Saturday, April 11, 2009

It wasn't pretty, but...

Can't wait until Wednesday. We should have previews of all Western Conference playoff series soon after matchups are set tomorrow evening. If the St. Louis Blues defeat the Colorado Avalanche tomorrow, the Sharks will face the Ducks. A Blues loss, even in overtime, would mean a St. Louis/San Jose first-round matchup. Get stoked.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bleed Teal's 2010 USA Olympic Team Picks

Everyone and their grandmother it seems has an opinion on what the 2010 USA Olympic Men's Team should look like, and now it's Bleed Teal's turn to provide ours. With much of the American old guard that won the '96 World Cup and medaled at Salt Lake in '02 closing in on retirement, the likes of Keith Tkachuk, Mike Modano, Bill Guerin and Chris Chelios give way to Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, Dustin Brown and Ryan Suter on what looks to be a surprisingly solid squad for the Americans as the countdown begins to the 2010 Vancouver Games.

LW Zach Parise - C Paul Stastny - RW Jamie Langenbrunner
The quintessential scoring line: a through-the-roof collective hockey IQ, a decent amount of grit and a truckload of skill. The two speedy Devils wingers flanking the Avs' star center seems to be the consensus top line for USA, and with good reason.

LW Dustin Brown - C Phil Kessel - RW Patrick Kane
While Kessel has largely been slotted on the wing during his tenure with the Bruins, he's a natural centerman and would likely thrive as the pivot on this highly-skilled unit. Kane brings the superior vision and passing ability, Kessel lends his sniping prowess and Brown completes the trio with his unique power forward combination of imposing physicality and impressive scoring ability.

LW David Booth - C Joe Pavelski - RW Jason Pominville
Although Ryan Kesler has been the popular pick for third-line USA center, I'll defer to Mike Chen here and gladly hop on the Joe Pavelski bandwagon. The Sharks center has had a fantastic second-half to the season and brings almost unparalleled hockey sense, a great wrist shot and strong two-way play to the table. Booth and Pominville are both speedsters as well as streaky scorers who can contribute on the penalty kill.

LW Ryan Kesler - C Scott Gomez - C Chris Drury
Calling this unit a "spare parts" line is probably a bit unfair, especially since they're all pretty damn good spare parts. But with the underwhelming seasons Gomez and Drury are having in the Big Apple, their inclusions on the team, which would have been marquee just one season ago, feel like afterthoughts. Still, with Kesler providing defensive conscience, this has the potential to be one of the most dangerous fourth lines in the tournament.

LD Ryan Suter - RD Brian Rafalski
Rafalski is in all likelihood the top American defenseman, while Suter is decidedly the poster boy for the next generation of Team USA blueliners, making for a very solid top pairing.

LD Paul Martin - RD Keith Ballard
You won't get too much offense out of this pairing, but the speed of both blueliners ensures for a versatile unit that will likely be given the assignment of shutting down opposing top lines.

LD Matt Carle - RD Brooks Orpik
Carle is having an impressive season with the Flyers and deserves to be on the team if for no other reason than that USA is in desperate need of a puck-moving blueliner outside of Rafalski. Orpik perfectly complements Carle's offensive punch by bringing his trademark take-no-prisoners physical game to the table.

G Tim Thomas
Arguably the top Vezina Trophy candidate at the moment, Thomas has backstopped an unlikely Bruins team to the NHL's top record and deserves to be Team USA's No. 1 guy.

G Ryan Miller
Of course, Miller will undoubtedly have a say in the matter of deciding the team's starting goalie, as the Sabres netminder is enjoying an excellent comeback year after having been rewarded with a lucrative five-year deal in the offseason.

G Rick DiPietro
Third goalies are usually irrelevant anyway, but a healthy DiPietro remains one of the top goalies in the game.

Team USA is a lot deeper than most pundits would like to think and, although medaling seems to be a difficult proposition with the likes of Russia, Canada and Sweden bringing what look to be top-flight teams to Vancouver, the Americans have the talent and the work ethic to pull of a Lake Placid-caliber upset.

