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Saturday, June 26, 2010

With the 20th Pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins select...

The Penguins had the 20th pick in the draft this year and in my opinion, didn't disappoint.  The biggest problem with the Pens this year, other than a shaky powerplay, was the lack of a power forward with scoring capabilities.  The wing positions have been a point of concern since the Stanley Cup run in 2009.  The Pens have, arguably, one of the best trio of centermen on any roster with Crosby, Malkin, and Staal.  Unfortunately they haven't had the supporting cast.  With their first round selection, they chose right winger Beau Bennett.

Going over the basics, Bennett is a 6' 1", 173 lbs, 18 years old forward and led the BCHL in scoring this past season with 120 points (41G-79A) in 56 games. He added 14 points (5G-9A) in 15 postseason contests for the Junior A Penticton Vees. His point total was the most in the BCHL since Tyler Bozak's 128 in 2007 and he became the first BCHL rookie to surpass 100 points in the past seven years. 

Much of the hype in this draft has been the resurgence (or emergence) of hockey in California.  With the Kings hosting the event this year, the west coast vibe is bigger than ever.  Bennett hails from Gardenia, CA and is a big part of that new wave of California skaters that grew up playing roller hockey.  He is also now the highest drafted California born player ever.  The one thing that makes many of these California players stand out is their unbelievable quickness and puck handling skills.  The obvious lack of ice rinks and weather to support outdoor play led to Beau's dad purchasing the neighboring lot and building a roller hockey rink.  Beau spent much of his life learning the game and perfecting his skills out there. 

Many of the pre-ranking predictions that I read had Beau as a later round pick, most of which in late round 2 or 3.  A lot has been made about drafting Junior A players with higher picks considering the development of Kyle Turris has been less than stellar to this point.  Bennett is planning to attend Denver University and play for the Pioneers, becoming only the third first rounder to play in Denver (the other two being Craig Redmond in 1984 and Joe Colbourne in 2008).  He is going to have his work cut out for him as he needs to get bigger and stronger if he is going to have a shot at a spot in the NHL.  Denver is a high profile organization and he will play in a ton of big games. 

When interviewed after his selection, he said about playing with Crosby and Co., "That would be unreal.  This is such an opportunity.  It's really what you do after the draft and I'm willing to do the work and can't wait to start in Denver." Here is some of the video press conference held after his selection.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Taylor vs. Tyler: 2010 NHL Entry Draft

(No, not those two)

Tonight is the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.  It is a night that most up and coming hockey players dream of since they begin their careers at an early age.  The draft itself spills over into Saturday with rounds 2-7.  Anyone interested in catching all the "action" can tune in on either Versus in the US or TSN and RDS in Canada, but I'm sure anyone from Canada that is reading this already knows that.

The debate around the water cooler is who goes first?  I think with this years draft class, it really isn't going to make much difference either way.  The top two prospects ( 4 if you ask me) are both well equiped for any type of situation they may face in their transition to the NHL.  This year we find the two top dogs being Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.  Logically, Edmonton with the first pick, has a no brainer situation here.  Either player is going to provide them with the upgrade they need to become a viable playoff caliber team. 

(These two.)

For Boston, leftovers aren't something to groan about since one of these two will also be a welcome addition to their team.  Boston came oh so close to making it to the Stanley Cup and I think the rigors of the season finally caught up to them in the end.  Young talent, like Taylor and Tyler both possess, will most certainly aid in preventing that year end stall out that teams keep having.  

Bottom line here is you can't go wrong with either choice. 

If I were a betting man (and I am), I would say that Taylor hall has a slight edge over Tyler in terms of going to Edmonton.  They need a winger that can be a leader right away and make an impact on the team out of the starting gate.  Hall is already battle ready, having lead the Windsor Spitfires to the Memorial Cup.  Expect the Oilers to draft him quickly. 

That leaves Tyler to go to the Bruins.  In my opinion, Tyler has a slight edge in skills and a much bigger upside in the long run.  The problem here is the Bruins need another first line center like they need a hole in the head.  I can see Seguin making the team from day one without having to spend much time in the minors.  The only issue I see here is whether he can keep a job long term with Bergeron, Savard, and Krecji in front of him.  Sadly, an injury to any one of those three could give him the big break he needs.  I think whoever goes to Boston will make the fans say Kessel, who?

Here is my prediction for the Top 10.  Argue all you want about positioning.  This is why I blog and am not a beat writer.

