Eugene Melnyk Tells Me To Blow Myself Up

January 30, 2009

by Josh Lewis… Despite mounting evidence that the Ottawa Senators are moving further away from the playoffs and not closer, owner Eugene Melnyk lashed out at his team’s critics on Wednesday for suggesting the organization should go back to square one and try again.

“Anybody that says we should blow up this organization should get their own bomb and blow themselves up,” said Melnyk, in response to continuing calls for a rebuild in Ottawa.

With apologies to Melnyk, I am not going to follow his advice. I’m 22 years old. I have too much to live for.

I should make it clear, I have tremendous respect for Eugene Melnyk. I like him as a person and I only wish that he owned the Maple Leafs instead of their archrivals in the nation’s capital. He’s almost the perfect owner—a man who is passionate about hockey and is willing to open his wallet for success, but allows his people to do their jobs.

That being said, when a falling safe is about to hit you, you don’t try to convince observers that your head is hard enough to withstand the impact. You get the hell out of the way.

Yes, the Senators have a lot more talent than their record shows; that’s why Melnyk is clinging to the hope of turning things around.

But a year and a half of watching his skilled team play like uninspired doormats should be enough to convince the owner that this group of players is not capable of getting it done. And that’s without even mentioning all the years of playoff futility before the team made it to the Cup final in 2007.

It’s time to wake up and smell the antibiotics, Eugene.

Aside from your captain, your entire core is comprised of players who don’t know how to win. You have one of the poorest prospect pools in the NHL, and Daniel Alfredsson is going to retire before this team gets anywhere near a Cup.

It’s time to blow it up. Not with a bomb. With a general manager and a BlackBerry.

The Real Jason Blake: Is He Worth Trading?

January 23, 2009

by Josh Lewis…

One of the most prominent storylines from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ slide down the NHL standings in recent weeks is a guy who was all but ignored in off-season analysis of the club.

Was he on the very short list of players expected to lead the way in scoring? Nope. Was he one of the few players considered to be in the team’s long-term plans? Not there either. Was he a prime candidate to be traded this season? Nowhere to be found.

So why is Jason Blake suddenly the one making headlines?

Well, the biggest reason appears to be that he has finally gotten past the shock of being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia last season.

Blake said all the right things at the time about feeling normal and focusing on playing hockey, but the development clearly affected his game and he recently admitted as much.

“How would you feel if someone told you devastating news?” Blake told the Toronto Sun. “It’s no fun. But I had a summer to deal with it. I don’t think I really had a chance to deal with it last year because I was playing every night. I’m not using it as an excuse by any means, but yeah, I’m having a lot more fun this year than last year.”

Leafs head coach Ron Wilson told the Sun in no uncertain terms that Blake has been the team’s “best player for two months now…all the things I heard that were negative about him, I haven’t seen at all the last two to three months.”

Blake, 34, has elevated his game in recent weeks and just about everyone in Leafland is noticing. His recent success was highlighted by a five-point night against the Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday, including a hat trick—an effort which stuck it to former coach Paul Maurice, now with the Hurricanes. It’s no secret that the pair didn’t see eye to eye last year in Toronto.

Whereas last season most fans (and perhaps the coaching staff as well) just wanted to forget about Blake and use him as little as possible, many viewers are now excited to see him on the ice, and he is frequently used in big-game situations, including shootouts.

At the risk of sounding callous, Blake’s new attitude is a good thing for the Leafs on more than one front. Obviously, it’s good for the team on the ice. A healthy, happy Jason Blake is a productive Jason Blake. But equally important is the fact that Blake’s play could be raising his trade value.

The operative word there is “could.” If Blake’s skill and production were the only things under consideration, Toronto could move him for a decent return right now. But there are three seasons left on Blake’s contract at a $4 million cap hit per year, and that fact hangs around Brian Burke’s neck like a millstone in trade negotiations.

