“Bettman has only a marginal interest in the weaker teams. He only wants the NHL to make a bigger profit as a whole.” -- Dominik Hasek

March 30, 2007

Colorado 4, Phoenix 3

The Avalanche finally reached 40 wins last night with a victory over the ever-struggling Coyotes, but remain seven points behind Calgary for the final playoffs spot in the West. The Flames have forgotten that they suck on the road and somehow keep winning. It's like they really want to play in the post-season or something.

As for the Avs, their win over Phoenix started well enough, with four unanswered goals in the first two periods. Said coach Joel (Dr.) Quenneville (Medicine Woman),

"We played perfect for two periods of hockey."

That's very true, coach. Unfortunately, there are actually THREE periods in a hockey game, and your team very nearly lost the game in the third one. In the final period, the Desert Dogs managed three goals of their own and twelve shots on goal, while holding the suddenly-inept Avs to just three shots. I'm no infallible hockey expert, but I'm pretty sure that if you're going to play any two perfect periods, they should probably be the last two, not the first two.

Almost every game it seems the Avalanche at some point forget what it is they're supposed to be doing (winning). They somehow manage in the end, but barely. Even if they make it to the playoffs, does this team really deserve to play in the post-season? Sure, they've been really successful in the past 15 games or so, but it's almost in spite of themselves.

The good news is Paul Stastny ended a five-game scoring drought with two assists, and Tyler Arnason continued his solid play with two assists of his own.

Now all that remains of the season for the Avs are games against Minnesota, Nashville, Vancouver and two against Calgary. No pressure.


March 29, 2007

Superstitious Stanley

NHL.com has posted an interesting article on the superstitions surrounding making physical contact with the Stanley Cup, the greatest trophy in all of professional sports.

Best excerpt:

“It wasn’t so much a superstition as it was a respect factor that someone else had earned it and it was someone else’s to stick over their head and raise,” [Bryan] Trottier said. “I can remember looking at the names and the engraving. But I didn’t dare touch it and put fingerprints all over it because it wasn’t mine.”

Now that the Cup literally has his name all over it, Trottier certainly looks at it a lot differently.

“It’s really kind of cool because we won it in 2001 (as an assistant coach in Colorado),” he said, “and when I’d see Stanley somewhere I would just grab him, you know, because he’s ours.”

Hopefully, he'll belong to the Avs again. Sooner rather than later, of course.


March 28, 2007

"Scratch" Should Be Scratched

Karlis Skrastins made his return to the Colorado Avalanche last night in the game against Vancouver. During his thirteen-game absence due to injury, the Avs had gone 10-1-2. Last night, Vancouver beat them 3-0, including two empty net goals.

Is there a connection? I think so. Is it unfair to think that one defenseman can have such a negative effect on an entire team, even when he's perceived to be a positive motivator? I could be wrong, but I doubt it.


Vancouver 3, Colorado 0

Well, crap. This isn't good at all. With the Flames winning last night, the Avs are now at a point where they can not afford to lose ANY games the rest of the season, including the two remaining against Calgary.

No exceptions. Hopefully no more Theodore, either.


March 27, 2007

The NHL: A New Direction

There has been a great amount of talk this season among fans, columnists and players about the current state of the National Hockey League and which direction it should be going in future years. Should it keep trying to expand? Should it shrink? Should fighting be banned, or encouraged? Should there be significant rule changes? Should the goals be enlarged? You name it, someone has proposed it.

The NHL has two choices. It can try to grow and legitimately challenge the commercial dominance of the NBA and the NFL through expansion and fundamental rule changes (Choice 1), or it can shrink, fall back on its dedicated fan base and embrace the history of the game (Choice 2).

Let's look at how these two choices would impact certain aspects of the league and the game itself:

Choice 1: In order for the NHL to honestly compete with the big American professional sports leagues, it must ban fighting immediately. Fighting's continued existence relegates hockey to sideshow status, and strips the perception of legitimacy from it in the casual fan's mind. That casual fan, the knuckle-dragging, celebrity-obsessed Johnny-come-lately, is the sole target of this new NHL. The NFL currently dominates professional sports because it dominates the casual fan base. Literally millions of people can tell you who Peyton Manning is and what team he plays for, but couldn't explain an onside kick or a flea flicker to save their lives. As the NFL does, the NHL would have to saturate national television with player-focused advertising. Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf and other young, attractive star players would have to be enlisted to sell just about anything. Insurance, soft drinks, shoes, cars, mortgages, you name it. They would have a constant presence on the TV, and none of it has to be solely hockey-related.

