Monday, December 15, 2008


Hi apologies for the lack of updates over the past week or so. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to take a break until early in January.

Next week, I head to Ottawa to broadcast the USA games of the World Junior Championships for the NHL Network (Directv, Channel 215). I've never called games for my country, so for me to say this is an honor would be an understatement.

Preparing for a tournament like this requires a ton of time. As a result, I won't be able to provide Thrashers updates since I'll be away from the team for a couple of weeks. However, I will report on Angelo Esposito, who earlier today was named to the Canadian team.

In case you were wondering about the schedule of games for Team USA, here you go:

Dec. 26 Germany 3:30pm EST
Dec . 28 Czech Republic 7:30pm EST
Dec. 30 Kazakhstan 7:30pm EST
Dec. 31 Canada 7:30pm EST
Jan. 02 Quarterfinals 7:30pm EST
Jan 03 Semifinals 7:30pm EST
Jan 05 Finals 7:30pm EST

All USA games on NHL Network.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


NEWS: Thrashers head coach John Anderson has juggled the lines in advance of the team's three game road trip which begins Tuesday night in Montreal. Most notably, LW Ilya Kovalchuk will skate with Marty Reasoner and Chris Thorburn in a move that appears to be defensive-related.

REACTION: Kovalchuk needs to get going from a goal-scoring standpoint. In the past, he's had breakout stretches in which he scores by the bushelful. Last season, he recorded back-to-back hat tricks in early November, then added seven goals over the next eight games. Reasoner and Thorburn are both defensively responsible, which might give Ilya more of an opportunity to kick it up offensively.

But since we're singling out Kovalchuk, let's not forget some other players that need to show up on the trip. RW Eric Christensen has been AWOL for most of the season. A healthy scratch for the past two games, the forward has just one goal in 20 games and just three points in his last nine games. This past weekend was the second and third times of the season he's been a healthy scratch (also at New Jersey on 11/1). His M.O. in Pittsburgh was that of a streaky player who'd light it up for a week or two, then be invisible the next. I've seen a player that's lacked passion and jam up to this point.

NEWS: The Atlanta penalty killing unit ranks dead last in the NHL, 29th on the road and 28th at home.

REACTION: The Thrashers have lost eight, one goal games. In those games, their penalty killing unit has allowed one or more power play goals against. In fact, the penalty killing unit was 74.5% efficient over the first 10 games while just 71.8% effective over the last 10 games. And even though their efficiency has dropped as of late, the good news is they are allowing the opposition fewer chances with the man advantage. Over the first 10 games, they allowed an average of 5.1 power plays per game, compared to just 3.9 opposition power plays during the last 10 games. Shoring up the PK might be their quickest road to recovery in the standings.

TELEVISION INFORMATION: Tuesday's game in Montreal is not being televised back to Atlanta by Sportsouth. However, TSN is broadcasting the game in HD, which will be part of the Center Ice package (Directv, Channel 770). Wednesday's game in Ottawa will be aired on Sportsouth with JP and Darren calling the action.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Talk about your bounce back games!

Without a doubt, Tuesday's game in Toronto was the finest of the season for the Atlanta Thrashers. They stopped the three game slide. They all showed up. They played with passion, and they won one for their head coach who had a great run as a player wearing the blue and white.

In all, 11 players hit the score sheet. Todd White and Slava Kozlov had two points each. In fact, that line which includes Bryan Little had a five point night and finished plus-2 with six shots. After combining for one shot on goal against Columbus last Saturday, Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk rebounded with six shots between them.

From a team perspective, the Thrashers put 30 shots on Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph, seven players had at least 2 hits and the team finished with 27 in all to go along with 14 blocked shots.

And most impressive of all, they played inspired, full of grit and urgency.

The outspoken-of-late Garnet Exelby backed up his words about showing up with effort by fighting tough guy Jamal Mayers in the second period. Eight minutes later, Kovalchuk went after Ian White after the Leafs defenseman semi-blindsided the Thrashers superstar. Defenseman Nathan Oystrick was ready to go midway through the game and Kozlov played with an edge most of the night. Lest we forget Colby Armstrong, who took ownership of the neutral zone a few times.

They didn't just show up, they dominated in the self-proclaimed epicenter of hockey, also known as Toronto.

They successfully banked two points on Tuesday in T.O. and they need to pay it off with a win tonight in Washington. Look for goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to get the start, although you can never count out the always ready Johan Hedberg. A regulation win on Wednesday would put the Thrashers just five points out of first place with a game in hand on the Capitals. Washington is one of two teams (San Jose) without a regulation loss on home ice (7-0-1).

BOGOSIAN UPDATE: He began a light skating regimen last Friday which consists of about 10-15 minutes on his own prior to the team's morning practice. I caught up with him last Saturday morning before the Columbus game and he said the leg is feeling better by the day. He's taking it easy and trying to slowly build on his skating time each day. He's not yet at the point where he can do starts and stops. It's hard to believe it's been less than a month since his injury.

Now, go stuff the turkey!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

XM Update

Hi Everyone,

I'm going on XM 204 at 6pm tonight to talk Thrashers. I hope all of you have a great Thanksgiving. Be safe.



As the Atlanta Thrashers embark on a two game road trip which begins tonight in Toronto, it should be interesting to witness their response coming off a lack-luster 2-0 defeat at home last Saturday to Columbus.

To put it mildly, the Thrashers had more passengers Saturday night than one of those big Delta jets flying an international route. They were lulled to sleep by a Blue Jackets team that makes wallpaper look exciting. Ken Hitchcock, their head coach, would be an effective spokesperson for Sominex. But the bottom line is that the Jackets play their system to a T. They lock down teams defensively, pounce on turnovers, frustrate the heck out of them and win a lot of low scoring games. Plus, they now have the horses to provide the necessary offense in players like Rick Nash, Derrick Brassard and Kristian Huselius.

During "Thrashers Live" that followed our broadcast on Sportsouth, analyst Darren Eliot branded a succinct phrase that spelled out the home team's effort that night:

"You can have an off night, but you can't take the night off."

I challenge anyone to come up with a more succinct phrase describing the plight of the Thrashers on Saturday night and what has happened with this team periodically throughout the season.

Defenseman Garnet Exelby was once again front and center during the post-game media scrums, calling out the team like he did after the 6-1 loss at New Jersey earlier this month.

"We didn't come ready to play," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I could sit here and give you excuses, but we've got to play with a lot more passion. We've got a lot of passengers right now and not everybody is pulling our weight, and it's becoming a lot more evident here, every passing game."

Passengers? Exelby is dead on. And the bus is filling up quickly.

Unfortunately, one of those passengers on Saturday night was LW Ilya Kovalchuk, the same player I praised on this blog just days before. At one point, he fanned on a shot from above the left circle, then slowly sulked to the bench on a change as the play went up the ice and into the Thrashers defensive zone.

Kovalchuk is the Thrashers best player. He is the face of the franchise that brings fans out of their seats regularly. He needs to lead. On Saturday night, he failed.

The margin of error for this team is razor thin. If hockey is the consummate team game, as Eliot has preached to me since 1999, then this team can ill-afford to have a single player take the night off.

Sometimes, road trips are the best tonic for a team struggling to string together wins. Trips to Toronto can often bring out the best in struggling teams since the spotlight of the hockey world will shine down on them tonight in the (self proclaimed) center of the hockey universe, not to mention family and friends who are often in attendance at such tilts. Wednesday's trip to Washington represents one of those four point swing games within the division against a Capitals team the Thrashers dominated on opening night. And if the team has shown a dominance in one statistical category this season, it's been their record against Southeast Division rivals, which stands at 4-0-2.

This team is fragile once again, but oh so close to ripping off another modest four or five game win streak. How else can you explain a team that's lost three in a row, yet won five of their last eight?

