Wednesday, September 28, 2005

CasonBlog in the ATL


photo: Nashville Predators
At least he's no longer a Flyer...
I'm off to the ATL tomorrow on business. I've got lower level tix to see the Thrash vs. the Preds on Friday night. I can't wait to see Danny Markov again. I love the way he rolls his helmet back on his head so that his shield only protects from the eyebrow up. I think this even passes the Sean Avery Frenchie test, huh? God, I miss Danny in Hurricane red.

Others players I'll be watching with great interest:

  • Marian Hossa
  • The Unibrow (Holik)
  • Coburn
  • Kariya
  • Captain Mellanby
  • Saberhawks Blogger Challenge #2 Goalie Kari Lehtonen
  • Zidlicky
  • CasonBlog fav Danny Markov
  • Steve Sullivan
Stand by for a full report on Monday, next!

Monday, September 26, 2005

'Canes shopping a blueliner?


photo: some company that sells cute bears

Is this the Face of the Hurricanes Defense? We're Dooomed I Say, Doomed!!!!
(I'm sure there's a very manly excuse for this photo, right Aaron?)
The 'Canes seem to have an abundance of like-skilled blueliners at this stage in the preseason. With Andrew Hutchinson and Mike Commodore making a strong cases for big-club roster spots on October 5, it might be time to move one of the guys who might have over-stayed his welcome. Commodore was acquired to be the physical presence the 'Canes lacked when they last took the ice. Hutchinson is racking up preseason points in his bid to join Oleg Tverdovsky as the 'Canes principal puck-carrying defensemen. JR is on record saying he doesn't want a deja vou of his 2003 Marek Malik mistake. Malik, the league's plus/minus leader in '03-'04 and the ugliest skater I've ever seen (more like a cross country skier on blades), turned out to be Lurch on steroids for the 'Canucks.

News and Observer writer, J.P. Giglio reported the other day, prime candidates for greener pastures appear to be Frankie Kaberle and Aaron Ward. A couple of reports I have read indicate Ward's not keeping up with the flow of play in the new NHL. Kaberle is a tough call. JR went out and got him before last season crashed, but I'm not sure what he brings that Hutchinson or Danny Richmond can't right now.

Bret Hedican and his 2+ mil contract might be in play, but he might still need to demonstrate he's really back from back surgery before his market value rises enough to justify the expense. Bret might end up being a later-in-the-season push to a contender if the 'Canes tank.

Giglio (I wonder if he looks like Rob Schneider as well) says the Coyotes, Preds, Devils, and Jackets have had scouts looking at the 'Canes, with Phoenix most interested. The Coyotes have issues on the blueline and in goal. They also have about 20 centers on their preseason roster-a position we aren't in dire need to fill right now with Roddy, Adams, Cullen, Staal, and Vasicek already in the queue. The Preds also have concerns on the blueline. The Devils want to unload salary, and according to fourthperiod.com, Sergei Brylin and Jamie Langenbruner being dangled. The Bluejackets probably also need help on "D" and a solid goaltending prospect.

If a deal of consequence get's done (more significant than Brendl for Harold Druken and a bag of pucks), I think will involve one of the 'Canes goaltending prospects (Nastiuk or Peters). JR might be holding his fire until he definitively believes Cam Ward is the future in goal. But the Malik debacle is probably not the only bad trade in the back of JR's mind right about now. He probably also remembers letting Giguere go for Trevor Kidd (Ok, Gary Roberts was part of the deal as well).

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Have the Kids Arrived?


photo: carolina hurricanes
Hustle Paying off
Darkhorse Chad Larose Tallies 2 Pts vs. the 'Ning

Youth Movement
Ok, it's still early, but some of the kids continue to impress. While the vets continue to nurse groin pulls, the under-30 crowd is racking up points and winning games. JR has bet heavily this year on the emergence of his young guys, and it's paying off thus far in preseason. If I'm Vrbata, Brendl, Hedican, Ward, St. Jacques, or Wallin, I'd looking over my shoulder right about now. Andrew Hutchinson is playing like he's the second coming of Dick Tarnstrom. Young Danny Richmond stepped it up tonight as well. If Mike Commodore becomes the the key crease and dasher enforcer, it might make things interesting for a few vets.

Big Joe (2 goals 1 assist tonight) is living up to his god-given power forward physical gifts. He's cutting to the net with power and just about owning the crease. The last goal of tonight's tilt featured a breakaway chance by Eric Cole (4 assists tonight) finished by the Condor. Justin Williams and Mike Zigomanis are also showing real killer instinct. Hustling Chad Larose (goal, assist) finally got a got his first preseason goal on a penalty shot. Danny Richmond even had two points tonight.