Friday, February 20, 2009

We're not dead. Yet.

So I disappeared for a longer amount of time than Joe Thornton does in the playoffs, likely losing the few sorry individuals who comprise my "reader base" (if you can call it that) in the process. But with a new layout and a grotesque banner hastily constructed in MS Paint, Bleed Teal is back! Of course, since our last post was in November regarding Claude Lemieux's stint in China and the post preceding that one recaps the season opener, we've got some catching up to do. So here's the SparkNotes version of the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks season thus far:

--Sharks post 9-2 October record playing a decidedly Todd McLellan-influenced brand of fast-skating, offensive hockey. Sharks fans breathe collective sigh of relief after a tumultuous offseason that involved the firing of Coach Ron Wilson and the turnover of half the blueline.

--Speaking of that blueline, Dan Boyle and Rob Blake enjoy phenomenal starts to their respective San Jose careers, with Boyle in particular proving to be the key component of McLellan's speed-based transition-reliant system.

--Patrick Marleau proves last season was an aberration with a terrific start to the campaign, and sustains his pace while serving as left wing on one of the hottest lines in the league with Joe Thornton and breakout sophomore Devin Setoguchi.

--Christmas comes early for Sharks naysayers (a.k.a. the Canadian media) as San Jose suffers a 6-0 drubbing in Detroit Dec. 18. A previous 4-2 win over the Wings provides little consolation and the Sharks gradually begin to (gasp) lose games.

--Sharks finally lose at home in regulation, ending a ridiculous streak spanning 11 months without a loss in 60 minutes at the Tank.

--Two days after said regulation loss, Sharks come out to play against the Wings, winning 6-5 in one of the most exciting games ever played on HP Pavilion ice. Hockey world collectively shits itself at prospect of Sharks-Wings Western Conference Finals series.

--Sharks endure first rough stretch of season, suffering 6 losses in 7 games, albeit 5 in overtime and the shootout. Despite struggles, secondary unit of Milan Michalek, Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe establishes itself as one of the best second lines in the league.

And that's about where we stand today. The Sharks are three points up on Detroit for first place in the West, and the long wait for the playoffs to begin continues, a wait made significantly more bearable now that Bleed Teal is back in action. Or something like that. Anyway, this certainly won't be another one-and-done copout as we've got (Note to self: stop using "we" -- you're the only one writing this) a decidedly premature projection of Team USA's 2010 Olympic team coming up tomorrow. (Gee, it's not like anyone's done that recently, right?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sharks sign Lemieux out of retirement

Well, it's been a whole month since this space was updated, but Bleed Teal makes something of a triumphant return today with groundbreaking news: The Sharks have signed the heretofore retired Lemieux to a contract. Um, that would be Claude Lemieux. Er, and make that the China Sharks, San Jose's Asian affiliate, with the signing. But hey, even still, it's a tad more interesting than the NHL Sharks' current on-ice product. The team's domination resembles a well-oiled machine to the extent that one can be forgiven for mistaking players for robots. With the power play, a weak point earlier in the season, unleashed over the course of San Jose's contests with Calgary and Chicago last week, the Sharks look unstoppable. And, believe me, I'm knocking vigorously on wood as I type that as I'm sure we all remember a team that achieved similar early-season success last season only to stumble in legendary fashion.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Bright Beginning
Sharks 4, Ducks 1

Despite some comforting constants -- an in-arena electrical malfunction, decrepit ice conditions -- Thursday's home opener was evidence enough that the San Jose Sharks are an entirely different team under Todd McLellan compared to the club's previous incarnation during the Ron Wilson regime. Implementing an aggressive shot-blocking defensive strategy instead of encouraging players to make like flamingos on the penalty kill, having the power play take more shots than Sarah Palin on a caribou-hunting expedition rather than hoping for a miracle pass from a stagnant Joe Thornton dwelling on the right-wing half wall, imploring the team to respond to a late Anaheim goal with a tally of their own as opposed to sitting on their hands watching the clock run out -- it's crystal clear from just a 60-minute sample of McLellan hockey that the former Detroit assistant has already left an indelible mark on this hockey club. This isn't necessarily to criticize Wilson (who's currently being treated as the Messiah in Toronto after leading the Leafs to a 3-2 opening night victory over the Wings), but no one can deny change needed to occur and, so far, that change looks to be for the better. Some quick observations from Thursday's contest:

