October 8, 2010

Pavelec Collapses, Taken off Ice in Stretcher

In the Atlanta Thrashers Friday-night game against the Washington Capitals, Thrashers' goalie Ondrej Pavelec lost consciousness on the ice and was taken to hospital. His condition has been deemed stable as of late Friday night. Pavelec, a 23-year-old budding star in this league, was on the verge of becoming the Thrashers' number-one goalie last year, leading to the trade of Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars.

Cup-Aspiring Bruins Ink Bergeron to Three-Year Extension

News of the Boston Bruins signing Patrice Bergeron to a three-year contract extension went somewhat ignored in the early morning, with the NHL season’s first few games coming to an end on the same night. However, there is little else that is as deserving of fans’ attention, considering the significance of the move.

Certainly there is Edmonton Oiler Jordan Eberle’s incredible goal from last night that sticks out like a sore thumb in a sea middle fingers, which, as it happens, is exactly what the Calgary Flames got care of Edmonton fans in the 4-0 home-team win at Rexall Place. There’s also Philadelphia Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who led his team to a 3-2 win over their state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, proving in the process the Flyers just may not need a big-name netminder to be a legitimate contender after all. Of course, it would help matters if the name of that netminder evoked respect rather than thoughts of a ballet dancer doing pirouettes in the crease.

However, the signing of Bergeron provides the Bruins with the kind of long-term stability those potentially one-night wonders can only hope to replicate over the lengths of their respective careers. Bergeron will never be a legitimate number-one center, making his $5 million price tag a bit of an overpayment, but, with inflation what it is, especially in the NHL, where a certain 42-year-old fourth-liner will be making $4 million per year with the New Jersey Devils in 2025, this deal can certainly be forgiven.

"Do I want to make an average of $5 million in each of the next three years? I don't know..."

The deal is made all the more important considering the uncertainty surrounding Marc Savard, his health, his overbearing long-term contract with seven years remaining, and his ultimate desire to stay with the Bruins after it became a very well-known secret that he was about as wanted in Boston as Yale graduate George W. Bush trying to educate Bostonians on the proper way to enunciate.

Bergeron, who made it into the league as an 18-year-old in 2003, was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Now the Bruins are set at center well into the foreseeable future with or without Savard, with the 24-year-old David Krejci set to only become a restricted free agent at the end of the next year, and Tyler Seguin waiting in the wings for greater offensive responsibility. Prospect Joe Colborne is seemingly also destined for greatness at center, making the Bruins very rich indeed at the position in question.

The Bruins also have similar amounts of depth to go around their entire line-up, making them a favourite to at least enter the playoffs as a Stanley Cup favourite. Thanks to this extension, they will likely remain one for years to come.

Early Rookie of the Year Honours Go to...

Clearly Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers. If you've been so unfortunate as to have been living under a rock the past 10 hours and haven't seen the highlight of his first career NHL goal... in his first career NHL game no less... voila. I think TSN replayed it at least 15 times in just the highlight pack of the OIlers' 4-0 win against the Calgary Flames yesterday. He also added a second goal that was awarded to Shawn Horcoff... not too shabby.

Eberle has become a folk hero in Canadian hockey lore with his performances in the last two World Junior Hockey Championships, leading Canada to a gold medal two years ago, after scoring a last-second game-tying goal against the Russians in the semi-final. Last year, he also was clutch, tying the gold-medal game 5-5 against the United States late in the third period before American defenseman John Carlson won it in overtime.

Clearly, one game does not make a season, but anyone that doesn't believe Eberle won't win the Calder Memorial Trophy and Nikolai Khabibulin the Vezina, you may leave.

Daugavins's Spinorama Against Bulldogs

Maybe a few too many "dog"s in the headline there, but quite fitting since the move the  Binghamton Senators' Kaspars Daugavins put on Hamilton Bulldogs goalie Robert Mayer last Sunday was as hotdoggish as they come. Any thoughts on some of other most notable hotdog goals in hockey history?

