Friday, March 14, 2008

Will There Ever Be A Rainbow?

Last night I was transported to the Can for the Edmonton game by a group of friends for a belated birthday present, and for the first time I got to sit on the Club Level with the bourgeoisie.

This was interesting because normally when my buddy Loewe and I would sit at the top of section 362 against the wall, we would make a point of throwing our empty beer cups down on the Club Level below after goals were scored. So I was a bit flinchy.

Fortunately there were a fair share of Avs sweaters on the Club Level. But for the most part it was the black leather and turtleneck crowd. I'm at a loss for how to describe these people. If you yell at the ice some of them look at you like you should go back to the farm, and at the same time they look like they would only be happy paying $9 for a martini to watch the game on a big screen...because really, most of them do!

The Club Level at the Pepsi Center not only features waiters who will charge you jacked up prices to bring you small drinks, but you can go to one of the two large bars or any of about 5 small carts. These are provided so that you, ya "dedicated" hockey fan can drop a sizable chunk of your dot com money that you lucked into over the last decade to get drunk and stare at other people wearing black who are also sitting in the bar, not 20 feet away from the actual game, watching the action on a TV.

The layout in the Pepsi Center even fosters this class system of behavior, as the Club Level is pretty much only accessible by that ya know, you don't have rub elbows with the peasantry as you are staring at your escort's surgically enhanced chest.

Fortunately the Avs in front of Peter Budaj (The Q actually rested Theo! Big day!) were able to lay a beating on the Oil, calming my attitude significantly. Kyle Cumiskey even saw a decent amount of playing time which led to a good discussion with my friend Hippie Nate.

He estimated that like Dan Hinote, Cumiskey is definitely one of the best, if not THE best skater on the team. But like Hinote, Cumiskey would become nothing more than a role player.

I had to disagree...because I like playing devil's advocate and I'm a fan of Cumiskey. He is definitely the most fluid skater on the team, and with more experience and a bit more size and muscle should become a mainstay on the top four.

Last night he made a few sharp passes, and skated well with the puck. Although I got the feeling the coaching staff is trying to keep him from carrying the puck all the way up the ice, as that leaves a defensive slot open in the event of a turnover. So nearly every time Cumiskey hits center ice he looks to either dump the puck and hold his ground, or headman the puck...even if sometimes he is the first guy up on a rush.

This got me thinking (when I wasn't thinking about how Wojtek Wolski is the Avalanche's version of former Bronco Darien Gordon i.e. incredible for short periods, but mostly a bonehead), will we ever see another great skating and offensively influential defensemen the likes of Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey?

Will anyone even get the chance?

The new open ice begs for a fast defenseman who can lead the way. Yet few teams seem to allow their offensive defensemen to control a game like Orr did, for fear of giving up odd man rushes.

Brian Campbell of San Jose comes to mind as a possible candidate as the next dominating offensive defenseman. But outside of Campbell most scoring d-men are merely content to collect assists on the power play, while staying up at the blue line. Nick Lidstrom is certainly "high scoring" and great in his own end, but when exactly were we told to consider 70 points out of a #1 defenseman to be "incredible"?

From 1984 to 1990 Paul Coffey had 5 seasons of over 100 points, including three seasons of over 120 points, topping off at an astounding 138 points (with 48 goals!) in the 1985-86 season. I'm sure nobody needs to be reminded but in comparison, last year Sid the Kid rang up a paltry 120 points in winning the scoring title.

Sure, that was Edmonton in the 80's. And yes, they let Coffey skate up because most other defensemen were slow. And certainly, Grant Fuhr was THAT good that he could be left alone in his own zone...but that team scored at will and it was amazing. The Gretzky Oilers did great things for hockey.

If there is a fundamental change that needs to happen to increase scoring in the NHL, why don't pundits stop talking about increasing the size of the goal, or further constricting pad sizes on goalies, or any other deviation on a game that was fine for the better part of the last century. Instead they should promote offensive creativity that includes ALL of the players on the ice.

I believe it is possible to constantly send four players into the offensive zone and still make up for any mistakes that lead to odd man rushes, simply because there are more great skaters in the game than there were ten years ago. And if you think about it, aren't most forwards better defensively because they were made to play defense in trapping systems? So why not let a defender break out while rotating in a defensive minded forward behind him?

It would take some doing. But if Jacques Lemaire and Scotty Bowman were able to institute variations on the neutral zone trap like they did, surely there is a coach in hockey who could find ways around those things with offense. All it takes is creativity and guts.

And in the case of the Avalanche the willingness to allow speedy defensemen like Cumiskey to run with the puck.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts On a Wednesday

Alrighty gang I'm back with more thoughts around the league. Sorry I've been a bit delinquent in posting lately, I've been helping a friend finish his basement.

Note to self: go back in time and remove yourself from any and all construction jobs and related activities. Go into finance in college. DO IT! That way in the future you won't have to hear things like "we'll you aren't working, why can't you come over and build me a basement. I'll buy you lunch."

-What is it about friends who pull that crap? I'm not Amish. I don't raise barns for free, and I need money! But I'm a good friend and help out. Yet I'm convinced my story gets repeated thousands of times every week across the nation. Friends asking friends who are good a building things to build stuff for free. Listen homeowners, these people are your friend for a reason, but if you fail to pay them money for labor what would otherwise cost you thousands of dollars you aren't going to be friends with your helpful building friend much longer, and you'll be stuck alone asking stupid questions at the Home Depot. Get it?