Also, the NHL would need to revisit its rules and standard practices. As said before, fighting would be banned immediately, and illegal use of the stick to injure or harass opposing players would be punished as a double major penalty. Also, the size of the goal would be increased by several inches both horizontally and vertically, and goalie pads would be more severely limited in size. Also, the size of the rink would need to expand to international/Olympic standards.

Finally, the NHL would continue to seek expansion markets, including cities like Seattle, Hartford (again), Kansas City and Las Vegas. Also, the farm system would need to grow as well, and the NHL would need to seriously promote youth and recreational hockey programs across the United States. That means a major expenditure of cash and a major risk that many arenas will suffer from low attendance for many years.

Choice 2: The NHL could take the opposite route and admit that its efforts to greatly expand during the early 1990s didn't go as well as it planned. It would have to admit that 30 teams is too many, and the diluted talent pool hurts the attractiveness of hockey in non-traditional markets---even if most teams are still pretty good. Teams like Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Washington, Carolina and maybe Atlanta would have to either be eliminated or moved to more traditional hockey markets, and their players redrafted or signed as free agents by the remaining teams. At least two teams would have to go, and two others relocated to Hartford, CT and a Canadian city (Winnipeg, Quebec or Hamilton). Also, the salary cap would have to be raised in an effort to allow at least the possibility of old-time dynasties like Montreal, Edmonton and the Islanders used to be. Discourage the frequent trading of star players and restrict free agency. Parity is great when you're trying entice casual fans in far-off places, but give the poor fans of Toronto and Montreal something to cheer about again.

Fighting would continue in pro hockey, and the instigator rule would be eliminated immediately. The role of "goons" and enforcers would be acknowledged and embraced, and additional safety measures (fighting gloves for goons?) would be considered. Again, stick work would be heavily penalized in order to encourage more traditional methods of conflict resolution.

Finally, the NHL would focus its advertising on a regional or local basis, saturating specific markets with specific players. For example, young players like Crosby would appear in every commercial in the Pittsburgh market and other cities in the East Coast region. Jason Spezza would be Canada's new favorite son. Phaneuf would be a constant fixture in the west. Markets in the South and Southwest would see far less advertising dollars since the sport has never adequately caught on in those regions anyway, and it is doubtful it ever will, as those regions have no free ice (as in, frozen ponds in the winter) and therefore few if any casual skaters or hockey players. In other words, the NHL would return to its Northern roots (with a few exceptions) and embrace the audience it has always relied on for the majority of its revenue.

Simply put, the NHL has two choices. Put its money where its mouth is and make a real effort to compete with the big boys like basketball and football, or return to its roots and embrace the traditions and physicality (and the die-hard fans) that have always made hockey such a unique "alternative" sport. Obviously, the league can't have it both ways.


March 26, 2007

Olie The Goalie: Still Great?

It's not easy being Olaf Kolzig. While he does play behind young scoring aces Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, his team has no defense to speak of. Opposing teams literally pepper him with shots each and every game, and yet he somehow manages to maintain his composure and put up decent numbers, considering. Not convinced? Let's do some math.

Kolzig currently boasts a .910 save percentage with a 3.03 goals against average in 50 games played. His save percentage is good, but his GAA is fairly bad.

Comparing Kolzig's basic goaltending stats to others in the league is a bit misleading, though, especially since Kolzig has only won 21 games in 50 played. That's really low. What isn't on most stats lists, however, is the most telling of all numbers for goalies: Average shots faced per game. Kolzig faces an average of 33 shots per game! The top goalies, like Brodeur, Luongo and Kiprusoff, face no more than 29 on average. And they actually have decent defensemen blocking and checking the puck in front of them, so Kolzig is already at a disadvantage in that regard.

A more accurate picture, however, can be drawn by comparing Kolzig to other goalies who have played a similar number of games. Brodeur and Luongo have played 70 games or more, so instead we must look at guys like Jean-Sebastien Giguere (53 GP), Ray Emery (53 GP), Peter Budaj (52 GP) and Fredrick Norrena (49 GP). Of those four, only Emery faces 29 shots per game on average, while the other three face 26. That's 7 shots fewer on average than Kolzig, whose save percentage is still higher than those of Budaj and Norrena. Further, Kolzig has made around 300 more saves than both of those guys in about the same number of games!

Simply put, Olaf Kolzig is still one of the very best goaltenders in the NHL, and if not for his team's complete lack of defense, he would actually enjoy the success he deserves.

No offense to Peter Budaj, who's really come into his own in recent games, but how much damage could the Avalanche do next year with Kolzig in net? Too bad that won't happen.


The Anniversary

Today is the ten year anniversary of one of the most infamous days in the history of the once-bitter Avalanche-Red Wings rivalry. While the rivalry itself has died down, especially with the departure of nearly every player involved to retirement or other teams, the memory lives on.

