LAKings.com Presents 4 on 4 - Week 5
Week 5: Four writers answer the biggest questions surrounding hockey.
Welcome to Week 5 of our weekly feature on LAKings.com, 4 on 4. Four prominent hockey writers; John Hoven of The Mayor's Manor, Bryan Reynolds and Nathan Eide of Hockey Wilderness, Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, and Thomas Drance of Canucks Army will answer 4 questions pertaining to the sport we all love.
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Feel free to give your own answers, and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1. Most memorable moment from the 2011-12 season?
John Hoven @mayorNHL - Plenty to chose from here, including Sam Gagner's eight-point night, Sidney Crosby's return to the NHL and Dustin Brown's hat-trick vs. Chicago. However, sadly, the most memorable moment wasn't a highlight - but rather a lowlight. Ryan Clowe putting his stick on the ice from the San Jose bench has to top the list. It was much more meaningful than the 'brain cramp' he later claimed led to it. Here's a professional athlete blatantly cheating. Sure, baseball players have been caught using performance enhancing drugs. Yet, that requires testing and outside parties being involved. Here, a National Hockey League player willingly impeded the play on the ice in front of 18,000 spectators and more watching at home on TV. In that single action, Clowe possibly decided the Pacific Division championship. LA needed to win that game to claim the title. Instead, San Jose won after the referees on the ice didn't call a penalty. Even further surprising was the way the league didn't issue any post-game punishment. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took swift action after a Jets coach stuck his leg out to slow down a runner on the field. Clowe's penalty? Nothing. Maybe former pro wrestler-turned-Minnesota-Governor Jesse Ventura was right all along - 'Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.'
Bryan Reynolds @hockeywildernes - There are so very many. Remember that time when Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored that goal? Oh, and that time that Guillaume Latendresse played all 82 games? Or that time the NHL supplemental discipline system made sense? You don't? Huh. Must have all been in my head.
Honestly, for me, the most memorable moment from the 2011-12 season was watching the Kings beat the Canucks in round 1. It has been a joy the past few years to watch the sports hate of the Canucks spread across the NHL. We here in Minnesota have loathed them for a good long time, and it is nice to see so many new fan bases introduced to the debauchery that is the Vancouver Canucks. Watching them go home, heads hung in same, having won exactly one more playoff game than the Wild? Beautiful.
Also, the time ESPN almost reported about hockey. That was pretty sweet.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - As a Sharks fan, the home-and-home with the Kings at to close out the regular season was a brief sojourn from the frustration that marked the second half of San Jose's year. The Sharks were thoroughly outplayed in those two games but still managed to eke out victories in entertaining fashion, a welcome change seeing as the exact opposite of that script has played out so many times in San Jose during the Joe Thornton era. League-wide, Sam Gagner's eight-point game was a fun one. Few players in the league deserved that happening to them more than Gagner, who was still just 22 at the end of last season but has already gone through a zillion coaching changes in his career in Edmonton and is more or less The Forgotten One as the Oilers' ineptitude helps the franchise stockpile No. 1 overall picks. It was also just really enjoyable to watch and anytime something that historic happens, it's a memorable event.
Thomas Drance @CanucksArmy - For the Canucks and their fans I'd say it's a three way tie. The first candidate would be when Cody Hodgson blasted the puck past Tim Thomas to put the Canucks up by two. That goal was objectively awesome and meant more to Canucks fans because A) it was scored on Tim Thomas and B) that goal made sure that the Bruins paid for Brad Marchand's dangerous and filthy submarine hit on Sami Salo.
The second candidate would be when Duncan Keith threw that retributive elbow at Daniel Sedin's cranium and injured him for 13 of the final 15 games of the season. The third, and my personal favorite moment, was when Daniel Sedin scored in Detroit to tie the game against the Red Wings with seconds left on the clock. The Canucks would go on to win the game in a shootout, thus snapping the longest home winning streak in NHL history - that was pretty great.
As a general moment, I'd say it has to be Steve Bernier's major penalty, for a blindside hit on Rob Scuderi in game six of the Stanley Cup Final. When a controversial hit "decides" a game in which the Stanley Cup is awarded, it's a slam dunk winner for "most memorable moment."
2. Fact or Fiction? Nail Yakupov wins the Calder Trophy.
John Hoven - Well, he has a leg infection now after falling off of a treadmill earlier this week. So, it has to be fiction, right? If that's not enough, he plays in Edmonton and we all know how well that franchise does with injury diagnosis and recovery (see: Souray, Sheldon among a long list of names). In all seriousness though, it's not known at this time how long he'll be out. But let's assume the freak accident won't impact his season. A full recovery probably still won't be enough for him to claim the Calder. Most likely, he won't start the season with Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent Hopkins. That won't come until halfway though the season - by which time, somebody like Emerson Etem in Anaheim will have built up too much of a points lead for Yakupov to overcome, despite his strong second half of the season.