--The groin "strain" that kept Joe Thornton out of the third period of the Sharks' 3-2 loss during an exhibition game in Vancouver on Oct. 2 as well as the exhibition finale against the Kings in Salt Lake City Oct. 5 appeared to still be nagging the Sharks center in the opener. Despite racking up an assist on Cheechoo's second goal, Big Joe was not his usual dominant presence, leaving Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi to pick up much of the slack for the top line (although they did so admirably).

--Speaking of Setoguchi, his allegedly extensive off-season workout regime seems to have exponentially improved his game. Criticized during his draft year for the lack of an NHL-caliber first step, Gooch appears to have exorcised any lingering skating demons, demonstrated during several junctures of the game, including a 2nd-period breakaway from the red line in and an impressive 1st-period streak down the right wing.

--The expectation was that Rob Blake would find a happy medium this season between his past two forgettable campaigns in Los Angeles and the elite resume he compiled during his days with Colorado, but if Thursday night's performance was any indication, the second Norris Trophy winner to ever don a teal sweater should enjoy a year much more in line with the latter. Seven shots by a Sharks defenseman is unheard of and while it's very much a product of the aforementioned McLellan Doctrine, it takes considerable skill to get those shots through and that skill was on full display by No. 4 against the Ducks and he was rewarded with two assists.

--The Sharks' other prize off-season blueline acquisition Dan Boyle was expectedly still getting his feet under him after an injury-plagued season last year in Tampa. Boyle enjoyed a similar debut to that of Brian Campbell when he came over from Buffalo last season -- picking up an assist, showing good offensive awareness, but not really doing anything that elicited a "wow." It did seem as though Boyle paid somehting of a sarcastic homage to Soupy when he attempted a spin-o-rama in the neutral zone early in the game. It failed miserably, but I'll give him full marks for effort.

With Dallas, Detroit and Anaheim all falling in their season openers, the Sharks have a chance to jump ahead to a stranglehold on the Western Conference lead with a relatively light schedule for the next week featuring back-to-back games against Los Angeles, the first of which takes place tonight at the Tank, and a tilt with the Blue Jackets Tuesday night. Despite the apparent easiness of these games, I agree with McLellan that they present a formidable test of whether or not the team will be complacent to rest on their laurels or the club's leadership will take charge and convince the players to put the same effort into the upcoming three contests as they did for Thursday's opener against the Ducks. So far, so good for the Sharks in the Todd McLellan era.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

2008-09 NHL Season
Fearless Predictions

For starters, I predict that will happen again.

Yes, I'm well aware the season has already started, but anyone who had the misfortune to waste a pair of perfectly good weekend mornings watching the European premiere could tell you those contests felt more like exhibition games anyway. And, besides, if the MSM is allowed to wait until the North American inception of the campaign to unveil their predictions, I should be allowed to as well. So, without further ado, I unleash upon thee, my extensive reader base, predictions for the 2008-09 NHL Season:

Western Conference

1. Detroit -- Enough print has been spent discussing the allegedly indomitable Red Wings, so it's probably best to wait until the season begins to see whether the Cup champs can defend their title. My guess is they'll capture the President's Trophy once again in a division that, despite Chicago's resurgence, remains weak, but a second consecutive chalice is not in their future. Breakout player: Johan Franzen.

2. San Jose -- Once again, it will be a question of whether the Sharks can get over the postseason hump, as their blueline additions to an already formidable lineup should make the regular season relatively easy. Breakout player: Joe Pavelski.

3. Edmonton -- The re-tooled Oilers, relying heavily on an uber-talented crop of young stars including Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert, should be an offensive powerhouse with decent enough goaltending to distinguish themselves from the pack in a surprisingly mediocre Northwest. Breakout player: Sam Gagner.