1) Edmonton - Taylor Hall
2) Boston - Tyler Seguin
3) Florida - Cam Fowler (D), best puck handling defensemen in the draft
4) Columbus - Erik Gudbranson (D), could be the next Chris Pronger
5) New York Islanders - Brandon Gormley (D), solid two-way defenseman, great penalty killer
6) Tampa Bay - Brett Connolly (W), they need a winger for the Stamkos line
7) Carolina - Nino Niederreiter (W), they need a winger too so this could be a swap with #6
8) Atlanta - Jack Campbell (G), the first goalie to go in the draft, and boy do they need one
9) Minnesota - Ryan Johansen (C), an Eric Staal style centerman
10) New York Rangers - Emerson Etem (C), the Rangers need speed at center and Etem is probably the fastest skater in the draft.  Plus he can score.

My hopes for the Pens...with the 23rd pick I can see a Dylan McIlrath if he falls that far.  They need a defenseman for the future and Dylan is by far the grittiest of this years draft.  I could also see Petr Straka at this pick.  He is a highly skilled winger and above all, a playmaker.  That's what the Pens need.  Realistically, they may be tempted by a goalie with this pick, especially if the top tier D-men and scoring wingers are swiped up early.  Maybe a Calvin Pickard or even Jack Campbell if he falls this far (I doubt it).


Well my picks weren't very good.  The obvious 1, 2, & 6 were pretty much my only hits.  The Thrashers, Wild, and Rangers all went a little nuts with their picks and ruined my bracket.

Here is where it all ended up:

1) Edmonton - Taylor Hall
2) Boston - Tyler Seguin
3) Florida - Erik Gudbranson
4) Columbus - Ryan Johansen
5) New York Islanders - Nino Niederreiter
6) Tampa Bay - Brett Connolly
7) Carolina - Jeff Skinner
8) Atlanta - Alexander Burmistrov
9) Minnesota  - Mikael Granlund
10) New York Rangers - Dylan McIlrath

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hockey Hall of Fame Debauchle

Ok, I am not going to waste my time with a narrative of the Hockey Hall of Fame or it's annual process of screwing people.  If you want to check out the list of inductees and celebrate their achievements, go over here.  Bottom line is, I am not upset with the selections.  I applaud the efforts of the Hall to finally include Women's Hockey for the first time.  Cammi Granato and Angela James are more than deserving as both were dominant players during their careers.  I am not even arguing over the fact that two builders were taken.  Both Jimmy Devellano and Doc Seaman are more than deserving for their contributions to the NHL, especially Seaman with his virtual creation of the Calgary Flames organization and his 4 cups with the Red Wings.

What I am quite upset with is the lack of any brains or common sense on the part of the election committee.  Each year since adopting the new rules allowing for female athletes, two women and four men are eligible for acceptance into the Farce, I mean Hall of Fame.  When you have a list of eligible players that include the likes of Dino Ciccerelli, Doug Gilmour, Pavel Bure, Joe Nieuwendyk, Adam Oates, Dave Andreychuk, Eric Lindros, and Mark Howe, the task of choosing is certainly a daunting one.  However, it also makes sense to choose the best players at their positions during their career.  Considering most of these guys played during the Gretzky/Lemieux era, I will admit that there are no DOMINANT players among this group.  But this list includes guys that had careers better than some of the current members already in the Hall.

So which four did they choose for 2010? 

Well they picked Dino Ciccerelli with their first pick and no one after that.  Let me repeat that again.  They picked only one eligible player.  ONE PLAYER OUT OF FOUR!!!  Not only that, and not to take anything away from Dino, but they didn't even pick the best available.  Like I said, I'm not saying Ciccerelli isn't deserving.  He is.  He was a solid player for his entire career and put up some great numbers.  The better question is why did it take a decade for him to be put into the hall? 

The simplest explanation is that this same group of senile old men that seem to have forgotten what their job is and started treating the election committee like their own personal secret society complete with secret knocks and handshakes, took it upon themselves to snub Dino because of his "off-ice" antics.  Using our time machine, let's travel back to 1988 when an arrest warrant was issued for Ciccerelli for clubbing Luke Richardson over the head with this stick.  He was penalized, given a game misconduct and suspended for 10 games.  He was to be charged with assault despite the fact that Richardson was okay.  He was also public enemy #1 in Toronto from that point forward.  He eventually served a day in jail.

