Penguins Rewarded for Being NHL’s Worst Team: The Red Wings Midas Touch

May 23, 2009

By Jack Vallon… While everyone and their mother , especially the folks down at NBC, has jumped on the Pittsburgh Penguins bandwagon I most certainly have not.

It has absolutely nothing to do with Sidney Crosby’s perceived whining or “jibber jabber”*  I love the guy and would relish an opportunity to see him in a red, black and white Devil uniform.  The guy’s a horse.

Nor has it anything to do with Brooks Orpik’s proud place as the NHL’s dirtiest player.  Eric Cole and Tuomo Ruutu would certainly attest to my sentiments; anyone catch the two blatant “knee on knees” in game one against the Canes?  Nor does it have anything to do with my disdain for Malkin’s game, Fleury’s personality….

It actually has nothing to do with any one particular Penguin player, simply the manner in which they’ve been acquired.

Unlike the Redwings who built their squad with Håkan Andersson’s brilliant eye and Ken Holland’s unmatched decision making, taking Pavel Datsyuk at 171st overall, Johan Franzen with the 97th pick, and Henrik Zetterberg, in the 7th round of the Entry Draft at an astonishing 210th; the Pengins were gifted the core of their team due to their failures throughout the early and mid noughties.

One can say, “but Marian Hossa was a free agent pickup”.  Agreed but the Wings won without him in 2008 and he is certainly not the reason they’re likely to repeat this playoffs.  Brian Rafalski another significant pickup, was signed away from the New Jersey Devils due to his love for his hometown and desire to play for his childhood team, not a reward for poor play.

The core of the best team in hockey is one that’s been engineered by astuteness of the Red Wings hockey machine.

The core of the Penguin’s were simply gifts for being the league’s worst team for so many years.  Both Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury were taken at number one, first overall, selections awarded to the teams with the worst record in the NHL in the preceding campaign; and Evgeni Malkin with the second overall choice.

Just how bad were the Penguins during this period?

Season      W  L    T      P   GF    GA

2001–02    28 41  8-5   69  198   249
2002–03    27 44  6-5   65  189   255
2003–04    23 47  8-4   58  190   303
2005–06    22 46   14   58  244   316

Reward for a failure to make the playoffs for five straight years; reward for being one if the leagues worst teams should most certainly not come in the form of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Face it folks, Crosby, Malkin and Fleury were gifts for chronic failure.  If one were to take any one of those three players away the Penguins now, my guess is the Pens would hardly be any better than a first round flop.

Teams such as the Avalanche and Stars, even the Devils to a certain extent are now suffering, for all intents and purposes being punished, for their consistency and regular season successes.  This my fellow hockey fans is an inequality that needs to cease.  Everyone should have an equal opportunity in the draft.  Being rubbish should most certainly not be rewarded.

What I respect is teams that are able to consistently stay a top the leagues standings despite poor placement in the draft; what I respect is the Detroit Red Wings.

*-A shameful Boston Legal reference.

Note-I am not a Detroit Red Wing supporter, nor am I cheering for them to repeat as champions.  I welcome all feedback, noth positive and negative.

Is Martin Brodeur Exempt from Criticism? This Integral to Devils Failures?

May 20, 2009

By Jack Vallon… Is Martin Brodeur somehow exempt from criticism? The answer is as obvious as the Devil’s shortcomings.

The last time I criticized Lou Lamoriello I received what amounted to e-hate. One fellow Devil fan sent me an email, telling me that in his opinion I was “no Devils fan” because I’d defamed the great Lamoriello.  Or should I say “dissed” the “Greatest GM in history.”

Another went as far as to call me a son of a b^%$h, for daring to criticize the “Big Lou.” And advised me “to be careful what I write if I ever wanted to set foot in Jersey again.” I felt I’d just insulted Tony Soprano, and my days as a writer and able bodied human were numbered at best.

But has any of this nonsense stopped me? Certainly not! I want my team to do well, and feel that the organization needs a bit of a wake-up call.

After the completion of this article, do I expect to have the numbers 3, 557, and 101 hurled in my direction? Sure. And I welcome it.

