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Lying down always makes it better

March 2, 2012

Spartak, ah, on their bellies ahead of a match again SKA (via hotice.ru).

The Roman Hamrlik dilemma

March 1, 2012

Roman Hamrlik and some head-pats.

Former first overall draft pick defenseman Roman Hamrlik could have been a sweet pick-up at the deadline earlier this week. Alas, the Capitals weren’t dealers at the deadline (a move I support–less change, more stability, is best for the team now–moreover, they’ve made lots of moves the last two years of “contention). Hamrlik remains a Cap, with 1366 games under his belt.

IDNES revisited the Zlin native’s situation today. The article addressed coach Dale Hunter’s comments about wanting Hamrlik to remain more of a defensive defenseman and not toy with offense quite so much, but one nugget from an IDNES interview back in December was pulled. In it, Hamrlik said “I don’t think he (Hunter) understands me, my past. I have built a name for myself in the NHL, so I thought I would get more space (leeway). However, coach usually gives chances for young players to play all the time, even if they make mistakes.”

Hamrlik is not getting any younger. And it may be a down year. He was a steadfast blueliner for Montreal, and Washington was a different kettle of fish. But he provides a solid presence the Caps are often lacking. He can look lazy in his approach at times, however. Most had him pinned as a new player February 28th, but the Capitals held fast. Perhaps it’s a sign rifts between coach and players aren’t simply going to be fixed by shipping out one or the other any longer. But one has to hope the situation betters itself for Hamrlik soon.

What insight does this give us for Hunter? That he takes risks for his younger set. This makes sense–trial and error now, reward later. But it must be balanced out.

Dealing for depth

February 28, 2012

Back to B.

It was a lot more dead than line for most teams at this year’s trade deadline, which hit at 3pm yesterday. But the Boston Bruins managed to deal for a few key pieces that will offer more depth and flexibility. This was not Kelly-Peverley-Kaberle add-on set. It was a little better than the Shane Hnidy pick-up.

The Bruins sent Steven Kampfer to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for shot-blocker Greg Zanon. To the Islanders went a fellow GM Peter Chiarelli didn’t know the name to and Marc Cantin, for Mike Mottau and Brian Rolston. So how will this all shake out?

Let’s begin with what we sent away: Riendeau and Cantin would have struggled to crack the NHL, perhaps even the AHL. They could be dealt. Riendeau has perhaps more upside, but the pipelines for forwards are stocked with Spooner and Knight and Khoklachev. It’s all good. But what of Steven Kampfer, the seventh defenseman who barely played any games in Boston or in Providence? I wrote about Kampfer and his potential with or without the Bruins over the summer. Much has changed since then–namely his dangerous play and MCL sprain. And as Chiarelli pointed out, the swagger (or ego) of last season that made him so exciting was absent this year. He played timidly. The puck struggled to exit the Bruins’ zone whenever Kampfer was on the ice. The Bruins allowed an alarming number of shots (by my count) for every 20 seconds Kampfer was out there. I don’t think Kampfer is solely responsible for this woes–the lack of playing time probably meant he wasn’t in the mental or physical shape and couldn’t hit a groove. I still believe Kampfer has the chance to develop into a steady NHL defenseman, but that may be several years away. The Wild are a great team in a great market and he’ll have a shot, perhaps first with the Houston Aeros, but eventually with the big-time in Minny down the stretch (the Wild are oft-injured).

But what we got back is more important. Mottau and Rolston have strong Boston ties, and Zanon brings a firm hand and can fill-in should injury strike. The trio are veterans of this league and are unlikely to disturb the chemistry.

In short: it’s a classic Chiarelli move. Quiet, understated, low-risk. But with an important impact. Players can now slot in where the belong and injury will not threaten the team’s viability. These additions finally mean the Bruins are scraping up against the salary cap for the first time this season. Chiarelli was honesty when he said he liked the head-room. So, he used it. And on three fellows scheduled to head to free agency on July 1. That’s a good deal. No attachment, just a chance for veterans. Bruins fans are acutely aware of how keeping the Cup-winning club together in the years to come will challenge the franchise (ie, when Seguin finishes his ELC and Marchand wraps the two-year deal he signed. But that’s a question for another day.

Perfect plug-and-play for now.

NHL Trade Deadline: The maelstrom, the heartache

February 27, 2012

The flashes of red. The analysts suited up with matching cups of Tim Horton’s coffee. The wholesale pimping of Twitter.

