sign them (Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri). It is a legit beef to have. (Speaking of insane, if reports speculating that Kadri's camp is wanting up to a six million dollar contract are true then I've found someone who's sanity I question more than the Maple Leafs management).

Perhaps it is equally important to remember that not all of the Leafs moves were complete head scratchers mind you. They traded for playoff warrior Dave Bolland as well as a very promising netminder in former Los Angeles Kings first round pick Jonathan Bernier. Both moves could turn out very well as both players bring elements in their game that any team would find value in. I also like the potential risk versus reward signing of defenseman Paul Ranger. When he walked away from the game years ago, he looked like he could become a very good puck moving defenseman in an era before they became the en vogue position in today's NHL.

However, try as certain fans might to excuse the summer as a whole, these moves don't come close to excusing a series of baffling decisions by Toronto's GM Dave Nonis (who was given a five year extension during the offseason to boot). Signing a 30 year old David Clarkson to a 7 year contract worth 5.25 million annually is going to make some people scratch their heads. Tyler Bozak inking a five year contract that is worth 4.2 million dollars per season is going to raise some red flags. Especially when the perception remains that these players are getting compensated far above their actual ability.

But that isn't how unrestricted free agency works. I've been around long enough to understand the ramifications of unrestricted free agency. I understand that during this period a players worth is usually inflated beyond their actual abilities. I understand that this years crop of free agents was the WEAKEST class in years. Because of that the inflation would be even more compounded. And I CERTAINLY understand that some team was going to have to overpay for these two players.

What I don't understand is why the Leafs felt the need to be the team that did so for TWO players.

What I don't understand is the trade off, and the lack of foresight for the future salary cap.

What I don't understand is the direction this team seems to be going in.

The easy answer is that they are going for the more hard nosed line up but I am not so sure having two tough guys in McLaren and Orr take regular shifts is a recipe for success. What I don't understand is the decision to ostracize and then buy out Mikhail Grabovski to keep Tyler Bozak. Say what you will about Mikhail Grabovski, but he has skill. And his skill is a more difficult commodity to find than a player of Tyler Bozak's ilk.

There is certainly no love lost between Grabovski and The head coach of The Leafs, Randy Carlyle and it showed up in how the coach misused Grabo during his tenure for the team. It showed up in the ice time Grabovski received compared to Tyler Bozak (while still out scoring Bozak mind you). And it certainly showed up when Grabovski ripped The Leafs coach very loudly, and very publicly.

I understand the guys perceived deficiencies and I get that the only checks Mikhail Grabovski possessed were that of those in his wallet. But the Leafs lost a whole lot of skill when they used a compliance buy-out on Mikhail and skill of his nature is very difficult to come by in this league.

They also chose not to re-sign Clarke MacArthur who provided some very valuable secondary scoring to go along with his responsible all around play.

The issue is compounded considering both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are unrestricted free agents after the 2014 season and the Maple Leafs have precious little room under the cap to give them the raises that both of them will certainly seek.

They have precious little room to extend the other valuable pieces who will be entering into various stages of free agency at the same time.

The aforementioned Dave Bolland, an up and coming defenseman in Jake Gardiner, the spark plug, yet sometime enigmatic Nikolai Kulemin, elite defensive forward Jay McClement and potential starting goalie James Reimer.

The salary cap for next year is anybody's guess, and the Leafs look poised to lose one, two or more of those assets. Assets who's value is NOT easily replaced.

They wont have room under the cap fill these potential holes in free agency. It is difficult to get maximum value for a pending UFA in a trade as well. Besides, this would be a lateral move at best.

The Leafs cannot, under any circumstances afford to lose either Kessel or Phanuef. They cannot afford a squabble that would see Kadri sit for any amount of time or even be moved. And losing Franson, Gardiner or Kulemin would certainly hurt.

Is keeping Bozak really worth losing one of those guys?

