Archive for August 2012

30 Teams in 30 Stories

Kings of the Hill

Back to back WCHL Cup championships have the Colorado Avalanche riding a huge wave of momentum.
They say it's all about the playoffs in hockey, and that what happens in the regular season doesn't really matter, as long as you get into the post-season.
The Colorado Avalanche are testament to that. After a couple of ok, but not earth-shattering regular seasons, the Avalanche have roared through the playoffs the past two seasons, capturing two straight WCHL titles, and are now trying to become the first team in league history to three-peat as WCHL Cup champions.
"We've got no pressure whatsoever," said Avalanche General Manager Ryan 'Midas Touch' McClanahan. "If we were to lose in the playoffs, yes, it'd suck. No question. But we've won two straight titles already. Who are we letting down? Who are we disappointing? No one. You can't win it every year. We are certainly going to try though, and winning a third straight title would be like adding sprinkled candy on top of the cake. We got our icing last year, now it's time for sprinkles."
For now, just getting into the playoffs is the goal of the Avalanche, who seem to be affected by a combination of losing their top defenseman and future Hall of Famer Niklas Lidstrom to retirement, as well as a case of WCHL Cup hangover. Currently, Colorado is holding down seventh in the Western Conference with a 17-15-3 record, but have actually been outscored 97-99 this season. The revamped Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings are all surprisingly ahead of the Avalanche, who are a pedestrian 4-4-2 in their last 10 games.
"It's like we are treading water," said rookie centre Tyler Ennis, who has scored eight points in 14 games since being recalled from the ACHL. "We're playing decent, but we're not getting many breaks and we're also not playing up to caliber. But I'm confident we'll get it going."

Tyler Ennis is hopefully of kickstarting a slumping Avalanche offense.
In an effort to replace the loss of Niklas Lidstrom, the Avalanche acquired defenseman Mark Streit from the Nashville Predators during the pre-season. While Streit hasn't been terrible, he's also managed just two goals and 16 points in 35 games, leaving room for improvement as well.
"It's been an adjustment for sure, coming to Colorado from Nashville," attested Streit. "In Nashville, it was like playing hockey on a bombing range. You felt like if you made a mistake, the puck would be in your net because every else was terrible on that team. Brutal. The goalies couldn't stop a beachball, the rest of the defense had more holes in it than Kurt Fulmore's (San Jose Sharks General Manager) underwear, the forwards had about as much skill as a midget bull-fighter and I've seen better coaching in Arena Football. It takes time for that type of shellshock to wear off. "

Mark Streit is still trying to shake his experiences in Nashville.
The shellshock will likely go away a little sooner once Ilya Bryzgalov stops playing like he's part of th Philadelphia Flyers organization. The backbone of both cup titles, Bryzgalov has been nasty this year, managing just a .875 save percentage this season. Normally a top five goaltender in the league when it comes to save percentage, Bryzgalov has the seventh worst save percentage of all starting goaltenders in the WCHL. Unlike some of the teams with starters below Bryzgalov on that list however, the Avalanche don't really have a legitimate backup plan in net. Unless they want to go with Jussi Markannen as their starter, it's Bryzgalov or bust for Colorado.

Ilya Bryzgalov is getting tired of questions about his pourous play in Colorado.
"I don't know. Maybe I suck. Whatever, you guys decide. I'm just going to listen to my iPod. It's all good," said Bryzgalov, when asked about his brutal play.
As much of the problem as Bryzgalov is, there's also a weakness upfront too. Outside of Patrick Sharp, virtually all forwards are scoring below expectations. Efforts to ramp up the offense have had mixed reviews, with Ennis' efforts roughly panning out, the addition of Jaromir Jagr looking solid, and winger Jeff Skinner falling flat on his face so far.

Scoring two goals and three points in 14 games while asking your new team for a multi-year contract extension at approximately $5.8 million a season hasn't really endeared Jeff Skinner to fans in Colorado.
Expect Colorado to continue to tread water for a while, but have a very strong kick down the stretch drive and hit the playoffs hot. As was said at the beginning of this article, it's not even about the regular season at all in Colorado anyways.