October 7, 2010

Vancouver Canucks Acquire Journeyman Defenseman Paetsch

Nathan Paetsch isn't old, at least isn't old enough that he should be labelled a journeyman blue-liner, but at the ripe old age of 27 he has already had connections to five teams. The Vancouver Canucks acquired him on Thursday to play for the team's AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. Before that, he had been signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Florida Panthers, and was traded to Vancouver without even having played a game for the organization. Prior to his non-stint in Florida, he played for the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he had been traded in the Raffi Torres deal with the Buffalo Sabres at last year's trade deadline.

The Sabres are the team for which Paetsch is best known for playing, but they weren't even the team that drafted him initially. That honour belongs to the Washington Capitals, whose superstar Alex Ovechkin can be seen above humiliating Paetsch.

With more AHL games (206) than NHL ones (167), it's clear that Paetsch should quit his day job. I hear they have openings in the WWE.

Predictions, Predictions, and More Predictions

As the countdown to the start of the NHL season winds down, it seems only natural to want to make predictions. While it is the “in” thing to do right now and it makes you look cool and everything, the overwhelming need to be heard goes way beyond succumbing to mere peer pressure. It’s endemic. As such, I would be remiss to not make a few predictions of my own, namely the following:

     Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price will silence the naysayers by leading the Habs to playoff contention... by finally making his way to the bench for good by mid-December and allowing Alex Auld to become the team’s starter.

"I didn't do it."
     Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin will finally go too far in blindsiding an opponent, causing the start of his first-ever full-blown fight during the regular season. The problem? That opponent: 5’9”, 157-pound Tyler Ennis of the Buffalo Sabres. Ovechkin will win cleanly, learning nothing in the process. Ennis will get suspended by the NHL.

"Glen, give me your lunch money."
      New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather will try his darndest to get fired by signing defenseman Wade Redden to a six-year, $39-million contract, Scott Gomez to a seven-year, $51.5-million deal, Chris Drury to a five-year, $35.25-million deal, Derek Boogaard to a four-year, $6.5-million deal, and Bobby Holik to a five-year, $45-million deal. He won’t get fired though, turning instead to actually doing his job properly. He will get axed the next day, with Mark Messier taking over for him and continuing to run the team into the ground.
     With the weight of the team’s captaincy off his shoulders, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo will regain his form of earlier years, causing this year’s Stanley Cup favourites to miss the playoffs altogether.
     The Chicago Blackhawks will put up a valiant fight in trying to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, but fall eight-to-10 players short.

"Wow... that's a lot of employee turnover."
     The Toronto Maple Leafs will... miss the playoffs... again.

And now for the actual predictions, although that last one is as accurate as they come.

Some Actual NHL Predictions

Eastern Conference:
1) Boston Bruins: If Marc Savard returns, they will have unparalleled depth. If not, look for them to drop to the middle of the pack.
2) Washington Capitals: While Semyon Varlamov is an upgrade over Jose Theodore in theory, look for some growing pains in practice.
3) New Jersey Devils: No one can deny that Ilya Kovalchuk will have a positive effect on the Devils’ regular-season hopes after last year’s transitional period.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby can’t do it all, but he can do a lot. With Jordan Staal injured, the Pens will struggle out of the gate.
5) Philadelphia Flyers: Their defense is the best in the league and will limit the ineffectiveness of their second-rate goaltending.
6) Atlanta Thrashers: Solid, underrated depth from top to bottom. The Thrashers will finally win a playoff game this year.
7) Ottawa Senators: Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson should do some damage to offset that done by an overhyped defensive corps.
8) New York Rangers: Even though their defense took an admitted hit with the departure of Wade Redden, they have solid depth up front to successfully push for the last playoff spot.
9) Montreal Canadiens: A disappointing finish is in the cards for Habs fans after an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals last year. Carey Price just won’t get it done.
10) Buffalo Sabres: Ryan Miller will have a sub-par season and the Sabres don’t have the offense to consistently bail him out.
11) Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have a solid top one-and-a-half lines, but not much beyond and their goaltending has a history of being inconsistent. Look for that history to continue,
12) Toronto Maple Leafs: Improvement is likely. Baby steps, Leafs fans... baby steps.
13) Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have the depth to make the playoffs, but won’t be able to find the right chemistry. Supposed superstar Eric Staal will struggle to be a point-per-game player once again.
14) New York Islanders: Too many injuries will take their toll. Mike Mottau is no Mark Streit.
15) Florida Panthers: Dale Tallon has not worked his magic yet. Patience is required... a great deal of patience.

