- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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Those of us in the blogosphere lay it all on the line and it's all there forever in Googleland. We have to watch the games. We have to have an idea of what we are talking about or you will be exposed like Ashlee Simpson.
Before this season, I made my fifth annual preseason predictions. For the first time, I made a player projection. As we approach the playoff run and trade deadline, I'll save you the time and examine those picks and look ahead to see how a trade could affect that pick. (This column was written Sunday night, so keep that mind if trades happen this week.)
The current player projections are their current actual pace, not a new projection. Let's start with the West in the order I picked them. We'll do the East next week:
1. Anaheim Ducks
Preseason prediction: The Ducks have the speed to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. I like this team because it appears to be able to play a multitude of styles, and that usually equates to a great team.
Preseason player projection: Ryan Getzlaf, 27-44-71. Current projection: 34-42-76.
Here and now: Anaheim will battle Detroit and Nashville for the No. 1 seed in the West. Over the past few months, I have been concerned about Anaheim's offense and that concern finally has manifested itself. Bill Guerin looks like a real good fit here.
2. Nashville Predators
Preseason prediction: The Predators don't have a wing better than Henrik Zetterberg, a center better than Pavel Datsyuk or a defenseman better than four-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.
Preseason player projection: Paul Kariya, 37-52-89. Current projection: 23-57-80.
Here and now: Well, they have a better center than Pavel Datsyuk, considering Datsyuk's playoff numbers in 42 games are 3-12-15 and Forsberg is a playoff legend (139 games, 61-101-162). The Preds are, in all likelihood, done dealing. They have experience, speed, puck possessors, grit, mobile defense and goaltending. They are set up to win the Stanley Cup. Besting the Red Wings in the Central is key. Nashville will be tough at home.
Preseason player projection: Alex Tanguay, 41-58-99. Current projection: 24-57-81.
Here and now: I thought Tanguay would have a bigger season, especially in the power-play department. I had him with 15-20 PPG goals, and, as I type this, he has just one! Lombardi has stepped up, but Kristian Huselius' production really makes this team dangerous. They are also set up well for a Cup run. I don't see them making any more deals.
4. San Jose Sharks
Preseason prediction: This team doesn't pass the leadership test, as well. You just don't see a player on the roster who will gather everybody in his arms, pull them toward him and lead all those personalities. If Columbus falters, Adam Foote would be that guy.
Preseason player projection: Joe Thornton, 33-87-120. Current projection: 21-82-103.
Here and now: This team will make a deal before the deadline. Columbus certainly would trade Foote, but that $4.6 million number is colossal and Sharks scouts have to determine if he still can play. He has one more year left on his deal after this season. All of the numbers point to the Sharks being a strong contender, but there just seems to be something missing here.
5. Detroit Red Wings
Preseason prediction: The Wings are still good because they have a god on defense in Lidstrom, a 40-50-goal threat in Zetterberg and a potent power play. What they don't have is a championship roster.
Preseason player projection: Henrik Zetterberg, 44-53-97. Current projection: 41-46-87.
Here and now: Zetterberg is one of the best players in the NHL. Having seen them play in person, I still don't believe the Wings have a championship roster. They need a little more grit and punch, or Datsyuk will get shutout again. GM Ken Holland will do something. I'm sure he is telling John Davidson in St. Louis, "Don't do anything until you call me."
6. Minnesota Wild
Preseason prediction: Marian Gaborik is primed for 50 goals, but like [Jarome] Iginla in Calgary, he needs help. Pierre-Marc Bouchard needs to step up into the 30-goal area. Pavol Demitra needs to be a 35-55-90 guy.
Preseason player projection: Marian Gaborik, 51-53-104. Current projection: 25-15-40.
Here and now: Gaborik's injury blew up the projection, but he is still an amazing talent. The Wild have enough up front with good balanced scoring, but they get nothing from the back end offensively. They might do something there, but I wouldn't expect the Wild to go wild.