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30 Teams in 30 Stories

The Windy City Really Blows

Waving good bye to the fans has become an annual event for Chicago.
It's been a rough season for the Chicago Blackhawks, who find themselves with yet another GM, going through yet another transitionary phase. This transition has been particularly tough though, as Chicago sits 26th in the league and 13th in the Western Conference with a 10-21-5 record.
It's been a rough season for a club which was hoping to see big boosts after an off-season which seen them land star winger Martin St. Louis. While St. Louis is having another excellent season, leading the club in goals (16, assists (23) and points (39), the rest of the club has been far less brilliant.
"We've got to come together and play better as a team," said forward Nikolai Antropov, a disappointment himself with just four goals so far this season. "We've done better lately, but we'll need more of it.

Nik Antropov needs to pot a few more goals for Chicago.
Indeed. While Chicago has rattled off three straight wins, the team is still eight points out of the playoffs and are just 2-7-1 in their last 10 games at Chicago Stadium.
"We're going to have to right this ship. We're far to proud of an organization for this," attested veteran blueliner Colin White.
While things aren't terrible up front or in the pipes, both sides of the coin could use some upgrading, where the lack of a true number one centre looks problematic. James Reimer meanwhile hasn't looked terrible for Chicago, but hasn't really stolen the show most nights either.
On defense however, the Blackhawks appear to be needing three blueliners capable of playing top four minutes. Niklas Hjalmarrson is a nice piece to work around, but the team overall has to many stay-at-home type defensemen and few who are capable of moving the puck effectively.
As such, the Hawks often find themselves pinned deep, resulting in to few offensive chances of their own. The Blackhawks ranked dead last in the league in shots per game, manaing fewer than 21 per game, while allowing 27.89 shots against per game, the fourth most in the league. When you're getting outshot by that type of margin every game, it tends to limit what you can do overall.
"Getting the puck up the ice is an ongoing problem," said Head Coach Mike Keenan. "When you're top defenseman capable of moving the puck is Ryan Wilson by a country mile, you'll have that problem.
Things could be manageable if they could get larger contributions from some key members of the team. Shawn Horcoff has picked up just 17 points in 36 games, not nearly enough for the $7.25 million he gets paid annually. Matt Frattin, a top prospect coming into the season, has managed just five assists in 36 games meanwhile, playing just over seven minutes a game in the process.

Shawn Horcoff and Matt Frattin need to pick it up for the Blackhawks.
The club did make one move to help things, landing Lee Stempniak from the Nashville Predators. Since coming over, Stempniak has eight goals and 15 points in 19 games.
"It's been like a breath of fresh air to me," said Stempniak of coming to Chicago. "Trent Allen (Nashville Predators GM) knows (expletative deleted) about running a team so getting out of there likely saved my career."

Lee Stempniak was just thankful to get out of Nashville alive.
The Hawks will need more of those kind of moves if they want to remain in the playoff picture moving forward. If not, expect an early golfing season once again in Chicago.

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30 Teams in 30 Stories

Hurricane Mike
Paul Maurice Coach Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes huddles with his team during the closing seconds of the third period against the Ottawa Senators at the RBC Center on March 25, 2009 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Carolina won 2-1. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Paul Maurice
"Jarrett Sto.. I mean Darren Hel... I mean Peter Muell... AHHHHH! WHOEVER YOU ARE, PLAY CENTRE!!" Screams a frustrated Hurricanes coaching staff.

After a few seasons of seemingly forging ahead, the Carolina Hurricanes once again find themselves on the outside looking in as the season winds its way towards the midway point.

Pressing hard, as always, on the trade front, Hurricanes General Manager Mike 'The Cornrow Kid' McFarland has seen no fewer than 360 trades get completed since the start of training camp, at times even electing to trade for players he just lost on waivers a week earlier.

Mike 'The Cornrow Kid' McFarland addresses the media after one of his 36 trades this season. On average, McFarland is doing more than one trade per game.

