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Friday, May 12, 2017

Darnit, The NHL Needz Moar Goalz
Kill Da Goaleez

by Gatekeeper

The entire reason I started this website was to keep track and publish my idiotic rants. Over the last 7 years this as morphed into more of a reporting and news site, but occasionally there are hockey related issues that just grind my fucking gears. Buckle up, Hostile fans, because today is one of those particular days. You can thanks apparent idiot Mark Spector of Sportsnet and his stupid tweet:

Now, by this point in time, most of you know that I have dressed up as (and attempted to play) goalie for roughly 30 years. Sure, yes, I'm just a short, old, bald beer league goalie and probably a bad-to-mediocre one, at that. I have, though, seen a shot or two in my day (most of them whizzing by me into the net).

Today, folks, was my tipping point. I have watched media falsely blame goalies for this fake "goal problem" the NHL has claimed. The league and the media have demonized goalies for adapting and developing from pudgy outcasts who couldn't skate, into real actual athletes for long enough. All the while, coaches have created defensive systems to choke the game (and fans) to sleep. Seriously, Watch a goalie from 1985 move out on the ice and then watch one of them move now. It's almost a different sport altogether. The position is certainly completely different, outside of the name. Thanks to goaltending coaches and youth programs that cater specifically to the position, goalies have just caught up to the rest of the players. No longer are the goalies just the fat kids that can't skate who get cast off by the coaches as weird little, barely useful, freaks. Goalies today can skate well, they are certainly the most flexible players on the ice, and have virtually perfected actual styles/methods. Goalies before 1995 had a style called "Just get in front of the puck". Very little of this development has to do with the actual equipment, but lets go over this:

-The gloves and blockers are probably slightly bigger than the ones used in 1985, but the flex on the lighter composite sticks also allow players to shoot much faster and harder than what is natural. An inch here or there won't add more than a couple goals a year, if that. The gloves are built better and actually flex much better than old gear.
-The chest and arm pads might be able to use some tweaking on the design but, again, you're not going to change any underlying goal numbers by tweaking the shoulder protection. Once again, players shoot harder and faster than they ever have. If you reduce the padding, you'll have many more goalie injuries.
-The legs pads are certainly taller, but when you really break them down, they aren't considerably wider. They just hold their form longer, which makes them seem wider. So, great, cut the height down. They addressed the width years ago. It's not going to matter. Nothing changed.
-The masks are actually more form fitting than a big thick helmet, thus streamlined.
-The skates are MUCH smaller than the old bozo cowling style skates and, again, streamlined. This hasn't miraculously resulted in any more goals, though.
-The pants are pants. The league made them tighter and it changed nothing as far as goals per game.
-The sticks are basically the same size they have always been. Goalies have just learned how to use them more effectively.

The bottom line is that goalies are just bigger, faster, more flexible, stronger and more well versed in the method of their craft. If they change any of the padding, you won't see a god damn difference whatsoever. There is nothing you can do, outside of eliminating the position altogether and just skating six players, that will give you goal production like the late 80s and early 90s. The game is completely different. Coaches are adding complex systems to choke the speed down, while sucking any creativity whatsoever out of players.

Think I'm full of it?

In Chicago alone, and outside of the few upper echelon players, when was the last time you saw a 3rd line forward NOT benched for trying, and failing, with some kind of unique or creative move? Never. If they pull it off, the coach whispers, "nice play, but don't ever pull that shit again". If they fail, which happens more often that not, they get stapled to the bench. There is no room for creativity in this old boys network NHL.

Just look at the PK Subban saga, for example. Guy is creative, charismatic, and super talented. In every other sport, teams would be begging for a player like that. Instead, he was run out of Montreal for an older, safe, vanilla guy. NHL "experts" like asshole Mike Milbury are calling him a clown for showing some personality; IN WARMUPS! The guy that climbed into the crowd and beat a fan with his own shoe. Seriously? Fuck this league. Fuck the media. And, fuck the "experts". Grow up or you're going to kill this league.

So, back to my original point. Mark Spector want to chop goalie sticks off, so that they no longer extend out past the blocker. He wants to turn goalie sticks into blunt machetes, with the equivalent hockey effectiveness of a whiffle ball bat.

