Shoot ‘Em Like Detroit

Henrik Zetterberg

Besides having the best defencemen in the league and some dynamic young forwards, there is one glaring reason as to why the Red Wings are the best NHL team.

They shoot the puck.

It might sound too simple but there’s no other possible explanation.

Heading into tonight’s schedule, the Red Wings average 34.6 shots on goal a night, ranking them first in the league. In comparison, Vancouver stands 25th in that same category with 26.2 shots average. 

More shots means more opportunities to record a goal; it’s the basic tactic which players learn at a young age. Detroit is second behind Ottawa with 172 tallies so far this season and to add to that impressive stat, the Red Wings are first in lowest shots against with a 23.8 average.

The Red Wings shoot from anywhere, and sometimes the most obscure shots finds its way through the opposing goalie’s equipment. Leading the pack for them is Henrik Zetterberg, who has 232 shots, putting him second in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin. Vancouver just needs to watch some of Detroit’s games to understand their success.

How often do you hear a fan yell “shoot the puck!“? It’s like a broken record at GM Place.

The most obvious non-shooter for Vancouver would probably have to be Sami Salo. Even though he has considerably one of the hardest slappers in the league, he always hesitates to wind up. With 64 blasts on net so far, he only has one measly goal, and six assists. And how many times has he missed the net?

Sami Salo

Markus Naslund is also a target for criticism, especially since he used to lead the league in that department. The star forward might find results if he only plays more selfish by sniping the puck, instead of passing it off. 

Vancouver’s top shot getter is Daniel Sedin, who records a total of 144. Imagine how many more goals he would have on his stats sheet if he brought the puck in front of the net instead of cycling with his brother.

It’s like Gretzky’s old quote, “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.”

In order for the Canucks to start piling up the numbers offensively, they have to start piling up the numbers on the shots-for column. The constant passing and the need to make the “perfect” play won’t do the team any good if they can’t put the puck on the opposing net.

A slap shot from the point can magically pinball it’s way into the net, but it seems like Vancouver’s pointmen don’t understand that concept. The forwards need to test the goaltender as much as they can, whether from awkward angles or from anywhere in the offensive zone. It’s pretty frustrating to watch a team control the play in the opposing area and not manage a shot on goal, and that frustration is always re-occuring with the Vancouver team.

It’s a fundamental skill, and a simple solution. Detroit has managed to stick with their system and game plan of bombarding the other goaltender with pucks, and look where they sit in the standings. Alain Vigneault needs to instill that ideology into his squad.

It’s like a secret recipe for Detroit that no one else seems to figure into their strategy. 

Think shot, think simple. It’s Red Wings’ hockey 101, and definitely a lesson this Vancouver team can learn. 

Time is Now

Luongo

For the Vancouver Canucks, leaving for the Sunshine State is anything but a mid-season vacation.

The Canucks sit eighth in the NHL’s Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Pheonix Coyotes and the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the west.

But tonight’s game, and this roadtrip for that matter, may be the best thing to happen to this team all season.  Right now, it seems no matter what the Canucks do against some of the league’s toughest teams, they just can’t get a break or buy a goal.

It can be frustrating.  Just tell Alain Vigneault, who for the first time in his tenure with the Canucks was about as cheery as Oprah on a diet with a plate of brownies being dangled in front of her.  Okay, that would make anybody angry, so bad example.  All simile’s aside, Vigneault is irked with the results of his team.  Not the effort, but the overall result, and at the end of the day that is the bottom line.  Don’t win, you don’t get in.

But right now, the Canucks have a chance to get some wins, regain some confidence and climb back into the Northwest Division standings, because as of today, they sit four points back of the Minnesota Wild.

Tonight, the Canucks roll into Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning.  Right now, despite having two of the league’s top goal scorers in Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning are the second worst team in the NHL.  Even worse than the Leafs.

You have to give the edge to the Canucks in this game.  Savior Roberto Luongo makes his first appearance since the All-Star break after getting an extra day off to be with his wife during her “delicate” pregnancy.  Theoretically, the Canucks goalie should be rested, relaxed and 100 per cent focused on the stretch drive that will most likely see the star goalie play just about every game from here on in.