On that note, welcome back to Carolina for the 14th time, Jon Matsumoto.
Jon Matsumoto - Carolina Hurricanes v Philadelphia Flyers
Jon Matsumoto hasn't sold his house in Carolina. He knows that whether he leaves or not, he'll be back in Carolina again before the end of the month anyways.

An ongoing game of musical chairs has seemingly only left the Hurricanes as the odd team left standing after the music has stopped. The Hurricanes are already sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference, 10 points behind the eighth seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I just haven't traded enough," said a distressed McFarland. "There's clearly someone on this team who hasn't been traded at least four times yet. Or maybe I need to get Jonathon Cheechoo back again for the ninth time."
When informed he actually already has Cheechoo on his farm team, McFarland immediately dialed up several General Managers and offered him in trade. He later explained that trading and then reaquiring Cheechoo would be "good for my hockey karma."
What that meant wasn't explained.
Mike Fisher, Andrew Cogliano and Matsumoto have all played for Carolina two different times this season alone, and several other teammates have played for the Hurricanes in the past as well in different stints as well. Expect more deals for former Canes to continue.
"I just love them all," said McFarland. "I get so attached, like how I used to love my Pound Puppies collection as a kid. Same with Strawberry Shortcake. She was the best. I still have a picture of her in my wallet. To bad she ran away from home when I was 17. My parents told me she joined the circus."

After all these years, there's still something addictive about Strawberry Shortcake for McFarland.
So addicted to his players McFarland is, that when he was unable to hold onto Jarrett Stoll this off-season, he immediately traded for Jared Staal, due to the names being similar.
"Hearing his name helps me sleep at night," said McFarland.
Hearing the name of Matt Duchene might give McFarland nightmares though. After completing a massive early season deal to land the former second overall pick from the 2009 WCHL Entry Draft, Duchene has been nothing short of a flop in Carolina, managing just two goals and six points in 28 games.
"I suck. I suck balls," said Duchene of his contributions. "I'm better than this. I'm a freaking hockey goliath. I should own these mother(expletative deleted). They are the ones who are the ball lickers. Yet I can't seem to get going."

Matt Duchene really needs to step it up soon for Carolina.
Indeed. Without Duchene playing like a legitimate top line forward, the Hurricanes are likely to go nowhere.
At least they have a younger team in place, with 12 players on the pro roster aged 25 or younger. Only the aforementioned Fisher is older than 29.
That's a really good thing actually, as McFarland has once again purgued himself of all draft picks, posessing only one measely fifth round draft pick in the next five drafts. As per usual, McFarland prefers to avoid anyone who may not be 18 at the time he meets them. Rumours have it this stems from issues at Snakland, a place of employment prior to assuming the title of Hurricanes GM.
For now, McFarland could care less about draft picks. In between a weekly home screening of Blue Crush and Crossroads, two movie staples for the Canes GM, he was seen working the phones to move that last draft for a forward, preferably one who has played in Carolina at least two different times before. Not surprisingly, that doesn't narrow the search down much so it's hard to say who McFarland might be targetting.
Needless to say, things will move in Carolina, they always do. Likely by the time this article goes to print, one of the above mentioned players will have ben dealt -and possibly re-acquired- by the Hurricanes. That's just daily life in Carolina, and the league wouldn't have it any other way, nor would it be the same without it.

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30 Teams in 30 Stories

Burning bright

There's plenty to cheer about in Calgary.
The Calgary Flames are continuing to enjoy the spoils of their WCHL Cup run of four seasons ago, and are surrounded with a deep stable of young talent, poised to continue the push for another title for the next decade at least.
Those efforts haven't paid off in the last few seasons, but last year seen the Flames return to the third round of the post-season after two straight first round defeats. In fact, Calgary had the Colorado Avalanche on the ropes, up 2-0 in the series, before losing four straight and getting bounced from the playoffs. It wasn't an easy pill to swallow.
"This was horseshit, and they know it," said Flames General Manager Lawson Cham after the game six defeat at the hand of the Avalanche. "We have to good of a team to lose four straight to anyone, nevermind three of those in our own building. These (expletative deleted) are going to pay."

