It’s no secret that I adore James Neal. It hasn’t always been this way, but his first full season with the Pittsburgh Penguins had me doing a complete 180 (as evidenced by this post a few years ago).
So as you can imagine, his omission from the Team Canada roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi did not sit well with me. In fact, I was so incensed by it that I resurrected this old blog to vent my frustrations.
**Side note: you may have noticed that my last post prior to this was eight months ago, and for that I am deeply sorry!
Team Canada made their roster announcement on January 7th, 2014, one of the latest countries to do so. They delayed the announcement as much as they could due to the unsure status of Steven Stamkos’ recovery from a broken leg.
Yet Stamkos was on the 25-man roster, amongst a bevy of other frontrunners like superstar Sidney Crosby and two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Toews.
With such a loaded roster, it’s easy to see how someone like James Neal would have been excluded. That is, if some of the players who were named were actually living up to their hype this season.
Current numbers, stats, performance. Those should be the key factors in the decision to make a player part of a gold medal-seeking Olympic team. Not past glories and a well-known name.
If you haven’t already guessed it, I’m referring to the inclusion of Rick Nash. Hell, I’m not even a Marty St. Louis fan and I’m even mad that Nash made the team over him.
And I’m not alone on this one. Several analysts and hockey insiders were surprised to see Nash’s name on the list over a few others who were assumed to be shoe-ins.
To be fair, I’m not knocking Nash’s skill or his status as a top player in the league. Ever since he entered the NHL, the 6’4 winger has consistently been a 20+ goal scorer. But this season, his numbers have not been up to par and he has not been playing to his full capabilities.
That sour look on Neal’s face is completely justified.
James Neal, compared to Nash, is hardly a household name in the hockey world. It’s easy to be overshadowed when playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (just ask Jordan Staal) but one thing can’t be overlooked, and that is the simple fact that Neal is on fire.
He has been on fire ever since he joined the Penguins roster. He has a brilliant chemistry with Malkin. He can play either left or right wing. And the guy can score goals; it’s what he does best.
Take a look at the numbers for this season and you be the judge. Pretend for a moment that you don’t know that Rick Nash was a first overall pick. Forget the fact that the tournament in Sochi will be the second time he’s represented Canada in the Winter Olympics.
Based solely on stats, it’s clear who deserves a spot on the 2014 roster and who doesn’t.
Games played – 27
Goals – 9
Assists – 9
Points – 18
Plus/minus – -2
Games played – 25
Goals – 16
Assists – 19
Points – 35
Plus/minus – 8
Bottom line? James Neal > Rick Nash
These Olympic rosters are comprised of the best of the best, dream teams of sorts. With each added member, a team should be increasing their chances of capturing gold. So why would you include a player who is not currently playing his best? Why would you snub a player who is playing better than ever?
One factor that may have played a key part in the decision to leave Neal off the Team Canada roster are his questionable choices of late, particularly when he appeared to go out of his way to knee Brad Marchand in the head in a penalty-riddled game against the Boston Bruins in December. And although Neal has been playing a cleaner game since that 5-game suspension, he has been known to be involved in a few post-whistle antics.
I’m certainly not an advocate of unsportsmanlike conduct, but Neal’s lapses in judgement do not take away from the fact that he is a great player, who is playing better than Nash, and could be an integral part of a gold medal winning team.
Now there is still a possibility that Neal may make the team, if Steven Stamkos can’t return from injury soon enough. That gives Neal a little less than a month to continue to impress Steve Yzerman and gang. To be chosen to represent Canada in the Olympic Winter Games is an honour, one that is earned, not given. James Neal certainly has earned it, and regardless of whether or not Stamkos ends up in the lineup, the Real Deal deserves a spot in Sochi.
The NHL Playoffs are just around the corner (less than two weeks, to be exact) and now that the regular season is wrapping up, it’s time to start recognizing the players who have been outstanding throughout the last 48 games.
Yes, the criteria is a little skewed considering the season was cut in half and games were kept within their own conferences. But exceptional performances are still exceptional, regardless of the time frame and who the opponent is.
Here are some of the names mentioned for the awards, and my winning picks.
[Warning: This post may be slightly biased.]
Selke Trophy: Top Defensive Forward
- Patrice Bergeron
- Pavel Datsyuk
- Jonathan Toews
Winner - Jonathan Toews.
Why? Just watch him play a game. 52 takeaways thus far in the season, and always making subtle defensive plays to help secure the Chicago Blackhawks’ bid for the President’s Trophy.
Norris Trophy: Top Defenseman
- Kris Letang
- P.K. Subban
- Ryan Suter
Winner - Kris Letang
Why? During his time on ice, Letang has averaged one point per game. Before injuries plagued him, Letang led the league in points for a defenseman. But despite missing 12 games he still sits in second in the scoring race for defensemen.