No more poke checking.
No more playing the puck.
No more playing the paddle down in a scrum or to stop wrap-a-rounds.

Because Alex Ovechkin hit the shaft of a goalie stick in the playoffs, once. You know what this "solution" also gives goalies? A much more manageable weapon to swing at other players, while trying to protect themselves.

You think I'm full of shit?

Try swinging a fairly dense five and half foot stick with one hand at someone. It's not easy. It takes room, a decent wind-up, and possibly two hands to even get the thing around. Still not buying my theory? Take a goalie stick, or even just a five and half foot stick, to a batting cage and try to hit baseballs with it. Good luck!

Now, cut that stick in half and swing it at a baseball, golf ball or anything, for that matter. Much easier. It's now a legitimate weapon, intended or not. If I'm getting hacked, whacked and run over all game, you bet your ass that my natural reaction will be to protect myself with what I have available. If it means sticking my blocker hand up in someone's face to keep them from injuring me, so be it. Hell, I used to carry a 2 foot section of a hockey stick under my car seat, just in case I needed to defend myself. They make players drop broken sticks on the ice for a reason. That's because it's easier to use as a weapon or projectile. Safety, right?

Unless you're a goalie.

I'm not even going to get into the entire physics of a full length goalie stick, but making a simple save of a puck coming in at even 70MPH, with half a stick, would become much, much harder because there is less actual material to absorb the impact.

You know what this stupid league needs?


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Blackhawks extend some Panik

by Gatekeeper

The Blackhawks certainly went out this season with hardly a whimper, but they are making waves in the offseason, thus far. After trading the UFA negotiating rights for Scott Darling, and his subsequent lucrative 4 year extension in Carolina, the Blackhawks signed RW Richard Panik to a 2 year extension, Thursday morning.

I like to jokingly took credit for Richard Panik's ascension up the Blackhawks depth chart, but even I didn't think he would play this well. He showed some promise the previous year, but this was all in limited ice time. I like a lot of what Panik brings to the Blackhawks. He has some decent size, a little snarl to his game, and can play in that "I won't kill you if I'm in the top 6" role that his predecessor, Andrew Shaw, made famous. That snarl, though, can come along with some bonehead plays, also much like his predecessor. Panik has certainly been prone to some frustrating on ice brain farts, as well. As the season went, he tightened up his play a bit, and finished the season appearing in all 82 regular season games, netting 22 goals, and amassing 44 points after taking a $100K salary cut to stay in Chicago. While he hit that inevitable wall about 2/3rds of the way through the season, he didn't totally disappear. His playoff disappearance can be mostly attributed to Joel Quenneville's obsessive line tinkering which left him dangling on the bottom 6, suddenly.

Playing devil's advocate, here, Richard Panik has only eclipsed the 44 point mark one other time in his adult life; in the OHL; in 2010; at 18 years old.

Let us all be reminded that Panik actually took a $100K pay cut to remain in Chicago, last season. I like him on this team for the right price, but I have to question giving a depth guy $2.8 Million for the next 2 seasons, though, when you're so close to cap hell already. He would have been an RFA, and the Blackhawks could have matched any deal. This deal also raises the question of whether the Blackhawks protect him in the upcoming expansion draft, which I have to assume is a definitive "maybe". They will most certainly leave Jordin Tootoo unprotected, and they then need to either sign another forward to expose or leave one of Kruger, Panik or Hartman exposed. If they stay in their current situation, one would believe that Ryan Hartman is protected and Bowman's decision is down to exposing Kruger or Panik. I would guess that player is Marcus Kruger.

Still many cards left to deal this summer...


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Chicago Blackhawks
Great Goalie Conundrum

by Gatekeeper

Last week, the Blackhawks traded the negotiating rights for pending UFA Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third round draft pick. This move looks to have signaled the direction the Blackhawks have chosen in goal, moving forward. Previously, It has been floated that John McDonough's possible lack of faith in Corey Crawford's demeanor off ice might have tipped their hand, potentially leading to the Blackhawks unloading his 3 remaining years at $6 each. This, along with the fact that his contract has a limited no trade clause rather than the full no trade clause most other core players have, made the Corey Crawford trade a very real possibility. The fact that Darling appears to be prepared to test the open market, which would put him far out of the Hawks price range, as a backup. If the Blackhawks unloaded Corey Crawford before or shortly after the draft, they could have fit Darling in at a number most likely lower than Crawford's $6 million. This indicates that Bowman was fairly certain Crawford was going nowhere, and Bowman recovered a pick, rather than lose Darling for nothing.

