Bill McCreary and Rick Nash talk things over. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Author: The Hockey News
Screen Shots: Refs aren't perfect, get over it
By: Adam Proteau
Mar 6, 2008
One of the staples of “lifestyle” TV these days is the “oh, you think you can do better?” programs in which some cocky husband, after bragging about how easy it is to be a housewife, is made to care for his kids and house; then flops around cluelessly for the viewing audience’s enjoyment.
I’m far from a dyed-in-the-wool fan of those types of shows. But if they ever created one where hockey fans who complain relentlessly about NHL officiating are forced to don the stripes and call a game or two themselves, I’d watch every single second of every last episode.
The producers of that show would have an endless pool of candidates from which to choose, including all the sour apples who went nuclear this week after an officiating crew working the Sabres/Flyers game clearly missed a too-many-men-on-the-ice call against Buffalo that directly resulted in a Sabres goal.
Now, because the Flyers are in a dogfight just to qualify for the playoffs, I don’t blame head coach John Stevens, people in the organization and practically every hockey fan in Philadelphia for being more than a little sore over what transpired. And I’ve also leveled some harsh criticism on the zebras a number of times over the years.
But words cannot express how utterly exhausted I’ve grown of listening to NHL fans – make that all sports fans – attempt to chalk up nearly every lost game or squandered opportunity on the boys in Black and White.
At the risk of getting into ABC After School Special-territory, how difficult is it for people to understand that nobody’s perfect, and because of that, there never will be an error-proof system for policing games?
Have we not learned from Hockey Night In Canada host Ron MacLean, a onetime serial ref-ripper, who, despite being a Level 5 referee himself, only truly understood the challenges officials face after the league allowed him to serve as a referee for a pre-season game in 2006?
Apparently, we haven’t. And that’s why I can guarantee you that in this spring’s playoffs, there will be at least one “controversy” involving a blatant penalty that wasn’t called, or a goal that was wrongly disallowed, or an illegal stick blade that wasn’t immediately identified as such.
It is as predictable as bulging eyes after a puck to the crotch, and if I’m sick to death of it, imagine how nauseated the officials themselves must be.
After every game, I’d bet they’d love nothing better than to pull a few cameras and microphones away from scrums around players and coaches, and deliver the following speech:
“I’ve got a couple questions for all the wiseacres and hockey geniuses out there who believe they can do my job better than I can: You think the game moves in slow motion when you’re down at ice level, the way it does on your fancy high-definition TV? You think it’s fun to show up for work every night knowing there’s thousands of voices in the stands ready to go shrill on you for the slightest perceived error?
Well, it doesn’t, and it isn’t. And until you work hundreds of hockey games at the minor league level to hone your craft, do my colleagues and I a big favor and leave the moaning to porn stars and politicians. Your co-operation in this matter is greatly appreciated.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d leap to my feet and applaud the hell out of any ref who spoke that truth. And though Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s head of officiating, isn’t likely to allow his employees to speak freely anytime soon, I hope he continues to defend them the same way he did after that Sabres/Flyers debacle.
They’re not perfect, but nobody’s closer to perfect than they are.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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The Flames appear to be a team on the rise. Will an increased possession game and improved goaltending be enough to get them into the playoffs?
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Calgary Flames.
THN's Prediction: 4th in Pacific
Stanley Cup odds: 30-1
Key additions: Troy Brouwer, RW; Brian Elliott, G; Alex Chiasson, RW; Matthew Tkachuk, LW; Linden Vey, RW; Chad Johnson, G
Key departures: Joe Colborne, RW; Jonas Hiller, G; Mason Raymond, LW; Josh Jooris, C; Niklas Backstrom, G
-Can new coach Glen Gulutzan get the Flames to play with possession? Deposed Calgary coach Bob Hartley was a big fan of the stretch pass to create offensive chances and stressed shot blocking to suppress the opposition. Both meant the puck was wayward rather than controlled. That type of old school thinking ran thin with GM Brad Treliving, and the coach of the year in 2014-15 was replaced.
Gulutzan is regarded as more progressive in his coaching style and is sure to find creative ways of keeping the puck on the sticks of his skilled young forwards and mobile defense corps.
-Who's the next young gun to step in and shine? In each of the past three seasons, Calgary has seen an unproven rookie blossom in an offensive role. From Sean Monahan to Johnny Gaudreau to Sam Bennett, the future is in good hands.
Expect to see two of the following win jobs. Winger Hunter Shinkaruk showed well in an eight-game trial last season, sixth-overall pick Matthew Tkachuk is a mature 18, Daniel Pribyl is big and skilled, and 2013 first-rounder Emile Poirier is quick with nice finish.
