Monday, June 29, 2009

Bruins' draft forecasts future moves

You had to love the look on Peter Chiarelli's face when he stepped up to the podium at the Bell Centre. While he played nice with the hostile crowd, one couldn't help but notice the little sideways smirk that kept crossing his face, particularly when he noted how happy he was to be back in Montreal.

It's been a hospitable barn, to say the least. The Bruins' playoff sweep of the Habs earned Chiarelli a multi-year contract extension. He stood at the draft podium as a man fully in charge of his franchise for the first time -- a man about to take his first step into a greater degree of control over the Bruins' future.

But then he did something strange. He drafted a center, Jordan Caron, bypassing a number of more highly touted players who seem better suited to the Bruins' needs.

This complicates a logjam of talent at the center position throughout the Bruins' system. It also promises that we'll see more action from Chiarelli this summer, as he will have little choice but to swap some of these young centermen in order to fill other organizational needs.

But perhaps there was a subtext to this pick: Phil Kessel is 21 and plays both center and right wing. Caron is 18 and plays both center and right wing. With Kessel embroiled in a contract dispute that might see him shipped to another team, Chiarelli has sent a clear message to the other side of the table that the Bruins will survive either way.

Regardless of the outcome of Kessel's negotiations, the Bruins have too many centermen and too few roster spots to go around. Expect to see Chiarelli move a prospect (or three) in order to acquire depth at defense and the wing positions.
Here's a rundown of the organization's options at center:

Marc Savard eats a burrito.

Locks to remain in Boston

  • David Krejci - No Bruin has more job security than this kid.
  • Patrice Bergeron - His $4.7m contract is an albatross, so movement is unlikely.
  • Marc Savard - He's a free agent next year, and could be an eventual cap casualty.
(That leaves one NHL roster spot to be shared by the rest of the organization.)

Questionable in 2009-10
  • Stephane Yelle - Fantastic value for veteran depth, but Yelle is going to be squeezed out eventually by young talent.
  • Vladimir Sobotka - Time to fish or cut bait with this prospect. He is ready to be a full-time NHL player, either in this organization or another. His fate is tied to Yelle's.
  • Phil Kessel - Don't forget, he's officially listed as a center. In a 5 year outlook, he could replace Savard on the first line... if he's still on the team.
Long term prospects

  • Joe Colborne - Last year's 16th overall pick will spend this year as a college sophomore. Look for him to crack the roster as a full-time player in 2012.
  • Brad Marchand - He could be the next Krejci or the next Sobotka, depending on how much he grows in Providence. Expect him to see NHL ice this season.
  • Zach Hamill - The 8th overall pick in 2007, he would be a tempting trade asset.
  • Jordan Caron - Yet another first-round pick. Is he the most likely to be dealt?
  • Maxime Sauve - Will be under the radar for a while, but word is he has a lot of upside.

Trade bait

  • Martin St. Pierre - Little reason to believe he will ever stick in Boston. Could be valuable to a rebuilding team.
  • Carl Soderberg - An X-factor who has not yet played in North America. At 23, it's time for Chiarelli to make a decision on him.
  • Jamie Arniel - Persistent questions about his character have put a damper on his early hype.
  • Mark Goggin - Only 19, he'll head to Dartmouth this season.
  • Nicholas Tremblay - Only a sophomore in college, but not impressing.

Levi Nelson, left, poses with Brad Marchand, a real-life hockey player.

Career AHL'ers

  • Brock Bradford - Not a chance he makes it to the Big Show in this system.
  • Levi Nelson - An underwhelming debut in Providence suggests he won't make it farther.
  • Ben Sexton - No reason to draft him except to do a favor to Randy Sexton.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Something important happens tonight...

... it's the first day of the new season.

Game on.

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Blackstone unveils a major innovation in skate technology

This is not a paid endoresement. I am in no way affiliated with Blackstone, nor did I derive any personal profit from this article.

Last month, HCTB profiled the amazing breakthroughs in stick-shaft technology going on at Easton. Small tweaks in the composition of Easton shafts allowed Zdeno Chara to break the NHL slapshot record at this year's All Star Game.

Now, we may be witnessing a similar breakthrough in skate technology. Blackstone Sports recently unveiled the Flat Bottom V (FBV), an innovation which promises to change the skating capabilities of players at all levels of hockey.