Filling the Void in Preseason Game Media and Stats Coverage
Hat's off to the Tampa Bay Lightning web team. I've never seen such detailed in-game and post-game stat summaries before. Check out all you can get from tonight's preseason game from their site. The 'Canes site, with it's circa 1995 html marquee scroll, pales in comparison. I do however like the pix and the goal videos the 'Canes web crew posts after the games. You get the gist from the videos, but they come through on my cox.net connection pretty grainy and jumpy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

If I had to pick 'em today

Hutchinson nets one lower-left photo: slam hockey

After two preseason games, it's time for the Good, Bad, Ugly Report

The Good
Ziggy: Looks like Mike Zigomanis is playing his tail off. After authorizing his agent to pursue a trade in the off season, he seems to be playing like a man who knows it might be his last chance to stick. He leads the NHL in total preseason points as of today, and at least one of his goals against the Panthers was a very nasty wrister from the slot.

Hutchinson: Might be a steal of a deal. Very smooth skating on the penetration and goal he scored vs. the Panthers (both Nikki and Hutchinson scored).

The Bad
Brendl: Reports from game eye witnesses indicate Krispy has pretty lethargic on the ice. He might be taking that last train to Pilsen.

The Ugly
Gerber: Looked slow and unathletic on the grainy highlight reel. Let's see if Ward's play in the first game was the real deal.

If I had to pick 'em today
Stillman-Staal-Williams
Vasicek-Roddy-Cole
Whitney-Cullen-Vrbata
Nordgren-Adams-Zigomanis
Boulerice-La Rose

Tverdovsky-Wesley
Kaberle-Hedican
Ward-Hutchinson
Wallin

Gerber
Ward

Friday, September 16, 2005

Creating a Team That Lives in "the Zone"

"The zone" describes a mind-body experience when an athlete just seems to know where to be, when to be there, and how to finish. As a high school baseball player I had a brief in-the-zone experience. I was already 2 for 2 in a game against our arch-rivals when I came up to the plate in the top of the last inning. I hit a grand slam to put us up one run. The ball seemed to slow down that day-like I could see the seams. I didn't really swing hard-the ball just jumped off my bat. My time in the zone was shortlived. In the bottom of the last inning I threw the ball over the dugout on a relay to home. It cost us the game.

Would any hockey prognosticator have predicted the Hurricanes as a Stanley Cup finalist in 2002? How about a Lightning/Flames final in 2003? I think not. These were teams that lived in the zone for those brief moments in time. The Hurricanes might never have made it to the '02 Cup final had it not been for Nick Wallin's improbable overtime goal in game 4 of the Canadians series. That goal deflated the Canadians. It took them out of their, "Saku is back-we are French and invicible" zone. It also boosted the 'Canes belief in their own rising star-a star that unfortunately peaked and imploded after a grueling overtime loss in game 2 of the '02 Cup finals.

This week the boys are in up-tempo immersion therapy, Lavvy-style. Gone are the days of defense, defense, defense, counterpunch, defense. From what I'm reading, the 'Canes will spend almost as much time building team identity and chemistry as they will spend learning the system. He's got a family picnic day and a ropes course program on the training camp schedule. I'm not sure I believe in the all the Dr. Phil, Dr. Covey, touchy-feeling stuff. Hockey players are not wired like Arthur Anderson consultants.

On the radio the other day, I heard a former politician (name witheld to avoid knee-jerk political reactions) quoted as saying, "If you're not on the offensive then you're playing defense." Being on the defensive all the time wears out your team and your fans. You are forced to play/watch not in expectation of the next rush, but in fear of a break in the levee.

One of the reasons I'm optomistic about this upcoming season is that Lavvy seems committed to up-tempo hockey. I think this will foster an expectation among the boys that they will inevitably gain control over the flow and tempo of their games. Control is power and once the 'Canes start believing that they have the power reach out and grab control of a game through the force of their will, they will begin to live in the zone on a nightly basis.

Hey, Tony Roberts has nothing on me...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Camp Opens with a Glut in Goal


image: timrak eagles
CasonBlog's Darkhorse '05 Hurricane- Niklas Nordgren

Which of the following 'Canes was featured on the cover of the 2003 Training Camp guide?

  • Kevin Weekes
  • Radim Vrbata
  • Ron Francis
  • Arturs Irbe
  • Wally Tatomir

Answer is at the bottom of this post...

Camp begins tomorrow and the 'Canes have invited 39 players to participate. JR has invited five goalies to camp. Sounds to me like it's showcase time to set the stage for a possible trade. Nastiuk and Peters played extremely well in last week's Ottawa Senators Rookie tourney. The 'Canes are the only club in Hockey's Future organizational rankings to feature three goalies in the top prospects list.

So who needs young talent in goal? According to Hockey's Future's organizational rankings, the following clubs have a significant weakness in goal: Nashville, LA Anaheim, Minnesota, Florida, Phoenix, NYI, Toronto, and Tampa. I don't think we are talking about immediate impact here, just an investment in the system's playmaking forward pool. The future on defense is getting stronger now with Jack Johnson in the system. If Richmond, Commodore, Hutchinson and Vjota have good camps, the need is probably less pressing on defense. Anaheim has a trifecta of very talented forwards in the system in Gretzlaf, Perry and '05 pick Ryan. The Kings also have a wealth of good young forwards in Brown, '05 pick Kopitar, and Tambellini.