No matter how well Blake plays, it’s very unlikely that any team would give up what he’s worth in a trade. Unless he suddenly turns into the third-millennium version of Gordie Howe, no team will want to saddle themselves with $12 million over three years for a player who may or may not still be making an impact at the end of that deal.

Throw in the fact that most teams are trimming their belts in the wake of the global economic crisis, and it’s about as likely as Burke and Kevin Lowe going to the gym together.

The only way Blake could be traded is if the Leafs are willing to throw in a draft pick or prospect and take back a bad contract in return. But even that wouldn’t have been possible last season, so it’s an improvement.

The $12 million dollar question is this: Is it worth Brian Burke’s while to pull off such a trade to move Blake?

The simple answer is no.

The Leafs have cap space coming out their ears and likely will for the duration of the rebuild. Their hand is not being forced. With big ticket players like Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, and Nik Antropov possibly being moved by the deadline, this may be a team flirting with the salary cap floor of $40.7 million.

Rebuilding teams trade veteran players so they can get draft picks and young talent in return, which, as the theory goes, will help them to be a better team down the road when those players develop.

If the Leafs can’t get good young talent in return for Blake, and they aren’t pressed for cap space, why move him?

He seems to finally be happy in Toronto. His play is raising the team’s spirits. And if the team does indeed sell off some veterans at the deadline, he will be one of the few experienced players left. Believe it or not, you do need a few players who have been around, even on a rebuilding team.

As fans and as management, it’s time to sit back and see what Jason Blake can do now that he can focus entirely on hockey.

Searching For The Olympic Soul

August 27, 2008

by Josh Lewis… Another Olympiad has come and gone, and with its passing comes a significant let-down for sport fanatics. But they aren’t the only observers who felt a great rush of disappointment as the Beijing Games came to a close on Sunday.

Legions of people who couldn’t care less about who wins the Stanley Cup or the World Series will now return to the drudgery of everyday life. They can’t help but feel a small void in their souls, a little hole that for the past two weeks had been lit up by the wonder and amazement of the Olympic Games.

Butchers and secretaries, sales managers and teachers, doctors and carpenters. For 17 days, the world’s best captivated them all. Even the stereotypical housewife, who’d rather watch her soaps while her husband is forced to catch the ball game in the basement, is reeled in every four years.

What is it about these Games, this collection of athletic pursuits that would normally bore most people, that demands attention? Why does a working person, who routinely falls asleep on the couch during Hockey Night in Canada, feel the need to get up two hours early so they can watch a Norwegian shotputter go for the world record?

The Olympic spirit means something different for every person watching at home. It is plain to see, yet impossible to capture; complex and yet so simple.

The Olympic Games are the ultimate test of character and dedication. It requires a truly special person to put in four long years of pain, endurance and hardship. Only the most committed and hard-working souls are able to keep pushing their limits, to squeeze out one more lap, one more stroke, one more lift, even as their muscles cry out for respite.

And when the inevitable setbacks begin to claw into the psyche, only those blessed with incredible mental toughness are able to dig deep, find that ounce of resilience in their inner reserves, and bounce back.

When we witness an athlete standing atop the podium donning a newly-won medal and basking in the patriotic glow of town and country, we see the pinnacle of achievement. But we can’t possibly know the journey of enduring sacrifice, hard work, and excruciating heartbreak. We don’t see what that swimmer or long-distance runner has learned about themselves, or how they have grown as a person.

Simply put, the Olympics reveal just how much we are capable of—as athletes, as competitors and as human beings.

Aside from witnessing incredible sporting feats, it’s the stories and legends of the Olympics that keep bringing me back for more. I can’t help but tear up to see Eric Lamaze, a man who has overcome so much personal hardship, reach the pinnacle of sporting success.

Then there’s the Canadian men’s eights rowing squad, which was devastated by a fifth-place finish in Athens and vowed to spend every waking hour of the next four years working toward a gold medal and personal redemption in Beijing. I feel privileged to have witnessed them receiving their shiny new hardware on a sunny afternoon at Shunyi, belting out Oh Canada and knowing, deep down inside, that they had achieved something truly exceptional.

