From their colors to their coasts, the Devils and Kings couldn’t be more different, yet in other areas, these teams have quite a bit in common, especially their underdog status.
Nobody expected the No. 6 seed Devils, or worse, the No. 8 seed Kings to be around in June playing for the Stanley Cup, but alas, here we are, with Jersey and L.A. as the last teams standing.
Historically speaking, the edge goes to the Devils who are gunning for a fourth championship (they won it all in 1995, 2000 and 2003) as they have now made the Final five times since 1995. Not too shabby. In fact, the 1995 Devils, as a No. 5 seed, are etched in the history books as being the lowest seed to ever win the Cup. One way or the other, a new group of men will take that title within the next two weeks.
The Kings record books are barren in comparison as the Gretzky-led Kings’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 marks the only Final appearance for L.A.
Both teams have players with Cup Final experience on their resumes, but the Kings young nucleus of Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and team captain Dustin Brown is completely lacking in that department while the Devils’ on-ice and locker room leader Martin Brodeur, is one of the most experienced players in the history of professional hockey.
The Kings’ inexperience has been nearly invisible since their unexpected playoff run began as L.A. ripped through the Western Conference with a 12-2 record after beating Vancouver Canucks in five games, sweeping the St. Louis Blues and disposing of the Phoenix Coyotes in five games as well. All three of L.A.’s series-winning games came on the road as the Kings are 8-0 away from home.
The Devils’ road to the Cup Final has been tougher, needing a full seven games to take care of the Florida Panthers in the first round, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games and the top-seed New York Rangers in six games. Of course, Brodeur - who turned 40-years-old during the Conference Semifinals - has been outstanding in net for the Devil while rookie Adam Henrique has impressed, scoring two series-winning goals, both coming in overtime periods.
The Devils won the regular season series beating the Kings in both games, the first, by a score of 3-0 (both teams played with backup goaltenders) and the second by a final score of 2-1 in a shootout. Both teams use size and aggression when battling for the puck and on the forecheck. It should be interesting to watch these two go against each other considering their similar style in that respect.
Perhaps the most interesting match up isn’t even a true match up at all, as Brodeur and Jonathan Quick are the brightest-shining stars of the bunch. Old Man Marty has a 2.04 GAA in the playoffs while Quick’s stat line looks outstanding with a 1.54 GAA. While neither guy has the flash or looks of a Henrik Lundqvist, both men have had their fair share of exquisite, body-bending saves throughout the playoffs. In fact, the Kings players themselves will admit that they wouldn’t have made the playoffs if it weren’t for the consistency of Quick throughout the regular season, especially in that last month.
Both goalies have had plenty of help in the playoffs as the Devils are averaging 11.27 blocked shots per game while the Kings are keeping the crease clear for Quick at a rate of 14.07 blocked shots per contest. Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell are playing with brutal physicality on the blue line for L.A. and Anton Volchenkov and Marek Zidlicky are doing the same for New Jersey.
As for the offense, the Devils are lucky, boasting four solid lines and guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise who have played big-time in these playoffs. As for the Kings, most agree that the team’s top six forwards are the ones to worry about, but L.A. has had 15 different players score at least one goal and another 15 log at least one assist in the playoffs. That’s ridonkulous.
Special teams has been interesting for both teams in the post season. The Devils are scoring on the man advantage 18.2% of the time while the Kings are at a measly 8.1% on the PP. Perhaps the more important number comes on the flip side of the coin. The Devils are 74.2% on the penalty kill while L.A. is a whopping 91.2% on the PK. Jersey has logged two shorthanded goals while the Kings have scored five while killing penalties. The Devils can really do some damage if they can poke holes in the Kings special teams play.
At the end of the day, my heart says Kings. Then again, I’ve picked against the Devils in every series, and they’ve made a liar out of me each time. I think the extra rest for the Kings, as well as their special teams unit and the play of Dustin Penner might just put L.A. over the top and crown the Kings Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history.
Hockey Day In America. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? NBC is trying to change that as the network hosts its second annual “Hockey Day In America,” a nine-hour block of hockey-related programming across various NBC platforms.
While hockey can’t seem to find a solid, widespread fan base in the United States, it’s as popular as ever in Canada and Europe and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to NHL games, would love to see that popularity shift to the U.S.
Lets dissect what Hockey Day In America will consist of before getting into why hockey isn’t, but should be more successful in the U.S.
Starting at Noon ET, three different NHL games will be aired on NBC. Depending on what region of the country you are in on Sunday morning, you’ll see either the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks at the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once the first round of games wraps up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will take on the Minnesota Wild in front of a national audience on NBC. The fun continues on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) with the New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens, also nationally televised, at around 6pm ET after the conclusion of Bruins at Wild.
