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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Olympics! Trade Deadline! Drama! Excitement!

photo courtesy Flickr user s.yume, displayed under Creative Commons

A few notes possibly of interest on the recently completed Olympics and the quickly upcoming trade deadline:

- What a great finish for the gold medal game on Sunday. Really, you couldn't have scripted it any better if you were a Canadian screenwriter: an overtime winner in a tense game against the US scored by Canada's best hockey player. Amazing. Congrats to team Canada.

- On the other side of it, how great a run by the US was that? Reaching the gold medal game after most people had them out of the medals going in...that's just good stuff. I hate to sound too "everybody's a winner! Yay!" about the whole thing, but really, great job by team USA too.

- Brian Rafalski's been in the NHL, what, ten years now? Can't say I've ever seen or heard of him putting together a stretch of games quite like that. In the preliminary round game against Canada, he was dominant. Just goes to show how far a stellar defenseman and good goaltending can take a team.

- Most invisible player on team Canada: Joe Thornton. Easily. I hate to go negative on a guy after a win like that, but Thornton really didn't look involved at all. It's too bad too, I can remember him on the 2004 World Cup team playing brilliantly in a shutdown role and I thought he'd be able to pull that game out again. He's lucky his Sharks linemates Heatley and Marleau were there to prop him up, otherwise he'd have spent a lot longer on the bench.

- Speaking of which, how worried are you right now if you're a Sharks fan? Not only did Thornton disappear in a big tournament (again), but goaltender Evgeni Nabokov completely melted down against Canada in the quarterfinal. Considering San Jose's team reputation for cracking under pressure, that's not good. At least Sharks' defenseman Dan Boyle had a good tournament for Canada after a slow start.

- Conversely, how much are Ducks fans fantasizing at the idea of a first round rematch with the first place Sharks? Anaheim is three points behind the eighth place Red Wings with both Dallas and Calgary in between, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that the two teams could meet in the playoffs again after the Ducks upset the Sharks last year. Scott Niedermayer, who hasn't been too good in Anaheim all season, also had a slow start to his Olympics but in the gold medal game he was Canada's best defenseman. If he can carry that over to the rest of the year with the Ducks, they'll be in good shape.

- If Slovakia had won the bronze medal game you'd have to think Pavol Demitra would've won the best forward award for the tournament over Canada's Jonathan Toews. He was brilliant. Why can't Demitra always play like that?

- I know Denis Grebeshkov wasn't having a great season in Edmonton, but is this really how the Oilers are going to rebuild, by dealing defensemen in their mid-20's for mid-second round picks? I realize a lot of the players they really want to move have virtually untradeable contracts, but Steve Tambellini better have a pretty nice rabbit ready to be pulled out of his hat before the deadline, or Oiler fans will be even more unhappy than they are now. And considering the team is mired in the worst season in franchise history, they're already pretty unhappy. Grebeshkov was a Russian Olympian and wasn't worth more in a trade than Dominic Moore or Andy Sutton? Really?

- Others have done a nice job of breaking down who's likely to be moved by the trade deadline already (including The Score's Jonathan Willis, who I would highly recommend if you aren't already reading him), so I won't do a big breakdown like I did last season. But there's really two teams I'm most interested in following what they do at the deadline: Buffalo and Washington. Several other contenders (New Jersey, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Calgary) have already made moves, while a few more (Vancouver, San Jose, Philadelphia) will probably stand pat. But with the lingering feeling that almost any team could come out of the Eastern Conference, Buffalo and Washington could be players.

- You'd have to think that if Buffalo's stingy ownership were ever going to throw off the restraints and go for broke, it would be now, what with Ryan Miller playing so well. Buffalo probably needs an experienced puck-moving defenseman and a scoring forward to really be a contender at this point. A Joe Corvo & Ray Whitney package from Carolina might look nice, or if they're a little more adventurous, Lubomir Visnovsky from the Oilers might work.

- Washington should definitely be going for broke this season. The Caps badly need an experienced defenseman. They were rumoured to be interested in Grebeshkov, but might be better off with someone a little more physical and defensively sound, like Nashville's Dan Hamhuis. There's also a lingering feeling that the Caps need an upgrade in goal. I don't really buy it, especially since many of the goalies on the market, particularly Marty Turco, Dan Ellis, or Martin Biron, aren't necessarily better options than what they've already got. Jose Theodore is just as likely to have a hot playoff streak as Turco, Ellis or Biron, and Varlamov, if he's healthy, probably has a better chance than any of them. It might be intriguing if they went hard after Florida's Tomas Vokoun, but there's no indication at this point that that's likely to occur.

- Finally, I heard a lot of talk about Jaromir Jagr possibly returning to the NHL next season in the preliminary round, when Jagr had good games against Slovakia and Latvia. That talk pretty much died off completely after that hard check from Alexander Ovechkin in the Russia-Czech Republic game nullified Jagr for the rest of the games, and deservedly so. I loved seeing Jagr in his prime, but it would be painful to see him come back and play a bit role with a lot of time on the injured list. Just ask fans of Peter Forsberg...

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