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.

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.

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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. 15-21)

The Man Who Can Stickhandle Between Raindrops: The Underrated Marian Hossa

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As a young hockey fan, I did not understand trades. When Marian Hossa was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, I presumed that meant I could not like Hossa anymore. He was not on the Ottawa Senators, which meant he was the enemy! Around the age of 14, I realized how amazing Hossa was, and how stupid I was for pretending he did not exist. Watching him tear through the playoff with the Chicago Blackhawks was truly a gift. I watched those Blackhawk games with my father, who is not much of a hockey buff, but he always enjoys watching the Senators and the playoffs. After Hossa made a fabulous play, stickhandling around just about everyone on the ice, my dad said one of my favourite lines ever. “Josh, ya know what they used to say about Hossa on the Sens broadcast? They said he could stickhandle between raindrops.” My dad is not one to remember sports history, but there is a reason that stuck with him. It was an apt description for a magnificent hockey player.

Marian Hossa has played 1300 games in the NHL and recorded 1128 points. But, these solid statistics still do not do him justice. Hossa deserves an immense amount of praise for his ability to be effective without the puck. The Slovakian superstar has received votes for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) in 12 of his 18 seasons, and in 6 of those was in the Top 15 in voting. Selke Trophy winners are typically rough and tough competitors, and you would not think of a smooth-skating European being good defensively. But, Hossa uses his lower-body strength and his terrific stick to create turnovers and transition into an offensive breakout. It is a unique talent to do the things Hossa can do with his stick in such tight spaces, and in one motion. Hossa is one of the smoothest operators there is, and is able to be smooth even when in the dirty areas. Hossa’s ability to be continuously active without the puck in the defensive zone, neutral zone and even offensive zone while fore-checking makes him invaluable.

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Hossa’s contributions without the puck are exceptional, but it is important to understand that he was not just an average two-way forward; he was, and is, among the league’s best. Hossa may not be the top guy anymore, or an all-star, but he is undoubtedly one of the best 35+ year old players in this league. When Hossa joined the Blackhawks in 2009, he was 30. Since joining the team, his numbers have been startling. Since the 2009-10 season, Hossa has 409 points in 525 games and is a +133. There are only five players with a higher plus/minus than that (Crosby, Toews, Marchand, Bergeron and Chara). Hossa’s penalty killing ability is otherworldly as well, as he has the third most shorthanded points in the league (24) since 2009-10. His crafty stick work translates to offensive opportunities, and he plays a true 200 foot game. Hossa’s stick has led him to becoming an astoundingly good playmaker, as he can find his teammates without hesitation.

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Hossa is also an underrated goal scorer, and earlier this season reached the 500 goal plateau. Hossa has been a consistent threat throughout his career, having scored 20 goals in 15 of his 18 seasons; for context, there are only 25 other men in league history who have recorded 15 or more seasons of 20+ goals. Hossa’s gift as a goal scorer comes from his wonderful hands, quick release, and most importantly, his patience. Hossa, when given space, will make a goaltender look like a confused gymnast, and stretch them all over the net. He will conclude by using his quick release to deposit the puck in the gaping net.

As a fan, it is important to have fun watching these players. Ryan Getzlaf may be an elite centre, but his style of play can be boring to watch. Hossa is fun to watch, and he does it all. He can hit, use his acceleration to create a scoring opportunity, or stickhandle through a platoon of players. Hossa covers all bases.

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But, this begs the question: how great is Hossa? He has 1000 points, 500 goals, and three Stanley Cup rings. After losing in 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Hossa signed a 12-year $62.3 million contract with the Blackhawks. Hossa took heat for the contract, which led to an apparent investigation, as the contract was front-loaded and the NHL doubted Hossa’s likeliness to play until 42. Amid controversy, Hossa produced 51 points in 57 games during the 2009-10 season, then chipped in with 15 points in 22 games during the playoffs to, bring Chicago its first Cup in 49 years.

Had Hossa not signed with Chicago, he might have been one of the greatest ever to not win the Cup. But, he saw potential in the Blackhawks, and by joining a dynasty he solidified himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Hossa has never been “the guy,” but he is one of the greatest sidekicks of all-time. Hossa has lined up alongside the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews. Hossa is more than just a secondary contributor, though. He is one of the league’s best winners. Since the 2000-01 season, no one has played in more playoff games than Marian Hossa, and the margin is significant. Hossa has played in 191 playoff games since 2000-01; the closest to him is Pavel Datsyuk at 157. More importantly, Hossa has the most points since 2000-01 with 147. In his career, Hossa has played 201 playoff games, good for 19th all-time. At this pace, and given Hossa’s longevity, he has a good chance to pass Chris Chelios (266 games) for the most all-time.