It is still obvious that Darren McCarty sucker-punched Claude Lemieux as he was skating toward the bench. It wasn't a fair fight. Then, once McCarty got Lemieux down against the boards, he started kneeing him repeatedly in the head. Why Wings fans view this as a crowning achievement for their team may never be fully understood. It was pathetic.

At any rate, the Avs lost the game and lost their chance to defend the Cup later in the playoffs. It was a low-point for their franchise as well.

Denver Post columnist Adrian Dater has written a book about the rivalry called Blood Feud. Anyone interested in arguably the greatest pro sports rivalry in the past ten years should probably pick it up.


Colorado 5, Vancouver 4 (SO)

I have to admit, the Avalanche got lucky in this one. They did play hard, though, and Jose Theodore proved once again that while he's a almost always a terrible goalie during regulation, nobody can beat him in a shootout (so far).

And I wonder, why didn't coach Quenneville rest Peter Budaj during the second game against Edmonton last week? That would have been an excellent time to let the workhorse take a day off and recover from his long stretch of starts recently. Just sayin'.


March 24, 2007

A Loss, But A Win For Arnason

Tyler Arnason isn't the most prolific scorer in the NHL. He's not even close to being the top scorer on the Colorado Avalanche. He's currently fifth on the team with 46 points, just 42 points behind captain Joe Sakic, the Ageless Wonder. While Arnason isn't going to make a huge dent on the scoreboard over the course of a season, he has taken it to the Edmonton Oilers this year.

Despite the loss to Edmonton in overtime yesterday (really, how do you lose that game?), Arnason tallied two assists. He had three assists the game before, also against the Oilers on March 21st. This is not unlike him, as he leads all other Avs in scoring against the Oilmen with eleven points in eight games.

In addition to the most recent multi-assist efforts against Edmonton already mentioned above, Arnason scored a goal in a loss on October 14th, two goals and an assist in a win on November 30th, and a goal and an assist in a win on December 15th. Not too bad for a guy that has never been known as a major offensive threat.

So the question is, if a guy like Tyler Arnason can step up his game and score well against the sorry Oilers, why couldn't the rest of the Avalanche do it last night?

And where the hell has Stastny gone?


Edmonton 4, Colorado 3 (SO)

Blowing a one-goal lead in the last two minutes of regulation, failing to score in overtime and then completely dropping the ball in the shootout (all against arguably the worst team in the NHL right now) is not an effective way to make the playoffs, dear Avalanche.

The good news is the next two games are against division-leading Vancouver, who is just 8-1-1 in its last ten games. No pressure.


March 23, 2007

Better Late Than Never?

In an article posted today by Denver Post sports writer Adrian Dater, Avalanche captain Joe Sakic shares a nugget of wisdom that boggles the mind:

"We didn't need a rental player," Avs captain Joe Sakic said. "We've got a great group of guys here. Guys got more committed to playing in our end and everybody's playing as a team. Now we're on this run, and we're excited about it.

"(Giguere) gave us a chance. He stuck with this group. The confidence he showed in the hockey club was a big thing. We started to play relaxed and started winning games. We really believe in one another now."

You believe in one another now?! Well gosh, Joe, it only took 65 GAMES for you guys to start believing in one another. I guess that's better late than never.

Here's a hint, fellas. You're probably not going to be a very successful team unless you believe in yourselves ALL SEASON LONG. I know this is a big mental stretch, but please try to grasp it.

And while Avs GM Francois Giguere looks like a genius now (by doing almost nothing at the trade deadline), what would have been the reaction if the Avs lost the last ten games, or even maintained their win one, lose one routine so common during the rest of the season? If all it took to turn things around was a little confidence and trust in each other, why did it have to come so late?

On a related note, Calgary won again last night, meaning the Avs are still six points out of the playoffs with only nine to play. Let's hope their new-found confidence lasts a while longer.


The Scoring Race

Sidney Crosby is a badass, no doubt, but his season-long stranglehold on the top spot in league scoring is starting to loosen. After another three-assist night, this time against a sad version of the Atlanta Thrashers, Joe Thornton is now just six points behind The Kid. If you remember last season, Thornton did the same thing to Jaromir Jagr, trailing for most of the year until the final month when he caught and surpassed the Czech, eventually winning the Hart Trophy to boot.

This year could be the same.

I submit to you the scoring trends of the current top five points leaders in the NHL, in graphical form:

Notice how Thornton has trailed the other four for most of the season, until the last few games, where his total has spiked. In the past nine games, Thornton has scored 20 points, including 14 assists. With the exception of Crosby, there is no question that Joe Thornton is the best playmaker in the NHL. Nobody passes the biscuit like he does. And former nobody Jonathan Cheechoo now has his second consecutive 30+ goal season because of him.

