Sure, you’re saying, the Pens will be, and you’re correct. But in terms of the term “Pittsburgh Penguins”, we’re talking about which NHL club will assume the title of the best young group of players for the coming season. Last season, the Penguins, with their youth movement led by a then-19-year-old Sidney Crosby, a 20-year-old Evgeni Malkin, 18-year-old Jordan Staal and 22-year-old goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, helped to transform the culture of the franchise.
For many years, the Pens collected high draft picks and last year was really the first season they enjoyed the fruits of those top picks. Crosby was No. 1 overall in 2005. Staal was No. 2 in 2006. Malkin was taken second-overall in 2005. Fleury went first overall in 2003 and defenseman Ryan Whitney, 24, enjoyed a breakout season after he was originally taken fifth overall in 2002.
The Penguins were one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL last season because of the combination of their youthful exuberance and incredible skill. Granted, another Crosby doesn’t appear to be coming down the road for a while. He’s a unique talent. But that doesn’t mean another team can’t carry the torch this season as the NHL’s top kids club.
In fact, as the Penguins have dramatically improved, they’ve added plenty of veteran reinforcements to their lineup in the hope of advancing past the first round of the playoffs, where they fell last spring. The Pens are in a phase of adding to their youth and getting to the next level of their current renaissance. Currently, the Pens have an average age of 28.0 years, which is not the youngest in the League.
The trend of playing kids has been gaining in popularity the last two years. A big part of that has to do with the salary cap. But it also has to do with the fact that a part of the NHL’s youngest generation, the teenagers and those in their early 20’s, can hold their own.
So this year, who is going to be the Pittsburgh Penguins?
The San Jose Sharks, at 26.8-years-old, are, on average, younger than last season’s Penguins were. Steve Bernier, Joe Pavelski, Milan Michalek and Matt Carle are all 22, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 20, Marcel Goc is 23 and Ryane Clowe is 24. But the Sharks are an established playoff contender and last year they were even seen as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender by many observers. So they can’t be this year’s Penguins because there hasn’t been a rebuild necessary. Sorry. But the new uniform designs are great.
The Washington Capitals, with an average age of 28.8, boast 21-year-old Alex Ovechkin, 23-year-old Alexander Semin and incoming 18-year-old Nicklas Backstrom. They should be better this season and they might even make the playoffs, making the Caps a nice comparison to last season’s Pens. But there are better matches.
Anaheim, with a young group that includes 22-year-olds Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, 25-year-old Travis Moen and potentially 20-year-old Bobby Ryan, is also a decent one. But there is no rebuilding necessary in Anaheim after winning the Stanley Cup last season.
Philadelphia got a lot younger this summer and they have an average age of 27.7-years-old. They’ll be a lot better than they were and you can’t ignore their young group of players that includes 22-year-olds like Jeff Carter, Ryan Potulny, Mike Richards, Braydon Coburn, Alexandre Picard, 23-year-olds Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall, and 25-year-olds R.J. Umberger and Scott Hartnell. Even 20-year-old Ryan Parent might make an impact this season, giving the Flyers a very young look this season as they attempt to turn their fortune around. Maybe there’s something in the Pennsylvania water, because the Flyers, though they’re missing a Crosby-like superstar (all of you Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne supporters settle down for a second), they seem pretty similar to the youth movement that helped transform the Pens. Only difference is the Flyers didn’t do it entirely through the draft. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Which brings us out west. Perhaps the two most exciting and intriguing groups of young players that will take the ice this season will be in Chicago and Los Angeles. If you’re looking for comparisons to the Penguins, look no further. These are two clubs that built mostly through the draft and seem like they could both be poised to seriously challenge for playoff spots this season.
The Kings have an average age of 29.275-years-old. They have a superstar in the making in 19-year-old sophomore Anze Kopitar and a potential blueline folk hero in 20-year-old Jack Johnson. Mike Cammalleri is 25 and is coming off an 80-point season. Alex Frolov is also 25 and scored 35 goals last year. Dustin Brown and Patrick O’Sullivan are both 22, and 18-year-old goalie Jonathan Bernier might eventually bring some stability to the LA net. Johnson and O’Sullivan were both obtained through trades, so the Kings’ future wasn’t built solely through the draft. But it sure is a bright future regardless of where they came from.