Why do the Olympic Games hold such a dear place in our hearts? Because they transcend sport. They tell an extraordinary tale of perseverance, sacrifice, determination, disappointment and jubilation.

In sports, as in life, all are road signs on the path to success.

NHL Millennium Megadraft: Round Three

August 25, 2008

by Josh Lewis… Sidney Crosby went first overall. Dion Phaneuf went at No. 31. Who will be picked at No. 61?

It’s time for round three of the NHL Millennium Megadraft, a combination of the NHL Entry Drafts between 2001 and 2006.

If you’ve followed the first two rounds, you know that each round is a compilation of five players taken in a particular range in each of those drafts.

For example, round one was comprised of the players taken in the top five in each of those years, for a total of 30 players. It was the same deal for round two, except with the players taken between sixth and 10th overall.

Today, we’ll do round three, which is made up of those players selected between 11th and 15th overall from 2001 to 2006.

Here are the players who will form round three of the NHL Millennium Megadraft:

2001: Fredrik Sjostrom, Dan Hamhuis, Ales Hemsky, Chuck Kobasew, Igor Knyazev

2002: Keith Ballard, Steve Eminger, Alexander Semin, Chris Higgins, Jesse Niinimaki

2003: Jeff Carter, Hugh Jessiman, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Robert Nilsson

2004: Lauri Tukonen, A.J. Thelen, Drew Stafford, Devan Dubnyk, Alexander Radulov

2005: Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, Marek Zagrapan, Sasha Pokulok, Ryan O’Marra

2006: Jonathan Bernier, Bryan Little, Jiri Tlusty, Michael Grabner, Riku Helenius

Now we put all 30 players into a new list. The 61st overall pick was much harder to determine than the first overall or No. 31.

The List

1. Anze Kopitar—First Slovenian NHLer became instant superstar

2. Ales Hemsky—Sublime playmaker coming off first 20-goal season
3. Alexander Semin—Dropped off last year, but dangles with the best of them
4. Alexander Radulov—May play in Russia, but still an incredible talent
5. Jeff Carter—Starting to put it all together; new long-term deal will help
6. Chris Higgins—Balanced player tallied career-high 27 goals, 52 points last year
7. Brent Seabrook—Steady presence on Hawks blueline; plenty of untapped offense
8. Dustin Brown—Tenacious winger broke out with 33 goals, 60 points
9. Dan Hamhuis—Hasn’t found offense yet, but defensive play has improved
10. Marc Staal—Shutdown defender will look to crack Rangers’ top pairing next year
11. Robert Nilsson—Bust no longer; speed and skill a perfect fit for Oilers
12. Keith Ballard—Offensive defenseman will take on more responsibility in Florida
13. Drew Stafford—All kinds of offensive potential, but ice time hard to get for Buffalo wingers
14. Chuck Kobasew—Not hitting expectations; trade to Bruins hasn’t helped
15. Fredrik Sjostrom
—Speedster has reinvented himself as energy forward
16. Bryan Little—Future captain was decent in 48 games with big club
17. Jiri Tlusty—Up-and-down season for Leafs rookie, but over a point-per-game at AHL level
18. Jonathan Bernier—Kings goalie of the future could be goalie of present too
19. Steve Eminger—Couldn’t crack top six in Washington; that’s never good
20. Riku Helenius—Another product of Finnish goalie system; has starter potential
21. Michael Grabner—Speedy Austrian sniper is a real wild card
22. Marek Zagrapan
—Strong puck skills, but not making much impact at AHL level
23. Ryan O’Marra—Spent most of last year in ECHL; has long way to go to reach potential
24. Devan Dubnyk—Just completed first full AHL season due to Oilers’ lack of an affiliate
25. Sasha Pokulok—Enormous blueliner still splitting time between AHL and ECHL
26. Lauri Tukonen—Development hindered by injury; recent trade to Dallas may rejuvenate him
27. Hugh Jessiman—24-year-old put up 40 points in AHL last year; looking like bust
28. Igor Knyazev—Played two AHL seasons before heading home to Russia
29. Jesse Niinimaki—North American resumé includes 24 AHL games, one assist
30. A.J. Thelen—Hometown boy so disappointing that Wild let him go as 20-year-old; now in ECHL