With just a few games left and Crosby becoming a bit stagnant, we could see another Art Ross upset.


March 22, 2007

Frei's Lips Are Tired

Terry Frei, the Denver Post columnist and ESPN.com contributer who never tires of kissing the collective asses of the Colorado Avalanche, has finally given his poor, chapped lips a rest. At least for now.

In an article lamenting an apparent lack of class and sportsmanship across the NHL as a whole, Frei cites the Avalanche organization as a key offender:

Yes, it can be argued that savvy fandom can respond with spontaneous and heartfelt salutes, as the Calgary fans did when Colorado's Joe Sakic reached 600 goals with an empty-netter in a game in the Saddledome last month.

That indeed was classy.

It can be argued that Colorado fans earlier should have stepped above the Avalanche's lack of class when Teemu Selanne cracked the 500-goal threshold and the Ducks came off the bench, though no official acknowledgment of the accomplishment was even made.

Instead, there was merely scattered applause.

Well, the fact is, the decision makers in many cases -- such as in Denver, where the Avalanche also refuse to show replays of opposition goals on the scoreboard screens because that's demeaning to the "good guys" -- are either Canadians or, if not, still have deep roots in the sport.

I like the fact that, as he gripes about a lack of class, he throws in an unsubstantiated swipe at Canadians in general, a swipe he never explains in the rest of the article. Classy indeed.

Now, that's not saying he's wrong. The Avs management really should start showing opposition goals on the replay screen, and should be aware of any milestones set by opposing players while in the Pepsi Center. That goes for every team in the league. But I just wish Frei could do it without coming across like a complete asshat.


Lappy Shot Of The Day

AP Photo/Jason Scott


Colorado 5, Edmonton 1

The Avs swept into Edmonton last night and crushed the Oilers with ease, improving their record over the last ten games to 9-0-1. Not that beating the Oilmen is really that big of a deal, as the former team of Ryan Smyth has apparently all but packed their bags and permanently left the proverbial building. They've lost twelve straight games.

As for the Avalanche, they continue on their make-the-playoffs-or-die-trying tear, chasing down the on-again, off-again Flames of Calgary.

It's cool to see Colorado doing so well, but one has to ask, where the hell were they the rest of the season? Why are they still four points out of the playoffs after going 9-0-1 in the last ten games?


What is particularly telling is which Avalanche players haven't been playing during this impressive streak. Peter Budaj has finally become THE starting goalie, and with much success, at the expense of uber-disappointment Jose Theodore, who hasn't played since February 25th, the last non-overtime loss the team has suffered this season. Also not playing is constantly-hurt Jordan Leopold, the defenseman received in the asinine trade of Alex Tanguay to the Flames.

Also missing in action is ironman defenseman Karlis Skrastins, who, promptly after setting the league record for most consecutive games played by a blueliner, got himself hurt. He hasn't played since February 24th. The man touted as the backbone of the Avs appears to have been either holding them back or else not having much effect at all. Without him, the Avs can't lose.

With any luck, coach Joel Quenneville won't rush Leopold or Skrastins (neither of whom are really that great anyway) back into the lineup if and when they recover from their ailments. And also with any luck, the front office will dump them after this season and invest in some real defensemen.

What are the odds of that?


March 4, 2007

About Dear Lord Stanley

"Dear Lord Stanley, can we have your Cup back now?"

My name is Joe and I am the author of this blog, Dear Lord Stanley...

Dear Lord Stanley (DLS for short) began as a site dedicated to the Colorado Avalanche, my favorite team. But with the recent launch of Mile High Hockey, the Avalanche blog community over at SBNation, the focus has shifted to the NHL as a whole.

You can expect the same ridiculous and sarcastic headlines, the same ill-informed commentary, and the same barely-related text links that you already know and love. Just less on the Avalanche, that's all. I still love 'em, of course.

Thanks for taking the time to read this little explanation, and I hope you enjoy Dear Lord Stanley. Go Avs!

Highly Recommend Entries:

When Bunnies Attack! - By far the most popular post ever on DLS, for obvious reasons.

DLS On The Radio - My appearance on the NPR radio show Weekend Edition.

Adrian Dater Interview - Denver Post reporter Adrian Dater discusses his book Blood Feud, concerning the once-great Avalanche/Red Wings rivalry.

Dater VS ESPN Round 1 - The first of three posts about Dater's online rant against ESPN that generated a ton of controversy across the hockey blogosphere.

Analysis of the new RBK Edge uniforms of the Blue Jackets, the Capitals and the Bruins.


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