Major Hockey Talk

Hello hockey fans. I hope you are enjoying the season thus far even if it has been a bit whacky. A bunch of topics to talk about for the teams I have seen thus far.

I have not been able to watch much of the Western Conference teams, but here are the ones I can comment on.

Chicago Blackhawks
I am rooting for this team, BIG TIME. A respectable Original Six team that lost recogntion and respect over the years. Yes, my condolences go out to the Wirtz family and it is a shame to see the hockey world lose someone, regardless who the person is. But, this marks a new era for the Hawks. I must say, I love watching this team and its youth. If you can catch them on Center Ice, I recommend you watch them. This is a group of players that are playing to prove a point. They are growing together and I saw it all in last night’s OT win over the Dallas Stars. When Jonathan Towes took that wild slapshot, which hit Robert Lang’s back and in the net, the unit on the ice cheered and team hugged as if they won some sort of championship. These guys are bonding in a special way and I am almost sure that in three years or so, the Blackhawks will be a playoff contender once again. Patrick Kane is fun to watch. Towes has a lot of jump to his game. Brent Seabrook is back to his rookie campaign form. Duncan Keith has such smoot skating skills. I mean, you start liking these young players and you just cheer them on. So, I wish the very best for the Hawks, who are playing hard without star winger Martin Havlat. Very cool team to watch.

Speaking of the Dallas Stars, talk about a lame team to watch as sometimes they play these low scoring games that make you think you were back in the mid 1990’s. I say shame on Mike Modano and the rest of the vets for letting down rookie goalie, from Switzerland, Tobias Stephan. The guy played fantastic goaltending, was so flawless, seconds away from earning his first shutout in his first NHL start, and his teammates took lazy penalties that led to the tying goal with a six on three, and the power play carried over in OT which sealed the victory for the Hawks. Very shameful and these guys are veterans. They should know better.

Edmonton Oilers
I don’t care what the record will be by April 2008 for the Oilers, but this team rocks. Talk about exciting youth on the ice with Andy Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Robbie Schremp…and the rest of the young group. I watched some of the home-and-home series against the Vancouver Canucks and the Oilers play hard with full effort. The fans may get upset to not see the team win, but they should be loving what they see on the ice with this young Oilers team. Such a bright future and there is a lot to appreciate the hard work they put on the ice. They really skate and wow do they skate. Very exciting to watch and the Oilers won’t be out of the playoffs too long as in a couple of years or so, they will be a tough team to beat. But still, I do not like the new jerseys with the orange shoulder patches gone!

Nashville Predators
What a chaotic team! But, they are also battling hard. This team has had major off the ice issues and still do. Now that billionare Ballsillie may jump back into the picture, hoping he won’t screw around again, it will be more chaotic. I like how Jason Arnott is stepping up and trying to lead a team that did not improve, at all. And hey, why did anyone have so much confidence in Chris Mason? I like the guy, he is a good goalie, but just because he had 40 games last season does not mean he would have become the full time starting goalie. I am not going to say that trading Tomas Vokoun was a mistake, even if the locals may think so since he was dearly loved off the ice. But, GM David Poile should have at least secured the goaltending tandem with someone that could take over in case Mason flops. So, I speculate that if Mason does not play up to expectations, which I believe were wrong to have in the first place, then a great fit would be Robert Esche.

Atlanta Thrashers
Please fire Don Waddell. He is obviously uncapable of running a National Hockey League club. What else can I add to this? Ummm….fire Waddell. It’s just shameful to watch a team get better for the past seasons, and then the guy screws it up. Just fire him already, he is incompetent.

Florida Panthers
Finally starting to come together. Tomas Vokoun had a rough start, but for two straight games he has been excellent by shutting out the New Jersey Devils and making 40 saves to stop the Tampa Bay Lightning from tying up the game. The young players are adding offense with Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, and Rosti Olesz. Richard Zednik earned his first goal as a Panther last night, thumbs up, and Olli Jokinen is…well…Olli Jokinen. But if I had to pick the two most outstanding players so far for this team, I would pick Nathan Horton and Cory Murphy. Horton has been having monster performances. Yeah he scores goals with a whicked shot, but he has added more physical play to his game. He used Aaron Asham as a punching bag at the home opener. He has been passing the puck very smoothly. He is due for another improving season. Cory Murphy on the other hand is a real gem on the power play. Such a smart player, great on ice vision and he is the very definition of a TRUE power play QB. In recent seasons, there has been a mistake, I believe, in labeling certain defensemen as PP QBs. Someone like Bryan McCabe or Sheldon Souray. They don’t really create the plays, they just score with a great shot. That’s cool and what not, but that does not make them QBs. Murphy can score on the PP with a very good shot, but he makes plays happen. What an awesome find for the Panthers.

