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The Penalty Box: Quality over quantity

Thursday, 05.22.2008 / 9:00 AM / Crashing the Net

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor




Everybody seems to be hunkered down for what should be a thrilling ride through the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps that is why only the most dedicated Penalty Box inhabitants found time to write this week. Fortunately, the lack of quantity in the mailbag is easily made up for by the quality of the submissions – which is one of the Penalty Box's most endearing traits.

This week's mailbag focuses on the exploits of Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron, the World Championships – including the performance turned in by Finland – CTN's (incorrectly) perceived bias against all things Detroit, Sweden's chances to defend its Olympic gold and the futures of both the Calgary and Philadelphia franchises. As an added bonus, CTN throws in a fine summer vacation idea, courtesy of a Penalty Box regular.

CTN invites all of you to join the discussion. Write about whatever it is in hockey or CTN that stirs your passion and send it to roarkeblog@nhl.com. Remember to include your name and hometown and look for your submission to appear in a future edition of the Penalty Box.

***

Hey CTN,

Great column last week, it's probably one of my favorites in the relatively brief CTN history. How about the playoff story of Marty Biron? In his previous trip to the second season he spent the entire run riding the pine, but a trade at the deadline last season (and a few key offseason moves from the team) and suddenly Marty is backstopping the Cinderella story of these playoffs.

Just a small correction in your response to Alan Neilson's letter last week, Philly has knocked off the third and then first seed in the East, by the time your next column comes out they will likely have lost to the second-seeded Penguins.

Some food for thought for you here CTN, if you think a Sakic-less NHL is a scary thought for you imagine being in my shoes, I'm 23 and since I don't recall watching hockey at 4 years old I've never known the NHL without Sakic and I'm a Colorado fan too, that's like a double kick.

Keep up the awesome work and Go Pens Go!

-- Tyler Moyes, Cambridge, Ont.


Tyler, buddy, how can you change allegiances like that? From a dyed-in-the-wool Avs' fan to a Penguins fan? I know, I know, you hate the Wings more than traffic, so anybody that can deny Detroit a Stanley Cup is OK in your book, right?

You bring up an excellent playoff journey in the one Marty Biron underwent this spring. What a ride it was for him! And, he handled it all – including the struggles in the Eastern Conference Finals – with class and humility. Plus, he remains one of the best quotes in all of hockey.

Finally, stop making CTN feel so dang old. CTN will turn 40 this fall and needs as few reminders of that milestone as possible. CTN was 20 years old when Sakic broke into the League.


***
Hey CTN,
 
I'm writing to you for the first time although I've been reading your stuff for years. Thanks for your insightful articles. First off, I'm a dedicated Flames fan from Finland and I was wondering what was your take on the future of the Flames' franchise. They've got their three best players signed long term (Kipper, Iggy and Phaneuf) but they seem to lack depth. Do you see light at the end of the tunnel for us, another run for the Cup like we had in 2004 in the future?

Secondly, over here in Finland we are following the Ice Hockey World Championships with a real passion. By the time you write again, the tournament will be over and we will know who has won. It goes without saying that I wish with all my heart that Finland wins. I've noticed that the people in Canada, in spite of the tournament being played there AND with no Canadian NHL team left in the playoffs, while passionate about the tournament they don't seem to be as enthusiastic about it as we Finns are. When the tournament was held in Finland in '97 and '03, those years marked the highest crowd attendances for the tournament's history. I expected the Canadians to match us since they care as much, if not more, about hockey than we do. Yet, they don't seem to be doing that. Could the fact that European hockey fans have a longer way to travel to the championships this year as opposed to previous years' tournaments (all held in Europe) be a factor? I would be curious as to what is CTN's opinion about this matter.

-- Will Pullinen, Helsinki, Finland


Hey Will, thanks for the compliment and the thought-provoking questions. We'll take them in order. The Flames are not in a bad place at all in CTN's opinion. They are strong in the core positions with the players you mentioned. Iginla is a top-tier talent up front capable of carrying a team. Phaneuf isn't even close to reaching his prime, which is a scary thought. And Kipper can get hot for long stretches of time, as 2004 proved. The one area that has to give pause to the organization is its possible lack of depth up front. Craig Conroy, Daymond Langkow, Owen Nolan, Kristian Huselius and Stephane Yelle could all be unrestricted free agents come July. Wholesale losses up front could be tough for the team to overcome.