Look, Clarkson and Bozak are good players. Don't get me wrong. Each could play a significant role on any team in the national hockey league. But that doesn't mean that The Leafs had to sign BOTH of them to UFA contracts folks. Especially knowing that they would have to overpay by a rather large amount for two guys who scored a collective 52 points in 94 games between the two. That is correct. 9.4 million per year, over at least the next five years for two guys who have zero fifty point seasons between them.

Yes, a players value can't always be measured in mere points. Yes Clarkson is a tough hombre, but the Leafs weren't lacking in that department to begin with.

What they've been lacking since Mats Sundin bolted to Vancouver is a number one center. Tyler Bozak, for all of his value is not a number one center. Heck, he is an average second line center in this league. Ideally on the Leafs he would have been a third line center behind Grabo and Kadri. But who wants to pay a third line center 4.2 million dollars? This cements his place in the top six and I'm not so sure that is a role which best suits him.

And the potential future number one center that Leafs fans covet still awaits a new contract, probably wondering why he isnt getting a piece of the insanity.

I think Toronto took a step in the right direction during this past lockout shortened season. However, I also understand the criticism levied against them.

Having said that, if we have learned anything from the recent history of the Maple Leafs it should be that we shouldn't completely condemn any of their decisions before letting them play out. And I am willing to let this season play out before passing judgment (ala the Kessel trade).

For the record, I think they will improve upon last year and make a slightly deeper run in the playoffs.

For the record, had Toronto iced this current lineup against the Bruins, I think they advance to the second round. On paper they seem like they are a better team this season.

Beyond that, it is anybody's guess, and that is where the criticism may become justified.

Thanks to the Leaf fans who helped contribute to this article.

The Puck Hog

THN presents the top 50 players in the game

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Well I guess it's official. But if you're reading this blog then you're already aware how close we are to dropping the puck on the 2014 NHL season.
And yes, I can sound a bit more cliched.
Still, the official, unofficial warm ups to the season really get going when hockey outlets everywhere start putting out lists for our enjoyment/enragement (is that even a word?) like clockwork even before training camps get going.
This time, it is the highly popular THN, which gives us it's fair and balanced opinion on who the top fifty players in the world are going in to this season....or at least in the NHL for those of you who consider Ilya Kovalchuk a top 50 talent (which he certainly is) despite bailing on Jersey for the motherland.

Without further ado, here is the list and add your comments in our comment section below.

1. Crosby
2. Ovechkin
3. Stamkos
4. Karlsson
5. Tavares
6. Toews
7. Malkin
8. Kane
9. Bergeron
10. Doughty
11. Datsyuk
12. St. Louis
13. Quick
14. Keith
15. Chara
16. Giroux
17. Suter
18. Carter
19. Spezza
20. Hall
21. Staal
22. Kopitar
23. Subban
24. Lundqvist
25. Letang
26. Zetterberg
27. Weber
28. Couture
29. Parise
30. Perry
31. Rask
32. Hossa
33. Getzlaf
34. Eberle
35. Bobrovsky
36. Anderson
37. Lucic
38. Crawford
39. Vanek
40. Benn
41. Kessel
42. Pietrangelo
43. Krejci
44. Sedin
45. Sedin
46. Backes
47. Yandle
48. Price
49. Smith
50. Kronwall

Look, we all know that lists like these are generally considered to be pretty bad and this one really isn't much of an exception. They are bad because we can nitpick things to death and there are ALWAYS, without fail, glaring omissions and additions which people take exception with.
There are relative questions as to what exactly the voters defined as the essentials of what makes a player better than the next and how much weight each of these categories should hold.

This is a HUGE list and I am not about to critique or analyze it in its entirety as that would be an undertaking of massive proportions and would leave me open to even more criticism than the original list itself. Just kidding with you.
Kind of.
Instead I will touch on a few things here and there and respond to any comments left in the comment section simply because I love talking hockey.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the list/blog or whatever. And since this is a new one, and a new undertaking for me anyone wishing to follow me one twitter @ThePuckHog would be greatly appreciated.
Enough pandering.
The list.