The FBV is a departure from traditional sharpening methods which forced skaters to choose between varying degrees of speed and agility. In layman's terms, the blade of an ice skate is actually two edges separated by a crescent-shaped hollow. A generic skate-sharpener grinds this hollow in order to either increase speed (shallow) or control (deep).

Using FBV blades, a skater can have the best of both worlds -- smooth acceleration as well as improved maneuverability in the corners. The concept is simple. Instead of grinding the blade into a hollow, the FBV leaves a flat surface with a sharp "tooth" at either side. Instead of digging deep into the ice, the skater stands flat on the surface, maximizing the energy used in each stride.

HCTB recently spoke with Steve Wilson, co-founder and VP of Blackstone, a family-owned company based in Ontario which is applying for a patent on the FBV dressing system.

How did you get involved in developing skate technology?

I actually got my start in a hardware store at age 12, sharpening skates for my dad. He ended up going to work for a competitor, and being older and wiser I ended up following him there... before long we had branched out. We started Blackstone 11 years ago.

And what led to the development of the FBV?

In developing a sharpening machine, we had always developed for the operator in the past -- we made machines that were easier to use but did basically the same things as before.

The FBV led us into a whole other area -- we could put a shape on that wheel that would give the skater a performance enhancement. It took 2 1/2 years to get it right, but now we have a product that can actually affect your performance on the ice.

What makes the FBV different from a traditionally-sharpened skate?

The FBV sharpens the blade flat, leaving two fangs. Instead of digging down into the ice, the skater is actually flat on the ice. That allows him to have better forward movement while still getting the same bite in the corners.

We can control the angle of the fangs to control how much they go into the ice, how much flat is on the ice, a lot more variables. It can only happen because of the changes in the dressing system. We've never had the technology to change the way a blade is sharpened before, and now we do.

So this reduces the friction between the skate and the ice?

You could say that. It's a matter of how far the skate edge sinks into the ice.
When I was learning how to ski, I had very long skis that lay flat on the surface of the snow. Since then, the parabolic ski changed the industry by changing the way the skiier comes down the slope -- he sits on the edges. We've done the same thing with skates.

Does it feel different to skate on FBV blades, as opposed to traditional ones?

Players get on it and they instantly say "wow". It's very easy to use and you can feel a difference almost immmediately. And it takes only about 10 minutes to adjust.

If this allows players to go faster with less effort, won't it also be a boost to their endurance?

Definitely. With the FBV blades, when they go into the corners, they maintain their speed going through. If you can get more glide and less pushing, you end up with more energy.

The pro players come off the ice and they say "My legs aren't burning". The beer leaguers, guys like you and me, they say "I can have more beer!"

Can this be used for goaltenders' skates as well?

We're working with goalie skates now. Eddie Belfour's actually working on them with us. The goalie blade's thicker and reacts differently. A lot of goalies are switching to a deep hollow in order to get that sharp lateral movement. With FBV they get the bite without sinking into the ice.

Is there a way to put a precise measurement on the advantage that it gives to a skater?

University of Ottawa is doing a large study of this. Their first phase was to qualify it -- they took a look and decided that, yes, there is something to this. That's what justified the study.

Then there's the second phase, to quantify the results. They had 6 pro players come out on the ice. They all had their original [blade] cut that they usually skated on, as well as 4 others to rank by comfort. They had to skate a timed lap for each hollow, and rank them in terms of how comfortable they were throughout the process.

When they were finished, all 6 said they were most comfortable with their original hollow. That's about what we expected. But the #2 ranking for every single one of them was also the blade with the fastest skating time -- it was FBV in all cases.

So, how did it test with pro players?

Cory Stillman [Florida Panthers] was the first to test the prototype. He said, "I'll tell you in 3 strides if I like it".

He took 3 strides, then came back and asked "What is this?". He told the equipment manager to "do whatever you have to do" to keep the machine. Now, I had to tell him I was under strict instructions to bring it back home with me when I left. I couldn't leave without it.

At the end of the day, I ended up leaving it there. Cory insisted.

Who's using this right now?

Bear in mind that we approached the Panthers about it mid-season. The fact that they wanted to switch in the middle of the season blew us away. We're also seeing it used by the Blues, the Predators, the Sharks. The LA Kings equipment manager flew all the way to Canada to find out about it. We can't make machines fast enough.

Also, Boston University has a lot of guys on the FBV. They used them while they won the Beanpot Tournament.

Nick Boynton told us, "Thanks for adding three years to my career".