-Is Brian Elliott's stellar save percentage transferrable to Alberta? Was it the team system in St. Louis or just Elliott’s ability to stop shots at an elite level that led to an otherworldly .925 save percentage the past five seasons combined?
Chances are it was a combination of both. Elliott is unheralded, but then again, the defensive schemes of Ken Hitchcock leads to his goalies posting nice SPs. At 31, Elliott is in the final year of his contract at a modest $2.5 million. A good showing and he’ll double that number.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
Once you see the same thing happen a couple times it becomes less surprising. After Toronto in 2013-14 and Colorado in 2014-15, Calgary became the latest team to crash back down to Earth after a miracle season. This season should be different for the Flames and you may see them take some real steps toward being a playoff team.
The biggest change comes in net with the additions of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson who should be much better at keeping pucks out of the net. Last year’s team finished last in save percentage which was a big reason for their undoing. That shouldn’t be an issue this year.
What will likely be an issue is team depth. Top heavy is a word that gets undeservedly thrown around for good teams like the Penguins and Sharks that have great players and depth. The Flames have great players, but the bottom of the roster looks sketchy. They have an okay top six led by Johnny Gaudreau, but the bottom has four replacement level players. Their fourth line is the worst in the league and it’s a big reason why the team’s forward group is in the bottom five.
On defense, the divide is even crazier. The team has arguably three No. 1 D-men followed by three replacement level guys. No other team has a gap that severe, although it’s not as big of an issue here as the strength of the top three pushes the entire unit into the top 10.
Putting the two together, Calgary has one of the league’s biggest discrepancies between their top-end talent (top six forwards and top four defensemen) which ranks 15th and their depth (bottom six forwards and bottom pair d-men) which ranks 28th.
What you’ll notice here is that the best teams have good top end talent with the depth to match, while weaker teams are lacking in one area, although there are exceptions to both rules. Calgary is a team that’s likely on the playoff bubble this year and in order to take the next step they’ll need some bigger steps from top end guys like Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett and they need to solidify their depth because what they’re trotting out on the bottom lines isn’t good enough.
Sobotka won’t return to Blues to start season, but only because of KHL contract issue
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 28, 2016
Getting out of his KHL deal wasn’t as easy as Vladimir Sobotka would have hoped, and after months of trying, it appears Sobotka is stuck playing for Avangard Omsk for one more season.
Vladimir Sobotka has flirted with a return to the St. Louis Blues in each of the past two off-seasons after leaving the organization for the KHL in 2014-15, and while he sounded confident he would be returning to the NHL in time for the 2016-17, it seems as though difficulties in getting out of his deal with Avangard Omsk will keep Sobotka in Russia for one more season.
In a statement, Avangard president Vladimir Shalaev said that the “memorandum of mutual respect of contracts KHL and the NHL has not been cancelled,” and that rumors Sobotka would be returning to St. Louis were exactly that — rumors.
“The situation with Sobotka developed exactly as we expected,” Shalaev said. “In the summer, we talked about the fact that Vladimir is our team’s player because he has a valid contract with Avangard for another year.”
The situation is a lot more murky than Sobotka, 29, simply having a deal with Omsk, though.
Throughout the off-season, indications have been that Sobotka has planned on returning to the Blues and honoring the one-year, $2.725-million contract that he was awarded in arbitration before leaving the NHL for the KHL. However, as the summer wore on and Sobotka attempted to get his official release from his deal, news came that triggering his opt-out clause wasn’t as easy as he had hoped.
In mid-September, while Sobotka was suiting up for the Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey, he told ESPN’s Joe McDonald that talks with the KHL had been ongoing for five months and Sobotka was still without his release.
"We're still talking and we'll see what's going to happen during the World Cup," Sobotka told McDonald. "After that, I think we're going to be smarter. It's been going on for five months and I've had enough of it. It's my agent's job to to keep talking and we'll see."
One potential issue could be that in order for Sobotka to come back to the NHL, he needs to buy himself out of his contract. Fox Sports Midwest’s Darren Pang, a broadcaster for the Blues, reported that Sobotka getting out of his deal could require him to pay two-thirds of his alleged $4-million salary for the upcoming season. That would mean Sobotka is on the hook for $2.64 million, essentially meaning his NHL return would see him playing for little more than $100,000.
Regardless of the issues, though, it appears Sobotka’s saga is over for another summer, and will be until at least the end of the KHL campaign. He’s heading back to Avangard, and the Blues will have to wait a while to see him suit up in St. Louis.
Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky celebrate the Game 2 overtime winner at the 1987 Canada Cup.
Author: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Down Goes Brown: What was the best Game 2 in World Cup history?