Fast forward a week after his stint in the clink and we find him standing on his front porch getting the newspaper...sans pants!  After the 7 year old neighbor told her mother, the police were notified.  He was charged with indecent exposure and pled guilty.  He served 50 hours of community service for that one.  There was another rumor of him standing in his bay window of his house sans pants on another occasion too but I don't know if that was ever proven.  How about we move to 1990, when he and a bunch of fellow Capitals were accused of running a train on a 17 year old in the back of a limo.  Of course in this case, the grand jury declined to charge the players siting the evidence didn't prove it occurred against the girl's will and all the witness testimonies to police suddenly changed when it came time for their depositions to the court. 

I have also heard that while on the Red Wings, he didn't win any friendships from the players and was especially disliked by then coach Scotty Bowman.  Regardless of whether any of this is relevant, the "League of Extrordinary Gentleman" have probably used this against him for years despite his hall worthy numbers and have finally come to grips the fact that they have allowed much more inferior players in during the time he was eligible.  But if you are going to make the "retribution" selection or "sentimental" pick, wouldn't you want to spend it on, oh I don't know, maybe Pat Burns as a builder who has cancer and probably won't be around when he does deservingly get elected?  I'm just saying...

For the sake of rambling on for hours, isn't it about time the Hall choose a different selection method?  A closed door meeting among all the voting members where they probably just sit around in a cigar smoke infested room watching snuff films on an old reel-to-reel probably isn't the best way to choose legends of hockey to be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.  I'm not saying let the fans decide.  We all know how that goes over with the ridiculous All Star voting.  I'm also not saying to change to the baseball method of allowing media members to vote.  I am just saying it's about time we raise the gag order on the committee members and start getting some answers as to why they make the decisions that they do.

--This concludes our test of the Emergency Broadcast System.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Offseason Activity

The Pens finally made some noise in the early part of the offseason by addressing a few key issues.  The two biggest free agency issues to deal with after the early exit from the playoffs this year were finding a way to get a deal done with both Matt Cooke and Sergei Gonchar.  On that front, the Pens are half done at this point.

"Cookie", from what I can tell, has a verbal committment to a three year contract.  Of course the financial terms have not been released but simple logic can determine that a player of Cooke's caliber is more than likely going to bring in about $2 million/year.  We will have to wait to see the official numbers.

Say what you want about Cooke's agressive, sometimes overtly dangerous style of play.  He is consistent, leading the team last year in adjusted plus/minus, and wreaks havoc in the neutral zone.  He also has the ability to take the puck all the way to the net and put points on the board as a key component of the Pens third line, along with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy. 

Throughout his career, Cooke's performance has been questioned with various instances of "dirty" hits put on other players.  The latest was the hit he put on Marc Savard back in March of 2010, leaving Savard with a concussion and leading the league to pass the controversial "head-shot" rule.  It may actually go down as the Matt Cooke rule (which is no surprise for a Pittsburgh player to cause a rule change in a professional sport...see 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers...half the NFL rules protecting quarterbacks and wide receivers are due to the Steel Curtain from the 70's). 

From an editorial side, I don't always agree with Cooke's carelessness on the ice but I know a good pest when I see one.  Despite the change in the overall NHL play style over the last 10 years, and the fact that teams are no longer in the business of employing the designated "goon" for their star protection, I still see a need for a guy like Cooke.  I think the list of teams that wouldn't want Matt is probably pretty short.  He gets under the skin of players and is a can play both sides of the puck very well.  The best part, as you can see by the contract, he is quite affordable in a cap crunch.

In other news, "Reverend" Ben was also signed to a three year deal which is a two-way contract, paying him for both NHL level and minor level play.  Lovejoy spend 12 games with the Pens last year, putting up a +8.  Although he is inexperienced in the NHL, he is a strong propect.  After going undrafted, the Pens picked him up and assigned him to their Wilkes Barre/Scranton team in the AHL.  Ben did very well and was rewarded with being called up a few times.  His biggest problem at this point is making an impression.  If he wants a permanent roster spot, he is going to have to show he can produce as a two-way defenseman when he gets the opportunity.  Thus far, he is only averaging 1 shot on goal in the NHL vs. 2.7 shots in the AHL.  More pucks on the net could equate to a steady job as a fourth liner on the Pens roster.

Here's hoping we see something soon on the Sarge front.