4. Dallas -- Zubov's injury stings, but with arguably the deepest defense corps in the West, the Stars should be able to absorb the blow and remain in contention for the division title all season long. Breakout player: Stephane Robidas.

5. Anaheim -- Take the Ducks' '07 championship squad, replace Andy McDonald with Brendan Morrison and Dustin Penner with Brian Sutherby, and you've got this year's incarnation of the club. Suffice to say, the rest of the conference should be very afraid. Breakout player: Kent Huskins.

6. Chicago -- While the addition of Campbell will hamstring the team financially a few years down the road when they're attempting to re-sign young stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the move was clearly completed for short-term gains and short-term gains there will be in the Windy City. Still, the gaping hole at second-line center in the wake of the Robert Lang trade should probably be filled by someone other than Dave Bolland. Breakout player: Dustin Byfuglien.

7. Minnesota -- The replacement of Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra with Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan isn't what hurts the club, it's the improvement of several formerly lesser teams that sink the Wild this low in the standings. Still, expect Marian Gaborik to have a monster year in this, his contract season. Breakout player: Mikko Koivu.

8. Phoenix -- While many are dismissing the Desert Dogs this season, their offensive corps is absolutely laden with elite young talent. The likes of Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal and rookies Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov in conjunction with huge offseason acquisition Olli Jokinen and long-time captain Shane Doan should ensure the Coyotes are never hard-pressed to score goals this year. While their defense remains suspect, Ilja Bryzgalov should again be a star in net. Breakout player: Zbynek Michalek.

9. Calgary -- It's the ultimate paradox. Despite boasting potential Hart Trophy candidates at every position in Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames' appalling lack of depth -- a problem that won't be solved with the addition of Todd Bertuzzi and Mark Giordano -- and Coach Mike Keenan's apparent alienation of the aforementioned Kiprusoff will likely keep the Flames out of the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Breakout player: Matthew Lombardi.

10. Colorado -- When your season rests squarely on the shoulders of a 26-year-old wildly inconsistent Slovak netminder, you know you're in trouble. The defections of Andrew Brunette, surprisingly prolific during his time with the Avs, and Kurt Sauer, quietly among the top defensive defensemen in the league last year, along with Peter Forsberg's retirement, are of no help to the offense or defense of this club either. Breakout player: Wojtek Wolski.

11. Vancouver -- The Canucks are weird. With arguably the best goaltender in the league and one of the deepest bluelines in the West, one would think the 'Nucks would be in contention for the division title, but an abysmal offense which won't be helped greatly by the additions of the out-of-shape Steve Bernier and the over-the-hill Pavol Demitra irreconcilably hamstrings this club. Breakout player: Alex Edler.

12. Columbus -- Acquiring Michael Nylander, reportedly placed on the trading block by over-the-cap Washington sometime last week, would really change my perspective on this team but, alas, clubs just don't make the playoffs with third-line wingers centering their top unit. Breakout player: Kris Russell.

13. St. Louis -- The Blues won't be as bad as everyone expects them to be, but the loss of Erik Johnson to a freak injury certainly spells the end of any playoff hopes. Still, the team will be able to break in all sorts of young talent like Patrick Berglund, TJ Oshie and Lars Eller, which will do wonders for the future of the club. Breakout player: David Perron.

14. Nashville -- The loss of Alex Radulov is obviously a huge hit to the team's already weak offense, but in conjunction with the inexplicable trade of Marek Zidlicky to Minnesota, the club's power play may have been dealt a death blow. The off-ice financial collapse of the team provides plenty distractions as well. Breakout player: Ryan Suter.

15. Los Angeles -- Matt Greene should not be on the top pairing of an NHL team. That tells you just about all you need to know about this year's Los Angeles Kings. Breakout player: Jack Johnson.

