Thursday, February 28, 2008

Armstrong and Christensen in Thrashers uniforms

I had my camera with me tonight so I took some photos of the newest Thrashers, Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen.

First, a couple from Islanders warm-up. Rick DiPietro is laughing in there somewhere.

Blake Comeau looked like he lost his dog. In ALL my shots of him.

In-game, Chris Thorburn aims for Comeau and they brace for impact.

Here's Comrie's goal being scored. You can see a little of what went wrong.

A later Islander celebration. No one reading the blog will notice how well-balanced this photo is, since it's for the wrong team.

Colby Armstrong is upset about being scored on, but thinks "damn that is a nice jumbotron." And it is. It's so good, sometimes you forget to switch back to real action. That's what Philips getting their name on the building brings.

Bryan Little is back and better than ever (which was pretty good to start with).

Another returnee, Joel Kwiatkowski.

OK, so here are the new guys. Erik Christensen first. He's got really big shoulder pads on, but also could probably stand to eat something, no?

In the faceoff circle.

Colby Armstrong forechecks.

And takes a faceoff.

And celebrates Klee's goal. Cheering for blue looked pretty natural.

Kovy gives him a little love back at the bench, with Recchi next in line.

Hasek, Howard, Turple dominoes

From the Detroit Free Press on Feb. 27:

Red Wings Goaltender Jimmy Howard was sent to rejoin Grand Rapids because Dominik Hasek has recovered fully from a hip flexor. Hasek expects to play Friday and regularly after that.

Teams don't keep three goaltenders around, especially not when they don't own all of them, so this should mean Dan Turple back to the Gwinnett Gladiators imminently.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Espo's flow coming soon to Atlanta

So, as you've heard, the Thrashers got Angelo Esposito as part of the deal for Marian Hossa. For me, two things come to mind about Espo.

First is Karl Alzner commenting on Espo's look at the draft in Columbus. I went to the media luncheon and I just wanted to chat a few people up, put some names with faces. Alzner is known as a clothes horse, so I asked him who in the group of top prospects was the best dressed. Without hesitation he said Espo. He commented on his shoes and longer suit jacket. Alzner said he also likes Espo's "slicked-back flow." I checked out the hair, and indeed young Angelo has a nice head of wavy hair and he can dress himself. He could be gracing the cover of several Atlanta magazines one day.

But what caught my eye, on a more serious note, when I checked him out was his limp. He was recovering from a groin injury. Here it was end of June, he hadn't played in several weeks and was still limping. That raised some red flags for me. Usually limping goes away in a couple days. He was still not healthy last August.

Espo is healthy now, has been all year, but the wonky groin could be a story someday in the future. I hope it isn't, but the sight of him limping at the draft will stick with me.

Esposito was a teammate of now fellow Thrashers prospect Jordan LaVallee on the 2005-06 Memorial Cup-winning Quebec Remparts team. Having just turned 19 a few days ago, next year Espo will either need to make the big club or go back to junior. Sometimes these prodigy types have used up their four years of junior eligibility by having played at a young age, but since Espo played at Shattuck-St. Mary's (high school), he's only in his third year of junior. Does he have some issues? Sure. But with talent like this, it's not a bad gamble.

As far as trade deadline day goes, it was a good number of trades league-wide -- enough to keep you interested, not so many it was overwhelming. I used Kevin Allen's USA Today blog to get updates, and was satisfied with only that.

On the good news front, from what I hear, our message boards at Hockey's Future didn't crash like a few others out there did. We even set a new simultaneous usage record of 17,150 users at 3:13 PM. Holy cow that's a lot of people at the exact same time! But, that traffic is what pays me the big -- make that small -- bucks, so good job to the admins.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Al Strachan proves that high draft picks are awarded to the bottom teams

I'm almost at a loss for words after reading this article by Al Strachan on I read it twice just to make sure it didn't say what I thought it didn't say.

Strachan tries to make the argument that NHL teams don't have to build through the draft to be a contender. That's absolutely right, but his "proof" is tautological (look it up).


