Sports Outside the Beltway

Are the 2007-08 Florida Panthers over the hump?

They won last night, marking for the fist time this season that the team has a winning record.

Thursday night’s Panthers-Hurricanes game might as well have been played on a roller coaster, it had so many ups and downs.

In the end, the final up went to Florida, which registered a 5-4 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, taking the lead for good on Brett McLean’s goal midway through the third period.

Back home after winning three of four games on the road and facing the Southeast Division leaders, the Panthers had nothing but opportunity in front of them. A win would cut into their five-point division deficit and set an energizing tone for a year-end schedule that features four of five games at the BankAtlantic Center.

It looked bleak when Carolina took a 3-1 lead after the first period, but the Panthers rallied for their third consecutive victory. They now trail the Hurricanes by just three points.

I have felt from Opening Night, that this Panther team is capable of taking the Southeast Division. That the team is right on Carolina’s back at the moment says something(Other than the SE division being mediocre) about how Florida has come this far. They’ve been plagued by injuries this year, particularly to defensemen(Three are out at this time, and its not known when any will be back) but all through this the team has pulled themselves over .500. Yes I still worry about the lack of punch the team has, their tendency to sit on a lead, and whether they give up when they fall behind. As to the last, maybe we’ve seen the end of it. For Florida was down 3-1 a little over 16 minutes into the game. The Panthers then stormed back.

The Eastern Conference playoff picture stands like this. Teams in italics are Southeast division teams

1- Ottawa 22-8-3 47 pts
2- Boston 18-12-4 40
T3- Montreal 17-12-5 39
T3- Carolina 18-15-3
T3- New Jersey 18-13-3 39
6 NY Rangers 17-14-3 37
T7 Florida 17-16-2 36
T7 Pittsburgh 17-15-2
T9 with 35 pts Buffalo and Philadelphia(32 games played each) and Toronto(35 games)
T12 with 33 pts Atlanta and Tampa Bay in 34 and 35 games respectively.

You can look at it one of two ways. Florida is four pts out of 2nd place in the conference or that the cats are just a game or two from being in 10th place because of the fewer games played by Buffalo and Philadelphia. As I see the conference, Florida can play as well as anyone with the exception of Ottawa, and arguably Carolina and New Jersey. The cats, who are notoriously bad as a road team, are 8-9-1. When you factor in injuries and the Panthers road record, this team could finish as high as 2nd in the conference, but more likely 4th or 5th. I think my preseason prediction of Florida making the playoffs for the first time since 2000, is looking better and better.


Chris Simon takes leave from NY Islanders

The controversial left winger is probably facing another suspension from the NFL. From AP-

NEW YORK – Chris Simon stepped away from the New York Islanders before the NHL had a chance to toss him out.

That might be next for the troubled forward.

Simon and the Islanders agreed Monday he should take a paid break from hockey following his latest penalty for attempting to injure an opponent.

He had already missed the first five games of this season while completing a 25-game ban — his sixth NHL suspension — meted out in March. Simon played in only 26 games before he found more trouble on the ice.

He is likely in line for another long penalty after he took down and stepped on Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu last weekend. Simon is scheduled to have a hearing with NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell on Tuesday in Toronto.

“The actions of Chris Simon on Saturday do not reflect what the New York Islanders stand for,” Islanders owner Charles Wang said in a statement. “They were reckless, potentially dangerous and against our team concept of grit, character and heart.

“We know Chris as a respected teammate and as a gracious man away from the playing surface and believe strongly that he has earned our continued support. The Islanders are going to provide some time for Chris away from the team and give him the counseling he needs and the compassion he deserves. When Chris is completely ready, he will be a member of our team again.”

Wang’s defense of Simon is idiotic. Here’s the video of last Saturday’s incident.

Simon is a thug who deserves a suspension for a year at least, I’d ban him entirely if I was the NHL. Two strikes and you’re out. Go look what he did last year. This player is indefensible and if Islander management think this leave changes anything, they’re as warped as Chris Simon is.


NHL owners approve scheduling changes

All NHL teams will meet again once every season. From AP-

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The NHL’s board of governors approved the sale of the Nashville Predators and changed the league’s scheduling format Thursday night to allow every team to face each other at least once every season.

Paul Kelly, the new executive director of the NHL Players Association, also addressed the league’s owners during a late-afternoon session to open the board’s two-day meeting at an elite resort on the Northern California coast.