Eastern Conference

1. Philadelphia
-- A recent injury to Ryan Parent further debilitates an already thin blueline, but with the obscene amount of scorers in the Flyers' arsenal, it's unlikely the club will have to play much defense to win many games this season and, should worst come to worst, they'll still have Biron to bail them out. Breakout player: Braydon Coburn.

2. Montreal -- Mats Sundin would make them Cup favorites, but even without the Big Swede and despite the defection of prolific power-play pointman Mark Streit, the Habs have what it takes to win in the East: loads of goal-scorers and a good enough goalie to hold the fort. Breakout player(s): The Kostitsyns.

3. Washington -- Even if Michael Nylander is shed to create cap space, the Caps have arguably the most lethal offense in the Eastern Conference on top-end strength alone. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin are only going to be better this year (though one wonders how much better Ovechkin can possibly be) and Jose Theodore is certainly a palatable replacement for the departed Cristobal Huet. What remains to be seen is whether a greener-than-grass defense corps will be this club's Achilles' heel. Breakout player: Eric Fehr.

4. New Jersey -- It's the Devils, Loophole Lou is still in charge and Martin Brodeur is still tending goal. Move along, nothing to see here. Breakout player: Paul Martin.

5. Pittsburgh -- Injuries to Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney have the potential to be devastating blows to a team already missing two-thirds of its top line from a season ago. It's blasphemous to believe a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can outright miss the playoffs, but stumble they will. Breakout player: Kris Letang.

6. Boston -- With one of the more potent one-two punches at center in the NHL, a solid defense featuring behemoth Zdeno Chara and a respectable goaltending platoon of Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, it's puzzling as to why many mainstream outlets have pegged the Bruins to finish out of the playoffs. Breakout player: Milan Lucic.

7. NY Rangers -- With the kind of roster overhaul the Rangers went through during the offseason, the team will undergo some bumps and bruises, but the Blueshirts still have the makings of a playoff team, particularly if Nikolai Zherdev can build on a surprisingly solid campaign. Breakout player: Marc Staal.

8. Tampa Bay -- Steve Stamkos is the real deal, but Jussi Jokinen, Vladmir Mihalik and March Recchi most certainly are not. Even still, in an overwhelmingly mediocre Eastern Conference, the Bolts have enough scoring to break away from the pack, provided Mike Smith has more performances like Saturday against the Rangers. Breakout player: Andrej Meszaros.

9. Buffalo -- The Sabres still have the makings of a postseason-worthy club and the contract extension tendered to Ryan Miller shows the front office has learned from their mistakes, but the Sabres remain frustratingly average in every category and the departure of Brian Campbell at last year's trade deadline leaves them without a viable No. 1 defenseman. Breakout player: Drew Stafford.

10. Ottawa -- After 11 consecutive years in the postseason, the Senators appear to be done. It's hard to doubt a team whose top line is comprised of three of the top-15 forwards in the NHL, but with a defense that immobile and a goaltending situation that decrepit, Jason Spezza's annual golf invitational is likely to be held a bit early this year. Breakout player: Nick Foligno.

11. Carolina -- When "injury-plagued" is the adjective most commonly associated with your team, you know you have problems. The injury bug has already struck the 'Canes this season as star winger Justin Williams appears to be spending the opening months of the season on IR. The addition of Joni Pitkanen is nice, but goaltender Cam Ward has done nothing since the '06 playoffs to prove that postseason run was nothing more than an aberration. Breakout player: Tuomo Ruutu.

12. Florida -- Trading Olli Jokinen was the right move, but it leaves the Panthers with an abysmal offense that will rely heavily upon youngsters Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton. Still, a defensive top four of Jay Bouwmeester, Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe and Nick Boynton is nothing to scoff at, and with Tomas Vokoun's goaltending, the Cats have a better chance than you'd think. Breakout player: David Booth.

13. Atlanta -- With the advent of Mathieu Schneider, the Thrashers may actually have the best defensive top-four in the Southeast Division, but, alas, that statement is comparable to being the tallest pygmy. Kari Lehtonen has proven absolutely nothing to suggest he's capable of carrying a team and with the supporting cast around him, you can forgive Ilya Kovalchuk if he jumps ship once his contract is up. Breakout player: Tobias Enstrom.

