Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Apr. 12-26)

The Road to Redemption

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Every spring Canadians become captivated by hockey and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Players will sacrifice it all to help their teams inch closer to a Cup win. Consider Gregory Campbell who played through a broken leg in 2013 with the Boston Bruins. However, some players have their playoff dreams ripped away from them be it due to injury or even off-ice issues. Zack Kassian became an overnight sensation, after scoring two crucial game-winning goals for the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. On the other side of Canada, Clarke MacArthur launched Ottawa into a frenzy when he scored the overtime-winner in Game 6 of the Senators’ first round series to send the Sens to round two. Both players endured a lot of pain, stress, and doubt; but, they are finally breaking through.

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On October 4, 2015, Zack Kassian found himself in troubled waters. The Windsor native had not played a single game for the Montreal Canadiens, when he was involved in a car accident that day, suffering a broken nose and fractured left foot. Kassian was found to be under the influence of alcohol, at the time of the accident, though he was not the driver. However, this revelation saw him placed into the NHL’s substance abuse program. The once highly-touted prospect had hit rock-bottom. Traded three times and considered a bust, Kassian needed help and was forced to get it. After finishing his stint in the NHL’s substance abuse program Kassian was told not to report to the St. John Ice Caps (the Canadiens’ affiliate) and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.

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As if it was not hard enough for Kassian to join the fourth team of his NHL career at the age of 24, Kassian was joining a team that hated his guts. During a pre-season game in 2013 Kassian blatantly high-sticked then-Oiler Sam Gagner in the face, resulting in Gagner losing four teeth and needing a plate and six screws to repair his mouth. To make his own matters worse, when Gagner returned in a game against Vancouver later that season, Kassian decided to taunt him for having to wear a face-shield as result of the injury. Kassian became public enemy number one in Edmonton. Yet, Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli saw untapped potential and a low-risk opportunity in Kassian, and gave him a final chance to prove himself. It was not an easy road for Kassian; but, this was the best offer he was going to receive, and he wanted to make the best of the opportunity.

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After a short stint with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, Kassian got the call from Edmonton to return to the NHL, and made his debut with the Oilers on January 14, 2016. Just under a week later, he scored his first NHL goal in over 10 months. Since then, Kassian has found a consistent role in the Oilers’ lineup. The 26-year old played a career-high 79 games this season and recorded 24 points, while providing valuable minutes on the team’s penalty kill. Though, nothing can be as sweet as Kassian’s playoff production, which has truly been a coming out party for him on a national stage. The gritty Kassian cashed in on a breakaway opportunity in Game 2 shorthanded and sent Edmonton into pandemonium. The Oilers would go onto win the game, and even up the series, however, Kassian’s heroics were not done there. In Game 3, a David Schlemko was gifted to Kassian who deposited the game’s only goal into the Sharks net, winning the game for Edmonton in doing so. This lea TSN’s Ryan Rishaug and Darren Dreger to question whether Kassian is on his way to becoming a playoff-star, when commenting on his breakout performance. Whether he is on his way to becoming a playoff star or not, one thing is for sure, Kassian is in a much better place than he was a year and a half ago, and is a better man for it.

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On the other side of Canada, a different story has been unfolding over the past two years. On February 16, 2015, in a game between the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes, Clarke MacArthur found his team falling victim to an odd-man rush. Seeing this, MacArthur sped up to pick up his man going to the net. In doing so, though, MacArthur fell and goaltender Robin Lehner gave him an inadvertent blocker to the head. This was MacArthur’s first concussion, and, not thinking much of it, he made a goal to return to the Senators lineup later that season. MacArthur was a part of the Senators’ “Hamburglar” run, even stringing together a seven-game point streak to end the regular season. However, MacArthur’s return may have cost him. The Senators had high aspirations for MacArthur coming into the 2015-16 season, but only four games in, he suffered another concussion. General Manager Bryan Murray announced a week later that MacArthur would not be returning in the near future.

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In late March of 2016, MacArthur finally passed baseline tests to return. But, with the team far from playoff contention, the Senators shut him down for the season. With that in mind, fans were excited to see MacArthur skating with the Senators in September, and were ambitious and anxious to see the top-six forward back on the ice. On September 25, disaster struck. In a team scrimmage newly-acquired Senator Patrick Sieloff gave MacArthur a hard body check along the boards, and MacArthur instantly collapsed. Furious with the situation teammates Bobby Ryan and Chris Neil began to fight Sieloff. MacArthur was aided off the ice by teammates, and a happy day turned somber in the blink of an eye.

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With another setback MacArthur was told to take his time, and to consult concussion doctors about his future. Amazingly enough, by late October, MacArthur was back around the rink. Senators’ Head Coach Guy Boucher informed the media that MacArthur would be travelling with the team, as he thought it would be good for him to be around his teammates. In early December, fans received promising news when MacArthur indicated he intended to join the Senators sometime in January. This news came as a surprise to many, as MacArthur had now suffered three concussions in less than two years. Training every day, and practising with his teammates in a non-contact jersey, MacArthur would stay on the ice after his teammates left, working as hard as he could to get back. On January 20, 2017, the final nail in the coffin appeared to have been put in. Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion announced that doctors had advised the team to shut MacArthur down for the year, and that they intended to do so. Dorion also refused to comment on MacArthur’s future. It seemed to be the end to an incredible comeback, and MacArthur was crushed. Yet, he refused to give up.

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In late-March, the unexpected happened. MacArthur announced that he was not shut down and still intended to play. Boucher and Dorion, not in complete agreement with the comments, gave rather cautious responses to this. Then, on April 4th, Dorion shocked the hockey world by announcing that MacArthur would be in the lineup that evening for the Senators game against the Detroit Red Wings. The hockey community instantly became embroiled in a heated discussion, on whether MacArthur should be playing or not. However, when he hit the ice for his first professional game in nearly two years the building roared in excitement for #16. At the end of the night, the Senators and MacArthur had won, proving he could still play. He was noticeably emotional during his post-game interview, but set his eyes towards the playoffs, focused and determined to be ready if he got the call. And, he got the call. As described by Boucher, “all of Ottawa raised its arms when MacArthur scored in Game 2”. Then all of Ottawa celebrated again when MacArthur scored the series-winning goal in Game 6 to defeat the Boston Bruins.

