2013 NHL PREVIEW: CENTRAL DIVISION

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Finally, after months and months of everyone involved being morons, causing 113 days, 625 games, and the biggest outdoor hockey game in history to be cancelled, hockey fans can finally say “Game On!”  The NHL has a new 10-year labor agreement, and is set to start the shortened, 48 game 2013 season on Saturday, January 19.  Find out what you need to know about every team in the NHL for the upcoming season, this time featuring the Central Division.  Continue after the jump to find out where your team will finish.

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Detroit Red Wings star Nicklas Lidstrom retires after 20 seasons

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Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom retired today after 20 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, ending one of the best blue-liner careers in hockey history.

The four-time Stanley Cup champion and seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman made a very emotional announcement as he said goodbye to the NHL.

From the AP:

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Blackhawks’ Late Surge Gains Pity Point, But Wings Prevail

Some sporting events have momentum swings that seem to occur in nearly every minute of action, but the tilt between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks was not one of those events.

Through the first 40 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s matinee between the Red Wings and Blackhawks, there was little doubt as to who the better team was on the ice. Sure, the Hawks got a huge break when Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard flipped a puck from behind the net directly to Andrew Shaw, but the Wings were the class of the Central for those 40 minutes, outshooting Chicago 29-11 and outscoring them 2-1. As soon as the third period started, however, it became a hockey game.

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2011 NHL Free Agency: Defensemen

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TOP NHL DEFENSEMAN FREE AGENTS

 

There is no real baseball being played right now, despite what Bud Selig wants us to think.  There is no action in the NBA or NFL with both locked out and barred from their sport.  The only real sport still rolling is the NHL.  With the free agency period a little more than a week and a half old, the top players of the class have been signed to the big contracts, the accompanying pieces have been signed, and we have a general sense of what every NHL team’s line ups come this fall.  It’s time to take a look at where  the top players signed  and what more to expect this NHL offseason.  To see who the top defenseman are and where they went, continue after the jump.

 

Bryan Vickroy

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NHL All Star Game Concept Succeeds; Leaves Room for Improvement

The NHL shook things up, stepped out on a limb and took a few risks. Not surprisingly, buzz was generated and people seemed to show genuine interest in the league’s All Star Game.

For years I’ve been suggesting ideas to spruce up each of the professional sports’ All Star showcases in an effort to make them more entertaining and watchable. For the most part, it seems the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL were oblivious to the fact that most people didn’t care about an event that featured each league’s biggest stars. Until the NHL decided that they were going to do away with the conference alignment in it’s All Star Game and used a Fantasy Draft to make up the two teams competing for the All Star Game win.

By Peter Christian and Bryan Vickroy

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With NHL’s Superstar Missing the All-Star Game, Who Will Shine?

Only 23 years old and he’s already got a Stanley Cup, two Messier Leadership Awards, a Rocket Richard trophy, an Art Ross, a Lester Pearson, a Hart Memorial and has been an All-Star since the first one in 2007. Not to mention, he was the youngest player in NHL history to record 100 points in a season and has had the prestige of two Lou Marsh trophies in his career.

Don’t get me wrong; I am anything but a die-hard Crosby fan. To me, he’ll always be the whiney, overpublicized player, who likes to take dives every now and then. But I give credit where credit is due. Face it hockey fans, Sidney Crosby is Superman on ice.

But looks like this year, Superman’s out of the game with a nasty concussion. The 2011 NHL All-Star Game will proceed with captains Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings.

So with NHL’s superstar out of the game, who will shine through?

By Harrini Krishnan

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It’s Ok to root for Chris Chelios

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By Paul M. Banks

One of the weirdest aspects of a rivalry is when a player changes teams, and goes to his former team’s bitterest of rivals.

Even though he’s been wearing a Detroit Red Wings sweater now for 9 years (the same number of years he was “committed to the Indian”) when Chris Chelios came to town and you just had to root for him, even though he helped do the Blackhawks in. If you didn’t then you fit in to Jerry Seinfeld’s “sports fans are rooting for clothes” routine.