7. Vancouver Canucks
Preseason prediction: Getting Roberto Luongo and stuff for Todd Bertuzzi and stuff is one of the biggest steals in recent NHL trade history. Luongo comes from a culture that could care less about hockey (but they have very loud Gloria Estefan music) to one that lives and breathes it.
Preseason player projection: Markus Naslund, 34-43-77. Current projection: 27-38-65.
Here and now: Luongo is a Vezina and Hart candidate. He and Martin Brodeur will have a strong race for the finish. The Canucks have parts to deal and need some grit up front. GM Dave Nonis will do something. He has the goaltender to win some playoff games and make his owner a nice tidy profit. He will invest to help the team win a playoff round. Maybe Fredrik Modin would be a nice fit. Winning the division is so important in the West. The 3-6 matchup might be brutal, but you know the 4-5 matchup is a guaranteed killer. Come April, a real good team isn't going to reach the playoffs after a real good season. Looks like I got seven playoff teams in the West.
8. Edmonton Oilers
Preseason prediction: The Oilers expect their goaltending to be better for a full season. Joffrey Lupul, Ales Hemsky, Petr Sykora, Jarret Stoll and an assortment of skaters will have the Oilers on the edge of the playoff picture. Picking four teams from one division is a bit risky.
Preseason player projection: Joffrey Lupul, 34-39-73. Current projection: 21-11-33.
Here and now: Well, I guess it was risky picking four teams from the Northwest. There is time for the Oilers, but not much. Lupul has been a major disappointment. The Oilers were really leaning on him for offense as it appears there just isn't enough here. If the Stars collapse and Oilers get hot, I will go 8-for-8 in the West, but, at this point, I don't see this happening. I wonder if GM Kevin Lowe will make a huge move.
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
Preseason prediction: They are a better offensive team than last season, but the defensive corps and goaltending are unproven.
Preseason player projection: Rick Nash, 57-44-101. Current projection: 21-29-50.
Here and now: Very little is good about this team. It is a hodgepodge mess. I would order a major overhaul with Ken Hitchcock as part of the rebuilding process. Fredrik Modin and Anson Carter will be moved. I mentioned above Foote has a year left. Sergei Fedorov has one more year at $6 million. I was bullish on Nash and it's hard to understand his drop.
Preseason player projection: Jeremy Roenick, 18-28-46. Current projection: 10-17-27.
Here and now: This team is obviously a seller. Like Columbus, Phoenix is a bad mix of old and really young players. Nothing real dynamic here for The Great One to work with. I imagine the Coyotes are fishing around seeing if they can get a No. 1 draft pick for Yanic Perreault or other veterans.
11. Dallas Stars
Preseason prediction: There are few shockers in the NHL in terms of teams making the playoffs. It wouldn't be a shock if Dallas got in, but I'm gonna have them out.
Preseason player projection: Eric Lindros, 28-33-61. Current projection: 7-30-37.
Here and now: The cushion is now 11 points. So, while they are not a lock, the Stars appear pretty safe. This is my one miss in the West. Lindros seemed good early, but I was obviously too optimistic there. This team is doing it with defense. They've scored fewer goals than the Kings, Oilers and Bruins, yet here they are. They've survived injuries and could use some of that veteran help we mentioned above.
12. Colorado Avalanche
Preseason prediction: The Avs didn't handle the salary-cap inception very well and they are now paying the price. And they will continue to pay the price in the coming season. Seventeen of Colorado's final 25 games are on the road this season.
Preseason player projection: Joe Sakic, 27-47-74. Current projection: 36-60-96.
Here and now: What a great season for Joe Sakic. I didn't think there was enough here for him to get 60 assists or 36 goals. The Avs have a lot scoring and a good power play, but their team defense and goaltending is not getting it done. The Jose Theodore trade has failed. The Avs are in a tough spot -- they should probably trade all of their veterans and start over. Cut payroll, play the young guys, suffer for a couple of seasons, get a couple of top five draft picks, and then position yourself for a free-agent stud.
13. Chicago Blackhawks
Preseason prediction: The Blackhawks are probably three more good drafts away and they cannot afford any injuries. But I think all the veterans who collectively underachieved last season will be better. Martin Havlat will give the Blackhawks a big year, and they'll have some sandpaper.