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Two very different journeys by two men in different points of their careers. One unproven and undesired, and one injured and distraught. However, they both persevered and overcame their battles. Canada tunes into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and cheer for these men, commending them for their acts of courage and strength. Both Kassian and MacArthur serve as reminders to never ever give up on your dreams. No matter who is against you, you can always achieve those dreams if you work hard enough to get there. Congratulations Zack and Clarke, your dreams have come true, and it is wonderful to have you guys back on the ice.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! As I was in exam period and have been quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs! And all should return to normal this coming week, my Facebook and Twitter will give updates if that changes! Thank you for your support as always!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

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Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Apr. 6-11)

Rediscovering Love for the Ottawa Senators: A Fan’s Journey from 2013-2017

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Coming into this season the Ottawa Senators had made the playoffs one time in their past three seasons. Dating back to the 2007-08 season the Senators had won one playoff series. They were a team who never seemed amongst the league’s best: even their unprecedented Hamburglar run in 2014-15 ended after six playoff games. Inconsistency, poor structure, and a lack of talent contributed to the Senators’ mediocrity. Through and through I followed the team, but there has been something missing in these past years. My life-long fandom of the Sens changed when this organization betrayed my trust and made me have mixed feelings about it on July 5th of 2013.

 

I had heard speculation that Daniel Alfredsson was looking at all offers, but I never believed he would leave the Senators. Then, around noon, news broke that Alfredsson would be leaving Senators to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. Originally I thought Alfredsson just wanted a Stanley Cup, but quickly I found out there was more to that.

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Reports had originally surfaced that Alfredsson was handed a blank check. Then, this tweet appeared.  Alfredsson had his previous contract front-loaded, and had a salary of $1M in the 2012-13 season. This was done with the intention of Alfredsson not playing in 2012-13, as both the Senators and Alfie believed he would retire. However, that was not the case, and this side deal to keep the Senators’ cap down came under scrutiny. Having done the Senators a favour Alfredsson expected to be rewarded with his desired salary of $5.5M. Instead, he was asked to take another hometown discount. The Senators never believed he would leave, but the contract debacle forced Alfredsson out of Ottawa. I did not feel betrayed by Alfredsson, but by management, and more importantly ownership. Eugene Melnyk failed to reward Alfie for seventeen years of elite play and commitment to the city. That day marked the end of a chapter in Ottawa.

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The Senators attempted to fill Alfredsson’s void by acquiring a new franchise winger. Bobby Ryan, was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first round-pick (Nick Ritchie). Originally, the move was met with excitement, and was hoped to keep the fan-base happy despite losing Alfie. However, it has not worked out as hoped. Ryan was originally thought to be a perfect pairing with Jason Spezza, but the two did not gel together. Since then, Ryan has been under scrutiny for his lack of production. Up until this season, Ryan had performed respectably, recording multiple 50 point seasons and a couple of 20 goal years for Ottawa. However, he did not turn into the player they hoped for. The Ryan trade was rushed by Ottawa, as the Sens gave up a lot for what was seen to be a franchise winger. Now Sens fans remain bitter about the trade and wish it never happened.

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Shortly after Ryan arrived, Jason Spezza was selected as captain of the Ottawa Senators when Alfredsson left town and became the scapegoat for everything. Spezza tried his best to help guide a team with a lack of talent, but without talent to compliment him other than Erik Karlsson it was futile. Despite putting up 66 points in 75 games, Spezza struggled in the defensive zone, and blame was directed his way. Being the successor to Alfredsson was no easy task and it wore on Spezza, and after his first season as Senators’ captain he requested a trade. Spezza’s era as captain was short, sad and forgettable; though, it did mark a signal of change.

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Spezza departure left the captaincy open, and the Ottawa Senators quickly announced that Erik Karlsson would take over. With this, the youth movement of the Sens took charge. Karlsson, aided by Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman, brought exciting play to a team desperate for energy. But, management managed to kill some of that joy. After rallying from a three-goal deficit to win in overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Senators fired Head Coach Paul MacLean. The firing seemed odd to many, given that MacLean had been a Jack Adams Trophy winner and that the Sens core was still young and developing. Reports began to surface that the move was not done by General Manager Bryan Murray, but by owner Eugene Melnyk. Once again, Melnyk had his hand in hockey decisions. Because, MacLean’s views did not align with Melnyk’s a great coach was fired.

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MacLean was succeed by a less than dazzling one. Dave Cameron got Ottawa to the playoffs on the back of Andrew Hammond, but his systems were not solid and he was doomed to fail. His eye for talent was lacking, as Hoffman spent the end of 2015-16 in the bottom six despite being the team’s leading goal scorer, while players like Alex Chiasson and Jared Cowen wandered the ice. The Sens had little direction with Cameron. It seemed as though the Senators were just riding the roller-coaster of mediocrity. Then, a miracle happened.

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Dion Phaneuf trade rumours were circulating. It was thought by many he would be on his way to Detroit, but then something crazy happened. The Phaneuf to Ottawa trade news broke. A smile and sense of excitement overcame me, I was elated. The Senators had rid themselves of underperforming players and received a leader, who other than a large contract was a perfect fit in the Senators top 4. This day I finally had some faith in management and ownership, as they made an excellent move. Which preceded more moves in the off-season.

NHL: Ottawa Senators Press Conference

After missing the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Dave Cameron was fired, Pierre Dorion took over as GM of the Sens, and Eugene Melnyk challenged his players. It was time for change in the Senators organization, and change has followed. A new head coach brought structure and a new eye for talent to a team in dire need of it; a new general manager was brought in who was not afraid to make bold moves. Change has brought the Senators back to the playoffs, and sees them with home-ice advantage for the first time since 2007. This is also the first time since 2007 that I can confidently say this is a good hockey team. But most importantly, for the first time since Alfie left, I truly love this team. A season that has seen me cry, cheer, and sit on the edge of my seat is going to be capped off with a Senators playoff run, one that I believe will go more than one round. This season, I spent nights up writing, studying, and contemplating the Senators and their tactics, and I love it all. I am enthralled by this team, and am beyond excited for Wednesday’s clash with the Boston Bruins. With all that said, if you, like me felt betrayed when Alfie was cast away from the organization, please give this team a chance; I promise, they will not disappoint you. The Ottawa Senators are back, and they have some good times ahead.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! Same will be the case of next week, as I am in exam period and am quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

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Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 1-7)

#TheSystem: A Signal of Change in Ottawa

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If you have not heard about The System, then you clearly have not been following the 2016-17 Ottawa Senators. For the first time in many years, the Sens are icing a team that is more than just average. This team continues to find ways to win. After their win over the Boston Bruins on Monday night, the Senators moved to 23-8-6 in games decided by one goal or games that were one goal before the empty net goal(s). This Senators team does not buckle under pressure, something that will be key come playoff time. Ottawa is now six points clear of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and, barring a tremendous collapse, will make the playoffs. They will also likely do so with home-ice advantage in the first round and even possibly the second round. If they want that second round home-ice advantage though, they will need to leapfrog the Montreal Canadiens.

