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15 players and things an old Leaf fan likes that are going on in the hockey world right now

Goodness knows there is enough negative  stuff to talk about in the world, and sometimes even in our small corner of the universe where we chat hockey.  But there are some things I’ve noticed lately that I like in our little hockey corner, and this seems as good a time as any to share some feelings—and get your feedback at the same time.
  1. I have a lot of admiration for Daniel Alfredsson and love his decision to suit up for Sweden at the upcoming World Hockey Championships.  I know, I know, he is one of the “hated Sens”, but he has certainly earned my respect over the years.  He is a competitor and, despite advanced age and a very serious recent injury, he is playing for his native country one more time.  Hats off to a guy who has certainly done Ottawa (and Sweden) proud over the years, and never whined that he needed to leave to go somewhere else to “win”.
  2. Similarly, Zdeno Chara just saw his defending Cup-champion Bruins lose a heart-breaking 7-game series in OT, and despite that—and the fatigue the guy has to feel after the team’s excruciatingly long playoff run a year ago—he will play through injuries and give everything he has as a member of the Slovakian national side.  The guy is a dedicated athlete.
  3. Speaking of the Bruins, I realize a number of Leaf followers hate Boston as a team, and I recognize the recent history in light of the much-debated “Kessel trade”.  But I want to give credit where credit is due.  Peter Chiarelli had a big job to do when he took over a few years ago after leaving the Senators organization.  He has constructed a tremendous team in Beantown.  They won a Cup a year ago (and have played forever without one of their best players, Marc Savard), and almost as importantly, he has developed a core of young players (Lucic, Krejci, Seguin, Marchand, etc.) that should carry this team for some time to come.  They have a young stud defenseman on the way in Doug Hamilton. And while they will likely move Tim Thomas this summer, they have Rask and a highly-regarded kid goalie in the minors right now seemingly ready to step in.  It won’t be easy to replace a guy like Thomas—I don’t think they could have won without him last season, no way.  But they should be very competitive for years to come, even if he goes.
  4. I admire the way the Predators have handled their delicate “curfew” situation.  Kostitsyn and Radulov know better.  The Preds have suspended both players, and I’d be surprised if they see much ice the rest of this series (or season).  This is an organization, under Poile and Trotz, that demands maximum effort—and attitude— from players.  If you don’t buy in, you don't play.  They’d rather lose a series than sell out their principles because they “need” the offense those two guys might contribute.  Good for them.  I’d like to think the Leafs would do the same.
  5. Pavel Datsyuk is another guy who could have a million legitimate excuses for skipping the World Championships.  This guy has been hurt a lot this season, has played countless playoff games for the Red Wings over the past decade, yet here he is again, anxious to play for Russia.  Bravo.
  6. Speaking of Russian guys, kudos to Kovalchuk. I have been a vocal and constant critic of Lou Lamoriello’s move to acquire the offensively gifted winger in the first place, and his subsequent decision to retain Kovalchuk with an insanely long and costly contract.  While I still believe it will not prove to have been a wise decision, long-term, for the Devils, I credit Kovalchuk for trying to improve himself.  He has played through painful injuries in the playoffs so far, and now he simply can’t continue—at least for the moment.  I’ve always loved watching him play.  While he has been a coach-killer in his career, he seems to have at least met DeBoer half-way in New Jersey this season.  Hopefully he gets healthy enough to play again before the Devils face elimination.
  7. Whatever criticisms I have had of Darryl Sutter as a General Manager, he has demonstrated again he certainly can coach.  His Kings are playing the hockey of their lives.  (It helps to have a goalie who is in some kind of “zone”.  If Quick ever falls out of that zone, we may get a better sense of how good the Kings really are…)