Was there much of a doubt that Crosby would be at the top? Other than possibly PK Subban, I can't think of a more polarizing player in the world right now. Those who hate him are often irrational in their hate just as the Crosby fanboys who see no wrong with The Kid can be equally annoying. The fact is, that when he has been healthy, Sidney Crosby has been the best player in the game consistently since the lockout...the lockout before the last lockout I mean.
The questions remain about whether he is injury prone or not, and deservedly so, but equally deserving is his position at the top of this list.

I am not sold on the rebirth of Alex Ovechkin. His stellar two months of play this past season do very little to answer the questions of his sub par play the past two seasons. And by sub par, I mean sub par by the standards Ovechkin set for himself when he took the NHL by storm the first few years of his career. I'd like to see this sustained over the course of an entire season before I am ready to annoint him in the best player in the world discussion again.

Speaking of which, both Tavares and Karlsson are to high. I realize that these two are the en vogue players tabbed by most to be the next ones, and both CERTAINLY ooze talent and even more potential (which is scary), but Tavares still hasn't had a season where he has averaged a point per game and Karlsson needs to show that his Norris season is something which he can sustain before I'd put them above Steven Stamkos.
Oh yeah, Steven Stamkos is to low on the list.
To low on the list? An interesting lead way for the travesty that has Geno Malkin at number 7. This is a guy who when healthy and on his game is the best hockey player in the world. Dropping him that far and penalizing him for his play this past season where he was injured for nearly the entire season is incredibly short sighted. I mean, I watched Karlsson look pretty terrible in the playoffs this year yet I understood it was because he was coming back from an injury and wasnt playing at 100%. Yet he gets the 4th slot next to a guy who coming into the 2013 season was considered by many (again) to be the best player on the planet. Malkin at #7 is a pretty stupid decision considering the guys whom are ahead of him on the list.

I love, love, LOVE that Patrice Bergeron is finally getting the credit that he deserves. Simply love it... I think I mentioned that. Datsyuk and Towes are elite two way forwards with elite defensive skills, but when it comes to keeping opposing forwards in check, Bergeron is the standard of today. The only thing that keeps him from climbing this list is that he isn't even a top 50 player offensively in this league which should tell you how incredible he is in his own zone and how solid the guy is at doing all of the little things right.
Another guy who fits that mold besides the aforementioned Datsyuk and Toews is Anze Kopitar. The fact that he is listed as only the 22nd best player in the NHL speaks more about the time zone he plays in than his actual play in that time zone. He is grossly underrated.
Especially when you have a guy named Jeff Carter who plays in the same time zone four slots ahead of him.
Another west coast time zoner on this list is Logan Couture listed at number 28. I'm not saying that he isn't deserving of this ranking, but when you have all world defenseman Shea Weber at number 27 on the list it leaves you wondering what THN was thinking.
OK I suppose that I am saying Logan Couture doesn't deserve his ranking.
Does THN REALLY believe that Shea Weber is the EIGHTH best defenseman in the world? Do they really think that Karlsson's one godlike season justifies ranking him almost twenty spots ahead of Weber?
I suppose they do as it says so right there on the list. Kind of a rhetorical question I guess.

My have the Sedin twins really fallen. A year or two ago these guys were the juggernauts of the mighty Canuck offense. I realize that their play has slipped a little bit, but has it fallen THAT far off of the radar?

And the biggest ommision on the list is almost as big of a travesty as ranking Malkin at number 7. How are you going to have a top FIFTY list and not include one of the biggest rising stars on the blue line in OEL? I realize that he plays in Phoenix but lets not hold that against him. It's not like the boy can control that for the love of all that is good and holy!

Overall you can shuffle players around here or there and I am sure that it is all relative, yet the aforementioned are the things which jumped right out at me and i simply HAD to address them.

What say y'all?Do you agree with the list? Who or what stands out the most to you?