My what a difference a lost season can make. There will be quite a few new faces in Hurricanes camp this year. The only old face I really miss is Danny Markov. Here's a look back at the 2003 camp roster (players who have moved on are in red):

Adams, Craig
Markov, Danny
Adams, Kevin
Murray, Marty
Bayda, Ryan
O'Neill, Jeff
Boughner, Bob

Richmond, Danny
Brendl, Pavel
Rourke, Allan
DesRochers, Patrick
St. Jacques, Bruno
Francis, Ron
Staal, Eric
Hedican, Bret
Trojovsky, Matej
Kurka, Tomas
Zepp, Rob
Boulerice, Jesse
Svoboda, Jaroslav
Brind'Amour, Rod
Tetarenko, Joey
Cole, Erik
Vasicek, Josef
Daniels, Jeff
Vrbata, Radim
DeFauw, Brad
Wallin, Niclas
Fast, Brad
Ward, Aaron
Heerema, Jeff
Ward, Cam
Hill, Sean
Weekes, Kevin
Malec, Tomas
Wesley, Glen
Surma, Damian
Zigomanis, Michael


Answer: Radim Vrbata graced the cover in 2003

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pavel on the Bubble


photo: tsn.com
Great nicknames abound in the sport of hockey. "The Rocket," "the Golden Jet," "Boom Boom," and of course, "the Great One," come immediately to mind. The Hurricanes have a player who has been given (by local fans) the rather unfortunate nickname of "Krispy." No, not as in crisp play, crisp skating, or crisp finishes, it's Krispy, as in Krispy Kreme.

Pavel Brendl was the number 4 overall pick in the 1999 draft, and thought at the time to be a future scoring machine. He was traded prior to the 2001 season along with Jan Hvlac (another sweet treat), Kim Johnsson, and a 3rd round pick to the Flyers for Eric Lindros. The Rangers, never really known as purveyors of best practices in the field of personnel management, were willing to give up a top four pick within two years. Worse yet, they were willing to package him with three other players to get Lindros.

The Flyers also quickly soured on Brendl. They moved him and Bruno St. Jacques to the 'Canes in 2003 for an under-performing Sami Kapanen and a guy who is probably playing in a beer league right now in Alberta.

Now with his third NHL organization, Brendl had a poor showing in camp in 2003 and started the year with the Lowell Lockmonsters of the AHL. I remember a radio interview early in the fall of 2003 in which Jim Rutherford commented rather harshly on Pavel's work ethic, conditioning and overall attitude. JR basically told 850 The Buzz host Adam Gold that until he saw changes, the young Czech wouldn't get near the RBC Center.

Hockey Armageddon arrived in 2004 with the lockout, forcing Brendl overseas to play in the friendly confines of his native land. Well, Pavel went through two Czech clubs within the first two months of the '04-'05 season, and quickly exited the Bohemian Beer Belt for a chance to play for the MIF Redhawks (not to be confused with my beloved CCHA Miami University Redhawks) in Sweden. Here at last he was able to establish some roots, learn to sing karaoke in time with old ABBA records, and become a pillar in the local community-for around a week!

Next, the jet-setting international man of mystery was off to Finland-much like Sweden, just less rigidly Germanic. Pavel lasted around a month in Finland, likely finding the bland local cuisine and extended periods of twilight unbearable.

Arrrrgh! Time to move on. This time to Switzerland. Oooodles of chocolate, Riiiicoooolas, and goalies who just aren't quite good enough to make a real dent in the NHL; all in a nation with a reputation for keeping their nose out of other people's business. This could just be the perfect place for an iconoclast young Czech to play hockey! Krispy lasted around a month in the Swiss league.

The Pavel Brendl European tour ended last spring with Jokipojat Joensuu (say that three times fast) in Finland's free road kill reindeer meat league.

Pavel Brendl and the 'Canes will begin camp next week. Last time I checked, the roster listed 28 forwards. Andrew Ladd, the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft is playing his butt off in the Ottawa Senators Rookie tourney right now. Niklas Nordgren (sorry 'Cane fans, apparently no relation to Tiger's turbo-hottie wife), linemate of Henrik Zetterberg and all-around scoring stud from the Swedish Elite league, will also be in camp trying to make the squad. The Hurricanes made a rather big deal out of his signing. Mike Zigomanis is looking at perhaps his last shot at sticking with the big club. Krispy better bring his "A" game, and leave his bags packed.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Guf' Coast Relief Donation Options


Bloggers are united in the effort to harness the reach and power of digital communications to bring in desperately needed funds for the folks of the Gulf Coast. On many hockey blogs, you will find the image link shown above to the Red Cross' donation page. Please click and donate what you can. A season's worth of third period beers is worth around $100, a small price to pay to help bring food, shelter and medical attention to good folks in dire need.

The Carolina Panthers have a pretty unique program going as well. They call it, "Beads for the Bayou." Donate $10 and get a set of Mardi Gras beads. Click here to check it out.