Are any of the Bruins in on this?

Right now there are no Bruins using it. Of course this only came out in November, and they were the number-one team in the East. None of the players wanted to change anything -- they do all that stuff in the middle of the season.

How is the market reacting to this so far?

It's going very well in North America, and we're heading into Europe now. We're in Switzerland, Sweden, France and the Ukraine. The direction is now to get into figure skate sharpening -- we don't have to get into the details, but the faster they can go the higher they can jump. So we're looking at that as well.

It sounds like this has the potential to become ubiquitous. It's affordable and doesn't seem to have a downside... is this going to be the industry standard in a few years?

It's absolutely possible. You can have a $300 stick and $800 skates, but unless the skates are sharpened right you can't play the game.

For more information on FBV, visit the Blackstone website.

For reviews by knowledgable customers, visit the FBV thread at Modsquad Hockey.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

A John Buccigross masterpiece

Check out J.B.'s love-letter to Game 7 on

Game 7 equals...

Cinnamon French toast and a side of home fries. Served by Megan Fox. In a Winnipeg Jets sweater.

A 9-year-old boy with his hat on backward shooting a flawless, roof-daddy wrist shot in his shorts on a warm June night at a tattered, rusty net. And, remember, Game 7 is not on a school night. Rejoice, Sparky.

The selfless soul of hockey, best defined by Bobby Orr's soul. If deity is selfless, thoughtful, humble and sensitive toward others, then we should be, too.

Yes. Nobody in the hockey world understands the soul of the game better than Bucci.

My contribution:

Game 7 equals a baby boy born in the season that everything seems to go right:

The Bruins run the table in first place and sweep the Habs...
60-goals becomes an achievable dream...
Cal Clutterbuck becomes a household name...
Tim Thomas finally gets his moment in the sun...
Sean Avery is kicked out of the league, and then let back in again...
The Winter Classic is at Wrigley, and Chicago is back as a hockey town...
The best goalie ever becomes the greatest goalie ever...
A team might move from south to north, for once...
The Richard Trophy winner is also top-10 in hits...
The Norris Trophy winner wears black and gold (pending)...
The Blues pull it off, against all odds...
Rick Nash makes it to the postseason...
Five of the Original Six teams make the playoffs, and the Leafs get a new lease on life...
Ryan Getzlaf arrives...
Sidney meets Alex in a 7th game...
Three of the top four scorers play in the Finals...
The two best teams in the league play all seven games for the Cup.

We win.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pens' chances are better than they seem

Today's Mainstream Media statistics du jour:
- The home team has won 12 of 14 Finals Game 7s.
- The home team has won the last 6 straight Finals Game 7s.
- The last road team to pull off the upset was Ken Dryden's 1971 Canadiens.
Obvious conclusion: The Pens are up against monumentally poor odds of winning Game 7 on the road.

"The odds of surviving a road game in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals are approximately 14 to 2!"

Or are they? Let's take a closer look at those numbers before we clear a spot in the Joe for another Cup banner.

Here are the six matchups in question since 1971:

May 30, 1987 -Edmonton (#1 Smythe) beats Philly (#1 Patrick)
June 14, 1994 - Rangers (#1 East) beat Vancouver (#7 West)
June 9, 2001 - Colorado (#1 West) beats New Jersey (#1 East)
June 9, 2003 - New Jersey (#2 East) beats Anaheim (#7 West)
June 7, 2004 - Tampa Bay (#1 East) beats Calgary (#6 West)
June 19, 2006 - Carolina (#2 East) beats Edmonton (#8 West)

In 4 of the 6 occasions, the road team was not merely an underdog but a Cinderella story -- a plucky but inferior team facing off against a heavily-loaded #1 or #2 seed. The 2-0 record in #1-vs-#1 games is relevant, but not intimidating.

Now, there's no doubt that home ice is an advantage in a one-game playoff. The home team controls line changes, faceoffs, and gets an emotional lift from the friendly crowd.

But it also helps when the home team is a star-studded juggernaut and the road team is a doormat who happened to hit a hot streak in April and May.

"Never tell me the odds!"

So, Pens fans, don't despair when the folks at NBC run the 12-2 graphic and keep talking about the 6-game streak. You're facing nothing more than a 1-2 streak over the past 38 years for legitimate contenders playing a 7th game on the road.

For a shot at immortality, those are pretty good odds.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Could the Bruins pursue Heatley?