Instead of arguing about the merits of specific draft picks, let's try to look at it as analytically as possible.

Let's assume that if you have a first overall draft pick, you get 30 points. A second overall is worth 29. Third overall is worth 28 and so on.

Here's a thought -- why not just look at the inverse of last year's standings? You know, the points upon which the order of the draft picks are determined. Nah.

That way, if we add up all the numbers, we should be able to figure out which teams were the most advantageously placed when making their draft selections.

Furthermore, let's go back eight drafts. There are two reasons for that. First, that's how long the current 30-team format has been in existence. Secondly, an eight-year span should be plenty to make an evaluation. The popular wisdom is that it takes five years to build a contender from scratch.

It is? I've never heard that. The popular wisdom I've heard is that it takes five years to see if a draft pick turns out. At any given time, your past five top draft picks will likely be 23, 22, 21, 20 and 19 years old. If you're truly starting from scratch, you think you're going to be a contender with those pieces? I don't think so.

Then he has a chart where, Ta-da, Columbus is at the top and Detroit is at the bottom.

This sentence below the chart is my favorite:
If these first-round draft picks are so valuable, why aren't these teams, which are consistently drafting higher and more frequently in the first round, showing better results?

How about because you have the cause and the effect all jumbled up together and lack any time lag in your analysis?

The point I kept hoping he'd make to have this make sense at all is that some teams waste any gain they might have gotten from finishing low in the standings by trading their first-round picks for no gain. Toronto is known for this. But he didn't. So it didn't.

A better way to go about demonstrating the point he wanted to make would be to examine the successful teams and show that many of the players were signed as free agents, drafted, or traded for in the prime of their careers.

Wait, this sentence might be my favorite actually:

The theory that an accumulation of high draft picks guarantees the development of a powerhouse is simply unsupportable. The numbers don't lie.

They don't lie, but they don't say anything in this case either.

Hasek could be back Friday, thus Turple

As soon as either Dominik Hasek or Logan Koopmans is healthy, goaltender Dan Turple should be back in Gwinnett. Here's the word on Hasek from Friday's Detroit News blog:

Dominik Hasek was on the ice after the Red Wings finished their morning skate Friday and said he expects to begin practicing with the team early next week. Hasek, who has missed the last four games with a hip flexor, worked with goaltending coach Jim Bedard and appears on track to begin workouts next week. "That's my goal," Hasek said. "Before the road trip is over my goal is to practice.I didn't feel any problems skating, or going up and down. It's different on your own than when you're with a team." The Wings will have a full team practice Monday in Edmonton. Hasek could possibly be ready to play next Friday at home against San Jose, but he isn't projecting that far. "I don't want to point to any day," Hasek said. "Definitely my feeling is that in a few days I want to practice and I feel very soon like I'll be able to play in a game. But I don't want to get too anxious."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mike Vigilante returns

On Friday night, Mike Vigilante returned from his post-concussion symptoms. He played three games in three days this weekend. Because I get a TON of traffic looking for updates on him, I'm making sure to post about it. I told Vig he either has a million friends or a million enemies because he is a very popular guy.

Jeff Pyle said Vig was at about 75% capacity due to conditioning, while Vig himself independently said 68%. He was very precise to be funny. He then rounded up to 70% so as not to sound weird.

Vig said he felt good, he was just very tired. He actually got a little dizzy from fatigue this weekend. It was a different kind of dizzy than when he had returned too early. That kind was a not being able to focus kind of dizzy. He said he tried to keep it simple and get back to the bench after about 30 seconds (instead of the usual 45).

Vig said he couldn't be frustrated with being only 70% right now because there was a chance he wouldn't be able to play again. I asked him if he had taken the baseline psychiatric test, and he said that he took one at Manitoba camp, and then a couple days after the concussion and he thought he failed that one. He didn't take it again this time, but everyone felt he was ready.

Here the linesman repairs a hole in the net.

Gladiators vs. Augusta 2-24-08

At warm-ups I was taking pictures of the Anaheim Ducks prospects. All except Bobby Goepfert, who I already have a ton of.

