|Consider yourself warned! Phil Coffey, NHL.com's editorial director, will share his views on the NHL frequently in this space over the course of the season.
Making a list ...
a real long list
Never accuse Hockey Canada officials of not sweating the details.
Getting ready for the 2006 Winter Olympics, Canada isn't taking any chances on having a player get lost in Olympic bureaucracy, submitting a list of 81 players -- nine goalies, 23 defensemen and 49 forwards -- who have the potential of making Team Canada's trip to Turin, Italy.
And the mind-boggling aspect of this list is you could divide it all into three pretty impressive teams, a fact not lost on Wayne Gretzky, reprising his role as Team Canada's executive director.
"As a country, we are very lucky to have such a wealth of talented players to select from," Gretzky said. "As a management and coaching staff, the task of reducing this list to 23 players will be challenging as we strive to defend Olympic Gold in Turin."
Paring the list down to 23 players may be harder than winning the gold medal.
Let's just look at the defensemen as an example. Figure on Team Canada naming eight defensemen for the tournament. Here is the list of candidates.
Adrian Aucoin, Rob Blake, Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Boyle, Nick Boynton, Eric Brewer, Eric Desjardins, Adam Foote, Scott Hannan, Barret Jackman, Ed Jovanovski, Bryan McCabe, Kyle McLaren, Derek Morris, Scott Niedermayer, Dion Phaneuf, Chris Phillips, Chris Pronger, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr, Sheldon Souray, Steve Staios and Brad Stuart.
As a starting point, let's replicate the defense from Canada's 2004 World Cup team that won the tournament. That's eight players right there – Bouwmeester, Brewer, Foote, Hannan, Jovanovski, Niedermayer, Redden and Regehr.
Not a ban apple in the bunch to be sure. But that leaves Blake in the cold. And Jackman. Souray is sure worth considering, and Phaneuf is a rookie, but has a lot of international experience with the Canadian juniors. And McCabe has come of age in Toronto. And ... and ... and ...
You get the point. This is going to be a good, old-fashioned conundrum for Gretzky and company. But it's a good problem to have when your country can produce this much elite talent.
Time for a prediction. Barring injury, Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders will be Team USA's starting goalie in Turin.
No offense to Robert Esche and Ty Conklin, Team USA's other goalies at the world Cup, but DiPietro looks to have taken his game to the next level.
Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, DiPietro was sensational in helping the Islanders to a 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers. DiPietro was strong, acrobatic and in charge throughout and was the Isles' best player in the game.
By the time Turin rolls around, expect DiPietro to get the nod in goal for the Americans.
Goalies want to see a little love
"Hey what about us?"
That's the lament of goalies around the NHL these days who want referees to spend as much time calling penalties against crease interlopers as they have in other areas of the rink.
Montreal's Jose Theodore was an unhappy camper after seeing Ottawa's Antoine Vermette a little too up-close-and-personal Tuesday night as the Senators scored the winning goal against the Habs.
The new standard of enforcement on hooking, holding and cross-checking has largely paid off in a more wide-open game, better speed and more goals. But one of the consequences has been the ability of forwards to set up camp in front of goaltenders and make themselves at home.
"They put a lot of traffic in front of the net and our defensemen aren't really allowed to push them around," Theodore told reporters. "A couple of times they were in my crease and the refs didn't call it. They gave them some warnings, but they kept coming back in the crease. I think that's something the refs need to be really strict about."
Hard to disagree. While screening a goalie is a tried-and-true offensive tactic, getting too close isn't fair either.
"Our players have to make the adjustments in that area," Montreal coach Claude Julien said. "I guess offensively, crashing the net more if they're not going to call it. Defensively, we have to find ways to let Jose see the puck a lot better, and at the same time hopefully there will be a little bit of an adjustment from both sides -- the referees and the players -- to try and make sure we don't create some serious injury situations."
Back in the day, Phil Esposito and other forwards of his day, staged memorable battles for position in front of the net, and they did so without knocking the goalies over. I remember those as some of the highlights of many a game, Espo and Brad Park battling in front of the net.
Ken Hitchcock has a gripe too, but it isn't with the officials, but rather with the Philadelphia Flyers' lack of success on special teams thus far.
Armed with one of the strongest rosters in the NHL, Hitchcock voiced his complaints after Tuesday's 4-2 loss in Toronto, where the Flyers' penalty killers allowed another goal, having now allowed five power-play goals in three games.
That's a 73.7 percent success rate, far off what you would expect from the Flyers.
"We've allowed (five) power play goals in three games," Hitchcock said after the loss to the Leafs. "I don't really care how well their goaltender played, I don't care how many scoring chances we had, we lost the special teams game again.
"We did a lot of things very well tonight," Hitchcock said. "We were tied 2-2 on the road going into the third, and that's a great position to be in. And then to give up the power play (goal) was really disappointing. I really feel when you're killing a penalty that it's the group that has the biggest sense of desperation that ends up winning the game. That's the game within a game and we're losing it."
Sounding the clarion call, expect the Flyers to pick it up pretty quickly or risk the wrath of Hitchcock, never a pleasant experience.
First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all our Canadian friends. Have a safe and happy holiday.
Took in games Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia and New Jersey, but did it differently.
Walking into the Wachovia Center Friday night, I ran into an old friend who had an extra ticket, so I passed up the press box for a game in the stands.
Lots of excitement for the Flyers' faithful as Philly staged a very impressive comeback effort against the Devils, erasing a 2-0 deficit to post an impressive 5-2 win. You don't do that too often against Marty Brodeur, and the folks in Philly were savoring the experience big time.
Saturday night, I stashed myself in the upper deck at Continental Airlines Arena for the Devils-Rangers game. It wasn't the customary sellout, 17,698 instead of 19,040, but that didn't keep people from enjoying the Devils' 3-2 win.