NBC chose some great match-ups as each game features star players and intriguing story lines. From Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres to the Red Wings attempting to stretch their home winning streak to a whopping 23 games, there’s something for everyone to gravitate to, including the casual NHL fan and even someone who doesn’t know a thing about hockey.
But nobody is counting on back-to-back-to-back games to do the trick and convert your typical “any sport other than hockey” fan into an NHL sweater-wearing believer. NBC is weaving the details of the game and its culture throughout the nine-hour telecast in the form of features and human interest stories designed to keep the television audience engaged and actually teach people a thing or two about hockey.
While many of us think of hockey as a Canadian sport, the U.S. makes plenty of contributions to the game which will be showcased Sunday. For example, a disproportionate number of NHL players come from two tiny high school hockey programs in Minnesota. Located in towns with populations under 3,000, Roseau High School and Warroad High School will be featured on NBC as the rival schools pump out professional hockey players at an abnormally high rate.
Other tales to be told during Sunday’s telecast are those of a groundbreaking program created by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation which provides sled hockey for the physically challenged and “The Program,” which gives American kids interested in hockey a legitimate path to the NHL without having to leave the country for the Canadian junior leagues. American-born players will be featured and interviewed throughout the telecast.
The NHL had a small window of opportunity to increase its fan base during the NBA lockout, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to forge a grassroots movement to attract new viewers.
I once had a conversation with a front office employee of a non-Original Six (Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs) NHL team about how hard it is for his team to grow its fan base. He said the organization had seemingly tried everything to increase ticket sales and TV ratings but nothing would stick. Putting butts in seats inside the arena wasn’t as much of an issue as the TV ratings, which he said were extremely hard to grow.
It’s no coincidence that four of the NHL’s Original Six teams will be featured in “Hockey Day In America” as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal will bring their strong fan bases with them and perhaps NBC’s presentation of the traditions and folklore of those teams can get others outside of those markets interested in the sport and its history.
Sure, baseball is “American’s Pastime” and its roots run deep through U.S. soil, but football surpassed baseball as the country’s most popular sport years ago and basketball is beloved by Americans from every walk of life. If only sports fans realized that hockey has the violence of football, the speed of basketball and the agility and skill superior to both, they would certainly fall in love with the NHL.
They say “hockey doesn’t translate on TV,” and while there is some truth to that, once you learn the rules and understand the game, hockey is just as exciting to watch on television as any other sport. Seeing a game in person is also a fantastic experience.
Being able to watch hockey on TV was in jeopardy after the NHL lockout as the league was dropped by the networks that carried the games before the 2004-05 season which was lost completely due to the labor dispute. Luckily, NBC came along and partnered with the NHL (which I think saved the league from collapsing). NBC got one heck of a deal as they did not have to pay rights fees for the games, instead, agreeing to simply split ad revenue with the league.
The higher the TV ratings, the more money NBC and the NHL take home. Unfortunately, this year’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers had the lowest ratings in the short history of the event, in it’s fifth year. It’s not all bad news though because the game was moved from prime time on New Years Day to mid-day on Jan 2 (competing against college football) due to weather conditions which is probably a likely explanation for the ratings drop. The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins drew the event’s highest ratings with help from HBO’s reality series “24/7” leading up to the game (the cable network also featured this season’s Winter Classic teams) and because the match-up featured the NHL’s top players in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Given the massive programming block of Hockey Day In America, the NHL and NBC should be able to capitalize off a Sunday devoid football or baseball. Plus, NBC has a full hour of hockey all to itself before any NBA or NCAA basketball games start. That should be enough time to plant the seed and convert the non-believers into hockey fans, slowly but surely, beginning with nine hours of Hockey Day In America.
Sports trades can get awkward, especially when they fall through. In that situation, a player already knows his team tried to get rid of him and subsequently, he feels unwanted, etc.
But how about this gem, care of the Montreal Canadiens, as one of the NHL’s Original Six teams traded its forward Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames during their game against the rival Bruins in Boston on Thursday night.
We’ll get to the details of the trade itself in a moment, but first, we must discuss the horrendous timing of the trade, why it looks like Cammalleri was sent packing and why he was actually shipped to Calgary (20-19-5, 12th in the West).
The trade was finalized during a conference call between both teams and the league while the Habs (16-20-7, 12th in the East) and Bruins (28-11-1, 2nd in the East) were playing. After the second period ended, the Habs informed Cammalleri he had been traded, put him in a taxi cab and sent him back to the team hotel to await further instructions. Very 007, right? Anyway, once play resumed in the third period (the Habs went on to lose the game 2-1), the forward was noticeably missing from the Habs bench which started a firestorm of trade rumors on twitter.
Many assumed Cammalleri in essence packed his own bags after controversial comments he made about his own team. The nine-year NHL veteran managed to piss off all of Montreal when he pulled a Reggie Bush after a practice session on Wednesday, expressing some harsh opinions about his squad.