Preseason player projection: Martin Havlat, 42-41-83. Current projection: 32-33-65.
Here and now: Havlat is only going to end up playing 50 games, so he had the big season I expected. His injury, combined with the team's abysmal power play, is why the Hawks are where they are. The Adrian Aucoin signing has been a $4 million disaster. If they can move him, it would be huge. Jonathan Toews will center Havlat next season, giving the power play a boost. If this team is managed well, it will improve.
14. Los Angeles Kings
Preseason prediction: Marc Crawford's freakish head of hair has found an appropriate home in Los Angeles. The Kings are a top-notch organization with a strong administrative staff. They will get better fast.
Preseason player projection: Alexander Frolov, 31-36-67. Current projection: 42-38-72.
Here and now: It's been a good season for Frolov, who I've always liked. Anze Kopitar is the real deal. Add Jack Johnson and good goaltending to the mix next season, and maybe a Brad Stuart and a Chris Drury, and the Kings will be in the playoffs. I would think they would try to move Aaron Miller, who would be a good pickup for a team like the Penguins.
15. St. Louis Blues
Preseason prediction: It's going to be a long season for John Davidson. If all the veterans come together, the Blues could climb out of the Western Conference hole.
Preseason player projection: Bill Guerin, 19-27-46. Current projection: 37-26-63.
Here and now: I almost nailed Guerin's assists! Wow, what a great season for Billy, Billy, Billy. He will fetch a first-round pick from someone before the Feb. 27 deadline. The Blues are 10 points out of the playoffs, but they are smart. They can't win a playoff series right now and it would be foolish not to deal their veterans for No. 1 picks. They will first try to get those picks from bubble playoff teams, hope those teams miss the playoffs, and get, say, a 13th or 14th overall. They will deal Guerin and Keith Tkachuk, acquire some assets and hopefully sink in the standings. As I type this, they would pick ninth in the draft without moving up. They need to at least reach the top 5 and try to get another stud.
Overall, the West was pretty predictable and is clearly the better conference. However, the last three Stanley Cup winners have come from the East, and maybe that will happen again this year. The West will beat up on each other and an Eastern Conference team will pounce. Or we'll have what we saw from 1996-2002, when six of the seven Stanley Cup winners were from the West. We'll see.
The idyllic winter of 2007 continues. It's been a banner year for the backyard rink. An ice storm hit us last week, but two hours of back-breaking shoveling and iceberg removal has us set for another week of outdoor bliss.
In "Pond Hockey," Uptown Media's new documentary film, Tommy Haines and his cohorts, Andrew and Spencer, skate onto the ice with hockey legends, shinny enthusiasts and North Country pucksters of all types. I was lucky enough to spend some time with these hockey lovers when they visited my backyard rink with their vintage Cooper skates and cameras. A documentary on outdoor ice. Cool!
Question from Bucci: Explain what you are doing.
Answer from Tommy Haines: Freezing our asses off! From hanging out of helicopters in Northern Minnesota to pulling into Windsor, Nova Scotia, at 4 a.m., we've lost our minds, we've gone delirious in pursuit of the pond! As Minnesota natives, hockey is a way of life. With that in mind, we set out to document the lifestyle and traditions of outdoor hockey.
This is our second year of filming. We've traveled across North America, from Minnesota to Boston to Nova Scotia, and many places in between, to visit frozen ponds, backyard rinks and outdoor tournaments in search of pond hockey's deep northern roots. We've gathered on-ice footage and interviews from dozens of current and former NHLers, Olympians and Division I athletes, and twice as many weekend rink rats, in our quest to learn what makes pond hockey so great. Specifically, we look at the highly competitive U.S. National Pond Hockey Championship in Minneapolis, following three teams and their struggles as they fight for the "golden shovel."
Q: What is your plan for the movie?