St. Louis Lecavlier

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tampa Bay may have more success if they strap a tie to the crossbar instead of starting an actual goalie.  If there is one major knock on the 2004 Stanley Cup champs, it is they have poor goaltending.

The Canucks, all Curtis Sanford disappointments aside, have strong goaltending.  You have to believe, that before the All-Star break, Luongo had more than just hockey on his mind leading up to his departure to Florida for a week.  Now, Luongo can focus on hockey, starting tonight in Tampa Bay.

The Canucks depend on Luongo and tonight they will need him to be the key in turning this season around.

Vancouver is slumping.  There is no question about that, and Vigneault’s body language for the past three weeks will show you just how hard it is to see his club lose.  However, tonight, Vancouver will have a golden chance to get back on track and whether or not they take this opportunity and run in a positive direction with it will tell us all in Canuck Land just what kind of a team we really have here.

European Power Nowhere to be Found

Loob Farjestad

On the ice, the Europeans have broken the barrier many years ago. But off the ice, it’s a different story.

Players not from North America make up about 30 per cent of the league, not bad considering that number is constantly rising. However, how many of those Europeans end up working in a management position in the NHL?

The answer is three. Yes, out of the 249 possible hockey management jobs in the NHL, up until a month ago, three of them are held by an European. That’s a measly 1.2 per cent.

The trio – Jarmo Kekalainen, the assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues; Ulf Dahlen, the assistant coach in Dallas; and Ulf Samuelsson, the assistant coach in Phoenix – make up the microscopic contingent of non-North American blood.

Not only is this a shocking number, but the possibility that an European GM might take over the helm soon is highly unlikely. The only two ever European coaches failed miserably. Remember Alpo Suhonen and Ivan Hlinka?

Once Europeans finish their careers in the NHL, they tend to head back to their native country and stay there. But the question is, is the NHL losing potentially great management talent by not pursuing these Europeans?

According to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, he believes that it’s difficult for them to get into the North American network, with a large part having to do with the European stereotypes we’re oh so common with. The Europeans are not the ones to campaign for themselves or promote themselves, and fight for a GM job. 

However, there are a few names or candidates that would make a more worthy manager then some who holds that title right now. Campbell points out that the first name, which comes to mind, would have to be Hakan Loob.

The former Calgary Flames star is currently the GM of Farjestad in Sweden. This is the same team that has won four championships in the past eleven years, and in North America, we would call that a dynasty. But no NHL job has been offered to Loob yet.

Stastny

How about Peter Stastny, who’s currently in politics, or Igor Larionov? Mats Naslund and Jari Kurri is successful in running the hockey programs at both their respectable countries, while Euro scouts Thommie Bergman of the Leafs and Dan Labraaten of the Devils are well known for their ability at finding talent.

Have any of these men been approached?

Loob has a strong logic as to why Europeans aren’t holding NHL positions, which are dominated by North Americans.

“It you want to get something, you have to be more aggressive and tell people you’re capable and stand up for yourself a bit. I think maybe we don’t have the mental toughness to say those things. We have the mental toughness to do a good job, but not maybe to present ourselves as capable as we are. You hope without saying anything, somebody is going to ask you and it’s not that easy.” 

North Americans don’t find the time to understand the European culture or get to know how they would run a team. Everyone is too scared to be the first to put the control panel of their squad in the hands of someone not from these two countries. But until someone actually does, no one can say whether or not an European can get the job done.

Let’s say a Russian GM might be able to produce more undiscovered Russians on their team, and probably have more strings to pull overseas. Same goes for a Swedish GM or a Finn.  

They are capable of competing on the ice, and looking at international events, they are also capable of putting a team together and beating USA or Canada. Why can’t they do that in the NHL? or better yet, why aren’t they given the opportunity to do that in the NHL?

Sooner or later, there will be a first for an European GM. For now, the influence Europeans have on the NHL is at a bare minimum, and that’s not helping this game grow at all. 

No Life in Leader Markus Naslund

Markus Naslund

It’s on every fan’s list of how to improve the Canucks, and there’s no denying it.

Markus Naslund, the captain and the leader of this team, needs to start playing as such. I might be a couple years too late to point this fact out but I kept suppressing hope that Naslund would pop out of his long, long slump.