Starting on March 18th, the Sens and Habs will play each other on three times in eight days. In all likelihood, the division will be won in this mini-series. With the Senators chasing, they will most likely need to take two out of three, if not all three, to surpass the Canadiens. This may seem difficult, but Ottawa has won both meetings this year with Montreal and has not had a losing season against Montreal since 2011-12. If the Senators were to surpass the Canadiens and take first place in the Atlantic Division they would play the top-seeded wild card team, likely to be the New York Rangers. A playoff series with the Rangers would be less than ideal, but it is something the Senators would not be opposed to. The Sens elevate their game against the league’s best teams: with a 17-9-4 record against teams in a current playoff position. This includes a 7-1-2 run in their last 10 against these same teams (playoff teams as of March 6th). The Senators are able to compete with the league’s best on a nightly basis.

Erik Karlsson

This team’s success has been driven by team captain Erik Karlsson who is having an incredible season. Karlsson is excelling offensively once again, leading the Senators in points. He is also on pace to be the first defenseman to lead his team in points for four consecutive seasons since Denis Potvin did from 1973-74 to 1976-77. But, Karlsson’s defensive game is where he has made most his greatest improvements this season. While Karlsson has been criticized in the past for his defensive ability, the tape shows a significant improve this season.

Exhibit #1: https://twitter.com/ChartingHockey/status/838929365941514240

Exhibit #2: https://twitter.com/travisyost/status/838204452213436416

Exhibit #3: https://twitter.com/CallumFraser18/status/836017966898638849

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Karlsson has become fabulous in his own end and especially using his speed to backcheck and pressure opponents. Karlsson never quits on a play and this relentless effort has translated down throughout the lineup this year. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a shutdown center and, can play against anyone in the league. Statistics prove Pageau’s dominance against the league’s best. In nine games against Pageau, Alex Ovechkin, Max Pacioretty, John Tavares and Sidney Crosby have combined for one point.  Pageau’s shifted focus to the defensive zone shows up on the other team’s scoresheet, as the stars of opponents have consistently put up zeroes against Pageau.

Example: http://www.csnmidatlantic.com/washington-capitals/alex-ovechkin-wrestles-jean-gabriel-pageau-ice-his-head.

Senators Head Coach Guy Boucher has called Pageau the “Ultimate Soldier”, and mentioned that he should be in the Selke Trophy conversation. Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler are all frequently in the Selke Trophy discussion. Including Pageau shows that he is on his way to becoming an elite shutdown center.

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Both Karlsson and Pageau have benefited greatly from Guy Boucher’s system, but they are not the only two that have improved. Goaltender Craig Anderson returned to the crease less than a month ago, after a leave of absence to be with his wife Nicholle during her cancer treatment. Since his return, Anderson has been among the best goalies in the league. Over his past nine starts Andy is 7-2-0 with a goals against average of 1.78 and a save percentage of .944. Despite missing over two months of game action, Anderson did not miss a beat returning to the Senators lineup. Anderson has been a beneficiary of The System, and his numbers show how an improved defensive structure can make a goalie great. The Ottawa Senators are third in the league in blocked shots, an underrated statistic, which allows goaltenders to have a security blanket.

One of these men who make up the security blanket is Dion Phaneuf, who is having his best season since the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Phaneuf has done a great job for the Ottawa Senators since his trade last year. While his contract is horrible, the Senators are interested in winning now and have cap space, and bringing in an experienced top four defenseman like Phaneuf makes sense. Phaneuf has nine goals, 28 points, well over 100 blocked shots and hits, and is contributing over 23 minutes a night for Ottawa. Phaneuf has his quirks; bad penalties, his contract, and at times mediocre skating. But, he gets the job done, and can even make a highlight reel or two.

Exhibit A: https://twitter.com/ChartingHockey/status/831687739724685314

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Yes, that was Dion Phaneuf. He can still skate when he wants to, and his offensive contribution is on pace to be the best offensive season by a Senators defenseman not named Karlsson since the 2011-12 season. Phaneuf’s ability to help out offensively, while being a thorn in opponent’s sides and providing relief for his goalies has helped him fit well into The System. Phaneuf’s trade has seen him transition into the Senators lineup very well.

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Trades sometimes affect a team and more specifically the player. This player coming in tapers off for a period of time, as they attempt to adjust to the new play style. This has not been the case for the Senators this year. Tommy Wingels has fit in nicely on the fourth line for the Senators, and quickly adjusted, but two recent acquisitions have adjusted just as well if not better. On February 27th, Sens fans collectively face-palmed as they saw Alex Burrows being traded to the Senators for prospect Jonathan Dahlen. I will be the first to say it was an overreaction on my part and on the fan-base’s. With little-to-no draft picks to trade, Senators’ General Manager Pierre Dorion overpaid for Alex Burrows. But, the team got the guy they wanted. Since acquiring Burrows, Ottawa is 3-0-0, and Burrows has four points in three games. Yes, Dahlen’s numbers are comparable to that of Filip Forsberg at 19 years old. I am sure he will be a good player one day. But, Ottawa saw him as a project. Wanting to win in the now, they saw Burrows as the better option. You do not have to agree with it, you do not have to like it, but it is the reality and Burrows has been great so far. Burrows is an experienced veteran who has been to a Cup Final, as has Wingels. The Senators other deadline acquisition Viktor Stalberg has won a Cup with the Blackhawks. The trend emerging from Ottawa is experience and a winning culture, they have positioned themselves and The System for playoff success.

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Here is the situation. Erik Karlsson is on a terrific contract right now, earning six and a half million dollars a year, which is ludicrous value for arguably the best defenseman in the league. After this year, Karlsson will be under contract for two more years with the Senators before having to find a new deal, which ultimately could be with another club. Ottawa is determined to prove to Karlsson who is in his prime that they are committed to winning. They want to bring him back and make him into a career Senator, but in all likelihood they will need successful campaigns to do so. Flopping in and out of the playoffs, not spending to the cap and having poor attendance does not promote a winning culture. Eugene Melnyk has opened up his wallet to bring in new players and, attendance has begun to rise. Now, it is time to see what this team is made of. Are they legit? Could they actually win their division? Can they go toe-to-toe with the likes of Pittsburgh and Washington? If any of the above are ever going to go the Senators way, it will be through The System. The System is the best chance of ensuring Erik Karlsson remaining as an Ottawa Senator for his career, and The System is why for the first time since 2007, I believe in the Ottawa Senators to win any night. Go Sens Go, trust The System.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in tough spot. With 17 games remaining the Leafs are one point out of the playoffs, have not beaten a team in a playoff position in nearly a month, and are now in the thick of a tight race with the New York Islanders. The long season has taken a toll on the young Leafs, particularly Morgan Rielly, who, since February 1st, is a -18 in 17 games. Rielly has a bright future, but he is struggling to hold up as a top pair defenseman over the length of an entire season early in his career. His partner Nikita Zaitsev has been doing his best to cover up Rielly’s mistakes. But, the two will need to be able to lean on each other, if they would like to recover from this slump and get the Leafs to the playoffs.
  • Joshua Ho-Sang made his NHL debut this past week and no one seemed to care about his talent and potential. All anyone has talked about concerning Ho-Sang was his jersey number. Ho-Sang, who plays for the New York Islanders, wears No. 66, the number of Mario Lemieux. Many people believe Ho-Sang should not be wearing the number, as it is a sign of disrespect. I think this argument is ridiculous: 66 is not retired league-wide, he is not on the Penguins, and what does it really change? Ho-Sang gave his opinion on the matter stating that “if anything it is the ultimate respect”. Clearly, he is not wearing 66 to make a statement. How about we drop it, and judge the guy by the way he plays?

Stars of the Week

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  • How about Jack Eichel? The forgotten one is tearing it up in Buffalo, since February 1st nobody has more points than Eichel (24). Over this 18 game stretch the young star has made highlight reels almost every night, including an excellent showing against the Philadelphia Flyers last night. The Sabres may be outside of the playoff picture, but Sabres’ fans have a reason to smile as their young star is having a season to remember with 45 points in 46 games.
  • Erik Karlsson is not going to win a Norris this season, but he has found that extra gear since the All-Star break. Since returning from the All-Star break the Senators’ captain has 19 points in 17 games. With shorter shifts and less ice-time this year Karlsson has found a way to keep his top gear speed active almost continuously. If you have not watched a Senators’ game recently, I seriously suggest tuning in just to watch Karlsson play. The Swede is truly a treat to watch.

 

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

2016-2017 Toronto Raptors Media Day

  • The Toronto Raptors got a much needed extended break after their 101-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, and will return to action this Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Raptors will need to take advantage of their lighter schedule in March if they hope to challenge for first place in the Atlantic Division, as they trail the Boston Celtics by two and a half games. With that being said, the teams they will be playing for the most part are scrapping for playoff spots, so they cannot take their foot off the gas. But, there is no denying that it is much preferred to not be playing elite talent for the most part.
  • The most frustrating part of the Raptors is their inability to activate Jonas Valanciunas. With Kyle Lowry out of the lineup, and DeMar DeRozan needing someone else to help carry the load why not give JV more touches? It is baffling, as to why Head Coach Dwane Casey refuses to give Valanciunas the ball. For example, despite shooting 4-4 in the opening quarter and being on pace for a first half double-double, the Raptors took JV out of the game and limited him to 21 minutes for the game. Why not feed a hot hand?! People cannot say this is a one off thing either, because this consistently happens! For example, if it were not for Valanciunas’ first round performance last year, there is no way the Raptors would have beaten the Pacers. When will Casey swallow his pride and admit JV is ready to take that next step? It has to happen sooner rather than later, if the Raptors plan to challenge the NBA’s best.

 

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Spurs (49-13)
  • Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA. No discussion, he can check anyone and he can pour the points in when asked to. Leonard is having a career year, and the Spurs who were supposedly “too old” or “not good enough”, look real dangerous. Gregg Popovich has brought his prized possession along slow and steady, but Leonard is finally ready to explode. With Pau Gasol back and healthy, watch out for this Spurs team, because right now I believe they may be the toughest team to beat in the league, with Leonard leading the charge.
  1. Warriors (52-11)
  • The Warriors had been consecutively No. 1 in Josh Saslove’s Sports Talk’s power rankings for over two months, but that streak has finally come to an end. The Warriors lost back-back regular season games for the first time in nearly two years this past week, and without Kevin Durant they do not look unbeatable. Since the All-Star break Steph Curry has shot 32.9% from beyond the arc, which for Curry is terrible. Klay Thompson has not been playing well since the All-Star break either shooting 36.9% from the field and under 30% from three point range. If the Warriors cannot recover, they better pray Kevin Durant rushes back, because this team is not what they were cracked up to be right now.
  1. Cavaliers (42-20)
  • Cleveland has been okay lately. They are coming off back-back losses to the red-hot Miami Heat, albeit one of the losses was without LeBron James, but no time to panic. The Cavs are still fine at the top of the Eastern Conference and James is still in cruise mode. When Kevin Love is back on the floor it will be a lot easier to tell if the Cavaliers can challenge the Spurs or Warriors. If Love plays like the microwave he was for the Cavs offense early in the season, then they will be in good shape.
  1. Rockets (44-20)
  • Houston handled the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers this past week, and were just two points short of taking down the San Antonio Spurs. All in all, it was a damn good week for Clutch City. After taking his foot off the gas for a few games, James Harden is back to his MVP-like ways, as in his last three games he is averaging 32.7 points, 10.7 assists and has shot an absurd 57.1% from the three point line. Do not expect Harden to slow down, and with some luck and a few unsung heroes this Rockets team may be able to steal a series over the Warriors or Spurs.
  1. Celtics (40-24)
  • Boston beat the Cavaliers a week ago, but in the same week they also lost to the Suns, so it had its ups and downs. On Wednesday night the Celtics have a huge opportunity in front of them, going into Golden State for a date with the Warriors. Isaiah Thomas has spoken highly of himself, claiming to be “the best player in the world” back in January. He will have a chance to back this statement up going against last year’s MVP Steph Curry. While I am sure Thomas enjoys referring to himself as such, a win is likely more important to him on Wednesday night, and that win would certainly help the Celtics in their pursuit of the Cavs.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Jazz vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Penguins vs Jets 8:00pm ET, Celtics vs Warriors 10:30pm ET
  • Thursday: Wild vs Lightning 7:30pm ET, Flyers vs Maple Leafs 7:30pm ET, Spurs vs Thunder 8:00pm ET, Clippers vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET, Ducks vs Blackhawks 8:30pm ET, Capitals vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
  • Friday: Ducks vs Blues 8:00pm ET, Raptors vs Hawks 8:00pm ET, Rockets vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Penguins vs Oilers 9:00pm ET
  • Saturday: Predators vs Sharks 4:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Warriors vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Capitals vs Kings 10:30pm ET
  • Sunday: Wild vs Blackhawks 12:30pm ET, Bulls vs Celtics 3:30pm ET, Canadiens vs Oilers 7:00pm ET, Cavaliers vs Rockets 9:00pm ET, Capitals vs Ducks 9:30pm ET
  • Monday: Hawks vs Spurs 8:00pm ET, Penguins vs Flames 9:00pm ET, Blues vs Kings 10:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Wild vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Lightning vs Senators 7:30pm ET, Blackhawks vs Montreal 7:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Jan. 18-24)

 

European Gifts Forgotten

The most thought-provoking question to ask about professional athletes is “what if?” What if Bobby Orr didn’t retire early? What if Boston didn’t trade Babe Ruth to the Yankees? What if Kerry Fraser had called a high stick on Gretzky?

During the 1980s, North American hockey saw an influx of European players. Most came over during the prime of their careers; Slava Fetisov, for instance, was 31 years old during his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils. The years of North American play lost to European leagues begs the question: what if Europe’s best hockey players had begun their careers in the National Hockey League?

This list will talk about 10 of the greatest European hockey players who had reduced careers in the NHL. The list, however, excludes those who had injury-plagued careers, including Pavel Bure. It also excludes those who had deaths or life-altering injuries, like Pelle Lindbergh or Vladimir Konstantinov. In no specific order, here are 10 of the greatest Europeans to ever have played hockey in the NHL for a short-length of time. There is one special exception, which shall be explained.

Requirements: Skaters: Maximum 600GP (games played)

Goalies: Maximum 400GP (games played)

Hakan Loob 450GP, 193G, 236A and 429P

Swedish Cup Winners

Upon joining the Calgary Flames, came to the Calgary Flames Loob was considered to be too small for the NHL and was told he would struggle. The Swedish star did quite the opposite. Loob’s incredible skating helped him move around the ice seamlessly. Loob scored 50 goals and 106 points for the Flames in 1987-88, his best NHL season. Future Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk said that the luckiest thing to happen to him was being put on a line with Loob in his first year in Calgary. Nieuwendyk added that Loob could “put pucks in areas and, make plays that nobody else would dream of.” In his final season, Loob helped lead the Flames to the Stanley Cup Final, where they defeated the Montreal Canadiens. At the peak of his career, Loob decided he wanted his children to grow up in Sweden and not have to assimilate to North American life. Loob retired from the NHL at 29 years old and returned to play in Sweden, where Loob holds the record for most career goals and points for his club, Farjestad BK.

Pelle Eklund 594GP, 120A, 335A, 455P

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Pelle Eklund was an incredible playmaker, and an important part of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Stanley Cup run in 1987. In that post-season (only his second season in the NHL), Eklund recorded an astounding 27 points in 26 games. Similar to many other Europeans at the time, Eklund was much smaller. Eklund, used his size strategically to avoid checkers, and loved to drive wide, then cut to the net to create a scoring opportunity. Unfortunately Eklund’s production dropped off in the 1993-94 season, and the Flyers traded him to the Dallas Stars. After that season Eklund decided to return to Sweden and play professionally. In his first season back home Eklund was named the Elitserien’s (Swedish Elite League) most valuable player.

Roman Cechmanek: 212GP, 110W-64L-28T, G.A.A. 2.08, SV% .919 and 25SO

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Not a lot of people realize how good Roman Cechmanek was. The guardian of a good Philadelphia Flyers team in the early 2000s, Cechmanek won the William M. Jennings in the 2002-03 season allowing only 1.83 goals per game. Cechmanek only played 212 games in the NHL, a surprise to many, given his unforgettable performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2002-03 playoffs. After three exceptional seasons in Philly, Cechmanek played one lackluster season for the Los Angeles Kings and then departed to Europe. Playing from age 29 to 33 in the NHL, Cechmanek felt he was past his prime and went on to play in the Czech Republic well into his 30s. If Cechmanek had come over earlier, perhaps he would have had a much more decorated and illustrious career.

Slava Fetisov: 546GP, 36G, 192A and 228P

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The NHL and Russian players have Fetisov to thank for breaking down barriers and being the first Soviet to ever be allowed to leave the Soviet Union freely and join the NHL.  Fetisov’s off-ice impact was incredible, but his on-ice contribution were amazing as well. Fesitov was an exceptional two-way defenseman and honed his craft with the Soviet Union’s National Team, after being recruited by legendary Soviet Head Coach Anatoli Tarasov. Fetisov went onto be part of the Russian Five for the Soviet Union, and the re-created Russian Five of the Detroit Red Wings. Fetisov was the leader of both Russian Five squads. Their unit played as one, making passes without looking, constantly supporting and making highlight reel plays every night. Fetisov was 31 years old in his first NHL season with the New Jersey Devils, yet he was still able to be an all-star well into his 30s. Fetisov won back-back Cups in 1997 and 1998 with the Red Wings. Fetisov was also one of the six members of the IIHF’s Centennial All-Star Team receiving 54 of 56 votes. Fetisov also, won an unprecedented seven World Championship Gold Medals, three World Junior Gold Medals, two Olympic Golds, a Canada Cup Gold and a grand total of 18 medals for the Soviet Union. He was insanely good at hockey.

Sergei Makarov: 424GP, 134G, 250A and 384P

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Makarov was a member of the original Russian Five for the Soviet Union, playing alongside linemates Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. Similar to Fetisov, Makarov was 31 years old, when he came to North America and joined the Calgary Flames. Makarov instantly made an impact with the Flames, scoring 24 goals and 86 points in his first season, and winning rookie of the year. Makarov’s shot percentage that year was 25.9%, the best in the NHL.  Makarov put up over 50 points in every full season he played. Makarov holds the record for most points in CSKA Moscow’s history, scoring 678 points in only 472 games. In 2016, Makarov was finally inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Alexei Kasatonov: 383GP, 38G, 122A and 160P

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Kasatonov was the other defenseman of the Soviet Union’s Russian Five, playing alongside Fetisov. Like many other Soviets, Kasatonov came over in his 30s and had a short stay in the NHL. In his time in North America, Kasatonov was reunited with Fetisov in New Jersey, and got an All-Star selection with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1994. Oddly enough, Fetisov and Kasatonov, once best friends, hated each other during their time in New Jersey, as Kasatonov had not been supportive of Fetisov’s political stance against the Soviet Union. Yet every night in New Jersey the two would play alongside each other and dominate opponents. The NHL was lucky to have seen the two together, even if it was for a small period of time.

Kent Nilsson: 553GP, 264G, 422A and 686P

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Nilsson played two seasons in the WHA (World Hockey Association) before entering the NHL. Nilsson broke onto the scene with the Atlanta Flames scoring 93 points in his rookie season. The next year he would top that, scoring 131 points, the most points ever by a Swedish player and the most points in a single-season by a Flame. “The Magic Man” was the sixth fastest NHL player to reach 300 points, doing-so in only 215 games. A great representation of Nilsson’s dominance was his one-season stint in Italy playing for HC Bolzano. Nilsson scored 132 points in 35 games; no other player had over 95 points that season. The best Nilsson story, though, came out of an on-ice media session in Calgary. Nilsson told a reporter he could hit the crossbar from the blue-line. The interviewer said he would give Nilsson five tries. Nilsson hit the crossbar on his first shot, and skated off the ice.

Anders Hedberg: 465GP, 172G, 226A and 398P

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Without the WHA it is quite possible North America may have never seen one of the greatest lines in hockey history. Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson were a marvel to watch, playing for the Winnipeg Jets. The line terrorized the WHA, with Hedberg putting up at least 100 points every year in the WHA. When the WHA began to crumble, he joined the New York Rangers. In his first season the Swedish superstar put up 79 points in 80 games and helped lead the underdog Rangers to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Hedberg was a true pioneer for all Europeans, especially Swedish-born NHLers, with Kent Nilsson and Hakan Loob following Hedberg’s footsteps into the NHL. Nilsson and Loob even shadowed Hedberg’s short career, as Hedberg left North America in 1985 and returned to Sweden.

Ulf Nilsson: 170GP, 57G, 112A and 169P

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Nilsson is the only exception on this list as he suffered a “serious leg injury” at 30. However, Nilsson’s fate could have been different if he did not spend his younger years playing in Sweden and in the WHA. Nilsson is too incredible and forgotten of a player to leave off this list. Nilsson was part of one of the greatest lines in hockey history, and like Hedberg, put up over 100 points in all four of his seasons in the WHA. He recorded 66 points his first 59 games in the NHL, using his blazing speed as himself and Hedberg would fly up and down the wings. Perhaps Nilsson never would have been injured had the NHL allowed Europeans into the league earlier.

Reijo Ruotsalainen: 446GP, 107G, 237A and 344P

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Finally we have one of the best names in hockey. Reijo Ruotsalainen (try saying that 10 times fast), at an incredibly small stature of 5’8, was, at the time, one of the youngest Europeans to ever play in the NHL. At 21 years old, Ruotsalainen made his debut for the New York Rangers and while starting as a defenseman, was quickly moved to forward by Rangers Head Coach Herb Brooks. Brooks called Ruotsalainen the best skater in the NHL. He used this skating ability to cover all 200 feet with little effort and could dominate puck possession. Ruotsalainen moved to Edmonton after five seasons with the Rangers and won a Stanley Cup in 1987. After the victory Ruotsalainen returned to Europe breifly, coming back to North America in 1989 to join the Devils. Later that year, Ruotsalainen was traded back to Edmonton, and once again won a Stanley Cup. After his second Cup he went back to Europe played in Switzerland and Finland, and was regarded as one of the greatest Finns to ever play the game.

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Calgary Flames burnt right out. The Flames are tied for the most games played in the league right now at 51, and this youthful group is struggling to keep up. After an impressive stretch, where they sat safely in a wild card positon, the Flames now find themselves with only a one point lead over the Los Angeles Kings. As well, the teams chasing them have games in hand, which is not the positon Calgary wants to be in. The All-Star break cannot come soon enough for the Flames, who have been outscored 20-7 during their current four-game losing streak.
  • The Carolina Hurricanes were on the verge of being in a Wild Card position, but now find themselves in the log-jammed group chasing the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. All bottom six teams in the East have the same amount of points, with differing numbers of games played. This four-game losing streak for the Canes, and their abysmal 6-14-6 away record is why they sit down this far down. Fortunately for Carolina, from January 26th to February 17th they only play seven games, and will get plenty of rest for the last haul of the regular season.

 

Stars of the Week

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Ottawa Senators

  • It is steaming hot in the Bay Area, as the San Jose Sharks have won their last six games. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this stretch, is that the six games were played in just nine days. The Sharks now find themselves ahead of the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers and, sit well-above the wild card teams. Much of the credit is due to Brent Burns, who has 16 points in 12 games this month. Burns is leading the way for the Sharks and defenseman around the league and looks poised to receive his first Norris Trophy. Burns and the Sharks, though, have their eyes on a bigger trophy: the Stanley Cup.
  • The Ottawa Senators look revitalized. In their last eight games the Senators have earned 13 of a possible 16 points. This impressive stretch has been highlighted by wins over Pittsburgh, Columbus and Washington, three of the league’s top teams. On top of their on-ice success, they have also re-signed Zack Smith to a 4-year, $13 million contract, and acquired Tommy Wingels for Buddy Robinson, Zack Stortini and a 7th round pick in the 2017 draft. Should the Sens take care of business against the reeling Flames on Thursday, Guy Boucher and the Senators will enter the All-Star break very satisfied.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors had a week to forget. They have lost four in a row, including two losses to teams below .500, a blowout loss in Charlotte, and a heart-breaking loss to an undermanned San Antonio Spurs squad. The Raptors need to get back on track soon, as the rest of the Eastern Conference is catching up to them and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • DeMar DeRozan has earned some rest to rehab his ankle and he will surely use it. He should also consider skipping the All-Star Game if his ankle is still not ready. DeRozan’s Player Efficiency Rating is 25.05, which has him 13th in the league. While Kyle Lowry can continue to do his best to carry the team while DeMar recovers, the two of them need to be together if the Raptors want another deep playoff run.