So how will the Thrashers react this week? Only they know the answer to that question.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Here's the latest from the morning skate:

***Todd White is ready to go and will be in the lineup tonight vs Columbus (7pm, Sportsouth, 680 The Fan). As a result, Joey Crabb will be the healthy scratch assuming he's not reassigned to Chicago later today.

Lines look like this:




Regarding the lines: Head coach John Anderson said he decided to put Perrin up with Kovalchuk and Williams in an attempt to jump start his offensive game. He brought up a good point in that Perrin played with Martin St Louis in Tampa, so he used to playing with offensive line mates. He also added that they've asked Eric to play more of a defensive game, especially since he's one of the team's best penalty killers. Maybe this move will get him going offensively.

***Colby Armstrong slides back to his customary position of right wing after seeing action on the left side.

***Chris Thorburn is back on the right side of the fourth unit. I don't think this move is as much a demotion for Thorburn as it is a move to reunite the gritty threesome from earlier this season. Anderson has talked about the team "taking the initiative more", especially on home ice. Look for this line to play a bigger role starting tonight.

Speaking of this line, a fan left this comment:

"How can JA expect Slater, Boults and Thorburn to step it up physically when he doesn't put them back out there after the hit? "

I understand where you are coming from. But remember the situation of the game from the other night. The score was tied 2-2 and JA wasn't about to put a player out on the ice that would have taken a penalty, putting Pittsburgh on the power play. Had the game been out of hand, I'm sure he would have done it. Just my opinion.

For those of you headed to Philips Arena for the game tonight, please be advised that, as of midday today, three lanes on the southbound downtown connector were closed for repairs. I have no idea if this road project will continue into this evening, but consider yourself warned.

Based on my rants of the last few days, can you tell I hate Atlanta traffic? :)

Friday, November 21, 2008


Todd White did not practice with the team on Friday morning at the Ice Forum. Instead the team has recalled Joey Crabb from Chicago. In 16 games with the Wolves, Crabb has five goals and five assists for 10 points. Head coach John Anderson said this morning that, according to Wolves head coach Don Granato and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, Crabb has been their best player as of late.

As a result, Eric Perrin moves to the top line and Crabb takes his spot on the right side of the fourth line. The newest Thrasher will wear #42. Anderson did not, however, rule out White's insertion into the lineup on Saturday against Columbus (7pm, Sportsouth, 680 The Fan), saying it would be a game day decision regarding his availability. Stay tuned.

Here's how it looked earlier today:



Other nuggets:

***In talking with Anderson, he was happy about Kovalchuk's response to the hit administered by Pittsburgh's Kris Letang on Todd White and thought it was great to see teammates helping each other out. He also made a great point in how tough it must have been for Kovalchuk to send a message to Letang without taking a penalty in a 2-2 hockey game. He added that he wants to see other players step up and initiate physical play, especially on home ice (see: Slater, Boulton, Thorburn). This was addressed in a team meeting earlier today.

***When Asked about the penalty killing units, Anderson was pleased with their performance until the end of the game when Sykora got the game-winner with the Pens on the power play. Look for the team to continue it's initiatives of cutting away the middle of the ice in the defensive zone.

***Slava Kozlov had some interesting thoughts regarding his line and their success this season. He said the line has had success because they all think the game the same way. He also said that to have success in the NHL these days, lines need to rely on give and go plays instead of those that try to pit players in one on one situations, which is becoming tougher by the game. He said it's critical to be able to move the puck with speed if you are going to be successful.

***The team placed goaltender Kari Lehtonen on injured reserve Friday, retroactive to October 31st.

That's the latest. See you at the game.


It's funny the types of thoughts that run through one's mind when sitting in traffic on the way home from a disappointing loss. Here are a few:

Ilya Kovalchuk loves his teammates.

Last night's officiating crew was horrific.

As for the traffic in and around Philips Arena, please see the comment about the officiating.

Plenty has been said in the recent days of whether Kovalchuk is ready to be named captain of this team. For those who continue to ponder, may I say that fact was decided a long time ago. Whether he gains the "C" in the upcoming days or weeks is strictly material to me. Ilya Kovalchuk IS the captain of this team.

He has been for a long time.

There's been no better proof of that than his reactions to defending teammates in the past few weeks. The latest come last night when he went after Pittsburgh's Kris Letang after Letang drilled Thrashers center Todd White into the end boards.

To debate whether the hit was clean or not is beside the point. Kovalchuk didn't care....and nor should he. Once again, he was the first to step in and stand up in defense of a teammate. His dedication to winning and defending his teammates is beyond reproach. He's a throwback in many ways. Old school on many levels even though old school would suggest he go after a star player as Letang did.

Leadership? No question.
Captain Kovalchuk? Without a doubt.
The need for the "C" letter? Whatever.

As for the officiating? Well, the word horrific was the first to roll off my tongue. Oystrick's second period interference call was so-so at best. But when Don Koharski called Marty Reasoner for a hook behind the Atlanta net less than a minute later to put the Thrashers down two skaters, I just about jumped out of the press box. The hook was barely a touch. It was a brutal call to make on a team that was already down a man. As for the non-hook/slash call on Crosby defending Kovalchuk's breakaway in the third period, I talked to Atlanta head coach John Anderson after the game and he said Crosby never touched him.

Let me be clear on this. I believe the officials in the National Hockey League do an excellent job 99% of the time. They have the toughest jobs on the ice and a forced to make split second decisions. But I can honestly say their performances last night won't be referenced in any off-season training videos.

Finally, something has to happen to improve traffic congestion in the downtown following home games.


Last night, I jumped into my car at the media parking lot at 9:58pm. I made it to the 75/85 connector at 10:27pm! It took a half an hour to "stick handle" down Luckie Street and around the Georgia Aquarium. Not once did I see an Atlanta police officer directing traffic flow. Heck, there wasn't even the officer at the W-Hotel (you know, the one that flunked Traffic Flow 101) to help us get out of dodge.

Let's go Atlanta! We're a world class city with world class events. When tangled traffic and ZERO assistance are what consumers remember about their night on the town, that can't be good for anyone.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Seriously, if I don't vent I might lose my mind. If you go back to the Thrashers game Friday night against Carolina, on two different occasions, a delayed penalty was called against the home team. And twice, the home team touched the puck which normally whistles the play dead.

Not on this evening.

Instead, the referees overseeing the game (Eric Furlatt and Dan O'Rourke) allowed play to continue until a Thrashers defender fully gained possession of the puck. In defense of Furlatt and O'Rourke, their decision to allow play to continue was the right call. But come on people, for the love of power plays everywhere, let's get some consistency within this rule.

As for the rule, here it is, according to the 2008-09 NHL Rule Book:

"15.1 Calling a Penalty - Should an infraction of the rules which would call for a minor, major, misconduct, game misconduct or match penalty be committed by a player or goalkeeper of the side in possession of the puck, the Referee shall immediately blow his whistle and penalize the offending player or goalkeeper.
Should an infraction of the rules which would call for a minor, major, misconduct, game misconduct or match penalty be committed by a player or goalkeeper of the team not in possession of the puck, the Referee shall raise his arm to signal the delayed calling of a penalty. When the team to be penalized gains control of the puck, the Referee will blow his whistle to stop play and impose the penalty on the offending player or goalkeeper."

Without a doubt, the National Hockey League needs to revisit this rule with all of it's officials. Believe me, I'm in favor of the zebras allowing play to continue until the penalized team is in full control of the puck. It creates additional offensive chances, especially with the goaltender pulled for the extra attacker. But as a fan, I want consistency. Whether I'm at a game in Atlanta or watching one from San Jose, I want the standard to be the same. Some officials, like Furlatt and O'Rourke, get it right. Others aren't as sharp as witnessed when a play is blown dead when the penalized team simply touches the puck.