One team that’s been stockpiling picks the last few years and a club that seems on the verge of a dramatic reversal of fortune is the Chicago Blackhawks. Thanks to some forward-thinking draft work, the Hawks right now have an average age of 28.3-years-old and they could likely end up dressing the cream of the crop in terms of kids in uniform this season. First-overall pick Patrick Kane, 18, has every intention of making the team in camp. He could join a Romper Room that may also include 19-year-old Jonathan Toews, the third-overall pick in 2005; 20-year-old Jack Skille, seventh-overall in 2005; Cam Barker, 21, the third pick in the 2004 Draft; 21-year-old Bryan Bickell, and 22-year-old Brent Seabrook, 14th overall in 2003.
It doesn’t stop there. Chicago also has 24-year-old Tuomo Ruutu, 25-year-old Rene Bourque, 26-year-old scoring machine Martin Havlat, and 23-year-old defenseman Duncan Keith.
So if you’re wondering where the next great youth movement in the NHL is going to take place, where the kids are going to fill the rinks with energy and exuberance, look no further than the Windy City. A lot of losing got the Hawks a lot of high draft picks. And going intro the 2007-08 season, Chicago just might start seeing the fruits of all that futility.
Just like they got to experience in Pittsburgh a year ago.
NESN announced this week Mike Milbury, the former player, coach and general manager, will serve as a studio analyst for the upcoming season. Milbury, who most recently ran the Islanders for 10 years, will provide analysis during pre- and post-game segments, as well as during intermissions. Milbury has also been tabbed to replace Brett Hull on weekly NHL on NBC games, bringing one of the great personalities in our game to your television screens.
|Former New York Islanders' GM Mike Milbury will be seen on cable and network TV next season as an analyst. |
Milbury should have a lot to say. He’s always been one of the best quotes in sports. He’ll make you laugh. He’ll make you think. And there’s no question, Milbury will be entertaining. Some of my most memorable meals have been at the same table as him.
In honor of his most recent emergence as a major NHL television personality, here are some of Milbury’s famous quotes through the years, a list that is expected to grow with his air time:
* In referring to agent Paul Krause while the Isles and client Ziggy Palffy were tied up in a contract battle: “It's too bad he lives in the city. He's depriving some small village of a pretty good idiot.”
* “I get the sense they thought my trip was a ploy. I hope they will be reasonable, but I'm not sure that that word comes into Paul's thinking.”
* “We hope that Ziggy will come to his senses. We have no hope Paul Kraus will.”
* On the difference between the Isles and Rangers: “I took the corporate bicycle up and down Long Island to sign this player. Unlike my neighbors, the corporate jet wasn't available.”
* On former Islander Travis Green after he hit concussion-prone defenseman Kenny Jonsson high and hard: “He's a gutless puke, that's what (expletive) Travis is, that's why he doesn't wear a (expletive) Islander uniform anymore. He got overpaid and that's my own (expletive) fault.”
* “Everyone knows that Travis doesn't exactly have the biggest cajones.”
* On the worst-case scenario in terms of the Islanders’ arena problems: “That I don't get paid on the 1st and 15th.”
* Postgame: “We were dopey, sleepy. ... We weren't ready to play.”
* On defenseman Bryan Berard’s move to left wing: “I hope he didn't take it as a compliment.”
* On former Ranger and longtime foil Ulf Samuelsson: “Jerk that he is, he’s always wearing that smirking grin that makes you want to punch him in the face.”
* On former goalie Eric Fichaud after his NHL debut with the Isles: “He seems to have a competitive type of personality. And he's kinda cute.”
* On himself, as a 35-year-old in his final year as a player in 1987: “I'm a 1978 Toyota with 86,000 miles on it, rust spots, and a hole in the floorboard. But hey, I start every morning.”
* On the benched Todd Bertuzzi’s frustrating start with the Isles: “He’s a big man and big things are expected of him. Every time I saw him, he looked like he wanted to punch me in the mouth - which could be a good sign.”
* On waiting for holdouts Palffy and Green to show up to camp in 1996: “I'm trying not to be really annoyed. But you know me. That won't last long.”
* On a young Eric Brewer: “The kid’s playing like he’s sniffing glue.”
* On trading Roberto Luongo: “We're rolling the dice here a little bit. Roberto Luongo is going to be an excellent goaltender in this league. He is a class act and a kid I know we would have been happy to ride with. But hell, I've gotta send him off.”