Those numbers will remind me of how many cups my Devils have taken over the past 14 season, how many games Martin Brodeur has won for all of us, and just how many times Scott Stevens, Scotty Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko and co. have slammed the proverbial door down on the likes of the Rangers, Flyers, Pens, Leafs, Sens, Stars, Ducks, and Wings.

I welcome the numbers as well as the criticism, and expect a healthy dose of it to be launched in my direction-preferably in the form of comments though!

However, as a loyal Devils fan, one who truly cares about his team, I must certainly not let this criticism stop me from expressing my opinions. My love, not feelings of hurt, for the New Jersey Devils is what’s driving me to write this article. Nothing more, nothing less.

Although the play of Martin Brodeur was instrumental in each of the Devils successful playoff campaigns, it has been just as integral to our recent failures. Make no bones about it, Martin Brodeur has been key to each of last two post season demises. There I said it.

Sure we need a center, Mottau should’ve hit the ice to block that pass to Jokinen, White should have played the puck instead of throwing that silly check on Eric Staal; there also should have even been an interference penalty called against the aforementioned Staal before the Jokinen goal ever happened.

And yes we need a top defenseman and power play specialist to play the point. We also need to lower our ticket prices, add a third jersey, for the purpose of marketing the team to the newest generation of fans and our inevitable future winter classic battle against the blue shits.

I’d also like to see more segments on MSG featuring Chico Resch and his gloriously healthy appetite!

But what we need first is a solution; a solution to a problem that’s only going to grow.

Brodeur’s painfully obvious decline accompanied with the media, the Devil’s GM and coaching staffs overt fear of being critical of him is a big part of what’s killing the Devil’s chances of success in the post lockout NHL.

Reminds me of how fearful we were when it came to questioning Bush and his desire to take us into a war that would inevitably cost us over a trillion dollars! Look where that landed us. Will this media gag order on criticism of Brodeur dismantle the Devils as well?

Although I’m being a bit too sarcastic for my own good, I believe that there is a very good chance it will.

I’ve already predicted the inevitability of Zach Parise’s departure if the losing does not cease asap, in an earlier article.

Let’s take a look back at the last two Stanley Cup Playoffs. Everyone was quick to condemn Sean Avery for his behaviour in ‘08. I can not tell you how many times I personally climbed out of my seat and screamed at the television set at the deplorable officiating that allowed the coward to abuse Brodeur!

Avery’s behavior was shocking and abhorrent to say the least, however that doesn’t take a away from the fact that Brodeur let in soft goal after soft goal against the Blue Shirts—a good chunk of which were scored when Avery wasn’t even on the ice.

But still, for arguments sake, let’s attribute his poor play in 2008 playoffs to nerves. Brodeur was rattled, and he is human after all.

Then what about his performance during this playoff campaign? Was Avery playing dress up again? This time not as a stocky runway model, but as a Finn? More specifically as Jussi Jokinen?

No Sean Avery was most certainly not involved in this years series against the Canes. He was too busy punching Simeon Varlamov in the face to be in Raleigh or Newark. Yet this series had a similar outcome to last years debacle against the Rangers, with Brodeur crying foul (Game Four antics), and our Devs sent packing.

This series saw the Great Martin Bordeur thoroughly outplayed by Carolina’s Cam Ward; as he was last year by the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist.

While Brodeur wasn’t awful, with the exception of games one and five when he performed well, he most certainly did not do his team any major favors. One just needs to think back to game seven for proof of his overall performance.

The Rutuu goal, giving the Canes the early lead, was as soft as they come. To let that kind of shot in, that early on in a game seven, is inexcusable. Although it seems to have been forgotten, due to just how quickly the Devs equalized the contest, and more importantly how shockingly the series ended, one should not dismiss the importance of that goal.

The Devils thoroughly outplayed the Canes over the first 55 minutes of the contest yet found themselves only ahead by the one tally.

If Brodeur had made the saves he gets paid to, he’s expected to; one needs to recall that Brodeur takes in a cool 5.2 mill a campaign, the Devs would have been up 3-1, and quite possibly clear of any late game Cardiac Cane heroics.