Western Conference:
1) Detroit Red Wings: A full year of Jimmy Howard, Jiri Hudler, and Johan Franzen will do wonders for the closest thing to a dynasty the NHL has.
2) Los Angeles Kings: Last year was a major step forward for the Kings. Look for that progress to continue with Drew Doughty leading the charge.
3) Vancouver Canucks: Probably the most overrated team in the NHL, the Canucks will win their division out of lack of formidable competition.
4) San Jose Sharks: The Sharks haven’t taken a step back, the Kings will just be that much better in the Pacific Division.
5) Chicago Blackhawks: Much has been made of the Blackhawks’ dismantling, but their demise has been greatly overstated.
6) Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes still have the makings of a solid team, but there should be doubts as to whether or not goalie Ilya Bryzgalov can hold the fort as strongly as he did last year.
7) Saint Louis Blues: Solid depth on offense and Jaroslav Halak in nets will serve as the needed crutch to mask the team’s defensive deficiencies.
8) Calgary Flames: Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen make the Flames a playoff team... this year.
9) Anaheim Ducks: A somewhat re-tooled defensive corps over the past few months won’t be enough to get the Ducks over the hump.
10) Colorado Avalanche: The book will be out on goalie Craig Anderson and the Avalanche following a surprising rebound campaign last year.
11) Nashville Predators: The presence of too many holes on defense will take its toll.
12) Dallas Stars: Goalie Kari Lehtonen has never lived up to his potential, so there’s little reason to think he will start now.
13) Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers and their fans have reason to be optimistic, but not this season. They’re just too young to be able to make a noticeable impact each and every game.
14) Minnesota Wild: When Guillaume Latendresse is your top goal-scorer, you have problems.
15) Columbus Blue Jackets: Management’s complacency has hurt this team too much for them to stand a realistic chance at competing.

And, one final prediction: The Boston Bruins will defeat the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final. If Savard misses the entire season, make it the Philadelphia Flyers over the Sharks.

Habs and Leafs One of Many Marquee Match-ups Tonight as NHL Season Debuts

On season-premiere night in the NHL, fans will get an original six matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, but the decades of resentment, hatred, and blood spilt between the two teams will take a backseat to several other more interesting, more current storylines.

     For instance: Habs goalie Carey Price has come down with a sudden case of the flu, as if to say: “That’s weird, my allergies to winning usually only flare up in the spring.” Normally, many might take this opportunity to question Price’s integrity and assume he’s feigning sickness out of fear of facing the Leafs, which is ludicrous... no one is afraid of the Leafs. But he may indeed be afraid of something else. Pick your poison:

     1) Afraid of being the Habs’ go-to guy when the only thing he’s proved himself competent of over the past few years is being a whipping boy for fans and media types alike.

     2) Afraid of the mounting pressure of having to carry the weight of an entire hockey-mad city on his back when he’s collapsed under far less dire circumstances, like onto his bed following a long night of partying.  
     3) Afraid of eventually losing his job to defenseman Josh Gorges.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs, fresh off stripping blue-liner Tomas Kaberle of his alternate captaincy, continue to force themselves into mitigating their apparent organization-wide lack of class and self-made public-relations disasters. It’s not that Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek don’t make fine alternate captains. It’s that Kaberle has been one since before the lockout, he’s the longest-serving Leaf, and he deserves some kind of acknowledgement for having to put up with head coach Ron Wilson and his delusional paranoia year-in, year-out. The media isn’t out to get you, Mr. Wilson. You do that well enough on your own.