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As an Ottawa Senators fan it still hurts me that management decided to trade Hossa for Dany Heatley in 2005. Hossa’s proven playoff performance begs the question: did losing Hossa cost the Senators the Stanley Cup? Ottawa should never have given up Hossa. The Atlanta Thrashers were in a tight spot when Heatley asked for a trade after the car accident that killed, Dan Snyder. Other trades could have been pursued to keep Hossa in Ottawa. The Blackhawks ended up with one of the best players of his era, and he has rewarded fans with magnificent play on a nightly basis. No fan, in Ottawa, Chicago, or any other city in the NHL, will ever forget watching the man who could stickhandle through raindrops.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Boston Bruins have hit a rut. After going 12-3-0 under interim Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, the B’s have now lost three in a row and have the Toronto Maple Leafs hot on their tails. If the Leafs overtake the Bruins, Boston will fall to the second wild-card spot and have a date with the Metropolitan Division’s winner in the playoffs. That is, assuming the Bruins can hold off the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, who have games in hand on the Bruins. Brad Marchand has led the way all year for the Bruins, and he will need to be play his absolute best if he wants to assure the Bruins post-season hockey.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning have allowed 15 goals in their last three games, and the heavy workload has taken its toll on young goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy is a talented individual, but he has never logged more than 32 games in an NHL season (post-season included). He has already appeared in 42 games this year for the Lightning, and fatigue has caught up to him. His teammates have not given him their best effort in the last three games, as they came out flat against Toronto, were beaten by a better team against Washington, and lost a must-win against Arizona. The Toronto game was winnable, but the Arizona loss is inexcusable. Tampa Bay is now four points back of the playoffs, and their playoff hopes looks grim.

Stars of the Week

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  • In an odd turn of events, the St. Louis Blues have made a serious playoff push despite trading Kevin Shattenkirk. The Blues now find themselves third in the Central Division, and have won eight of their last nine games. Much of this turnaround can be credited to tighter defensive play, and serious improvements from Jake Allen. Allen has had seven starts over this nine game stretch, winning six of the seven and sporting, a 1.29 goals against average and a .956 save percentage. He has been lights out. Vladimir Tarasenko has done his part offensively, as he has six goals and eight points over the nine game stretch. It appears as though St. Louis will see post-season hockey, but their success from there on out will dependent on how well Jake Allen plays.
  • Huge praise goes to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season the Blue Jackets had 34 wins and 76 points. This year, with 11 games remaining, they have 100 points, have clinched a playoff position and may win the Metropolitan Division. Head Coach John Tortorella should win the Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year) for their incredible turnaround. Sergei Bobrovsky has been phenomenal after dropping weight this summer. Bobrovsky has a league-best 39 wins, and has a .931 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average. Expect Bobrovsky to be the front-runner for the Vezina.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors had a rallying cry on Tuesday. The Raps were getting pummeled by the Chicago Bulls, and the Bulls looked to be on route to their twelfth consecutive victory over the Raptors. Then, chaos erupted. Raptors’ power forward Serge Ibaka gave Bulls’ centre Robin Lopez a shot in the back, and a scuffle ensued, with Lopez and Ibaka throwing punches. Players, officials and coaches came to break up the fight, which saw ejections for both Ibaka and Lopez. Trailing 88-72, the Raptors went on a tear led by DeMar DeRozan and erased the 16 point deficit to force overtime, where they would win 122-120. The Raptors had been cursed against the Bulls since 2014, but on Tuesday evening they broke the curse. The team should rally around this victory, and use it as an example of perseverance for the remainder of the season.
  • The Raptors now trail the Washington Wizards by half a game, and still have the Boston Celtics in their sights trailing by three games. Over the next two weeks the Raptors will have an easier schedule, playing some of the NBA’s lesser talented clubs. If they want to catch-up and pass both of the aforementioned teams, they will need to go on a run. With a three-game winning streak right now, the Raptors have a good chance to go a run, and the post-season approaches it is vital they play their best basketball.

