Waiting For Kovalchuk…

A lot has happened since Ilya Kovalchuk (642 points in 621 NHL games) became the most talented free-agent in NHL history to hit the open market on July 1, but here we sit on July 18 and the Russian sniper (338 career goals) still hasn’t found a new home. New Jersey, which acquired him in a trade last season is still in the mix, and so are the in, out, in, out, in the Kovy-sweepstakes LA Kings. A third option could be the Russian KHL League, but a talented player in his prime like Kovalchuk needs to play in the league with the most talent and best competition — the NHL.

There are still very valuable players on the market besides Kovalchuk and it seems that the are all waiting for him to sign, before they decide where to go or maybe the other GMs are waiting to see where he lands — making for a very boring two weeks in July devoid of any substantial hockey news.  So, here’s what I am thinking about as we wait for Kovalchuk’s ‘decision’ to be made:

-The NY Islanders have made some solid, off the radar moves to shore up their blue line (Mark Eaton & Milan Jurcina), but more work needs to be done if they are to contend for a playoff spot out of the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division. They should look to sign Alexei Ponikarovsky to play in the top-six and bring back two former Islanders to add more grit to their game — Andy Sutton & Raffi Torres. Sutton has said he would welcome a return to the Island and Torres would be a perfect fit on the third line alongside either Frans Nielsen or Doug Weight.

-What in the freaking world is going on in Calgary?!? They signed two ex-Flames, who both had less than stellar tenures the first time around. Alex Tanguay is a shell of the player he was in 2001 with Colorado and Olli Jokinen was traded away for Ales Kotalik and his ridiculous contract and then they re-sign Jokinen who never looked comfortable in Calgary alongside Jarome Iginla. A few days later ex-Tampa GM Jay Feaster as assistant to the GM who will be probably soon be fired in Darryl Sutter.

-There are still two solid goalies available — one via free agency (Marty Turco) and one via trade (Tim Thomas). It’s not every day you have these types of quality goalies available, so stop being cheap and give your team a decent chance to succeed next year (this means you Columbus, Toronto, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa, Montreal, Minnesota, LA, San Jose, Dallas).

-There are two enigmatic, but talented wingers available in Max Afinogenov and Alex Frolov and i haven’t heard peep about either yet. It’s possible that one of these two could wind up in the KHL, but in the right situation they can still be solid NHLers.

-Two talented centers are available for trade, but both have almost unmovable  contracts — Boston’s Marc Savard and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza. Hey, maybe they should just be traded for each other?

-It seemed odd to me that: Pittsburgh signed defenseman Paul Martin from New Jersey, New Jersey signed Anton Volchenkov from Ottawa and Ottawa signed Sergei Gonchar from Pittsburgh. This is just my opinion but, a three-way trade during the season would have been soooooo much cooler!

-If the Devils don’t sign Kovalchuk, they should take a hard look at Miroslav Satan, and not just because of the name. Miro proved in the playoffs that he can still produce and help a winning team go deep into the spring.

-Four solid long-time NHL vets are still on the market. Would Mike Modano, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne & Bill Guerin have lasted this long on the open market ten summers ago in 2000? I think not. Modano may go to Detroit, which makes sense in a lot of ways. What if Kariya and Selanne sign one-year deals in Pittsburgh like they did in Colorado? Apparently Sidney Crosby felt he didn’t need Guerin’s leadership, so maybe Guerin could ride shotgun with AO in DC?

-Finally where in the world is Petr Sykora? The rest of your buddies from 2000 are in NJ…..A-LINE, ASSEMBLE!!!!

Advertisements

My Top 10…

Everyone these days is doing some sort of top ten, and recently I read a blogger who listed their top ten favorite players and the idea intrigued me. If you have a top ten (or five) player list, let me know & here is my submission:

10: Zach Parise (New Jersey) — This kid has done nothing but score since making his debut after the lockout and he never seems to take a shift off. Other coaches visiting New Jersey have instructed their healthy scratches to watch Parise shift after shift and pattern their games after him. The best part is that Zach is only 25 and still has room to get even better (if that’s possible); oh and he is as nice a person as he is as good a hockey player — one of the few players that says thank you after being interviewed.

9: Patrik Elias (New Jersey) — My buddies & I nicknamed Elias ‘The Finisher’ back in the 2000 season because of the Czech star’s penchant for scoring big goals (See Philly, Game 7 2000 East Finals) as a member of the A-line (Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora). There have been times when I doubted that he would stay in New Jersey his whole career, but the franchise’s all-time leading point-getter has been a treat to watch and still has some gas left in his tank.