This will no doubt be Kaberle’s last season as a Leaf – this latest incident likely won’t turn him around into thinking that he’s actually valued by the organization, that is if the 100 or so attempts to trade him over the past few years weren’t enough of a hint. Still, the Leafs shouldn’t be doing their best players foul like this. Not only is it a huge sign of disrespect, but it sends a bad message to free agents in the future. The only good thing to come out of this would be a general lack of stars getting in line to sign no-trade clauses with Toronto, but only as a side-effect of a general lack of stars getting in line to sign with Toronto in the first place.

Kaberle may say publicly that having an “A” on a jersey doesn’t matter and that’s true, only if you’ve never been handed one and then stripped of it. Wilson may also say that Kaberle is the next one in line should any of the other three leaders on the team go down with injury, which will no doubt happen sooner or later with Komisarek leading the charge. If he steers clear of the Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic, his shoulder should at least be alright though... now that’s just leading by example. However, in such a scenario it’s some consolation prize for a player that has stuck with the Leafs through thick and thin over his entire 11-year career.

Finally, there’s the fact that the Habs top scorer in Mike Cammalleri will be missing the season opener in his hometown of Toronto, after being served with a one-game suspension for his slash on the New York Islanders’ Nino Niederreiter, taking exception to the fact that he was arguably blindsided by the rookie in an exhibition game. Unfortunately for Leafs fans, it’s hardly the same as Phil Kessel missing a game. As great as he is, Cammalleri doesn’t really account for 60% of his team’s scoring.

As a result, look for the game to be close, but for the Habs to eek this one out in a shootout. After all, even though reports have surfaced that Price will get the start, he might relapse giving Alex Auld the chance in nets.

"Why are you hugging me? O'Byrne's the one who scored."
Puck drop is at 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers square off at the same time. The Chicago Blackhawks take on the Colorado Avalanche at 10 p.m., with the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers renewing the Battle of Alberta at 10 p.m. as well. The action has already kicked off with the Carolina Hurricanes taking on the Minnesota Wild in a matinee.

Feeding Frenzy in San Jose Inevitable after Thornton Named Captain

Joe Thornton was named captain of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. Reasons why? If his well-documented inability to win come crunch time wasn't enough, clearly it's because his toughness is beyond reproach. As you can see in this reinactment of David and Goliath, the Sharks' new capitain clearly lost to someone three feet shorter and two-hundred pounds lighter.The ironic part is that these two street fighters are now teammates, It might be a leap, but I'm guessing Scott Nichol didn't vote for Jumbo Joe. But, if it doesn't work out, the Sharks still have a competent leader in assistant Patrick Marleau to fall back on... oh, wait...

October 6, 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane with Kirk Maltby and the Red Wings

Now that the Detroit Red Wings have waived Kirk Maltby, will we never again get to bask in the glory of a moment such as this, when goalie Domink Hasek tried to copy Stanley Cup winners Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood by picking a fight with the Colorado Avalanche's Patrick Roy? Oh, Kirk, if it is the last we'll see of you in the NHL, we'll miss you and your grit... if not for practical than for nostalgic reasons.

Pietrangelo Looks to Break the Trend of Singing the Blues Come November

This week came word that highly touted defenseman Alex Pietrangelo had made the Saint Louis Blues’ 23-man roster. While that is most definitely exciting news for the 20-year-old, his family, and the countless Blues fans counting on a bounce-back year following a disappointing 2009-2010 season, a word of warning:

Pietrangelo has been in this situation before... twice in fact. He made the opening-day rosters in each of his first two seasons as well, resulting in eight and nine-game stints with the Blues before ultimately returning to the OHL, where dreams are usually born, but, in Pietrangelo’s case, they just got put on layaway.

Another not necessarily good omen would be fellow defenseman Tyson Strachan making the team this time around as well. Obviously Strachan, a fifth-round draft pick back in 2003, does not have the same pedigree as Pietrangelo, with the latter being drafted fourth overall in 2008, but one interesting stat has him as the only remaining member of the top five that year to not already establish himself as a regular NHLer. Even Toronto Maple Leaf Luke Schenn has played 149 regular-season games (no playoff games, surprise, surprise) to Pietrangelo’s 17.