Sorry....just had to get that one off my chest!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Hi everyone. I'm back. Talk about your quiet weeks. I used the past several days to catch up on a few things here on the home front. Sorry for the lack of updates. It's a long season and one must pace themselves.

Before I get to tonight's tilt against Carolina (No TV, 680 The Fan), I wanted to talk about the topic that's always a hot button around these parts. Attendance.

Tonight should go a long way in determining how much the downturn in the economy is playing on ticket sales. Here's why:

1. The Thrashers haven't played a home game in 12 days. They return to home ice on a Friday night which has arguably been the best attended day of the week throughout the franchise's history.

2. The team is riding a season-best four game winning streak. They are hot and they have given the Atlanta faithful a reason to make the trip downtown tonight.

3. The game is against a division rival.

4. There is no other sports competition in the city tonight. The Hawks play in New Jersey, Georgia football is on the road at Auburn tomorrow and none of the local college basketball teams play at home either (at least not that I know of).

Earlier today, I was all set to do an attendance comparison of last years numbers through seven home games compared to this season. I was also going to break it down by the day of the week and compare weeknight attendance figures to weekend ones. But when you get right down to it, there haven't been enough home dates to draw accurate comparisons. The weekend dates are skewed because of the opening night sellout. The weeknight numbers are slanted because 50% of them have occurred on Tuesdays. So what's the point? It's just too early. I'll break it down at the 20 home game mark and see what we get.

Bottom line: I tagree with general manager Don Waddell when he told the AJC that attendance always lags during the first half of the season when college football is in full swing. Would a team with a winning record make a difference? Possibly. But facts are facts in that UGA football is a 100 year tradition, like it or not.


***With a win, the Thrashers would trail Carolina by just two points with a game in hand....ditto if the Washington Caps lose tonight in New Jersey (although ATL and WSH will have played 16 games each).

***Ilya Kovalchuk is the hottest of the hot on the ice, having tallied 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points in his last four games. Other streaks include Jason Williams (4 goals, 2 assists in last 4 games), Bryan Little (3 goals, 4 assists last 4 games), Ron Hainsey (1 goal, 2 assists in last 2 games) and Eric Christensen (0 goals, 2 assists in last 2 games).

***Keep an eye on the Atlanta penalty killing units tonight. They were perfect last Sunday in Raleigh after allowing at least one power play goal in 12 straight games.

***Sooner or later, Eric Christensen will score. His 38 shots this season are the most of any player in the NHL that hasn't scored at least once. Time to bear down Eric!

***The Hurricanes offense has struggled. But one player red hot against the Thrashers is Eric Staal with 14 points in his last 7 games against Atlanta.

Enjoy the game.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Sorry I'm a little late regarding this topic, but I did want to get your thoughts regarding last Thursday's telecast on Sportsouth (Thrashers vs New York Islanders). That night, Thrashers analyst Darren Eliot was stationed between the team benches instead of in his normal position, the broadcast booth.

The early feedback I received was very positive. The executives at Sportsouth, along with peers from around the league, thought it worked well. It was the first time Sportsouth had tried such a set up, even though teams from around the league have been experimenting with such a configuration since the lockout.

For me, as the play-by-play guy, not much really changes. I made a conscientious attempt to lay out a little more to offer Darren ample opportunity to jump in and out of the play with his excellent analysis. It's a little different compared to having both of us in the broadcast booth at the same time. The communication is much less visual for obvious reasons.

But I think the toughest job when doing a broadcast with the analyst between the benches lies with the analyst. Eliot's view of the play was much more restricted based on the angle that he witnessed the game unfold. When you call the game from "up top", you have the benefit of watching plays develop. That's not the case from between the benches. Plus, being on the opposite side of the cameras, Darren saw all replays from the opposite perspective, which must have taken time getting used to.

If you recall, I tried to ask Darren questions about the game that were related to his proximity to the ice. One time, I asked him about shooting lanes since he had a great look at the Thrashers left point in the offensive zone for two periods. When the Islanders took the 3-1 lead, I asked him about the mood on the Atlanta bench. These are all facets of the game you don't get when both announcers are sitting up in the booth. I thought it was critical for the two of us to take advantage of our access and bring it home to the viewers like yourself.

Having worked with Eliot full-time for four seasons and occasionally this season, I've learned he's one of the best in the business. He's one of a few in the sport that can explain why a play happened instead of just regurgitating a replay. In my opinion, I thought he was dead on the other night and never missed a beat.

So what did you think? Should Sportsouth do more games with Eliot between the benches? I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Don't look now, but the Atlanta Thrashers are becoming more resilient by the day.

Witness their come from behind, 4-3 win last night against the New York Islanders.

Witness their bounce back performance on Sunday in the 5-3 win over Florida after a tough game in New Jersey just 20 hours prior.

Thursday's game started out as the typical second period train wreck. The Islanders scored twice in the span of 0:17 and led 3-1 after 40 minutes of play. According to reports, head coach John Anderson got a bit loud with his team during the second intermission. They took his talk to heart by coming out and scoring twice in the opening 1:17 of the third period to tie the game. Finally, when Tobias Enstrom's point shot was deflected out high by an Islanders defender, The Thrashers had finally gotten the break Anderson had been looking for.

With that said, this team is starting to do some of the little things to be successful.

*The power play came through with a goal last night and the penalty killing unit killed off the final four Islanders man advantages in the game.

*The Thrash dominated in the face-off circle winning 64% of the time. Jason Williams won 11 of 16 draws while Erik Christensen won all five he took.

Slava Kozlov had a pair of goals and continues to light it up offensively. Now that Bryan Little is drawing more attention, Kozlov is being afforded more space by the opposition which has resulted in more chances. Plus, he's healthy, unlike last season when he battled injuries.

Friday's game in Buffalo (7:30pm, Sportsouth) will be a chance for the team to run their win streak to three games, something they haven't done since February. The last time the Thrashers won three straight in regulation was

Monday, November 3, 2008


Now that's more like it!

Sunday's Thrashers win over Florida ended a six game skid and, hopefully, will give the team some confidence heading into a stretch in which they play seven straight games against Eastern Conference opponents.

How I saw it:

Ilya Kovalchuk got rolling offensively with a pair of goals. Based on the current roster, the Thrashers need Kovalchuk's offense each and every game if they are to be successful. On the road trip to New York and New Jersey, he seemed disengaged. He was late in coverage on the left wing boards when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi scored the game winner. When Kovalchuk hits the score sheet, the Thrashers typically have success. But even beyond that, his offensive leadership seems to elevate the team's entire game and focus. It's critical for him to get hot right now.

The win was a team effort. No passengers as had been the case in previous games. The defensemen engaged in the offense once again. Erik Christensen played much better after being benched Saturday in New Jersey. The power play chipped in. Ondrej Pavelec was solid between the pipes. The Thrashers transition game was crisp, catching Florida flat-footed several times resulting in several odd-man chances.

Finally, kudos to defenseman Garnet Exelby. After the game Saturday in New Jersey, he called out his team's effort (or lack thereof) and used some of the sharpest words of criticism in franchise history.

"What has to happen at this point is everybody has to go home and dust off their shiny little mirror and take a look at themselves, because I don't think everyone in this room is toeing the line," he told Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He went on to defend goaltender Johan Hedberg and how the Thrashers offered him no support in the 6-1 loss.

"It's up to the rest of us to hold everybody on this team accountable, because when you have a guy like Johan Hedberg in net, who arguably is the best man that I've ever met in professional sports, and you come out and play like that in front of him, when he only gets to play one game every ten games, I think it's embarrassing. It makes me sick to my stomach to think our team came out that way for this guy," Exelby added.

Bottom line: It needed to be said. And I'm sure it allowed everyone in the Atlanta locker room to re-focus for Sunday's game. Exelby is an honest player who's having a renaissance season playing with Ron Hainsey. I found his comments brutally honest......and long overdue.