I have been one of the the biggest Corey Crawford apologists in the Blackhawks blogosphere, since 07-08 when I saw him shut out the Ducks in Anaheim. I had decided that he was ready to be the next Blackhawks goalie. He would be the backup to starter Nikolai Khabibulin in 08-09, and eventually take over in 09-10. Then began the ever painful Cristobal Huet era, which pushed those hopes down the road. The emergence of a young, cheaper, and waiver exempt Finnish former Zamboni driver named Antti Niemi also put a hold on my foreseen plans. Eventually, Crawford's patience paid off, and he won a couple of Stanley Cups for the beloved Blackhawks. He's never truly gotten the due he deserves, either, in this city. He's been subject to just a bit less undue criticism than Jay Cutler, which is astounding. That said, the facts got the better of me and, even though I'm a big fan, I had already said my goodbyes. I even passed on grabbing a nice Crawford sweater, because it was likely to be irrelevant shortly. The fact that it won't be irrelevant for, at least, one more season is pretty relieving, actually. Sorry, #LemontNativeScottDarling fan club, but Corey Crawford is currently a better goalie. For this, I'm grateful they decided not to go down the road of anointing the still truly unproven prodigal son as starter.

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat; I like Scott Darling. I like his story. I think he's very strong in a several areas, but Blackhawks fans have been lulled into this callow confidence lately, regarding goalies. This confidence had led to many fantastic fallacies regarding the position in Blackhawks land. This story has happened many times before. The no-name backup has some success in a limited, sheltered role thus winning over the casual fan base and ostracizing the more deserving incumbent, while causing undeserved friction and blame. Did I hit all the check boxes? More often than not, the back-up never reaches the full level of their success they had in that limited sheltered role. Opposing teams do not generally game plan for backup goaltenders, as they focus on the primary starters. Darling has been able to successfully fly under the radar, and do it very well. That said, being an NHL back-up netminder and an NHL starting goaltender are two completely different animals. Once his weaknesses are truly exposed, results will differ. The Darling truthers will be quick to point out the 2015 playoffs against the Nashville Predators. Yes, that was a excellent performance. What these truthers fail to realize is that Darling didn't bail out Corey Crawford. He bailed out the entire god damn Blackhawks team. They were playing very similar to this year's team, and Darling went on a high improbable run. What these truthers also conveniently forget is that Scott Darling lost game five, 5-2, with a very pedestrian 24 save, .857 sv% performance. In game six, Darling gave up 3 goals on 12 shots in the first period and was pulled for Corey Crawford, who subsequently shut out the Preds for the remaining 49 minutes. So, you tell me; who bailed out who? Short memories we have in Meatball Fantasy World.

Now, I truly don't want this to be a Scott Darling bash-a-palooza. Like I said many times, I like him. His story is amazing. He is a fellow southwest suburban Chicago area guy (via Newport News). He has overcome a potentially career derailing drinking issue. What is not to like? He is the "every man". The big bearded, tattooed guy down the street. He has also earned his shot at the big money and a starting job. I cannot deny any of that. Just not in Chicago. Had Crawford been shipped out in favor of the Meatball Hero, we would be witnessing a somewhat similar scenario to Eddie Belfour getting pushed out the door for Ulf Dahlen/Michal Sykora/Chris Terreri in favor of Jeff Hackett, thus beginning the dark are of Blackhawks seasons. Certainly, that is a little more drastic comparison, but the gravity of the move would be similar, as to how it would affect the Blackhawks going forward.

