Monday, November 24, 2008

21 down, 61 to go

Before the season began, I predicted the scoring totals for the players I expected to stick with the club. Seeing as the Bruins just played their 21st game of the season (thus passing the quarter-mark), I figured it was a good time to revisit those predictions. Not surprisingly, some of the players were sent back down (Noke, Sobotka, Schaeffer) or just sent away (Alberts... poor guy) so I will focus more on who is left with the team.

Player........................G - A - P
Patrice Bergeron...........16-39-55
David Krejci................20-35-55
Marc Savard................31-74-105

P.J. Axelsson................0-26-26
Milan Lucic..................23-27-50
Marco Sturm................26-26-52
Shawn Thornton.............4-12-16

Phil Kessel...................39-23-62
Chuck Kobasew.............23-54-77
Michael Ryder...............12-31-43
Blake Wheeler..............23-12-35

Zdeno Chara................16-20-35
Andrew Ference.............0-34-34
Shane Hnidy..................0-9-9
Mark Stuart..................4-0-4
Aaron Ward..................0-12-12
Dennis Wideman...........20-20-40

Totals: 257- 455 - 711

Goalie........................GP - W - GAA
Manny Fernandez...........27 - 20 - 2.55
Tim Thomas.................55 - 35 - 1.80

Record: 55-12-15 125 points

Obviously these numbers are based on their current pace and are unlikely to hold up over the season. What really surprises me is the fact that my admittedly generous record, goals scored and goals allowed are actually proving underestimations. I was just hoping the Bruins would manage to put up close to 246 goals and 100 points... instead they are on pace for 257 goals and 125 points! My predictions were actually fairly accurate in most cases and I am most proud of pegging Lucic as nearing a 50-point scorer (predicted 48, pace for 51).

The obvious outliers are Bergeron, Krejci, Ryder, Kobasew, Kessel, Ference and Chara. I definitely seemed to misjudge Kessel and Krejci while I expect Kobasew and Ference to come back down to Earth (though will still have good seasons from both). Chara has been finding his game recently so I am less concerned by his numbers. My real worry is that both Ryder and Bergeron have been underperforming thus far... makes me question whether having the offensively challenged Axelsson on their line is really a good idea. Once Sturm recovers from this 'upper-body injury' (what the hell happened to him??) I really think they should move Kobasew up to the second line (Sturm has played too well with Krejci to move him). Chuck has been a great spark for us thus far and you have to think his physical game and play-making ability could only help Bergeron and Ryder find their games. Then again, they are winning games so why fix what ain't broke?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Tour of Boston...

First stop, the Fens.
It was announced this past week that Dustin Pedroia won the AL MVP award (by a surprisingly large margin I might add). Certainly did not see this coming... even doubted my girlfriend when she proclaimed he would win it all the way back in July, saying medium-power balding midget two-baggers don't win MVPs. Looks like I was proved wrong and I have never been so glad!
Going into the vote, I was concerned that he and Youkilis would split the vote and allow someone to sneak in and steal it from them. However, I soon realized that Minnesota fans were battling the same concern with the Morneau/Mauer ticket and the fact that we made the playoffs all but ensured the win for Pedey. As TATB said, I still find it hard to believe that little Dustin Pedroia now has an MVP while past and current Red Sox greats like Manny, Pedro, Ortiz and Nomar have none.

There is even the question of whether Youkilis was the more deserving Sox for this award and he certainly had a strong case (though it only earned him third). My view on the matter is that Pedrioa and Youkilis were equally valuable to this team... it could not have succeeded without both players, from both a performance and leadership standpoint. With that in mind, I am glad that Pedroia took home the hardware in this instance seeing as the more powerful Youkilis is more likely to get another crack at this award. After all, table setting second basemen who bat second in the order rarely outshine cleanup-hitting first basemen. I just hope that Youk is able to take home some hardware of his own in the future.

