Saturday, December 07, 2002

What better time than Chanukah to celebrate Jewish hockey tradition?
Perhaps it's because, traditionally, Jewish parents have always placed a high priority on education...That might explain why there was such a scarcity of aspiring minor professional Jewish hockey participants in the middle of the 20th Century.

Oh, there were a few prominent players such as rear guard Hy Buller, a former Detroit Red Wing and New York Ranger, rugged defenseman Larry Zeidel with Detroit and Philadelphia, Max Kaminsky a Boston Bruins' center, and the pioneer Jewish player in the NHL, Samuel Rothschild, who toiled with the Montreal Maroons and New York Americans.

At the NHL level, Washington Capitals' center Jeff Halpern, 26, a former college hockey standout at Princeton, can no longer be described as a surprise. He has, despite his injury-riddled season last year when he netted five goals and added 14 assists, established himself as a superior penalty killer and an excellent faceoff specialist. Signed as a free agent in 1999, Halpern scored 18 and 21 goals in his first two injury-free campaigns with the Caps.

The Potomac, Md. native is a former Hobey Baker Award nominee who set a Princeton University scoring record with 28 goals and 25 assists in 1997-98.

Los Angeles Kings' defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who was drafted in the third round by Montreal is, with the passage of time, starting to wear down. The highest-paid Jewish hockey player of all time at $3,250,000 per season moves the puck very quickly and has an excellent shot from the point. He is also a former Islander, Leaf and Ranger, as well as having played for Les Canadiens.

Last summer's NHL amateur draft saw three Jewish youngsters' names called. Eric Nystrom, left wing, a freshman at the University of Michigan and the son of former Islander Bob Nystrom, was picked 10th overall in the first round by Calgary (the highest Jewish draft pick ever), Adam Henrich, left wing, with Brampton of the Ontario Hockey League, whose brother, Michael, was a first round Edmonton selection in 1998, was chosen in the second round by Tampa Bay and goalie Robert Gherson with Sarnia Stingers of the OHA in round five by Washington.

All three kids have been returned to their amateur teams by the parent clubs.

Another NHL draftee who has been sent back to his junior team to gain more seasoning is center Eric Himelfarb, a sixth round pick of Montreal in 2001 who scored 35 goals and added 48 assists with Sarnia last winter.

Former Eerie Otters' (OHA) forward Cory Pecker agreed this past summer to a three-year pact with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He was originally drafted by Calgary; and unsigned. The 21-year-old Montreal skater is a prolific scorer.

Four other AHL players who are also just one step away from seeing NHL action are left wing David Hymovitz, a late cut of the Ottawa Senators, who was shipped to Binghamton; defenseman Jeff Dessner, now in the Colorado organization, was sent to the Hershey Bears; right winger Michael Henrich is back in Hamilton with the Bulldogs; and New Jersey Devil draftee, left winger Max Birbraer -- who formerly played in Israel -- returns to the Albany Rats.


Friday, December 06, 2002

Ron Wilson is back coaching -- in San Jose: After his unceremonious firing from the Capitals this summer, Ron has returned as the new head coach of the Sharks.
Hlinka gets the bum rush: Atlanta Thrashers goalie Milan Hnilicka became the odd man out Wednesday. With the Thrashers flailing in front of him, he started the season 0-9-0 with a saves percentage of .882. After Atlanta signed free agent Byron Dafoe, Hnilicka became expendable and was sent to the minors when he went unclaimed on waivers. His record was only part of the problem; he was due to make $1.2million this season, three times what backups get in the NHL.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

What does it take to win a Stanley Cup? Is there some magic formula? Some of the common axioms are strength down the middle, great goaltending, two-way hockey or in the modern era European speed and Russian nimbleness. Maybe all of the above, but after looking at Cup winners since 1992, with numbers largely scribbled on the back of an envelope, a pattern starts to develop.

Hockey people relegate performance during the season to a second tier in evaluating greatness. The playoffs are a new season, a fresh start, anything can happen; on a given night, with a given team. Is it really the case? Does seasonal performance really have no bearing on playoff outcome?

Firstly, since ’92 no team has won the Stanley Cup with less than 38 wins during the season. Surprisingly, that amounts to a winning percentage of only 46 percent.

Secondly, in every instance, except the ’94 Rangers, the Stanley Cup winners posted the most 30 goal scorers during the regular season with one caveat; the two leading scorers did not account for more than thirty percent of the team’s total goals. Adam Graves, who scored 52 goals that year, led the 1994 New York Rangers and was the only player on that team to score thirty plus goals. However, the ’94 Rangers had nine 20 plus goal getters. Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Steve Larmer, Alexei Kovalev, Essa Tikkanen, Mike Gartner, Sergei Nemchinov and Glenn Anderson accounted for 186 of the Rangers 299 goals that season.