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Spurs (54-16)
  • San Antonio may be second in the Western Conference, but they have both wins over the Golden State Warriors, and they will likely stay in first until the Warriors beat them. This could come sooner rather than later, as the two teams are slated for a showdown on March 29th. Hopefully, for the sake of the fans, the superstars will play. Controversy aside, the Spurs had two close losses this week, but as usual they bounced right back with two wins and will look to build momentum towards next week’s rematch against the Warriors.
  1. Warriors (57-14)
  • The Warriors’ bad form has been pushed aside, as they overtook the Spurs for first place in the Western Conference and are on a five-game win streak. The turnaround can largely be attributed to their fourth quarter comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers, which kicked off this win streak. Since that game, Steph Curry has not had to play a single fourth quarter minute, as the game was out of reach after the third. The Warriors will need to uphold this high standard of play if they want to beat the Spurs in a week, and you can bet they have that date circled on their calendars.
  1. Cavaliers (46-23)
  • Another big game on national television, and another trio of stars were given the night off. A common theme in the NBA, accompanied by another common theme: that the Cleveland Cavaliers cannot win a game without LeBron James. Without the big three, the Cavs were thrashed on Saturday by the Los Angeles Clippers. They, still managed to win their games against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, though, so it was a standard week for Cleveland.
  1. Celtics (45-26)
  • The Boston Celtics continue to chip away at Cleveland’s lead in the East, and now trail by only two games. They had an impressive win against the Wizards on Monday, which saw the Celtics’ depth shine, with five players reaching double digit point totals. This depth will be vital down the stretch, as Isaiah Thomas cannot carry this Celtics team every night without suffering fatigue. The Celtics will look to close the gap on the Cavaliers before their April 5th showdown, which could play a huge factor in deciding the top seed for the Eastern Conference.
  1. Raptors (42-29)
  • There is some East bias here, but the Raptors have won four of their last five, all without Kyle Lowry, and look ready to hit that next level. This is not just a Raptors team that is winning without Lowry, but it is one that looks strong. That makes Lowry’s return that much more exciting. Could this Raptors team really top last year’s run? Time will tell. But, continuing to win without Lowry would give them the swagger and confidence to believe they could.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Maple Leafs vs Blue Jackets 7:00pm ET, Islanders vs Rangers 8:00pm ET, Oilers vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Thursday: March Madness 7:09pm ET, Lightning vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Blue Jackets vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Penguins vs Senators 7:30pm ET, Raptors vs Heat 7:30pm ET, Grizzlies vs Spurs 8:30pm ET
  • Friday: Islanders vs Penguins 7:00pm ET, March Madness 7:09pm ET
  • Saturday: March Madness TBD, Jazz vs Clippers 3:30pm ET, Senators vs Canadiens 7:00pm ET, Flames vs Blues 7:00pm ET, Islanders vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Wizards vs Cavaliers 7:30pm ET, Sharks vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Kings 10:30pm ET
  • Sunday: March Madness TBD, Thunder vs Rockets 3:30pm ET, Grizzlies vs Warriors 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Ducks 9:00pm ET
  • Monday: Blackhawks vs Lightning 7:30pm ET, Cavaliers vs Spurs 8:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Panthers vs Maple Leafs 7:30pm ET, Capitals vs Wild 8:00pm ET, Warriors vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Kings vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Rangers 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 (Feb. 8-15)

The Time is now: Can the Ottawa Senators Make Magic?

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The Ottawa Senators are sitting in second place in the Atlantic division and are in a prime position to do something they have not done since 2005-06: win a division title. 2005-06 was a much different time for the Senators: they arguably had the best first line in the league: with Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. Backed by star blue-liners Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara, along with goaltender Dominik Hasek, the Sens were amongst the best in the league. Now, all six of those players are gone. As a matter of fact, only two players remain from that 05-06 roster: Chris Neil and Chris Kelly. Neil is a healthy scratch the majority of nights now, and Kelly is a fourth-line center and penalty killer. A new core has emerged in Ottawa one that is primed and ready to burst onto the scene.

At the heart of the Sens is team captain Erik Karlsson, arguably the best defenseman in the game. Already the team’s offensive star, Karlsson has undergone a drastic transformation defensively this season. In contrast to last season under Dave Cameron, Karlsson has focused more on his defensive abilities for Head Coach Guy Boucher, resulting in Karlsson’s promotion to the penalty kill unit. The statistics speak for themselves: Karlsson is top three in blocked shots (144), points, and assists amongst defenseman. If it was not for the phenomenal season of Brent Burns, Karlsson would likely be poised to win his third Norris Trophy.

