You vented ... I'm answering

October, 27, 2009

OK, puckheads, you have ranted, and I have listened. Now, sit back on the couch and let me soothe you with comforting words. Here are a few rants I really liked:

prashanthiyer: My biggest beef with this NHL season is that nobody can stop talking about Ovechkin, Crosby, and Malkin. Who leads the NHL in scoring? Here's a hint: its none of the above. Anze Kopitar is finally stepping in to his own this season. He has more goals than Ovechkin (10 to 9) more assists than Crosby, Malkin, or Datsyuk (11 to 5 to 9 to 4) and hes doing it with his linemates being Ryan Smyth and Wayne Simmonds!!! Where is his love from anybody?? I havent seen a single article talking about his rise to the top of the points (he leads Ovechkin 21 to 17 for the points lead)? Or how he has corrected his atrocious +/- numbers (last year -17, this year +4). Somebody please give him some credit. I'm not even a Kings fan and I can recognize his greatness this season so far.

My take: Don't I get credit for writing a Ryan Smyth item two weeks ago?! But you are right -- Kopitar's early ascent among the NHL scoring leaders was greeted by the sound of crickets. Pretty quiet in terms of the national spotlight. I think the addition of Smyth on Kopitar's line has been huge for the Slovenian center. Smyth does a lot of the dirty work many players aren't interested in doing. He gets to a lot of loose pucks and takes a lot of abuse in the front of the net in order for a talented guy like Kopitar to do his thing. They've been a great pairing. Kopitar is a big talent that needed to be better players around him, and that's just what is happening now with the up-and-coming Kings.

NotfeelinDucky: What is wrong with the Ducks? As much as I hate to say it, I think it might be the coach. The strong defensive-style play of the past couple of years took too strong a hit with the loss of the checking line and Chris Pronger. It seems very clear that Carlyle would be great for a team like Philly that needs some stronger defensive coaching, but is no longer ideal for the Ducks who can't seem to score even when their defense is clicking (albeit rarely). Am I correct?

My take: You certainly make some valid points. I had a chance to chat with Ducks coach Randy Carlyle last week, and he put a lot of the blame on himself and the rest of his coaching staff. He believes the coaches as a group have to find a way to better sell their message to the players. It is bizarre to see how inconsistent they've been this season. I picked them to win the Pacific Division in an upset. Not looking very good on that prediction right now.

The key to their new look was having two balanced scoring lines, and so far, that hasn't translated into goals. It has really been surprising to me that longtime Finnish buddies Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne have struggled to get it going. But it's a matter of time, surely. Carlyle, meanwhile, challenged both of his goalies before the season to fight for the starting job, and neither Jean-Sebastien Giguere nor Jonas Hiller has really responded so far. Looking at this roster on paper, I still don't think it can possibly continue like this. If it does, changes will come.

fredTHEfreak: Hi Pierre. Within current rules, Mike Richard's hit on David Booth was legal. Booth had just passed the puck, so it wasn't a late hit. Richards used his shoulder and didn't leave his feet, so it was a clean check. The only real questionable thing was it was a blow to the head - which isn't against the rules - and it resulted in an injury. But, as much as a good open-ice hit can entertain, everyone agrees that it's not a good thing when it leads to this. And, it's been happening for a while. The NHL says the right things about blows to the head having no place in the game, but it seems every time this happens, they look at it and say, "Well .'. the hit wasn't against the current rules ... play on." My question is, what will it take for this farce of a policy to change?

PSWii60-Elite: Here we are, only a couple weeks into the season, and how many questionable hits have we seen? I love the game of hockey and I love the physicality of it. But I'm getting disgusted by the lack of respect that these players seem to have for one another. The hits from behind, the high elbows and shoulders being thrown at unsuspecting players is getting out of hand. I think it's time for the league to implement a policy not unlike footballs policy of hitting a receiver in a vulnerable position. I love this product, and the players are the product, everything possible should be done to ensure they stay where they should be, on the ice and off the stretchers.

My take: I've covered the NHL for 15 years, and every single season, it seems there's a time when the focus is on dirty hits or hits to the head. The NHL's 30 GMs, the caretakers of the game, have debated this subject for a long time and again tried to come up with solutions this spring at their annual meeting in Florida. But legislating body contact in a game, where its very essence is based on physical play, is very difficult.