Calder Trophy: Top Rookie
- Jonathan Huberdeau
- Brendan Gallagher
- Brandon Saad
Winner - Jonathan Huberdeau
Why? It’s hard to gain recognition when your team is languishing at the bottom of the league standings. But somehow Huberdeau has accomplished it, with 13 goals and 14 assists, and a vivacious attitude on the ice.
Vezina Trophy: Top Goaltender
- Tuuka Rask
- Craig Anderson
- Sergei Bobrovsky
Winner - Sergei Bobrovsky
Why? 17 wins and a .931 save percentage in 33 games played. Bobrovsky is basically the reason that the Columbus Blue Jackets even have a chance of making it past the regular season (a statement that seemed ludicrous 4 months ago).
Hart Trophy: Most Valuable Player
- Sidney Crosby
- John Tavares
- Alexander Ovechkin
Winner - Sidney Crosby
Why? This one shouldn’t even have to be explained, but I’ll do it anyways. Before suffering a broken jaw, Crosby was running away with the lead in the points race. 56 POINTS IN 36 GAMES. And even though he’s been off the ice since March 30, he’s still the league leader in points. Just having his presence on the ice changed the Pittsburgh Penguins’ game, and Crosby led his team to its second-longest winning streak in franchise history (15 games). Some are arguing that Alexander Ovechkin deserves the Hart over Crosby, for his recent hot streak and Crosby’s absence because of injury. But think about it: Are we really going to reward Ovechkin for sucking during the first half of the season, and punish Crosby for missing games due to an unforeseen injury?
I didn’t think so.
So, there are my picks. What are yours, and why?
The Florida Panthers may not have much to smile about of late. They’ve won only 3 games in the month of March, and with just 24 points, are currently the worst team in the league.
It’s a far cry from the underdog team that finished with 94 points last season, and made an appearance in the playoffs.
But as dark as the Panthers’ present is, there is invariably one silver lining that is outshining the team’s woes and lighting the way to a hopeful future. And that silver lining is rookie centerman Jonathan Huberdeau.
From early on in his career, the 19-year old from Saint-Jerome, Quebec, was undoubtedly destined for great things. In the 2010-2011 QMJHL season he tallied 105 points in 67 games played with the Saint John Sea Dogs. He was then selected 3rd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, just after fellow Canadian Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1st) and 2012 Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog (2nd).
This shortened NHL season is Huberdeau’s first in the big show, but he has wasted no time making a case for this year’s Calder honours. Leading all rookies in goals with 12, he is also sitting at 35th in the entire league—-now you can’t say that’s not impressive for a rookie!
The Panthers’ most prolific goal scorer, Huberdeau not only contributes offensively but also defensively.
From 4-point nights to game-winning goals, Huberdeau’s hot start is a highlight reel that has brought excitement to Florida’s game.
While it may not be enough to lift the Panthers to a playoff position this season, it is more than enough to convince Panthers that Huberdeau is the face of the franchise they desperately need, and that they have in their future an elite player with the potential to lead their team to the top.
He’s done it several times in his already-spectacular career, and the No look, backhand pass (that inevitably leads to a goal) is quickly becoming one of his signature moves.
I hate the Tampa Bay Lightning. With a passion. So you can imagine my happiness when they were defeated tonight by my Pittsburgh Penguins.
And of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sidney Crosby picked up 2 points with an assist and a sexy goal, to keep his spot atop the league in scoring.
Meanwhile, in his first game back from a concussion, Evgeni Malkin dangles through a couple of Bolts defensemen for another sexy goal.
To top it all off…James Neal scored his 14th of the season to bring him within 3 goals for the league lead. And Kris Letang, with his 2 assists tonight, now leads all defensemen in scoring.
I guess you could say it was an alright night :)
Tim Jackman on last night’s horrific 4-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes: “Our plan was to throw pucks at the net and we didn’t do it as often as we needed to.”
But he did throw punches at Paul Bissonnette and those punches came pretty often if you ask me…
As much as I wish this wasn’t even a discussion (sometimes I like to live in a fantasy world and pretend that my Calgary Flames aren’t sitting dead last in the Western Conference and second-last in the entire league), some facts just need to be faced.
The Flames may finally have their pick of the best of the best come the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and while all the players in the top 10 would be a fantastic choice, two in particular trump the rest.
Like Taylor [Hall] and Tyler [Seguin] before them, Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks and Nathan Mackinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads, are generating all the buzz.
But when faced with the decision of who would be a more beneficial part of the Flames roster, who would you pick?
Here’s a quick rundown of the two rising stars, to help inform your decision:
-Highly skilled offensive C
-Elite skater, shooter and passer
-Quick hands, can handle the puck in tight areas
Year To Date:
Games played - 39
Goals - 27
Assists - 40
Points - 67
-Can skate defensively and offensively
-Great utilization of size and power
-Good cornerstone defenseman
Year To Date:
Games played - 43
Goals - 9
Assists - 32
Points - 41
So, what does Calgary need more? A solid two-way defenseman or a potential #1 franchise center? A future Sidney Crosby or a player who could be reminiscent of Al MacInnis?