Speaking of defenseman, Karlsson has the stable Marc Methot to back him up and provide structure. An underrated veteran Methot adds stability to the back-end and allows Karlsson to experiment offensively, by remaining committed to defense. The Ottawa native plays against superstars every night, but still boasts a team best +12 on a team that has a negative goal differential. Methot is loved by his coach and his teammates, and provides leadership for a young Senators’ team each and every night.

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Up front the Sens’ core is different than most teams. While many teams will put their three best forwards on the same line, Guy Boucher has spreads the talent. Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman are all separated, allowing the Senators to have three dangerous lines every night. These three account for 56 of the Senators 145 goals this season, or 38.6% of total team scoring. All three bring unique strength that make them even more special.

Stone carries himself with a high degree of thievery, as the Winnipeg native leads the league in takeaways and it is not even close. Stone has 73 takeaways, 17 ahead of second-place Filip Forsberg. Last season Stone had 128 takeaways; the year before that 98. In every full season he has played Stone has won the takeaway title. His ability to steal the puck, and lead the transition helps create offensive chances for the Senators.

Turris is having a career-year in the faceoff circle at 52.4% (28h in the league), and boasts 54.3% in the defensive zone (15th in the league) and 54.2% in the neutral zone (26th in the league) (Minimum 500 faceoffs taken). Turris’ ability to win faceoffs has helped him drastically improve in his own end, and earned him penalty-kill time under Guy Boucher’s system. Turris has enjoyed a bounce-back season, after an injury plagued 2015-16 season and has earned the title of a number one center. A low-end number one center, but a number one center nonetheless.

Hoffman was ridiculed by his past two head coaches for lacking a defensive identity and was punished. Guy Boucher formerly coached Hoffman in Drummondville in the Quebec Minor Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and Boucher’s connection with Hoffman has made him into much more of a two-way player. Hoffman has played on the third line for a while now, but has continued to score goals. Hoffman has eleven powerplay goals, which is tied for second in the league and six of his eighteen goals have been game-winners. The young sniper has provided offense on a below-average powerplay and has scored in the clutch, while learning that goals can come with great defensive structure.

The last piece may contain one of the most underrated goaltending tandems in the league. To begin the MVP of the Senators since November has been Mike Condon. The 26 year-old made 28 straight appearances for the Ottawa Senators a feat that will likely not be matched in the current NHL’s format ever again. Through some luck, perseverance and a great amount of skill Condon not only kept the Senators afloat, he managed to put them in a playoff position.

Washington Capitals v Ottawa Senators

Finally it is time to talk about an unheralded hero, Craig Anderson is one of the most underrated goalies in the league. I will dispute that with anyone, anytime, anywhere, be my guest. Anderson has gone through hell off the ice this season, supporting his wife Nicholle, while she undergoes treatment for her cancer. Because of this, Anderson has been away from the team. Despite this, Craig has managed 13 wins in 21 starts, and posted four shutouts in his first 20 starts. In the long run, having two goalies who can provide above-average goaltending each night is a huge bonus for the Senators.

The Sens currently find themselves in second place in the Atlantic division. Bu, how far can they go? In a press conference this past Wednesday Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk offered his take on the Senators position, saying he is open to taking a financial “bet” if it will make the team better and draw more fans. That begs the question: what do the Senators need? The finger right away points to Matt Duchene, who the Colorado Avalanche are actively shopping. But, his demand is high, and the price is steep: an established player, a first round pick and an elite level prospect. In Ottawa’s case that would likely mean Cody Ceci, 2017 first round pick and Thomas Chabot or Colin White going to Coloardo. Between White and Chabot, White would seem to be the expendable one, as Chabot will undoubtedly be in the NHL next year and will have a serious impact. However, Duchene should not be Ottawa’s target.

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The Sens top six forwards are fine. The team could, improve on defense. The St. Louis Blues have been rumoured to be listening to offers for Kevin Shattenkirk, who is a pending unrestricted free agent this summer. Shattenkirk is having a career-year offensively, with 39 points in 57 games. He could stabilize the Sens top four defensemen while also providing a much needed boost to the powerplay. This team excels when they have a puck-moving defenseman like Karlsson helping run the offense. Shattenkirk would be a natural fit for the Senators. Furthermore, Shattenkirk is reported to be flexible on signing his next contract, as long as the money and situation seems right. Bringing Shattenkirk in for somewhere around six and a half to seven million dollars a year makes sense.

