The Sharks off-season so far

Happy American Independence day! (and a few days late, Canada Day, aka hockey player independence day..

I wanted to make  a couple of comments on the Sharks off-season so far. Back in may I made my proposals for “fixing” the Sharks. Since then, Huskins, Clowe and Blake are signed. Semenov, Lemieux, Goc, Plihal and Grier are moving on. Of those, I had Goc and Plihal on my roster, but both of them no higher than Black Aces — so for the most part Doug Wilson and I are on the same page. Well, I’m on the same page with Wilson, let’s be real here…

Where he and I disagree slightly: I called for the trade of Thornton and defended Nabokov; Wilson made Thornton and Boyle untouchable, and Marleau and Nabokov visibly in the “tradeable” pile. Craig Button was on NHL Home Ice after the Sharks went out of the playoffs and more or less mirrored Wilson’s idea here on Thornton; it’s the support crew around Thornton that needs to help him get the job done because he’s being mobbed.

Intellectually, I can agree with that; emotionally, I still feel like both Thornton and Marleau (and Nabokov, for that matter) look to me like they aren’t taking it up that one final notch in the playoffs. That’s probably because that notch is in use much of the season as well, not because they aren’t using it.

All in all, I’m happy with the off-season so far. Wilson didn’t do anything dramatic at the draft — but didn’t make any stupid grandstanding moves, either. Ditto free agent day; he focussed on keeping the players he wanted here in San Jose, and got Huskins and Clowe signed, and worked out a deal with Rob Blake. All great signings for the team. Wilson’s made it clear that July 1 is the day GMs will definitely overpay because of the way the market is structured, and he’s right. Unlike some fans, I’m not interested in watching GM’s “make a splash”, I want a better hockey team. Patience is a good thing many times.

The Sharks pursuit of Gustavsson (“the monster”) is fascinating. I don’t think they’ll get him, but it’s clearly a shot over the bow at Nabokov. Greiss is probably the backup in San Jose this fall (Boucher was a real trooper, but solid backups are fairly easy to find, and it’s time to let a kid step up) — but Laurie and I aren’t convinced about him. We’ll see.

Free agent day in general? I was fascinated by how many players moved around and how they shifted. There was a real levelling of talent across the league, as players moved to “less good” teams to clear cap space or to keep their salaries at par, while top tier teams worked the cap and ended up with “not quite as good, but cheaper” talent. Parity kicks in hard core; unless you are a fan of a dynasty (and more specifically, a dynasty that involves your team — yes, talking about you, Red Wings fans) this is good for the league. Lots of solid, competitive hockey, and teams in the chase most of the season. It only sucks if you somehow believe your team should be awarded the Cup on opening night adn the rest of the season is a formality.

Detroit has some serious challenges; they lost a lot of talent in free agency. OTOH, they have a lot of talent in the minors, for all some pundits are pointing and declaring it’s over, come next April, we’ll likely be talking about 2-3 Red Wings who ahve stepped in from the AHL and are surprising the crap out of everyone. Except, of course, the Detroit organization.

Big winners? I really like what Burke is doing in Toronto. And Dean Lombardi has the Kings moving in the right direction.

Losers? I don’t understand the Brashear contract. I do understand the Hossa contract in Chicago, but I think they’ll regret it down the road. These decade-long contracts get scary and limit your options, and you just have to hope you guess right. Gaborik is another one: I wouldn’t have gone beyond two years in the deal, not because he’s not good, but because he’s never healthy.

The biggest loser this off-season is Dany Heatley, though. More on that in another post.

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Game 7. Tomorrow the season ends.

Game seven. Stanley Cup Final. Detroit. Pittsburgh.

Tomorrow the hockey season ends.

Part of me is looking forward to this with glee. Part of me, like most season-endings, wonders how I’ll fill the void of not having hockey to watch for a while. Part of me is really, really ready for a break.

Some of that latter is driven by “the media” — as we go further into the playoffs, more and more writers chase less and less news and still need to fill those stories and columns, and it all gets so unbelievably over-analyzed and silly. Or sad. Writers burn out on the season  as well, and they take on a “can’t we just get this the hell over with?” tone that makes them sound like they don’t really like the sport. They do, they’re just worn down. Too bad they don’t see in their own attitude the players, who have to fight through a much harder, longer, more physical season and aren’t allowed the same grumpy mood.

Of course, then there are the writers who have that “this all sucks” mood year-round. Why do you folks out there read them, anyway? But that’s for later. Maybe.