Adios Bruce Boudreau, say hello to Andy Murray as the new Flames coach.
In the end, the one paying the price was Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, who was fired shortly after the series ended. In a surprising twist, Andy Murray was brought in to replace him.
"Murray's awesome," said Cham. "He's a bright guy and his daughter is wicked hot. Going to try and tap me off a piece of that while he's here."
Murray has led the Flames to a 19-10 record, and the team joins the Philadelphia Flyers as the only teams to not lose a game in overtime or a shootout. In fact, both teams have never even gone to a shootout. 
With a .655 winning percentage, the Flames sit second in the Western Conference, just three points behind the San Jose Sharks. They have the ninth best winning percentage overall in the WCHL.
"We want to get home ice and hopefully get top seed in the conference for sure, but that's not really a big focus for us at all," said team captain Daniel Briere. "At this point, the expectations in Calgary aren't so much on the regular season. It's all about the post-season, and about winning there. So we are more focused on gearing up for that time of year. We look at the regular season as a very long training camp, a time to get our system down and get ourselves goal-oriented towards winning the cup."

Daniel Briere has been a solid wall of offense for the Flames.
It won't be easy. The Flames will likely meet up with one of the Sharks or Avalanche this year again as well.
"We'll be ready this year," said long-time Flames forward Mike Richards.
Time will tell.
In the meantime, they'll need Daniel Briere to keep things up. The captain is literally leading by example, and has scored 17 goals and 36 points in 29 games, leaving him on pace to score 48 goals and 102 points. From a team last year which boasted three forwards with well over 100 points, Briere is the only one looking likely to repeat that performance.
Steven Stamkos and Dustin Byfuglien are not on pace to repeat their efforts last year. Stamkos was clipping along at a 60 goal pace last year, and racked up almost 140 points. This year, he's not even on pace for 60 points, with just 19 in 29 games so far.

Steven Stamkos and Dustin Byfuglien are capable of much more offensively.
Byfuglien meanwhile was a Norris Trophy candidate last year, averaging almost a point per game in the process. Now, he's managed just 15 points in 29 games.
"Things have been tough, but we are also not playing as wide open of a style this year as we were last year," noted Stamkos.

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30 Teams in 30 Stories

Shuffling off to Buffalo

The fans are completely behind the Buffalo Sabres after their terrific start to the season.
While having forged together some solid teams over the years, the Buffalo Sabres have perpetually been a middle of the pact team throughout their WCHL history; good enough to make the playoffs most seasons and even win a round here and there, but never good enough to be a legitimate cup threat. Much like their NHL counter-part, the Sabres, outside of a magical run, are doomed to just be a team happy to get into the party but they don't stay around for long.
But is that all about to change?
That's a serious question for the first time in Buffalo, as the Sabres have roared out to a 21-8-2 record, good enough for third in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall. Leading the way is the Sabres league leading defense, which has allowed a meager 2.16 goals per game. Couple that with a sixth ranked offense and Buffalo has one of the bst goals for/goals against differentials in the game. Special teams have also been special as well, with Buffalo ranking third on the powerplay and fifth on the penalty kill. Their combined special teams ranking of 106.44 (a combination of powerplay and penalty killing percentages) has Buffalo sitting second, a hair behind the Detroit Red Wings.
"I can't believe it," said long time fan Ivanna Bangu. "Hopefully it keeps up."
Yes, things are still early in the WCHL season, and Buffalo still sits only seven points ahead of ninth placed Montreal, so the fall from grace could be a quick one for the Sabres if they aren't careful. If Miikka Kiprusoff however keeps his elite level play up, there is no need for concern.