Looking ahead: The Thrashers host the New York Islanders on Thursday, play at Buffalo Friday, then engage Carolina for a pair of games next week.

Looks to me like a great way to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Friday, October 31, 2008


First, allow me to apologize. I have been in technohell since leaving Atlanta. The internet connection at our hotel in NYC did not work. As a result, I haven't been able to post.

Also, another apology from last night's telecast. If you were watching, you know I originally thought Chris Drury scored the tying goal. It was indeed Nicolai Zherdev. I thought it was #23 and it turned out to be #13. Not that it's an excuse, but Madison Square Garden is a tough place to call a game. The broadcast position is far from the ice and the lighting is brutal.

Thoughts about the NYR game:

I thought it was another good road game for the Thrashers although the same result of no points. But in the overall picture, they did a nice job of bouncing back from the Philadelphia debacle and playing as a team again.

Nathan Oystrick had an outstanding game. He jumped into the play and created some offense. When I talked to head coach John Anderson at practice today, he told me Nathan just decided to relax and play his game. He also led the team with six hits.

The fight between Eric Boulton and Colton Orr was one for the ages! Make sure you watch our telecast Sturday night from New Jersey. Darren Eliot did a feature with "Bolts" earlier today with the two of them breaking down the fight. It will run during one of the intermissions from New Jersey. And I agree with Eliot in that Boulton was the team's MVP Thursday night based on the fight with Orr and setting the tone early in the game.

Practice Update:

Anderson tweaked the lines once again. If today is an indication of his plan for Saturday, Brett Sterling will play and Eric Christensen will sit. In addition, Jason Williams will move from right wing to center.

The lines looked like this:


No changes are expected in the defensive pairings.

Enjoy Halloween and be safe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


What can you say about last night's fiasco at Philips? I mean, if there was ever a game in which NOTHING went right for the Thrashers, last night was the one.

What disturbed me was their starts and finishes to each of the periods. Up until this game, the Thrashers had always started strong and finished strong. Not last night. In fact, the game reminded me of alot of the games from last season in which they gave up goals in bunches to start and finish periods.

They had no passion and no shot against a Flyers team that's dominated them for three seasons. It will be interesting to see if they move Jason Williams to center and fill his spot on the right side with Brett Sterling. For a team that's in desperate need of offense, Sterling deserves a shot. Also, anyone a bit surprised that John Anderson didn't bench Ilya Kovalchuk for a few shifts after his double minor at the end of the second period? That surprised me a bit.

I'm heading to practice this morning (Philips), then off to the airport for the flight to New York. I'll post an update after the skate and hopefully have some news on the status of Zach Bogosian, who suffered a leg injury in last night's game.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Tuesday night pucks return to Philips Arena this evening as the Thrashers host the Flyers. The game can be seen on Versus with John Forslund (Carolina) and Darren Eliot calling the game at 7pm. For tickets, go to

Here are a few nuggets heading into the tilt:

Philadelphia is 2-3-3 overall and 1-1-2 on the road. They are led in scoring by Mike Richards (4-6=10) and Jeff Carter (6-2=8). Martin Biron has played the majority of time between the pipes and has posted a 2-3-1 record with a goals against average of 3.95.

As for streaks, Carter has six points in his last four games and Scott Hartnell has six points over his last three games (3-3=6). The Flyers are unbeaten in the last two games and have yet to play a team from the Southeast Division.

For the Thrashers, they are coming of the 5-4 heartbreaking loss on Saturday in Boston. They have lost two straight and are 1-3-1 in their last five games. They are 0-1-0 against the Atlantic (home loss to New Jersey). Todd White leads the team in points (2-6=8) and Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in goal (2-3-2, 2.99 GAA). As for streaks, Colby Armstrong has four points in his last three games (1-3=4) and defenseman Ron Hainsey has tallied three points in the last three games (1-2=3).

The key to the hockey may come down to the Thrashers play in the second period. So far this season, Atlanta has been outscored 12-4 in the middle frame while outscoring it's opponents 18-13 in the first and third periods. The Flyers have struggled in opening periods, being outscored 13-7 while outscoring teams 14-10 in the second period. Another key to the game is how the Thrashers handle Philadelphia's size. The Flyers average height and weight is 6'1", 203 lbs.

Loose Nuggets:

In 24 career games against Philadelphia, LW Ilya Kovalchuk has tallied 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points. Slava Kozlov has recorded eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in 31 games against the Flyers.

Neither Kari Lehtonen nor Moose Hedberg have fared well against tonight's opponent. In 16 games, both goaltenders have posted a combined 1-11-2 record against Philadelphia.

The Thrashers will be busy against the Atlantic Division over the next couple of weeks. Four of the next five games are against teams from that division (Philadelphia, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, NY Islanders). Looks like a great time to start picking up points against Eastern Conference teams.

Defenseman Matthieu Schneider currently ranks fifth among active defensemen in games played with 1,205 and is the 74th player in NHL history to play in 1,200 contests. The leader is Detroit's Chris Chelios at 1,616 games played.

LW Slava Kozlov's current 128 consecutive games played streak ranks 6th all-time in franchise history. Former captain Bobby Holik holds that record at 190 consecutive games played.

Ilya Kovalchuk shares the franchise record for most points recorded in a single game when he tallied five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in a game at Philadelphia on November 18, 2005.

Defenseman Ron Hainsey is even or plus in seven of the first eight games of the season (+3).

I'll be travelling with the team later this week and filling in for JP on the games from New York and New Jersey later this week. I'll be sure to pass along updates from New York City and hopefully have time to break down the 10-game numbers after the Rangers game on Thursday. In the meantime, ENJOY TONIGHT'S GAME!

Monday, October 27, 2008


Hi everyone....sorry about my lack of updates over the weekend. I had a few family activities, but did want to get something posted for today after the Thrashers weekend swing through Detroit and Boston.

I spoke with head coach John Anderson after practice today and, all things considered, he seemed upbeat about the team despite two tough losses over the weekend. Remember how he stressed to the media that implementing his system during training camp and pre-season was priority #1? Well, he's fairly happy with that progression. With that said, the new focus/priority is working on playing habits from within the system. From this standpoint, Anderson admits it continues to be a work in progress. Now the emphasis is on the little things like finishing skills and sticks in lanes.

This all came up in our conversation when I pressed him on the decision making of some of his forwards when the team transitions from defense to offense. I referenced a play from the game in Boston in which center Erik Christensen made a wide and deep turn in the defensive zone that negated the team's chance for a three on two odd-man break up the ice. Anderson said this type of mistake has been brought to the attention of the forwards in video sessions, including one this morning. The head coach said his staff has emphasized the need for tighter turns during transition and teaching them to swing towards the puck.

Overall, he seems happy with the progress made in the first month of the season, but understands the need for points in the standings. Then again, look at all the teams around the league with new coaches and their records. Ottawa has struggled as has the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders. In Anderson's defense, it will take a while to get the Thrashers playing his system, maybe a few months.

Other notes:

Anderson thought Jason Williams played his best game of the season on Saturday at Boston. He pointed out Williams' time spent on the injured list a season ago and that he's just starting to gain back his stride. Don't be surprised if he's used more at the center position in upcoming games. Anderson said he thought Williams really picked up his skating when he moved to the middle in the Detroit game after Marty Reasoner was knocked out of the game after blocking the shot attempt by Brian Rafalski.

DON'T FORGET: Submit your questions for the Tuesday Q&A. I've received some good ones already. Don't be shy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I've decided to start a Q&A here on 24/7 Hockey so I can get an idea of what's on your mind. Here's how it will work:

1. Submit questions to me via the Q&A comments section of the blog.

2. Each Tuesday, I will will answer as many as possible....and with as much accuracy as possible.

3. All subjects are fair game, just as long as they relates to hockey.

I really want this blog to be a conversation between all of us. The comments I have received to date have been great and I encourage each of you to keep sending me your thoughts.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I know alot of you have wondered why tonight's Thrashers at Tampa Bay game is not being televised. Here's the answer.