Top 5 NBA Power Rankings

Stephen Curry

  1. Warriors (38-7)
  • Golden State routed the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets this week, putting any doubt to rest about the best team in the league. Even James Harden could not keep them from earning the top spot. Oddly enough, they managed to lose to the surging Miami Heat on Monday evening. But, that loss does not mean much. The Warriors still score and distribute the ball better than any team in the NBA, and that will not likely change any time soon.
  1. Spurs (36-9)
  • San Antonio beat the slumping Raptors without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Jonathan Simmons and Pau Gasol. Gregg Popovich gets the best out of his players each and every night. The Spurs have a relatively easy stretch before the All-Star break, meaning starters will continue to rest. Still, the Spurs should find a way to win.
  1. Rockets (34-14)
  • Houston had an okay week. They went 2-2 and while they got trashed by the Warriors, they managed to rebound the night after with a dominant 119-95 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Rocket got 30 points from Sam Dekker is one of many players to benefit from extra defensive attention being paid to James Harden. Dekker has used this to increase his output every night, which has seen an increase in his minutes.
  1. Clippers (30-17)
  • The Clippers went 1-3 this week, but they are getting production from an unlikely source. Austin Rivers is having the best season of his career, and now the best month of his career. Rivers is averaging 18.4PPG in over 35 minutes a night, despite having previously averaged, 8.1PPG in his career. Obviously this increase of production has come with Chris Paul out of the lineup, and Blake Griffin just now returning. But, if the Clippers can get an efficient Rivers for the playoffs, they could make a run if everyone is healthy.
  1. Cavaliers (30-13)
  • LeBron James is demanding for a back-up point guard for his Cavaliers. And despite 49 points from Kyrie Irving on Monday, the Cavs still found a way to lose to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans did not even play Anthony Davis in that game. This is a red flag, you cannot be giving up easy games like that, especially when your opponent does not play their superstar. The Cavaliers have suffered seven of their thirteen losses this season from December 26th to January 23rd, the tide will turn for the Cavaliers, but the question is when?

NFL First Down and Three & Out

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  • Matt Ryan dominated the NFC Championship Game. Giving the Georgia Dome a proper send-off, the Falcons dismantled the Green Bay Packers and flexed their muscles. Ryan threw for 392 yards, and totalled five touchdowns, including a rushing touchdown. He and star wide-out Julio Jones picked apart a weak Packers secondary, and paved the way to a Falcons victory and a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI on February 5th.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl dreams disappear quickly on Sunday. Le’Veon Bell left the AFC Championship Game injured, and the Steelers inability to run forced them to pass the ball lots, which did not pan out. After the game, things got worse, when Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said would not make any promises about returning next season. With Bell being a pending free agent, you have to think his decision to stay or leave will hinge on Ben’s committal to the team and vice-versa.

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Rockets vs Celtics 7:30pm ET, Flyers vs Rangers 8:00pm ET, Raptors vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET, Oilers vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Thursday: Blues vs Wild 8:00pm ET, Oilers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
  • Friday: Raptors vs Bucks 7:30pm ET, Wizards vs Hawks 8:00pm ET
  • Saturday: NHL All-Star Skills Competition 7:00pm ET, Clippers vs Warriors 8:30pm ET, Grizzlies vs Jazz 9:00pm ET
  • Sunday: NHL All-Star Game 3:30pm ET, Thunder vs Cavaliers 3:30pm ET, The Royal Rumble 7:00pm ET, Pro Bowl 8:00pm ET
  • Monday: Pistons vs Celtics 8:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Thunder vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Wild vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Sharks 10:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Nov. 29-Dec.5)

Guy Boucher: The James Bond Villain Ottawa needed

The Ottawa Senators made the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. Since then, however, they have not made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During this time they have had seven head coaches, which has led to instability, disappointment, and a lack of results. This summer after Dave Cameron was fired the Senators found themselves looking for a new bench boss. The first man they targeted heavily was Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau has 8 division titles to his name in 9 seasons between the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks. He also had a personal connection to Ottawa, with his daughter living in the city. Ultimately Boudreau got a better offer in Minnesota, a 4-year contract with a reported $2.76 million a year. When this happened the Senators responded by signing Guy Boucher.

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What does Boucher’s resume look like? Boucher has coached in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, American Hockey League, Switzerland, and the NHL. While Boucher’s tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning was short, it was successful, making the Eastern Conference Final in his first season (2010-11). After that season, the Lightning struggled, missing the playoffs the next year. Boucher was fired mid-season in March of 2013 after another unsuccessful campaign to that point. That was the last time Boucher was in the NHL. Ottawa brought Boucher back into the NHL this spring. Why would Ottawa be so interested in a man who had been fired by Tampa Bay? It is simple: Guy Boucher implements a defensive structured system and commands his players to buy into the system.

On November 9th, 2011, the Philadelphia Flyers visited Boucher’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning had been playing a 1-3-1 system, which was considered very defensive. This system had been considered controversial, as Boucher wanted his players to play safely by waiting for their opponents to come to them. That evening the Flyers tested the system, and numerous times a stand-off occurred with players from each team staring each other down and arguing with one another. Boucher took a lot of criticism from the media, colleagues and other players after the game, but responded by saying he was paid to win games. In Ottawa, Boucher has done just that. The Senators are currently 15-9-2, and are 2nd in the Atlantic division despite being in the bottom five in goals per game. The Senators have gotten their wins through excellent goaltending, an improved penalty kill, and defensive structure.

The Senators penalty kill is operating at 85.4%, far better than their 75.8% from last season. Ottawa also allowed 2.94 goals per game last year, while this year allowing only 2.58 goals per game. Their improved defensive structure has come at a cost to the offense, something Boucher expected. Boucher has said his goal was to establish a defensive identity, then improve the offense. While the Sens are ranked 25th in goals per game (2.35 GPG), since November 14th they have scored 28 goals in 11 games (2.55 GPG). In that same stretch of time their powerplay, which early in the season ranked near the bottom of the league, has gone 9 for 37, the 4th highest percentage in the league. It may be a process, but the Senators are improving.

The Senators themselves have shown great comradery for each other this year, the two greatest examples coming from Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson. In a team scrimmage, Patrick Sieloff, a training camp hopeful, laid a hit on Clarke MacArthur along the boards. While the hit was not malicious, it was on MacArthur, who was just returning from missing an entire season due to concussion issues. As MacArthur lay on the ice, teammate Bobby Ryan rushed in and went after Sieloff. Chris Neil also shared his thoughts with Sieloff, as both teammates took it as an unnecessary and unjustified play. The Sens have somewhat rallied around this sense of protecting one another, as in just about every scrum this year there is always an extra man into defend another. From Marc Methot coming into protect Erik Karlsson, to Karlsson even protecting himself against Bo Horvat, this Senators team does not let itself get pushed around. They certainly do not let their goalie get pushed around. Craig Anderson has had a tougher season than anyone, with his wife Nicholle battling cancer. Anderson has left the team multiple times this year to visit his wife and be with her through her treatments. However, his wife has also gave him her blessing to go play hockey. This reached its climax when the Senators lost Andrew Hammond on a road trip out West, and in Anderson’s first game back he posted a shutout against Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Anderson led his team to victory, got a standing ovation and was named first star of the game. As a Senators’ fan it was one of the most emotional games I have ever watched. The team has rallied around him as Andy has posted a 12-6-1 record, a .924 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.46.