A disappointing loss for the Rangers, but for a team picked to finish last in most places, the Rangers competed hard for the whole game and were the better team in the first 40 minutes.
The Rangers, many of whom are very new to the NHL, work hard and you have to be impressed with the work coach Tom Renney and his staff are doing. Renney didn't like the way Tom Poti and Jamie Lundmark were playing, so they sat out the game. That hasn't always been the case with the Rangers and it's a good sign that players will be rewarded with ice time for performing.
Really liked Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Big guy, plays the position well and doesn't get rattled. He is a guy worth watching closely.
It was enjoyable to sit with the fans. To be honest, sitting in the press box is often an alienating experience and it's easy to become distant from the paying customers. Plus, you feel the passion and excitement that isn't there among media types.
Got home Saturday night and had taped the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game off the Center Ice package. Wow! Great game. I'm sure that doesn't make Maple Leafs fans feel any better, but it was great to watch. Felt like a playoff game.
Also came away with a good feeling for the shootout -- against my better judgment -- in the Anaheim-Nashville game when Paul Kariya netted the winning goal on the last shot of the shootout. Pretty dramatic.
Whoops, he did it again!
Those of you who read my musings regularly -- and means you're undoubtedly related to me in some fashion since it is select group to be sure, know I'm a dog guy.
We have quite an assortment of canines at the "Coffey Compound", but one comes to mind during hockey season because of his ability to make me miss key goals and plays.
"Buddy" is a 12-year-old Labrador Retriever and his personality reflects his name. Except at 10 p.m.
That's the time of night ol' Bud likes to take his tour of the neighborhood to insure all is secure. It also coincides pretty much with the end of the 7 and 7:30 p.m. games and over the years, Buddy's constitutional has seen me contemplating nature a lot more than who got the winning goal.
Why do I bring this up? Well it happened again Thursday night.
Tucked away in the corner of the house in an attempt to be unnoticed while watching the Canadiens play the Rangers on MSG Network, I thought I was going to make it, the finish line was in sight!
But then the Rangers' Dominic Moore just had to score that power-play goal that tied the game at 3-3 at 17:24 of the third. Thanks man!
That set up the ugly specter of missing overtime -- again. Sure enough, the game heads into overtime and here comes Buddy.
I've found over the years that you can't negotiate with Bud. No "five more minutes!" It's then and now.
And so it was Thursday night. Out we went and in went the OT goal by Montreal's Michael Ryder at 2:10 of the extra session.
Buddy's streak remains intact, but I've found a way around him for Friday night, I'll get to the Devils-Flyers game in person!Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005
Worth the wait
As opening nights go, Wednesday was an unqualified success around the NHL.
Eleven of the 15 games were played to capacity crowds and all tolled, the 15 games played to 98 percent capacity.
In all, 275,447 folks attended games across North America, which breaks down to an average of 18,363.
And what did we see?
A little bit of everything to be sure.
The Rangers pulled off a shocker in Philadelphia thanks to Jaromir Jagr, who certainly lived up to his reputation as one of the best players in the world.
Chatting with Daren Eliot this morning, he was singing the praises of Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. Darren says Luongo is better with the League-mandated smaller pads. He'll go in depth with his analysis on NHL.com Friday.
Paul Kukla from the Kukla's Korner blog was pounding the remote on the Center Ice package for opening night and voted Senators-Maple Leafs the top game and Eric Lindros the Leafs' top player.
I took in Sidney Crosby's debut and the game with New Jersey proved that as much as things change, they stay the same. Rules changes or not, new rink dimensions or not, new equipment regulations or not, Martin Brodeur is exceptional.
And I came away impressed with Alexander Mogilny's eyesight. In the third period, teammate Sergei Brylin fired a shot that appeared to ring off the post, but Mogilny went right to the spot inside the Penguins net and called the officials' attention to it. A check of the replay showed Brylin had indeed scored.
And how about the comeback! Boy was that a welcomed sight to see Dallas, Nashville, the Rangers and Ottawa stage comebacks. For too long the stats would read "Team A is 33-0-0 when leading after two periods", making you wonder why we had to bother with the third period. A few more comebacks like this will make the games even more interesting.
All in all, a great opening night, one that was worth the wait.
It's about time!
I'm working at my desk here in Manhattan as I type this, but not for long!
It's opening night of the 2005-06 season and after taking care of business here today, namely getting Lindsay Kramer's first AHL Report of the season and Larry Wigge's piece on Jarome Iginla ready to hit the site Thursday morning, I'm off to the Meadowlands to see Sidney Crosby's NHL debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the New Jersey Devils.
In some respects it feels weird to finally be getting to a game that counts. At NHL.com, we've had a really busy summer, what with the ratification of the new CBA, the draft lottery, the Entry Draft in Ottawa and a crazy summer of trades and free-agency, plus putting together a season-preview section that started back on Sept. 1.
Now, all that work comes to fruition as play resumes with new rules, bigger offensive zones, a shootout and lots of new, young players.
Crosby looks like the real deal so far, certainly in terms of handling the media demands that have been thrust upon him. But he isn't the only young player to get excited about. I've seen Mike Richards and Jeff Carter of the Flyers a couple times and they are very impressive. Zach Parise looks like the real deal for the devils and I really want to see Kari Lehtonen in goal for the Thrashers.
But I also want to welcome back some "old friends", players who make the game so addictive, like Jeremy Roenick, Marty Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Jarome Iginla, and about 600 others.
And let's not forget to send best wishes to Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens and all the players who retired since the NHL last played.
And most of all, remember to send your good thoughts and best wishes to Pat Burns and John Ferguson Sr., as they battle cancer.