Saturday, November 17, 2007

When is less more?

In case you weren't aware, scoring is down in the NHL for a second straight season.

Both the blogosphere and MSM outlets alike are abuzz with apocalyptic predictions in response to a recent press release from the league citing a decline in goal-scoring. Suggestions to rectify this ostensibly grave threat to hockey as we know it have ranged from a reversion to wooden sticks to the advent of larger nets to a seeding system rewarding offensive teams.

But precious few have espoused the idea that lower-scoring games aren't necessarily a bad thing. Sure, nobody wants to see a league littered with impersonations of the New Jersey Devils circa 1995 but, at the same time, a grind-it-out chess match can sometimes be as thrilling, if not more so, than a 6-5 shootout.

Of course, this viewpoint is largely based on rudimentary analysis combined with my own conjecture -- there is no statistical way to gauge the decidedly subjective "excitement level" of a particular hockey game. But take, for example, Game 2 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals between Ottawa and Anaheim. Easily one of the more exciting games I've seen, yet the contest's final score was 1-0. This once again brings us back to the argument that scoring chances and the overall flow to a particular game are more integral facets of a game's excitement than the amount of pucks that cross the goal line.

So while Gary Bettman may be convinced that the only way for the league to make an impact in the American television market is to increase scoring, a sentiment apparently shared by many in the hockey world in light of the myriad complaints and suggestions stemming from the aforementioned press release, it's really the level of fluidity present in the product that establishes a hockey game as exciting. For the most part, and once again this is just my observation, games continue to maintain some semblance of flow.

However, I'm far from optimistic as the growing predominance of zone defense in the league is, as Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff put it, "killing the game." Many individuals in the hockey media are beginning to describe the play this season as similar to the pre-lockout days, and that's at least somewhat true. But aggregate goals scored is not that accurate of a measuring stick to determine the decline in excitement of the game, as evident in the fact that lower-scoring contests can sometimes be as enthralling as their scoreboard-friendly counterparts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Brett Hull to replace Armstrong as Stars GM

Brett Hull, scorer of the biggest (and most controversial) goal in Dallas Stars history, along with some dude named Les Jackson, were named Interim Co-General Managers of the Stars earlier today in the wake of Doug Armstrong's dismissal as Dallas GM. Yeah, a 7-7-2 start is nothing to write home about, but I don't think anyone expected this year's Stars to be any more than a bubble team. This roster certainly doesn't hold a candle to the Dallas teams of yore, which consisted of guys like Hull, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jason Arnott and Bill Guerin.

Obviously, Armstrong and his scouting staff haven't exactly been magicians at the draft table. Since 2002 when Armstrong ascended the helm, Dallas' first-round selections have been Martin Vagner, Mark Fistric, Matt Niskanen and Ivan Vishnevskiy, a groupfrom which only Niskanen has played in the NHL. And it's true that much of the Stars' success during Armstrong's tenure can be attributed to former GM Bob Gainey. But it's still fairly puzzling that a GM who has overseen two division titles during his tenure is fired with the season underway. Yes, the team hasn't won a playoff series in over four years, but if that's the purpose of this firing, you'd think the Stars would have pulled the plug following Dallas' first-round defeat at the hands of the Canucks last April. And, yes, Armstrong was dormant during the off-season, but Stars president stated in a Summer press release that the decision not to make any big-ticket signings was intentional, so that can't be the reason.

Regardless, the Brett Hull era begins tomorrow night in Dallas and the Sharks will be there attempting to build on the momentum generated from their 5-0 drubbing of the Coyotes at home Monday night.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Four Sharks on All-Star Ballot

The NHL today released a list of players on the 2007-08 NHL All-Star Fan Ballot, a process which will commence November 13th and allow fans to electronically select starting lineups for both the Eastern and Western Conference All-Star squads from both the 104-man released ballot and a pool of write-in candidates.

The Sharks were well-represented on the Ballot, with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo and Evgeni Nabokov all eligible to be selected for the All-Star Game starting lineup, a season after Thornton, Marleau and Cheechoo played in the game, with Thornton and Cheechoo being voted onto the starting lineup.

As things stand now, I would pick Rick Nash, Henrik Zetterberg, Jarome Iginla, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Zubov and Pascal Leclaire in the West, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Daniel Alfredsson, Andrei Markov, Brian Campbell and Henrik Lundqvist out East.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sharks 3, Kings 1

Maddeningly inconsistent as of late, the Sharks were finally able to pull together a 60-minute effort, defeating the Los Angeles Kings in the second game of a home-and-home against LA, after dropping game one 5-2 at home. The Sharks are once again establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the road. Their six wins away from San Jose are tied with the Red Wings for the league lead. However, their pattern of turning in lackluster efforts at the Tank seems to have carried on from last season as well, as their lone home win is matched in futility only by the Thrashers, Canucks and Coyotes.

Still, the Sharks have reclaimed the Pacific Division lead after briefly relinquishing it to the Kings following Friday night's loss. However, with a measly three points separating the Sharks from the fifth-place Coyotes, the month of November, in which San Jose will play 11 games against divisional opponents, may be the defining portion of the season for the entire Pacific.

As for Saturday night's win, a strong shift late in the third period by the struggling Jonathan Cheechoo, in which the Sharks forward blocked an Alexander Frolov shot, then advanced the puck up ice before one-timing a pass from Joe Thornton capped a solid 3-1 victory over San Jose's rivals to the south. Jeremy Roenick was also able to stick one to his former team, netting his 499th career goal in the second period, which proved to be the game-winner. Speaking of players exacting revenge on their ex-teams, former Shark Brad Stuart scored the lone Los Angeles goal, which tied the game in the first after Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 1-0 lead with his power-play goal.

Friday, November 2, 2007

It's official: Sharks sign Ozolinsh

We all knew it was coming. Ever since Doug Wilson signed defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh (whose play can most flatteringly be described as "high-event") to a tryout contract in the preseason, it was apparent that the former Shark would inevitably make a return in teal.

It appears the inevitable has become reality, as the San Jose Sharks are reporting that Ozolinsh has signed a one-year contract with the team. Terms were not disclosed, but it's doubtful the salary is anywhere above league-minimum. This move, much like the Roenick signing, would be completely out of left field if not for the fact that we've known about the tryout contract for a while now. Douglas Murray and Rob Davison have been doing a fine job tying up the sixth defensive spot and in terms of offense from defense, the Sharks lead the league in that category a week ago.

While Matt Carle is enduring somewhat of a slump offensively, at least compared to his magnificent start last season, there really is no need (or room, for that matter) for Ozolinsh on this roster, but according to David Pollak, Ron Wilson is on record saying that the Latvian blueliner will start tonight against the Kings.