A trade for Shattenkirk would likely involve Ceci, which would be fine, as the Ottawa native has not proven himself enough to the Senators’ organization. If, his departure meant Shattenkirk’s arrival, it would be a worthwhile trade. On top of Ceci, there would be at least one first round pick, if not two, and if not two first round picks, then potentially Colin White or Logan Brown. At the start of the year, the Senators likely would not have been as flexible with their prospects. But, the emergence of Filip Chlapik in the QMJHL has allowed for this. The Czech national has 78 points in 43 games for the Charlottetown Islanders this year, and the Senators have certainly noticed the 19 year-old’s progression.

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If the Senators want to win the division I believe they should make a trade. With Montreal somewhat off-track, and Boston struggling they have a great opportunity to win the division.  If they are going to trade for a forward at all, let it be to round out the bottom six. Acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk should be their focus. Shattenkirk’s addition would take this team to a new level. With how well the Senators have played against elite talent this season, they could possibly go on a playoff run. If Ottawa wants to prove to Erik Karlsson that the organization is committed to winning it is time to spend some money and make a deal. Karlsson and much of the core are in their prime. The time is now for the Ottawa Senators, and they would be foolish to squander it.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Dallas Stars have won one game in their last seven, and are watching the playoffs slip away. A large contributing factor to the Stars lack of success is their abysmal record on the road. Away from the American Airlines Center the Stars are 7-17-4 on the season, which is one of the worst records in the league. On top of that, the Stars have had injuries to Ales Hemsky, Johnny Oduya and Jason Spezza. Ultimately it may end up being a fire-sale in Dallas, as the plan for a deep playoff run is not materializing.
  • In the same year that Mike Ilitch, former Detroit Red Wings owner departed this earth, his beloved Red Wings will likely miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. The illustrious streak’s reckoning brings about the question: is it time for a full rebuild? The answer to that should be yes. Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek all should be shopped while they still have value, as the Red Wings now sit dead-last in the Eastern Conference. Without a miracle, Hockeytown will not be bringing the octopi to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Stars of the Week

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Florida Panthers

  • Jaromir Jagr has recorded a point in each of his last three games and has become only the second player in NHL history to reach 1,900 career points. Jagr is still nowhere near Wayne Gretzky’s career total, but his feat is very impressive. Not to mention, the man has 32 points at 45 years of age. The Florida Panthers will need Jagr to continue to produce, if they want to continue their push for the playoffs. The Panthers find themselves three points outside of the final wild card spot. They have fared well out West against tough opponents, including the San Jose Sharks, whom they beat in a 6-5 overtime win on Wednesday.
  • The New York Rangers are back to their winning ways. Broadway’s finest have won their last six game, and find themselves only two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the hotly contested Metropolitan division. The Rangers carry the best road record in the league, at an impressive 19-7-0. This record could be a huge indicator of their playoff success, as winning games on the road in the playoffs is vital to a deep playoff run.

 

 

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors shook up their roster this week by trading for the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka. The Raptors sent a first-round pick and Terrence Ross back to the Magic for the services of the power forward, and while Ibaka has not played, the Raptors know what he will bring to the table. Ibaka defends the rim, can score offensively, can stretch the floor with a nice mid-range, and even has decent three point shooting. The Raptors will finally have an established starting power forward, and having Patrick Patterson and Jared Sullinger coming off the bench adds to their frontcourt depth.
  • The team turned a corner on Wednesday. After an atrocious loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, the Raptors looked to be on their way to another poor loss, this time to the Charlotte Hornets. At the start of the fourth quarter, Toronto trailed by 17. Then, they went on an improbable 32-10 run that had everyone out of their seats. Using an unorthodox five that was not reliant on star power the Raptors were able to come back and win the game, capped off by a dagger three pointer from DeMarre Carroll. The group now heads into the All-Star break on a high note, and I am sure we will see a much better Raptors team when they return.

 