It still hasn’t happened yet, and last night was a prime example of that.

He did score a goal, but besides that 10 seconds of fame he was unnoticed throughout the entire game. He only registered one shot on net and he played on more lines then Kris Beech did teams in the past month.

Markus Naslund is the head honcho in the locker room. That means players look up to him, and when he has no emotion and energy, neither does his teammates. He honestly had more excitement in his lame jumbotron speech to the fans at yesterday’s game then he did with his play, and that’s not saying anything. Naslund was energetically-dead.

The city is getting sick of his lack of back-checking, his resistance of using the body, and his sloppy skating.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not like all the other Naslund bashers. I’ve supported this talented hockey player for years, and he’s always been my favourite NHLer. I’ve always had faith in him that he would return to his old self and dominate the ice, and find his most-feared wristshot. But that’s why it hurts even more for me.

Naslund himself knows that he’s not at his best. He’s not even close to his best.

His post-game speeches are ridiculous and cliched, his comments are not heart-felt, and his actions on the ice is as bland as Greg Millen’s quips. It’s like Naslund doesn’t even care.

Naslund

The numbers this Swedish native puts up is decent, but not appropriate at his calibre. The money he’s getting paid is not comparable to the product he’s showcasing. It’s apparent he’s struggling, and it’s not helping with the constant changing of linemates, but when did excuses factor into performance? 

It’s probably wrong of me to still assume that Naslund can lead this team to a Stanley Cup, but if something, or someone, lights a fire under him, this man still has the ability to humiliate the opponent. All the talk shows are calling for Naslund’s head, but I’m still waiting for him to shut all his critics up. But it just doesn’t seem likely with what we’re seeing lately.

How do you fix Naslund? How to you instill life into an emotionally-dead hockey player? How to you help the captain regain his old form and lead his team night-in and night-out?

The respect for this forward is slowly diminishing from the faithfuls at G.M. Place. Or at least it’s much less then that he recieved as he came out on crutches prior to an L.A. Kings game seven years ago with the whole arena giving him a long, thunderous ovation. That was the Naslund we loved. Not this ineffective, invisible, non-scoring buzz kill. 

It’s time for Naslund to step it up, and hopefully he can regain the ol’ Nazzy form in time to lead us to the promised land.  

Please Naslund, just start playing with some heart. Is that too much to ask?

Johan Santana to the Mets

Santana

Today the Twins made the long awaited move of trading Johan Santana.

In return they received a number of prospects from the New York Mets but none of whom are expected to make an immediate impact.

After signing Justin Morneau to an $80-million contract, it was time to off load the Cy Young award winner but since both the Yankees and the Red Sox had pulled themselves out of consideration, only the Mets had a package that could suffice.

Phillip Humber, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra are on their way to Minnesota in what you could consider highway robbery by Mets GM Omar Minaya.

Adding Johan Santana helps the Mets significantly. Pitching was a major reason for their epic collapse at the end of last season that ended with them on the outside of the playoff picture. The presence of an Ace like Santana allows the team to win some low scoring games every now and then. For a team that was so close in 2006, Santana can help the team rebound from a disappointing 2007 to be NL East champs and potentially a trip to the World Series. He’s already the favourite for the NL’s Cy Young though I’ll hold my tongue until we see more of him in the batters box.

Minaya didn’t really even have to mortgage the future of the team to get him either. The four players they sent to Minnesota aren’t sure things and they managed to hold onto their two best prospects, Fernando Martinez and Mike Pelfrey.

The deal hasn’t gone through just yet, since he hasn’t passed a physical and Santana is asking for a contract extension in the neighborhood of six years and $160 million. Sure it’s the richest contract ever given to a pitcher, but ask yourself this, have you ever seen a free agent that deserved it as much as the 28-year-old Santana? The money is peanuts when you consider he’s probably entering the prime of his career … and that’s scary.

The Mets had better pay the man, or they’ll be no better in the pitching department than their rivals in the Bronx.