As such, there’s clearly no guarantee that Pietrangelo has made it as of yet. He still has a lot to prove, most notably whether or not he’s more capable of withstanding a standard bodycheck than Carlo Colaiacovo, who, through some miracle, has played over 60 games in each of the past two seasons.

"I can fly and everything. What else do they want from me???"
All things being equal, the team’s defense looks to be its weakest point, with +/- hater and captain Eric Brewer (-17) leading the charge for a corps hoping goalie Jaroslav Halak has a little magic left up his sleeve following his supernatural playoff performance with the Montreal Canadiens. Halak pretty much did it himself for two rounds last spring, but, as the Philadelphia Flyers proved in their five-game victory over the Habs, even the hottest of streaks run cold.

Look no further than the Blues themselves, who were the best team in the league around the all-star break onward two seasons ago, only to get swept in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks. Nowhere was that step backward last season more evident than up front, where most Blues forwards, most notably Brad Boyes, David Backes, and Patrik Berglund saw their point production drop dramatically.

In sharp contrast, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, and David Perron either met or exceeded expectations. As a result, expectations are no doubt higher for each of them this time around, and if Pietrangelo comes as advertised, as a highly skilled offensive defenseman, he just may help to make them a reality. More likely, though, he will get his chances to prove his worth and more often than not look out of place as he tries to acclimate himself to life in the NHL.

Pietrangelo is a blue-chip prospect, but the Blues cannot realistically expect him to step into a large role on the team AND make the playoffs. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but it does appear that way from the outside in for a confused team not sure whether to rebuild or contend. Pietrangelo will be alright given time, but the third one isn’t realistically the charm. He’ll stick with the team, just won’t have much success in so doing as the Blues sneak into the post-season.

Oilers Make Horcoff Their Captain

Shawn Horcoff was recently named captain of the Edmonton Oilers, who are paying him $6,500,000... A little much for someone who last season had 36 points in 77 games played. Not to mention, he also had a plus minus of -29. Apparently, these days, $6,500,000 only buys you so much... unless you`re in the market for some mediocrity, in which case Horcoff has you covered. In memoriam of Horcoff`s career, a look back to better days, notably 2006, when he posted a career-high 73 points. At least then ``garbage`` characterized all the goals he was scoring.

Trotz and Kovalchuk: Separated at Birth?

Okay, maybe not. But...
It's become readily apparent that the Nashville Predators’ Barry Trotz is the Ilya Kovalchuk of NHL coaches.

Now, bear with me as I try to explain the superficially outlandish comparison between the two. Trotz, the only coach the Nashville Predators have ever had over their 11-year history, has never made it past the first round of the playoffs despite four appearances. Meanwhile, New Jersey Devil Kovalchuk has also never made it past the first round. This despite being a perennial Maurice Richard Trophy contender. But, wait, there’s more!

Nevermind that both have spent significant portions of their careers toiling in American Sun Belt states, not even able to show off impressive sunburns for their trouble... or that they kind of sort of look alike, if Kovalchuk was maybe a few years older and a few pounds heavier. Perhaps by the end of his new 15-year contract the resemblance will be more obvious, but you can at least see it in their eyes, even as Trotz’s become more and more overwhelmed by despair with each passing year. There’s little reason why they wouldn’t, at least following the team’s seemingly annual fire sale.

Case in point would be this past off-season, during which the Preds traded captain Jason Arnott for prospect Matt Halischuk and a second-round pick, with general manager David Poile conveniently looking past the offer of two Steve Penney hockey cards and the half-chewed stick of bubblegum I offered up a few hours beforehand.

Then there’s the trade in which the Preds picked up the Montreal Canadiens’ dirty laundry in Sergei Kostitsyn en route to the local laundromat. Nashville may have sent soon-to-be unrestricted free agents Dustin Boyd and Dan Ellis the other way, but, due to the reported headaches Kostitsyn is likely to cause, he isn’t even worth the skidmarked underwear he would be if he were an actual article of clothing.