-Speaking of people leaching off of others- Rick Dipietro: 26 wins, 26 losses, 2.81 GAA and a .902 save percentage on the 2007-2008 season. Only what, 14 more years to go on that contract playing behind a crappy team, eh?

-Colby Armstrong is doing pretty well for the Thrashers with 5 points in 7 games. It is good to see that being friends with Sidney wasn't the the reason he had pointage on the Pens. Now all Atlanta needs to do is have their team move to Calgary, change their name to the Flames, and land a top five goaltender and they're right in Cup contention!

-As the "Alex Ovechkin knocked out Evgeni Malkin's agent" story gets more press I'm waiting for the obligatory NHL/Jerry McGuire related joke to pop up on Leno...and then I'll miss it because I watch Letterman. Note to Malkin's agent: don't screw with The O, you are an agent because you suck at every thing that doesn't involve screwing people out of money.

-Super Joe Sakic is once again the prominent player on the Avalanche, what with all the injuries. This comes as a shock to absolutely no one, only I always like to hear casual Avs fans complain around the trade deadline that the Avs never have any good players. That always cracks me up.

-Sergei Fedorov has 2 points in 6 games since being shipped to the Caps. Would it be too much to ask the guys on Versus to stop lauding people like Fedorov because of their reputations? Is this possible? Ever? As I've stated before, Fedorov should have retired five years ago, and Backstrom is still seeing time with Ovechkin. If Fedorov was really that good Columbus would have kept him with Nash.

-Ryan Smyth and Rusty Salei should be back with the Avs soon. I'll be available to write that again in two weeks, and two weeks after that...

-"This Spring, Coming to NBC: The Ice Hockey Playoffs of The National Hockey League...because we're contractually obligated!"

-The Avs come home tomorrow for a game against Edmonton at the Can. If the Avs lose I want to see an irate Joel Quenneville scream into the mic at the post game press conference "But our winning combination was gonna be hard to beat! I mean they were our winning combination! It's in the semantics, damnit!"

-It is commercials for GM where a bug eyed Q says things like that that are the reason he needs to be involved with the Avs for a long time.

-Also, how come nobody makes more fun of that commercial? On what radio station does Coach Q have his own show where he sits in a darkened room alone and answers questions by magically shaping them all into endorsements for GM? Not 950 The Fan...they only have an irritable Q on early Thursday mornings to impatiently answer questions from fans who spent the previous 3 hours crafting the most complicated and difficult questions to ask a coach ever.

-"Good morning coach. I noticed lately that Cody McCloud wears bigger breezers than Cody McCormick, who only seems to wear medium sized breezers, do you think this has anything to do with why we aren't seeing McCormick much and instead David Jones is seeing more time? And how does this relate to the performance of the third defensive pairing on Tuesdays in March when you are facing Eastern conference teams and the wind is blowing from the Northwest?"

-Is it ever not hilarious when a guy on a crappy team pots a hat trick a month before the end of the regular season and the only guy who is happy about this is the person in your fantasy league who only drafted said player because you had him on your fantasy team last year? HELLO VINNY LECAVALIER!

-Here's a prediction: John Tortorella will be coaching Tampa Bay not only next year, but the year after that...for some reason...

-"Three kids? All in juniors? Send their names to GM...I won't be coaching the Avs by the time they hit the bigs...and chances are they'll end up looking for work at a factory"

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Facts of Life

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have a nasty loss to the Stars yesterday.

Granted, the Avs were coming off of two outstanding games in the previous three days, but you have to wonder whether the team is going to have enough bodies in the lineup to continue their hot streak this week.

That and whether Joel Quenneville is hell bent on playing Theo every single game...because resting Theo for what turned out to be a 3-0 loss in the second game of a home and home series against the Stars would have made a difference...just thought I'd point that out.

After Saturday the Avs were primed to take the lead in the Northwest Division, then the injury report came out. And almost on cue Forsberg was gone with groin injury, Salei was dropped with an eye injury, and Adam Foote has a bad hip.

I'm glad we got the band back together...

I am getting a bit tired of writing glorious articles on the return of the Avalanche to respectability only to turn around the next day and see someone new on the injury report.

Is it a requisite that every important player in the NHL has to go out with at least one leg, groin or sports hernia injury every season? It has gotten to a point where I'm wondering if teams are going to start taking out additional groin, leg and hernia insurance on their stars.

This is why I'm starting a trend.

From now on I'm referring to any and all hockey injuries as "Gabbies", in honor of everyone's favorite perpetually injured superstar, Marian Gaborik.

Admittedly this trend of naming injuries after players started when I was in college and former Broncos offensive lineman Matt Lepsis was playing for CU as a tight end. Nearly every year Lepsis found his way on to the injured list with a malady du jour causing my friends and I to explain to others that "Matt hurt his Lepsis". This season, Matt's Lepsis finally hurt him so much that he felt it was time to retire. Bummer.

I think something like this needs to work its way into casual NHL terminology. So, for the foreseeable future Peter Forsberg is out with a nasty Gabby. Adam Foote is on the shelf with a Gabby of the hip. And Rusty Salei will be sitting with a Gabby of the eye.

I have to admit, it's got certain a ring to it.

Fortunately the Avalanche have a fairly light schedule this week featuring one away game at Atlanta, a homer against Edmonton, and finishing up with the Devils at the Can on Saturday. So they should at least get Foote back while allowing Forsberg to ice his Gabby and prepare for yet another return.

Now if the Avs can just make it through a week without losing someone of importance I might just have something new to write about. Yay.