With that said I honestly feel a top goalie, a goalie of Brodeur’s supposed calibre, should be able to stop at least one of those last two shots.

The Devils certainly didn’t lose the series solely because of Brodeur’s game seven blunder and overall shoddy play, however I think its fair to admit that if Martin had performed even remotely close to Cam Ward, we’d have been watching the Ovechkin-Parise show, not the Ovechkin-Crosby one.

So what’s the solution? Or should I say, how should things have been done?

There is no easy answer. When you’ve played as long as Brodeur has, achieved as much success as the great man has, there’s no easy way to transition between goalies, however after the events surrounding this season, one need not have looked any farther than Scott Clemmensen, and his performance as a backup.

Brodeur’s selfishness and obsession with statistics and personal numbers, and Lou Lamoriello’s unwavering support has hurt us for the second straight year. Instead of bringing in Brodeur slowly, he played out the season as if the injury had never happened, and Clemmensen didn’t exist.

The purpose of a backup in hockey is not only to fill in when the “star” is injured, but to offer an option and some form of competition to a number one down on their game.

The backup should be brought in when the goalie performs poorly for a stretch, as Brodeur has each of these past seasons. It’s good for competition. When longterm Devils, Pandolfo, Madden, and Holik performed poorly they were scratched. When Brodeur played badly he was excused.

And it’s not as if we didn’t have a capable substitute. Clemmensen only finished the season with a higher winning percentage, six more wins compared to only two more losses, a better Goals Against, and a higher Save Percentage than Brodeur, yet he was dismissed like yesterdays news the second Brodeur returned.

I know it sounds completely insane to suggest playing Clemmensen over Brodeur however when you look at it objectively its not all that outlandish.

Why didn’t the Devil’s even consider playing Clemmensen when Brodeur started looking shaky? With Brodeur’s position in hockey lore cemented as tightly as Lou Lamoriello’s wallet, there was no way anyone in the Devils organization would have let that happen.

Besides Brodeur would most likely have thrown a tantrum or thrown his stick at Sutter or poor Clemmer if he didn’t get his way. Sources tell me that Sutter was actually against bringing Brodeur back in the manner he was reintroduced into the line-up.

After all the Devils had really rallied around Clemmensen. That all ended once Brodeur reached his milestone and reality of the situation set in.

When the Devs lost seven of eight, back in late March, only two short weeks before the start of the payoffs, I knew we were in for a quick demise in this year’s postseason.

I had a sinking feeling that without some sort of a shakeup, it was simply a matter of time till Devils fans would be watching Rounds Two and Three, like the Devs themselves, as outsiders looking in.

Although Clemmensen was far from perfect, he certainly earned the right to have a shot at playing. When Brodeur’s play was spotty, he earned the right to have a chance at filling in. He earned the right to have that glimmer of hope.

Yet what did Lou do? For the sake of saving a bit of cash he sent Clemmensen back to Lowell, and let the Devils morale part with it.

Some will say, but Jack, “Forget the stats. Clemmensen’s a hack. He’s not a number one goalie! He’s over thirty and still in the minors.” I’m going to be told I am a moron for even suggesting Clemmensen be given an opportunity in the playoffs.

My response? Jonas Hiller! Look no farther than the Anaheim Ducks and the

Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Jonas Hiller story for your answer.

Giguère’s play, like the Ducks, was spotty at best this year, and he was been replaced by Jonas Hiller, after slightly injuring his groin. He went 9-2-2 to finish the season and the Ducks have never looked back.

I’m going to hear, “But Giguere’s no Brodeur!”

Although Giguère’s not what one would call a household name, he’s certainly no hack either. This guy only won the Conn Smythe in 2003, finishing ahead of Brodeur in the vote, and helped guide his squad to a Stanley Cup victory but two years ago. That’s more than I can say for Brodeur’s accomplishments of late.

Yet Bob Murray and co. felt they need to make the switch. Even if it were originally just to get

Giguère’s juices flowing, the move has paid massive dividends. I wonder what would have happened if the Devs had given Clemmer the same opportunity; the opportunity to at least at pushing Brodeur a bit.

