February 18, 2012

EPL and EIHL Action (UK Round Up 18th February)

Elite League

Sheffield Steelers 1 Nottingham Panthers 5

The Steelers and the Panthers met for the second time in a week. The Steelers had won the Valentines clash in Sheffield before heading to Dundee to scrap a victory.  The Panthers however were fresh and out for revenge.

However it was the Steelers who took the lead first through Jonathan Phillips but that proved to be the kick that the Panthers needed and scored 5 goals without reply. The Steelers looked to have run out of gas as they entered the third period.

The Steelers now have 4 games in hand over the Giants and 7 points to make up.

Fife Flyers 1 Belfast Giants 7

Meanwhile in Belfast the Giants were looking for their second win of the weekend after beating the Hull Stingrays on Friday. The Giants knew that nothing but a win would be needed to keep the pressure up and maintain their advantage at the top of the EIHL.

The Flyers always knew this would be a difficult tie but set about their task in well-disciplined fashion but the Giants were clinical. 3 first period goals were followed by a forth in the second from Craig Peacock.

There was no let up in the third period as the Giants continued their ruthless display. But a penalty shot from Stephen Gunn meant the Flyers head back to Kirkcaldy with a consolation goal.

The game was marred by an incident between Dan Ceman and Adam Keefe after the hand shakes.

Dundee Stars 6 Edinburgh Capitals 3

In the Murrayfield Ice Rink there was a east of Scotland derby with the Stars chasing the Capitals for the last playoff spot.

With both teams needing the points it was the Stars that stole a march in the second thanks to 2 goals in a minute at the start of the period. Dundee continued that momentum in the third to move within 3 points off of the Edinburgh Capitals and eighth place in the table.

Coventry Blaze 4 Braehead Clan 5

On the other side of Scotland the Clan were in action against the Blaze looking to move closer to the top four.

In form Jade Galbraith gave the Clan a first period two goal lead before the Blaze fought back to tie the game. However the Clan regained their 2-goal lead before the end of the second.

A very late Robert Farmer goal did cut the deficit but as the home side took the spoilers.

English Premier League Cup

It was a big night in Manchester as the top 2 put their league differences to one side to meet in the Semi Final 1st leg with the winners going through to the final to face the Sheffield Steeldogs.

It was a nervy and edge start as the Manchester Phoenix looked to have taken the lead when the puck appeared to have hit the top corner netting only to be ruled out. The luck continued to go to the Flames as they then twice took the lead but Long’s equaliser tied the scores at 2 heading into Wednesday’s second leg.

English Premier League

There were 3 other games in the EPL with the Slough Jets looking to get their title challenge back on track. However Slough near lost their opportunity coming back to beat Peterborough in overtime. Basingstoke also got an important 2 points against Bracknell. Whilst the Milton Keynes Lightning gained a valuable win over Swindon before they head to Manchester for Sundays clash.

Elite League
Dundee Stars 6 Edinburgh Capitals 3
Coventry Blaze 3 Braehead Clan 4
Fife Flyers 1 Belfast Giants 7
Sheffield Steelers 1 Nottingham Panthers 5

English Premier League Cup 1st Leg
Guildford Flames 2 Manchester Phoenix 2

English Premier League
Peterborough Phantoms 4 Slough Jets 5 (AOT)
Bracknell Bees 1 Basingstoke Bison 3
Swindon Wildcats 3 Milton Keynes Lightning 6

Neil Tucker

Nashville Predators get better by adding Hal Gill

The Nashville Predators took a step towards solidifying their team to make a run in the playoffs Friday afternoon by acquiring Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, and a conditional draft pick.  While lots of Predators fans originally shook their heads in confusion at the acquisition of Gill, this trade can help strengthen the Predators defensive unit even more.  While it is undeniable that the Predators true needs are on the offensive side of the puck, the addition of Gill will down the road become an essential part of the Predators.  The Predators have been relying strongly over the past several years on the defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to carry the load of the team playing big minutes all season long.  Weber and Suter are currently both in the Top 5 in the league in time on ice per game so far this season with both averaging around 26:30 per game.  Both players play key parts on the Predators even strength, and special teams. 

With the addition of Gill the Predators have added a player who can step in and play key moments in all aspects of the game.  Gill is also a player that Nashville can count on to play a shutdown roll at times against teams top lines.  In the span of the regular season and postseason the wear and tear of the game on players can be great, especially when playing as much as Weber and Suter are.  So Predators fans, even though defense was not exactly the biggest hole in a strong Predators team, welcome Hal Gill as a player with lots of playoff experience who knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup, as well as a player who will only bolster an already strong Nashville blue line.  Do not lose faith in David Poile’s ability to build a team that can contend come playoff time, as the Gill trade will most likely not be the only move Nashville makes before February 27.  The Predators are still on the prowl for a veteran forward who can add some offensive firepower to a lackluster offensive attack.   

- Isaac Berky

With Trade Deadline Looming, should the Rangers Make A Big Splash?