* “If we are not better immediately ... and if we are not a playoff team in the near future then it's off with my damn head.”
* On the infamous shoe incident at Madison Square Garden: “It’s unbelievable that after more than 30 years in the game, pummeling a guy with his loafer will be my legacy. But I guess it's better than having no legacy at all.”
Later on, he would amend that statement to call it “a cheap penny loafer.” Yep, Milbury should be must-see TV. Two-handers:
* Local high school students in Arizona are being paid to stay in school, according to a report. Students will be paid $25 per week by a non-profit organization as an incentive to get their learn on after the dropout rate in that state skyrocketed last year. They will not
|Troy Polamalu and Michal Handzus don't frequent the barber. |
be eligible though, no matter what kind of grades they pull, to elect salary arbitration next summer.
* Separated at Birth: Los Angeles Kings forward Michal Handzus and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
* Manchester United signed a 9-year-old boy to a soccer contract after they saw clips of the kid playing on YouTube. OK, now let’s see him win a scoring title by the time he turns 19. Let’s see him win an MVP before his 20th birthday.
* Legislation was approved by the House Judiciary Committee this week that will protect reporters from being forced by prosecutors to reveal their sources. Under the new laws, the names of sources will be allowed to remain a secret, thereby permitting “a source close to the team,” “a high-ranking NHL source,” and “a source close to the negotiations,” to continue living in anonymity.
* Jessica Alba will play the owner of a hockey team, according to reports, opposite Toronto native Mike Meyers in the upcoming film The Love Guru. And according to Variety, the same guy who played Mini-Me (Verne Troyer) in the Austin Powers movies, plays the coach of the team. Any team that guy’s coaching has got to be shorthanded all the time. Oh, and we hear he tends to shorten his bench in the third period, too.
Posted by Evan @ 9:16 a.m. Tuesday, August 3, 2007
'There's a very valid reason for summer vacation -- the human brain needs rest.'
The free agent market’s been open for a month now and there isn’t much left on the shelves. At this point, you’ll have an easier time finding an iPhone or the new Harry Potter book than you will locating a cornerstone you can build your team around on the open market.
The majority of the stars were snapped up on the first or second day of the free-agent season, guys like Blake and Smyth and Bertuzzi and Rafalski disappearing faster than Britney Spears’ career. They went quickly, that’s for sure, and a lot of teams got a whole lot better this summer. Others did not. The Rangers made one of the biggest splashes when they went for the Drury-Gomez double-dip, the Flyers loaded up with Timonen and Hartnell, and the Avs reinforced with Smyth and Hannan.
The gems may have all been claimed in the first few days of the summer, but that doesn’t mean the shelves are completely bare. It might be bargain-basement outlet shopping at this point and not Rodeo Drive, but there are still plenty of guys out there that can help your favorite team.
In this edition of Gross Misconduct, we break down the best of what remains, and exactly what these leftovers bring to the table. In some cases, there’s still a lot these guys can bring, provided there are teams still interested in their services.
As you’ll see, clubs would be crazy to let some of these guys sit around much longer.
Teemu Selanne -- “The Finnish Flash” recently turned 37, but when it comes to Selanne, age is only a number. After all, he’s the oldest player in NHL history to record back-to-back 40-goal seasons, scoring 40 and 48 the last two years. Toss in his first career Stanley Cup and a new sense of durability (he only missed two games the last two years), Selanne is an attractive player to most teams. He scored 94 points last season with Anaheim, and the only thing that’s kept him on the open market this long is Selanne deciding whether he’ll retire or not.
Peter Forsberg -- “Foppa,” who turned 34 this summer, scored 55 points in 57 games for the Flyers and Predators last season, the first time his point production wasn’t more than the games he played in. At one time he was the best player in the world, but right now, he might only be the best player available on the free-agent market. He’s a guy who, at a discount, would be attractive to plenty of teams.
Michael Peca -- The injury bug seems to have put a scare into teams pursuing Peca this summer after he was limited to 35 games in his first year with his hometown Maple Leafs. Peca, 33, played over 70 games the two years prior to last and you have to think there is a bit of unfinished business for the Toronto native with the Leafs, especially now that his buddy Jason Blake is in town. He could be signed at a discount, and if he can stay healthy, he’s still one of the best faceoff guys around, though he can’t be expected to play with the kind of physicality that earned him the nickname “Captain Crunch” back in the day.