First, here's Matt Auffrey with a nice black eye.

Bobby Bolt licks his lips.

Ryan Dingle make a face. Dingle was a big scorer at Denver, but he brings a physical game too. You put those two together and it gives him a good chance of making it. I talked to coach Bob Ferguson afterwards, and on Dingle he said he actually needs to slow down a bit. I think Don Waddell once said that about Jim Slater too. I wouldn't compare Dingle to Slater in any other way though.

Dingle and Garrett Winder.

Dingle and Bolt. Dingle looks a lot like Joel Stepp.

Player dribbling the puck in the air. I'm not sure who this is (Eric Lundberg?), but by the curve of his stick, I'd say it's definitely a defenseman.

So here's the Gladiators' new defenseman, Joe Grimaldi.

Jeff Pyle referred to Grimaldi after the game just as "Joe." I asked don't they have a nickname for him yet? Pyle said, no, but they can call him jabroni in the meantime.

He's from Long Island, so that works. Here he poses at the net.

Who me?

Grimaldi got hit with a puck while sitting on the bench. Here he says, "it hit me right here on my visor."

Speaking of defensemen, Pyle said that Jimmy Jackson could possibly be back this week, and Sitko next week. He said Sitko was playing better than a couple of guys before he went out, so if both of those guys get back in the lineup, he won't have to play guys who aren't buying in. And/or he'll cut their PP time.

Dingle hits Ryan Mahrle and leaves him in the dust.

Brad Schell and Matt Christie on a faceoff. These two took most of the faceoffs for their teams tonight.

Close-up of Schell on a faceoff.

The Augusta bench looks up for guidance.

Pyle uses strange hand gestures to explain. Looks like he's playing the piano.

Ferguson has some of his own gestures. His team lost 3-1, but to his credit, he was perfectly pleasant to talk to afterwards. He's one of the most professional ECHL coaches I've dealt with.

We voted Jeff Mason the third star of the game for his diving protection of the net when K-Wal failed to play the puck correctly behind the net. Pyle on K-Wal after the game: "Yeah, we'll be having a talk about that."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Funny things read yesterday

I'll start with the sort of hockey-related one. I came across this article in which mentions Chad Denny's participation in a youth democracy campaign in Canada -- "D250: Make Your Mark, a marketing campaign encouraging young people to vote, voice their opinions and get involved in their communities."

Other youth ambassadors include Halifax Mooseheads forward Brad
Marchand, who has won gold medals with Canada at the last two world
junior hockey championships, and Atlanta Thrashers draft pick Chad
Denny, the first Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq to play in the Quebec Major Junior
Hockey League.

Sounds like a fine cause. But I got hung up on the first line of it: "Halifax hip-hop star Jordan Croucher..."

Halifax hip-hop star? Isn't that a little like saying "Toyko bluegrass star"?

We take our hip-hop pretty seriously in Atlanta. In fact, I think it is the top city for it, having surpassed New York. OutKast, Usher, Lil Jon, you name it. I'm not going to go sample Croucher's stuff, but you can if you want. Here's his myspace page.

Next, I wanted to share a hilarious essay I read yesterday. I was in Barnes & Noble and had picked up a book off the sale rack called "Bookmark Now: Writing in the Age of Information Overload." One essay in particular by David Glen Gold called "Your Own Personal Satan" almost caused me to disrupt the other readers in armchairs with sudden explosive laughter. I only just held it in. Here's a link to it. It's only nine pages and you won't be disappointed.

I could relate to a lot of it, especially the point that meeting readers isn't usually what you envision it will be. Most of the people who come up to me and ask "Are you Holly?" are parents or other relatives of prospects, and this happens at the rink. That's cool. But sometimes I get misidentified though -- I've been asked if I'm Christine Troyke (GDP) or Carroll Rogers (AJC). And then there was the time I was stopped while Christmas shopping by a reader. I felt like players must during interviews -- the other person knows a lot more about me than I know about them, and I have no idea where this conversation is going. It's weird when the shoe is on the other foot. Overall I would rather people didn't know me by face so I can observe anonymously. I look pretty harmless, which can work to my advantage. Like at the draft, hanging out in lobbies. Play dumb.

