Sports Outside the Beltway

New York Islanders sign G Martin Biron

How safe does this acquisition make Rick DiPietro’s hold on the #1 Goalie job for the team?

The New York Islanders have agreed to terms with goalie Martin Biron on a one-year deal.

Biron was 29-19-5 for the Flyers last season, with a 2.76 goals-against average, and led Philadelphia to the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh.

“Adding Marty gives us three bona fide No. 1 goalies,” general manager Garth Snow said in a statement. “We learned about the importance of stability in our lineup from last year and he now allows us to have another quality starter.”

The 6-foot-3 goalie has a career 2.59 GAA in 433 NHL games with Philadelphia and Buffalo.

Biron is a good goalie as is DiPietro. DiPietro’s problem may be high expectations. He was taken #1 overall in the 2000 entry draft. That, and the fact the Islanders are one of the worst NHL teams at present, make me believe there will be a tussle for the starting goalie job in Nassau County.

The Philadelphia Flyers have completed the task of reshuffling their goalies in the offseason. They signed Ray Emery, Martin Biron signed with the Islanders, and #2 Goalie Antero Nittymaki is now with Tampa. Overall I don’t see the Flyers better or worse off at Goalie but am still puzzled by the Washington Capitals sitting on their hands this off season when it is pretty much universal their goaltending is in need of an upgrade.


Did the NHL make a mess of the 2009-10 schedule?

The upcoming schedule was released yesterday. Right away I noticed something interesting. Florida has a home and home series with Nashville.

Nov 28 and Mar 29 are when the Panthers and Predators play next season.

What I find interesting is- Florida is playing Nashville home and home for the second straight season. In 2008-09, the Panthers and Predators played on November 1st and December 23rd.

In light of the way the NHL season is set up, namely that any Eastern or Western conference team plays only play 3 home and homes in any season, Florida and Nashville shouldn’t meet home and home more than once every five years 15 western conference teams divided by 3 home and home series equals five.

Here’s a link to the 2009-10 schedule. Anyone have theories as to what happened here or am I off base?


Joe Sacco named new Colorado Avalanche coach

The franchise didn’t waste much time after firing Tony Granato. From AP-

Joe Sacco envisions a fast and feisty team taking the ice, one that attacks and stays aggressive.

Perhaps a version of himself when he was a forward in the league.

Sacco, who spent 13 years in the NHL, was introduced as the new coach of the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, a day after the club fired Tony Granato and shook up its front office.

Flanked by newly appointed general manager Greg Sherman on his left and assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre to his right, Sacco talked about carving out a revamped identity for a team that’s coming off its worst finish since moving to Denver in 1995.

“We want to be a team that plays with a lot of energy. We want to play on our toes, we don’t want to play on our heels,” Sacco said. “We want to be a team that attacks, we want to be a team that doesn’t sit back.”

Most of all, Sacco wants this team to return to glory, when the Avalanche were perennially challenging for a Stanley Cup crown.

Sherman shares that vision.

“We all want the Avalanche to return to the standards that made this franchise so successful,” he said. “There will be no shortcuts to return to those standards.”

Sacco, 40, was promoted from the Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate, where he coached the Lake Erie Monsters the last two seasons.

Sacco should know the Av’s young players intimately from his AHL days. He has also been an NHL player.(A 13-year career with five teams) On the other hand, I think Colorado is in a rebuilding phase right now. Sacco will have to work hard just to make the Avalanche playoff contenders in 2010.


New York Islanders owner regrets buying team

Charles Wang has put over a quarter billion of his own money into the franchise since purchasing it in 2000. From AP-

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang says he regrets buying the money-losing NHL team nine years ago.

“If I had the chance I wouldn’t do it again,” Wang told Newsday.

Citing the team’s annual audited financial reports, Newsday reported Saturday on its Web site that Wang has spent $208.8 million — an average of $23 million per year — to keep the team operating. He also spent $74.2 million when he and Sanjay Kumar bought the club and assumed $97 million in liabilities.

“His numbers are real,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Newsday. “Yes, we’re aware the Islanders lose money, a significant amount of money. And it goes back to the team’s need for a new arena.”

Wang said he initially assumed Nassau Coliseum would either be refurbished or replaced within a few years, but his proposed $3.7 billion Lighthouse Project has been held up and is still under review by the Town of Hempstead.

“Never in my life, would I have anticipated this thing could be dragged out for seven, eight years,” said Wang, the founder of Computer Associates.

An NHL-worst 26-47-9 this season, the Islanders will play a preseason game in September in Kansas City, Mo., prompting speculation about a move. Officials in Willets Point in Queens also have expressed interest in the team.

“I’m not saying I’ll move,” Wang said. “I’m saying I’ll explore all my options.”

