Tuesday, March 10, 2009


This week, the NHL's Board of Governors are meeting in Naples, Florida to discuss potential rules changes heading into next season. And while the rules of engagement regarding fighting are the priority on their agenda, other issues are also on their list.

One of those involves the tweaking of the current tie-breaker format regarding playoff seeding.

Currently, if two teams are tied in points at the end of the season, the first tie-breaker is total wins, followed by head to head wins, followed by goal differential. But Detroit general manager Ken Holland is proposing a change to the current system in which regulation wins would become the first tie-breaker, thus putting an emphasis on wins in regulation.

While I'm OK with this proposal, I don't think it goes far enough. In fact, I'm in favor and would be fully supportive of the league eliminating the "OT" column all together.

To me, you either win or lose games. That's the beauty of playing overtimes and shootouts.

If you win, it's two points. If you lose, regulation or overtime, it's zero points.

It's time for the NHL to eliminate the "OT" column.

It's nothing more than a gimmick...a way for teams to make their records better than what reality suggests.

For example, heading into tonight's game in Denver, the Thrashers have a record of 25-35-6 while the Avalanche are 29-36-1. One would argue that the Thrashers are 10 games below .500 and the Avs are seven games below that mark. Actually, if you count the six losses in overtime, Atlanta is really 16 games below .500 while Colorado is eight games below .500.

Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are currently 26-28-13, or two games below .500 under the current system. Actually, with all their OT losses, the Leafs are really 15 games below .500.

In the west, the San Jose Sharks are 42-12-10, 30 games over .500? Well, not really. When you factor in the overtime losses, the Sharkies are 20 games over .500.

Getting rewarded for losing a game is...well.... juvenile. It's reminiscent of youth soccer where everyone gets a trophy whether they win or not. That's fine for 6 year old kids looking to build self-esteem. It's embarrassing for professional athletes who have long since passed that point in time.

Saying goodbye to the "OT" column also makes reviewing league standings more fan friendly. I propose a simple "wins-losses-games behind" format that is used in baseball and basketball. That way, fans could wake up each morning, check the standings and realize their team is just "two and a 1/2 games" out of the final playoff spot.....or that they have a "game and a half lead" over the second place team.

Oh, and while we're at it, it's time to ditch the top 3 conference playoff spot guarantee for division winners. Let's start ranking teams based on their success and not necessarily because of their divisional alignment. So far this season, the current system checks out just fine since the Washington Capitals are having such a fine campaign. But in the past, division winners have often been seeded higher by as many as two or three spots over teams that are more deserving of the higher seeds based on point totals.

Agree or disagree? Has the recent warmth of the Georgia sun gone straight to my head? Let me know what you're thinking.

Monday, January 26, 2009


It's hard to believe that the NHL All-Star Weekend could possibly morph into a few days of controversy. Unfortunately, that's what happened this past Saturday and Sunday.

I'm not really sure how many of you have been following the "continuing saga" between the National Hockey League and some of it's injured players who decided to pass on playing in Sunday's game in Montreal.

League commissioner Gary Bettman was not at all amused with any and all players who opted out of their appearances by citing injuries. Bettman, in essence, said miss the game and expect to be suspended for your team's first game after the break. His statement was the talk of the weekend and the hockey world. It overshadowed the festivities in hockey mad Montreal and sent a message from the league to it's players regarding the importance of the weekend.

Bettman was chafed. And it's safe to assume players such as Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and forward Pavel Datsyuk, both of who opted out due to injury, weren't all that thrilled either.

And while the intentions of the league are well founded, so are those of the players, who rightfully shouldn't be placed in a situation that could aggravate a knee sprain or a sore back or a hip flexor.

All-Star weekend has become a premiere showcase for the league, suddenly flush with tremendous young talent, rising superstars and fresh marketable faces. But it's importance off the ice is far greater than the actual game that's played on the ice.

Sure, there was no Lidstrom, no Datsyuk, no Sidney Crosby. But the game itself still featured a couple dozen of the best players on the planet. And as all-star games go, this one wasn't all that bad. It turned out to be a cliff-hanger won in the extra session by local favorite Alexei Kovalev. If putting the best players on each team was the ultimate priority for the weekend, then why would the league promote a "vote early, vote often" approach?

From a league standpoint, the importance of player involvement during this weekend can be summed up in one word.