Check out the Nhl Millennium Megadraft: Round One and Round Two

Blue Jackets Prospect Stefan Legein Quits Hockey

August 20, 2008

by Josh Lewis… Tremors of shock are hitting the hockey world today as the news squeaks out that Stefan Legein, a second-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007, is quitting hockey.

The stunning development was originally reported by the Columbus Dispatch and has now been confirmed by Jackets general manager Scott Howson.

Legein was a key player on the Canadian world junior squad that won its fourth straight gold medal last January; the right winger also helped the team to victory in last fall’s Super Series against Russia.

Why would a 19-year-old with a very bright future suddenly quit the game for which he had such passion? There are no clear answers yet; only a thick cloud of fog.

Legein is an agitator of the first degree who has no trouble putting the puck in the net. He was a constant presence on Team Canada’s second line and also put up over a point per game in his last two seasons with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL.

But Legein’s trademark was the thundering body check. He took every opportunity to pound an opponent into the boards (and into next week) and didn’t shy away from fisticuffs. In short, he was an easy player to like.

A quick viewing of any game from last year’s world junior reveals a kid who simply loves the game.

Or used to.

The details of Legein’s premature retirement remain sketchy, but according to the Dispatch, the Jackets have been told that Legein has “lost the passion” he formerly held for the game.

Aaron Portzline at the Dispatch writes that Legein wasn’t the same player last season after returning from the shoulder injury he suffered at the WJC. Portzline says Legein did not get along with his IceDog teammates late in the season—if true, a shocking turn for a player who has always been very popular in the locker room—and left the Syracuse Crunch after two playoff games to start training for the 2008-09 season.

As Portzline asks, who wants to work out instead of competing in the playoffs? Very strange indeed.

Then, at Jackets prospect camp, Legein looked lackluster. As one of the team’s most promising prospects, it would be reasonable to expect him to stand out, right?

One final twist: when asked about their son’s alleged retirement Tuesday evening, Legein’s parents said they knew nothing about it.

It’s possible they just didn’t feel like talking, but what if Legein never told them? That doesn’t sound like the Stefan Legein that Canadian hockey fans have come to know and love.

So, how do you lose your passion for hockey? Maybe it was the pressure to succeed, which can be unbearable for a teenager. But that doesn’t seem likely, as Legein had already achieved a degree of success with Team Canada that most players can only dream about. And the Columbus media certainly does not provide the fishbowl atmosphere of Toronto or Montreal.

Sometimes young players hang ‘em up when they realize they won’t get enough ice time to justify riding the buses over getting an education. But that can’t be it either. Legein was a bonafide NHL prospect.

Perhaps there was a major change in his life or some sort of family tragedy. Maybe his parents pushed him too hard. Clearly, whatever has led hard-hitting, fun-loving Stefan Legein to such a 180-degree turnaround is something that has yet to see the light of day.

Calgary’s Daniel Ryder pulled a similar cut-and-retire routine last year, only to return to this year’s training camp.

Let’s hope Legein does the same. Otherwise, the Jackets and the hockey world are missing out on a heck of a player, and the kid Canada fell in love with is missing out on a heck of a career.

Maple Leafs, Panthers Agree on Deal For McCabe

August 15, 2008

by Josh Lewis… According to TSN, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers have agreed on a trade that would send beleaguered defenseman Bryan McCabe to Miami.

McCabe has reportedly waived his no-movement clause and is willing to move to the Panthers. It’s believed that is largely because his wife’s parents live in Florida.

Sources close to the Leafs say the only thing holding the deal up is a $2 million bonus owed to McCabe on Sept. 1. The Cats are unwilling to foot the bill, so Toronto will pay McCabe the bonus before the trade is completed.