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Warriors (47-9)
  • The Warriors continue to win. But, there is one negative trend. When the Warriors lose, it is either by blowout, or a blown lead late in the game. This was the case against the Denver Nuggets, where Nikola Jokic put together a stat-line of 17 points, 21 rebounds and 12 assists, and led the Nuggets to a dominant 132-110 win. It seemed as if the Warriors were going to see a similar fate on Wednesday when Draymond Green received two technical fouls and was ejected. The Warriors, however, rallied and handled the Sacramento Kings. Head Coach Steve Kerr will look to eliminate the off nights for the Warriors after the All-Star break, as the team prepares for the last haul of the regular season.
  1. Spurs (43-13)
  • Other than a hiccup in New York, the Spurs took four of five games in an eight day span. Star player Kawhi Leonard contributed 30 points or more in four of the five games. Off-season acquisition DeWayne Dedmon has upped his game as of late. With the injury to Pau Gasol, Dedmon has seen an increase in playing time from 17 minutes per game this year to 25 a night in February, and seen his point production and rebound production increase dramatically. A master technician Gregg Popovich is grinning ear to ear, and will likely take note of Dedmon’s contribution, who could come up huge playing against other big men in the playoffs.
  1. Celtics (37-19)
  • The race for first in the Eastern conference is on. The Boston Celtics have left the Raptors in their dust and now have their sights set on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics have lost one game in their last twelve and have really made a huge statement. They get the Bulls on Thursday before the All-Star break, and they better enjoy that rest as they will go into a hostile environment on February 24th when they take on the Toronto Raptors in Toronto for a crucial divisional matchup.
  1. Cavaliers (39-16)
  • The wheels are back on the bus in Cleveland. After playing way below standards to start his tenure as a Cavalier Kyle Korver has turned it around. The Creighton product has shot the three-ball above 60% in February and averaged 15.4 points per game, which is a pace that makes the Cavaliers extremely dangerous once again. Korver has even spoke of wanting to play two to three more years, and hopefully that being in Cleveland, which I am sure has made LeBron and company more than happy.
  1. Wizards (33-21)
  • The Wizards have not lost by double digits since January 2nd. They have undergone a complete transformation, which has led to their impressive run to third place in the Eastern conference. The one thing the Wizards do have to fear is an intense road schedule after the All-Star break. With only ten home games remaining, the Wizards will finish the season playing eighteen road games, which will be an important test for this young team before the playoffs.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Thursday: Celtics vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Flyers vs Oilers 9:00pm ET,
  • Friday: Penguins vs Blue Jackets 7:00pm ET, NBA: Team World vs Team USA 9:00pm ET, Panthers vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Saturday: Oilers vs Blackhawks 7:00pm ET, Senators vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, NBA All-Star Saturday 8:00pm ET, Panthers vs Kings 10:00pm ET, Flames vs Canucks 10:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Capitals vs Rangers 12:30pm ET, NBA All-Star Game 8:00pm ET, Bruins vs Sharks 8:30pm ET, Kings vs Ducks 9:00pm ET
  • Monday: Panthers vs Blues 8:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Canadiens vs Rangers 7:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Wild 8:00pm ET

 

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe and Brayden Cavanagh 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

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  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 (Jan. 11-17)

The John Scott Effect: Fan Voting from a Business Perspective

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One year ago John Scott became a household name. Scott was voted into the NHL All-Star Game by fans as the Pacific division Captain. The move was controversial, as many saw Scott as not deserving, having been a tough guy his entire career. More, the league believe, that the move came as fans abusing the fan voting system. However, his supporters remained adamant that Scott was deserving, and that they would love to see the enforcer play. The saga got complicated when Scott was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, and told he may be ruled ineligible to play, later being sent down to Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps. Scott was defiant, and claimed he would not step down and would play in the All-Star Game. On January 19th 2016, the NHL announced that, despite the trade, John Scott would remain captain of the Pacific division team.  This move brought the National Broadcasting Corporation Sports Network (NBCSN) their best ever ratings for an NHL All-Star Game. The 2016 All-Star Game saw a 34% increase in viewership, from the 2015 All-Star Game. While this came the same year the NHL switched to a 3 on 3 tournament format, it is evident how large of an effect Scott had the event.

With this in mind, the NBA’s fan voting system has come under fire recently. Golden State Warriors veteran center Zaza Pachulia had 823,376 votes in the last fan voting update, which slots him in second place in the Western Conference’s frontcourt voting. The top three frontcourt vote-getters, should secure their spot in the NBA All-Star Game as a starter. Despite the common belief, Pachulia is not a bench player. He is, in fact, a starter, starting on arguably the best team in the NBA. However, the big man is not a star, averaging only 5.5 points per game (PPG), 5.9 rebounds per game (RPG) and 2.1 assists per game (APG). Zaza is more of a role player, helping the Warriors with matchups, as they are a very small team other than Pachulia. Similarly to Scott’s case, Pachulia’s campaign has been criticized. However, the NBA did not want to take any risks with the process. So, they made a change to fan voting prior to this season.