Next stop, Foxboro(ugh)
With the sudden development of Matt Cassel as a NFL-level quarterback (thanks to that 400yd exclamation mark Thursday), there have been questions regarding his future. Some people advocate keeping him over Tom Brady while others think he needs to be re-signed and then traded once Brady's healthy. Frankly, these people make no sense and I question just how much football knowledge they actually possess. There is no way Cassel takes the paycut with NE to serve as a backup another year nor would he sign only to be traded... it just makes no sense. If you were Cassel, wouldn't you rather choose your employer and get a fresh-start with your new team rather than get sent to whoever gives NE the best haul? I know I certainly would. As for relieving Brady of his services, that is just daft... he is far too good a QB and it would wreak havoc on the salary cap (10.3M hit in '09)... it is just out of the question.

Last stop, the Causeway Vault
Still can't come to believe that the Bruins lead the Northeast division, and essentially the Eastern Conference (2 game deficit to NYR with 3 to play... you do the math). I mean, I saw them improving on last year's surprising playoff position but I was figuring we would get a 4-6 seed at best, not a top-three! Granted, it is still early but they have been playing so well lately that nothing seems to faze them... I mean, how many teams win handily after giving up 3 goals inside of five minutes to a divisional foe? Just unreal.

For those who still don't believe they are real, consider the following stats:
3.21 goals per game, 6th in NHL (Detroit leads at 3.65)
2.16 goals allowed per game, 2nd in NHL (Minnesota leads at 1.94)
+1.05 goal differential, 2nd in NHL (San Jose leads at 1.10)
21.3% PP efficiency, 6th in NHL (Detroit leads at 32.4%)
81.3% PK efficiency, 16th in NHL (Minnesota leads at 93.8%)
3-0-2 when opponent scores first

Clearly, by those stats, Boston is a top-5 team if not top-2 (behind SJ). Two things really jump out at me though... first, the penalty kill has really rebounded from an atrocious start. A few weeks into the season Boston was mired at the bottom of the league with a PK efficiency hovering just over 70%. Now it is at a respectable 81% which is a profound improvement over such a short time and I can see it steadily improving from here on out into the 85-86 range. The second surprise is our record when opponents score first... not only the fact that we have been very successful in that situation but that it has happened so rarely. We have scored first in 14 of 19 games thus far which goes a long way to dispel any questions about this team's performance and skill level. The fact that we have managed 8 of a possible 10 points when scored upon first is even more telling, as it shows the type of heart, determination and leadership this team has on a nightly basis. It doesn't matter if the Bruins are scored upon first, they never look at themselves as being out of any game and that is an amazing quality to have and will lead to considerable success. Hell, with that record, maybe we should always let them score first on us and end up with a 49-0-33 record and 131 points... or maybe not and we can just stick with what is working!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hockeytown, USA?

Does Detroit really deserve the title? Or is Boston more deserving?

I have been mulling over this question for the past couple months as it randomly comes up in hockey conversations. Originally, I had planned to write about the NHL's policy, or lack thereof, regarding suspensions after illegal hits in the wake of the Van Ryn incident. However, I was beaten to the punch by Tom at HCtB which proved quite fortunate for me seeing as my attempt at the topic would have paled in comparison to his well-written and carefully thought-out masterpiece. So instead, I will write about this trivial matter... onwards to the debate!

NHL Success:
– Founded in 1924, Original Six member
– Seventeen Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Five victories
– Marquee players: Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque

– Founded in 1926, Original Six member
– Twenty-three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Eleven victories
– Marquee players: Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Steve Yzerman

At first glance, Detroit clearly holds the advantage here based on Cup victories but when you look at the facts, it is no longer quite so clear. The majority of their victories (7 of 11) are tainted by the grossly unfair practices present in the early days of the NHL. For the majority of its infancy, the NHL did not have an amateur draft but instead enforced an exclusivity policy. The policy ensured that franchises had absolute rights to players living within a 50-mile radius of their city. This was clearly detrimental to Boston, New York and Chicago as they were therefore blocked from the majority of Canadian prospects. (That is not even considering the fact that both New York and Boston are port cities and thus half their territory would be the Atlantic Ocean!) Detroit was mostly unaffected by this unjust policy since talent-rich southern Ontario fell within its territorial boundaries. This absurd policy remained in place until the advent of the amateur draft in 1963 but it had a major impact on all six franchises throughout the rest of the decade.

