Monday, September 28, 2009

If I Don't Get The Wings on TV

Weird Sims ThingIf I don't get the Wings on TV before the season starts, then this blog is pointless. I'm working on it. I'm slightly strapped for cash at the moment. I'm figuring out details, robbing banks, etc.

Anyway, that's pretty much all I wanted to say before I go any further.

Let me talk about the central division a bit. I know this will be covered in much more detail in a future post, but I feel like this post would be too boring if I didn't discuss something other than my current television crisis.

I'll just break it down by team:

Hot Red Wings GirlDetroit:

Awesome. Yeah, I did a little analysis in my last post. Honestly, if I'm on one of the other teams in the division, I'm pissed. Teams like Chicago and Columbus are finally seeing some improvement, but those damn Red Wings just aren't going away. On paper, the Wings are deeper than last year. No Hossa? I say no problem. The guy's a jinx anyway. Chris Gaerig wrote a nice piece on Marian Hossa calling him "A portrait of misfortune".

Please, don't worry about this preseason stuff. I always prefer when my teams tank in the preseason. Remember when the Lions were undefeated in the preseason? Need I say more? I know, football is way different, but it's the same idea. Doing bad in the preseason can actually help a team become aware of problems early on. This way, the Coach can fix the issues before he even has "real" issues.

What Detroit needs to do in the central is beat up on Chicago early in the season. A young team like the Blackhawks will only get better if they gain some confidence against teams like Detroit. If Detroit can keep Chicago from getting too much confidence early on, then I can assure you the Blackhawks will not steal the division. How can the Wings do this? Well, that's a question I hope Mike Babcock has the answer to. I can tell you how they have done it before - good old intimidation. Seriously, the young guys will fold if the Wings can get early goals on them and get one or two highlight saves from Chris Osgood.

It's that simple. Detroit is a better team. Chicago has talent and speed, but it can be beaten by slowing up the game and always keeping them on their heels. A young team will always struggle coming from behind on an older, more experienced team. That's why they labeled 1980 a miracle. It's not supposed to happen. Pittsburgh didn't beat Detroit. The Red Wings dug their own grave - don't let anyone ever suggest differently.

This formula can be applied to the other central division contenders.

Young BlackhawksChicago:

With all that being said, it's in Chicago's best interest not to be intimidated by Detroit. If this franchise is going to win back it's fans, it needs to establish an identity. Young and speedy is not an identity any team wants for long. Ask the Minnesota Wild. For Chicago, acquisitions like Samuelson and Hossa will help the team move out of the young and speedy era. It's the same old story - if you want to beat the machine, become it. Chicago needs to become more like Detroit if they want to really threaten the division title. No team will beat Detroit unless they emulate their style. I don't think the Penguins are a great example of how to beat the Wings, so forget going there. Again, Detroit beat Detroit. Chicago needs to think long term. And they are.

The Hawks' moves during the off season are proof Bowman and son are thinking Detroit first. Yeah, Lord Scotty Bowman. Worried? Not yet. Soon? Yes.

The Blue JacketsColumbus:

I used to say team Rick Nash when referring to the Columbus Blue Jackets - who didn't? (This team has been around for almost ten years? I'm not sure how I feel about that.) Now, no one can get away with saying it. Nash has some good hockey players around him. The team benefited a lot by getting to play the Wings in the playoffs. Columbus will be a formidable opponent this season. Don't expect them to threaten the Wings or Chicago, but they won't be an easy two points. They weren't last year.

Paul KariyaSt. Louis:

Paul Kariya is still on this roster. Am I the only person who keeps forgetting this? Maybe it's because he only played 11 games due to injury last season. He hasn't been in a playoff game since he was with Nashville in 2007. If the Blues need someone to build a team around, Paul Kariya is still a good choice. He'll bounce back this year and help the Blues secure a playoff spot earlier in the season. He just needs to stay healthy.

Andy McDonald is a Blue too. Remember that guy? He was injured for a good part of last season. He did manage to see the playoffs - four points in four games.