“I can’t accept that we will display a losing attitude as we’re doing this year,” Cammalleri told NHL.com reporter Arpon Basu and François Gagnon of La Presse. “We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder why we lose.”
Some have claimed that Cammalleri’s words got lost in translation when they were converted from English to French for print. Regardless of whether Cammalleri was quoted accurately or not, Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier said the incident had nothing to do with the trade. Surprisingly, I actually believe the guy!
When asked if the left winger’s insult of the team was a factor in the trade, Gauthier said, “Not not at all and I didn’t make a big deal about that. There’s emotion around the team somebody says something, I’d rather see emotion than people that don’t care. I just spoke with Mr. Cammalleri, I mean, he understands what was happening and I explained what we were trying to do with the team… He’s part of the team and he cares a lot, that’s why he made those comments.”
I watched those words come out of Gauthier’s mouth and he seemed genuine, so I’ll buy it. In that case, why did he trade Cammalleri, goaltender Karri Ramo and a 5th-round pick of the 2012 draft to Calgary in exchange for left winger Rene Bourque, center prospect Patrick Holland and a 2nd-round draft pick in 2013?
“We’ve been trying all those weeks [since December 1] to get bigger up front, we felt as the season started, that was one of the things, one of the reasons it would improve the club is we need to score harder goals,” Gauthier told the media. “We need to score the goals that are not the fancy ones and not the outside shots [the kind that Bourque is capable of scoring].”
As far as timing is concerned, Gauthier made some valid points. He said Cammalleri had to be pulled from the ice immediately upon finalization of the trade to reduce the likelihood of the other team involved changing its mind, or risking the possibility of Cammalleri getting injured, which would void the deal. Gauthier further explained the timing of the trade in terms of Bourque’s availability. The forward is now down to the last game of a five-game suspension he is serving for an elbow shot to the head of the Capital’s Nicklas Backstrom. Better to have your new player miss one game instead of five.
After learning of the trade, Bourque said with humorous honesty, “I might be in trouble… I don’t speak French, even if I have the most French name on that team.” Good luck buddy! A few of my close friends from Toronto went to college in Montreal and were unable to work because they weren’t fluent in French. Apparently, it is nearly impossible to find employment in the city if you don’t speak French. I guess Bourque should consider himself lucky.
As for Cammalleri, we’ll hear from him soon enough, but for now all we have to go on is that he understood why he was being traded, which is what Gauthier surmised after their conversation about the move.
With nine goals and 13 assists this season, Cammalleri will re-join his former team (he wore the Flames sweater for the 2008-2009 season) and reunite with old line mate Jarome Iginla. The two had great chemistry back in the 08-09 season, which was also the last time the Flames reached the playoffs.
Two days after getting canned by the Washington Capitals, Bruce Boudreau was hired to be the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks.
No, there wasn’t exactly a job opening at the time, but after winning only three of their last 19 games, the Ducks created a vacancy by firing Randy Carlyle after a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, also cutting loose two assistant coaches and the video coordinator.
The video coordinator? Like he was the reason the Ducks are 7-13-4 and tied with a league-low 18 points. Harsh!
Despite Alexander Ovechkin saying otherwise, it is suspected that Boudreau and his star player weren’t seeing eye to eye (e.g. benching Ovechkin - the team’s best player, making millions of dollars - in the final minute of a game against the Ducks, of all teams, on Nov. 1) in Washington, leading up to his firing.
From ESPN.com, “Boudreau led the Capitals to four consecutive division titles but couldn’t find sustained success in the playoffs, failing to advance beyond the second round. His attempt to instill more accountability this season backfired — Washington was not only losing, the losses were becoming humiliating. Change was all but inevitable.”
Even great coaches lose their locker room sometimes, as having top talent can be both a blessing and a curse. The situation in Anaheim is somewhat similar in that the Ducks roster has plenty of skill and experience, yet a disconnect exists preventing the team from success.
ESPN.com reports, “Ducks general manager Bob Murray called it ‘an extremely difficult decision,’ but said he felt the team needed ‘a new voice.’”
From a selfish standpoint, I’ll be happy to hear Boudreau’s voice in Southern California. While Lane Kiffin certainly has the fire, Boudreau’s toughness at least comes with a humorous edge making him a perfect personality for the L.A. sports scene.
As a reporter, I fell in love with Boudreau watching HBO’s 24/7 series focusing on last year’s Winter Classic game between the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Between the yelling, cursing, joking, and eating ice cream before 10am, what’s not to love? Boudreau should be a fascinating fit for a Ducks franchise that has yet to make it past the conference semifinal round of the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup, coached by Carlyle, in the 2006-2007 season.