Ah, it’s just the 2012 NHL trade deadline, February 27th, 2012. It’s been bastardized and commercialized dmore than Christmas, and this year seems the apex. What can the hockey fan do? It’s one of the most hyped days of the hockey calendar, besides July 1, and, well, virtually all eight weeks of playoff action.

There haven’t been any blockbusters, and the Andrei Kostitsyn trade has to bemuse folks for many hours till a few more trickled forth. Interesting how each TSN analyst (the feed popped through the NHL Network in the States) had to play up how each trade benefitted a Canadian team (if one was involved in the trade). Sure, they’re catering toward a Canadian market, but how about some balance?

Truth is, little of much consequence will happen at today’s trade deadline, at least as far as this season goes. Years down the line, perhaps a pick or prospect swapped today will make a difference.

Wheels

February 25, 2012

The last photo.

Once upon a time I was a seventeen year-old bequeathed a lovely set of wheels: a 2004 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon in reflex silver. For the next six years, this car was my sidekick. Everywhere I went, as far as New England was concerned, the Jets accompanied me. Through high school and college, its trusty German engines and roomy trunk were there. Its kicking stereo system, its wild high-beams. 

That all changed in the summer of 2010, when I moved to Chicago…and I had to say “goodbye.” I still think of the car. Once it was daily, but now, perhaps once a week. In my rational mind I realize much of my romanticizing of the Jets was related to the fact it was my first car. And like all firsts, it left an impression. Perhaps more importantly, it was a car I had during that blissful stage of life, that one without responsibilities. College, high school. It took me to and from some summer jobs and internships, to be sure. But it mostly took me to class, to get ice cream, to go for walks with my dogs, to go on silly road-trips, to take nice girls on dates. In my emotional mind, the car will always hold court over me.

But Jets is long gone–now owned by an art student with a toddler.

Last weekend I went car-shopping for the first time in many, many years. It didn’t take long for me to realize that no car would have the soft purr or the comfortable seat of my old Jetta. Once I recognized this, liberation and relief was met with some disconcerting feelings about this whole car-shopping thing. How would I adjust? Would this new car come to feel as smooth, as glove-like? “No” I assured myself–“nothing ever will.”

I saw some Honda Civics, some Toyotas, some Ford Focuses, a few Mazdas. Their engines felt dead. Felt like pushing a heavy box across a basement floor. They were sleek, the modern amenities whipping my old Jetta’s. Then I went to my local VW dealership, only to find the Jetta Wagon GL I knew no longer existed. No, it’s been upgraded, like some girl whole stole from the house too young, married well, into a man of mutual funds and bond trading. Now, she’s the Jetta SportWagen. And she’s $12,000 more. Awww shucks. The wagen is to connote something more German. But I know it’s all wrong. So I reconciled myself to viewing some regular Jetta S sedans. Alas, none were to be had. Those of a higher trim were there, but they now look like Corollas. There’s nothing Volkswagen-y about them. They’re volks-y, sure. They look like every other car on the road. The sharp lines are no longer. I never did test-drive one.

But maybe, maybe I will. Give me time. I’ve decided the trusty Volvo V70 will be my good friend in the meantime.

Until another day, VW, maybe we’ll meet again. Or maybe my Jets is best left as a memory of a good time. A great time. Jets, I still miss you.

A primer: Croatia’s potential move into the KHL

February 19, 2012

Waiting in the wings: KHL Medveščak Zagreb and KAC Klagenfurt in the EBEL’s own Winter Classic (photo via KHL Grič)

Let’s take it from the top. I am hoping to shift greater focus in this blog to Croatian hockey, which, for both men and women, has been burgeoning in recent months. The women’s club KHL Grič, and men’s teams, most notably, KHL Medveščak Zagreb of the EBEL, have been making waves. And, I am Croatian and my Croatian language skills are vastly superior to those of my Czech skills, so this seems a worthwhile endeavor. Add in the fact I’d love to see hockey grow there, and it all makes sense.

Croatian hockey has always, like so many things, paled in comparison to the hockey of its northerly neighbor, Slovenia. Skiing, wine, economics–Slovenia generally gets things down pat. But that’s because they’re smaller, in a better geographic position…and I could go on, but won’t. Slovenia can boast Anze Kopitar, while Croatia’s nearest product of hockey greatness comes in second generation players, like Joe Sakic.