Tomorrow, either Detroit or Pittsburgh takes the Cup, and the season is over. Will Detroit do the almost-impossible and win back to back? Will Pittsburgh do the even more almost-impossible and come back from 0-2 to beat the champs? You can’t script stuff like this; yet it’s real.

I no longer care who wins. Both teams deserve it. The playoffs have been some of the best damn hockey I’ve seen since I started watching hockey again after San Jose got a team. Period. I”m going to do what I’ve done most of these playoffs, and just sit back and enjoy the show. (do me a favor, those writers who hate everything about the NHL? Don’t tell them what they’re missing…)

So just sit back, relax, and enjoy the hockey. It’s been great. I expect the game tomorrow will be at least pretty good; my gut tells me no blowouts. I’d love overtime, just to give it that final edge.

And — I admit — I chose the Penguins, but I’m quietly rooting a bit for Detroit, just to see Osgood get the Conn Smythe, because he’ll deserve it, and to listen to everyone try to justify how he’s not REALLY a hall of fame goalie. I used to think that; I’m convinced. Flamboyant? No. Dramatic? no. Had rough spots? Hell, yes. But he’s running out of fingers, folks.

There’s so much that I could probably write about: the ongoing (and misplaced) whining about Bettman, the ongoing (and mostly misplaced) whining about the refs, the Phoenix problem, the Balsillie “cure”, the TV deals.

But so much of that is driven by people who seem to not actually care about the game, but only want to complain about it. There’s plenty of time during the summer to consider the challenges in the game. To me, playoffs are about the game on the ice, and that’s one reason I haven’t written much  about it this year; I wanted to step back, sit down, relax in front of the TV and just watch hockey.

You know what? it was pretty damn good hockey. Too bad the people so busy talking about anything but hockey missed it.

So drop the puck, and may the best team win, and may their best players lead them to victory.

That’s what matters. And that’s why I’m a hockey fan. Tomorrow’s game sums it all up in one neat 60 minute (or more) package.

I can’t wait.

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Stanley Cup Final Predictons

I’ll get this in before the series counts, so people don’t think I’m doing anything funny…

Picked both conference finals, which puts me over .500 (6-4) for the playoffs, and guarantees I’m over .500. that and $5 will keep you happy at Starbucks for a bit…

Now, I’ve been pushing the western conference as the dominant conference all year, since before the season started. I still think so. And that’s why I’m picking the Penguins to win the cup in six.

Make sense? No, not really. But…

I think Fleury is playing very well right now.

Detroit’s got some injuries, adn they seem weak on depth on defense. Look at how they’re playing Chelios (very sparingly) — not sure if it’s dinged up or at the end of the road, but this is a relative weaknesss.

I think the Hossa factor, while blown way out of proportion by the media (as usual), benefits Pittsburgh. Except Hossa to try to elevate his game to prove his going to the Wings was correct. But if ten of the Penguins all elevate their game a bit for the opportunity to say “nyah!” in the handshake line, that can be a benefit for penguins. On balance, this benefits Pittsburgh.

It should be a close, fun, interesting to watch series. And then it’ll be the offseason, and everyone will start complaining about no hockey….

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Conference finals predictions

well, after going 3-1 in the first round, I went 1-3 in the second, so I’m 4-4 for the playoffs. Not impressive, I only caught Pittsburgh. Even if I include in m real picks for the first round east that I never posted, I’d only be 7-5, not a good year for my picking.

The hockey, however, has been awesome.

For the conference finals?

In the west, I’m doing with detroit in 6. Chicago is up and coming, but I’m just not convinced it’s their year. Great run, but Detroit just keeps impressing me.

In the east — pittsburgh, also in 6. Too much firepower for the Canes to overcome.

Mostly, though, I’m going to sit back and enjoy watching it…

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Quick Sharks question

Here’s a quick thought for people to chew on and discuss.

Right now, the Ducks/Detroit series has (at least to me) some interesting similarities to the Sharks/Ducks series; Detroit outshooting Anaheim but behind in the series, and Babcock saying things that sound a lot like what McClellan said.

If — and I’m not saying this will happen — the Wings go on to lose in a way that looks similar to the way the Sharks lost, does that reduce the “these guys are losers” feeling I hear among some parts of sharks fandom? If they take out the Wings as well, doesn’t that make this more about what the Ducks CAN do and not what the Sharks didn’t?

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports