Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chara Breaks Own Record With 105.9 MPH Rocket (Video)

As much as the NHL tries to hype the rest of the SuperSkills competitions the highlight of the night and even All-Star weekend is the Hardest Shot competition.  This event is the one where everyone in the building holds their breath before each attempt just waiting for the radar to give them a reading.
This year the final matched Nashville Predator Shea Weber against the Boston Bruins three-time defending champion Zdeno Chara.  These two met in the preliminary round and Weber came out with the victory having blasted a shot 104.8 mph.  In the rematch it would Chara not only picking up the two points for Team Staal, but on his first attempt he would break his own record with a rocket of 105.9 mph.  The win marked Chara’s fourth straight title in the event, which matches Al MacInnis
You watch this competition and you wonder not only how crazy goalies have to be to sign up for this, but forwards and defenders who throw their body in the way of these blasts.

Tim Thomas Wipes Out During Fastest Skater Competition (Video)

Only in the NHL can you see goalies with the size of their padding compete in a fastest skater competition.  Tonight for the first time Boston Bruin Tim Thomas and Carolina Hurricane Cam Ward were the first goalies to ever take part in the speed race.  During the competition Tim Thomas, the leading candidate for the Vezina, wiped out, but true to his personality he battled right back to his feet and finished the race.

Stepan in Shooting Accuracy; Staal in Fastest Skater, Skills Challenge Relay

Now that the teams have been decided the skills competition is up for tonight.  Now we get see how the captains send out their guys for the different events and focus on the New York Rangers who are competing in them.  The NHL has released the players who will be competing in the events in the skills competition tonight. 

Rookie Derek Stepan is competing for Team Lidstrom in the accuracy shooting competition, which seems to be the competition that best suits his game.  Rangers teammate, but All-Star opponent Marc Staal will be on Team Staal in the fastest skater and the skills challenge relay.  Depending on who Marc draws it could be a rough go in the fastest skater, but expect both Rangers to show well.

Overall I expect Team Lidstrom to have the edge tonight based on the way the lineups are laid out.   The full list of the participants in each event can be here.

Fantasy Draft A Rousing Success for NHL; Can The Game Live Up To It?

With the goal of creating buzz and energy around NHL All-Star weekend there is no denying that last night’s fantasy draft was a rousing success.  After days of talk around the nation and every office, blog, and TV commentator doing their own mock draft the real thing came last night in Raleigh.  The storylines were there going in.  Would Eric Staal pick his brother? Would the Sedin twins finally be separated?  Would the hometown Hurricanes all play together?

The setup had the feel of a game show, with the captains on each side of the stage and the chairs above for the teams to assemble in.  The combination of fantasy draft and throwback to youth in the school days picking format wondering who would be last created a buzz the weekend has not had in many years. 

In the end Eric Staal would fulfill all his necessary obligations to his team, his family and even grab a Sedin while he was at.  Nicklas Lidstrom would take advantage of the requirements Staal had to make by grabbing the more talented roster.  That is not to say that Staal does not have excellent players on his team because these are all All-Stars, but Lidstrom has players that have more familiarity with one another, which should help in the game itself.

During the telecast the players themselves did their best to roll with the punches and even play to the mood in their interviews whether it be Marc Staal acting crushed or Jonathan Toews looking totally aggrevated with Patrick Kane.  The level of personality on display can only help the sport as a whole when you rarely see players beyond Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin used to promote the game.

This had to be what Brendan Shanahan, League's Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, had envisioned when he came up with the idea of the draft.  More than possibly any other league the NHL All-Star weekend had grown stale and uninteresting to the public because the weekend truly lacked the best things about the sport.  Hockey is a sport when at its best is about the pride, the passion and physicality of the game and few if any of those things happen in the All-Star game itself.  The game is a highlight fest marked by the utter lack of hitting or defense and leaves the fans wanting something more.  The Fantasy Draft might not cure the problems in Sunday’s game alone, but it gave buzz to the weekend and the NHL has to hope that there will be some carry-over from Friday through the weekend.

There are still a few talking points remaining for the rest of the weekend like the Sedin twins playing against one another and some teammates squaring off, but will the buzz of the draft be able to carry over?  If it does not, then some will look at the overall move negatively, but at least for one night the NHL was the talk of the sports world, and that is always a good thing.

State of the Rangers One Month Before Trade Deadline. Do They Need a Trade?

With the NHL trade deadline now less than a month away it is fair to ask if the New York Rangers should and or will make a deal between now and February 28.  The team has been a surprise to this point in the season, currently sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference, despite a string of injuries that likely should have crippled their season. 

The good news is that in the next month there is reason to believe the team will get closer to full strength than it has been all season.  Ryan Callahan who has missed the last 19 games with a broken hand and Dan Girardi who missed the last two with a rib injury should be ready when the team begins again on Tuesday.  After those two the team should see at various points the return of Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko for sure, with Vinny Prospal being the unknown wildcard.

With the forward core on the mend and the defense core playing excellent hockey, is there really a need for a trade?  If there is what should be the area addressed most?

The Rangers are far from a flawless unit as they lack a true number one center; the power play is horrendous, especially at the point; their D is very young and half of it lacks NHL experience; they are among the worst in the league in faceoffs.

Any one of those areas being addressed could make the team a more legitimate threat this season, and any of those moves that could be had without giving up future assets I would be ok with doing.  The best move for the franchise is to let it play itself out and see where this group can take them.  It was never about this year.  It was always about building for the future and in that they have succeeded.  This year, even as it is, has been a successful one for the franchise as it is has integrated in a number of young players and they have shown their ability to play well against the best players in the world. 

Obviously there will be rumors between now and then and I will look at some of them to see if they make sense for the team, but outside of a faceoff guy or an Anders Eriksson type 7th D I do not see the Rangers having to make any moves at all.  Think of all the returning pieces as guys acquired in trades, which might not be that hard to do since many of them have been out for significant amounts of time.  If come March 1, 2011 the New York Rangers have not made another trade, I will be happy knowing the future remains intact.