Croatia’s most prominent and oldest club is KHL Medveščak Zagreb, which plays in the EBEL, or Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, or the Austrian hockey league. The league is comprised of clubs from across Austria and Slovenia, and one apiece the Czech Republic, Croatia and Hungary. The league is truly novel idea–get the most from small states with smallish hockey communities (save Znojmo in the CR). This team is the one poised to enter the Kontinental Hockey League as an “expansion” team. Lev Poprad in Slovakia was the first just last year, and the KHL, according to recent interviews with Alexander Medvedev, has its sights on Zagreb and Milan. Travel and skill-level be damned, the KHL is looking at a more global game, partially by necessity, partially by hubris. It has to be applauded.

The bears, as they are known, play out of the city’s capital. They’re using social media (check their Twitter) and attracting Canadian-born players with Croat parents and Russians, to balance the playing pool in an effort to become more competitive. In short, Croatia is looking to fast-track its hockey, and joining the KHL may be a part of that. It’s something I still hold mixed feelings about, just as I did with Lev Poprad. Hockey colonization is nothing new, and its carries inherent benefits and risks. I think hockey systems should be developed organically, but I think in order for players to develop, a higher grade of hockey must be presented to both fans to stimulate interest in the sport, and used to challenge players, to take them to a higher level. A very interesting NYT piece from earlier in the month recounts the growth of basketball in China, and how fans had a hard time digesting the slower pace of CBA ball when compared with the NBA on TV. With respect to players, lesser hockey nations like Denmark wind up having their youth play in Sweden, to gain a competitive edge they can’t at home. If competition can be brought home, that’s good, yes? I think it might be. The EBEL has served its purpose extraordinarily well, further cementing the ties of Central and Eastern Europe. The closeness of history and culture between Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Austria made it a perfect union of sorts for sport. The mighty KHL complicates some of that, when looking less at a sport level and more at a social, economic and cultural one. Relinking states and cities that have been close but compromised can only be good. But the KHL brings distinct benefits too–more money, more competition, more spotlight–and Zagreb should be honored to be drawn into the fold.

In the Croat press, hockey is still relegated to the “ostali sportovi” sections. It’s not soccer, basketball and it’s not skiing. It simply never will be. But the in-roads being made are impressive.

More soon.

The plot thickens: Rich Peverley gone 4-6 weeks with 3rd degree MCL sprain

February 17, 2012

More from Caron, more from everyone, needed.

We just learned from the Boston Bruins that Rich Peverley will be out of the line-up for 4-6 weeks with a 3rd degree MCL sprain. A quick Google search tells me this is a total rupture of a ligament. A quick hockey brainstorming tells me this spells some trouble for the Bruins–or, perhaps, not.

Let’s work with concentric circles away from the problem.

As such, let’s start with number 49. Peverley was hurt at least once earlier in the season, and with what, we were never told. He has seemed to struggle with mobility and had a hard time standing back up after falling too. It’s purely anecdotal and the team has provided much insight, nor have folks covering the team. My initial impression is that a month out of the line-up could be beneficial to his total health. Peverley proved himself to be a playoff performer last year, and his well-being come April is very important. That said, repeat injuries could be a red-flag. Could be a fluke, too.

Next, let’s think of Nathan Horton, the Bruins’ other sidelined star. No small amount of offensive pop comes from these two. One must wonder if the pressure to return is greater now.  The question becomes–do we rely more on others, or perhaps play an even more defense-first game? The team is out two right wings at the moment.

Of course, that brings us to everyone else in the forward group. Bergeron’s line remains intact. From reports, Josh Hennessy, a fellow that’s played little more than a handful of NHL games, is going to take Paille’s spot on the fourth line, bumping Paille to 3rd line with Caron and Kelly. The top line now consists of Lucic, Krejci, Pouliot. I actually quite like this configuration. The fourth line will struggle without Paille’s speed, to be sure. But Krejci and Pouliot were finally starting to display some nice chemistry of late. Add Lucic’s physicality and directness to that line and I think there is potential. It’s a stop-gap, of course. But it’s not a terrible one. Bergeron’s line must continue to carry the team. But more than that, I look to Jordan Caron and Benoit Pouliot to rise up during this road-trip. Former first-round draft choices with sublime skill that’s come through only at moments, but not consistently. They can contribute a lot, and as difficult as the loss of Horton and Peverley may be, those two players are the depth (scratched earlier in the season) that we so often speak of with respect to Bruins.

Perhaps when not relegated to a peripheral role, they will rise up. Players always do. The interesting thing about the Bruins’ roster has been just how healthy they’ve been, and consequently, stable, over the last two years. Sure, there have been concussions, bad lacerations, spots here and there. But by and large they’ve been the same crew. A few absences now will perhaps focus the team, require everyone to be on board.