Well, well, well – looks like the NHL’s craftiest, most unpredictable GM is at it again.
More on that in the first of the great questions from this week’s mailbag. But first, another reminder: given the volume of submissions, we can’t get to all of them. But they’re all appreciated nonetheless.
Adam, what do you think was the most surprising trade this past week? How long do you think it will take for Toronto to become a playoff contender? Should Henrik Sedin be considered for the MVP this season? Where do you think Ken Hitchcock went wrong?
Dan Cearns, Janetville, Ont.
For me, Thursday’s Ilya-Kovalchuk-to-the-Devils deal out-surprises the Dion-Phaneuf-to-Toronto blockbuster by the slightest of margins. True, Phaneuf and the Leafs never had been mentioned in the same breath, while at least a few people considered the possibility Devils GM Lou Lamoriello would want to make a splash.
However, the notion of a superb offensive force such as Kovalchuk squeezing his skills into New Jersey’s conservative attack is as shocking as it gets. (And yes, I know Alex Mogilny was a similar type of player, but he played for the Devils in the prime of the obstruction era.)
Given Lamoriello’s propensity for bold moves – e.g. firing his coach with a week to go in the regular season and the Devils in first place – I wouldn’t be surprised anymore if he announced Mike Danton and Robbie Ftorek would team up to replace Jacques Lemaire behind the bench.
For such a dignified, grandfatherly looking guy, Lamoriello has got the gonads of a rope-free mountain climber – and though I riff on him regularly, I respect the heck out of him for that.
Now, onto the Leafs: With the playoffs all but a pipe dream, I think they’ll have little pressure in their remaining regular season games and show some improvement, while ultimately falling short of the post-season.
But if GM Brian Burke continues picking up pieces before the trade deadline and into the summer, I think they could contend for a playoff spot next season. However, don’t mistake that for me implying they’ll be a bona fide Stanley Cup contender in that time frame. They’re still two or three seasons away from taking on that label.
Next: Henrik Sedin absolutely deserves to receive Hart Trophy votes. But at this stage in the year, my vote still goes to Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
Finally: Hitchcock “went wrong” mostly because Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason began playing like the second coming of Blaine Lacher. I guarantee you that if he had Miller between Columbus’ pipes, Hitchcock would be on the verge of signing a contract extension.
Adam, in the past few years the Edmonton Oilers ownership has made strong plays for big-name players (i.e. Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa) and they almost always reject their offers. Why is Edmonton such an undesirable city to play in?
Paul Hamilton, White Fox, Sask.
Firstly, the winters in Edmonton aren’t what you’d call enticing. There’s also the fact that, compared to other NHL towns, Edmonton is smaller and thus harder for players to maintain any kind of privacy while residing in.
Those things won’t change – and top-level NHLers almost always will attempt to steer themselves to a hot-or-mild-weather, bigger city whenever they get the freedom to decide their own fate.
But the biggest issue the Oilers face right now is the organization’s recent track record in the wins and losses column. Every NHL city is more attractive to players when that city hosts a well-managed, successful franchise. When the victories just aren’t there, virtually no amount of money will lure the elite.
In other words, once owner Daryl Katz and team management are able to effect a distinct change in their success-to-failure ratio, free agents will become more willing to take on Edmonton’s weather and fishbowl hockey culture.
Adam, since the season is past its halfway point, I was just curious as to what teams you think will and will not make the playoffs. And who do you see making it to the final? Thanks,
Dan Bourque, Newmarket, Ont.
There’s no potentially publicly humbling wagering involved here, right? Just wanted to make myself feel a bit more comfortable before I crawl out on that limb.
Most people would concede the Oilers, Leafs, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets (there, I said it) are done like dinner – and the Blues, Wild and Islanders are a two-week skid away from joining them.
I still think the Bruins and Red Wings will make it to the post-season – even though they’re both out of the top-eight positions in their respective conferences as I write this – and that the Thrashers, Rangers and Panthers will still be on the outside of the playoff mix come mid-April.
As for the Cup final, it’s hard to look at the NHL’s big three teams (Washington, San Jose and Chicago) right now and imagine at least one of them not being there. But the playoffs always feature a surprise team, so I’ll say it’ll be Washington and Vancouver as the last two teams standing. However, I reserve the right to change my mind as soon as you get to the end of this sentence.
Adam, I'm a journalism student at the University of Kentucky and I am doing a project on how the media has changed hockey. The project isn't due until the end of the semester, but I've already started researching.
A major media-initiated change that I've found is white ice, which came to be a stalwart in the NHL largely because TV viewers couldn't see the puck on the dark ice. I'm also a firm believer that the media had a lot to do with the crackdown on obstruction, shortened games, and, of course, the shootout.
Do you think criticism from the media has changed the on-ice product? Had ratings remained strong and ESPN kept the NHL, would there be a crackdown or the shootout?
Patrick Sullivan, Prospect, Ky.
Cool project you’ve got there; good luck with it and with your writing career.
I do think media criticism has helped alter the NHL game, although I don’t believe we were anywhere close to being the driving force behind it. Many progressive thinkers in the league understood how awful the product had become – in large part due to the stubborn, see-no-evil Pollyannas who still trot out that philosophy even today – and schmucks like me really were echoing those sentiments.
It’s a journalist’s job to be the canary in the coalmine and I think many of us did decent work in that regard. But ultimately, the game’s gatekeepers had to be the ones willing to change and the lockout, disgusting and pointless as it turned out to be, gave everybody involved with the NHL a chance to take a sober look at what they were producing, as well as the time to test out innovations.
That time wouldn’t have been there without the lockout’s extended hiatus. So yes, we in the writing field did contribute, but it took many bigger contributions, as well as fate, to pull hockey forward. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a similarly troubling confluence of events to keep the game growing.
Ask Adam appears Fridays on TheHockeyNews.com. Proteau also answers readers' questions in every issue of The Hockey News magazine and on The Hockey News Radio Show on XM Radio channel 204. To send us your question or comment, click HERE.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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