Sean Avery and the Loss of Sportsmanship in the NHL

May 9, 2009

By Jack Vallon… Nothing makes me shudder more than poor sportsmanship, especially when it’s being displayed in the last noble game left in professional sports-ice hockey.

Whether it’s Sean Avery and his childlike antics, Tomas Holmstrom and his deliberate elbow to a seriously wounded James Wisniewski in Game four of the Western Conference semis, or Alex Ovechkin’s knee on knee hits and catalogue of flamboyantly over the top displays; it all makes me ill.

Whenever I watch today’s NHL I always find myself asking; What in hockey god’s name is going on? and, is this what’s become of sportsmanship?

Just think back a few years to when men like Steve Yzerman, and Joe Sakic took the ice.

Did they ever comport themselves even remotely similar to today’s players?  Did they dance around like prima-donnas when reaching personal milestones?  Did they ramble on ad nauseum  about their abilities before even winning their first cup?  Did they play dress up and play up to the camera at the All Star game?

Recall Scott Stevens.  Although there are a great deal of you who thought the hall of famer was a dirty player, ask yourself if he ever gloated after knocking anyone unconscious?

He single-handedly took players out who threatened his teams success, yet he went about his business with the professionalism of a KGB assassin.  He was never arrogant despite capturing three cups in nine years.

Guys like Dave Andreychuk, Doug Gilmour, Steve Thomas; lesser known players in comparison shared a respect for themselves, their fellow competitors and more importantly the game.

Now imagine how Ovechkin would comport himself if he ever landed a clean hit, knocking a player unconscious; one where a shoulder, not a knee is utilized as the weapon.  I’m guessing he’d dance about the ice in a similar fashion to a school girl who’d just sold her first bag of girl scout cookies.  Maybe warm his hands over the body of his incapacitated opponent.

And then there’s Sidney Crosby.

While I love the effort and would welcome the fella on my team, any day of the week,  he needs to learn thing or two about sportsmanship.  He whines, dives, plays dead and hams it up to the media anytime he sees an opportunity to influence the refs.

Then there’s “Geno” Malkin.  Has the guy even heard of passing?  Maybe he’s just forgotten how to make them, since the semis commenced.

His display in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semis was inspiring to say the least, but playing up to mom and dad, by taking it on oneself to single-handedly win a contest was extremely selfish and quite the risky endeavour.

Then there’s the Holmstrom elbow on an injured Wisniewski.  Callously elbowing a guy bent over and coughing up blood, then blatantly denying it was intentional is as ‘gutless’ as the victim referred to it as.

But none of these guys have anything on Sean Avery, or as he’s referred to in my household, Calvin Klein on skates.  His constant game playing, headshots as well  as wanton abuse and disrespect of NHL goalies is shocking to say the least.

His rag doll display against David Clarkson of the Devil’s was one of the most embarrassing I’ve ever witnessed.  Ask yourself if the diminutive P.J. Stock would have ragdolled like that.

Yet Avery is a star; and the NBC game of the week poster boy.  Avery’s done nothing on a professional level yet still he’s one of the most recognizable faces and names in the league.  And this is by design; his own and that of the leagues.

No one gives a hoot about Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise, guys that exhibit many of the qualities of their predecessors, yet we’re bombarded with feature after feature on Avery and his interest in women’s handbags.  I even felt I needed to mention Avery’s name in my title just to get a few readers.

This is not what we expected from yesteryears players, or the players typical of the pre-Gary Bettman NHL (coming up pre-Bettman).  With the exception of a few of today’s stars, the poster boys of the 2009 NHL are a far cry from the guys I grew up playing with, and the men I grew up watching.

Even the league’s goons and hoodlums have seemingly lost respect for themselves, their opponents and the game.

But then again maybe I’m just being nostalgic.  It’s possible that I’m ignoring the fact that players from my day were just as pathetic.  Gretzky cried with the best of them, Lindros hid behind his mum and dad’s skirt, Theo Fleury danced round like a girl scout and Messier; well, he was a girl scout.

note: Although Joe Sakic has not yet formally retired he’s still from the last generation of players.