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Last year, Pachulia finished 4th in All-Star voting for the Western frontcourt, only 14,000 votes behind San Antonio Spurs’ superstar Kawhi Leonard. The NBA breathed a sigh of relief, as they wanted no part in something similar to the Scott situation. The NBA changed their voting format to weight votes; 50% from the fans, 25% from the media and 25% from the players. It is very unlikely we will see the big man from Georgia (the former Soviet republic) in New Orleans. That is a crying shame. The NBA is the absolute best at growing their product internationally of the Big 4 Leagues in the North America (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL). Consider how popular Yao Ming was in NBA fan-voting when he was in the league. Ming was selected to eight all-star games, despite only playing for eight seasons. Now Ming was truly deserving most seasons. But, his ability to reach a large, global audience made him one of the NBA’s biggest stars. In November 2007, Ming played against fellow Chinese player Yi Jianlian for the first time in the NBA. This matchup between the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks was one of the most watched games in NBA history, with over 200 million in China ALONE tuning in to the matinee.

Now Pachulia does not have the same kind of reach. Though, he was born in the Soviet Union. There is only one Russian-born NBA player right now, Los Angeles Lakers’ center Timofey Mozgov. Clearly Pachulia has a strong following in Europe, since he has been extremely high in All-Star voting for two years. So, why not market him to Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region? The CIS has not had a hero in basketball since Andrei Kirilenko was in the NBA. In April of 2016, the NBA partnered with Sports.ru, Russia’s leading sports website to produce Russian-hosted NBA content. Allowing Pachulia into the All-Star Game would be the perfect way of capitalizing on this newfound audience.

All things considered, why not capitalize on an opportunity to do something different? Put Pachulia in the All-Star Game. It is a low-risk, high reward scenario. Even if Pachulia was not received well, this game would attract medium and light viewers, some of whom may just want to watch the game for Pachulia. Even those against Pachulia would watch the game, hoping he would fail or look lackluster. As the saying goes, “any publicity is good publicity”. Put Pachulia in the All-Star game and the NBA’s media presence would skyrocket. On a national, and, more importantly, on an International level, the impact would be far-reaching. Spanning all the way from the U.S. to Russia, and all through Europe. The CIS region has a population of nearly 300 million people. If the NBA could grab the attention of as little as five percent, that is 15 million watching the NBA All-Star game in an undeveloped market. Let us not forget that the guys who do not want to play in the All-Star Game, and instead want time off for a holiday, Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said being voted into the All-Star Game means “absolutely nothing”. If one of your stars, who has been there multiple times, is saying that, it should be a sign that giving a star some time off, and letting a journeyman go, would be a good idea.

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Finally, the NBA is changing right now. Look at some of the young guns in the league right now from Europe; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, Jonas Valanciunas; the list goes on. Pachulia was one of the first centers to be able to move the ball effectively in the league, something players like Jokic polished in Europe and have now brought over to the NBA. With all this mind, give the journeyman a chance to shine and take part in a great weekend in New Orleans. At the end of the day Pachulia would not just represent himself. He would represent Georgia, the CIS region, even Europe. Most importantly, he would represent all those journeymen who never got to play in an All-Star Game. Make it happen NBA.

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The Weekly Rap

  • The Toronto Raptors win against the Boston Celtics last week kicked off a hot streak. The Raps have won their last four games, the last three coming in easier outings against the Brooklyn Nets twice and a blowout against the New York Knicks. Tuesday evening Kyle Lowry was rested and back-up point guard Cory Joseph stepped up dropping 33 points on 15 for 22 shooting. Even Raptors’ prospect Fred Van Vleet played a career-high 25 minutes, running the point like a veteran.
  • The Raptors fortunes are changing at the right time, as the Cleveland Cavaliers are not playing well. The Raptors are only 1.5 games back of the Cavaliers. If the Cavs continue to struggle, and the Raptors go on a lengthy run they could take over first in the Eastern Conference.

