Outdoor Games

So there is going to be a total of 6 outdoor games this year. That’s right, 6 of them. We have games in Detroit, Vancouver, New York(X2), Jersey, and LA. Yeup, an outdoor ICE hockey game in LA. The Winter Classic is always something hockey fans look forward to. For myself, its a great way to recover from the festivities of the night before, and gives me an excuse to spend all day on the couch. I cant make the same excuse 5 more times.

The Winter Classic hype is justified. It reconnects a professional sport to its grassroots level, its almost nostalgic to many die hards. This year its being played in Michigan Stadium, aka ‘The Big House’. Seating capacity is 100,000+ so yeah, its gonna be a spectacle. Plus HBO is coming back for another 24/7 series which is always a goose-bump inducing 4 episodes. Many of us have been long looking forward to this years game for an extended period due to the lockout, so I’m pumped.

That being said, how much novelty can there be for an additional 5 games outdoors? Will there be an almost magic like element to an outdoor hockey game in Los Angeles? How exactly do they plan to make decent ice in January in LA with an average high of 20C, and a low of 8.8C? Ones mind boggles.

I understand lost revenue must be recouped from the lockout. The league did itself no favours with the work stoppage. However is it really worth taking the novelty away from one of the NHL’s most popular annual events? I could be wrong, and it could turn out to be a huge success. No doubt people will still tune in, but I truly feel it is taking away the intrigue and the excitement surrounding the event.

In Philly in 2012 when the snow was falling, the sun had set, and we were watching Danny Briere stand on the red line waiting for a penalty shot, his breath escaping in the wind, it was almost magical.The intensity and gravity of the moment surpassed that of a mere sporting event. 50,000 fans in Citizens Bank Park and millions of fans watching at home held their breath in anticipation.

I don’t want that crammed down my gullet until it becomes a regular occurrence. Do you?

 

Player Spolight: Erik Karlsson

Happy St. Patricks Day!

In today’s lecture we will be taking a look at Ottawa Senator’s All-Star defenceman Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson was drafted 15th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. 11 defenceman were taken in the 1st round that year (notables: Doughty,Schenn,Pietrangelo,Myers,Del Zotto) and Karlsson was a steal at 15th.The 21 year old Swede is in his second full year with the Senator’s and is having a superb 2011-2012 campaign. Going strictly by the numbers it’s easy to see the positive progression (no pun intended) trending and at only 21 it’s hopefully a sign of great things to come.

In ’10-’11 Karlsson played 75 games registering 13 goals, 32 assists, and 45 points. That’s a pretty solid stat line for your first full year as a pro. Given that there is typically a huge learning curve for young defenceman coming into the league, its all the more impressive. However with that said, Karlsson finished the year with a glaring -30 rating. Ottawa only won 32 games that year with a 2.32 goals per game, and 2.99 goals against per game. With numbers like that and playing an average of 25 minutes a game, Karlsson’s rating doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Still one of his main criticisms was his d-zone positioning and play. A total threat at one end, and a liability at the other.

Fast forward to this year and the Senators were pegged to have a similar season. Despite having a new head coach in Paul MacLean, at the start of the year they were once again predicted to be basement dwellers of the eastern conference. This would surely result in similar statistics for not only Karlsson, but the whole roster in general (only 9 players finished +0 or higher). However as of March 16 2012, the Sens knocked Boston out of top spot of the North Eastern division,and jumped from 6th place to 2nd. Due to the health and avoidance of previous years injury woes, and continued stellar performances from their veterans, the Senators are having an excellent season, and so is Erik Karlsson.

Through 71 games this season Karlsson has 19 goals, 52 assists, and 71 points. That is good for 3rd overall in assists and 7th overall in points(ahead of Neal, Tavares, Eberle, and Hossa to name a few). The jump in production can be attributed to the overall team success, but for anybody who has watched the Senators play this year Erik Karlsson has been heads and shoulders above any other defenceman in the league. The next highest scoring defender is Brian Campbell of the Florida Panters with 47. Oh, and the plus/minus rating? A stellar +17.

The natural growth of a young player from one year to the next is always fun to watch, but Karlsson has shown experience beyond his years. He seems to always have his head up, and his feet moving. He moves the puck quickly and efficiently, and always recognizes the opportunity to join the rush, in particular his ability to pinch in off the blue line to keep plays alive, and challenge opposing teams break outs. Karlsson’s steady play has drawn the praise of his GM Bryan Murray who compared his stud d-man to living legend Nicklas Lidsrtom during his early playing days¬†(Murray coached the Wings when Lidstrom broke into the NHL in the early 90s) and said he sees a similarity between the two.

“Lidstrom wasn’t a big hitter but he had a good stick and had good positioning, Erik plays the same way.”

Being compared to arguably the best defenceman of all time would be a huge honor, and I think I speak for everyone when I say here’s hoping he continues to grow along a similar path as his fellow Swede.

Comparisons and team play aside, I think that with the system MacLean is running in Ottawa, and the continued strong play of key team members we will have many more years of excellent stats and play to come from the young Erik Karlsson. The future in Ottawa is starting to look bright, and nobody is lighting that lamp more than him.


Years Behind Hockey

Yesterday it was announced Leafs head coach (and close friend of GM Brian Burke since their playing days as co-captains for Providence College in the late 70′s) was fired, and replaced with ex-Ducks coach Randy Carlyle (also a friend of Burke). Carlyle brings in a Stanley Cup, and tons of playoff coaching experience which the organization undoubtedly hopes he gets to use in the very near future . He’s got his work cut out for him as this move was made with the intention of pushing the team into the playoffs for the first time since before the ’04 lockout. Good luck Carlyle, looks like you’ll need it.

Ron Wilson coached the Leafs for 310 games starting in ’08-’09 with 131 wins, 135 loses, and no post season appearances; unfortunately in this case those numbers speak for themselves. It wasn’t hard to see this change coming despite Toronto jumping out to a great first half of the season. Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel continue to put up solid points, but the problem lies in their own end. Toronto’s defence has been porous at best, with shaky goaltending.

For whatever reason despite addressing the problem throughout the year (splitting up Kessel/Lupul earlier in the season to try and have them play a more balanced two way game) Wilson just couldn’t get the boys to tighten up in their own zone. If Carlyle can do that and get some steady net minding, the Leafs might have a chance to collectively post pone their trips to the golf course. As I see it, they won’t be making the post season this year.

They currently sit in 12th place in the east with 65 points. Carlyle has a short time to implement a d-zone change and I just can’t see a strong enough turnaround in their play (1-8-1 in their last ten) for a post season birth. I hope for the sake of Leaf nation they make a run, but I don’t see it happening this year.

#ftb