With the trade deadline looming, the topic on everyone’s mind is what will the 1st place New York Rangers do? There has been massive speculation that the Rangers are the front runners to land Rick Nash, from the Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Rangers play this Sunday. With the constant rumors flying, Ranger fans are having debates left and right all over Twitter and Facebook. There are many people who feel that the Rangers will benefit from adding another scorer, the likes of Nash who has been a perennial 30 goal scorer and at age 27 he is still in the prime of his career. This season Nash has 18 G and 21 A in 33 games. The problem with acquiring a player of Nash’s stature is what it will cost your franchise. Some of the names flying around as compensation for Nash are Brandon Dubinsky, Michael DelZotto, prospects Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Tim Erixon. Is Nash worth tearing apart the current roster and the future of your organization? Not to mention that Nash’s contract is a very substantial one, in which he is owed 7.8 million dollars a year for the next 4 seasons. That being said the Rangers have players the likes of Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and Vezina and MVP Candidate Henrik Lundqvist that will be free agents after next season, and they will need to have the Cap Space to retain those players. With the current CBA set to expire this September, the uncertainty of the new agreement could also have an effect on the future Cap. For proof of that look at the previous lock outs by the NFL and NBA.

With that being said yes, it would be nice to add a player the caliber of Rick Nash, but it is not worth tearing apart the current roster and the future of your franchise. I know right away fans are going to say, “Well the Rangers made moves in 94 that led to their Stanley Cup Championship”, and believe me I understand that. That was then this is now, that team as great as it was, made those deals and left their franchise barren. The deals the Rangers made in 1994 set them back at least 10 more years, because if you remember, it was all downhill after that. Neil Smith who was heralded a genius for his moves lost his job shortly after, and the Rangers have not won a Stanley Cup since then.  The players they acquired at that time were Veteran players, who were will to put their own statistics aside for the good of the team. They made their big run, won the Stanley Cup and that was it 1 Cup.

Now to the current Ranger team, this team if you have been watching has been developing since the arrival of John Tortorella. It took some time, but now every player on this roster and even the players in Hartford believe in this system. This is a team, that if you watched HBO’s 24/7, you saw that they genuinely care about each other and play for each other. It all starts with the Captain Ryan Callahan, the way he plays the game all around, his grit, and determination and all out style is what personifies this team. Every player from stars like Gaborik and Richards to rookies like Carl Hagelin and Stu Bickel play the same way. Blocking shots, playing disciplined and physical hockey. Everyone has bought in to the system, and it has been successful, as you can see by the Rangers Eastern Conference leading 79 points and top seed. If there is a move that needs to be made, it should not be a move that will disrupt the team chemistry, or the future of this franchise. It should be a small move that would improve an area such as the Power Play, and it should not be at any expense. It’s going to be an interesting few days Ranger fans, hold on tight!!!

By Joe Clewell

NHL Trade Deadline Update - The Flames have the most to gain in Western Canada

With the Vancouver Canucks 15 points ahead of 9th place Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers 15 points behind 8th place L.A. Kings, the role of buyer and seller has been determined for the 3 Canadian teams. The Oilers plan to continue the youth movement and the Canucks are gearing up for another run at Lord Stanley's mug. That just leaves the Flames.

Calgary is in a dog fight for the playoffs as 9 points separate 6th to 13th. The Phoenix Coyotes are tied with the Kings for 8th with 65 points each and just 2 points behind sit the Flames. Calgary has no cap space and adding a piece to get over the hump will not be easy. The Flames desperately need a second line center and players that could be offered up in a trade would be Lee Stempniak, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Blake Comeau who is under performing at a $2.5 million cap hit. Moving Matt Stajan may be a pipe dream as he has a no trade clause, however getting someone to take on his $3.5 million salary may be harder than getting him to waive the no trade.

The Vancouver Canucks have been coasting through the regular season as they sit 2nd in the west 4 points behind Detroit. There is no cap space, so to add a player without shedding some salary will be impossible. The Canucks are mentioned to be involved in the Rick Nash trade rumors but the price maybe too high as Cory Schneider and Cody Hodgson plus more are said to be the asking price. Vancouver is already deep and with Sami Salo and Aaron Rome the only UFA's this summer, don't expect much movement. Shipping Keith Ballard and his $4.2 million contract out of town would be an amazing feat by GM Mike Gillis.

Perhaps the most exciting team in the NHL is also one of the youngest, the Edmonton Oilers are clearly out of the playoff race and the youth movement has been on for a few years. With a young group of exciting forwards already in place, look for the Oilers to target prospects for their blue line. Ales Hemsky is the best asset the Oilers have that they would be willing to part with, as his contract expires at the end of this year. Ryan Smyth's contract is up as well but he has made it clear he wants to be in Edmonton. Expect him to resign at a discounted price. Unloading Shawn Horcoff and his huge salary would be a blessing, however Horcoff has a no movement clause through next season. It looks like Oilers fans will have to put up with him for another season.

- Mike Lord

February 17, 2012

2012 NHL Trade Deadline - Canadian Teams Front and Center

With the NHL Trade Deadline just around the corner all 4 Canadian teams in the Eastern Conference have not given up hope on reaching the playoffs this spring. The Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs are the only 2 currently holding a playoff spot.