By: Sean McIndoe
Sep 28, 2016
Five out of seven World/Canada Cups have been best-of-three finals, so let's take a look back at those five games, and rank them from worst to best.
Tuesday night's Game 1 of the World Cup final, which saw Team Canada earn a 3-1 win over Team Europe, sets up a do-or-die Game 2 Thursday night. A Canada win would end the tournament, and the trophy will be in the building, unless the league has come to its senses and thrown that ugly thing into a raging bonfire instead.
There have been seven World and Canada Cups in international hockey history, but we didn't get to see a Game 2 in all of those. Twice, in 1981 and 2004, the format called for a one-game final. But it's been best-of-three in the other tournaments, which gives us five Game 2 to work with. So today, let's take a look back at those five games, and rank them from worst to best.
As always, this is opinion only, and if you disagree, then you're wrong.
No. 5 – 1984: Canada 6, Sweden 5
The road there: Canada stumbled through the 1984 tournament, going 2-2-1 through the round robin and barely making the playoff round as the fourth seed. But Team Canada earned a trip to the final thanks to an overtime win over the Soviets in the semi-final, and they were facing an upstart Swedish team that had beaten them in their round robin meeting and had just embarrassed the Americans with a 9-2 blowout. The Canadians took the opener by a 5-2 final, but the second game proved closer.
Game 2: The game looked like a laugher early on, with Canada scoring four times in the first seven minutes and adding a fifth before the first period was over. A Paul Coffey goal early in the second made it 6-1, setting the stage for a furious Team Sweden comeback. They scored three unanswered goals to close out the second period, and draw to within 6-5 early in the third. But that was as close as they came, as Canada held on for the win and the series sweep.
The aftermath: This turned out to be the first of three straight Canada Cup wins for Team Canada, and remains the only finals appearance by Team Sweden.
The bottom line: What looked like a laugher wound up being a reasonably entertaining contest. But the game everyone remembers from the 1984 Canada Cup will always be that semi-final thriller with the Soviets.
No. 4 – 1991: Canada 4, USA 2
The road there: Coming on the heels of the 1987 tournament, fans were probably hoping for yet another final between Canada and the Soviets. But with the team in turmoil, partly due to the political situation back home, the Soviets failed to even make the playoff round. That left Canada looking for a new challenger, and the Americans were happy to step in for their first ever Canada Cup final appearance. The two teams met in the round robin, with Canada winning 6-3 to hand the Americans their only loss of the stage, and Canada followed that up with a 4-1 win in the opening game of the final.
Game 2: This game may best be remembered for who wasn't playing. Team Canada captain Wayne Gretzky was knocked out of action in Game 1 on an ugly hit from behind by Gary Suter. The check left Gretzky unable to suit up for Game 2, and contributed to the back problems that slowed him down for much of the early 1990s.
Looking for the sweep, Canada jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Americans clawed back with a pair of second-period goals. But Steve Larmer earned some revenge on Suter by stripping him of the puck during an American powerplay and then scoring on a breakaway for the winning goal.
The bottom line: This game, much like the 1991 tournament itself, was an entertaining one that for some reason isn't all that well remembered by many fans.
No. 3 – 1996: USA 5, Canada 2
The road there: The Americans swept through the round robin with a perfect 3-0-0 record, including an impressive 5-3 win over Canada that featured a wild early brawl. That win earned them a quarter-final bye, and after knocking off the Russians 5-3 in the semis, Team USA came into the final looking like they had a real shot to wrestle the international crown away from Canada. But Steve Yzerman's overtime winner in Game 1 in Philadelphia handed the Americans their first loss of the tournament, and left them needing a pair of wins in Montreal to take the tournament.
Game 2: Team USA jumped out to an early lead, but Canada came back to tie the game before the first intermission. Goals by John Leclair and Brett Hull gave the Americans a 3-1 lead, and Mike Richter stood on his head to keep it that way until a late powerplay goal by Joe Sakic made it 3-2 with five minutes to play. That was as close as they came, and a pair of Team USA empty net goals padded the final score to 5-2.
The aftermath: Team USA completed the comeback in Game 3, winning by another 5-2 score to capture their first (and so far only) best-on-best championship.
The bottom line: Despite the two empty netters making the score more lopsided than the game was, this was a fun matchup that featured lots of star power, some bad blood, and a raucous Montreal crowd. You can watch the highlights here.
No. 2 – 1976: Canada 5, Czechoslovakia 4 (OT)
The road there: Four years after the legendary Summit Series, the Canada Cup was born in an effort to create the first true international best-on-best tournament. There was no semi-final back then, with the top two teams heading directly to the finals. Canada grabbed one of those spots, finishing first in the round robin with a 4-1-0 record. But while many had expected a Summit Series rematch in the final, the Soviets were edged out of a spot by Czechoslovakia.