There is no word on what Toronto will receive in return for the 33-year-old blueliner, but the name being thrown around by bloggers is 28-year-old defenseman Mike Van Ryn, who missed the last 60 games of the season with a serious wrist injury and carries a $3 million price tag for each of the next two years.

Various reports have the Leafs sending another roster player along with McCabe, while others say the Panthers will add a young forward like David Booth or Stephen Weiss and perhaps a draft pick.

Let’s have a little fun and try to guess what this trade will look like.

If the Leafs are sending another player with McCabe, it’s almost guaranteed to be Alexei Ponikarovsky or Ian White. Both are casualties of the numbers game and neither one has been mentioned by Fletcher or Ron Wilson all summer, which leads me to believe neither is in the plans.

Boyd Devereaux is another possibility. Some might believe it to be Mark Bell, but that’s unlikely because the Panthers wouldn’t want to take on two bloated contracts.

Let’s go with Ponikarovsky. The Panthers certainly don’t need two defensemen, but they could use another forward.

As for players who might be coming the other way, Van Ryn is almost a lock. He’s been bumped down the depth chart by the acquisition of Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton and has an inflated contract. There are also grave concerns about his ability to put up points with the injury he’s sustained.

Of course, the Leafs don’t have room for him either, but to get rid of a guy like McCabe you need to make some sacrifices. Van Ryn would likely wind up as the seventh defenseman, which would be a shame because it would deny Staffan Kronwall yet another shot at regular ice time.

There’s also the possibility that Van Ryn’s injury is bad enough to place him on long term injury, which would relieve the Leafs of his cap hit, but I’d never wish that predicament on anyone.

Another defenseman whose name has gotten some play is Karlis Skrastins, a very underrated shot-blocking defenseman from Latvia. He would do a lot to tighten up the Leafs’ play in their own end, but he’d virtually make Jeff Finger unnecessary, and it’s doubtful the Panthers would give him up.

A few forwards have also been mentioned, one being the 23-year-old Booth. He notched 22 goals and 40 points last season, but is not seen as a legitimate top six forward. He is more likely to wind up as a two-way checking player. Problem is, the Leafs have quite a few players who fit that description, including free agent signing Niklas Hagman.

Weiss is another name that has been thrown out there. The fourth overall pick in 2001, he has never lived up to expectations. Despite being given lots of opportunity on a struggling Panthers squad, he has never broken the 50-point barrier and took a step backward last season with 42 points.

At this point, it’s tough to see Weiss becoming a second line centre. He could be for the Leafs, but that’s not exactly difficult. Acquiring Weiss would make the trade for Mikhail Grabovski pointless. It would be wise to let this underachiever stay in Florida.

Bloggers have also mentioned draft picks, and while it would be mind-boggling to see the Panthers give up a high first round pick in a deep draft for McCabe, they might move a second rounder.

The view from here says it will be McCabe and Ponikarovsky for Van Ryn and a 2009 second round pick.

It’s hard to know at this point who the principals will be, but we do know with relative certainty that Bryan McCabe will be a Florida Panther come September.

Once that happens, Cliff Fletcher will have completed all of his major objectives heading into the off-season. He got rid of big contracts and dead weight, he made the team considerably younger, faster and grittier, and the team had an excellent draft.

Congratulations on passing your first test with flying colours, Cliff. I don’t know why we ever doubted you.

Beijing Olympics: The 4 A.M. Wakeup Call

August 12, 2008

by Josh Lewis… The other night, I was watching CBC’s coverage of Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden’s decision to withdraw from the 200-metre freestyle semifinals. Then Ron MacLean mentioned that the final for the men’s rowing eights would be broadcast in the middle of the night (3:50 a.m. Atlantic time).

At least that’s what I thought he said.

Despite having to work the next morning, I decided to set my alarm clock and get up in the wee hours to watch the Canadian gold medal favourites try to win Canada’s first medal of the Beijing Olympics.

