On Wednesday, a little more than two years after he arrived via trade, Jeff Halpern was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings. With his departure, I can’t help but wonder ‘What If?’. As Lightning fans may remember, Halpern’s best stretch with the team came immediately after his trade from Dallas. In 19 games to wrap up the 2007-08 season, Halpern netted 10 goals and added eight assists. His outstanding finish made the decision easy for then-head coach John Tortorella and assistant Mike Sullivan, who were going to be coaching the U.S. squad at that spring’s World Championships. Halpern would not only be part of that team, he’d be the U.S. Captain. Halpern’s tournament lasted only three games, though, as he suffered a devastating knee injury.
What if, indeed. We didn’t see that same offensive production after the injury. He didn’t return to the Lightning lineup until mid-December of 2008. And even before his comeback, Halpern spoke about how a full recovery would take at least a year – he had some experience with the rehab, having sustained a similar injury earlier in his career. By all accounts, the Kings are not going to look for Halpern to provide the kind of offense he gave in the Lightning late the 2007-08 season. He’ll be counted on to play sound defensive hockey, win key faceoffs and kill penalties, jobs he has executed quite well throughout his career.
There are a lot of good guys in the game and Halpern is another one of them. In the different conversations I’d had with him over the past two years, he regularly mentioned how appreciative he was to be able to play in the NHL. I’m appreciative that I got to know him and I wish him all the best in L.A.
Vancouver 2010 notes
Heading into the Olympic tournament, I was asked during a radio interview which team I thought would win the Gold (I incorrectly picked Russia). But I also stated that I believed the winning team would need three crucial components: receive great goaltending, get key plays at key times from its players and come together quickly as a team. The Americans got all three and that’s why they were a goal away from capturing Gold. Goaltender Ryan Miller unquestionably was the best player in the tournament. Throughout their six-game run, the U.S. players provided critical plays at crucial times; it might be a big goal (think Zach Parise), an important block or a pivotal penalty kill. How about Ryan Kesler’s incredible empty-net goal against Canada in the preliminary round? The U.S. benefitted from the ability of its players to make plays when it needed them most. And lastly, the U.S. skated very well as a team. It’s not the easiest thing for players from different clubs to come together so quickly. Many of the U.S. team members had never before played together (for many, it was their first Olympic Tournament). It sure didn’t look like it on the ice, however, where they not only gelled immediately, but improved throughout the tournament.
Still, the Canadians took the Gold, not the Americans. So how did they do it? First off, based on what transpired in that game, it became clear that the two best teams in the tournament played for the Gold. The Canadians, too, deserve credit for coming together as a team. Frankly, I was a bit surprised when many Canadian fans took ‘the sky is falling’ approach after the preliminary round. Take a look at their first three games. Team Canada blasted Norway in the opener, then ran into the two hottest goalies in the tournament. Jonas Hiller of Switzerland almost single-handedly best Canada in the preliminary round (and later the United States in the Quarters). Still, Canada survived the Hiller scare, winning in a shootout. Then came the 5-3 loss to the Americans. But as U.S. GM Brian Burke stated afterwards (in the interest of keeping his club focused on improving their own game), the Canadians badly outshot and outchanced the Americans. The U.S. won because of Miller’s netminding and the fact that the Americans made more plays than their Canadian counterparts. (I’d make the argument that the Americans actually played a better overall game against Canada in the second meeting, despite the outcome). In other words, it wasn’t as if the Canadians stunk out the building that night. They just lost a closely-contested game.
In an interview after the win over Canada in the prelims, Ryan Miller said forebodingly that “we might get these guys again.” He knew that Canada was far from finished and he was right. In the elimination round, the Canadians blew out Germany and Russia. Slovakia gave the Canadians a late scare in the semis, but Canada controlled much of the game in the 3-2 victory. Which set up the epic Gold Medal game against the U.S. And in overtime, Sidney Crosby made a key play – one of the most important plays in Canadian hockey history. It was one more play than what the Americans got and ultimately, the difference between Gold and Silver.