And for this, the league has a valid point. If a player is legitimately injured and cannot play in the game, they should still follow through on the spirit of their obligation by showing up for the weekend festivities. They should make themselves available to sign autographs, attend events, mingle with the corporate folks who continue to spend advertising dollars in a sluggish economy, and be ambassadors for a sport that shares more than half of the revenue pie with them. They should follow the lead of Crosby, who made it a point of attending the weekend spreading the gospel of hockey.

I would argue Crosby's impact off the ice at all-star weekend was far greater than the impact he could have had on the ice. I guarantee you the eight year old youth player from upstate New York would receive more of a thrill getting Crosby's autograph than watching him from a distance on the ice. Fans love the one on one time with their favorite athletes. It's the strongest bond of all.

So before we start docking games to those "infirmed", why don't we look at the big picture and welcome them into the weekend in a different and much more impactful capacity.

The stars are the stars, whether they're on the ice or off.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The all-star break is a good time to reflect. If you're a Thrashers fan, maybe the reflection is tough to look at considering the team's body of work from the first half of the season. But if you look close enough, you might start to see a blue line that's coming together thanks to a couple of kids from New York and Slovakia.

Zach Bogosian's development has been meteoric. His smooth skating and ability to rush the puck and engage in the offense has been fun to watch. It's happening before our eyes.

It's happening quickly.

The Massena, New York native is plus-6 in his last five games. He was a plus-4 in last weekend's Atlanta blowout of the Predators in Nashville where he set a personal career high in ice time with 21:26. He was a plus-1 on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

But maybe the best portion of his development has been his poise. Against the Flyers, he led rushes, propelling the offense. Is it me or does he look like a young Matthieu Schneider? His defensive position has been excellent and much improved from earlier this season when he looked hesitant in front of his goaltenders. It's as if he's flipped a switch from the time he reported back to Atlanta from his stint with the Chicago Wolves.

Boris Valabik looks more like an imposing shut down defenseman than he ever has in his brief career. On Wednesday in Philadelphia, the Slovakian used his stick and reach to perfection and single handedly broke up a Flyers scoring chance late in the game. Had that been in a game a month or two ago, Valabik's stick would have cut the skates out from underneath the Philadelphia player resulting in a penalty. He's starting to understand the timing at the NHL level and is thinking the game better by the day.

Valabik's development in many ways has mirrored Bogosian's, which makes it all that more encouraging for the Thrashers blueline when the team returns from all-star break.

So what does it all mean?

How about options.

While the organization is not necessarily deep in NHL ready defenseman, they do have some wiggle room when it comes to roster moves.

One would think with the development of some of the younger defensemen, a veteran such as Schneider would be attractive to teams seeking an offensive-minded defenseman for the stretch run and playoffs. One of those teams could be Ottawa, who might be willing to part with a young forward. But the Senators will be sellers instead of buyers if they don't right their ship in the next couple of weeks.

Should Schneider be moved, it would create an everyday roster spot for Nathan Oystrick, who in my opinion played well for most of the first half of the season. Additional depth on defense in terms of call-ups could be Brett Skinner, Arturs Kulda and Grant Lewis.

Hey, options are never a bad thing. And right now, Bogosian and Valabik are providing just that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Last week, I had the opportunity to watch the Atlanta Thrashers 2008 first round pick Daultan Leveille in a weekend series against the Miami Redhawks. It was the first time I've had the opportunity to watch him "live".

My overall assessment of the kid is that he's a legitimate prospect for the team. There is no doubt about his offensive skill. As his head coach Rick Comley told me, the package is there. What he needs to work on is his defensive zone play (especially down low along the goal line) and getting bigger physically. Trust me when I tell you that Comley is as good of a teacher as there is at the NCAA level, so I'm sure his defensive understanding of the game will grow greatly.

I also believe he'll get bigger and bigger physically since he's likely to be a four year player. I would be shocked if he leaves early. And playing college hockey as opposed to major junior should aide in his strength development since NCAA players spent much more time in the weight room, due mainly to the schedule of games (30-35 a season as opposed to 70-80 in junior).

Anyways, below is the link to the story that I had the Thrashers people post to the team's website. As always, questions are welcome. Thanks.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The Thrashers traded forward Jason Williams to Columbus today in exchange for defenseman Clay Wilson and a 6th round pick in this year's entry draft.