Looking back, the Blues could have been much better if they stayed healthier last year. Sometimes there is no way to make up for key players like Kariya and McDonald. I don't see why St. Louis couldn't give Detroit and Chicago some trouble this season. In fact, St. Louis is the only team other than Detroit to actually win this division in the past 15 years (other than Dallas in 1997 and 1998 before leaving).

Nashville PredatorsNashville:

What happened to this team? When did Columbus become better than the Predators?

Nashville finished fifth in the division last season with 88 points. The team was 40-34-8. In 2008, the Preds finished with 91 points - good enough to get into the playoffs. The difference isn't the three points. Really, Nashville isn't much worse than they've been in past years. The division is just way better. The truth is, Nashville has never been good. They've just been lucky to be in a bad division. Time to wake up.

That's just a little bit of what I have to say about the division. I kept it short on purpose because I'm sure I'll touch on these five teams a lot this season.

Now, I just hope I can watch the games.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Where Have All the Dynasties Gone?

When the Red Wings lost to the New Jersey Devils in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, I remember crying, thinking I would never see them get back to the big stage again. I was nine years old. I was young, but wise beyond my years. At nine, I already understood what it takes to battle all the way to the end, and the agony you must endure when your team comes up short. Losing is tough when you're a kid. However, it never got any easier for me as I grew older. I often wonder if I'll ever grow up. I was everything short of bawling this past June.

It was like a bad breakup. There was a cloud hanging over my summer. Each day it got a little better. Then I'd have a relapse and want to burn every piece of Penguins apparel I could get my hands on (I would never actually do that, don't worry). I didn't want to see hockey. I couldn't even watch the old games on ESPN Classic and such. I was heartbroken. Finally, when talk of the upcoming season started to stir, I found myself curious again. I started to get excited at the possibility of starting fresh. I started to feel stronger as a fan. I got my confidence back. I'm saying things like "Well, the Penguins got theirs, now it's time to take it back" and "I'm a better fan for suffering through that horrible loss." I'm thinking about next spring.

I recently read an article from about Pittsburgh's chances of returning to the finals and repeating. The article mentioned the last team to make the Cup finals in three consecutive years was the epic Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s. The Oilers were nothing special during their era. In the early 80s, the New York Islanders went to the finals five times in a row - winning the first four and then falling to a younger Oilers team in 1984. The Islanders were preceded by the Montreal Canadiens - four Cups in a row from 1976-1979 and eight in 11 years - stunning. Looking back, those three teams are arguably the best ever in the history of the modern NHL. I refer to the modern NHL as all time after the expansion of 1968.

The dynasty era is supposed to be over right? Nah, not so fast, not if Detroit and Pittsburgh continue to recharge every year. Let's take a look at the current situation. When was the last time two teams met in the finals for three consecutive years? It has never happened during the NHL's 91-year history. Ridiculous. If there is talk about Pittsburgh making it all the way again this season, then I would like to start talking about the Red Wings' chances.

Now, I'd rather not breakdown the Penguin's lineup for this upcoming season. There really is no point to. They haven't changed at all. However, Detroit has, and I believe it's in the right direction - again.

I've said it already, but now I'm putting it down here: If the Red Wings stay healthy, they will be better than they were last season, and they will make the finals for the third time in three seasons. Then, we can all watch Pittsburgh and Detroit become the first two teams to meet in the finals three years in a row.

The Red Wings' core players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Filpulla, Franzen and Cleary are still in their prime. Chris Osgood has more confidence than ever. I've always said Osgood can be the best goalie in the league if he just had more confidence between the pipes. He has it now. Scrolling down this season's roster, I started to realize something very exciting. The young guys Detroit has this year may be the best, most well-rounded group of young guns the team has had since the 90s. The best news is most of them have prior experience playing in big games. Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Ville Leino are all ready to shine.

What I worried about all last season was the defense. I'm actually surprised Detroit was so successful with such terrible defense. The Wings averaged 2.93 goals against per game. That put them way down on the list - number 20. Pittsburgh wasn't much better - 2.84 goals against per game and 17th in the league. In the 2007-2008 season Detroit was the best defensive team in the NHL. The Wings averaged 2.18 goals against. The Penguins averaged 2.58. Detroit's defense was the difference in the finals both years.