A: We're finishing principal filming this winter. Once filming is complete, we'll head to the editing room to put together a final cut. Our hope is to have a finished product by September -- in time for the winter festival circuit. Theatrical distribution is our ultimate goal with television airplay and a DVD release also in the works. There is a passionate audience out there, waiting for a movie like this. In the end, it all comes down to making the best film possible.
Q: Describe your upbringing.
A: We grew up playing outdoor hockey in Minnesota, where learning to skate is just part of growing up. Some of us went on to play organized hockey through high school, while others only skated on the ponds when the weather was right. All of us developed a love of the game from skating with our families and friends. We've spent a lot of time on the ice and had enough black eyes and frozen toes to prove it.
Q: What have you learned so far during the project?
A: There is a great willingness of people, no matter how famous or talented, to talk to us about pond hockey. Almost everyone we've talked to has skated outside at the neighborhood park or on the pond for the pure fun of it. No matter what level they've reached, everyone mentions how some of their fondest memories of hockey are skating outside. Pond hockey is the only sport where bonding means hip-checking your buddy into a snow bank. Somehow, between the rivalries, people actually find a way to make friends on the ice. Combined with all the stories of fathers building rinks for their sons, or of the community pond where all ages can skate together, it's no doubt hockey is much more than a sport.
Pond hockey is different. The season is short, the weather is cold and the skating is tough. It just means the people on the ice really want to be there. Pond hockey players are nuts. While most people escape the cold inside climate-controlled offices and heated garages, you have to be a little crazy to subject yourself to the elements every weekend in the dead of winter.
Q: How do you explain the magic of natural outdoor ice?
A: More proof there is a God! Pond skating is a paradox. The surface is worse than indoors, but the experience is better. You can drive a Hummer on city streets or listen to The Clash on volume level 2, but it doesn't feel right. The magic in an outdoor rink is that it was meant to be. Maybe it's because this place only exists for a brief moment every winter. Maybe it's the anticipation of the first skate, or that if it were six months earlier, you'd be 20 feet underwater. Whatever the reason, there's a sense of wonder you'll only get from playing outdoors.
Q: Anything you would like to add?
A: When we explain the project to someone who doesn't skate, they often don't understand why it's worthy of a movie. But anyone who has laced 'em up and stepped on the pond, even if it was 20 years ago, launches into a story about their last time on the ice. That magic of the outdoor rink stays with us forever and that's what the movie is all about: the memories of your own and the thrills from that last good game of shinny. Visit our website at www.pondhockeymovie.com for updates, photos and teasers.
Could a player end up playing more than 82 games in a season if he is traded to a team that has played fewer games than his old team? Would that be allowed?
Yes. In 2000, Bill Guerin was traded to Boston after playing 21 games in Edmonton. Because the Bruins had so many games in hand on the Oilers at the time of the trade, Guerin ended up playing 64 games in Boston for a total of 85 games played during the 2000-01 season. Guerin did not receive any overtime pay, but Harry Sinden did bake Guerin a lovely carrot cake as a little something, you know, for the effort.
Why doesn't the NHL consider a larger ice surface (like the Olympics) to give its star players more room, instead of the moronic idea of larger goals? This would help increase the tempo of the game instead of artificially creating more scoring.
Winter Garden, Fla.
Bigger ice will not mean more scoring or exciting play. It would probably result in lower-scoring games. You can make the ice surface as large as the moon if you want and it won't matter. Back in the old days, back-checkers used to pick up a wing, which allowed for more space and time in the middle of the ice. It was a linear game that resembled bubble hockey.
For the past 10-15 years, more and more teams, and now every team, have the back-checker push out from the middle. The back-checker comes back and forces the play out of the middle and onto the wing. Once you get back into the defensive zone, the "zone" coverage continues. Defensive-zone coverage used to be basically man-on-man, allowing for more exhilarating one-on-one moves by the likes of Rick Middleton, Denis Savard, Steve Yzerman and others in the 1980s. There was more room because of the system teams played. Today, teams play a zone in their own end, collapse around the goalie and block shots.