ThePuckHog.
@ThePuckHog

Penguins Hire New Goalies Coach... Kind Of

Let me start out this little rant by professing almost complete ignorance.
When it comes to hockey, I'd like to think that I know my stuff.
From current players to prospects, former players to coaches you won't find me at a loss of words for many of those.

When it comes to coaches who specialize in net minding? Lets just say that I'm pretty close to not knowing a damn thing.

I DO however know the current Penguins regime, so it was with little shock when my Twitter feed (@ThePuckHog if you care to give it a follow) popped up with the news that the Penguins have hired Mike Bales as the new goaltending coach.

Now I hardly remember Bales from his days in the NHL which isn't surprising considering the little amount of time he spent in the league, which isn't a bad thing. A prerequisite of being a great coach at the NHL level is not that you must have been a great NHL player. Just ask current Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma about that one.

What I do know about Bales is that he has been with the Penguins organization since 2011 as the clubs goaltending and development coach and scout of amateur goalies.
And from all accounts he has done a fine job.

The issue I take with this isn't so much who the Penguins hired, but who they chose NOT to hire.
It is no secret to anyone who has followed the NHL that Marc Andre Fleury is a head case. His play is so bi polar and neurotic that the Penguins are not just suggesting that he saw a sports psychologist, but INSISTED on it.
The Penguins had a chance to hit a home run with this one as all reports indicated that highly respected Färjestad goaltending coach Erik Granqvist was interested in the job. And he has some pretty darn good experience working with goalies who are known to be a head case.

It's difficult to imagine a bigger head case than Ilya Bryzgalov when it comes to NHL netminders. After his flameout, and subsequent buy-out from the Philly Flyers, Bryzgalov was given the advice to seek out Grandqvist and did such.
Now of course we won't know how effective those sessions have been until we see Bryzgalov play again (or hear his theories on space time sadly), the fact that Ilya sought out Grandqvist as the guy to turn him back around speaks VOLUMES to the well deserved and hard earned reputation Grandqvist has achieved amongst those who know a helluva lot more about goalie coaches than you or I ever will.

And this guy has a mind for hockey. He is not simply limited to knowledge of the art of stopping pucks, but is fluent in all aspects of the game, and both European as well as North American brands. Some even suggest that he will be a head coach some day and not limited to that of a goalie coach.
He has a reputation for being able to work with veterans equally as well as with developing players.

Point is, the guy knows his hockey. And people involved in the sport know that the guy knows his hockey. The respect factor for him is off the chart on both sides of the pond.

Grandqvist has a year left on his contract. Mark my words, he will be a highly sought after commodity for any openings an NHL team has for a goalie coach and the Penguins had first shot at him.

So what did they do?
They promoted Mike Bales from within.

Again, maybe Bales will get the job done and be a pleasant surprise. But he is nowhere near the caliber of Grandqvist.
I have a difficult time with this as it seems to be the M.O. Of the current regime to address obvious problems from within the organization at the risk of losing out on something better.
And goaltending has been an obvious problem. For years.

Gilles Meloche was kept around far longer than he should have been simply because he has been with the Penguins forever. In fact, when Ray Shero was hired as the Penguins GM he chose to extend the contract of Meloche despite the fact that everyone knew back then a change needed to be made.

A few weeks ago, the Penguins DID bring in Jaques Martin as an associate coach, presumably to work with the defense. A move that Gets my personal stamp of approval... In a big big way.

It was also a surprising move considering the Penguins regime reluctance to bring in "outsiders" to fill an obvious area of need.

My only question is that if Mike Bales is indeed the guy for the job, and he has indeed been with the organization for a couple of seasons, then why has Fleury never looked worse in the playoffs than he has for those past two seasons?
And if Bales didn't work with Marc Andre over the past two seasons yet he is regarded in such high standards by the Penguins, why not?

You have a voice for two years that failed to help the problem or wasn't given a chance (which makes zero sense if he is as good as the Penguins seem to think) to help and yet you choose to give him the reins?