Miikka Kiprusoff is the easy Team MVP so far this season and could be vying for a Vezina and Hart Trophy nomination. 
"Miikka's been awesome," said teammate Kevin Klein. "He's been pulling his weight, my weight, and the weight off a fully loaded beer truck the ways he's been playing. He's been lights out, door closed and nobody is even home anymore, he's that good."
Indeed. A 2.01 goals against average, .918 save percentage and four shutouts have made things easy on his tammates. Kiprusoff ranks first in the elague in save percentage, and second in both shutouts and goals against average.
"Every shutout, I don't get shut out that night a home by the wife. Hopefully I get 40 more shutouts. I need to get some," explained Kiprusoff of his motivation.
So far there has been very few downpoints for Buffalo. That said, if Clarke MacArthur and Brian Gionta can start to bring more offense, it would certainly help Kiprusoff even more. The pair have combined for just 10 goals and 19 points this season.

Clarke MacArthur and Brian Gionta need to up their contributions in the offensive zone soon for Buffalo.
"It's not going for me for some reason," said a MacArthur, who has no goals in 20 games and is pointless in 15 games. "I don't know what needs to be done, but I need to score more, it's just that simple."
"I wish I could make the puck go in, but I can't. I'm just glad the team is doing well, despite me," added Gionta, who is goalless in 12 straight games. 

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30 Teams in 30 stories

The busy B's of Beantown
In this second installment of a 30 part series, the WCHL will take a look at each team and have a look at the good, bad and comical of each of the 30 teams in the WCHL. Next up, the Boston Bruins.

The Boston Bruins last tasted champagne from the WCHL Cup in Season 4.
It's been a wacky road the past everal years for the Boston Bruins, once a model of stability in the WCHL.
Dave Herr came in on day one of the WCHL and quickly established the Bruins as one of the greatest teams in the league. While the club faced several playoff collapses, they did capture one WCHL title and were annointed as agruably the greatest WCHL franchise of the first five years of the league, trailing perhaps only the San Jose Sharks.
Oh how things have changed. With herr moving on for greener pastures, the Bruins have seen approximately a dozen General Managers come in and try and fill his shoes, all failing spectacularly in the process. Newly hired Nolan Evans is the latest to try and buck that trend and get ths B's back into the prime time.
To do so, they'll need to create a new identity. Actually AN indentity would be helpful. The team Herr compiled is long gone, with Joe Thornton's departure -with no effort from the team to resign him as well- completely the long and painful death of the once proud franchise. Now they much try and forge a positive transformation out of the ashes left behind.

Joe Thornton's depature signal a big change for the club.
"What a friggin gong show," said Thornton of the Bruins, days after inking a new contract in free agency with the Dallas Stars. "If they wanted to go a different direction, that's fine, but to not even get an offer from them, a Dear John letter, a kiss my ass, nothing, that's insulting. I hope they all choke."
Thornton wasn't the only one to vent their frustration Boston's way.
"Evans is going to need all the help he can get," said winger Justin Williams, a prized pick up for Herr's at one point. "They seem to have no direction. I hope that changes now, that fanbase deserves better."

Former B's winger Justin Williams is shocked by the current state of affairs for the Bruins.
And it appears the fans have been as frustrated, if not more so. A free donut giveaway went tragically wrong last Thursday. Giving the first 10,000 fans a dozen donuts as a promotional piece for the recently opened You'll Love Eating Our Holes donut chain, fans elected to use the tasty treats as ammunition in their attack on a Bruins team which has gone 13-12-1 so far this season and sits 11th in the Eastern Conference. Turning each donut into several smaller projectile pieces, fans rained down donuts, firing them towards the ice surface during Boston's 4-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. One of the pieces hit a bat which had roosted inside The Harvard Square arena, prompting the bat to go into a frenzy, attacking several fans in the crowd and staff members, one of which was a quadrapelegic named Eduardo El Slavador Mentega Estrato Jose Quatradita Jesus Ramone Giseppe III. He died from what was termed as 'excessive puncture wounds' to several areas of his body. Fourteen other fans have been undergoing extensive rabies testing meanwhile and the event was playfully dubbed as the Bat Outta Hell moment. Hardly a picturesque moment for the troubled franchise.
So what to do?
The first seems to be revamping the financial picture of the team, something which was done first with Thornton being let go, but the club is also rumoured to be heavily involved in shipping out netminder Ryan Miller and his $11 million salary. Miller's play has been solid, but not spectacular this season, making him harder to move as a result.