Just curious is there any other sport other than hockey that changes the rules (albeit temporarily) when a penalty occurs? As we all know, a team's ability to ice the puck when killing off a penalty makes it more difficult for the team on the power play to score. If the league is struggling with ways to increase scoring, wouldn't eliminating a team's ability to ice the puck when they're short-handed likely lead to more power-play goals? I've heard others discuss this one, but I don't think I've ever read/heard anything from you on it. Also, has the league ever considered it? I'd rather try that change before we go to the bigger net.
It does sound strange and a bit counterintuitive to allow icing and award a team that just possibly was penalized for boarding the opposing team's best player whose father works at the local Chamber of Commerce and brings invaluable added revenue to the town. But teams would ice the puck anyway and the game would come to a grinding halt with more faceoffs than a Sally Jesse Raphael video montage.
Hockey is the only major sport that takes players off the playing surface for small infractions. You've got to throw them a small bone. I actually like the sight of a puck being iced the length of the ice. There's a Zen-like quality to that moment when the short-handed team relieves the pressure temporarily and then the power-play team regroups and tries again. Nearly every moment of a hockey game is like Henry Rollins screaming a Black Flag song, probably 1985's "Loose Nut," into your mother's ear. The short-handed icing is a hockey game's Enya moment.
That Don Shula brought out the Lombardi Trophy was nice, and that the trophy is awarded on the field is nice, too. But why on earth does the commissioner have to give the bloody thing to the owner of the team? He's not the one taking the hits, making the plays, etc. That is the one thing the NHL does right, when the Stanley Cup is awarded to the winners, the team captain is presented with the trophy. Not the owner, not a coach -- the players get it first. If you're going to present the trophy on the field, give it to the guys who won it on the field!
That's a great point, Mike. There is way more right about the NHL than wrong. Other things right:
1) The concept of the Conn Smythe and awarding a playoff MVP. All other sports should have a playoff MVP and not just a final series MVP.
2) The character of NHL players is truly unparalleled in sports. When do you hear of one bad apple in the NHL? I mean, not one.
3) The sound a shot makes when it hits the post. I think it's why the commissioner takes such a pounding. There is no Terrell Owens to beat up on.
4) NHL games end with more drama than any other sport. Basketball games, especially college hoops, are nearly unwatchable because of the multiple players called out by egomaniacal coaches looking for TV face time. Baseball has pitching changes. The NFL has long TV timeouts, three timeouts for each team AND a two-minute warning.
What's right with vending machines? They are much more receptive to wrinkled dollar bills. This is a technological advancement that has not been given enough attention. Back in the day, a dollar bill had to be as crisp as Eddie Olczyk's hair to get your Skittles. Today, there is a lot less frustration and pressure if you don't have a fresh, crisp dollar bill.
In one of your early-season columns, you predicted when Super Joe would score No. 600. I can't find the article and was wondering if you could remind me?
Before the season, I predicted Joe Sakic would score his 600th career goal on Feb. 18, 2007. Missed by three days.
Can you help me out? I'm a football addict living in Wintersville, Ohio (near Mingo Junction, which you mentioned in a column a few weeks ago!), and I've recently been gaining interest in hockey as a fix until football starts up again. I've been reading about it on the web, but there isn't much on TV without buying the Center Ice package (too rich for my blood).
So, yesterday, I watch the Penguins beat the Blackhawks in overtime, and I think I'm really close to being hooked on this hockey thing. Granted, this was an exciting 5-4 shootout win, so that may have made it easier, but I loved it!
For the next TV broadcast I get to watch, whenever that may be, can you give me some hints to get more out of the game?
Thanks a million,
Not enough attention is paid to the amazing skating ability of the NHL player. Watch their feet and how fast and strong they are. Watch their amazing lateral movement. Watch how they stop and go on a dime. Watch how Dion Phaneuf skates backwards. Watch how Chris Drury takes a faceoff. Watch Henrik Zetterberg do everything.
The tiny Minnesota Wild fan (last week's kids photo) was very cute and made me think of this question: Do babies get charged for admittance even if they (like that child) obviously aren't going to need a seat?
Let's Go BUFF-A-LO!