And lastly, this won't make as much sense until after you read the essay, but hello David Glen Gold! :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NCAA update done

If you're interested, my update on the Thrashers college prospects is now published at Hockey's Future. The players run the gamut between playing great, so-so and not at all. UND fans have been wondering what's up with Forney, so hopefully this will shed some light.

Through the miracle that is cable television, we can pipe them in right here in Atlanta too. I most recently watched Denver take on North Dakota last weekend. If I'm feeling really into it, I may go back and check out Kyle Turris (PHO) in a Wisconsin game I taped, but I'm also trying to catch more of the Oscar-nominated movies too, so we'll see what wins. Sometimes I really need a break from hockey, and lately that's been true.

On a side note, whoever is checking the blog from Jamaica can just wait til they get home. Nothing to see here, no reason to make the rest of us feel bad. Don't you have some sunbathing to do or something?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

AHL to the west coast?

Some of you will remember when the AHL had a franchise in Salt Lake City. It shut down though and right now the furthest west is the San Antonio Rampage, followed very closely by the Manitoba Moose, located in balmy Winnipeg. There's a big cluster of AHL teams in the northeast, and another in the midwest. It's by no means a continent-wide league right now (yet strangely the ECHL is).

The NHL, however, is continent-wide, which means that many NHL teams are far away from their AHL affiliates. They don't like this because with travel arrangements, it takes an entire day to call someone up. This doesn't make for a very nimble operation. Not to mention it's expensive.

Here's an article out of the Edmonton Journal about how the AHL geography could change that's worth reading both for the juicy anonymous-sourced tidbits and the jokes.

Imagine the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks in a mutually beneficial enterprise.

And I'm not talking about an over-subscribed Brian Burke/Kevin Lowe pay-per-view cage match.

More like a West Coast division of the American Hockey League. It could happen early in the next decade.

"It's not imminent," said a highly placed source. "It's three or four years away if it happens. L.A. owns a team, San Jose owns a team and they're not going to move soon. But an orderly transition could take place."

The Oilers dormant franchise was run in Edmonton during the lockout, but was shut down later so as not to compete with their NHL product.

Meanwhile, the AHL is unlikely to expand beyond 30 teams because their stated goal for years has been a one-to-one match between NHL and AHL teams. It's hard to think there are more than 30 cities that could support AHL hockey anyway. Lowell has the worst attendance in the league at 1,892, and it seems unlikely that they can hang on at that level. They could be on the move.

Chicago has the fifth-best attendance, averaging 6,826.

Turple to Grand Rapids

A glimpse inside my head when I saw the press release on the Thrashers assigning Dan Turple to Grand Rapids (who is not affiliated of course): "That's odd. Where's Logan Koopmans?"

First, how concerned should we be that I can name the Red Wings fifth-string goaltender who hasn't even played yet -- anywhere -- this year?

If you too are wondering where Logan Koopmans is, and how his injury plays into Turple's loan, look no further. It appears that Koopmans could be coming back from injury soon, making this a short trip for Turps. From the Grand Rapids Press of Jan. 14, 2008:

"Meanwhile, goalie Logan Koopmans also arrived in Grand Rapids over the weekend to get some work in practice. Koopmans has spent most of the season with the parent club Detroit Red Wings recovering from a difficult hernia surgery.

"He just arrived here Friday. He's here to get some practice time, he's here to get some shots. It's hard to pinpoint when he'll be able to come back and help us, or if he can help us, or if he's completely healed," Griffins coach Mike Stothers said. "It's been hard for him because every time he thinks he's taken a step forward, he ends up taking two steps back. So we're very guarded on his condition right now."

We knew going into the season that Detroit's pool of goaltenders is thin, and points it out as well.