A second situation working in Detroit’s favor was its owner James Norris. This powerful figure actually controlled all four American franchises through varying means (purchased Chicago through a syndicate, major shareholder in Rangers, held mortgages for Bruins), allowing him to neglect them to further the causes of his Red Wings. Evidence of his lack of investment can be seen when looking at NHL playoff history from 1941 to 1970 as the trio only managed one Cup victory (Chicago ’61). It is even more evident when considering the fact that the ‘Haves’ only missed the playoffs in favor of a ‘Have-Not’ eight times over the three decades! Needless to say, Boston (as well as Chicago and New York) were at a major competitive disadvantage and any early NHL success should be reconsidered appropriately.

Local Success:
– Hosts the Beanpot, arguably the most famous amateur hockey tournament in the US.
– Four D-1 NCAA hockey programs (Northeastern, Harvard, BC, BU)
– Eight NCAA Championships in twenty-one appearances (4 and 11 in past 2 decades)*
– 161 NHL players**

– One D-1 NCAA hockey program (U of Michigan 45 miles away)
– Nine NCAA Championships in eleven appearances (2 and 2 in past 2 decades)*
– 111 NHL players**

Boston has a clear advantage in this regard, especially when considering that Detroit’s only collegiate presence is actually in Ann Arbor (but was included for arguments sake). The difference between the two is even more resounding when you consider the fact that the majority UofM’s success came in the 50’s while BU and BC have dominated the 90’s and 00’s. Add in the sizeable advantage in NHL talent Massachusetts holds over Michigan and it would seem clear that Boston is more deserving of the title of Hockeytown, USA.


* BU: 4-5 record, BC: 3-6 record, Harvard: 1-2 record, UofM: 9-2 recordYears of titles and appearances can be found here.

** Based on birthplace starting in 1918. Minnesota leads the way with 193 NHL players, with MA and MI second and third respectively. Values found here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

History repeats itself?

History repeats itself…

Watching hockey highlights over the weekend, I came across the Kostopoulos/Van Ryn incident and I couldn’t help but flashback to October 27th of last year. The date is burned into the minds of Bruins fans as day we nearly lost the face of our franchise to a dirty, illegal hit from behind into the boards. The thing that really disturbed me about the play was just the sheer similarity. In both instances, the guilty party had time to pull up and either avoid the hit all together or greatly reduce the impact. Instead, the ‘attacker’ decided to go in full steam and exacerbated the situation with the downward thrust to the shoulders. Had the check been a straight hip check, the injuries would have been far less severe as the body would have absorbed most of the impact with the boards. Instead, the shoulders were pushed downwards focusing the impact force onto the head and leading to serious injury.

Now the question becomes, what punishment will be brought down on Kostopoulos?

Bergeron-Jones incident results:
– Jones 5 Boarding, Jones 10 Misconduct, Kobasew 2 Roughing
Injury – Severe concussion, broke nose
Time Lost – Remainder of season and postseason
Punishment – Two game suspension for Jones

Kostopoulos-Van Ryn incident results:
– Kostopoulos 5 Boarding, Kostopoulos 10 Misconduct, 2 matching Roughing
Injury – Concussion (severity unknown), broken nose, broken hand/finger
Time Lost – Remains to be seen… minimum of one month
Punishment – Remains to be seen…*

Thankfully, Patrice Bergeron has managed a full recovery after being lost for the remainder of the ‘07-‘08 season. Hopefully the same will be true for Mike Van Ryn, preferably with a shorter layoff. I will be very interested to see if Kostopoulos is suspended for the hit... I get the upsetting feeling that he will get off with a slap on the wrist just like Jones did...