(We’re currently seeing the same thing with Joe Crede leaving the Sox for the Twins) Rivalries are all about black-versus-white, but when it comes to situations like this, it’s actually a shade of grey. With an injury to all-world defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, as well as his back-up Ericcson, Chelios got his chance to contribute during the Western Conference Finals and helped his team defeat the Blackhawks 6-1 in game 4. Doing the ceremonial puck drop that game was Bob Probert another guy who played for both the Red Wings and Hawks. Chelios spoke about the playoff atmosphere:

“I had a good feeling when it was Proby, because he played for the Wings and the Hawks, everything they’ve done from the marketing to the bringing back the veterans Bobby Hull, Mikita. It’s good to see them back in the building, I’m playing hockey for one reason: because I grew up watching the Hawks,” the Evergreen Park native said.

Of course, I disagree, I think it’s disgusting that the Hawks gave Probert (a man who couldn’t play games in Canada because his cocaine-related possessions made it illegal for him to travel there, a man who’s vast array of legal problems also include his being pulled over for driving with a blood alcohol concentration triple the legal limit, a guy who’s on-ice accomplishments pretty much centered around being a thug) the puck drop and a “Heritage Night” honoring.

But enough being a negative nelly, Chelios commented after the game about how the roar has been restored in Chicago hockey. “It reminded me of being in the old stadium. It’s different when you’re on the other team, but I feed off of that and I think our team likes the atmosphere,” Chelly said.

The 47 year old University of Wisconsin-Madison alum is the second oldest player in league history (he’s older than his coach Mike Babcock) to Gordie Howe. Is this finally it for him? “Everybody’s trying to get rid of me, it’s crazy, but they’ll miss me when I’m gone, so I’ll stay around as long as someone wants me, I love playing,” Chelios said.

KANE! Patrick Not looking SHARP this series

By Paul M. Banks

In Kane and Sharp, the Chicago Blackhawks possess two young star forwards named Patrick. “Sharpie” the lesser known of the two, is having a much better Western Conference Finals than “Kaner.” Down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks will need both of them, (and a more reinforcements) to be on their A game if Chicago is going to stand any chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Sharp is often overshadowed by Kane, the 2008 Calder Memorial Trophy winner and face-of-the-franchise, but it was Sharpie who was on pace to lead the team in goals this season before being sidelined by injury down the stretch.
Kaner is having a rough series, sporting an ugly -7 in the +/- department, and he didn’t even make it onto the score sheet until notching a game 4 assist. Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock talked about how his team shut down Kane.

“Till today we always played Nick (All-Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom) against him. Today, we didn’t have that option so we just try to play a really good five man unit and limit their touches the best we can.

I think Osgood did a good job, but you’re never going to shut a guy like that down totally with the amount of skill level he has. I thought the other night in game three even though he didn’t get on the sheet, I thought that line with Byufglien and Toews dominated the shifts territorally- just couldn’t get the puck in the net,” Babcock said

As ugly as the 6-1 game four home loss to Detroit was, both young stars have breakout game performances in their recent memory.

Before entering this current slump, Kane recorded his first career hat trick in game 6 of the Western Conference Seminfinals, in eliminating the Vancouver Canucks. After the exciting 7-5 win, Kane told the media the criticisms from Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell fired him up. “I got a wake-up call from old Willie Mitchell over there. He made some comments saying I couldn’t play five on five, I don’t know if you want to fire up a player like that. I scored three goals five-on-five, so you’ll have to ask him about that one,” Kane said.

Friday night, Sharp was the number one star of the conference finals’ game three with two goals, including the overtime game winner. That was pretty exciting to be in the building at that point, I’ve had some double overtime ones in the minors but, it was pretty loud when the puck went in and it was exciting,” Sharp said in describing perhaps the biggest night of his career. Both Patricks will need to have more games like that as Chicago faces elimination.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

NHL Western Conference Finals Preview

By Aylin Diaz of Chics Hockey and the Big Hair Hockey Show

The Chicago Blackhawks have lifted themselves to their first Western Conference Finals in 13 years.  They are matched up against their hated rival and reigning Stanley Cup winner, the Detroit Red Wings.  The Chicago Blackhawks are topped off with a corps of young players such as Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg.  They are lead by solid goaltending in veteran Nikolai Khabibulin. 