Trevor Linden -- No spring chicken, Linden is 37 but continues to be one of the more durable elder statesmen around the game. He played in 82, 82 and 80 games the last three years and in the playoffs with Vancouver last year, he scored seven points in 12 games as one of the more respected leaders in the tournament. Linden’s still skating and scoring, needs 13 assists to reach 500 for his career and could be a solid veteran presence for any of the League’s 30 teams. Smart money is on him coming back for what would be a 16th tour with the Canucks.
Darren McCarty -- At one time, he was the stick by which all checking line players were measured when he was one of the key heartbeats in Detroit during the dynasty years not long ago. But McCarty had no points in 32 games last year with Calgary and has not won a playoff game since he left the Red Wings after the 2003-04 season. That he was a minus-3 last year with the Flames might be scaring some teams off, in addition to concerns about his durability as a 35-year-old.
Jeff O’Neill -- Since he scored 41 goals in 2000-01, O’Neill’s goal production has been on a steady decline. The 31-year-old forward scored 20 in 74 games for the Leafs last season and his plus-1 rating was huge upgrade from the minus-19 he put up in 2005-06. There are plenty of teams needing offensive punch up front, and in the right place, O’Neill could give it to them.
|Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Jeff O'Neill (92) and Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery bump during second-period NHL action in Toronto, Canada, on Saturday March 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Frank Gunn,CP) |
Vladimir Orszagh -- He’s not going to play a lot of defense for you, but Orszagh, a career minus-22, can give you spurts of offense. He scored nine points in 16 games for the Blues last season and was good for 30 points per season in three years with the Predators. He’s 30 now, but if you’re desperate for scoring, he could continue to be a late bloomer for someone.
Alexander Mogilny -- He needs 10 games to reach 1,000 for his NHL career and Mogilny, who once scored 76 goals in a season (1992-93) needs 17 to reach 500. Would you take a gamble on the 38-year-old who has had injury problems?
Eric Lindros -- In 2002-03, Lindros played in a career high 81 games for the Rangers. In his 13 years in the NHL, he’s cracked the 70-game threshold only four times, and last season with the Stars was another campaign cut short by injury. Lindros was limited to 49 games in Dallas in which he scored a career-low five goals. The 26 points he put up was not the lowest output of his career (he scored 22 the season prior in 33 games with Toronto), but reports this summer suggest he may be leaning towards retiring.
Jeremy Roenick -- Text messaged, “I’m retiring; is that still news?” to a reporter this summer, but other than that, there has been no official announcement of his status. Roenick could still be a serviceable center on most teams. In 70 games last season with the struggling Coyotes, JR had 28 points but was a minus-18 in the desert.
Travis Green -- At one time, he was on a Kid Line with Brad Dalgarno and Marty McInnis, but a kid no longer, Green turns 37 in December. He’ll win some faceoffs for you and if he can stay healthy, he’ll chip in an assist here and there. But his 70-point season of 1995-96 was a long time ago at this point.
Honorable mention -- Anson Carter, Erik Rasmussen, Arron Asham, which would be a pretty nice checking line. Also still out there, Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, Jan Bulis, Josef Vasicek, Peter Bondra and Patrik Stefan.
Danny Markov -- Hasn’t been a minus player in nine years in the NHL and he’s one of the best pure defenders still out there. Markov may be asking for too much because he doesn’t have the offensive skills some of his peers may posses, but in terms of straight defense, there isn’t anyone better on the market. He’s 31 and could be a solid addition for any NHL squad, provided he lowers his asking price.
Andy Sutton -- His 6-foot-6 frame is enticing for general managers looking to land a crease-clearing defenseman who has proven to be responsible in his own end the last few years. His size is right up there among the NHL’s giants, but his plus-19 rating over the last two years in Atlanta means he can move those feet, too.
Bryan Berard -- A minus-57 the last three years combined, Berard won’t be confused with Ray Bourque any time soon. But he’s another one of those guys on the back end who makes up for defensive shortcomings with a gift for producing offense off the blue line. Limited to 11 games last year with Columbus, Berard could help to upgrade a lot of defensive units around the NHL looking for a power-play quarterback and a guy who can get the puck up the ice in a hurry.