Just an undigested idea that crossed my mind when I saw this article.

Dany Heatley - Cap hit $7.5 million

Phil Kessel - Asking $5 million in contract renegotiations
PJ Axelsson - Cap hit $1.8 million, contract ends 7/1/09.

Blockbuster trades between division rivals are unusual, but still... allowing Axelsson to walk and then sign-and-trading Kessel to Ottawa would solve a lot of problems for both the Bruins and Sens. The wing-for-wing swap would ensure roster stability, Boston gets a reliable 40-50 goal scorer and the Sens get a silver lining for their rebuild. Ottawa gets a bit of wiggle room under the cap and the Bruins spend slightly more for a much better winger.

A complimentary deal would likely need to be made, since this would leave the Bs weak at RW. Perhaps moving Sturm or Bergeron for a less-expensive winger would help fill that gap and restore some cap space.

Before you write it off, think: Heatley-Savard-Ryder. It would be pretty, if not gritty.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

How should a team react to a blowout?

First of all -- damn, there are a LOT of Star-Wars-lovin' hockey fans out there. Who knew?

Watching the Pens lose badly on Saturday put a cramp in the theory that they're playing the role of plucky underdog. They simply looked overwhelmed, overmatched, and extremely frustrated. Kinda like Chicago after 4 games of playing the Wings.

But the goonery at the end of Game 5 brought up an interesting philosophical point: how should a team react to being blown out in the playoffs?

Hockey, of course, usually features evenly-played matches at this point in the season. We're so used to quadruple-overtime marathons that we almost look forward them (almost). Usually a Finals team plays every minute of the series under extreme pressure to perform, because there's a legitimate hope that they could turn the game around with a single play. But when that possibility is reduced to nil, as when the Pens had to skate onto the ice for a third period trailing 5-0, some interesting decisions have to be made by the coaching staff.

As Billy Shakespeare might have put it, had he been an NBC color commentator:

To goon, or not to goon: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the third period to suffer
Twenty minutes of left-wing lock
Or to take arms against a sea of Swedes,
And send a friggin' message to those #$%*!

Of course, the rule of thumb is that the Finals are no place for thuggery. But I would argue the opposite -- if the Pens lose tomorrow, their season is over. They have literally nothing to lose by roughing up the Wings, so long as nobody gets suspended.

The greater question, then: is it the right decision?

The historic record would suggest that there actually is some advantage to late-game goonery. In the past 20 years, over the course of 99 Finals games, Saturday's was only the 10th time in which a team won by more than 3 goals. In three of the previous nine, the losing team decided to get rough in the closing period -- and have gone 2-1 so far in the next game. Those who chose not to push the limits have gone 2-3.

The psychology behind these decisions is simple: you're at the climax of 8 months of grueling effort. You have only one or two games left at most. The other team sees you as weak, relenting, ready to break. If you choose to hang your head and skate away, you've got a much lesser chance of stunning those guys in the next matchup. They already know they can beat you, and that you'll let them.

So the Pens may have been wise to let the primal rage flow for a few moments. Kinda like Luke in Empire Strikes Ba... awww, never mind.

Here's how the previous matchups played out:

2006 Game 2: Carolina def. Edmonton 5-0
Ethan Moreau punched Glen Wesley in the face; Georges Laraque got thrown out for hitting from behind. Ugly stuff. But Edmonton won the next game, and eventually overcame a 2-0 series deficit before falling in 7.
2006 Game 6: Edmonton def. Carolina 4-0
The Canes went down quietly, but came back to win the 7th game.

2001 Game 1: Colorado def. New Jersey 5-0
Ignoring the Avs' hot power play, the Devils gooned it up in the third. The penalty parade was led by Ken Daneyko and Sean O'Donnell, who was kicked out for instigating. Jersey bounced back to win the next game, and eventually led the series 3-2.
2001 Game 6: Colorado def. New Jersey 4-0
The Devils racked up two fights, a high-sticking and a roughing penalty in the final two minutes of the game. That didn't stop the Avs from winning Game 7.

2000 Game 1: New Jersey def. Dallas 7-3
Dallas took the loss more or less in stride, and won the next game 2-1. They lost the series in 6.

1997 Game 3: Detroit def. Philadelphia 6-1
Lindros and Co. looked shell-shocked throughout this game. They didn't put up much of a fight in this game, or when the sweep was completed two nights later.