The Detroit Red Wings count on experience with seasoned veterans such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa.  Their goaltending performance is topped off with Chris Osgood as he continues a stellar playoff performance.

Even though age and experience plays a factor, the Blackhawks can count on Khabibulin’s experience on goal.  The prior Stanley Cup champion (2004 Tampa Bay Lightning) now with years of experience playing for the Blackhawks, hadn’t beaten the Vancouver Canucks in eleven years prior to this past playoff run.  He notched 4 out of 6 games in the semifinals against the Canucks maintaining a .896 save percentage in a total of 12 postseason games.

Detroit Red Wings’ Chris Osgood baffled many spectators and quieted his critics.  He began the season with a .887 save percentage that evolved to .921 during the playoff season.  Only Detroit General Manager Ken Holland kept confidence in his performance following Osgood’s disastrous season start.  Relying on solid goaltending, the Detroit Red Wings were able to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.

The series is slated to be an Original Six special relying on traditional gritty plays mixed with the new NHL factor of speed.  The Blackhawks will count on their quick skating and physical play against the Detroit Red Wings.  Similarly to the early games against the Anaheim Ducks, the Red Wings must watch out for their capable goal scorers being shut down by heavy checking.

And the Blackhawks will definitely focus on hits during this series.  They are third in the playoffs with Dustin Byfuglien holding a record 55 hits and Brent Seabrook totaling 45.  The team also counts on Dustin Byfuglien, Samuel Pahlsson and rookie Kris Versteeg to produce against the Detroit Red Wings.  The so called “energy line” has combined for a total of 7 goals, while Martin Havlat, Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd have totaled 11 goals.

The Detroit Red Wings will also take firepower from their defense. Nicklas Lidstrom has averaged a point-per-game through the first playoff two rounds while Brian Rafalski tied with his teammate for third in defensive scoring during the regular season with 59 points proves similarly.

Offensively, the line consisting of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp has generated 17 of Chicago’s 44 goals.  Patrick Kane alone has achieved 12 points and a team-leading eight goals in 11 games. He notched his first career playoff hat trick during game 6 placing the team ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

To outplay the Blackhawks, Detroit will attempt to outshoot their opponent.  In fact, the Detroit Red Wings have outshot their opponents by an average of 13 shots a game so far in the playoffs.  Their offensive capabilities count upon less heralded players such as right wing Daniel Cleary and center Darren Helm.   Daniel Cleary is fourth in the playoffs in scoring for the Detroit Red Wings with 9 points and team best plus 10 rating.   Darren Helm, who has never scored a goal in 23 career regular season games, has achieved 4 in 29 playoff games spanning two seasons.  These players are keeping the Detroit Red Wings going.

Furthermore, the Detroit Red Wings powerplay as that of the Blackhawks is superb. However, both teams have struggled with penalty killing.  The return of Brian Rafalski to the lineup has generated the best defensive opportunities for the Detroit Red Wings on the penalty kill this past playoff run.

Despite the even matchup, the Blackhawks have the advantage of now having Scotty Bowman, who coached the Detroit Red Wings for 15 years.  Bowman serves as an adviser to the Chicago Blackhawks.  Coach Joel Quenneville finds his insight useful and Detroit Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock knows the implications of his influence on the young team.  He will be a huge asset to preparations.  In fact, Babcock said to the Canadian Press:  “Scottie is a book of knowledge. Number one, he’s got to be willing to share with you. Number two, you got to want it.”

The Chicago Blackhawks really want to win and can achieve it in 7 games if their speed, production and new Bowmanian tactics work in favor against the Detroit Red Wings.