Versus, the national network home of the National Hockey league in the United States, has "exclusive" dates on their schedule in which they are the only broadcaster allowed to televise on a given night in the United States. Tonight is one of those scenarios. They have chosen to televise the Boston at Buffalo game. As a result, no other local broadcast outlet can televise any game this evening. That's why the Thrashers game is not being shown on either Sportsouth or Sunshine Network (Tampa TV). It has nothing to do with Sportsouth, so save your emails and phone calls to their offices.

With that said, if you subscribe to NHL Center Ice, you will still be able to watch Anaheim at Toronto (TSN), Vancouver at Columbus (Sportsnet-Pacific) and Washington at Calgary (TSN).


Here's the latest from the "farm", college and major junior as it relates to Thrashers prospects.

The Chicago Wolves are off to a 2-1-1 start and are 4th in the American Hockey League's West Division. They lost their first two games on a swing through Texas, losing 2-1 at Houston in the season opener and 2-1 at San Antonio. Their first win was a 1-0 shutout in Quad City in which goaltender Andrej Pavlec stopped all 25 shots.

Last Saturday night, they raised the Calder Cup banner in Chicago and defeated Peoria, 3-2. I understand Joey Crabb and the Rivermen's Brad Winchester had a pretty good fight in the third period.

Colin Stuart leads the Wolves in scoring with 1-2=3 in four games. Pavlec has played in all four games and has a 2-2-0 record with a goals against average of 1.49 and a save percentage of .949.

The Gwinnett Gladiators opened their season last weekend with a 6-2 win at home against Mississippi. Defenseman Josh Engel had a goal in that game. He's a rookie out of the University of Wisconsin that I got to see alot of last season while calling the college hockey games for CBS College Sports. He should really help their blueline.

Other notables:

First round pick Daulton Leveille (pron "lev-eye-ay") is off to a quick start at Michigan State and had a couple of assists during the Icebreaker Tournament in Boston a week ago. Angelo Esposito has nine points (2-7) in eight games for Montreal in the Quebec league and was named the QMJHL Player of the Week for the period ending on October 5th. Defensman Paul Postma is playing for the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League and has 10 points (1-9) in 11 games. Finally, goaltender Alex Kangas is off to a quick start at the University of Minnesota with a 2-0 record and a goals against average of 1.50. I saw him play last season in a game at Wisconsin in which he looked a little nervous. But he enters the season as the #1 goaltender between the pipes for the Gophers now that Kellen Briggs and Jeff Frazee have graduated.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I'm sure Thrashers fans remember the brutal start to the 2007-08 season. The team went 0-6 and head coach Bob Hartley was fired.

Saturday night's game against Buffalo was the team's fifth of the season. And since I love crunching the numbers, I thought I'd share with you a five game comparison of some team stats, from this season and last.

One of the biggest improvements has been penalty killing. Last season, the Thrashers allowed 11 powerplay goals against in the first five games on 32 chances (65.6%) compared to just five goals scored on 26 opportunities (80.8%) for an improvement of 15.1%.

The other major improvement is the amount of offense generated by the defensemen. Through the first five games last season, the blueliners had tallied a cumulative five points (1-4=5). This season, they have contributed 10 points over the first five games (1-9=10). The numbers from this season are skewed a bit considering Ron Hainsey and Niclas Havelid had a combined five points against Washington on opening night.

In terms of shots, the team this season is averaging 30.4 a game compared to last season's 22 shots a game over the first five contests. However, the shots against is identical with the opposition averaging 34.6 a game over both starts.

And while the before-mentioned penalty kill has been much improved from this season over last, the powerplay has struggled mightily. Since opening night when the team scored three with the man advantage against Washington, they have gone a collective 0-20 in the last four games. In fact, the powerplay is just 3-29(10.3%) through five games which is slightly better than the 2-21(9.5%) start a season ago.

As for the offense, it's not so much about the number of goals the team has scored during the first five games, it's more about the fewer number of goals they have allowed. This season the team has scored 14 and allowed 14 (Even) compared to tallying nine goals in the first five games last season and allowing a whopping 23 goals against (-14)!

Finally, what about the start of games for the Thrashers? Last season, they gave up plenty of goals in the first five minutes of periods. During the first five games a season ago, they gave up six goals to the opposition in the first five minutes. That happened in four of the first five games. This season, they've given up just three in the first five games.

Numbers are numbers and can be interpreted in many ways. But through the first five games, it appears the penalty killing units are more effective, the defensemen are contributing more to the scoresheet, and that the team is generating more scoring chances. With that said, the powerplay needs work. and for a team that will like be an offensive work in progress over the first half of the season, getting goals with the man advantage remains critical to their success.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

THE TRAP: zzzzzzzzz

After watching the Minnesota Wild and their trapping system last night in Atlanta, one can only hope that the "new order" of coaches around the league will continue the trend of free-wheeling, offensive minded systems.

Tuesday's game between the Thrashers and Wild put the sport back about 10 years as Wild coach Jacques Lemaire locked it up defensively all night long.

Everytime the Thrashers would set up their breakout play, the Wild would robotically set up shop in their patented 1-2-2 or (as was the case later in the game with Minnesota in the lead) 1-4 defensive configuration.

It was the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils fashioned the left wing lock some 10 to 15 seasons ago. Since then, teams have bought into the system as a means of winning games. The strategy was an easy sell for many of the coaches around the league. And considering the shelf life of coaches, many have seen the style of play as a means of prolonging their coaching careers.

But what fans had to sit through at Philips Arena Tuesday night was downright painful. Right up there with a root canal......or having to watch CSPAN-2 for seven straight hours. As a former broadcaster for the Wild, I sat through an entire season of it. I always made sure the coffee pot (fully caffeinated) was ready to go.

Fortunately, there are more and more coaches coming into the league that detest such a style of play. The Thrashers John Anderson wants to play up-tempo and up the ice, engaging his defensemen in the rush. Florida's Peter Duboer is on-board as well. And out west, the Edmonton Oilers have always played wide open.

Unfortunately, for every Anderson and Duboer, there's a Lemaire and a Hitchcock.

Saturday's Thrashers game in Florida was a thing of beauty. Both teams raced up and down the ice, trading scoring chances and combining for 72 shots. The fans loved it and will likely return for more in the future.

Tuesday night, the Wild spread the neutral zone defensively and waited to pounce on turnovers. Sure enough, they got a few and were able to turn them into scoring chances. It had all the excitement of sitting in the duck blind and waiting for a quale to spring from the weeds. The poor fan who just paid $90 to sit in the lower bowl has forever scratched the Wild from his "must see" list of teams.

To borrow a phrase from the late 1980's, here's hoping more and more coaches around the league continue to embrace a "glasnost" policy when it comes to their approach to the game.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Hi everyone. I wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know I'll be guest blogging later tonight during the Thrashers game against Minnesota over at the Thrashers website: Feel free to stop by and fire off some questions to yours truly.

One follow-up thought regarding the NHL debut of Atlanta coach John Anderson this past Friday night. I could only imagine what must have been running through his head when his name was announced to the sell-out crowd during the pre-game introductions. Here's a guy that had a solid career in the National Hockey league, then coached for what seemed to be forever in the minor leagues.

His first job was in the Southern Hockey league at Winston-Salem. The GM of the Mammoths literally begged him over the phone to take the job after the person that had been hired to coach the team ( a video coach from rival Greensboro) backed out because of a fear of being in over his head. Anderson took the gig, then was stiffed out of about $20,000 by the team at the end of the season. It left such a bad taste in his mouth that he almost quit coaching to help run a friend's marketing company in Canada. Instead, he took another shot, landing in Quad City and then Chicago. He was passed over twice for the Thrashers head coaching job before getting the call from general manager Don Waddell this past summer.