" the Wings' pool of available goaltenders is very shallow (the only other goaltender in the organization is Daniel Larsson, who is yet unsigned and is playing for Djurgardens IF in Sweden), the Wings will give Koopmans every opportunity to re-start his career within the organization."

As far as how the loan of Turple came about, we know that both the Red Wings and Thrashers as well as the Wolves and Grand Rapids are tight. It probably came about at the Red Wing/Thrashers level though. All the GM's are gathered in sunny Florida right now.

And I think it's a very safe bet that Detroit takes a goaltender, or two, in the next entry draft.

Monday, February 18, 2008

NCAA update and new Top 20 out soon

Just a note to say that my NCAA update will be up at Hockey's Future probably tomorrow. I thought it would be tonight, but I hit an interesting snag, which I'll say more about if it turns out to be something. After the trade deadline will be a new Top 20 ranking and article -- we need to wait to see if there are any additions incoming. No point in ranking when there could be new faces. I've been tinkering with it for a while now though, and I'll say more in a few days about the process.

The past day of writing has been interesting given my lack of sleep. On Sunday night, in my first shift in my hockey game, a big guy was angling towards me, and I fully expected him to crunch me into the boards. He was a good 75 lbs heavier than me, maybe more. It caused me to get a big rush of adrenaline, the kind you get when you think you're gonna die.

Somehow he avoided me and I only crashed into the boards with my own weight, which of course was a much better outcome. I don't know if the adrenaline helped my game the rest of the night, but it certainly didn't hurt. The downside was that it stayed in my system for like five hours and I couldn't sleep until 2:30 am. I'm still paying the price.

College free agents are untapped source of talent

There's something to be learned from the way the Anaheim Ducks watch college hockey. They don't just watch the 18-year-olds. They keep watching everyone and sign the ones they like. This column about their success is written in a confusing way, but still it gets your thinking cap on.

But the Ducks still had to spot those things before anyone else, and [David] McNab signed [Ryan] Carter, 24, after two years of college.

Carter joins Dustin Penner, Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, Curtis Glencross (now with Edmonton) and Ryan Shannon among non-drafted college players that McNab spotted and signed.

"We were motivated because we were afraid he would explode the next season and be one of the very best players in college hockey," McNab said.

"It's something we used to have success with, before the salary cap came, because you could spend a million or a couple of million on a guy that you really liked. Not every team believed in that sort of investment. But now, with the cap being tighter, the salaries for those players have gone down and more teams are getting involved. So it's harder now."

The rookie salary cap means that most NHL teams should be in the mix to sign college free agents. It's all a matter of identifying them and convincing them they will have an opportunity with the team. Many guys step right into the NHL lineup, like Steve Wagner of St. Louis this year. If you just said "who?" -- well, that's sort of the point. There's a lot of talent in the NCAA that's unexamined. Wagner is down in Peoria now, but he played 24 NHL games this year as a rookie defenseman. Good job, St. Louis too.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

NYT: Southeast's problem is bad goaltending

I thought this was interesting on the NYTimes Slap Shot blog.

Ever wonder why some of those Southeast Division teams are so bad? ... With such great scoring stars, why do these teams have so much trouble winning?

Simple answer: bad goaltending. It doesn’t matter how many goals you score if you have a sieve at your own end of the ice.

There are 44 goalies who have played at least 1200 minutes so far this season, and of the five men who have the league’s lowest save percentages, three of them are Southeast regulars. Here’s that bottom five:

rank goalie, team mins sv pctg
40 Johan Hedberg, Atl 1,492 .896
41 Fredrik Norrena, Clm 1,384 .896
42 Ray Emery, Ott 1,297 .892
43 Johan Holmqvist, TB 2,288 .890
44 Olaf Kolzig, Wsh 2,591 .887

Luckily for Atlanta, they have a better goaltender than Hedberg. But Tampa and Washington are in trouble if those numbers continue.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Brad Schell back with Gladiators (photos)

As promised, some photos of Brad Schell back in a Gladiators uniform. Not the normal uniform though, the pink ones that were auctioned off last weekend for breast cancer. These are for the many out-of-towners checking in on him. He looked none the worse for wear returning from his back injury suffered during preseason in Providence.