I, too, wish there were a way to better protect NHL players the way the NFL does with hits to the head or helmet-to-helmet hits. But outlawing a clean shoulder-to-head hit could alter the way the game is played in ways we don't want. My stomach turned when I saw Mike Richards drill David Booth because while the hit technically may have been clean, as the NHL concluded, I don't think the intent was. The Flyers' captain knew that the Panthers sniper was looking away and that he was about to cause major damage. But how do you legislate intent? We'll be arguing about this for years to come, just like we have been for decades already.

jagsfan1491: My Leafs are killing me, Pierre! Eight games into the season and still winless! But what bugs me most isn't that we haven't won yet, it's that we are an excruciatingly painful team to watch. Many nights, after a hard day of class and on Tuesdays and Thursdays especially, after a long (roller) hockey practice, all I want to do is sit down, relax, and watch some good hockey. What I end up getting is a team that arguably has more issues than the team I play for myself. Ouch. Roller hockey is a higher scoring game than ice, and my save percentage is HIGHER than Toskala's. That shouldn't happen. ever. period. end of discussion. Our offense can't score. We get inconsistent play in net. Our veteran defensemen make rookie mistakes. This is a total disaster. And the worst part is we have all these issues DESPITE the fact that we have possibly the best coach/GM duo in the game. I love Burkie and Ronnie and think they are doing their absolute best in this situation.

Back to Toskala, I am incredibly disappointed with his performance in Toronto thus far. I thought he was a good acquisition at first given the Leafs recent success in bringing experienced goaltenders (see Joseph, Curtis and Belfour, Ed), but Toskala clearly wasn't prepared to handle a full time starting gig. Even my favorite player currently on the Leafs, Luke Schenn, has been missing something from his game that was there last year. Five year playoff drought? Without a doubt. When will things get better in Toronto?

My take: As difficult as it is for you Leafs fans to see right now through the embarrassment and frustration, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are some young pieces now in place that have to give you solace, such as Viktor Stalberg; Jonas Gustavsson; Luke Schenn, Tyler Bozak; Christian Hanson; and, of course, Phil Kessel. It's not close to the Grade A core Pittsburgh had by rebuilding around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, or Washington's youth movement centered around Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, but it beats what the Leafs had a year ago.

GM Brian Burke won't panic, I can guarantee you that. He will stick with the plan. The Leafs have the financial muscle to stick high-priced players in the AHL and acquire bad contracts from other teams in exchange for assets. Those cards haven't been played out yet by Burke. Obviously, the specter of Boston using Toronto's pick to select in the top 5 next June is difficult to stomach right now, but there is still 73 games left to play for the Leafs to get out of the lottery zone. Hang tight, Leafs fans.

LesHabs25: I really hate how the media treated [GM Bob] Gainey when he made the moves he did in the offseason. He jettisoned guys who nobody else ended up wanting right away on the first wave of free agency except Komisarek and look where the Leafs are! Gomez looks great with Gionta and Cammalleri has been on fire after a slow start. The goaltending has not been as bad as people make it out to be and with the loss of Markov (their best player) it was all doom and gloom - nobody gave this team a chance. Winning three in a row over the lowly Isles, a hot Atlanta team and a hot Rangers team may not seem like beating the Caps, Pens and Flyers but wins are wins in the ultra competitive East.

My take: Great minds think alike, my friend. You posted your comment about an hour before my blog on the Habs on Monday. The new Habs are certainly outperforming the old Habs so far. I'm not sure I agree with you that everyone on my side of the media fence gave Gainey a hard time before the season. I think I speak for most of us when I say many hockey pundits simply didn't know what to make of the revamped Habs either way. I'm still not sold on this roster, but clearly, as least in the dressing room, the wholesale changes have had the desired effect.

TheN8R: So, my Wild offload a GM and coach in the off-season, and are titillated with promises of a more offensive, up-tempo style of play. But the first moves made by the new management brain trust was to let the oft-injured Marian Gaborik walk without any effort to keep him here. Steps 2-10 included bringing in a bunch of fringe players, none of whom can score. Now, we have a team that doesn't focus on defense anywhere near as much as they did in the Lemaire days. But the up-tempo offensive scheme is missing one key component: ANYONE WHO CAN SCORE. Is it time to pretend that I never bought into this team, and have always been a Stars fan?

My take: I love this rant because it's so true. Another loss Monday night with only one goal scored. There just aren't a lot of goals in this lineup. It's not like your new GM, Chuck Fletcher, didn't try in the offseason. He looked at other high-profile free agents, but lost out to the insanity of the money being spent. Know this: I'm a big fan of Fletcher. I think he's earned his shot as a GM with a pedigree developed after years in the front-office trenches around the NHL. He's a smart guy and has a plan, but it's not going to happen overnight. He wants to restock the shelves and that's going to take a few years. It might mean a step back or two in the short term, such as dumping some veterans at the trade deadline in exchange for young assets or picks. But give this guy a chance.

CamWardWho: Pierre, what will it take for Carolina to finally go after a decent Goaltender? Cam Ward has played well below par for starting goaltenders ever since winning the stanley cup yet he still gets signed to an extension like he is a Star Tender. He is getting paid higher than almost if not all Tenders in the league. He is the most inconsistent player I have seen. Hey Carolina, if you want to see a consistent Goalie come to Greensboro and look at the Breakers play in the adult league. I am tired of everybody praising and glorifying Ward. Yea he makes incredible saves from time to time yet he lets in simple goals ...seriously trade him away.