I love the stories that come out of the minor leagues, probably because I'm a product of such enviornment. In 1985, I took my first broadcasting job in Flint, Michigan for $12,000 a year. The team was awful, finishing 16-66-0 which ended up being the worst record of all-time in the now defunct International Hockey League. Halfway through that season, ownership was ready to fold the team if we didn't all agree to 50% paycuts for three weeks (players included). We agreed to the pay cuts and my salary was cut to $125 a week for a brief period that February. By April, we were all out of a job. So in theory, my salary wasn't $12,000 but more like $7000 for seven months of hell.

It's a bond that Anderson and myself have shared for years. When you work, coach or play in the minors, you're always hoping for that one shot at the big time. That's why you keep plugging along, sleeping on busses sans heat for 10 hour roadtrips, dining at Denny's on Christmas night in Salt Lake City. You have roommates that help cut expenses.

You drive Chevettes. You hold out hope.

My Uncle John was a sportswriter that covered Notre Dame for years. Early in my freshman year at college, we had a heart to heart. I was an accounting and finance major at Michigan State who was having a tough time with the required math courses. For years, I had considered a career path in journalism or broadcasting. After heading home for Christmas break in December, 1981, we sat down and I shared my dilemma. Should I stay a business major or should I follow my dream? He looked at me and said casually, "well, you never want to look back 20 years from now and say 'what if'".

His words literally changed my life. And at some point many years ago, Anderson experienced a completely seperate, but similar life changing event that only those with minor league memories can appreciate. Here's hoping he enjoys every minute of the "bigs".

Monday, October 13, 2008


For a team picked by many to finish at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, one would have to say the Atlanta Thrashers season opening weekend turned out to be a rousing success.

First, there was the opening night win over Washington, a 7-4 onslaught in which 12 different players hit the scoresheet. Defensively, the team held Alex Ovechkin in check in front of a sellout crowd at Philips Arena. Kari Lehtonen stopped Ovechkin on a penalty shot, which was the turning point of the game.

On Saturday night, Jason Williams tallied his first goal in an Atlanta Sweater to tie the game in the third period before David Booth scored in overtime for the win.

Overall, the Thrashers took three of a possible four points on the weekend.

But early on, things seem different for this edition of the Thrashers under new head coach John Anderson.

First, the system is completely different. Anderson encourages his defensemen to jump into the rush to aid the offense. This strategy paid off in the Friday opener when blueliner Ron Hainsey scored in the opening period on a put back in front of Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore. The system also incorporates a completely different set of responsibilities for defensemen defending in front of their goaltender, one which puts additional responsibilities on the defending forwards.

Secondly, the gap control over the first two games has been a thousand times better than what fans saw last season. The team has allowed very few odd man breaks over the weekend and has eliminated the room opponents have created for shooting opportunities once they enter the Atlanta zone.

Anderson is an offensive-minded coach who put up solid point totals during his NHL playing career. It was refreshing to watch two games this weekend in which the coaches opened it up. Washington coach Bruce Beaudreau and Florida head coach Peter Duboer like to play it loose similar to Anderson. One can only hope this becomes a trend around the league.

Finally, balance is a word that accurately describes this Thrashers team through the first couple of games. How else can you explain seven opening night goals, yet not a single one of them registered by the team's sharp shooter Ilya Kovalchuk? He set up a goal in the Friday win and did the same on Slava Kozlov's tally Saturday night. Look for Kovalchuk to continue developing his role as a setup guy as the season progresses.

Some other opening weekend observations:

It looks as if Anderson has chosen to use Niclas Havelid and Toby Enstrom as his defensive pairing against the top forward unit of the opposition. Both had strong games Friday against Washington, then struggled a bit against Florida on Saturday. When I talked with the Atlanta coach late last week, he told me he's more interested in matching defensive pairings against the opposition's top line rather than matching line for line.

The Atlanta penalty killing unit was excellent Saturday at Florida. Newcomer Marty Reasoner and returnee Eric Perrin led the surge and should help the Thrashers improve in this special teams category, which killed off all five Panthers powerplays.

Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild roll into Atlanta for a rare appearance. Former Thrashers Andrew Brunette and Eric Belanger will be back in town. The Wild play the ultimate team game incorporated since Day One of the franchise by head coach Jacques Lemaire. The team lost Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra to free agency, but still have plenty of talent in the likes of Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Without a doubt, it's the best time of the year. Opening night in the National Hockey League. And while the league officially kicked of it's 2008-09 season in Europe last weekend, the North American version got rolling last night.

Some observations:

Versus did an excellent job covering the banner raising ceremony in Detroit. They were able to capture the tradition of hockey-rich Detroit, in part by showing the Red Wings legends that helped bring out the 2007-08 championship banner. It never gets old seeing the likes of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. The opening night concert, which featured Def Leopard from the Fox Theatre was a refreshing twist for fans of all ages and helped celebrate the sport and league across the city.

On the ice, I thought Toronto looked very good. Anyone who thinks the Leafs won't be improved defensively doesn't know the sport of hockey. Head coach Ron Wilson is a defensive specialist. The Leafs did an excellent job eliminating odd-man rush attempts by Detroit and provided excellent, 5-man coverages in the defensive zone. Vesa Toskala made some key saves. Should their offense play well and Jason Blake rebound offensively, the Leafs could be alot better than people think.

What about the Vancouver Canucks? They took Calgary to the woodshed with a 6-0 pasting of a team many think will win the Northwest Division. The win was overshadowed by a classy pre-game celebration of the life of Luc Bourdon, who was killed in an off-season motorcycle accident. John Ashbridge, the Canucks long time PA Announcer was outstanding in the narrative presentation of the ceremony.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


On Tuesday, the Atlanta Thrashers continued their preparation for Friday's season opener at home against the Washington Capitals. The roster stands at 22 players. Mike Hoffman did not practice and neither did forward Bryan Little and goaltender Johan Hedberg. according to head coach John Anderson, Hoffman is still bothered by a hand injury and will likely miss 10 days to two weeks. Little is day to day with a sore hip while Hedberg is day to day with a toe injury.

The injury to Hedberg comes on the heels (no pun intended)of the news regarding goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and his refusal to report to AHL Chicago. If Hedberg can't dress for Friday's opener, a roster move will have to be made by general manager Don Waddell.

Line combinations and defensive pairings today were as follows:



With the injury to Hedberg, the Thrashers borrowed one of Gwinnett's tenders for their one hour practice.

Random thoughts from John Anderson:

He seemed happier with the progress the team has made at learning the new system. But he did predict it will be a month or so before he feels it's working as efficient as possible.

When devising line combinations, Anderson said he's mainly interested in finding a good balance for all four of them heading into the season.

I'll post more thoughts as the week moves along.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I think it's time I get something of my chest.

While I think the current state of professional hockey, and for that matter the National Hockey League, is arguably the strongest we have ever seen as fans, there is one portion of the record that absolutely needs to be changed.

The loser point.

In sport, you have winners and losers. Winners are rewarded with points and/or wins in the standings. The losers get zip, except for that additional mark in the loss column that pushes them one step closer to the golf course and the first tee.

The overtime loss point in the NHL is cheap. It downgrades the spirit of competition. Force overtime in 10 regular season games, lose every one in overtime and still come away with 10 additional points?

Not right.

Being rewarded for losing doesn't have a place in a professional sports league. It's reminiscent of little Sally or Johnny being awarded a soccer trophy just for competing.

What's the point?

