Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Drop in Hockey

Oh for a win…

With today’s announcement that Peter Budaj is being replaced between the pipes by Andrew Raycroft, Avalanche fans can hardly be blamed for their exasperation. To date the last time our boys in burgundy won a game that counted was April 19th, as Mr. Propecia, Jose Theodore completed a magnificent series against the Wild.

Since that fateful day the Avalanche have been beaten, beleaguered and turned into a virtual punching bag by the NHL. The easy out at this point is to blame the goalies for the team’s futility. It is typical and hurts less than admitting the futility may run deeper.

To be honest, Budaj hasn’t been David Aebischer blowing the first save of every important game bad. Rather, the man has been put into a situation that no goalie wants- he has been turned into a pylon by his defense.

To many goalies this feeling can be summarized in three words: Drop in hockey.

Drop in hockey to many who play is a great way to stay in shape. It is fast moving and exciting. Passes fly, players attempt new moves and shots, and everyone has a bunch of fun…except the goalies.

To most goalies, drop in hockey is a voluntary descent into the 10th circle of Dante’s Hell. You know the part with divorce lawyers and commercial artists. Except if that part of hell featured hockey with no referees, and nobody played defense.

It is an empty feeling, playing behind a bad defense.

A great defense saves a goalie in one major way- they keep the shots down, literally and on the score sheet. Great defensemen clear the puck, move opposing players out of way, and maintain order in the defensive end.

A bad defense doesn’t always do any of the above, which causes shots to go up. When faced with too many shots a goalie, no matter how good he is, is prone to overcompensation and panic.

To summarize the descent in to goalie hell let me explain. More shots cause a goalie to work harder, this makes him tired, tired becomes exhaustion, which makes him start leaning, falling down, and flailing. This causes goals to go up, which finally causes said goalie to overcompensate and panic.

It is a miserable and humiliating experience.

In the first three games of the new season, Peter Budaj, who again hasn’t been that bad considering the circumstances, has been seen falling out of the crease like he’s getting shot by a sniper. Budaj isn’t squaring to the puck. He is playing small. He can’t even seem to focus enough to catch easy wrist shots in his glove. And the worst part is that little of this behavior is really his fault.

I am legitimately concerned about the Avalanche this season. As I stated before they will score goals, and they do. But this team will go absolutely nowhere until their defense decides to play as a unit throughout their top six. Otherwise they may need to stock up on goalies.

On the bright side, perhaps management will decide to pick up a top-flight defenseman at some point this season rather than throwing money at Peter Forsberg. I can only hope.

We are already down to Andrew Raycroft, people.

Andrew Raycroft!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thought on a Sunday

Every year there is a rumor that floats around for the better part of the offseason which spills over into the regular season. Last season the popular rumor centered around the personification of injury problems- Peter Forsberg. This season we are stuck with yet another Swede who may or may not play (even though he probably shouldn't)- Mats Sundin.

The current predominant Sundin rumor is that the Sens are pushing for Sundin, as Daniel Alfredsson is in the shop for a couple of weeks getting a bone chip removed from his knee. The notion is that Heatley and Spezza will have nobody else to play with on their line.

Let's think about this for a minute. Mats Sundin is a center. Daniel Alfredsson is a wing. Alfie plays opposite Dany Heatley in most situations, with Jason Spezza centering them. Every year some Ottawa coach at the time talks about breaking up this line, and it happens...for about 2 games before the line is reunited, which makes for interesting annual arguments in fantasy leagues across North America.

Alfredsson's injury shouldn't mean the Sens go into panic mode and attempt to land Sundin, here's why- even if they wanted to sign the man they don't have anywhere close to the necessary salary cap room.

(I'd also like to add that they would be sporting two centers on their top line (Spezza and Sundin), or else they'd be looking at throwing big money at a 2nd line center who hasn't touched any ice not involved in a gin and tonic for well over 8 months.)

According to the salary cap for the 2008-09 season is $56.7 million. As it stands the Ottawa Senators are at $53,176,555 and after taxes, title and fees have precisely $3,236,004 in cap room.

Just over three mil a year is below market value for even a retired Mats Sundin, and far below the 10 million dollars a season he was offered by Montreal earlier this year and rejected.

The fact of the matter is that even if Sundin wants to come back, all indications point to the fact that he would really only like to do it with Toronto, a team that basically kicked him out the door. (Don't get me started on that abstract and sad situation.)

Some people are predicting Mats goes to Detroit if he returns. Not only would Sundin going to Detroit be akin to blasphemy, but he would be asked to accept just over 47 grand to play, as the Wings are tight to the cap. The last time I checked, this cannot happen as NHLPA rules dictate that professional hockey players in the NHL are not allowed to make teacher money.

So there is no way Detroit, which has somehow managed to convince a slew of talented players to take far below market value to play for the Wings in the quest for the Cup, will get Mats Sundin.

The following are the teams where Sundin could play:

Atlanta (over 10 mil in cap room) -Mats plays for Atlanta the day the sun goes supernova.
Buffalo (over 5 mil in cap room)- Possible but improbable.
Carolina (over 5 mil in cap room)- Brindy and Staal.
Colorado (over 4 mil in cap room)- The Avalanche don't need a center with the return of Sakic (and probably Forsberg in December)
Columbus (over 6 mil in cap room)- Columbus has already invested in youth, and Sundin is practically unnecessary on a team where one must hip check to play.
LA (over 12 mil in cap room) The Kings have a LOT of work to do before they should even consider asking Sundin to live on the worlds largest parking lot.
NJ (over 10 mil in cap room)- mmmaybe? But why would the Devils throw most of their cap money at a retired guy when they already have a blossiming Zach Parise?
NYI (over 8 mil in cap room)- *snick*
Phoenix (over 9 mil in cap room)- Not with that youth movement in full effect, and they already signed Jokinen.
Toronto (over 7 mil in cap room)- Please, somebody disband the Leafs, for the sake of the children.
Vancouver- (over 9 mil in cap room)- They tried. He blew them off like the cheer squad ignoring the chess club.

Finally, there is the HUGE assumption that if Mats Sundin were to return he would actually be effective. Keep in mind the last time Mats Sundin potted over 80 points was the 1998-99 season.

Bottom line, even if Sundin wants to come back, does anyone at this point really think any team with the financial wherewithal would take him?