14. NY Islanders -- Rick DiPietro is literally the only thing going for this team. An offense of Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and nine journeymen/rookies won't win you a beer league championship and the addition of Mark Streit does nothing to help a defense that bled 2.93 goals per game last season. Breakout player: Kyle Okposo.

15. Toronto -- I'm not one for hyperbole, but one can be excused for wondering whether the Leafs' offensive depth chart belongs to an AHL team. A nosedive for the chance to draft superstar-in-the-making John Tavares is the only course of action for the 'Buds. Breakout player: Anton Stralman.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Find McLaren A Home

It isn't exactly common practice to intentionally and deliberately hold an ostensibly injury-free player out of all training camp scrimmages without having clear-cut plans to trade said player, especially when the team in question is just over the league-mandated salary cap. So one can only deduce that Kyle McLaren has either developed some sort of rare and ironic allergy to ice or the hip-checking Sharks defenseman is on the trading block. Disallowed from participating in any of the team's three scrimmages thus far at Sharks Ice in addition to tonight's Teal and White Game, it has become fairly evident that McLaren will not be donning teal or white come opening day. Er, at least not in conjunction. So as we bid adieu to one of the last links on the current roster to the Dean Lombardi regime, it's only fitting that we handicap Big Mac's likely destinations.

Los Angeles Kings

Speaking of Lombardi, we all know the Sharks GM loves his ex-players. First it was Alyn McCauley, then Scott Thornton, then Brad Stuart, then Tom Preissing and soon enough the Kings' clubhouse served as a virtual garbage bin for Sharks retreads. The Kings also remain under the salary cap floor (albeit with key RFA Patrick O'Sullivan still unsigned), but you wonder whether Deano would be keen to help a division rival escape their cap troubles. At the end of the day, however, Lombardi has to do what's best for the Kings and with a defense corps greener than a rabid environmentalist's utopia (I know, my metaphors are amazing) it stands to reason that the team would like to shore up their blueline with a veteran addition.

Atlanta Thrashers

Although the Thrash have been mentioned as potentially active participants in the Mathieu Schneider Sweepstakes (can a player so unwanted that he clears waivers in late September really engender a "sweepstakes"?), the team already has two palatable power-play quarterbacks in Tobias Enstrom and Ron Hainsey. And it's almost guaranteed Ilya Kovalchuk returns to his customary position on the left point of the team's man-advantage unit. So while Atlanta is in need of defensemen (rushing Zach Bogosian to the NHL at age 18 would have severely detrimental consequences down the road), desirable skill sets among those blueliners would include more hitting and sandpaper than passing and shooting. Kyle McLaren certainly fits the bill, but with knee injuries having slowed him the past few seasons, one wonders if K-Mac could hold up in the high-flying Southeast Division.

St. Louis Blues

Of all the ways to sustain a season-ending injury, "golf cart accident" might just rank up there with skate blade wrist-slitting as among the strangest. Obligatory and unoriginal jokes linking the Blues to frequent golfing aside, the loss of presumed No. 1 defenseman Erik Johnson is huge and likely spells the end of what minimal playoff hopes the franchise harbored for the upcoming season. While the aforementioned Schneider would probably be a better fit as a Johnson replacement due to his special teams skills, the unreliability of Jay McKee's groin suggests that St. Louis could use a minute-munching, physical, penalty-killing veteran d-man in their lineup. Unfortunately, such a player is not on the market, but the Blues can settle for the next best thing in McLaren. And, besides, what team is better acquainted with K-Mac's hip-checking skills?

My point exactly.

Regardless of his last rather forgettable, injury-riddled campaign, McLaren's newfound status as the franchise's first cap casualty is regrettable as K-Mac has represented the team well and been nothing short of a class act since arriving in San Jose from Boston (when he infamously went from being Ray Bourque's partner to...Mike Rathje's partner). Thanks and good luck, K-Mac, we'll miss you.