3:50 a.m. came, far too quickly, and the TV was clicked on (turned down low, of course). Then, to my complete surprise, it wasn’t the men’s eights competing. It was the women!

Now, with all due respect to the Canadian women’s rowing team, I was not exactly pleased to see this. The men’s eights are considered a heavy gold medal favourite. The women’s eights, not so much.

Did I mention that it was a preliminary heat and not the final?

Figuring that I was awake anyway, I decided to watch the women’s heat. The Canadians finished third out of four boats and must race in the repechage on Wednesday to advance to the semis.

Despite all that, I enjoyed the race. Rowing is one of my favourite Olympic sports, and it was a pleasure to watch the four boats giving it their all, finding the mental strength to push forward (or, in their case, backward) while their bodies screamed for relief.

It’s the allure of the Olympics and the thrill of international competition that hooks me every time. I find myself getting up at 7 a.m. to watch a field hockey match between South Korea and New Zealand, or a badminton match featuring a German and a Mexican.

These are sports that I would never watch under normal circumstances, especially if Canada is not involved, but somehow the Olympic banner and the prospect of best-on-best competition reels me in every time.

So, what drives me to get up in the middle of the night to watch a rowing competition? Even a hockey game would be hard-pressed to drag me out of bed at that hour.

It’s the excitement of watching athletes, everyday human beings, from all over the world try to better themselves. Their ability captivates our imagination. Their drive and determination reflect what we would like to see in ourselves. And the goal of achievement is something that we can all identify with.

NHL Millennium Megadraft: Round Two

August 7, 2008

http://flamesfan77.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/phaneuf_mar29.jpgby Josh Lewis… A few days ago, I brought you the first round of the NHL Millennium Megadraft, which is a reorganized collection of NHL draft picks between 2001 and 2006. The first round was comprised of players selected between first and fifth overall, thrown together into a ranked list of 30 players.

This time we’ll do the second round, which includes players drafted between sixth and 10th overall during the same time range.

Sadly, the second round of the Megadraft features just 29 players. The death of Vancouver defenseman Luc Bourdon in a motorcycle accident in May shocked the hockey world. Bourdon, who was selected 10th overall in the 2005 draft, surely would have ended up near the top of this list.

Here are the players who will make up Round Two of the NHL Millennium Megadraft:

2001: Mikko Koivu, Mike Komisarek, Pascal Leclaire, Tuomo Ruutu, Dan Blackburn

2002: Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Petr Taticek, Eric Nystrom

2003: Milan Michalek, Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Dion Phaneuf, Andrei Kostitsyn

2004: Al Montoya, Rostislav Olesz, Alexandre Picard, Ladislav Smid, Boris Valabik

2005: Gilbert Brule, Jack Skille, Devin Setoguchi, Brian Lee

2006: Derick Brassard, Kyle Okposo, Peter Mueller, James Sheppard, Michael Frolik

Now comes the hard part: ranking all 29 players in a new list. Once again, keep in mind that young players who haven’t yet established themselves will be ranked lower.