On an unrelated note, I came across this link on the Boston Globe’s Bruins Blog and just had to share it… it is amazing to read everything Thomas has had to deal with to even get a chance to play in the NHL. Fortunately for him (and Boston), he has taken the opportunity presented him and run with it straight to the top of the NHL.

*Edit: Kostopoulos was suspended by the NHL for 3 games this afternoon. While I am glad to see there was a suspension issued, it comes with some concerns for me... for one, only three games? Seems pathetically low for such a serious injury, though I thought the same thing about Jones's two game suspension, which, of course, is my other concern. Why the difference in suspensions when the plays were nearly identical? I realize it is only one game but it is still different and its the principle of the matter.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is there a trade in the works?

The question must be swirling through the Bruins locker room after word came down that Vladimir Sobotka has been assigned to Providence. He was reportedly told that he would return to the big club after this weekend.

Now considering the move only, it makes sense for the Bruins... Kobasew is expected back for Thursday's game and Sobotka has been a healthy scratch for most of this time with the parent club this season. Sending him down allows him to actually get some ice time in a game environment and continue with his development. It also allows Kobasew to get back on the ice while keeping a forward in reserve (Noke?) should anything happen.

Obviously, all of this is fairly elementary and any Bruins fan can understand the reasoning behind this move, whether they agree or not. The big question is, what's with the quick return? Obvious trade candidates are Fernandez (unlikely with massive contract), Axelsson (cheap defensive presence) or Sturm (underperforming)... I don't see any of these happening but who knows... should prove interesting.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Meaning of the NHL...

Perhaps it stands for the ‘National Hypocrites League’? Or maybe the ‘No Headshots but everything else goes League'? (Okay, I admit that last one is a bit long, but I couldn't come up with anything better!)

I am of course, referring to the uproar that has arisen in the wake of Doug Weight’s injurious open-ice hit on Brandon Sutter. There have been complaints that Weight was head-hunting and calls for a lengthy suspension. However, after viewing the footage a handful of times it is very hard for any educated hockey fan to call the play anything but a clean hit. Sutter had his head down and put himself into a vulnerable position while in traffic… how can he not expect to get hit. Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with Sutter and never want to see any player injured but the fact remains that this was from a legal hit. With all the publicity this hit has received, you would think Doug Weight was the next Ulf Samuelsson, not a guy who has been suspended a total of 4 games (11/7/03) in 16 seasons (1141 games). Clearly, he is not the dirty player he has been made out to be.

At the same time, there are players like Steve Ott and Sean Avery taking liberties with opposing players and attempting to injure getting off scot-free. I have searched through both ESPN and SI in hopes of finding some ink dedicated to their dangerous and reckless play… all I managed to find was this one small snippet. So Ott goes low on two players (Yelle and Lucic) and leaves his feet to check a third (Stuart) but is never penalized for any of it (despite visual evidence on two of the hits). Of course, Ott refuses to fight after any of these plays and can be seen searching desperately for a ref as if he were looking for his mother to save him from the playground bullies (Thornton and Hnidy). Thankfully, Ference laid him out with a brutal but clean hit (note the elbow is tucked-in to the body) and then accepted Avery's challenge and landed a few blows (before Avery realized he was going to lose and played the coward; pulling out Ference's right leg from under him to prematurely end the fight and save himself a pounding).

So after three dirty plays from Ott and a fourth from Avery (hit from behind on Lucic that started the melee) there is hardly any publicity on either site but an outcry over a legitimate hit. Where is the logic in that?? It make no sense whatsoever. Do players need to be injured for there to be any mention of this style of dangerous play? Or do the players in question have to be stars who deliver clean, hard hits? Lord knows there was no similar uproar after Randy Jones's or Scott Hartnell's illegal hits (nice lead with the elbow to the dome byHartnell). What was the punishment for the illegal hits that ended the season of two Bruins? Two games in each instance. TWO GAMES. So now they want to complain about legal hits while they let illegal hits either get off completely unpunished and unpublicized (a la Steve Ott) or with a slap on the wrist. How does that make any sense? Bunch of f*cking hypocrites...