The skinny on Wilson: Played four seasons of college hockey at Michigan Tech and is listed as 6-0, 195 lbs. He had one assist in five games with Columbus this season while tallying 20 points in 33 games with the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate in Syracuse. He is 25 years old.

My take: Addition by subtraction.

Williams, who was signed this past summer as a free agent from Chicago, was a complete bust. He struggled on the wing because of his foot speed and wasn't effective at center due to his unwillingness to "get dirty" in front of the net. And with the addition of waiver pick-up Rich Peverly, he was certainly expendable.

Williams made $2.2 million with the Thrashers and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

Bottom Line: Not a bad deal made by GM Don Waddell. He picks up a depth defenseman in Wilson who will likely be assigned to Chicago, plus a late round draft pick.

That's how I see it. Thoughts?


This weekend, I'll get my first "live" look at the Thrashers 2008 first round draft pick Daulton Levielle of Michigan State. The Spartans play a weekend series against Miami in Oxford, Ohio. I'll be there calling both games for CBS College Sports (Directv, Channel 613, DISH Network, Channel 152). Friday's face-off is 8pm and Saturday's is set for 5:00pm (all times eastern).

On Tuesday, I spoke via conference call with MSU head coach Rick Comley regarding Levielle's progress from the Golden Horseshoe League to big-time Division 1 college hockey. Comley said he's been pleased with the progress of his freshman in East Lansing, who is starting to become a team leader. Since his arrival on campus last fall, Levielle has added 15 pounds to his frame and is playing in the 165 lb-170lb range while getting used to a more physical style of play. Comley added the kid has very good offensive instincts, but said his biggest adjustment to college hockey has been learning to play defensively, especially down low in the zone and along the goal line.

It's been a tough season for the 2007 national champions. Several key members of that team graduated last spring while three other players left early to turn pro. At mid-season, a defenseman was dismissed from the team and another left to go play in the United States Hockey League. For Levielle and the rest of the very young Spartans, gaining experience hasn't been an issue.

Comley talked about players being pushed into roles sooner than anticipated. Levielle has been one of those guys. So far this season, he's tallied 10 points in 22 games and has been the team's #2 center. Against Alaska on January 2nd, he figured in on both Spartans goals in their 2-1 win.

After the weekend series, I'll make sure I follow-up with a recap of his play.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Yes.....I'm back.

And with all the recent trade talk/rumors that are swirling around Tampa Bay superstar Vinny Lecavalier, I thought it was time to chime in.

Here's hoping he stays in Tampa.

You see, I'm looking at this situation differently. In order to be viable, the sunbelt teams needs to keep their superstars, their drawing cards. And while there's no doubt that a player of his caliber would bring to the Bolts a boatload of quality NHL players, I can assure you none of them will engage the fans of Tampa the way Lecavalier has done for many seasons. Yes, there's a very good chance the Lightning would become a better team because of a deal.

That's beside the point.

The Bolts would slide into sports oblivion, if that hasn't already happened.

No drawing card, no interest.

2008 was a brutal year in terms of personal finance for hundreds of thousands of people across the planet. As entertainment dollars continue to dry up, fans need reasons to spend, reasons to buy tickets, purchase jerseys and frequent watering holes before and after games. No offense to the Lightning organization, but players like Eminger, Vrbata and Halpern don't exactly make you want to rush to the ticket window.

It's the same for other teams in non-traditional market teams. How many people would show up in Atlanta to watch a Kovalchuk-less Thrashers team? Would anyone care in Raleigh without the likes of Rod Brind'Amour and Cam Ward?

Yes, this is serious stuff.

The Lightning, Thrashers and Hurricanes struggle every day for media attention. Just hang out in Atlanta for a few days and you'll know what I mean. Rarely will the the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports section offer up a Thrashers game story. Attend a game day skate and the media throng includes one beat writer and the broadcasters from Sportsouth.

Lecavalier is Tampa's Kovalchuk. And in the minds of fans of both teams, as long as they can continue cheering each of them, there's hope.

Memo to Len Barrie and Brian Lawton: No matter how tempting it might be to deal your franchise's cornerstone, stop and think about the ripple effect it might....uh, will have.

I guarantee you won't like what you see.