The List

31. Dion Phaneuf: No contest here. NHL’s best young d-man and future Norris winner.
32. Pierre-Marc Bouchard: Wild playmaker hit 63 points last year and climbing.
33. Milan Michalek: Physical winger had an off-year, but is still dangerous.
34. Mike Komisarek: Hard-nosed blueliner led NHL in hits last year.
35. Joffrey Lupul: Philly was perfect change of scenery for sniper; he is beginning to hit stride.
36. Pascal Leclaire: Had a breakout season with nine shutouts, but must avoid injuries.
37. Mikko Koivu: Saku’s brother starting to find offense; he is a strong two-way forward.
38. Ryan Suter: Edges out Coburn; he’s a two-way player becoming a mainstay on Preds blue line.
39. Braydon Coburn: Finally put it all together last season and has great offensive instincts.
40. Andrei Kostitsyn: Had a 26-goal, 53-point rookie campaign; there’s nowhere to go but up.
41. Peter Mueller:
54-point rookie year; big things in store for this ‘Yotes forward.
42. Tuomo Ruutu: Injuries have derailed progress for this former blue-chipper.
43. Scottie Upshall: Offense hasn’t translated to NHL, but energy sure has.
44. Rostislav Olesz: Struggling to find his offense, but is dripping with potential.
45. Ladislav Smid: Hasn’t been a standout in Edmonton, but he hasn’t been bad either.
46. Devin Setoguchi: Played 44 games last year, and didn’t look out of place.
47. Gilbert Brule: Struggling in a big way. Will be in tough for him to get big minutes in Edmonton.
48. James Sheppard: Didn’t produce much in rookie year, but Wild will develop him right.
49. Kyle Okposo: Five points in nine games last year for sniper.
50. Derick Brassard: Slick playmaker struggled in cameo last year, but impressed at AHL level.
51. Michael Frolik: Yet to see NHL, but loaded with offensive potential.
52. Boris Valabik: Towering Slovak got a cup of coffee last year; looks poised to grab full-time spot.
53. Jack Skille: 16 games with Hawks last year. He’s a gritty player that’s likely just a year away.
54. Brian Lee: Picked over Bourdon, Staal, and could crack roster this year.
55. Al Montoya: Dealt to Phoenix and is coming off a subpar year; his stock has fallen considerably.
56. Eric Nystrom: This defensive forward is having trouble making Flames. He played 44 games last year.
57. Alexandre Picard: He was picked far higher than his ranking; one point in 43 career games. May not make NHL at all.
58. Dan Blackburn: A promising career cut short by nerve damage in shoulder. 63 career games.
59. Petr Taticek: He played three games with Florida before being traded to Pens; he’s in Switzerland now.

NHL Millennium Megadraft: Round One

August 5, 2008

by Josh Lewis…

If you’re confused by the title, don’t feel bad. You’re probably not alone. So I’ll explain how this works.

Being a draft junkie, and experiencing writer’s block due to the lack of hockey action in August, I’ve decided to play around a bit with the last few drafts.

I’ve taken the top five picks from each of the last six drafts (starting with 2001, and leaving out 2007 and 2008, because most of those players haven’t hit the NHL yet). I’ve then merged all 30 players into one newly-ranked list.

And that gives us round one of the NHL Millennium Megadraft.

Let’s get started. Here are the players we’ll be working with:

2001: Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Alex Svitov, Stephen Weiss, Stanislav Chistov

2002: Rick Nash, Kari Lehtonen, Jay Bouwmeester, Joni Pitkanen, Ryan Whitney

2003: Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Nikolai Zherdev, Thomas Vanek

2004: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Cam Barker, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler

2005: Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Jack Johnson, Benoit Pouliot, Carey Price

2006: Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel

Now to plunk them all into one list, and rank them 1-30. Remember, some of the younger players (e.g. Bobby Ryan) haven’t established themselves in the NHL yet and will be ranked lower accordingly.