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Those two events have helped Boucher connect with his players and develop a true team mentality. The Senators play for the man beside them each and every night. Everyone is chipping in every way they can. You get that message by looking at the team’s captain. Erik Karlsson has 24 points in 26 games to lead defensemen in the NHL, while logging 27+ minutes a night and leading the league in blocked shots with 76. The last stat is baffling to some as Karlsson’s highest blocked shots in a full season was 175, yet this year he is on pace to block 240 shots. When Boucher was hired as Senators head coach he instantly, targeted Karlsson to lead by example. On-ice, through his play, and off-ice, through his dedication to the team. While Karlsson was at the World Cup of Hockey he refused to miss a team meeting and was skyped in to every single meeting. Boucher says his captain wants to win, describing Karlsson as the first player at the rink and last to leave. Boucher is getting the best out of his captain, and it is reflecting well on his team.

All this early season success comes – despite home attendance. Through 16 home games the Senators have averaged 15,237 a night; last season, with a losing team, the Sens average attendance was 18,084 (stats from ESPN). The Senators have got to bring success back to their organization, and the consistency that saw their team make the playoffs 11 seasons in a row from 1996-97 to 2007-08. With Guy Boucher behind the bench implementing a terrific team culture, the fans will come. “If you build it, he will come.” That is a famous quote from Field of Dreams, which has been applied to sports. In the Senators case if you build a great team, he (the fan-base) will come.

NHL News

The Penalty Box

Colorado Avalanche vs Philadephia Flyers

  • The Colorado Avalanche have one point in their last five games, and play the Predators, Bruins, Canadiens and Leafs this week. It likely will not get better soon. With Colorado’s playoff hopes slipping away, veterans Jarome Iginla & Francois Beauchemin could be shopped around the league.
  • In the last four weeks the Detroit Red Wings have seen seven players end up on their IR. The winged wheel is falling off the bus, as the Red Wings are in a highly competitive Atlantic division. Could this be the season that the Red Wings finally miss the playoffs?

Stars of the Week

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  • The Philadelphia Flyers started off the season slowly with troubles in nets, but have rallied of late relying on lots of goal scoring. Philly impressively handled the Blackhawks and Predators in a back-back on the road this weekend. Their production has come from top to bottom as 15 players have recorded a point during Philly’s 5-game win streak.
  • How good has Sidney Crosby been since November? In 17 games Sid the Kid has 22 points, 13 of those being goals and is shooting at a high clip of 22.4%. His Penguins are 2nd in a hotly contested Metropolitan division.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Raptors beat the Grizzlies, Lakers and Hawks by a combined margin of victory of +92. Unfortunately they could not beat the Cavaliers on Monday, which would have been the cherry on top.
  • With games having large margins of victory, young Raptors got a chance to show off including Jakob Poeltl posterizing Tim Hardaway Jr. to put the exclaimation point on a Raptors win. Here’s the link from the NBA’s Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=einnChcgPi0)

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking:

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  1. Warriors (18-3)
  • The Warriors finally had a hiccup as they lost to the Rockets behind a ridiculous performance from James Harden. Yet they also decimated the Pacers and Suns, so they redeemed themselves fairly quickly. Did I mention Klay Thompson put up 60 points against the Pacers last night?! 60! He only played 29 minutes by the way.
  1. Spurs (17-4)
  • The Spurs lost to the Magic, so they benched veterans Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the next game and managed to win. The Spurs will always compete and, I say it every week, but these guys are still perfect on the road (12-0).
  1. Cavaliers (14-5)
  • The Cavaliers had a rough week. They went 1-3, but in what was probably the most important match-up they got the win over the Raptors behind 34 points from LeBron James. You can be sure Cleveland will not continue to drop games, as James was quoted as saying that the “Honeymoon is over…. We got to man up.”
  1. Raptors (14-7)
  • An excellent weekend for the Raptors was denied from perfection following a four-point loss to the Cavs. However, an impressive feat is the Raptors’ competitiveness. The Raptors are yet to suffer a loss by double-digits this season, giving themselves a chance to win every night.
  1. Rockets (14-7)
  • Look if you can beat the Warriors you are worth talking about. The Rockets have been showing up to play lately led by a fearless James Harden. Harden has been averaging 28.7 Points per Game (PPG), 11.6 Assists per Game (APG) and 7.6 Rebounds per Game (RPG) this season. He definitely deserves a mention in the conversation for Most Valuable Player (MVP).

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NFL First Down & Three and Out

First Down: Keep on Buccing: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are tied atop the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons thanks to their four-game win streak. The Bucs truly can control their own destiny with three of their remaining four games coming against NFC South rivals who are struggling (Saints twice and Panthers).

Three & Out: Wardrobe Malfunction: If the Carolina Panthers’ playoff hopes were not gone, they are dead now. As the Panthers started a must-win game against the Seattle Seahawks, Cam Newton was reportedly benched for a dress code violation (not wearing a tie), though this has been disputed. Regardless of what happened when Cam got on the field, after Derek Anderson threw an interception on the Panthers’ first play he was ineffective, as the Panthers got humiliated losing 40-7.

BONUS FOOTBALL: The College Football playoffs were decided, as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington all made the Top 4. While Alabama and even Clemson were viewed as locks by almost everyone, critics have made arguments about Ohio State’s and Washington’s inclusion. Ohio State did not win their conference, and were beat Penn State (who were Big Ten champions), while Washington played a fairly underwhelming schedule. None of that can be changed though, and Alabama will play Washington in the Peach Bowl and Ohio State will play Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Both games will go on New Year’s Eve.

What to watch this week?

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  • Tuesday: Oilers at Sabres 7:00pm ET, Canadiens at Blues 8:00pm ET
  • Wednesday: Bruins at Capitals 8:00pm ET, Cavaliers at Knicks 8:00pm ET, Warriors at Clippers 10:30pm ET
  • Thursday: Raiders at Chiefs 8:25pm ET, Bulls at Spurs 9:30PM ET
  • Friday: Raptors at Celtics 7:30pm ET, Rockets at Thunder 8:00pm ET, Rangers at Blackhawks 8:30pm ET, Sharks at Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Saturday: Senators at Kings 4:00pm ET, Penguins at Lighting 7:00pm ET, Warriors at Grizzlies 8:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Stars at Blackhawks 7:00pm ET, Celtics at Thunder 7:00pm ET, Cowboys at Giants 8:30pm ET
  • Monday: Bruins at Canadiens 7:30pm ET, Ravens at Patriots 8:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.