8. Saku Koivu (Montreal-Anaheim) — I instantly became a Saku fan when I first started participating in fantasy hockey and Montreal’s top line was the lethal trio of Koivu-Mark Recchi & Martin Rucinsky. After I read the detailed stories of his battle with stomach cancer, a battle he would survive, how could you not pull for the little guy? One of the most memorable games I ever attended was when he played his first game (after going through treatments for almost a year) at the end of the 2001-02 season in New Jersey. It’s sad that he couldn’t finish his career as a Hab, but I’ll always be a fan.

7. Kirk Muller (NJ) — Captain Kirk spent the first seven years of his career in New Jersey and was my first favorite player when I began watching/listening to games in 1988. I don’t remember many specifics from back then, as I was still learning the game, but I do remember that he seemed to get a point, or do something to help the team win every night. Meeting him a few years ago in New Jersey (he’s now an assistant coach with Montreal) is one of the highlights of my career so far.

6. Jeremy Roenick (Chicago-Phoenix-Philly-LA-San Jose) — I remember JR’s back-to-back 50-goal seasons and his three consecutive 100-point campaigns, but what everyone remembers most is his outspokenness and willingness to say what was on his mind. The Rooming with Roenick spots that ran on Center Ice were hilarious. He’s probably the one player that I ever liked that played for the Flyers (his OT goal in Game 7 against Toronto was a classic) and one of the few great players of my era that never won the Stanley Cup. He did some great TV work during these past Olympics — and hopefully we see more of him doing stuff like that in the future.

5. Sergei Fedorov (Detroit-Anaheim-Columbus-Washington) — He just about all you could do in an NHL career: won three Cups, league MVP, two Selke Trophys and now plays in the Russian league (KHL) after a great 19-years here in the US. Sadly, when I interviewed him I never got the chance to tell him about the ‘White Russian’ Nike poster I had hanging in my basement for 10 years; but he was one of the best players I’ve ever met and had the honor of interviewing. It also annoys to me no end when media outlets like MSG (gag!) spell his name wrong on their bottom line: IT’S FEDOROV NOT FEDEROV!!

4. Brett Hull (St. Louis-Dallas-Detroit) — Hull, like Roenick was never shy when it came to saying what was on his mind, but on the ice he was lethal. His 741 career goals are an amazing number and he’ll probably always be remembered for his Cup-clinching, foot in the crease goal for Dallas in Buffalo in the 1999 Finals, but I also remember the seasons when he tallied 72, 86 & 70 (in consecutive years) while skating in St. Louis. Hull clinched his spot on this list when he decided to suit up for the US team rather than Canada in the 1996 World Cup, prompting boos from the Montreal crowd every time his face was on the jumbotron during the Final series (I was at Game 2 of 3).

3. Scott Stevens (Washington-St. Louis-New Jersey) — When Stevens came to New Jersey, he immediately impacted the franchise and became one of the fiercest open-ice hitters the NHL has ever seen. There were so many memorable hits (See: Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Slava Kozlov, Ron Francis) but one of the things I think of when I think about  Stevens is he was the guy who led New Jersey to three Stanley Cups — turning the Devils from a “Mickey Mouse organization” into a team that the NHL has twice adjusted it’s rules for. The only other franchise I can think of that has that distinction was Montreal.

2. Dominik Hasek (Chicago-Buffalo-Detroit-Ottawa) — Ten years ago, I would’ve never picked Hasek for my list, but times change. He was always Martin Brodeur’s biggest rival during his Buffalo days, and Hasek’s unorthodox, yet successful style led him to six Vezina Trophies and two league MVP’s. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he and Brett Hull became teammates in Detroit, and I’m sure Hasek’s pain was eased a bit when the two Hall-of-Famers became champions together in Detroit. The Dominator had some strange moments throughout his career, and he suffered too many injuries to contend for some of the NHL’s goaltending records. Talking to him late in his career after a game in NJ, still feels very surreal, but he was willing to talk until all of my questions were answered, something I’ll never forget.

1. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) — He’s been my absolute favorite player since 1994 and when he retires, I may actually shed a tear. Brodeur owns just about every major NHL goaltending record and still has some good years left so who knows what those numbers will be when he does hang up his skates. It’s still a little intimidating to interview my favorite player, but his easy-going personality makes my job a lot easier; and the fact that I can tell that he recognizes me (he should after five seasons!) is pretty neat. He became the ultimate comeback when being taunted by dopey, Rangers’ fans: ‘Devils suck! Yeah but we have Brodeur and you don’t! Whatever, you guys suck!’ I’ll never forget where I was when he scored a goal in the playoffs vs. Montreal or when he broke Patrick Roy’s wins record vs. Chicago, or when he was the backbone of three Stanley Cup championship teams, and one of these days, I will make sure to thank him for all of those memories…and hopefully a few more!