Justin Morneau

From Minnesota’s perspective the trade was a must. It’s unfortunate they didn’t get any help in the short term, but if any of these players pay off down the road the team will be in good shape to contend. Especially now with both Morneau and Cuddyer locked up and Joe Mauer under contract for a few more years, the Twins might suffer this season but there are certainly better times to come for this group. This year may have been a write-off as is with Detroit acquiring Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. The Twins would have had to battle Cleveland and an AL east team for the wild-card, not to mention the Mariners if they can swing a deal for Erik Bedard.

Francisco Liriano may be the key to the Twins future success. If he can come back healthy in the near future, he should be able to pick up where Santana left off. I’d hate to see him go the way of Mark Prior but you can’t rule out that possibility. He’s an exceptional talent and just 24 years-old.

The Twins aren’t leaving the cupboard bare. I feel they’re just taking into account the talent in their division. Getting younger now will allow them to compete in a few years when their new stadium opens and other teams are having trouble signing their stars.

It’s inevitable in this sport.

This trade helps both teams. New York will see the dividends instantaneously while Minnesota will have to be patient.

Pretty Funny NHL Commercials

So I was just browsing around NHL.com when I came across these two commercials they had on the site. Both links contain the same commercial to start off with, but the second ad in both are different. 

My personal favourite is the one with the Pittsburgh Penguins fans. 

Note: The guy in the red-shirt in the first commercial works at the Rogers Video in Ironwood Richmond. Yes, some B.C. material in these ads. 

Enjoy. 

NHL.com Commercial 1

NHL.com Commercial 2 

While on the subject of NHL commercials, here are a couple of pretty funny Verizon Wireless NHL ads:

 

And my personal favourite…

 

Trade Talk Getting Ridiculous

Keith Tkachuk

Well, the NHL All-Star weekend has come and gone and now it is onto the stretch drive in the NHL regular season. 

With the stretch drive comes an all-too-familiar brand of talk: trade rumours.  Listening to the local sport talk shows on the Team 1040, all you hear now is “will the Canucks make a big deal?” “the Canucks’ time is now, so why not take a chance and land a big name?

Canucks’ general manager Dave Nonis, maybe one of the more underrated GM’s in the NHL right now, has done his best to put to rest all the ridiculous and meticulous chatter of possible trades and all the other garbage dealing with trading players in the NHL.

Nonis, who was on the TEAM 1040 morning show with Barry MacDonald and Scott Rintoul, flat out said he was getting fed up with the talk trades.  He made a good point.  Actually two good points.  One was that you cannot force a trade to happen.  If a trade is there that fits what the Canucks actually need, which is to say that maybe the bigger names like Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin or Rob Blake may not be the best fit in Vancouver, then Nonis will go out and deliver a trade so long as it fits what he feels his club needs.

The second point is this.  Why sell out your team’s future for a big-name-rent-a-player?  Look at what happened last year with the Atlanta Thrashers and the Nashville Predators.

The Thrashers traded a roster player (Glen Metropolit), a first and third-round pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft and a second-round pick in this year’s entry draft for Keith Tkachuk in a bid to make a run at the Stanley Cup.  The Thrashers did win the Southeast Division, but were swept by the New York Rangers in the first-round of the playoffs. 

Peter Forsberg

Wow.  Throwing away the foundations of a franchise for a rent-a-player and a quick first-round playoff exit.  Yep, seems worth it.

The Nashville Predators went out and landed Peter Forsberg from the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, a first-round and third-round draft pick in last year’s NHL draft.  Nashville was knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round to the San Jose Sharks in six games. 

The point of knocking the trades of the Thrashers and Predators is to illustrate that selling parts of the future of your organization for a player won’t necessarily help your hockey club make it to the finals, or anywhere in the playoffs for that matter.

Nonis knows this.  Does the Canucks general manager have assets to trade?  You bet he does, but he won’t play that card.  Sami Salo and Matthias Ohlund probably won’t be Canucks for more than a few more seasons, so when they go down, who’s going to fill their shoes?  Luc Bourdon and Alex Edler, who may be the best Canucks young defenseman as of right now.  Why trade a prospect for a player who may not even help your team win? 

The bottom line is this:  You can talk about trades all you want, you can say ‘hey go for the gusto and pick up a big name and let’s take a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup’, but that doesn’t mean that everything will work out on the ice the way it should on paper.

Look at last year’s examples of major trades that went absolutely no where but to the golf course.