THE LIST

1. Sidney Crosby: Edges out OV in a two-man race.
2. Alex Ovechkin: A no-brainer.
3. Evgeni Malkin: Not far behind Ovechkin, but not quite on the same level.
4. Rick Nash: Explosive goalscorer has improved all-around game.
5. Ilya Kovalchuk: Other-worldly talent, no supporting cast.
6. Marc-Andre Fleury: Finally proved himself in 2008 playoffs.
7. Jay Bouwmeester: Two-way D-man likely to hit market next summer.
8. Eric Staal: Excellent all-around talent, though consistency is an issue.
9. Jason Spezza: Propensity for turnovers puts him a shade behind Staal.
10. Jonathan Toews: New ‘Hawks captain could be near top of list in future.
11. Kari Lehtonen: Injuries an issue, but Lehtonen is a rock when healthy.
12. Thomas Vanek: Tailed off last year, but 50 goals not out of reach.
13. Nathan Horton: Power forward in the making has put injuries behind him.
14. Joni Pitkanen: Stock has fallen considerably, but franchise potential still there.
15. Erik Johnson: Sky is the limit for Blues’ franchise player.
16. Jordan Staal: Strong PKer who can snipe, but offensive upside is questionable.
17. Nikolai Zherdev: Perennial headache could reach new heights in Big Apple.
18. Ryan Whitney: Offensive d-man has room to improve in own end.
19. Nicklas Backstrom: Look for Swede to climb the charts setting up Ovechkin.
20. Carey Price: Unflappable goalie will rise considerably with more experience.
21. Phil Kessel: Not the Next One, but Kessel will be a first line forward.
22. Jack Johnson: Nasty rearguard could form NHL’s top pairing with Doughty.
23. Stephen Weiss: Centre not living up to expectations; third line centre on most teams.
24. Andrew Ladd: Canes pick looks for fresh start in Chicago; lots of time yet.
25. Cam Barker: Having trouble cracking a regular spot; object of trade rumours.
26. Bobby Ryan: Why Ducks took him over JJ, we’ll never know; maybe a top-six forward.
27. Benoit Pouliot: Not an NHL regular yet, but development still on track.
28. Stanislav Chistov: Bruins reclamation project all but finished with NHL.
29. Alex Svitov: Played three seasons with disappointing results before returning home.
30. Blake Wheeler: Off-the-board pick who just finished college, signed with Bruins.

Feel free to make your own list and post it below.

Young Leafs: The Carlo Colaiacovo Saga

August 1, 2008

by Josh Lewis… Carlo Colaiacovo’s career in hockey can be summed up by this: when you type his name into Google Image Search, the first photo returned shows him skating off the ice with the assistance of a trainer.

Every fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs knows Colaiacovo’s story. Top prospect, first round pick, world junior star, sky-high potential—all of it ruined by injury.

Colaiacovo was selected in the first round of the 2001 draft, 17th overall, by the Leafs. He was considered an elite defense prospect and anchored Team Canada’s blue line at the World Junior Championship for three straight years. Alas, the first revelation of the hero’s fatal flaw came in his final year of junior with the Erie Otters, when injuries and an appearance at the World Junior limited him to just 35 games.

In five seasons since then, Colaiacovo has missed a whopping 179 games with the Leafs and Toronto Marlies—an average of 36 games per season—due to injuries ranging from a concussion to knee damage to a broken hand.

Every time Colaiacovo returns to the line-up and starts to get into a rhythm, he gets hurt again. This has greatly hindered his development. His career high is 48 games in 2006-07, when he put up eight goals and nine assists.

No one doubts Colaiacovo’s ability, though. When healthy, he’s a devastating hitter with good shutdown ability and some offense. He’s got the talent to be a legitimate top four defenseman at the very least.

Heck, if not for his lengthy injury list, I have no doubt he’d be making up the top pairing with Tomas Kaberle right now. But the fact of the matter is that Colaiacovo isn’t on the top pairing, and he isn’t always healthy. His woes have caused him to be leapfrogged on the depth chart by Anton Stralman and, to an extent, Ian White.

Colaiacovo will most likely come into camp competing for a spot on the third pairing, and that’s even if Bryan McCabe or Pavel Kubina is dealt. If he stays healthy (a colossal ‘if’), he will have the opportunity to work his way into the top four, but that would require outplaying either Stralman or Jeff Finger.

Colaiacovo is in much the same situation Nik Antropov found himself in last year. He’s coming into training camp facing a make-or-break season. If he stays healthy, he has the chance to take on a bigger role, but if he doesn’t, he’s likely gone.

We all know what Antropov did last year. That doesn’t mean Colaiacovo will thrive this season, but maybe he can learn from his Kazakh teammate. Be confident, pick your spots, and use your skills on a more consistent basis. Those are the keys to a successful year for Carlo.

Let’s hope that top-end talent will finally shine through. But I wouldn’t bet the family pig on it.

Prediction: 54 games, 10 g, 16 a, 26 pts

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