Team Russia Looks as Good as Gold…

The ice hockey tournament begins tomorrow and after long consideration I’ve made my pick for who will win the gold medal. In looking at all of the rosters I feel that the Russian squad is poised to win their first Olympics gold medal in 18 years, mainly because of their firepower and their strength in goaltending.

Up front the Russians can throw two lethal lines at their opponents with any combination between Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin and Maxim Afinogenov. In my mind it doesn’t matter how you combine these six and they are still the scariest two lines in this short tournament.

Finishing out the bottom six forwards will be familar names gone from the NHL, but in active duty for the Russian league — the  KHL: Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Alexei Morozov and Alexander Radulov. All players who are capable of taking over a game when they are in a groove.

The Russians will be led on the blueline by the always-steady Sergei Gonchar and the underrated Andrei Markov, with solid depth provided by Fedor Tyutin, Anton Volchenkov, Dmitri Kalinin & Denis Grebeshkov. Gonchar will be the key player here — his passing and work on the power play will go a long way in determining the difference between evenly-matched teams in elimination games.

In goal Evgeni Nabokov, the backbone of San Jose’s great regular season success over the last three seasons, will begin as the starter, but if he should falter they can still turn to Washington’s Semyon Varlamov (who proved last postseason that big games don’t faze him) or Ilya Bryzgalov, who has pulled Phoenix from the ashes of the NHL to fourth in the West with 19 games left. Between the three of them, most likely Bryzgalov or Nabokov, they have the ability to shut down an explosive, high-powered team a tad more than some of the other goalies in the tournament — including Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist.

I think the gold medal game will be Russia vs. Team USA, final score 5-2 Russia.

Canada will win the bronze medal game 4-3 in ot against Sweden.

Hope that I am wrong…but I won’t be…

Who’s left?

It has been one month and one day since free agency started and there are still some notable unrestricted free agent names who have yet to find a home. These are serviceable players, who if they find the right situation (i.e., linemate, coach, system), they can be a valuable asset to any hockey team and I’d be shocked if they are still not signed with a club…be it in the NHL or in Russia, Sweden, wherever…by September 1.
Here’s the best of who’s left:

PLAYER — OLD TEAM — THE LOW DOWN

Maxim Afinogenov — Buffalo — Could be headed to KHL, thought he’d fit well with Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta.
Marc-Andre Bergeron — Minnesota — Has one of the NHL’s hardest shots, but his defensive abilities are questionable at best.
Todd Bertuzzi — Calgary — Big Bert hasn’t gotten an offer from Calgary yet, and won’t. His size could be useful to a team like Detroit, for the right price.
Mike Comrie — Ottawa — After a midseason trade to the Sens, Comrie didn’t do much. Still, a few teams looking for a center could sign the 28-year-old to a one-year deal; he could work out in New Jersey if signed.
Manny Fernandez — Boston — Proved last season he can still tend goal in the NHL, but will he accept another backup role?
Mike Grier — San Jose — Solid, checking line, penalty killing forward is a hard worker who should be signed soon; preferably with the Devils, but could also help the Islanders or Toronto as well.
Robert Lang — Montreal — A risk coming off of a torn achilles at the age of 38, but most teams are in the market for a dependable center. Would Ottawa have enough cash to sign him to play on line two with AK-27?
Manny Malhotra — Columbus — I’m shocked he didn’t end up back in Columbus, as he seemed to really mature and develop under Ken Hitchcock there, but they also signed Sammy Pahlsson, who plays the same role. Would love for him to join the Devils though, Tampa could be an option too.
Miroslav Satan — Pittsburgh — His agent Twitted (or tweeted, whatever) that the Isles are interested, but not buying it. I say he goes to either Vancouver or the KHL. I’ve given up on the dream that Satan would join the Devils (for now).
Mats Sundin — Vancouver — Will he play, or won’t he? At 38, what does Sundin have left? If he isn’t going to give a full season, no one will want him after performing so poorly last season with the Canucks.
Petr Sykora — Pittsburgh — Has bounced around too much for a guy that can score when motivated or in the right situation. I’m thinking he lands in Minnesota or St. Louis.
Alex Tanguay — Montreal — The best of what’s left as far as I’m concerned. Will hate him less for his two-goal performance in Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals if he signs with New Jersey. He’s only 29 and still has some productive years left. Join the Devils Legion Alex, join us.

Hopefully in the coming weeks, some of these guys find work, preferably with the Devils!