After a three-year experiment in developing rivalries in hockey’s far-flung outposts, the NHL voted to go back to the scheduling format used before the 2004-05 lockout, most notably decreasing the current eight games against every team’s divisional opponents to six.

Starting next season, teams will play just 24 total games against their four divisional foes, 40 against the rest of the conference and 18 against the other conference — one game against all 15 foes, and three home-and-home series against wild-card opponents.

First let me state, my interest in hockey was only rekindled in the last year. Otherwise I had watched little of the sport since the end of the NY Islanders Dynasty in the early to mid eighties.

The arrangement where teams didn’t all meet seemed dumb to me. Fans in the west miss out on seeing players like Sidney Crosby and fans in the east miss getting to see……. well see what problem I have. LOL, make that former Florida Panther and ace goaltender Roberto Luongo. Now I can learn about the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks etc. To be honest I’m sick of Atlanta. You would be too if you had to see the Thrashers and Panthers cross sticks eight times a year.


Sabres Defeat Islanders, Await 2nd Round Opponent

The Buffalo Sabres booked their ticket to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they wrapped up their series against the New York Islanders in five games by scores of 4-1, 2-3, 3-2, 4-2, & 4-3.

That puts me at 3 out of 4 so far.


Rangers Sweep Thrashers

Well, I’m 0 for 1 on my picks so far as the Rangers swept the Thrashers out of the Playoffs winning the four games with scores of 4-3, 2-1, 7-0, & 4-2. The Rangers just stuck it to the Thrashers as the veteran leadership figured to lead the Thrashers was hardly a factor in the series. Good job by the Rangers overall they turned their season around after looking like they would miss the playoffs two months ago. They got hot to make the playoffs and have carried that through, if they can keep this play up their second round opponent will have a tough series ahead.

Update on other First Round Series:
New Jersey Devils tied with Tampa Bay Lightning 2-2
Buffalo Sabres lead New York Islanders 3-1
Ottawa Senators lead Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1
San Jose Sharks lead Nashville Predators 3-1
Detroit Red Wings lead Calgary Flames 2-1
Vancouver Canucks lead Dallas Stars 3-1
Anaheim Ducks lead Minnesota Wild 3-1


NHL Playoff Time – 1st Round Edition

Its time for Stanley Cup Playoff and will bring some of the most intesnse hard fought games of any post-season in any sport, so here’s a quick look at the teams looking for Stanley Cup glory.

Eastern Conference
(1) Buffalo Sabres v. (8) New York Islanders
The Islanders put together a strong finish to be the last team to make the playoffs thanks to a shootout victory, while greatly improved with the acquisition of Ryan Smyth will suffer greatly without #1 goalie Rick DiPietro. The only risk to Buffalo would be losing goalie Ryan Miller, with the offensive talent the team has goaltending is the only portion of the team that could hurt them.
Prediction: The offensive assault will be too much for the Islanders, Buffalo in 5

(2) New Jersey Devils v. (7) Tampa Bay Lightning
This series comes down to Devils Goalie Martin Brodeur vs. Lightning Forwards Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. While Brodeur has the ability to carry a team on his back, but after playing 78 games this season he could breakdown at some point, the key for the Lightning will be making him work hard every game.
Prediction: Lecavalier and St. Louis come through, Lightning in 7

(3) Atlanta Thrashers v. (6) New York Rangers
A talented team, deep bench, playoff experienced players, and experienced coaching make the Thrashers a dangerous team these playoffs. Ranger’s Sean Avery can get under anyone’s skin as well as a playoff experienced goalie can help the Rangers down the stretch. The question for Atlanta is if their playoff rookie goalie can stand up to the pressure.
Prediction: Sean Avery does more harm than good, Thrashers in 6

(4) Ottawa Senators v. (5) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins come in with some of the best young players in the game and a young goalie. The Senators bring in a veteran skilled team with a history of playoff failures to over come.
Prediction: Old age and guile beat youth and good looks, Senators in 5

Western Conference
(1) Detroit Red Wings v. (8) Calgary Flames
The Flames have the best home record in the league, but finished 8th in the Conference cause they can’t win on the road, not a good sign when you don’t have home ice advantage. Despite having on of the top players in the league and solid defense they lack what ever it takes to win at the other guy’s place. The Red Wings again put together one of the best teams in the league (even though the Cap was supposed to bring them back to erath). The Red Wings playoff hopes rest on the shoulder of Dominik Hasek and Todd ‘Sucker-Punch’ Bertuzzi.
Prediction: The Dominator does it again with some offensive help from his friends, Red Wings in 7

(2) Anaheim Ducks v. (7) Minnesota Wild
While the Ducks were the early favorite this season some of the luster off their shine is gone (especially when you lose to the Kings 4 times). However the ducks are backed up by 2 solid goaltenders, 3 forward lines that can hurt you, and 2 of the best defensemen in the game. Minnesota can throw some great offensive talent and goaltending back at anyone, they just don’t have enough to match up every shift against the Ducks
Prediction: With great pain in my gut, Ducks in 6

(3) Vancouver Canucks v. (6) Dallas Stars
Solid lines and improved defense help the Stars, but playoff history hold a dark cloud over goaltender Marty Turco’s head. Vancover plays a disciplined game and can exploit errors; however they will lean heavily on the Sedin Twins for offense while Roberto Luongo will danc eon his head to keep them in games.
Prediction: I go with goaltending and that will be Roberto Luongo, Canucks in 6

(4) Nashville Predators v. (5) San Jose Sharks
The Predators will lean heavily on Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg (who is one of the best playoff performers in history) to guide the fortunes of the team, which includes staying healthy. The Sharks are one of the best power play teams in the league and one of the best at holding a lead when scoring first, to win Nashville will have to score early and stay out of the box. However, both team’s fortunes will rest on who finds the right goal tender to ride through the series.
Prediction: The power play will prove to be too much for Nashville, Sharks in 7

My advice…grab a chair and a beer sit back and enjoy what should be some exiting playoffs thanks to the ‘New NHL’.


Playoffs mean big payday for Ed Belfour

A playoff appearance for the Florida Panthers would be very profitable for the veteran goaltender.

Goaltender Ed Belfour will earn more money in incentives than salary if the Panthers are able to make the playoffs this season, contract figures obtained from an NHL source have revealed.

Those incentive earnings drop significantly, however, if the team fails to reach the post-season.

Florida entered Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders seven points out of eighth place.

In addition to his $750,000 base salary, Belfour’s deal includes the following incentives:

• $5,000 for every game in which he is dressed;

• $5,000 for every game in which he plays, and;

• $5,000 for every win.

Belfour has dressed for every game and played in his 51st game Saturday. He had a 22-16-8 record with a 2.74 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

The incentives for games played and wins are cut in half, to $2,500, however, if the Panthers fail to make the playoffs.

At his current pace, Belfour figures to earn $410,000 for dressing for all 82 games, and, if the Panthers make the playoffs, at least $300,000 for playing in 60 games and at least $125,000 for winning 25 games, for a total of $825,000.

If the Panthers’ playoff run falls short, his incentives would total about $625,000, bringing his total earnings to about $1.375 million.


Dominik Hasek, at 43 the only goaltender older than the 41-year-old Belfour, also has a $750,000 base salary.

The Panthers are truly trying to ride Belfour to the playoffs, with Alex Auld out for the season and Craig Anderson who has played like a minute all season as the only other option, Belfour set a consecutive game streak at goalie last night in a Panther 8-5 win over the New York Islanders.

Jokinen’s third-period heroics allowed the Panthers’ 41-year-old goaltender, Ed Belfour, to enjoy his franchise record-setting 23rd straight start, which should increase to 24 on Tuesday night at the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Panthers, who have 10 games left to play, look as if they plan to ride Belfour’s back right to the playoffs. If the team makes it, Belfour’s consecutive game streak will extend into the high 30′s at least.

Is that asking alot from a goalie who is 41 years old? I’m thinking it could be. Belfour has given up 10 goals over the last two games.

This is all speculation, the Panthers stand seven points behind in the chase for the 8th and final playoff birth in the Eastern Conference. Even if the Panthers win every game in from this point, the team may still not make the playoffs for the first time since the 99-00 season.


New York Islanders Chris Simon suspended indefinitely

The NHL took fast action action the forward.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – New York Islanders forward Chris Simon was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Friday for his stick-swinging hit to the face of Rangers center Ryan Hollweg.

Simon was given a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure late in Thursday night’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers. The length of the suspension won’t be determined until after a disciplinary hearing. That hasn’t been scheduled but is expected to take place next week, likely in Toronto.

Simon was ejected with just more than 6 minutes left, and the ensuing power play led to the decisive goal in the Rangers’ victory.

Just seconds before he was hit, Hollweg drove Simon into the boards with a hard, clean check. Simon got up angrily and met Hollweg as they came together again. He then swung his stick into Hollweg’s face, just above his neck.

Hollweg’s chin was bloodied, but he was not seriously injured and expects to play Saturday when the Rangers visit Pittsburgh.

Simon has been suspended several times before by the league, and that could carry weight when the latest punishment is handed out.

While I haven’t seen the incident, I know a hockey stick can cause serious injury. This kind of behavior should be treated harshly, I’d suspend Simon for at least a half a season or more, including this year’s postseason. I’m not expecting much from the NHL, look how they handled this player’s assault on another player. Granted Bertuzzi couldn’t play during the lockout, but his NHL playing career was barely effected.

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Ugly NHL

Last night’s game between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders got ugly and once again has given the sport a black eye.

[Ryan] Hollweg [of the Rangers] was felled by [Chris] Simon [of the Islanders] late in the third period Thursday night when the New York Islanders’ forward angrily charged him and nailed him with a clothesline hit with his stick.

Simon was ejected

Here is the video of the incident. I hope the NHL gets tough and throws this bum out of the sport, its one thing to play tough it is another to be a idiot and dirty. Send a message, throw him out.


NHL Trade Deadline Day

Today brings the NHL Trade Deadline, a national holiday in Canada. Of course most of the trades won’t many anything except to Canadians and the five die-hard American fans, I’ll just bring you some of the big name/impact trades as they happen through out the day. But if you are Canadian or one of the five, visit’s site they will give you everything from Edmonton and Toronto trading 7th round draft picks to the guy traded for a bag of pucks. (oh yes they have a live broadcast too.)

Deals of Note

To NY Islanders: F – Ryan Smyth
To Edmonton: F – Robert Nilsson, F – Ryan Omarra, 2007 1st Round Pick
The inability of Edmonton to reach a new contract agreement with Ryan Smyth forced this trade. Edmonton gains nothing and loses the cornerston of their franchise who has been with the team since they drafted him in 1994. Great move by the Islanders, that will help them in the playoff push. I am suprised Edmonton didn’t get a bidding war going, but it was reported that they refused to deal him to a Western Conference Team.

To Dallas: D – Mattias Norstrom, F – Konstantin Pushkarev, 2007 3rd and 4th Round Pick
To Los Angeles: D – Jaroslav Modry, D – Johan Fransson, 2008 1st Round Pick, 2007 2nd and 3rd Round Pick
This wins the award for most complex trade of the day and most difficult for many Kings Fans. Dallas gets Kings’ Captian Mattias Norstrom a solid (but old school) defensive defenseman to shore up their defensive core, who is under contract for next season. Dallas also picks up Pushkarev who can play bigger than he is, but has attitude problem caused mostly by Russian Clubs who consistently tell him he gets no respect in the NHL and should be playing in Russia. The Kings eat the salary of turn over machine Modry (who is a free agent on July 1st) and get the first right to Swedish prospect defensive Fransson. As for the picks… The Kings net a 1st rounder in the stronger 2008 draft and swap around draft positions in 2007 (the Kings’ original 3rd round pick would be higher than Dallas’ original 3rd round pick based on this season standings. Overall the Kings moved up in the draft board in 2007 while Dallas moved down.

To Colorado: F – Scott Parker
To San Jose: 2008 6th Round Pick
Nothing major here, San Jose just picks up an additional draft pick and frees up some roster and cap space.

To Toronto: F – Yanic Perreault, 2008 5th Round Pick
To Phoenix: D – Brendan Bell, 2008 2nd Round Pick
Yanic, who was unsigned for the frist two months of the season, pays off for Phoenix with a higher draft pick and a defensive prospect to build for the future. Toronto picks up a healthy and effective center for a playoff run in what will be a tight playoff push in the east. This is Yanic’s 3rd stint with Toronto.

To Buffalo: F – Dainius Zubrus, D – Timo Helbling
To Washington: F – Jiri Novotnv, 2007 1st Round Pick
Buffalo adds a talented forward but raw forward (with motivational issues) and a defensive prospect to build for the future and a playoff push. In return Washington gets a low 1st round pick in a weak draft and a talented foward who lacks finishing skills and is prone to laziness

To Detroit: F – Todd Bertuzzi
To Florida: TBA Pending Trade Call with NHL Head Office F – Shawn Matthias, 2007 Conditional Draft Pick, 2008 Conditional 2nd Round Draft Pick
Florida gets a top prospect and picks for rebuilding while giving Detroit Bertuzzi who has only played 7 games this seasons. When healthy Bertuzzi is a force on the ice, but no one knows if he will regain his for and if he can avoid sucker punching other players.

To San Jose: F – Bill Guerin
To St. Louis: F – Ville Nieminen, F – Jay Barriball, 2007 1st Round Pick
San Jose gets a first line winger, Stanley Cup Winner and six time All-Star. He possess a big shot, a mean streak that combine power and speed. He will help the Sharks immensely as they make a push for the Stanley Cup.

To Pittsburgh: F – Georges Laraque
To Phoenix: F – Danny Carcillo, 2007 8th Round Pick
Pittsburgh gets one of NHL’s best heavyweights and enforcers to protect their young stars for the playoff run.

To Philadelphia: G – Martin Biron
To Buffalo: Undisclosed Draft Pick 2007 2nd Round Pick
This deal unloads unhappy goalie Biron to Philadelphia. Biron had lost his starting spot in Buffalo and was going to walk away from the team this summer as a free agent, so they pick up what they could for him. I imagine the draft pick will be determined based on Philadelphia’s ability to sign Biron this summer. (in a minor deal, Buffalo acquired Ty Conklin from Columbus for future considerations a 2007 5th Round Pick to fill Biron’s role as backup for the rest of the season and playoffs)

To Pittsburgh: F – Gary Roberts
To Florida: D – Noah Welch
Roberts is a power forward who loves to crash the net and battle for loose pucks. At 40 years old, he is a short term rental for the young Pittsburgh team to provided leadership and grit from past Stanley Cup Playoffs. Welch is a 24 year old defenseman; he’s a big presence on the blue line (6’4″) with a big shot from the point. With his upside this could pay off for Florida in the long run.

To Vancouver: F- Bryan Smolinski
To Chicago: 2007 Conditional 2nd Round Pick

To Vancouver: D – Brent Sopel
To Los Angeles: 2008 2nd and 4th Round Pick
In both of these trades are to improve Vancouver, currently the #3 seed in the West. Smolinski is a veteran center, who becomes a free agent on July 1st, while Sopel can play like a top 4 defensemen (but is prone to stupid mistakes) and provides additional offensive spark at the blue line. The picks are a wash; Los Angeles got a better deal than Chicago as the 2008 draft is projected to be stronger than the 2007 draft.

To NY Islanders: F – Richard Zednik
To Washington: 2007 2nd Round Pick
Islanders pick up extra offense to sneak into the Playoffs, provided Zednik doesn’t go into one of his prolonged scoring slumps.

To Atlanta: F – Keith Tkachuk
To St. Louis: F – Glen Metropolit, 2007 1st and 3rd Round Picks, 2008 2nd Round Pick
Atlanta gets a veteran scorer (with historic playoff scoring problems), while St. Louis gets a career reserve forward and a bunch of picks to rebuild the time. This deal is mainly to set the price for Bill Guerin.

To Philadelphia: D – Braydon Coburn
To Atlanta: D – Alexei Zhitnik
Philadelphia gets a young defenseman with lots of upside, while Atlanta gets a veteran defenseman with a big slap shot and the ability to play a big man’s game…when he’s motivated to.

To Carolina: F – Anson Carter
To Columbus: 2008 5th Round Pick
Carolina gets Carter, who had been a disappointment from Columbus on the cheap. Could pay dividends for Carolina IF Carter rediscovers his scoring touch.

To Nashville: F – Peter Forsberg
To Philadelphia: F – Scottie Upshall, D – Ryan Parent, 2007 1st and 3rd Round Pick
Nashville sold the farm to get Forsberg, which means this is the year they are really going for the Cup hard. Forsberg is a immense talent and game changer, but recent history shows he is one big hit away from the injured list. By far the biggest risk-reward player out there and really could push Nashville over the top. On an ironic side note, Nashville now has two of the biggest divers in the League on their team in Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya.


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