Toronto Maple Leafs
They are becoming the new soap opera show of the NHL. It is such a young season and judgements are made after each game. They win, they’ll make the playoffs. They lose, they won’t make the playoffs. Some Leafs fans are starting to sound like politicians that flip flop. Look, here is the bottom line. The season is young and there is a long road ahead for this team to get it right. Can they? Of course they can. It takes time. Paul Maruice is an excellent coach. The players ARE GOOD PLAYERS. I think the issue was, is, and will be John Ferguson Jr. I like him because he works hard. He tries to do his best with the best of intentions. I admire that and he is also quite a young guy to be a GM. At that age to be the GM of such a huge team? It’s tough. So much pressure comes from everywhere. I think for his own sake he’d benefit from getting fired and running a team that is much calmer, has a tighter budget, and a lot less pressure. He’d be ideal for a team like the Atlanta Thrashers. You just cannot build a defense that is what….around $15M worth, and see it play poorly allowing four goals a game, and nearly 35 shots a game. I rather have a no-name defense that allows two goals a game and fewer shots a game at this point. I think the players are good, but they are not fitting in. It will be a rough ride for Toronto, and I believe they will make the playoffs, even if I still have no confidence in Vesa Toskala yet, but if they miss the playoffs then it needs to be dismantled and pull a pre-lockout Rangers, and post-lockout Flyers house clean up. Let Sundin walk. It was tough to see Brian Leetch go for the Rangers, but it sets a new beginning and sometimes such a major change is what’s needed. Still, it is all just speculation for now and we will revisit this topic near the end of the season.

Ottawa Senators
Kudos to Martin Gerber for playing like he did in Carolina’s Cup year. He was stellar against the Rangers last night. Absolutely stellar. The Rangers were ready to score a flurry of goals, but Gerber shut the door. Ottawa is looking great, but I am not sold on them yet. Why? They are leading the league in total number of shots allowed on goal with an astonishing 234.
You really think they are that good now? Wait until the other teams get in sync, start scoring, and Ottawa will start suffering.

New York Rangers
Not such a bad start considering that I expected this new Rangers team to struggle and look lost for most of the first half. Chris Drury and Scott Gomez have yet to produce more, but it is nice to the two new overpayed free agents show a lot of work ethic. They are trying hard, and that is what I appreciate. Unlike the old days where free agent Rangers acquisition slacked off, these two really work. As a team, they are skating just fine. They were buzzing against the Senators last night, and did so as well against the Washington Capitals the game prior. Michal Rozsival and Marek Malik are a bit inconsistent, and let me say this about Malik. I stand by him and support him all the way. I was disgusted as a Rangers fan to see other Rangers fans attending the home opener booing Malik as he was intriduced on the ice. You have got to be kidding me. What kind of classless bums do that? Very unnecessary and a stupid way to put Malik in such a tough position. Fedor Tyutin and Dan Girardi have been a surprising pair as they are rock solid in their own end. Amazing how these two youngsters just found chemistry out of nowhere. Henrik Lundqvist has been good, but that’s it. Just good. He still has to pick up his game. Brendan Shanahan has no excuses. He has to bury his chances and while he is shooting like a mad man, he’s got to score goals. Other than that, I like this Rangers squad and they are on the right path. It’s a long season and they will find their place. This is a team made for the playoffs, and that’s when we will see what they will be capable of doing.

New York Islanders
Hitting a slump recently, so what? They are a solid team, and I still approve of GM Garth Snow. He put together a team that may not make the playoffs, but it competes and works hard. I like what I am seeing from Mike Comrie. He is really being responsible offensively. Now I see why Bill Guerin chose to come to Long Island, he actually appears to be a good leader. Isle’s fans have something to be happy about, that their team is finally in good hands and will compete.

New Jersey Devils
Yes, it is a new team and they too have to adjust, but this is not the Devils I have known for the past 15 years or so. Totally different attitude and feel. If they are solid defensively, their offense suffers. If they take a better offensive approach, their defense suffers. I like the new players, especially Danius Zubrus, but I really feel very unsure about this Devils squad. They just don’t seem to be that good. The only reason why they won against the Thrashers was because the Thrashers flat out stink. It’s still a long season, and I also find it tough on the Devils to play such a nine-game road trip at the start of the season. I can understand how it wears them down and I am sure they just want to go home and take a breather. So, I would not be too worried if I were a Devils fan right now, but I am very suspicious about this team. I guess it is a wait and see. By the way, I heard rumblings that it’s not guaranteed that Prudential’s stadium in Newark will be ready for the Devils home opener. It looks fantastic too. I think it will be ranked as one of the best stadiums in the league. It’s gorgeous.

And that’s that! I hope you enjoy the reading on a fine Sunday morning. Well, it’s quite cloudy down here in South Florida, but gorgeous temperature as it’s nice and windy, feels like mid 70’s, that’s about 25ish in Celcius for you Canadians up there. Enjoy the week, enjoy the games, and have a blessed rest of Sunday.

Thanks for reading,

Micki Peroni