Nathan Eide - Fiction. I'll be called a homer, but Mikael Granlund has been a dominant force playing in a league of men for the past three years. He'll be given ample opportunity, and should find himself paired with either a playmaker and a finisher to boost his numbers.
Derek Tanabe - I'll lean towards fact but I think it depends on a number of factors. There's little doubt in my mind, based on what I've read and seen in sporadic viewings, that he has the talent worthy of his first overall selection which should give him the inside track. Ultimately, though, the trophy will go to whichever first-year player scores the most points and in order for Yakupov to accomplish that, new Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger will have to expand upon his predecessor Tom Renney's bench management strategy and use a deep forward lineup to its fullest extent. If Krueger can use a line with Ryan Smyth and Shaun Horcoff in a defensive specialist role and trust a unit of Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky enough to do regular battle with opposing top lines, he'll be able to afford a line of Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle some prime scoring minutes that the offensively sublime but defensively questionable trio can exploit. Yakupov will also have to be given a good deal of power play time, far from a given on a club that boasts at least eight top-six forwards. If he's presented with that kind of opportunity, it's tough to see any rookie topping Yakupov for the year-end honors although Minnesota's Mikael Granlund probably won't be far behind.
Thomas Drance - Fiction. Because of the lockout Yakupov will instead win the Alexei Cherapanov Prize, which is awarded annually to the rookie of the year in the KHL.
Also, I'm willing to bet all of the money I've ever made hockey blogging that Reynolds answered fiction, and wrote at length about how Mikael Granlund is going to win the Calder.
3. Which player has the most pressure on him heading in the 2012-13 season?
John Hoven - It's going to be a player from the Nashville blueline. The debate would be is it somebody who's a current or former Predator? Ryan Suter would be the easy choice because he just signed the big money contract in Minnesota and people will be looking to see if (a) he's worth the money and/or (b) if he can thrive as a number-one defenseman, rather than living in Shea Weber's shadow. That said, there has to be far more pressure on Weber. He was heavily recruited by a 'big market' club (Philadelphia) and now must prove that Nashville did the right thing by matching the Flyers offer sheet. Weber was already the captain. But, this is a whole new level of pressure. He's not only the face of the franchise, he now has to carry the weight of being the man who Nashville management went 'all in' on. If the Predators don't make the playoffs, all the questions about Weber's long-term future in Nashville will likely resurface.
Nathan Eide - I'm torn here between Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Both need to prove they were worth the substantial contracts they received. Both need to prove that they can be "the guy" without the other. Both need to help solidify what are now questionable, but potentially solid, bluelines with new partners. But ... Weber makes more so I'd say Shea Weber.
Derek Tanabe -There are a lot of potentially compelling answers to this question (the Stars' offseason has made them Jamie Benn's team now, Shea Weber will be paid top dollar to single-handedly carry an awful defense corps, Jordan Staal will be expected to prove he has the offensive chops to be a regular top-six center, etc.) but I can't really justify picking a non-goalie. Even among netminders, there are a few great options here but the one I think might have the most pressure on him is Tuukka Rask. What Tim Thomas' Hasek-like reign as one of the league's save percentage leaders has masked is that the Bruins, aside from the best defenseman in the world in Zdeno Chara, are very mediocre on the blueline. They were middle-of-the-pack in terms of even-strength shots against last season and a good amount of those shots come from the scoring area. With Thomas taking a year-long soul-searching sabbatical or whatever the hell is going on there, the keys to the crease are handed over to Rask who, encouragingly, has performed just as admirably as Thomas when called upon over the last three seasons. Much of that was as a backup, though, and he's only accumulated a shade over 100 career starts; it's difficult to say with much confidence that he is indeed at Thomas' level. If he isn't, the Bruins could be in a world of hurt defensively. The B's should be a playoff team regardless but where they finish in the top eight could very much be contingent on the kind of season Rask has, especially since he'll also have to compensate for Boston getting a severe downgrade in the backup netminder spot going from Rask to Anton Khudobin, and that's a ton of pressure to put on a young goalie in a hockey-mad city.
Thomas Drance - If he's still in Vancouver, then it's Roberto Luongo.
No player in the history of hockey has had to deal with as much pressure as Roberto Luongo has over the past three seasons. I feel confident saying this because I think the advent of "digital fame," instant analysis, and 24 hour sports coverage amplifies the pressure that high profile professional athletes have to deal with. Also, generally speaking, playing in a Canadian market engenders more pressure than playing in an American one, and even among Canadian markets Vancouver has its own unique type of soul crushing pressure.
Just imagine a hockey obsessed town, where the Canucks are the most prestigious ticket and the city is postively desperate to see a Stanley Cup won by the home team. Lose a big game, and riots might engulf the downtown core. Now that's pressure!
If Luongo is in Vancouver backing up Cory Schneider, the pressure will be unimaginable. Imagine being a 5.4 million dollar back up goalie and letting in a soft goal? Think the fans will be forgiving? Nope.