Newsflash to Mr. Poile: if goalie Carey Price tells a player that they need to work harder, it’s a bad sign. You don’t need to be doing other teams’ household chores, let alone favours to that degree. All it does is put you next in line for the annual Mike Milbury Award, as unofficial as it is.

Finally, on Tuesday, the Preds completed this gem: acquiring defenseman Shane O’Brien for fellow blue-liner Ryan Parent. Now, Parent may or may not pan out, but his potential alone makes him worth keeping around, especially when your only other apparent option is taking on a career seventh defenseman, whose only real asset is his ability to use his God-given size to his advantage. He’s earned congratulations at least on finding a useful outlet for his talents... as well as apparently not being born a  slow-footed sloth.

Despite goalie Pekka Rinne continuing to baffle the league’s scoring elite, with Dan Hamhuis now gone the team’s defensive corps is now sorely lacking to competently back him up... even with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in the mix. O’Brien will not replace Hamhuis and is maybe best described as a cheap man’s Mike Komisarek of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even at $1,600,000 per year (compared to Komisarek’s $6,000,000 2010-2011 salary), though, he may be too pricey for the Preds and their self-imposed salary cap, which also claimed Arnott.

As such, the $3.5-million-per-year addition of Matthew Lombardi is curious, not just because it meant actual money being taken out of the traditionally frugal team’s bank account, but because Lombardi is clearly an overrated player made richer as a result of the low supply and high demand of the NHL’s free-agent market. Martin Erat and David Legwand join him as the team’s most notably overpaid forwards, while it remains to be seen just how well Patric Hornqvist and Colin Wilson will work out with the added responsibility they’re due. Needless to say, success this year is far from written in stone, but it isn’t out of the question either.

Therein lies the beauty of Trotz, as the Preds have a nasty habit of staying in the mix of the playoff race until the last few games of the regular season, no matter who is on the team. As such, he’s more like Kovalchuk than most would care to admit. But it goes way beyond job security. They’re each their respective teams’ most valuable components, with only Kovalchuk likely to fold under the pressure.

Grabner the Latest Victim of the Islanders' Youth Movement

Ex-Florida Panther Michael Grabner was picked off waivers by the snipe-happy New York Islanders, marking the second year in a row the Isles have added a former first-round pick before the start of the regular season. Last year, it was Rob Schremp, who was taken 25th overall in 2004 by the Edmonton Oilers and had toiled in the minor leagues up until that point. Grabner was taken 15th overall two years later by the Vancouver Canucks and figured in the Keith Ballard trade this off-season. This means several things:

1) The Islanders continue to build up their cupboards, which are already rich with young, but unproven talent.

2) The Islanders are likely to keep Grabner in the NHL into the long term, meaning they will likely ice an opening-day roster that boasts the likes of the 23-year-old Grabner, 21-year-old Josh Bailey, 24-year-old Blake Comeau, 18-year-old Nino Niederreiter (who will likely play a few games this season due to recent injuries to Kyle Okposo and Schremp), and 20-year-old John Tavares.

3) All the Panthers, amid their rocky and overhyped-as-being-effective re-building process, got in return for Ballard was glorified secondary scorer Steve Bernier and a late first-round pick this past summer in Quinton Howden, who, admittedly, may turn out to be the next Gretzky, but probably not.

Call this a steal for the Islanders, probably more so than Schremp was. Despite some nifty shootout skills, Schremp may never live up to the lofty expectations he seems to have set for himself. Judge for yourself, based on the interview below... is he setting the bar too high for himself or has he missed his true calling as a fortune teller?

How would you rather have (hypothetically): Grabner or Schremp???

October 5, 2010

Don Cherry's Kiss of Death Claims O'Brien

After months of speculation as to just how the Vancouver Canucks would get under the cap and which defenseman of the 20 the Canucks had on the team would be traded, the proverbial axe finally fell on Shane O'Brien and his $1,600,000 salary. On Tuesday, O'Brien and Dan Gendur were sent to the Nashville Predators for fellow blueliner Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson.