In 1996, the Detroit Red Wings accumulated a record shattering, heart stopping, ineluctable 62 wins, and only 7 losses; an unheard of winning ratio of 76%. Yet, the same Avalanche team that Eric mentions below beat them in the semi-final. How was it possible? The Red Wings had three 30 plus goal scorers that year; Sergei Fedorov with 39; Steve Yzerman 36; and Slava Kozlov at 36. While Yzerman and Kozlov continued to produce in the post season, Fedorov dropped from a seasonal pace of a goal every two games to a playoff rate of a goal every 10 games.

Colorado, with only 47 wins that year had four 30 plus scorers; Joe Sakic at 51; Peter Forsberg with 30; Valeri Kamensky with 38; and the devil of Detroit, Claude Lemieux had 39. Sakic continued at a blistering pace, scoring 18 of Colorado’s playoff goals alone.

So what does this portend for Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2003. Currently, New Jersey is 14-6; Boston, a real hot team at 17-4; last year’s champ, Detroit is 15-7; and a revved up Canuck team that just ended a ten game winning streak in Long Island is 16-6. New Jersey will be lucky to have one thirty-goal scorer at the end of the regular season. Joe Thornton and Glen Murray carry this Boston team with 33% of its goal production to date. Sergei Fedorov and Brett Hull account for 32% of Red Wing tallies with Shanahan faltering, Luc Robitaille has hit the twine just three times this year.

However, Dallas looks like the dark horse that has the potential to go all the way. Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Jere Lehtinen, Ulf Dahlen and Brendan Morrow each could score 30 plus goals setting Dallas on a path to potentially score 300 goals this season. As well, Sault Ste. Marie’s favourite son, Marty Turco, has posted a 1.60 GAA to date.

How Dallas turned it around is the subject of another post but Howard, what odds will you give me on Dallas as 2003 Stanley Cup champs?

Post Script: Going into the gold medal match in Salt Lake City, the USA had scored 24 goals to Canada's 19. LeClair and Guerin accounted for 10 or 42% of America's goals to that point. Neither got a point in the gold medal game!

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Peca Vs. Tucker, Redux: Friday is shaping up to be a big night in the NHL, as the Toronto Maple Leafs head to Long Island to play the New York Islanders. But it looks like more is going to be at stake than just two points, as this game will mark the first since the team's met in an especially brutal playoff round last season -- and the first time that Darcy Tucker and Michael Peca have met since Tucker low-bridged Peca sending him into a painful regimen of surgery and physical rehabilitation that lasted until only a few weeks ago.

Over at the Hockey Pundits, Leafs fan John Campea is wondering what all the fuss is about:
Was it a dirty hit? Should Tucker have been suspended? Here's my thoughts, keep in mind I am a Leafs fan so take it with a grain of salt. I've seen the hit about 200 times now and not once did I think it was a dirty hit. Was it rough? Yes. Was it maybe too rough? Yes. But was it dirty and deserving of a suspension? No way. As a matter of fact no one would have even looked twice at the hit had Peca not been injured by it.

First of all, as the result of the hit, the NHL created a brand new penalty for clipping -- one that will earn you a five minute major and a game misconduct. Further, any such penalty will be reviewed by NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell to see if a suspension is warranted. (Ironically, just a week ago in a game against Ottawa, Peca was penalized for just this on a hit he delivered to Senators defenseman Zdeno Chara.)

Before the season, the league distributed a videotape that featured just the sort of hits that would result in a player being suspended. And what hit was featured as exhibit A? That's right, it was Tucker's hit on Peca.

In fact, to find another shot as dirty as Tucker's, you need to go back to the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Western Conference final between Detroit and Colorado. It was then that the Avalanche's Claude Lemieux checked Detroit's Kris Draper from behind, sending him crashing face first into the boards, and into the hospital for reconstructive surgery. At least the league had the sense to suspend Lemieux for two games after that hit.

But then again, according to John's standards, nobody would have noticed that hit either if Draper hadn't gotten injured, right?

Over the past few weeks, Peca has taken the high road (Real Player required), saying he won't be seeking revenge on Friday night because he can't play that way. That's not a problem, really. After all, it was Darren McCarty who eventually went to town on Lemieux's face while his buddy Draper watched nearby.

But once McCarty was done beating on Lemieux, the tension was gone and the situation resolved. Certainly, Lemieux will be reviled by Detroit fans until the day he dies, but the bloodlust was gone once a pound of flesh had been exacted. I suspect the situation will be much the same when it comes to Tucker on Friday night. If anything, the Wings effort to prove they could stand up to Lemieux and the Avalanche gave birth to one of the most contentious rivalries in professional sports today. Here's hoping we see the birth of a similar rivalry starting Friday on Long Island.
Calgary fires the coach too: Calgary fired head coach Greg Gilbert Tuesday morning, then ended a four-game slide in the evening by beating the Avalanche 2-1 with interim coach Al MacNeil behind the bench. Gilbert got the axe after getting just six wins in 25 games -- and just one victory in the last 12 games.