4. ______ will be the first team to fire their head coach this season.
John Hoven - Colorado? Minnesota? Philadelphia? No. San Jose will be the first team to fire their coach. While it's probable that Todd McLellan isn't the problem, the Sharks are just out of options at this point. GM Doug Wilson has spent the last few summers tweaking the roster and it still hasn't brought them a Stanley Cup. In fact, over the last decade, the Sharks have pretty much been the Atlanta Braves of the NHL - a great team in the regular season, who just can't get it done when it matters most. They barely made the layoffs this past season and - as noted in last week's 4-on-4 - should be considered a bubble team heading into the 2012-13 campaign. If they get off to another slow start, look for McLellan to get the ax. After the Kings and Blues had success with in-season coaching changes, look for their Western Conference rivals to pull the same trick. It probably won't work in San Jose though. But, hey, what do they have to lose at this point?
Bryan Reynolds - I wonder would would happen if I said the Kings here. First defending Cup champs to fire their coach? Man, that could be fun. Or, we could go with the Red Wings, and I could be called all kinds of names like Nathan got last week. That could be fun, too. Ding Dong, Mike Babcock is out of work.
Doesn't have the same ring to it.
The first team to fire their coach should be the Columbus Blue Jackets. They're going to have some serious buyer's remorse when they realize that Todd Richards isn't a guy with answers. In fact, his favorite answer here in Minnesota was, "I don't know." However, Columbus does not seem to be a hot bed of great hockey decisions right now, so let's go with Peter Laviolette in Philadelphia. The Flyers have been impressive the past few seasons, but always seem to fall apart when it starts to actually matter. They no longer have CHris Pronger, their goaltending is suspect, and the fan base is, to put it kindly, rabid.
One small slip in the standings, and Laviolette could find himself the fall guy for his GM's mistakes.
Derek Tanabe - Chicago. I think the Blackhawks are still a very strong hockey team and have a ton of respect for the job Joel Quenneville has done behind the bench but the fact is that the disappointment of the Hawks' two post-Cup seasons combined with going into the year with an unenviable situation in net means the stars are probably aligning for a sacking in the Windy City. Chicago should ultimately be able to overcome their inferior goaltending to finish somewhere in the 4th through 6th spot in the West but it also leaves them more susceptible than average to an extended run of poor results like they had last season. Coach Q survived that losing streak, although his assistant Mike Haviland was canned in the offseason, but I'm not sure he'll be able to survive another one. Another candidate to fire their head coach early in the year is Colorado. Again, I think the Avs are a strong team and I certainly still stand by picking them to make the postseason as I did in this space last week but Joe Sacco is another bench boss already on thin ice after two straight playoff-less years and if the team comes out of the gate slowly, it's probably curtains for Sacco in Denver.
Thomas Drance -I'm going to go ahead and pick Joel Quenneville in Chicago.
To be clear, I think Coach Q is one of the best tactical bench bosses in the game, but he's coaching a team that has underachieved the past two seasons. There were rumours of discord this past season between Coach Q and the front-office, and to make matters worse, Chicago plays in a tough Central Division and relies on a sub-average NHL goaltender to stop pucks. If Chicago gets off to a slow start, I wouldn't be surprised to see Bowman the Younger make the mistake of letting Q go.
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - a full multimedia site, including exclusive on-ice video interviews from the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. As a credentialed writer based in LA, his hockey insights and information have been featured on several well known websites, magazines and in print for the LA Newspaper Group. He can also be heard over the airwaves, as he's a regularly featured guest on sports radio stations across North America. Be sure to follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL for his daily notes and inside scoop.
Bryan Reynolds is the editor of Hockey Wilderness, the SB Nation site covering the Minnesota Wild. He also covers the Minnesota Swarm of the NLL for SB Nation Minnesota and dreams of one day being the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings - @hockeywildernes.
Nathan Eide is the managing editor of Hockey Wilderness, a Minnesota Wild fan community. Nathan likes long walks on the beach, spending time with his family and enjoys the schadenfreude surrounding the Edmonton Oilers.
Derek Tanabe is currently the managing editor for Fear The Fin, a Sharks blog with up-to-date news and analysis concerning California's only team still chasing the Stanley Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @fearthefin.
Thomas Drance is a Vancouver native currently based in Toronto. He works at MThrty communications , is the managing editor of canucksarmy.com, and a contributing writer at Pass it to Bulis (the Vancouver Sun). He's an avid singer who swims everyday in the summer, and eats food that is too spicy for normal human persons. You can follow him on twitter at @CanucksArmy.
Jeff Angus delivers his thoughts on news relating to the Canucks to the CanucksArmy a few times each week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey, The Hockey Writers | Overtime, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. If he isn’t writing about hockey, Jeff is a fitness fanatic who enjoys playing a variety of sports. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.