Honorable mention -- Brad Ference, Luke Richardson, Brent Sopel, Jamie Heward, Janne Niinimaa, Dan McGillis, Sandis Ozolinsh.
Ed Belfour -- There has to be a job in the NHL for a guy that won 27 games with a .902 save-percentage and 2.77 goals-against for the porous Panthers last season. Belfour needs 16 wins to reach 500 for his career, and at 42-years-old, he brings a lot more to the table than some goalies 20 years younger.
|Florida Panthers goaltender Ed Belfour makes a save in the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning in an NHL hockey game Friday, April 6, 2007, in Tampa, Fla. The Panthers won 7-2. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) |
Honorable mention -- Sean Burke, Robert Esche, Curtis Joseph, Mike Dunham.
One available free agent who is still out there but doesn’t figure to attract much attention on the open market is your favorite blogger. That’s right. Yours truly.
I had the opportunity to get out on the ice last week with some professional hockey people and I can honestly report that I don’t expect to be hearing from many teams after my 1-1-2 performance in a pickup game. But my team won, and that’s been the case for any team I’ve played on in the last six months. A lot of that had to do with Kerry Gwydir’s play between the pipes. But if you’re looking for a winner, you know where to find me, people. Third or fourth line grinder with scoring touch who can’t skate for beans.
Now who doesn’t absolutely need one of those guys?
Since you haven’t seen a hockey game in almost two months – has it really been that long? – feel free to check out clips from that recent outing, shot on one of our trusty Flip cameras. Many thanks to Craig Pinto for the camera work.
Caution: the following footage may be offensive to people who know anything about hockey and who have an appreciation for the beauty of the game. There is no beauty in the following clips, and they are intended for immature audiences only.
Check me out going hard to the net, assisting on a goal from the left post. Quick hands, people. 300K | 700K
And then I can make it look mean, too, as I goon it up for the camera with radio man Steve Mears. All in good fun. 300K | 700K
I don’t plan on getting a contract offer from the Islanders. According to an email we received from GM Garth Snow, who witnessed the whole thing; “The reason you had an orange jersey was because you were about as mobile as a cone!”
* A California company has been renting out dogs to people who can’t own the four-legged friends on a full-time basis. For a small charge, Californians can rent a pet at their leisure, which is expected to see a rise in the number of canines seeking no-trade clauses.
* Brigham and Women’s Hospital has given a surgical team permission to perform partial face transplants, becoming the second American hospital that has gone public with plans to do this rare procedure. In the future, they will be conducted mostly by faceoff specialists.
* Scientists in Chicago have genetically engineered mice that develop schizophrenia to better understand the brain disorder. No word yet if the schizophrenic mice thought they were actually rats and mistakenly became Florida Panther fans.
* Golfer Jay Williamson fired his caddie on the 15th hole during the first round of the Canadian Open last week and finished his round with a man he plucked from the gallery. Crazy. But it’s not like he fired him on the 18th hole. Only Lou Lamoriello would do that.
* A Detroit office worker, according to reports, is suing for her co-workers to be banned from wearing perfume, which she claims gives her severe headaches, nausea and coughing fits that force her to leave work. Allergic to the chemicals in some scents, imagine the size of the lawsuit if her co-workers’ hands smelled like the palms of their hockey gloves.
* An international report recently showed that European workers take more vacation time in the summer than their American counterparts. Finland and France offer more than six weeks of vacation per year to employees, while Americans, on average, get about half the holiday. So once again, Europeans are being criticized for not working hard enough.
* Scientists may have discovered a new sea creature that’s been described as half-squid, half-octopus, in Hawaii. The unnamed specimen was described as being about a foot long with white suction cups and eight tentacles. One test they likely will not administer on the new creature is how well it flies through the air at Joe Louis Arena.
* Police officers in the United Kingdom have been issued head-mounted cameras to film arrests, and the footage can then be used as evidence in court. No word yet on whether those replays will be sent to Toronto for further review.
* According to a survey conducted by the Association for Canadian Studies, the number of U.S. citizens who moved to Canada last year hit a 30-year high. Canadian citizens have to be pretty bummed about that, with over 10,000 additional Americans now living in their country. Maybe that’s one reason the Stanley Cup hasn’t been there in 14 years.