All-USA goalie Ryan Miller may soon be on his way out of Boston.
The team has also made some bigger moves already, picking up younger players in Darren Helm, Keith Yandle and Jakub Kindl in an effort to bolster an aging line up. What they really need is some offense from their top forwards. Thus far, only two players are averaging even a point every second game, and none are above that level, with the majority of the clubs offense being driven from the backend.
"(Alexei) Kovalev and (Brendan) Morrison have six (expletative deleted) goals put together. I know they're old, but (expletative deleted) off. That's crap. I've seen a cock-eyed inbred gay monkey score more than these two," said Bruins Head Coach Ken Hitchcock.

Alexei Kovalev (left) and Brendan Morrison have found the doghouse under Head Coach Ken Hitchcock.
Boston sits 25th in goalscoring and 29th in shots per game, so getting to the net more often would do wonders for this club.
"We need to do more of that for sure," admitted winger Rene Bourque. "We need to try and score. We got to think of it like college and just gets shit-faced and try and score. It worked well with the ladies back then, I don't see why it wouldn't work in scoring goals. Same principal, right?"

Rene Bourque thinks the same ideal of scoring with women applies to goals. That makes him a fucktwit.

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Team run downs: Anaheim Ducks

In this first installment of a 30 part series, the WCHL will take a look at each team and have a look at the good, bad and comical of each of the 30 teams in the WCHL. Up first, the Anaheim Ducks.

It's been a few years since the Ducks have come close to reclaiming their WCHL title.
After going the distance four seasons ago, the Anaheim Ducks have seen their playoff hopes die out early since, and several blockbuster deals have done little to change that.
The largest of them all was last year, when Sidney Crosby was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of a massive trade that seen the Ducks receive a large package, the biggest piece being Bobby Ryan.

The Sidney Crosby-Bobby Ryan swap hasn't worked out so far for the Anaheim Ducks.
"Frankly, I hated that Crosby guy. Sid the kid, Sid the kid, that's all I ever heard. The dude is 25 now, he's not a kid anymore. Shut up. Get these voices out of my head," exclaimed General Manager John McBride.
As has become the norm in Anaheim, th Ducks are off to a brutal start to their season, going 6-9-2 to sit 13th in the Western Conference. While the team has several games in hand on the clubs above them, the Ducks also boast a huge arsenal of talent and shouldn't be floundering so early.
The problem is two fold, with scoring and netminding playing a huge role thus far. Tuukka Rask has not been the answer to who was going to fill the shoes of Martin Broduer, as the young Finn has posted an .874 save percentage this season, leading the Ducks to a 3-7-2 record when he's recorded a decision. Upfront meanwhile, only three players have managed to average more than a point every second game, one of which is defenseman Victor Hedman. Only Logan Couture and David Backes have provided even close to what is expected offensively, combining for 18 goals, almost half of the teams 41 total tallies on the season.
Meanwhile, Rick Nash and Ryan have combined for five goals this season. Power forward Milan Lucic has made that output look all-star caliber, as he's only managed one assist in 17 games.

The good: Locagn Couture and David Backes.

The bad: Milan Lucic and Rick Nash
"We got to get it going here. It's early, and we are still in this, but that's more a thanks to the shitty-ass teams around us rather than how well we're playing," said all-star defenseman Shea Weber. "I mean, come on, Nashville's beating us right now? That's horse (expletative deleted)."
"When Brandon 'I should be a career minor leaguer' Bochenski has more goals than Nash and Ryan put together, that's just beyond unexceptable," said Ducks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, referring to Boston Bruins forward Brandon Bochenski. "Those guys need to extract their head from their ass and start playing to earn their paycheque."
As soon as their offense turns the corner, the Ducks will once again be a powerhouse to be reckoned with, as they sit just 27th in goalscoring, averaging 2.41 goals per game. Until then though, expect the losses to mount.
"We get denied trying to score more than Mike McFarland (carolina Hurricanes GM). It feels like it's been six weeks since I scored," vented Lucic. "Maybe I should just go to a strip club and let it all out."

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