The Montreal Canadians are in a tie for 11th in the East, however they are 8 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last playoff spot. Pierre Gauthier has already started to move some assets as Hal Gill was traded to the Nashville Predators today. In return the Habs received a 2nd round draft pick and 2 prospects, including a player with close ties to a couple of Montreal Legends. Blake Geoffrion is the son of former Hab Danny and Grandson of Bernie 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion and Great Grandson to the legendary Howie Morenz. Montreal has a decent group of young players led by Carey Price and PK Subban as well as a few reliable veterans under contract for the next few years. Rene Bourque and Thomas Plekanec have 4 years left on their current contracts, Eric Cole has 3 and the injured captain Brian Gionta has 2 seasons left on his deal.

Four veteran players that could be moved to a contending playoff team are forwards Travis Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn as well as defenceman Tomas Kaberle and Chris Campoli. All but Kaberle are unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. It would be a miracle if Pierre Gauthier can find anyone to take Scott Gomez and his enormous salary so look for the previously mention players to be moved for picks and prospects.

The Winnipeg Jets are 4 points behind the Leafs with only the Washington Capitals between the two teams in the standings. The Jets have 7 players that will reach UFA status this summer, 3 of them could be valuable assets in a trade. Chris Mason is a reliable back up goaltender and teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks may have some interest. Randy Jones and Johnny Oduya could be moved to someone needing depth on the blue line. The biggest need for the Jets is a top 6 forward and there is a ton of cap space available to make that happen.

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the coveted 8 seed. They are 3 points ahead of the Capitals but the Caps have 2 more games remaining than the Leafs. The Maple Leafs are mentioned as contenders in the Rick Nash sweepstakes, however a goal scoring winger is not needed in Toronto as they have Phil Kessel. Nash's teammate, Jeff Carter makes more sense as the biggest need is a first line center. Some of the players that could be offered up in such a trade are 2 UFA's in Jonas Gustavsson and Mikhail Grabovski. Luke Schenn and Clarke MacArthur could also be moved.

Four points ahead of Toronto sit the Ottawa Senators in 7th place. The Senators have more games (60) played than any other team in the conference and are probably the biggest surprise this season. Filip Kuba is about the only player on the Sens roster that could be trade bait. The pending unrestricted free agent is expendable with the emergence of Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen on the back end. Brian Murray should maintain the status quo and continue with the youth movement. 

- Mike Lord

Could the UK host a Winter Classic?

Today saw the KHL host its Russika Klassika, its version of the NHL’s winter classic. The game played in Kraysnoyarks comes just over a week since it was made official that the 2013 NHL winter classic will take place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbour where the largest ever attendance is expected at The Big House for the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Outdoor hockey has become increasing popular with the NHL going to host it’s sixth edition and outdoor games have been played in the AHL, KHL, NCAA and ElitSerien creating massive exposure not only in ice hockey but in general sports as well. So perhaps now is the time for the Elite League to follow suit and host its own version.

There are some hurdles to get over but they are less than you might think. From a technical point of view an ice rink would be easy to construct at any location with temporary ice rinks now a common sight across the UK at Christmas in town centers.

A location is harder to pin down. There are many stadiums that are versatile enough to host such an event but soccer teams use these over the winter. However there is Murrayfield in Edinburgh, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and of course Wembley, although these grounds are probably a little bit big for an ice hockey game in this country.

But a ground could be picked depending on the teams being involved and in order to have a big interest and big attendance it could realistically only be the Sheffield Steelers and the Nottingham Panthers. Mainly because they both have fans that travel in numbers and the rivalry between has become electric. As for a location in Nottingham or Sheffield it is hard to see beyond Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield.

Don Valley is across the road from Ice Sheffield who could supply the rink, it is close to where the Sheffield Steelers already play and most importantly it will be available for sometime before the event with Rotherham United soccer team due to move out at the end of the current soccer season. This venue could lead to a longer event with a roses game between the Sheffield Steeldogs and the Manchester Phoenix preceding the main event.

The downside could be the Sheffield weather though. Whilst the temperature on say Boxing Day would be cold enough it might also be raining rather than snowing and this is the problem. The rain would provide a dangerous playing surface and could prove to make the game a wash out which would be terrible for the publicity.

The major snag however is the cost. Not only in hosting such an event but also in the profit the Steelers could lose out on by not having a full arena. It would be hoped that the later would be offset by the increased publicity leading to more fans but whom and how the hosting costs would be accounted for is a different matter.

Of course ticket prices would account for some of the price and hopefully sponsorship and advertising would also cover the costs but both rely on high amounts and maybe even a television deal as well.

There is no doubt that outdoor games have caught the imagination of hockey fans around the world. In many countries they have managed to recreate the atmosphere of cup final. It is true that in the UK as well there is a buzz around the NHL’s Winter Classic and as the UK has the capacity to host an outdoor game shouldn’t it be attempted.

Neil Tucker