The time has come for the NHL to do the right thing. Award teams two points for a win and ZERO points for a loss, regardless if the loss was sustained in regulation, overtime or the shootout. End the conversations between fans heading to arena exits lamenting their team's loss but being grateful it happened in overtime or the shootout "so at least they get a point".

And while we're at it, it's time to drop the policy of awarding the top three conference seeds to the three divisional winners. Let's give these seeds to the top three record holders.

It will allow to chance the structure of how we read standings everyday. Have a win column and a loss column. Forget points and go off winning percentage and "games behind" like they do in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. This simplifies the standing for fans making the entire process easier to read and more fan friendly.

How would it look and how would it change playoff scenarios?

Below is a model based on the final standings in the Western Conference last season. All overtime and shootout losses have been included in the loss column. The final standings in the west last spring looked like this:

1. Detroit 54 21 7 115
2. San Jose 49 23 10 108
3. Minnesota 44 28 10 98
4. Anaheim 47 27 8 102
5. Dallas 45 30 7 97
6. Colorado 44 31 7 95
7. Calgary 42 30 10 94
8. Nashville 41 32 9 91
9. Edmonton 41 35 6 88
10. Chicago 40 34 8 88
11. Vancouver 39 33 10 88
12. Phoenix 38 37 7 83
13. Columbus 34 36 12 80
14. St. Louis 33 36 13 79
15. Los Angeles 32 43 7 71

2007-08 Western Conference Playoffs: Opening Round

1-Detroit vs 8-Nashville
2-San Jose vs 7-Calgary
3-Minnesota vs 6-Colorado
4-Anaheim vs 5-Dallas

Under the proposal of using strictly wins and losses and going off a "games behind" format, last season's final Western Conference regular season standings would have broken out like this:

1. Detroit 54 28 ---
2. San Jose 49 33 5
3. Calgary 42 30 7
4. Anaheim 47 35 7.5
5. Dallas 45 37 8
6. Minnesota* 44 38 10
7. Colorado 44 38 10
8. Nashville# 41 41 13
9. Edmonton 41 41 13
10. Chicago 40 42 14
11. Vancouver 39 43 15
12. Phoenix 38 44 16
13. Columbus 34 48 20
14. St. Louis 33 49 21
15. Los Angeles 32 50 22

* Minnesota wins tiebreaker with Colorado based on head to head play.
# Nashville wins tiebreaker with Edmonton based on head to head play.


1-Detroit vs 8-Nashville
2-San Jose vs 7-Colorado
3-Calgary vs 6-Minnesota
4-Anaheim vs 5-Dallas

So under the new proposal and set-up, two of the four first round playoff matches would have changed. Minnesota would have lost home ice while Calgary would have gained home ice. The Flames would have improved their ranking by four spots, moving from #7 to #3. Anaheim would have secured the final home ice spot by beating out Dallas by a "half game". All non-playoff teams would have remained the same.

So what do you think? Seems pretty fair to me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Are teams missing the point in how they structure their training camps?

These days, it's not unusual for teams to invite 50 to 60 players to their camps each September, all with hopes of making the big league roster. But the reality is that most teams have, at most, a handful of job openings with the rest of the flock being shipped to places like Portland or Peoria or Albany.

I doubt the current scenario is unlikely to change in the coming years. Still, the question needs to be asked.

Are training camps designed to evaluate players, or prepare teams for the start of the season? Or both?

Sure, there is the evaluation process which is critical to all organizations. Young draft picks need a chance to play against established veterans so management can assess their playing progress. And now and then, there are those surprise breakthrough players that end up sticking. For example, look at Tobias Enstrom in Atlanta last season. He used the pre-season practices and schedule to earn a spot on the roster. Tyler Kennedy in Pittsburgh is another example, making veteran Mark Recchi expendable.

But the overwhelming number of roster spots have been determined long before the first practice in September. Prospects have auditioned at rookie camps, they have shown their skills to the hockey ops brass many times over through game play of previous campaigns. They have been tested, sent through off-season conditioning programs. GM's get to know them like their sons and daughters. With the exception of a few highly regarded draft picks or free agent signings, the evaluations have already been entered into the computer systems of scouting departments across the league.

So why do teams continue to designate valuable pre-season prep time to players who don't even have a remote chance of cracking a roster spot? Wouldn't it serve teams better in the ultra-competitive NHL to set rosters earlier in training camp?

In other words, why don't more teams around the league strive to determine their opening night rosters as early as possible, leaving additional time to practice systems, power play and penalty killing scenarios, while testing line combinations and defensive pairings in pre-season games?

Last season in the NHL, seven of the 14 non-playoff teams (50%) came within 10 points of making the post-season. That equates to slightly more than 1/2 of a point in the standings each month.

It's a razor thin margin between the last playoff team and the rest of the pack.

Look, I understand that all sorts of variables factor into the success of teams, mainly the level of talent and each team's injury situation. But I also know that team's who fail to make the playoffs often lament the day after a regular season ends about lost opportunities of gaining a point or two back at the start of the season. Teams coming out of training camp will often talk about the need for a fast start.

Doesn't this philosophy begin early in training camp? Aren't teams who use these days as a means for preparing for the start of the season and not so much an evaluation process at a greater advantage than those teams that don't?

Steve Gorten wrote an interesting article on Tuesday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinal talking about Florida Panthers general manager Jacques Martin deciding to trim the team's roster by half earlier this week as a way for allowing him to get ready for their season opener a week from Friday at Carolina. 27 players flew back to South Florida after their game on Monday at Montreal. The overwhelming majority of those players will start the season with the team. Now the organization has nine days to concentrate on all facets of their style of play.

"Only having one more (exhibition) game, we feel this is a great chance for our team to get ready for the opener," Martin told the Sun-Sentinal. "We didn't want to bring too many people back."

Taking two points in Raleigh next week, believe it or not, could be the difference between gaining a playoff spot next April and sitting at home in the wide open Southeast Division.

It should be interesting in the coming years to see if more teams incorporate this type of training camp philosophy that purges prospects and fringe players much earlier in the process. After all, based on the parity of today's NHL, it's true that you can't clinch a playoff spot in October.

But you can certainly lose one.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The week prior to the start of the NHL's regular season is traditionally the cut down week as teams try to get towards their roster limits for the start of the season.

This morning, the Atlanta Thrashers made three cuts, sending Joe Motzko, Jordan Lavallee and Junior Lessard to Chicago of the AHL. According to Thrashers head coach John Anderson, Lavallee and Lessard didn't stand out enough to stick around past today.

"I thought they didn't finish checks enough," he said. "We need to see more power out of them because they're big, strong guys. I just didn't see the physical presence that I wanted to see.

"For Lessard, in fairness to him, he hasn't seen all the things we've done as a team and in a system. He struggled with some of the simpler systems. When you're a guy that's on the bubble, you have to be right on. If you want to knock somebody out of a job, you have to look like you know what you are doing all the time, and do the right thing all the time and finish checks. I just didn't see it from either of them. I wish I would have. But at some point, I have to start making decisions."

Earlier this week, the team sent highly touted Angelo Esposito back to his junior team in Montreal, a move the had been anticipated since the start of training camp. Anderson thinks another season in the Quebec League will do great things for Esposito's development.

"There's two types of thoughts on players like him," Anderson analyzed. "One is to keep him up and play him. The other thought is the Gretzky thought. Very early on he (Gretzky) was the best player in Brantford and he was scoring 300 goals a year. And one of the reasons he scored so many goals when he came up is because he saw every situation. This is what we want for Angelo. We want him to be the top dog, the guy who can maybe score 60 goals in junior and see every angle of how to score goals and be the top dog, so when he comes up here, hopefully, he'll be full of confidence and feel really good about himself."

Anderson's early on-ice impressions of Mathieu Schneider:

"He's got his head on a swivel all the time out there. He moves the puck so well. It looks like he's played pro hockey for a little bit. We did some set breakouts today and I told him once and he said no problem. I think he's seen pretty much every breakout."