As the coaching carousel heats up, please note that firing the coach is no surefire way to get back to winning. As I explained a few years back in this LCS Hockey article, the regression effect ensures that perceptions weigh more heavily than reality in judging success:
Generally, it is true that teams tend to perform better after firing the coach or manager. But that upswing in performance is not “caused” by the firing, even if it may be correlated. Certainly there are cases where the dumping of an unpopular coach (Hey, calling Iron Mike Keenan) may have some causal effect on a team’s playing level, but that improvement could just as likely be accounted for by the regression effect. Especially since they are usually fired when a team has hit rock bottom, there is only one way to go - up.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Flordia scumbag to go to jail -- at end of season: Florida Panthers left wing Peter Worrell received a 10-day jail sentence, one year of probation and a five-year suspension of his driver's license after pleading no contest to driving under the influence.

Broward County Judge Joel Lazarus issued the penalties Monday, ordering Worrell to report to jail on April 7, 2003, one day after the Panthers' regular-season finale. Worrell was arrested June 16 and charged with DUI property damage, leaving the scene of an accident, and criminal mischief. He also received traffic citations for failing to use due care, expired tags, and no proof of insurance.

Worrell was not available for comment Monday.

Worrell was convicted in 1998 of DUI and lost his license for six months, attended a DUI school, and performed 50 hours of community service.
Leclair down and out: The Philadelphia Flyers will be without star forward John LeClair for as much as 12 weeks. LeClair and Simon Gagne were sidelined in their 3-0 loss to Toronto on Friday. LeClair said he will undergo surgery next week for a dislocated shoulder. The team estimates he will be out 10-to-12 weeks.

"There was a tear in the labrum,'' LeClair said Friday. "That can heal on its own; it's not a guarantee, though. Sometimes they pop back out. We'll get (surgery) done and hopefully it heals properly.'' LeClair, who has 11 goals and six assists, underwent MRI tests Friday and they revealed more damage than originally thought. He will undergo surgery on Wednesday at Hahnemann University Hospital.
The Fighting Habs: The Montreal Canadians are fighting each other.
San Jose looking for a new coach: The San Jose Sharks fired coach Darryl Sutter and assistants Lorne Molleken and Rich Preston on Sunday. Hey, it ain't cool to diss a Sutter brother!

Doug Wilson, the Sharks' director of pro development, and scout Cap Raeder will run the team until a new head coach is hired. Raeder will be the nominal head coach, though general manager Dean Lombardi doesn't expect his search to last more than a few days.

The Sharks are off to a terrible 8-12-2-2 start, putting them 13th in the Western Conference and last in the Pacific Division, which they won last season before losing the conference semifinals in seven games to Colorado.
Welcome back, Reid! The Nashville Predators on Monday re-signed tough guy Reid Simpson, who had been without a team since he became a free agent at the end of last season. A 33-year-old left wing, Simpson had five goals and 69 penalty minutes in 26 games with Nashville last season after being claimed off waivers from Montreal on Jan. 30.
Columbus and Atlanta swap useless unknown players: The Columbus Blue Jackets traded right wing Chris Nielsen and the rights to defenseman Petteri Nummelin to the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday for right wing Tomi Kallio and defenseman Pauli Levokari. Kallio is expected to join the Blue Jackets for Tuesday's game against the Rangers in New York. Levokari has been assigned to the Syracuse Crunch, Columbus' AHL affiliate.

The 25-year-old Kallio had two assists and four penalty minutes in five games with the Thrashers this season. He had eight goals, 14 assists and 12 penalty minutes in 60 games with Atlanta during the 2001-02 season and 14 goals and 13 assists as a rookie two years ago. He represented Finland at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

The 24-year-old Levokari is a 6-foot-7, 260-pound Finn who has yet to play in the NHL.

Nielsen, 22, had six goals, eight assists and 38 penalty minutes in 52 games with the Blue Jackets during the last two seasons. He has spent the entire 2002-03 season with Syracuse, where he had a goal and three assists in 19 games.

The 30-year-old Nummelin spent the 2000-01 season with the Blue Jackets, picking up four goals and 12 assists with 10 penalty minutes in 61 games. He returned to the Swiss Elite League following the season.
Florida trades Dmitri Yushkevich for a bag o' pucks: The Florida Panthers traded defenseman Dmitry Yushkevich to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday for center Jaroslav Bednar and defenseman Andreas Lilja. The Kings also received a fifth-round pick in next year's entry draft.