This season, Detroit's blue liners will be better - much better. Two reasons why: Derek Meech and Jonathan Ericsson. Here are two players who will see more ice time. Then there's Stuart, Rafalski, Lidtsrom and Kronwall - four guys who need to stay healthy. If they do, the Wings will have the best defense in the league. Lilja and Lebda are still quality substitutes.

Mike Babcock may not run the lines like this, but if he's smart he will.

The Red Wings will be stronger than last year. They will have more depth throughout the season. They won't miss Hossa or Samuelson. Hudler will be forgotten easily. Their departure actually makes the team better. Guys like Abdelkader and Helm should see the ice a lot more - which is only good for the team. Ville Leino will score 20 goals this year - remember I said that.

OK, maybe I'm getting carried away. It may appear I'm rattling off my dream season. However, honestly, I haven't felt this confident about the team since 2001.

I haven't even mentioned the additions. I will devote a post to Tod Bertuzzi, Jason Williams and Patrick Eaves.

The chance we'll see both teams in the finals is better than last season. We'll see Detroit's dynasty continue and Pittsburgh form one of their own. Will either team be able to maintain dominance like teams of the past? Time will tell. However, right now, it's fair to say the NHL is entering a new dynasty era.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Are Things On the West Coast?

Kings Ice GirlsThe West Coast may not have Hockeytown, but it sure has a lot of hockey - more than I expected. I actually joined in a few pick-up games last month in LA. The competition was interesting. Everyone could skate. Everyone could shoot. No one could play hockey. Yeah, they had absolutely no sense of hockey. What did I expect? I guess I assumed no one would be able to skate or shoot. What I found was a bunch of pretty boys acting like "hockey players." OK, a little harsh, I know. However, isn't this what the NHL wants? - guys who can skate and shoot, but also say things like "Hey man, lay off the body a bit." - who says that with a serious face? If this is what the NHL is looking for, maybe they should concentrate scouting efforts in California.

More on that later.

The above rant is just a small taste of the endless amount of hockey crap I have to blabber about. A lot of this blog will be devoted to all things related to the Detroit Red Wings. However, I'll be talking a lot about the NHL and the upcoming season. I'll probably throw in a few history lessons throughout. But, don't be surprised if I frequently, and probably unfairly, rip on California hockey fans.

I started this blog in an effort to keep my own sanity. Last spring I was sitting in my parents' living room in Metro Detroit. My Dad and I were watching a Wings game, no surprise. I started complaining about Detroit's defense.

"If they don't pick up the slack on D, they'll be the worst team on the penalty kill come playoffs," I said.

"You better write Babcock a letter," my Dad said

OK, simple enough. Writing a letter to the head coach seems like a pretty big waste of time. My Dad was joking. It's something he says when he really wants to say shut the hell up. I was contemplating it. I'm definitely not the first idiot to actually consider doing it.

Red Wings Penguins FinalsI never wrote the letter. I kept my mouth shut. I watched my dear, beloved Red Wings completely embarrass themselves on the PK throughout the playoffs, eventually leading to their demise in the finals.

Well, here is my letter. If I could write Mike Babcock, and coaches around the league, and they would actually read it, this blog is what they would see. Fantasy? Yeah, a little bit. It's fun to pretend.

"Dear Red Wings," can be taken literally, but overall it's just a title. I had a handful of title ideas, but this one stood out. It sums up the frustration a knowledgeable fan can feel when watching his team fold. Could I do the coach's job better? No, I'm not saying I could. However, I actually believe the things I scream at the TV could help. Instead of screaming in my parents' living room (or at my own in Los Angeles, 2,600 miles from Detroit) I'll write a letter. In this case, I'll blog about it.

So prepare to love or hate me. Get ready to disagree or agree with me. Either way, I hope this is entertaining at the least. Remember, it's for my sanity not yours.