As for Schneider's ice time in the pre-season, Anderson indicated he'd let his defenseman decide when he's like to see game action. I'm sure he'll play at some point during the pre-season, but my hunch says not until this weekend.

Other notes from today:

Looks like the Thrashers top line continues to feature Ilya Kovalchuk on left wing with Erik Christensen at Center and Jason Williams on Right Wing.

Defensively, Enstrom and Havelid appear to be a lock with Zach Bogosian seeing time with Ron Hainsey and Schneider paired with Nathan Oystrick. The other pairing was Garnet Exelby with rookie Arturs Kulda.

Speaking of Kulda, he took a shot off his foot today and had to sit out a few drills. He returned and seemed to be fine.

The team finished practice, then headed to the locker room for a video session. Anderson doesn't seem all that happy with the players grasp of the new system, which is typical for many teams early in a season incorporating a new head coach. So look for more of these sessions as the season approaches.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Earlier this afternoon, the Thrashers acquired Mathieu Schneider from Anaheim for Ken Klee, Brad Larsen and Chad Painchaud.

My initial thoughts are that I like the deal for both teams. Anaheim unloads a $5.75 million salary to get under the cap. Plus, they free up enough room to likely make a contract offer to fan favorite Teemu Selanne, the reason Schneider was moved.

For Atlanta, they take on additional payroll, but not past this season. They get a former all-star who should be a great mentor for some of the younger defensemen including Boris Valabik, Zach Bogosian and Grant Lewis. They also get a powerplay point man.

Klee is very replaceable. I thought he was serviceable for most of last season. But I guess I expected a little more flash, especially with his plus/minus numbers in Colorado. Steady is a good word to describe him and I'm sure he'll be just that in Anaheim.

Larsen was a pick-up from Colorado back during the Bob Hartley era who played for the former Thrashers head coach in Denver. He played honest and hard. But the Thrashers have a glut of third and fourth line forwards and he was easily expendable as a throw-in player.

Painchaud is a bit of a wild card, but was a long way from making the NHL roster. No big loss here.

Getting back to Schneider for a moment......his acquisition might actually aid the youth movement on the blueline without rushing the movement on the blueline.

Confused? Let me explain.

As I mentioned earlier, he'll come to Atlanta and instantly become a mentor to some of the young blueliners. Should general manager Don Waddell no re-sign him next summer, it will free up an additional spot for another young defenseman, say Arturs Kulda. so I think there are plenty of reasons why this is a good deal for the Thrashers.

Schneider had not been participating in Anaheim's training camp, so his conditioning could be in question. I doubt he'll play Sunday in Detroit. Look for him to make his Atlanta debut at one of the home pre-season games next week.


Veteran hockey writer Ed Moran wrote a nice piece on the Philadelphia Spectrum in today's edition of the Philadelphia Daily News. The building is scheduled for demolition sometime in 2009. And even though the facility will make way for a hotel complex, it's memories will live forever.

If you say Spectrum to a hockey fan, they'll likely blurt out Kate Smith. or Broad Street Bullies. Or Bobby Clarke. Or Gene Hart.

I had the pleasure of calling two games in the old Spectrum and have the distinction of having gone 1-0-1 as a broadcaster. The final game I called there was in 1996, an overtime win for the Mighty Ducks thanks to an overtime goal scored by Garry Valk. The great part calling games there was your proximity to the ice surface. You were close and the place felt intimate compared to the rinks today. There was no restroom in the press box, so you'd have to sprint to one of the concourse facilities between periods in order to make it back for puck drop.

Two of my favorite stories about the place come from two close friends. Pittsburgh Penguins Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Lange loathed the place. After all, his Pittsburgh Penguins went 15 years without winning a single game there. He tells a story about how he'd arrive for the morning skate and Flyers legendary broadcaster Gene Hart would present him with the updated stats to the streak! Lange would fume inside, waiting for the day the streak would come to an end and he could tell Gene where to put his stats. Remember, 15 years without a win. That's an eternity. There was the night some 25 years ago or so when the Pens went into Philadelphia during the Flyers historic unbeaten streak. Lange would watch defenseman Ron Stackhouse score to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. It held up until late in the third period when Flyers defenseman Behn Wilson located a loose puck in the Pittsburgh goal crease and literally kicked it into the net with his skate (yes...a VERY distinct kicking motion) to tie the game and keep the streak alive. Lange described to Pens fans back in Pittsburgh how referee Dave Newell couldn't even look at Pens coach Johnny Wilson when the game had ended, probably because he knew he had blown it. But Lange finally got his wish one night in 1989 when the Pens finally broke into the win column.

The 0-39-3 streak was history.

My other favorite story about the Spectrum comes from my old Anaheim broadcast partner Charlie Simmer. Chaz and the Kings rolled into the Spectrum in March, 1979 for a game as part of an east coast trip. Keep in mind, these were the days of the Broad Street Bullies, a tough as nails Flyers outfit that featured the likes of Bobby Clarke, Ed Van Impe, Don Saleski and Dave Schultz. Back then, the goal was not to win in Philly, but to leave the rink with your health and all limbs attached!

During the first period, things seemed a bit subdued. Each team exchanged scoring chances and the Flyers were behaving. It was just what the Kings had hoped for. Then, out of nowhere and right at the end of the period, Kings defenseman Randy Holt took a run at Philadelphia agitator Ken Linesman and all hell broke loose. The altercation turned into a bench clearing brawl with the brunt of the "action" located around the Los Angeles bench. Holt was assessed a triple game misconduct and a total of 67 penalty minutes, an NHL single game record. The fighting eventually subsided and the Kings headed to their dressing room. Holt took his spot in his locker room stall and was greeted by about a half dozen teammates screaming at him and saying he was nuts for stirring the pot. As Simmer tells it, the entire team was ready to beat the crap out of the guy!

It's too bad that arenas come with a shelf life. In the next couple of years, we'll not only lose the Spectrum, but the Igloo in Pittsburgh as well.

But never the memories.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Just got back from Thrashers camp and wanted to give an update before sharing some thoughts about their new head coach John Anderson.

The team split into two groups this morning; those making the trip to Nashville and St. Louis for back to back pre-season games, and those who are staying put. Not making the trip are veterans Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Perrin, Slava Kozlov and Kari Lehtonen. Some of the younger players staying back include Joey Crabb, Rylan Kaip, Joe Motzko, Zach Bogosian and Arturs Kulda.

The plan calls for taking enough players to fill out two rosters. I would imagine the veterans who play tonight in Nashville will likely sit out in St Louis on Friday and vice versa, although there will be some overlap. I'm sure some of the young kids getting longer looks may play in both nights, especially if earned. Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavlec are the goalies making the trip.

For the most part, the team remains healthy. Erik Christensen's MRI on his shoulder was negative, making him day-to-day. Bogosian participated in a full practice today as he tries to work his way through a nagging hip flexor.

So it's on to Nashville, where tonight, game play begins to dictate the decisions facing first year head coach John Anderson. And as a fan of the underdog, I'm excited to see what type of play style the Thrashers will incorporate.

In talking with Anderson, one of his early goals has been to create a prideful atmosphere around the dressing room. He emphasized that thought earlier today when we talked. He wants his players to take pride in their uniform, to play for one another, and to have fun. As for an expected style of play, he wants to be up tempo, engaging the defensemen in the rush to aid the forwards offensively. Look for the Thrashers blueliners to have the green light this season. In fact, Anderson singled out Garnet Exelby's play during training camp and his willingness to jump into the offense. The team's defensive philosophy seems to be in order to cut down on shots against, they need to be up ice and in the opponent's offensive zone a heck of alot more than has been the case in the past. We'll see if that holds true as the season unfolds.

It should be fun to watch.