Kevin Bieksa must be sighing a breath of relief, although he should take note that this move merely serves as a vote of confidence for Andrew Alberts at the expense of O'Brien on the part of Canucks management as the two were reportedly battling it out for the much sought-out right to call themselves the team's fringe defenseman for the year.

O'Brien will never be confused for a star, but he did seem to understand his role of having to drop the gloves once in a while. Now the onus still falls on Bieksa to understand his a little better,and score some points instead of fighting and getting injured all the time. One thing he doesn't need to worry about, though, is Don Cherry's kiss of death, as the CBC broadcaster can't seem to get the poor guy's name right, as illustrated in the clip below from the Canucks' game-five win against the Chicago Blackhawks in last spring's second round.

As Quick as You Can Blink You Might Miss Bernier’s Coronation

The Los Angeles Kings have screwed me for the last time. No sooner does the first shipment of these Jonathan “White Chocolate” Quick t-shirts I had made arrive at my door does the team sign former first-round-pick and would-be-successor Jonathan Bernier to a hefty two-year contract extension.

This is almost as bad as the time I had my fingers crossed that they would draft defenseman Sasha Pokulok over Anze Kopitar in 2005. I mean, “what were they thinking???” is what I asked myself then. Pokulok displayed the perfect combination of size and meanness as a Cornell Big Red alumnus that has allowed him to flourish into a fringe player in the German Ice Hockey League.

Little did I know then that a little player by the name of Drew Doughty would come along and help cover up the Kings’ defensive deficiencies... and, oh, yeah, Kopitar has turned out okay too.

All that being said, one has to feel bad for Quick. All he did last year was win 39 games in earning the number-one spot and a trip to the Olympics.

Sure, Quick posted an .843 save percentage in three consecutive losses against the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs to help bring an end to the Kings’ season. And, yeah, he might have gone 0-3-3 in his last six regular-season games last year, allowing 19 goals in the process... 22 in his last seven, if you count a game against the Colorado Avalanche in which he was pulled, but who remembers things like that? Who???

And, yeah, logic dictates that he may... may have been playing over his head all of last year evidenced by his being a third-round draft pick once upon a time. Truth be told, he just doesn’t have the same pedigree as Bernier, who was drafted 11th overall in 2006. But, man, that nickname is gold. Even if it was taken by NBA player Jason Williams first, it just works, I tell you.

In any case, with the Kings signing Bernier to a two-year, $2.5-million deal on Monday and former back-up Erik Ersberg being placed on waivers, it’s clear it’s only a matter of time before Quick is usurped as the incumbent to the Kings’ throne in the crease. In three games last year, Bernier went 3-0 with one shutout, a .957 save percentage, and a 1.30 goals-against average. Granted, he posted the shutout against the offense-deprived Nashville Predators and let in three goals as expected against the high-scoring Canucks, but he still got the job done.

"If I squint, I think I can see the end of my career with the Kings."
It’s very likely that the status quo will be preserved into the near future, with Quick starting as the number one this year. But, with Bernier set to earn $1.525 million in the second year of the contract, up from this year’s $765,000, the writing is clearly on the wall for a shake-up in nets. It only remains to be seen just how long Quick is able to hold on as his world gets turned upside down.

In fact, things are changing all over the place in L.A. After missing the playoffs for six-straight seasons, the team finally had a breakthrough last year thanks to its core group of young guns, including Doughty, Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Wayne Simmonds, and captain Dustin Brown.

Off-season acquisitions such as defenseman Willie Mitchell and depth forward Alexei Ponikarovsky should only help matters from here on out with the Kings poised to overtake the San Jose Sharks as the team to beat in the Pacific Division. It will happen. Likely this season too. Just like Bernier will Quick as the team’s starter. From there on out, it looks to be smooth sailing. Dare I say, smooth as chocolate?

Now in white chocolate!
Please note no Sasha Pokuloks were hurt during the writing of this post. Hopefully he doesn't get around to ever reading this, though. That dude could probably kick my ass.