On the flip side, Corey Crawford is going to be 33, and had a slight decline in production this year. He has also had a couple of injuries that have had him sidelined for significant time, the past few years. Here are a few facts regarding Chicago's "Hockey Cutler":

  • He is probably no longer the top 5 goalie he was in the recent past but he is still, without a doubt, a top 10 NHL goalie. Deny, fight and argue this all you want, but the stats support these facts and so does the the eye test, for people not wearing rose colored bifocals.
  • His $6 million salary is NOT over inflated. Crawford is tied for 7th in starting goalie salaries (Lundqvist, Bobrovsky, Rask, Rinne, Price, Holtby, tied with Schneider and Miller). Of the combined seven goalies ahead of him, there is one goalie with a single Stanley Cup (Tuukka Rask). Basically, his salary is right where it belongs, based on the market value.
  • Corey Crawford deserved the Conn Smythe trophy in 2015 and, outside of the first round, deserved it for 2013, as well. Just ask his teammates. They make no bones about it, and if anyone knows who the playoff MVP was, they would.
  • Crawford's overall career save percentage is 12th (9th among active goalies). Since 2012-13 he is only behind Price, Rask, Holtby, Bobrovsky and Craig Anderson in overall save percentage.
  • "High danger save percentage is the true measure of a goalie", some will say. OK. Since 2012-13 Corey Crawford's high danger save percentage among starting goalies with over 5000 minutes played is .823, which ranks him 8th out of 56 possible goalies. This is better than Bobrovsky, Fleury, Quick, Miller, Rask, and many others (Rinne's is 3ed worst over this time period). His medium and low danger percentage isn't ranked as high, which is probably why the average meatball watches Crawford and flips out. The guy makes his money in high danger situations, and this is what you're looking for in a starter. Side note: Darling ranks highly in most of these categories, but is also sheltered as a backup, and played 1/4 of the games.

My point here is only to show you that Corey Crawford is a perfectly fine, top 3rd, starting goalie.

As far as the depth behind Crawford goes, the Blackhawks are currently simply screwed. The only goalie left in the system that is under contract is 31 year old, world traveler, Jeff Glass. In a pinch, you could probably shelter him enough to be the backup for a few games. Otherwise, Jeff Glass is an average AHL goalie. End of discussion. Behind Glass (pun intended), the Blackhawks have the rights to prospects Ivan Nalimov, Matt Tomkins, and probably the most promising of the bunch, Wouter Peeters. Last year's Rockford goalies, Lars Johansson and Mac Carruth, are both UFAs on July first and Carruth definitely won't be back. That is a sad state of affairs, folks.

Now, I would be speaking out of turn if I claimed to be an expert on who they should draft, or sign from the lower levels. I'm just a poor basement dwelling blogger with a day job. I am only familiar with a few names the Blackhawks have flirted with. I would be happy to entertain offers to scout goalies, though.


Anyhow, The Indy fuel carried Jake Hildebrand and local guy Eric Levine for most of the season, so the Blackhawks could ink one of them to a pro contract. We could very well see more of them in Rockford. Neither had outstanding numbers in Indy, though.

A name I have been curious about is 22 year old Merrimack junior Collin Delia. He was at Blackhawks prospect camp last summer and rumor has it that will attend again this year. He has decent size at 6'2" 200, moves very well, and is coming off a really solid College season. He was named as the top goalie in the Hockey East conference and I'd love to see him get a shot. This is an older highlight reel of him from 2012:

If you'd like to check out the NHL draft prospects, in net, here you go:

North American Goalies
European Goalies

As far as pros go, it's anyone guess. Here are a list of NHL UFA goalies with at least one game played (mind you, some of these are way too rich for the Blackhawks' blood, and assuming Darling is off the market by 7/1):
  • Peter Budaj
  • Steve Mason
  • Ryan Miller
  • Brian Elliott
  • Mike Condon
  • Ben Bishop
  • Jonathan Bernier
  • Chad Johnson
  • Anders Nilsson
  • Keith Kinkaid
  • Curtis McElhinney
  • Darcy Kuemper
  • Jean-Francois Berube
  • Jeremy Smith
  • Ondrej Pavelec
  • Jonas Gustavsson
  • Reto Berra
  • Jhonas Enroth
  • Michael Leighton
  • Justin Peters
  • Magnus Hellberg
  • Pheonix Copley

The bottom line, here, is that Stan Bowman and his staff will need to work overtime this summer to solidify the completely depleted organizational goaltending depth. Stay buckled for a wild ride.

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