I’ve been watching the Tour de France nightly the past couple of weeks and am taken by one of the awards they give out after each stage. It’s the Combativity Award and it goes to the cyclist that day who shows the most fighting spirit.
This isn’t about tossing an elbow out when a competitor tries to zoom by or sticking a leadpipe in the spokes of an unsuspecting rival. The combative award goes to the individual who attacks on the road. That is to say, the cyclist who makes the most attempts to break away from the peloton or chase down leading groups. It’s also called the most aggressive rider prize, or as TDF analyst Paul Sherwen calls it, the rider who most often “throws the cat among the pigeons.”
The winner each stage gets called to the podium, is handed a bouquet of flowers and a stuffed animal, gets kisses from a pair of pretty ladies, then shakes the hands of dignitaries. During the next day’s stage, he wears a special red-backgrounded race number that denotes his distinction.
So why is they don’t have a most combative award in the NHL? They have awards for being skilled in a multitude of ways, for being gentlemanly, for being defensive, for being dedicated, for being a humanitarian, a leader. But nothing for showing the most fighting spirit. And that’s really too bad.
We recently sorted out our Yearbook predictions for 2014-15, which included projected standings and which team will win the Stanley Cup. Without giving it away, our anticipated winner has been to the promised land before. Which mathematically, should not be surprising. Only 12 of the NHL’s 30 teams have never won the league title and it’s hard to say who will be next. When the Los Angeles Kings won their first Cup in 2012, they broke a streak of futility that had stretched back to 1968 when the team originally entered the league. The following teams would like to join them:
If you care to watch the NHL All-Star Game – and if you do, you probably have kids – you’ll know the league hasn’t used black vs. white jerseys in a long time. They’ve gone with red, white and blue combinations, they’ve tried green and purple. But neon green? That one would be new.
Lo and behold, that may be the direction the NHL goes in its 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus.
A Reebok catalog that became accessible online shows all kinds of apparel from all 30 NHL teams. Then, on Page 94, it starts into all-star paraphernalia. And that’s when we start seeing an awful lot of hints that black and bright, bright green will be a big part of the event.
First clue: take note of the picture above. The Columbus All-Star Game logo features the team’s colors, but above that we see a “00″ that looks like numbers on the back of a jersey. The numbers are black, with a neon green outline.
Second clue: this logo that appears on Page 107 of the catalog.
When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.
I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.
So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.
So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more
The Blue Jackets continued an eventful summer Friday with the signing of Brandon Dubinsky to a six-year, $35.1-million contract extension.
Dubinsky was one season away from unrestricted free agency, so Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was due to make a decision on his future with the team soon enough. However, giving an annual salary of $5.85 million (as well as no-trade/no-move clauses) to a player who hasn’t scored more than 16 goals since 2010-11 – when the 28-year-old was still a member of the New York Rangers – is a significant overpayment. Read more
It took awhile for Ryan Johansen to find his feet in the NHL, but once he did this season, he was a force. The fourth overall pick in 2010 led the Columbus Blue Jackets in scoring while winning nearly 53 percent of his faceoffs and was great in the team’s playoff battle with Pittsburgh.
Now Johansen’s contract is up and as a restricted free agent, he has reportedly been offered a “bridge” contract of two or three years by the Blue Jackets. He would still be an RFA when that hypothetical deal runs out. Johansen, a big scoring center that possesses the types of traits most teams want in a No. 1 pivot, would prefer a long-term deal that takes him to unrestricted free agency and that’s where the stalemate comes in.
There are a few things you can count on in every NHL off-season: GMs and team officials will step to the entry draft podium and thank the host city (as well as their fan base watching the proceedings back at Jimmy Bob Jesse Joe’s Alabama Steakhouse and Cheesecakery Grill); players will be overpaid in free agency; and the Philadelphia Flyers will conduct major surgery on their roster.
The first two of those summertime staples will take place in the next week or so, but the Flyers got a jump-start on their end Monday afternoon by trading heart-and-soul left winger Scott Hartnell to Columbus for left winger R.J. Umberger and a fourth round draft pick. And once again, Philly’s ever-spinning personnel carousel unsettles a roster that probably just needed to be left alone.
Both Hartnell and Umberger are 32 years old and both make close to the same money – Hartnell has a $4.75-million cap hit, while Umberger has a $4.6-million hit – and while the Flyers save on contract term length in the transaction (Umberger has three years left on his deal and Hartnell has five), there’s little doubt the Blue Jackets are getting the better player. Read more
The NHL schedule has been released and the number-crunchers have already put in some great work in breaking it down. As always, there are fun match-ups to kick off the season, such as Los Angeles hosting San Jose and Montreal visiting Toronto. But which teams will really be grinding through 82 games and which ones get more of a cozier ride?