Yushkevich, who signed a one-year contract with the Panthers in July, will be a free agent at the end of the season and Panthers general manager Rick Dudley said his future with the club was uncertain. An All-Star with Toronto in 2000, Yushkevich has a goal, six assists and 14 penalty minutes in 23 games with the Panthers this season. In a 10-year NHL career with Philadelphia, Toronto and Florida, Yushkevich has 41 goals, 177 assists and 627 penalty minutes.

Monday, December 02, 2002

More interesting thoughts from Mr. Steven Cardwell.
Your comments on the gap between Gretzky and Howe's career points records got me thinking about Howe's career.

When Howe retired for the first time at the end of the 1970-71 season the NHL career scoring list looked like this:

Gordie Howe 1809
Jean Beliveau 1219
Alex Delvecchio 1140
Andy Bathgate 973
Maurice Richard 965
Stan Mikita 926
(Delvecchio and Mikita were still active)

Howe had about 50 percent more points than Beliveau in second place, the same magnitude as the advantage Gretzky currently holds, one of the largest of all major sports.

Of course if some or all of Howe's WHA years were spent in the NHL the difference between his totals and Gretzky's would be significantly smaller. It's doubtful that Gordie would have scored as much playing in the NHL as he did in his six season in the WHA, where he was credited with over 500 points, but the gap wouldn't be nearly as large.

After reading your post on small scoring champions I thought you might enjoy this column: Darren Pang's All-Short Team.

He has a lot of gall to move Ted Lindsay to right wing for Murray Oliver!


On to the lists ...

Pang's Gang: The Past All-Short Team

Murray Oliver, left wing, 5-10, 170
Career stats: 1,127 games, 274 goals, 454 assists, 728 points, 725 penalty minutes
Teams: Detroit (1957-61), Boston (1961-67), Toronto (1967-70), Minnesota North Stars (1970-75)
Qualifications: Oliver is one of the most underrated players in NHL history. He played in five All-Star Games (1963, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968) and finished in the top 10 in points in 1962-63, 1963-64 and 1965-66. I've played golf with Murray, and he doesn't seem like he's 5-10. I wouldn't be surprised if he embellished a bit.

Henri Richard, center, 5-7, 160Career stats: 1,256 games, 358 goals, 688 assists, 1,046 points
Teams: Montreal Canadiens (1955-75)
Qualifications: Most players are lucky to have won one Stanley Cup. The Pocket Rocket has 11. The twice led the league in assists (1957-58, 1962-63), played in 10 All-Star games, and was named a postseason all-star four times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

Ted Lindsay, right wing, 5-8, 163
Career stats: 1,068 games, 379 goals, 472 assists, 851 points
Teams: Detroit (1944-57, 1964-65), Chicago (1957-60)
Qualifications: Terrible Ted has got to play the right side for me. He's the toughest man ever to play the game of hockey. You don't need to be big to be tough and Lindsay is an example of that. Besides registering 1,808 penalty minutes in his career, he was the league's top scorer in 1949-50 with 78 points. He also led the league in assists that year with 55. He led the league in goals with 33 in 1947-48. He won four Cups -- all with Detroit -- played in 11 All-Star games and was named a postseason all-star nine times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966.

Curt Giles, defense, 5-8, 175
Career stats: 895 games, 43 goals, 199 assists, 242 points
Teams: Minnesota (1979-87, 1988-91), N.Y. Rangers (1987-88), St. Louis (1990-93)
Qualifications: Giles lives in infamy with me. He scored on me two minutes into my first game. It was the first shot on net. I remember him being short because I was able to look him in the eye when I was sitting on my net.

King Clancy, defense, 5-7, 155
Career stats: 592 games, 136 goals, 147 assists, 283 points
Teams: Ottawa (1921-30), Toronto (1930-37)
Qualifications: He was one of the first offensive defensemen in the league; he scored 40 points in 44 games in 1929-30. He was also an intense little son-of-a-gun, who racked up 914 penalty minutes. He won three Cups and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. The King Clancy Memorial Trophy is awarded to a player who leads on an off the ice and has made humanitarian contributions to the community.

Roy Worters, goal, 5-3, 135Career stats: 484 games, 171 wins, 229 losses, 83 ties, 2.27 goals-against average
Teams: Pittsburgh (1925-28), N.Y. Americans (1928-37), one game for Montreal Canadiens (1929-30)
Qualifications: Called "Shrimp" back in his day, Worters is the only goalie "officially" shorter than I am (see the story below). He was the first goalie to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP after posting a 1.15 GAA in 1929. He took home the Vezina in 1931 after leading the league with a 1.61 goals-against average. He posted 66 shutouts in only 12 seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.

Billy Reay, coach, 5-7, 155
Career stats: 1,102 games, 542 wins, 385 losses, 175 ties
Teams: Toronto (1957-59), Chicago (1963-77) Qualifications: Didn't win any Cups, but no one can wear fedoras with the same flair and class as Billy can.

And honourable mention, Camille Henry.