Top 5 NBA Power Rankings

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  1. Warriors (35-6)
  • Golden State absolutely thrashed the Cavaliers. LeBron James was left frustrated, and the Warriors looked like the better team by far. The Warriors still have some tough games ahead of them in January, facing the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. However, one of the most emotional games of the season could come this evening. Tonight the Warriors welcome Oklahoma City taking on the Thunder. It could get ugly.
  1. Spurs (32-9)
  • San Antonio has gone 2-2 in their last four games, but Kawhi Leonard is heating up and has dropped 30 points in all four of those games. If Leonard can consistently produce close to 30 points a night and continue his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy, the former Finals’ MVP can help the Spurs compete with any team.
  1. Clippers (29-14)
  • After a poor stretch, the Los Angeles Clippers find themselves back in the thick of things. The Clippers have won their last seven, with all of those wins coming by a margin of eight or more points. DeAndre Jordan has averaged 15.3 PPG, 17.6 RPG, and 2.3 BPG in the month of January, and been a huge reason for the Clippers resurgence in the Western Conference standings.
  1. Rockets (32-12)
  • Houston has lost three of their last four. But, James Harden is still playing ridiculously well. However, if the Rockets want to have any shot at beating Golden State again this week, they will need to have everyone shooting well and playing good defense. Golden State looks like they have found another gear, and the Rockets will need to find that extra gear as well if they want to be victorious.
  1. Cavaliers (29-11)
  • Away from Quicken Loans Arena the Cavaliers have been mediocre of late. They are 11-8 on the road this season, and they have not looked good. They were embarrassed on Martin Luther King Day against the Warriors, and it cannot be forgotten they lost to an under-performing Portland Trail Blazers squad by 16 last week. Not to mention they only scored 86 points against the Trail Blazers, one of the worst defenses in the league. Cleveland needs to get on track. Fortunately for them, their early season success has protected them while they find their form.

 

NHL News

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The Penalty Box

  • The New York Islanders fired head coach Jack Capuano this past week. The firing was unexpected, as the team’s performance has improved of late. The Isles are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, better than their usual performance this season. Doug Weight will assume coaching duties and attempt to right the ship, but a rebuild may be in store for the Islanders.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning have won two games in January. That is not going to get you to the playoffs, especially when you are already behind the pack. It does not get any easier as the Lighting still have four games left on their eight game road-trip and are 9-12-3 away from home. If the Lighting do not turn it around soon, things will get pretty dark with such high expectations down South.

Stars of the Week

NHL: APR 07 Penguins at Senators

  • How about Mark Stone? The Ottawa Senators have struggled to find scoring outside of Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris this season, but Stone is on a tear as of late. Stone has 18 points in his last 17 games, and has continued his strong defensive play, stealing pucks from unsuspecting players night after night. Stone’s consistency will be imperative to the Senators’ push for the playoffs.
  • The Washington Capitals nine game win-streak came to the end in a game of the year candidate against the Pittsburgh Penguins, falling 8-7 in overtime. However, their recent success has seen them catch up to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and are now within striking distance to take first place in the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division. A lot of this success can be attributed to stellar goaltending from Braden Holtby and Phillip Grubauer, but also a red-hot Alexander Ovechkin who has 16 points in his last 14 games.

 

NFL First Down and Three & Out

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  • Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers took down the Dallas Cowboys in the most watched game in NFL Divisional round history. A late charge by the Cowboys was not enough, after Rodgers, on 3rd and 20, found Jared Cook on the sidelines for a sensational catch. Afterwards, as time winded down, Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby nailed a field goal from 51 yards out to send the Packers to the NFC Championship game. What made the Rodgers to Cook connection even more impressive was that Rodgers drew the play up himself in the huddle, telling receivers what routes to run. Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett said Rodgers will go down as “one of the top-three QBs of all-time”. A huge compliment for the MVP candidate.
  • The 72 million dollar man himself Brock Osweiler was brutal against the New England Patriots. The Houston Texans’ quarterback threw three interceptions and was held under 200 yards with only one touchdown. Osweiler did not step up when it mattered and unless things change he will likely continue to underwhelm for the next three years.

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What to watch this week?

  • Wednesday: Penguins vs Canadiens 7:30pm ET, Thunder vs Warriors 10:30pm ET, Sharks vs Kings 10:30pm ET
  • Thursday: Senators vs Blue Jackets 7:00pm ET, Capitals vs Blues 8:00pm ET
  • Friday: Raptors vs Hornets 7:00pm ET, Warriors vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Bulls vs Hawks 8:00pm ET
  • Saturday: Senators vs Maple Leafs 7:00pm ET, Rockets vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET, Spurs vs Cavaliers 8:30pm ET, Ducks vs Wild 9:00pm ET Oilers vs Flames 10:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Bruins vs Penguins 3:00pm ET, Packers vs Falcons 3:05pm ET, Steelers vs Patriots 6:40pm ET
  • Monday: Kings vs Rangers 7:00pm ET, Clippers vs Hawks 7:30pm ET, Thunder vs Jazz 9:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Spurs vs Raptors 7:00pm ET, Capitals vs Senators 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 (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.