Now, as far as the World Championships go, things did not work out as you hoped. The Finns did not win gold, settling instead for bronze. CTN loved watching this Finnish team, which was not loaded with stars, but played a very physical, north-south, North American game. As a long-time reader, Will, you should know that CTN likes that no-frills, alley-fight style of game. Finland should be proud of its boys and what they accomplished. CTN isn't sure where you are getting your numbers from, but it appeared to CTN that the tournament was very well supported. In fact, the IIHF says that Canada '08 was the third-best attended World Championships, behind only Czech '04 and Finland '97. The tournament drew 477, 040 fans, an average of almost 9,000 per game.  CTN does think that Canada's distance from Europe did suppress some of the strong European presence that we are used to seeing at these games and it was a more North American crowd atmosphere, which does not feature the singing or noisemaking typical of European crowds. CTN watched a good portion of the tournament through an online subscription and thought the games and the crowds were top-notch. In fact, CTN hopes Canada bids for another World Championships soon.


***
 
How is it that no Red Wings player has the stats to cop some hardware when Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen have the following postseason stats?

Datsyuk: 14 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 P, +12
Zetterberg: 14 GP, 10 G (3 GW), 9 A, 19 P, +14
Franzen: 11 GP, 12 G (5 GW), 3 A, 15 P, +9

Also, what do you think of Sweden's chances in 2010? I know most, or all, of the roster will still be there, including Nick Lidstrom, at full strength.

-- Brian


Nicklas Lidstrom is a solid starter for Team Sweden's blue line. Lidstrom video
Brian, CTN has addressed these issues about the Red Wings for three weeks now. Through two rounds, what award would you like one of these young men to have won? The fact that we are talking about all three of them pretty much wipes out any one's candidacy for MVP, no? So, perhaps we should discuss defensive forward? I grant you that both Datsyuk and Zetterberg are elite defensive forwards. Yet, neither was the best defensive forward in the first two rounds. CTN has made the case for Mike Richards and stands by it, even though CTN picked a new player for the award after three rounds. CTN is not sure how else you want me to answer this question.

As for Sweden, you can never rule the Swedes out, as they proved again at the Worlds this year, despite icing a team that could not be considered top-line by the most generous of analysis. But, the Swedes will have their full roster in 2010 and that could be an intimidating team. Henrik Lundqvist is a game-stealer in goal. Nick Lidstrom and Niklas Kronvall are a solid start on the blue line. Up front, it is an embarrassment of riches. Zetterberg, Alfredsson, the Sedin twins, maybe Mats Sundin will be in play. Youngster Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen from the Wings and maybe Mats Naslund could be on the roster. And just in case you want to ice a shutdown forward or two, let's throw Samuel Pahlsson and P.J. Axelsson into the mix. Yikes!


***

Shawn,
Jersey Shore, huh?  Believe it or not, I'm actually a lifeguard in Surf City in the summers. If you want to see some crazy competition, you should check out the lifeguard races in your area. Ortley Beach, Lavalette, Midway Beach, Island Beach State Park. All of these places have great tournaments, but I'd have to say the most impressive ones are in Island Beach and Ortley. You should check it out sometime!

On a side note...how about them Flyers?

-- Darren Podolak


Darren, thanks for the note. I have actually seen my fair share of lifeguard competitions and you are spot-on in saying that they are worth the investment of time. In fact, I suggest that any readers able to do so when hockey season is over to check them out. You won't be disappointed. And, you shouldn't be disappointed in your Flyers. What a season they had. Nobody at the start of the season could comfortably predict a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for a team that finished dead last the season before. It's safe to say that the Flyers exceeded everybody's expectations – but perhaps their own. Plus, the future looks very bright for the team, which should return virtually intact next year. Jason Smith and Vaclav Prospal are the only big names facing unrestricted free agency. CTN doesn't think anybody will take the Flyers lightly next season.





 
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Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic