Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brendan Shanahan returns to where his career began

The Back To The Future ride goes back farther in time to snag yet another former player from the past.

Last summer, the New Jersey Devils brought Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston back into the fold after spending significant time elsewhere in the National Hockey League. Both were members of the 1995 Stanley Cup championship team.

Now enter Brendan Shanahan.

Three Stanley Cups and 17 years later, Shanahan returns to where he started his NHL career. That would be in New Jersey.

Devils president, chief executive officer and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced today that Shanahan has agreed in principle to join the Devils this season. The soon-to-be 40-year-old future Hall of Famer has been an unrestricted free agent since July 1, 2008 after spending the last two seasons with the New York Rangers.

Shanahan was drafted second overall by the Devils in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft at age 18. Only Pierre Turgeon was drafted ahead of him that year. He was in his rookie season when the Devils qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1988.

But July 25, 1991 would be a key day in Devils history. Shanahan signed a free agent contract with the St. Louis Blues. It was not so much the signing that was significant, but it would be the compensation the Devils would receive for losing him. New Jersey received the rights to Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens and the rest is history in his place in franchise lure.

Following four productive seasons in St. Louis where it included his career season of 52 goals and 50 assists for 102 points in the 1993-1994 campaign, Shanahan was traded to the Hartford Whalers on July 27, 1995 for defenseman Chris Pronger. But the turning point of his accomplished career was after a difficult year-plus in Hartford, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in a multiplayer deal on October 9, 1996 that included Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey and forward Keith Primeau.

It was with the Red Wings where Shanahan enjoyed the most success as he was a key member of that team's back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and 1998 and again in 2002. He even won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2003 for being a player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.

Due to not being in the Red Wings' plans as they vowed to cut payroll and get younger following the 2005-2006 season, Shanahan as an unrestricted free agent would sign with the Rangers. In his first season for New York, he scored his milestone 600th NHL goal, but had missed significant time with a concussion as a result of an on-ice collision with Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Knuble. Last season, he helped the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the second straight year by defeating the Devils in the opening round. But by then, his production had dropped off and New York was looking to go in another direction in terms of the makeup of their roster.

Shanahan had held out hope for a while that he could return to the Rangers and turned down offers from teams such as one of his former clubs in the Blues. The Flyers were rumored to be in the mix for his services, but when all was said and done, he wanted to remain in the New York City metropolitan area and chose to play for the Devils. A contract will be finalized during the upcoming week.

What does Lamoriello see for Shanahan in New Jersey the second time around?

"In our minds, Brendan can be a full-time player," Lamoriello said in today's conference call with the media. "It's no different than any other player. They determine the ice time that they get, and the coaches determine how much they're used within how the games go. He's not being signed just to play on power plays, or just to play (on penalty kills). We feel he can come and help this team be better and have more success."

The Toronto native began his NHL career by totaling 88 goals and 126 assists for 214 points in 281 games for the Devils from 1987 to 1991. Now he has 650 goals (11th all-time) and 1340 points (24th all-time) on his NHL resume. Not too shabby are his 59 goals and 72 assists for 131 points in 177 playoff games.

What factored into Shanahan's decision to play for the Devils in 2009?

"Obviously I have a history with Lou – Lou drafted me," Shanahan stated in today's conference call. "I feel fortunate that a situation like this opened up. I remained patient. I had some really good, tempting offers from good people and good teams, but this to me was about finding the right fit."

Unlike some players at his age, Shanahan still wants to play and win again in the NHL. When he makes his season debut with the Devils has yet to be determined, but will be ready to play soon.

"I feel well-rested and at the same I feel I've got a stronger base than I've had in many years I used the time off to train hard," he said. "How long it takes, I really don't know. But I've got a strong desire to play, and burning desire to get back and help my new team."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reserves added to full 2009 All-Star rosters

Over the past 24 hours, the National Hockey League filled out its complete rosters for the Western Conference and Eastern Conference All-Star teams.

For those of you that were upset that Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin was not selected by the fans to be a starting forward, fear no more. It would have been an outrage had he not been chosen as one of the reserves for the East squard.

Here are your full rosters for the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montréal on January 25th. All the reserves are shown on each list with the starters indicated with a red asterisk.

Jeff Carter, C; Philadelphia
*Sidney Crosby, C; Pittsburgh
Vincent Lacavalier, C; Tampa Bay
*Evgeni Malkin, C; Pittsburgh
Marc Savard, C; Boston
Eric Staal, C; Carolina
Dany Heatley, LW; Ottawa
Ilya Kovalchuk, LW; Atlanta
Alexander Ovechkin, LW; Washington
Zach Parise, LW; New Jersey
Thomas Vanek, LW; Buffalo
*Alexei Kovalev, RW; Montréal
Jay Bouwmeester, D; Florida
Zdeno Chara, D; Boston
Tomas Kaberle, D; Toronto
*Mike Komisarek, D; Montréal
*Andrei Markov, D; Montréal
Mark Streit, D; New York Islanders
Henrik Lundqvist, G; New York Rangers
*Carey Price, G; Montréal
Tim Thomas, G; Boston

Pavel Datsyuk, C; Detroit
*Ryan Getzlaf, C; Anaheim
Mike Modano, C; Dallas
Joe Thornton, C; San Jose
Keith Tkachuk, C; St. Louis
*Jonathan Toews, C; Chicago
Dustin Brown, LW; Los Angeles
Rick Nash, LW; Columbus
Shane Doan, RW; Phoenix
Milan Hejduk, RW; Colorado
Jarome Iginla, RW; Calgary
*Patrick Kane, RW; Chicago
Dan Boyle, D; San Jose
*Brian Campbell, D; Chicago
Nicklas Lidstrom, D; Detroit
*Scott Niedermayer, D; Anaheim
Sheldon Souray, D; Edmonton
Shea Weber, D; Nashville
Niklas Backstrom, G; Minnesota
*Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G; Anaheim
Roberto Luongo, G; Vancouver

At least one player from each of the 30 NHL teams will be heading to the All-Star Game. Some of them are participating for the first time in their careers.

In the East, Jeff Carter as the lone representative of the Philadelphia Flyers and Thomas Vanek doing the same for the Buffalo Sabres.

Over the years, a constant as far as the All-Star face of New Jersey Devils is concerned, you'd likely think of goaltender Martin Brodeur, right? Had he been healthy, it is possible he would've been that guy once again. But since he has been sidelined following a November 1st elbow injury, another Devil has really made a name for himself around the league. Zach Parise got the call to go to Montréal for his first All-Star Game.

Tied for the NHL lead in point scoring among defensemen, Mark Streit makes history as the first player from Switzerland to play in the All-Star Game. The New York Islanders defenseman has 32 points on the season (with 20 from power plays).

Even though he is a three-time reigning Vezina Trophy finalist, Henrik Lundqvist is an All-Star for only the first time as well and will represent the New York Rangers.

Out West, the youngest captain in Los Angeles Kings history will be a first-time All-Star. Dustin Brown is also the first American-born captain to be in that role.

After spending the previous six seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, defenseman Dan Boyle makes his All-Star debut as one of two San Jose Sharks players selected to take part. Boyle is enjoying a great first season with the league's best team with 32 points in 38 games.

Niklas Backstrom will be the only player to represent the Minnesota Wild at this season's All-Star Game and his selection comes on the heels of two very fine performances. His back-to-back shutouts over the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins this week only put a rubber stamp on the All-Star qualifications in which he is fourth in the NHL in wins with 19.

The All-Star reserves were selected by the NHL's Hockey Operations Department after consulting with the 30 general managers around the league.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009 NHL All-Star Game starting lineups

You know there will be plenty of debate as to whether or not all these players deserve to be in the starting lineup for their respective conference All-Star teams, but the voting is done and the verdict is in. The National Hockey League made the announcement this afternoon as unveiled by Montréal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau (see the video below) and in print by writer Adam Kimelman.

video courtesy: NHL Productions

Here are your starters for the upcoming 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montréal. The total number of votes for each player is listed.

Eastern Conference All-Stars
Sidney Crosby, C; Pittsburgh - 1,713,021
Evgeni Malkin, C; Pittsburgh - 1,585,936
Alexei Kovalev, RW; Montréal - 1,343,301
Andrei Markov, D; Montréal - 1,443,091
Mike Komisarek, D; Montréal - 1,373,628
Carey Price, G; Montréal - 1,515,885

Western Conference All-Stars
Patrick Kane, RW; Chicago - 917,551
Jonathan Toews, C; Chicago - 809,599
Ryan Getzlaf, C; Anaheim - 716,569
Brian Campbell, D; Chicago - 784,476
Scott Niedermayer, D; Anaheim - 637,316
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G; Anaheim - 617,241

Only four NHL teams are represented by the two starting lineups, namely the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Montréal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Can somebody explain to me how Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin isn't in the starting lineup here? I know that statistics alone doesn't automatically warrant you such a spot on the All-Star team, but entering tonight, this player is second in the NHL in points (52) and goals (26). That's a pretty strong case right there. Yet Canadiens fans stuffed the ballot box to vote in the enigmatic Alexei Kovalev, a forward who has just 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points in 38 games. Those 28 points places him 75th in the league in point scoring. And that makes him worthy of a starting spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team?

I know that people will say that just because Ovechkin is a superstar, he doesn't deserve to get the automatic nod. Well guess what, there's a glaring difference to what impact Ovechkin has on the Capitals even this year compared to what Kovalev has been for the Canadiens. At times, Kovalev has even struggled to produce, just like he did for the New York Rangers in his career. Not that there is anything personally against Kovalev, but this player doesn't deserve to be starting instead of someone like Ovechkin. Here's what is even more disturbing. Ovechkin finished 20th overall in the Eastern Conference in the voting. It just doesn't make sense.

Here's what makes even less sense. Forget about him being in the starting lineup, how is Mike Komisarek even in the All-Star Game, period? You think the ballot box stuffing was obvious with Kovalev, this was about as much the case as you seeing an oncoming freight train down a busy railroad line in the northeast corridor. Komisarek has just two points (that is right, TWO) for the whole season and missed a chunk of it due to a shoulder injury suffered from a fight with Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic in November. That's good for 200th among NHL defensemen in points. Yet he's an All-Star starter. Way to go, Montréal fans.

How does Jonathan Toews crack the starting lineup? He only has 29 points on the season, just one more than Kovalev. I know that he is the one half of the exciting young dynamic duo (with Patrick Kane) for the resurgent Chicago Blackhawks. Don't get me wrong, he's an exciting player to watch if you're a Blackhawks fan. We've seen that commercial where Ed Olczyk's pretending he's re-living Toews' highlight goal from last season with a livecall of his own. Okay, that's been drilled into our brains enough. But does that make us believe we should give him a starting job? Maybe Pavel Datsyuk, a highly productive forward for the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings should've been voted in? Just a thought.

I understand that the starting lineup isn't all that meaningful in hockey. We see line changes occur roughly once every 30 to 90 seconds over the course of a game, so it's not like we'll see the other All-Stars get quality ice time in what is just a showcase event.

Normally I don't get real opinionated here, but in looking at the starting lineups and seeing just four teams represented, it has me scratching my head. Ovechkin in all likelihood will be selected as an All-Star reserve, but the fact of the matter is, the All-Star voting is nothing more than a popularity contest. It cannot be more blatantly obvious Montréal fans stuffed the ballot box to try to get all their players to start for the East squad if they had it their way. Yet the NHL had encouraged fans to vote as often as they liked. Did that backfire? It's hard to say as there are many different opinions out there about what people think of the final vote totals and who is starting.

But the bottom line is, we'll get to see the second NHL All-Star Game in Montréal in the last 16 years, the first one at the Bell Centre as this is an historic Centennial year for the Canadiens franchise. Hopefully any dissatisfaction over the starting lineups doesn't hang over the event like a dark cloud. It is doubtful it will. Once the game is played, it won't matter much. But for right now, it does make people wonder why certain players were voted in.

The NHL will announce the All-Star reserves for the Western Conference on January 7th and for the Eastern Conference the following day on January 8th.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What city should be the next host for an outdoor NHL game?

Now that second installment of the Winter Classic has been played with the success of Wrigley Field in Chicago being an historical stage for the event, now it's time to ponder THE question.

What city should be the host for the next outdoor National Hockey League game? Whether this game would take place in 2010 or a year or two after that, it would be on the minds of many that enjoyed each of the first three outdoor games the NHL has staged in its history.

Here are my top five cities for whom I want to be the next host city...

1. New York City (Yankee Stadium) -
It was the original city of choice for the NHL in each of the first two Winter Classic events that were planned and held, but logistics got in the way of finalizing them as the host city. The Big Apple lost out especially for yesterday because it would not have been possible to hold the Winter Classic now and then have enough time for the original Yankee Stadium to be torn down and area cleanup and renovation done before the Yankees' 2009 opening day at the new ballpark. The same issues exist now for Citi Field with the demolition of Shea Stadium.

Being the largest city in the United States and among the top four hockey markets in the NHL, this is a no-brainer. With the Original Six franchise and high marquee value New York Rangers as the host, this would potentially provide the kind of media exposure for the NHL last seen since the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. The one difference is that the Rangers aren't the caliber team they were 14½ years ago. From revenue generated from ticket sales to sponsorships to fan interest, it would likely be the biggest financial boost for the sport and the NHL. This is despite being a close second behind the Toronto Maple Leafs on the 2008 Forbes franchise value list.

If it is in 2010 or 2011 (depending on if it is not held during the same time period as the 2010 Winter Olympics), the Rangers should host either the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Montréal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs or either of the two local rivals in the Islanders or New Jersey Devils. Sean Leahy of his Going Five Hole blog had made the suggestion the Rangers should host the Washington Capitals (obviously to do with showcasing Alexander Ovechkin). I doubt that would fly because the Capitals aren't the same kind of rival as the other Atlantic Division teams and Original Six foes. The problem with the Rangers playing the Islanders or Devils is that it would not appeal well with a national audience as it would locally. Look at the 2000 World Series between the New York Mets and New York Yankees for example.

2. Minneapolis (TCF Bank Stadium) -
Given the State of Hockey is considered to be the largest regional hockey market in the country, having the Minnesota Wild host an outdoor game would be perfect for a place that celebrates its favorite sport outside in the cold. The team already connects with its fans and what better way to bring more out than to have it at the new TCF Bank Stadium, the future home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team.

Perhaps a game against the Dallas Stars would help drive interest through the roof immediately given the Wild would facing the former Minnesota North Stars. Other opponents I'd like to see considered that haven't participated would be the Canadiens, Rangers, Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins or any of Minnesota's other Northwest Division rivals (except the Edmonton Oilers since they participated in the first ever outdoor NHL game in 2003).

3. Boston (Fenway Park) -
The Boston Bruins resurgence this season may have helped recapture interest in their team at about the perfect time that the other Beantown teams are flourishing. The state of Massachusetts is among the top three hockey areas in America and the best way to help get the Bruins and the city of Boston in the spotlight nationwide is to host an outdoor game at Fenway Park, home of the 2004 and 2007 World Series champion Boston Red Sox. It would serve a very similar purpose as Wrigley Field did this year. If the logistics aren't there, the Bruins could always settle with Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough, Massachusetts, home to one of the powerhouses in the National Football League in the New England Patriots.

A matchup against the Canadiens, Maple Leafs or Rangers would be a logical selection. The Wild should be considered as well given the idea of bringing two prominent hockey areas onto the same stage would be a winner with the NHL.

4. Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field) -
With the Philadelphia Flyers returning to respectability after a disasterous 2006-2007 season that saw them finish dead last in the entire league, they are a contending hockey club with marketable players such as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell, it is a great sports town and plenty of hockey tradition with the famous Broad Street Bullies era. The Flyers facing teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins as a Keystone State rival, the Rangers (as the New Jersey Turnpike separates the two cities by a mere 85 miles), Capitals (with Alexander Ovechkin), Wild or Canadian team like the Maple Leafs that has a rivalry with the Flyers makes for good picks as opponents.

5. Toronto (Rogers Centre) -
Even though the home of Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays is played on Field Turf, the playing area to build an outdoor hockey rink would still work just fine. Maple Leafs fans as well as others from all over Canada and even parts of the United States would come to Toronto to see an outdoor NHL game. For Canadian fans, obviously they'd salivate over a matchup against the Canadiens, but they are celebrating their Centennial with their own showcase event in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game this month. Plus, the Canadiens were in the original outdoor game in 2003. Facing the Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Wild or Ottawa Senators would make the most sense in terms of matchup interest for both countries. If the Leafs hosted one of the other five Canadian clubs, it would bode well for fans north of the border, but how much would American fans still be interested?

I would give honorable mention to these cities. They would be Denver, Montréal and Pittsburgh.