  8. I was not a fan of Dale Hunter as the new coach in Washington.  In fact, I was convinced  that if they did not make the playoffs (they very nearly did not) that he was going to be on the first bus back to London and his junior team—his true hockey love.  But whether one likes his methods or not (including playing Ovechkin, what was it, 13 minutes the other night?) he has navigated the waters beautifully and coached the Caps to some playoff success.  I hated him as a player.  He was a dirty guy (see Pierre Turgeon incident), but he was a survivor and a player you much preferred on your team, as opposed to the opposition.  Right now,  he’s winning with a rookie goalie.  Credit to him.
  9. I really like the fact that Holmgren, last summer, had the guts to move two high-end “leaders”—Carter and Richards—and re-build an already solid team.  Despite losing Pronger and having goaltending that makes you want to put your hands over your eyes most nights, the Flyers are competing to make the "final-four" again.  I can’t tell you exactly what their “model” is (focus on the draft, trades, UFA’s, build from the goal out…) but whatever it is, it makes them competitive pretty much every year.  Good for Holmgren.
  10. I have to include the Senators on this list.  I’ve said it here before:  I honestly thought they would be fortunate to win 15 games this season.  I looked at their goaltending and their overall roster in October and thought…c’mon, you’re kidding, right?  You know, Spezza as a “leader”.  800 year-old Alfie.  Anderson in goal.  A bunch of no-names?  I thought Bryan Murray should have been fired, not given a new contract.  But the Rangers, as top seed in the East, were life and death to beat the Senators in the first round.  Leaf fans can only hope Carlyle will deliver the same here next season with an infusion of talent from the Marlies.
  11. Young Capitals prospect Kuznetsov has decided to stay in Russia for two more years to play in the KHL.  He says he talked to his parents and thought it was the best thing for his development.  Good for him.  Maybe he’s making more money at home.  Maybe he would have ultimately made even more here.  I have no idea. But if he and his family believe (he’s only 19) this is the best thing for him and for his development, great.  I applaud his choice.  Not everyone has to play in the NHL right away.  In fact, more kids might benefit by not being rushed.
  12. I honestly never thought Jaromir Jagr would play in the NHL again (or that anyone would want an old, broken-down, one-way ex-superstar), much less actually have an impact come playoff time.  But he has been a good worker most nights for the Flyers.  He’s not a superstar every night anymore but he doesn’t have to be. 
  13. I don’t have a huge rooting interest when it comes to the NHL playoffs  this spring (I have a lot of respect for the way the Predators have done business from Day One, but can’t say I’m passionately cheering for them…) but I wouldn’t be unhappy if something good happened for Shane Doan in Phoenix.  The guy has been a good hockey soldier for years and rarely has got to play in the playoffs.  Usually, he’s playing for Canada at the Worlds at this time of year.  But he looks awfully good right now on a team that is surprising a lot of people, including me.
  14. Three outstanding coaches are up for NHL coach-of-the-year.  I’m not a big Hitchcock guy, but I respect his passion and ability as a coach.  But in my mind, the best coach in the league isn’t even on the ballot this year, and that’s Dave Tippett in Phoenix.
  15. I’m really looking forward to watching John Tavares, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Skinner and of course Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane from the Jets at the World Championships.  But my favorite already is Jordan Eberle.  Having watched him develop in his junior days and representing Canada, and now in his time with the Oilers, he’s my new “Captain Canada”.  (Meanwhile, if it catches our fancy, Leaf fans can watch possible future Leaf Ryan Getzlaf in action for Canada as well....why not dream?)
There are many other nice things going on in hockey these days (like Ray Whitney still being an impact player in the playoffs at the age of 40) so feel free to comment on any of the above, or share some additional thoughts about anything you like that’s happening.