1996 Game 2: Colorado def. Florida 8-1
The final 40 minutes of this game were a snoozer as the Panthers simply skated the time away. They lost in an extremely unmemorable sweep. (It's no coincidence that Claude Lemieux didn't play in this game)

1991 Game 6: Pittsburgh def. Minnesota 8-0
The Pens won the Cup in this game, making "messages" a non-issue.

1990 Game 2: Edmonton def. Boston 7-1
Boston was stunned not only by the overwhelming Oilers, but also to a horrific series of injuries and poor defensive plays. As with the Panthers 6 years later, they simply skated out the clock and fell in a one-sided series.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Star Wars guide to the Stanley Cup Finals

Nerdiness Levels In This Entry May Be Hazardous To Children And The Elderly.
Do not read if you are pregnant, on medication, or recovering from a WoW addiction.

Galactic Empire = Detroit

A fading empire, ruthless and hopelessly corrupt, concerned only with hoarding power and influence, yet unable to adjust when challenged by smaller, smarter opponents. And that's just GM.

Rebel Alliance = Pittsburgh

All great rebellions begin in the hinterlands, in places so desperate that lonesome farmboys turn to religion and violence as a relief from their boredom. Western Pennsylvania sounds about right.

Princess Leia = Stanley Cup

Ooh, purty! Losta guys are gonna fight over this little lady, and more than a few are going to sneak a kiss before it's all over. Careful boys, she's been for a few skates around the rink already...

Luke Skywalker = Sidney Crosby

The Messiah, the Anointed One, the whiny brat who thinks he's a great leader at age 20.

Darth Vader = Henrik Zetterberg

Don't fuck with this guy. He will own you.

Han Solo = Evgeni Malkin

He might not get all the publicity, but he's the guy you really wanted to be when you grew up. At the end of the day, you can thank this cool cat for blasting Vader's ass and gifting the Golden Child his moment of glory.

Admiral Ackbar = Dan Bylsma

We're never offered a good explanation for putting this guy in such a position of authority. His primary role is to stand by the sidelines and figure out a way to beat the trap.

The Emperor = Mike Babcock

Don't bother adjusting your matchups or changing your strategy. He's already foreseen your moves and countered them in advance. Now he's going to make you watch as he destroys your pitiful band of rebels.

Jabba the Hutt = Gary Bettman

"Soon, you will learn to appreciate me..."

C-3P0 = Pierre McGuire

Go away, nobody likes you.

Mike Milbury = Gamorrean Guard

He doesn't let his lack of intelligence or speaking ability get in the way of his duties. Best not to leave him in charge of anything really important, such as guarding a prisoner or running an NHL franchise.

Bib Fortuna = Mike Emrick

Spends most of his time avoiding criticism of the boss-man. Is anyone else distracted by the shape of his head?

Chewbacca = Hal Gill


Lando Calrissian = Bill Guerin

Bet you forgot this guy was alive, didn't ya? Instead of retiring quietly to obscurity, he's back for one last shot at redemption.

Boba Fett = Marian Hossa

The bounty hunter knows no allegiances.

Obi Wan Kenobi = Mario Lemieux

A legend in his own time, he now gazes from above and offers quiet words of wisdom to his protegee'.

R2-D2 = Chris Osgood

Somehow, you have a faint inkling that the story is really not about the Golden Boy at all, but about this little spare part who always seems to show up at the right moment and save the superstars' asses.

Darth Maul = Johan Franzen

As if the Empire needed this guy on top of everything else they've got going for them. It's not even fair.

The NBC broadcast team interviews Gary Bettman.

Porkins = Eric Godard

You knew as soon as you saw this guy that he wouldn't be around for long.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bruins get Krecji for 3 more years is breaking the news that the Bruins have extended third-year center David Krejci to a 3-year contract, with a cap hit of $3.75m per year.

Krejci will get a chance to defend his Seventh Player trophy.

This resolves the first half of the Bruins' biggest offseason question -- how to squeeze both Krecji and winger Phil Kessel under the cap without doing damage to the rest of the roster.

Considering Krecji is, in GM Peter Chiarelli's words, "at very least a number-two center", this deal could hardly have worked out any better for the Bruins. By comparison, Patrice Bergeron carries a $4.75m cap hit with similar expectations. The only issue to be resolved is whether David's offseason hip surgery will have a long term impact on his game. Otherwise, the team just locked up a very solid contributor at a very reasonable price.

By the way... happy 200th blog entry!

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