Excellent question. My guess is a ticket was not purchased for that little Sparky in Minnesota. I don't know if teams or leagues have guidelines on this topic like airlines do. I have two instances that come to mind.
In July 2004, I had five tickets to a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. Three of the tickets were for me and my two sons. A boyhood friend, Greg, also had two sons to take. So, that's six people and five tickets. Greg put his four-year-old son on his shoulders and walked in with his one ticket and got through. The following spring, I had four tickets to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park and my family of five to take. My plan was to buy one ticket from a scalper and just stick my five-and-half-year-old son on my lap. Well, I wasn't pleased with the price the scalpers were asking for, so I threw Jackson on my shoulders and went for it. Now, I would have had more confidence with this maneuver in the Midwest. Having lived half my life within an hour's drive of Pittsburgh and half of my life in the Northeast, there is no question humans are kinder and more thoughtful in the "Midwest," if we consider Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio part of the region. I consider the "Midwest" everything from an on-deck circle in Williamsport, Pa., to Downstairs at Eric's in Breckenridge, Colo.
So, with Jackson on my shoulders, I spotted the oldest ticket scanner at Fenway to pull off "Operation, Save $100." Older people are suckers for anyone who resembles one of their grandchildren. Jack has a face and demeanor that not only makes him the perfect son, but also the perfect grandchild. Sure enough, we got in. Considering the price of NHL tickets, I strongly recommend this child-on-shoulder maneuver. Walk quickly, be friendly and pick the oldest ticket scanner at the turnstiles.
There have been some bad trades, but I think the worst was between the New York Rangers and L.A. Kings: Jari Kurri, Marty McSorley, Shane Churla for Ray Ferraro, Ian Laperriere, Mattias Norstrom, Nathan Lafayette and 1997 fourth-round draft pick (Sean Blanchard) on March 14, 1996.
What are some your picks for worst trade?
Boston trading Joe Thornton for Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Marco Strum last season. Montreal trading Patrick Roy (along with captain RW Mike Keane) to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko in 1995.
And about 178 more ...
Shane Doan at $4.5 million per? Really? And they wonder why salaries get out of control in sports.
A five-year deal at $4.5 million per seems a little high for a power forward who will turn 31 in October. Now is the time in Doan's career when he will begin to suffer more injuries that will take longer to heal. If he has a strong finish, this could be the fourth straight season he increases his goals total. If Doan could then hover around that 30-goal mark for the life of the contract, then it's an OK sign. He does have some value in terms of the community and growing deeper roots in Arizona. Doan can retire a Coyote and then hang around in some hand-shaking job within the organization.
It's difficult for a lot of these new organizations to create a connection with their brand name. Teams like the Bruins, Red Wings and Rangers have a brand name that attracts business and makes them extremely profitable, especially now that there is a salary cap. The Blackhawks are the one Original Six team that seems to have obliterated any sense of nostalgia with its team.
That's the first step for struggling teams to become profitable. Field an alumni team, live in the community, meet business people. Many athletes who retired before 1990 tended to stay in the area where they played because that's where they could best take advantage of their name. Players who have 10-year careers today can live wherever they want. It might be harder for teams to use their "alumni" to help sell nostalgia and sentiment outside of the occasional ceremony.
Doan probably is not going to live up to his contract in terms of production over the life of the deal. But considering the rising cap, his popularity in the community, his unquestioned character and likeability, this is a safe deal and shouldn't compromise the cap. It's actually a case of a company rewarding and investing in an employee that brings a lot to the table. I actually find that refreshing. I like when good people receive good money because will probably will do a lot of good with it.
In the spirit of your series of little hockey fan photos, I've attached images of my daughter Jessie and I taken during her first skate on Ottawa's Rideau Canal, the world's longest skating rink. I realize that only a bit of the littlest Senator is visible, but then again, she was only four weeks and the temperature was -10 C.
Love your column,
At the Canal ...
... with the little bundle.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.
How have John Buccigross' Western Conference predictions turned out? He revisits the Magic 8-Ball as we ready for the late-season stretch.