And thanks to everyone who visits VLM even when the Leafs are “out”!


  1. I really like your list Michael and I'd like to add another observation if I may. This year's playoffs clearly demonstrate that hockey really IS a team game. Two more recent examples are Wash success with limited Ovi minutes and NJ success last night without Kovalchuk. Lots more examples in this year's playoffs where team trumps "stars".
    It obviously doesn't hurt to have some highly skilled players but the key ingredients seem to be teamwork and a good game plan backed by solid goaltending.

  2. Thanks Ed. Like you, as much as I admire individual talent, I love it when it's about team, and not just the superstars. This spring reminds us again that's what it takes to win....

  3. Great list! Without a team to REALLY root for, I'm able to be relatively objective in assessing, and enjoying, the remaining teams. I'd add a couple of things to the list:
    - the play of Mike Richards. I hated him on the Flyers, but wished we had him! Still do. Very reminiscent of Gilmour - always a threat, always on the puck, and he makes his linemates better players.
    - the committed, and heads-up, play of Dustin Brown. There's another guy I wish we could get for the Leafs!
    - Alex Steen (and Carlo Colaiacovo) both doing a good job for the Blues.
    - the clearing patterns from the defensive zone. It's really been a pleasure to see how efficiently teams are able to get the puck out of their zone (at least most of the time).
    - the goaltending of Smith, Holtby, Lundquist, Rinne, Anderson. How many times have I thought "how did he stop that?" since the playoffs began. And when it's faltered in Round 2, it's usually more a defensive breakdown than poor goaltending.
    - echoing Ed above, the team play. Watching the coordinated and committed interaction of the players has really been exciting. Underdogs can take down top dogs because of it. It's what makes hockey the greatest team sport, in my not-so-humble opinion!

  4. What a great post Gerund O''ve covered so many of the truly enjoyable things going on in the playoffs for we hockey lovers. Thanks for chiming in...

  5. Very risky offering 15 items that may generate different opinions.
    Let me take on #6, Kovolchuk is Coach Killer.
    1. If you are using Atlanta as an example it does not apply. Ownership and general management was the problem. Kovalchuk was pretty much only reason to go to the arena. Little bit of a puck hog, but a natural scorer. His goal tonight was a good example of what he brings.
    2. Players don't kill coaches. Coaches tend to do that to themselves (if general management doesn't). It is up to the coach to take advantage of the gunner/sniper by teaming them with the right linemates. eg. sniper, corner man, playmaker is good combination).
    3. Over the years, there are very few natural scorers, snipers, gunners whatever you want to call them. The best teams in history had snipers and allowed them to be so. There have been thousands of players who can't put the puck in the ocean (very easy to find 3rd/4th liners). You can train defence, but goal scoring is a very special skill - Handle with care.
    4. Hockey is definitely a team game, but offence is the best defence. If your team is lacking, Defensive hockey is the only way to win. This kitty-bar the door hockey is very boring, and usually hazardous to your lead.
    5. So what do these "the killed coaches" and our media experts want to do? They say he needs to provide leadership, he plays soft, he doesn't muck in the corners, he appears to float. They should say - Let's get the puck out of our end and score some goals.
    6. Kessel has been the Leaf whipping boy in this category. Think of him as you read this. Michael, I know you love history - let's try some names. Rocket Richard, Frank Mahovlich, Richard Martin, Mike Bossy, Rod Gilbert, Brett Hull, Reggie Leach. I don't remember any of these players being known for their defensive abilities.
    7. So let's make them more defensive players. Rocket Richard becomes Bob Gainey or John Ferguson. Frank Mahovlich becomes a big Davy Keon, Reggie Leach becomes Bobby Clark. What does this prove - top notch teams need snipers. It's like taking a top thoroughbred and making them a trotter.


    Mediocre teams (Leafs?)should not be allowed to have a sniper. Rather than recognize what they are and utilize them accordingly, they will try to change them, and lose them. By the sounds of it on your blog, this is what Carlyle will do.

    Seems like Toronto wants a winner so badly, they will forget that hockey can be the most entertaining game on the planet.

  6. RLMcC...thanks for dealing as you did with #6. Going back to when our youngest son just started following hockey, Kovalchuk was a rookie and became his favourite player, for all the reasons you cite. He was one of those guys who was actually worth watching, because he had flair and yes, he could "finish".

    I think you make some great points about Kovy. We can debate whether a player can in fact be a "coach killer" or not, but regardless, he is a rare talent. And it does seem as though he is not just "floating", but playing hard and playing through injuries as well for the Devils.

    It will be fascinating to watch Kessel in the years ahead. Are he and Carlyle on a collision course, as I have suggested here? Or will he become "defensively responsible" enough to satisfy the new coach here? If he does, will he lose on the other end of his game- the part that makes him special?

    You're absolutely right about all of those wonderful old-time names that you mention (the "Big M", Rocket, Bossy, etc...) They were offensive players whose job was primarily to score goals.

    It's funny, early in this past season, Wilson's team was considered very entertaining. By the end of the season, we were boring, and still losing.

    We'll see what next season brings...Thanks for posting!