Honestly I don’t blame Mr. Wang. He has a great deal of money invested, if I were him I’d want the business in the best possible environment for it to become profitable. The New York area has three NHL franchises, the Islanders, the NY Rangers, and the New Jersey Devils. Are there enough NHL fans in that area? A team needs both a solid business model, and results on ice(or field) to be successful. Some owners emphasize the first, but losing teams rarely can make money on a consistent basis. Consumers aren’t going to put up money for a poor product, and goes for sports fans also.


Florida Panther Forward Richard Zednik signs with Russian league team

Zednik had been playing in the NHL since 1996. From the AP-

Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik is leaving the NHL to join the Russian league.

Russian hockey club Lokomotiv of the KHL announced Thursday it has signed Zednik to a two-year contract.

Also Thursday, Zednik was named a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given in honor of the late Minnesota North Stars player. The award honors “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” The winner will be announced June 18 in Las Vegas.

Zednik had 17 goals in 70 games a season after his carotid artery was sliced by a teammate’s skate blade during a Feb. 10, 2008, game in Buffalo.

Zednik won’t be the last roster move for the Panthers this off season. The team has many unrestricted free agents, the most prominent of which is Jay Bouwmeester who I will be greatly surprised if he is still in a Panther uniform next season.


Montreal Canadiens acquire Mathieu Schneider from Atlanta Thrashers

The trade brings him back to the NHL team he started his career with. From

Montreal Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey announced today the acquisition of defenseman Mathieu Schneider from the Atlanta Thrashers, as well as a conditional draft pick from the Thrashers at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, in return for a second-round pick at the 2009 draft (Anaheim’s pick previously acquired by the Canadiens from Washington) and a Canadiens third-round pick at the 2010 draft.

Schneider, a 20-season veteran, made his NHL debut with the Canadiens in 1987-88. The 39-year-old, New York City native recorded 717 points (216 goals, 501 assists) and posted a plus-63 rating in 1,241 NHL regular-season games, with Montreal, the New York Islanders, Toronto, the New York Rangers, Los Angeles, Detroit, Anaheim and Atlanta.

Schneider is a good journeyman defenseman, and I understand Montreal is trying to rev up for the playoffs, but I feel a 2nd round pick for a player about to turn 40 is an awful lot to give up.


NY Islanders forward Doug Weight out six weeks with MCL sprain

Not much has gone right this year for my favorite hockey team of my youth. From Canadian Press-

The New York Islanders will be without centre Doug Weight for six weeks the result of a knee injury.

The Islanders placed Weight on the injured reserve list retroactive to Wednesday, when he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament after colliding with New Jersey’s Brian Gionta in the second period of the Devils’ 4-2 win.

Weight, in his 17th NHL season, has nine goals and 26 assists in 44 games this season with New York and is the club’s second-leading scorer.

I doubt Weight, who is 38 years of age, will play another game this season. By the time he has recovered from the injury, the 2008-09 NHL season will almost be over.

Before the injury Weight had been mentioned in trade rumors. What NHL team will give up much of anything for an unexceptional 38-year-old forward?


Florida Panthers and the Eastern NHL Conference at the half way mark

The Florida Panthers played their 41st game of the NHL season last night. A 4-2 win over division rival Carolina Panthers. Before I make some comments, here are the standings

1 Boston Bruins Games played- 41 Record- 30-7-4 Points- 64
2 Washington Capitals 41, 27-11-3, 57
3 Philadelphia Flyers 41, 22-10-9, 53
4 Montréal Canadiens 40, 24-10-6, 54
5 New York Rangers 42, 24-15-3, 51
6 New Jersey Devils 40, 23-14-3, 49
7 Carolina Hurricanes 42, 21-16-5, 47
8 Buffalo Sabres 40, 20-15-5, 45
9 Florida Panthers 41, 19-16-6, 44
10 Pittsburgh Penguins 42, 20-18-4, 44
11 Toronto Maple Leafs 41, 16-19-6, 38
12 Atlanta Thrashers 42, 14-23-5, 33
13 Ottawa Senators 39, 13-20-6, 32
14 Tampa Bay Lightning 40, 11-19-10, 32
15 New York Islanders 42, 12-26-4, 28

First I can safely conclude the NY Islanders, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, and Atlanta are out of the playoff picture. Toronto faces a uphill battle, but I won’t count them out yet.

Look where Pittsburgh is only one year after making the Stanley Cup finals. What is going on up there? They recently had a five-game losing streak at home.

They aren’t the only recent memory Stanley Cup final team fallen on hard times. Ottawa who made it in the 06-07 looks to be re-building. How did anyone in Senator management think Alex Doug Auld and Martin Gerber were playoff quality goalies?

Tampa Bay has gotten out of the cellar. Two wins against Florida in late December helped. Will Rick Tocchet still be coaching next season?

Florida has its best record at the half way since the 1999-2000 season, or the last time they went to the playoffs. I had high hopes for Florida last year only to see them dashed. Could they make it this year?