The opening game of the final was a blowout, with Canada earning a relatively easy 6-0 win. Game 2 ended up proving to be a bigger challenge.
Game 2: Canada grabbed a 2-0 lead just two minutes in, but Czechoslovakia fought back to tie the game early in the third. A Bobby Clarke goal restored the Canadian lead, but two quick Czechoslovakian goals gave them a 4-3 lead with four minutes to play. Bill Barber tied it with two minutes left, and that set the stage for Darryl Sittler to deliver the first ever Canada Cup with what still stands as one of the most famous goals in the tournament's history.
The aftermath: To this day, Sittler and Team Canada assistant coach Don Cherry are still arguing over who's idea that move was.
The bottom line: You could make a great case for this game being No. 1 on the list. I think it’s a coin flip, but I'll take the game that directly led to one of the greatest moments in hockey history.
1987: Canada 6, Soviet Union 5 (2OT)
The road there: Canada and the Soviets finished in the top two spots in the round robin, then knocked off Czechoslovakia and Sweden, respectively, in the semi-finals to set up the first best-on-best multi-game series between the two rivals since the 1972 Summit Series.
Game 2: With the Soviets looking to clinch their second Canada Cup in three tournaments, the series shifted to Hamilton for the second game. The two teams resumed the all-out offensive pace, with Canada leading 2-1 before the game was even four minutes old. Then it got better.
Canada took a 3-1 lead to the first intermission, but the Soviets tied it in the second before Mario Lemieux quickly restored the lead. The Soviets tied it again early in the third, but Lemieux scored again midway through. That set the stage for a frantic end to regulation that saw Valeri Kamensky score with a minute left to send the game to overtime.
With the trophy on the line, the two teams went back and forth through one scoreless extra period. But midway through the second overtime, Canada finally ended it. Guess who.
The aftermath: This game was so good that the hockey gods decided to re-use the same script for Game 3: A back-and-forth thriller that ends with a 6-5 Canada victory on a Mario Lemieux winner.
The bottom line: The series finale was quite possibly the greatest international game ever played. And it was made possible by this one, which was almost as good. That's enough to earn it the top spot on our list, narrowly ahead of Sittler's fakeout.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
World Cup showing helps Seidenberg land one-year deal with Islanders
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 28, 2016
Team Europe may be trailing the best-of-three World Cup final, but Dennis Seidenberg will be in good spirits after the Game 1 loss as he has signed a one-year, $1-million deal with the New York Islanders
Dennis Seidenberg had two goals for the World Cup of Hockey. The first was to help Team Europe to a title, and the other was to play well enough to land himself a contract.
“I just have to focus on playing my game,” Seidenberg told the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa of chasing a deal in the tournament. “There’s no magic to it. It’s playing a simple style of hockey. That’s basically it. I don’t have to try and do something I can’t do. That’s going to go the other way if you do that.”
And while falling behind 1-0 in the best-of-three final series to Team Canada isn’t going to help Seidenberg accomplish his first goal, he has done his part — playing his game, and doing so to the best of his ability — to take care of his contract status. The New York Islanders announced Wednesday that they have come to terms on a one-year, $1-million contract with Seidenberg.
The contract comes three months after Seidenberg was bought out by the Boston Bruins and amidst speculation that several teams were interested in bringing him aboard. It’s a good signing, too, especially for an Islanders team that was in need of some fresh faces to help on the back end after watching Brian Strait head to the Winnipeg Jets as a free agent. The best part about Seidenberg’s signing, though, is that it’s low risk and high reward for both parties.
For Seidenberg, the new role will likely be a bottom-pairing position with a team that already has enough top-end blueliners to fill out the roster. Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Calvin De Haan and Thomas Hickey are all more than capable, and the same goes for young blueliners Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. However, it can never hurt to have some added insurance, and the 35-year-old Seidenberg has the experience and ability to still chip in on the back end.
Though he’s coming off of a tough season, one in which he had a sub-20 minute average ice time for the first time since 2007-08, Seidenberg can still be a decent blueliner in his own end. The issue is mobility, but if he’s paired with someone who allows him to be a stay at home defender, Seidenberg could benefit. And as for his ice time, it’s not likely he’ll be asked to take on a much larger role than he did this past season.
The biggest concern about Seidenberg may be his health, though. He played in 61 games this past season and dealt with back and knee ailments, and he has been forced to miss significant amounts of time in two of the past three seasons. That said, on a one-year deal, there’s no risk for the Islanders. If Seidenberg goes down, they can bring up a fresh face to fill his place.
So, win or lose at the World Cup, Seidenberg’s tournament was a success.