My take: Dude, have you been watching hockey the last few seasons? Cam Ward has been one of the very best at his position and is largely the reason Carolina reached the Eastern Conference finals last season after upsetting Boston in the second round. His .913 save percentage so far this season is only a bit off from the .916 he sported last season. The Hurricanes are allowing on average 32.6 shots per game, which is 25th in the 30-team league. In other words, brutal. He's facing too many shots and too many scoring chances. Blame the team in front of the goalie, not the goalie.

mhollerb: LeBrun, tell me what is wrong with my Red Wings and why I have to scroll the page all the way down to view them in the standings and Power Rankings. ... I've been ranting since we dropped both games in Sweden to a very much inferior St. Louis Blues team. Give me a break about the whole 'old guy' team. Save me from hearing about why Zetterberg and Datsyuk are old farts because they're better than 30 years. What does that make Nick Lidstrom then? A decrepit blueliner? ... Pierre, tell me what is wrong with my beloved Wings. Their on pace for like 80 points and a missed postseason. Both of those things won't happen, but tell me why and what needs to happen for them to get on track. Help me, Pierre. Merci.

My take: No easy answers here, my friend. A real confluence of factors have contributed to the slow start. For starters, don't underestimate the offseason losses of Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson. They all had varying degrees of contributions last season that weren't really replaced. Second of all, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were slow out of the gates, and those guys are your horses. Zetterberg missed most of camp and played in only one preseason game, the last. So he wasn't at his top form when the puck dropped. Datsyuk has missed two games and was battling a minor injury. Overall, the Wings never played their full lineup in preseason, so they were definitely out of sync once the puck dropped in Stockholm to begin the start of the regular season.

Third, the goaltending hasn't been good enough, as underlined by the 25th-place ranking the Wings occupy in goals-against. Not nearly good enough. Fourth, losing star winger Johan Franzen hurts big time, especially because it forces coach Mike Babcock to fall to two scoring lines instead of three. I could go on, but these are some of the reasons for the slow start. Some will rectify themselves, like the Datsyuk/Zetterberg duo, as well as the goaltending (Chris Osgood will turn it around), but others (losing depth) will be harder to overcome.

The Wings will definitely make the playoffs, but I don't think they'll win the Central. And understand this: The Wings' front office doesn't want to blow up the future in order to get better this season. They are trying to rebuild on the fly with one foot in the future and the other in the present. They are trying to stay competitive without having to bottom out. So if there are a few bumps along the road and still a playoff spot, can't you live with that?

chicagobears8989: OK, I have a problem in Chicago. I am a major Chicago Blackhawks fan and have followed them even in the years when they were just horrible. I have already been to two games this year and each game the fans that show up give me more and more reason to wonder how they can call themselves fans. What is this gripe? It has to do with the goaltending situation with Huet and Niemi. Many have put all the problems the Blackhawks have had early on in the season on all their shoulders. I do agree that there has been some weak play at times but no one is looking at the big picture.

In some of these losses they have suffered many of the goals have been a direct result of horrible puck handling in our own zone. Case in point the Calgary and Vancouver games that I attended. Huet did give up three goals but two of them he had little chance. The first goal was a give away behind the net and a 5 foot shot from the slot, and the third goal was a Jarome Iginla breakaway. How many goalies are gonna stop Iginla one on one. Then vs. Vancouver the game winning goal was another giveaway in our own zone that quickly found its way past Niemi. From the games that I have seen so far from our duo of goalies they have looked pretty solid, but even the best goalies are going to struggle when the defense constantly turns the puck over in their own zone or gets beat for 2 on 1's. I want to hear what you have to say and know if you see the same things that I see.

My take: Still feel the same after back-to-back wins in which Cristobal Huet gave up only one goal? They certainly weren't booing him Monday night. But before the last two games, you are right, he was bearing the brunt of the blame whenever the team lost, which obviously isn't totally fair. On the other hand, one statistic in particular belies the concerns many people around the league have about Chicago's goaltending. The Blackhawks so far this season have given up the fewest shots-against per game in the NHL. That's a statistic NHL coaches dream of. It means, of course, that opposing teams have fewer chances to score. And yet, despite that terrific statistic, Huet's .885 save percentage, which improved dramatically the last two games, still doesn't rank among the top 30 netminders in the NHL who have appeared in at least five games this season. Not enough saves given the lack of shots. Right now, Huet feels a lot better after his last two starts, but the fact is, he'll be under the gun all season because Chicago fans know how stacked the team is up front and on the blue line.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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