Definitely. The teams immediately ahead of them are beatable. If Florida sneaks in as the 7th or 8th seed, they are most likely to get buzz sawed by Boston or Montreal.(Though Florida does have a good record against Goalie Tim Thomas and are the only NHL team with a lifetime winning record against the Canadians. )

Some miscellaneous Florida notes-

Their defensemen have scored more goals than any other team in the Eastern Conference

Florida has gained at least 1 pt in every game Gregory Campbell has scored in.

Yesterday’s game marked just the 3rd time ever Florida went without a penalty in a game.

Tomas Vokoun now has 201 career wins as a goalie.

Florida has a very good goalie at Rochester that the name eludes me. Would Florida consider a deal for Craig Anderson and bring up the rookie before the season ends? Anderson is a free agent at the end of the year and not expected to be back.

Florida signed a multi-year agreement with Fox Sports Florida which as a result have more Panther games on television.(I got NHL Center Ice too, so I rarely miss a game unless there is no television at all) That’s good news. Now I would like FSN to stop showing upcoming programming promos while play is happening on ice. Those idiotic spinning pucks fill 1/8th of the television screen and often interfere with watching play. Every time I see this crap I feel like screaming at the television.


Penguin’s goalie Conklin stops 50 in 4-2 win over NY Islanders

The rookie has been nothing short of incredible this year. From AP-

After the Pittsburgh Penguins came away as the NHL’s trade deadline winners, Ty Conklin helped them savor their big day with an eye-popping performance.

Conklin made a career-best 50 saves Tuesday night in the Penguins’ 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders — hours after Pittsburgh acquired Marian Hossa from Atlanta.

“I haven’t seen a goalie steal a game like that this year,” Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said.

Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Taffe scored first-period goals for trade-depleted Pittsburgh, and Conklin did the rest. The Penguins — still playing without an injured Sidney Crosby — were outshot 52-21, including 11-4 in the second period.

“Sometimes shot clocks aren’t indicative of the game necessarily,” a humble Conklin said.

Since coming up in December after Marc-Andre Fleury injured an ankle, Conklin has gone 17-4-5.

Conklin has a 2.19 Goals against average and a .933 save percentage. While I predicted Ottawa to win the Eastern Conference, Pittburgh is looking awfully tough to beat at this moment.


Post NHL All-Star game playoff assessment- Eastern Conference

From top to bottom, the standings

Ottawa Senators 51 32-15-4-68
Montréal Canadiens 50-27-15-8-62
Philadelphia Flyers 49-28-16-5-61
Pittsburgh Penguins 50 28-18-4-60
New Jersey Devils 50-28-19-3-59
Boston Bruins 50-26-19-5-57
New York Islanders 51-24-21-6-54
New York Rangers 52-24-22-6- 54
Carolina Hurricanes 53-25-24-4-54
Washington Capitals 51-23-23-5-51
Atlanta Thrashers 52-23-25-4-50

Buffalo Sabres 49-22-21-6-50
Florida Panthers 51-22-24-5-49
Toronto Maple Leafs 52-20-24-8-48
Tampa Bay Lightning 51-20-26-5-45

Note- The numbers above from left to right are- Games played, wins, losses, Overtime losses, total points

Teams in Bold are Southeast Division teams

First of all barring a complete collapse by these teams, you have to think Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Montreal are locks to make the playoffs. You can probably also toss Boston in.

The rest of the conference is pretty wide open. The only teams that appear to have little chance are Tampa and Toronto.

The Southeast Division is wide open. It is also a division likely to send only one team to the playoffs. First to fourth place is separated by a measly 5 pts, and the 4th place team Florida has played two less games than division leader Carolina. That would point to Florida having a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. On the other hand, there is the team’s listless play of late, only 4 wins in 14 games and this from today’s Palm Beach Post.

The Panthers, who return to action tonight against Buffalo following the All-Star break, say they are determined to end their agonizing playoff drought.

But some observers think the Panthers haven’t exhibited enough determination to reach the post-season for the first time since April 2000.

To put it more bluntly, some critics think they are soft.

“This team plays too much on the perimeter; I haven’t seen the willingness to get their noses dirty and do the dirty work,” said NHL broadcaster John Vanbiesbrouck, who starred in the nets for the Panthers when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

“Winning isn’t easy. You’ve got to make up your mind you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there and play like that every night.”

I’m not totally sure if Vanbiesbrouck is right in what he says. Florida has blown at least five games this year in the last minute of play. They’ve also played games where they either quit or showed little effort. I’ve missed only a handful of games on television this year, Florida has the talent to win the division and even make a run in the playoffs. The only teams I worry about in the conference are Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Toronto (The Maple Leaf oversized defensemen seem to intimidate the Panthers) when Florida faces them.

I question if the Panthers has the desire, and perhaps the coaching. Why the hell did the team send Shawn Matthias back to the minors? He scored two goals in four NHL games, two of which Jacques Martin barely played him in, and 21 in 32 games of OHL play before his callup. I rather have Matthias on the roster than the overrated Brett McLean or Kamil Kreps. After all, Kreps has just 4 goals in 45 games played!

Boy am I getting gloomy about this Panthers team.


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