It simply doesn't make sense.

Again, I am ignorant when it comes to goalie coaching technique. But I can follow logic quite nicely.
What logic tells me is that the Penguins needed a new voice. A respected voice. The team had the chance to secure that voice and yet chose to promote from within.

Time will tell if this was the correct move but I can't help but feeling like this one stings a bit. Especially when the decision seems so obvious to everyone except the men who had the final decision.

Scuderi Sucks and advanced analytics

Michael Shuckers is a numbers guy.
He readily admits that.
As an associate professor of statistics at St. Lawrence University, his analysis of the 4 year contract given to Rob Scuderi by the Pittsburgh Penguins gives him an excuse.
As a numbers guy.

However, Shuckers is also co founder of Statistical Sports Consulting which is a company that uses numbers to provide logical conclusions on a players worth in hockey circles.
And as such, he has no excuse.

Shuckers caused a slight stir when his article suggested that the four year, 13.5 million dollar contract the 34 year old received from the Pittsburgh Penguins was the worst signing amongst the available UFA's this summer.

"That's the one that sticks out to me this year," Schuckers said. "Pittsburgh is supposed to be a team that's fairly analytic. All the analytics I've seen suggest he's well past his prime."

Perhaps Pittsburgh is known as "analytical". But then again, they chose to extend the contract of head coach Dan Bylsma despite a 4th consecutive playoff flameout (an article for another day I suppose). I bet those same advanced stats love THAT move but I regress.

The problem with Professor Shuckers line of thinking is as glaring as it is obvious.
It simply measures only stats. And that ain't good.

Scuderi's worth isn't going to show up on your average stat sheet. His worth is in keeping the opposition off of those same stat sheets, and he does that very well.
His worth is in the locker room, as a leader and mentor to young defensemen. A position which the Penguins have a kings (no pun intended) ransom of. His worth shows up as a guy who uses excellent positioning in his own zone and as a guy who remains steadfast in those responsibilities which then allows for his partners to jump into the play (a role which Kris Letang thrives in mind you).

Even advanced stats like The Corsii ratings don't measure how effective a player like Scuderi is at keeping opponents in check. This is a guy who is consistently paired opposite of the very best scoring forwards in the world and even at his age has excelled in this role.

Which brings us to his age. Professor Shuckers DEFINATELY sees yet another red flag there.
"At that point in someone's career, you know a good bit about them and how they play in the NHL," Schuckers said.

Since the Professor likes numbers so much I thought I'd throw out a few for him.

If Scuderi is past his prime, explain to me how he has not missed one single game over the past three years? In the past 5 years, you could count on one hand the number of players who have played more games than Rob Scuderi.
In fact, Scuderi averaged more time on ice this past season for the Kings than he has at any time during his career. BY OVER A MINUTE. In fact, he averaged 2 minutes more time on ice this season than his career average.
And in the playoffs his Ice time actually INCREASED by OVER A MINUTE AND A HALF.
All of this on a Kings team which won a cup 2 seasons ago and was a Western Conference Finalist this season

All of this suggests that Professor Shuckers comments that Scuderi is well past his prime (not just past his prime, but WELL past) are disengenuous at best.

Do analytical numbers take into account team needs?
Of course not.
They don't tell you how badly the Penguins needed a defenseman of Scuderi's ilk.
How they need a ying to Letang's yang, or the need for a top notch penalty killer to patrol the back end.

The major problem with The Professor's analysis is that it is far to robotic in nature. It doesn't take into account many variables which are impossible for numbers to tell you such as market value. Or better yet, market value in a very weak UFA class.

Look, I'm a big believer in analytical stats. And I believe in the importance of due diligence. I simply think that basing a blanket opinion based upon these stats is NOT using said due diligence.

As a professor of numbers, Shuckers has an excuse. As a man involved in sports he should be a bit embarrassed.

Besides, we all know that as far as the worst off season moves go, Toronto takes the cake!