Taking a faceoff against Columbia.

Circling with the puck.

Getting a new stick and talking to Chad Denny.

Skating off with Andy Brandt.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NCAA-NHL agreement on player signings?

Well, the NCAA would like one in order to stop the "poaching" which has occurred with two players this year. The first was Kyle Okposo (Minnesota to NYI), and the second Brock Trotter (DU to MTL) But, as they admit to the Denver Post, they have no leverage.

"There is no deterrent with us at all," Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner Bruce McLeod said. "We have to come up with a deterrent, whether you can't sign after the season starts, or even like July 15, because it's hard to replace a guy after that.

"But, of course, we can't deal with money. We can't impose fines like the IIHF. It has to be a rule like major junior."

In major junior, an NHL prospect learns his full-season status after the first 10 NHL regular- season games. He sticks with the NHL club or is sent back to major junior for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.

If an NHL club signs an IIHF player and that player does not play in the NHL, the team that signs him compensates the IIHF team up to $150,000.

"We have to inject some rules to protect college hockey," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "(DU's) situation is a little different than ours (with Okposo), but we have to find a common ground. Other leagues are protected and ours isn't. . . . We don't hold any cards, and therein lies the problem. We don't have any leverage."

McLeod and the five other Division I conference commissioners are prepared to discuss early- or midseason signings with the NHL on Feb. 19 in Naples, Fla.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Columbia coach Troy Mann loses it

Coaches going ookie-balookie is entertaining no matter if you were at the game or not. Just a few weeks ago Steffon Walby of Mississippi got tossed out of a game. A couple years ago, Fitzsimmons with the Stingrays waived a white flag to the ref. Someday I'll put together a greatest hits post. Maybe a summertime project.

I don't know what precipitated this outburst near the end of the Gladiators game yesterday, but Columbia Inferno coach Troy Mann marched off the bench towards the ref before he was physically dragged back by his players. Below, first the linesman got an earful.

I give referee David Jones lots of credit for skating over to this hornet's nest.

"It happened right over there!" What, I have no idea. But that's for sure where it happened.

His team ended up winning in a shootout, by the way.

What do hockey players do when a game is delayed?

As you may have heard (or experienced), Sunday's Gladiators game against the Columbia Inferno was delayed about an hour and 45 minutes because the Inferno's bus broke down. How did the Gladiators kill the time? Let's have a look.

First they appeared in ones and twos out on the bench. Here's Alex Sawruk stickhandling and Chad Denny having an energy drink.

Then they appeared in fours. Myles Stoesz, Stuart MacRae, Dinos Stamoulis (smiling as ever), and Tomas Pospisil. It's funny how they are trained to sit so close together on the bench so they keep doing it.

I headed down to investigate. Brad Schell eats a banana as he entertains Cam Brown, while Stoeszer poses for his glamor shot. This one is funny all around.

In the back, Andy Brandt rides the exercise bike as he watches golf on TV. Brando said I was getting his best side here. He's too modest. Matt Anderson heads back into the dressing room from the bench area.

A mish-mash of people gather in the back hall. Here we have the ref David Jones, the cop that normally guards the refs (and flirts with all the ladies walking by as entertainment -- not complaining, mind you), linesman Rob Montepare, Dani the athletic trainer, Stoesz, and an off-ice official.

The (new) bus carrying Columbia finally arrives. I was talking to their trainer, who drove separately, about what happened and she said the original bus driver didn't seem to take any action when the bus broke down other than smoke two packs of cigarettes. They called a different bus company to come rescue them. It was tough because it's the south and bus companies are closed on Sundays. They called up a guy who used to drive them, who was, where else? In church.

The Gladiators locker room staff unloads the bus.

The players head in. Why this guy got an empty cart, I have no idea. But the guy behind him thinks something's funny.

From this point on, things ran smoothly. Well, except perhaps for Columbia's coach going ookie-balookie on the bench and having to be restrained by his players. But that's for another post.