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Top 10 Lines of the Decade

by chewy 2. December 2009 08:16
 

As we continue to look back at the best and worst of the past decade, let's consider the top forward lines of the past 10 years.  It's not often any more that a team will stick with consistent lines over a period of time, but there are a few notable entries to be found.  For the most part, I tried to avoid great duos who were mixed with interchangeable parts, unless the played with one player for at least one season (Crosby/Malkin, Sedins, etc.).  The top 6 entries on my list are solid actual lines.

 

10. Backstrom / Ovechkin / Semin

OK, so I may be breaking my own rule with the first entry, as these guys don't always line up together.  That' mostly because of the many injuries to Semin.  Anytime these powerhouses are united, it's an unstoppable force (except against the Pens in the playoffs).  If these guys can stay healthy, we may see this line show up again next decade on the top 10.

 

9. Datsyuk / Zetterberg / Holmstrom

Over the past couple of years, the line comes and goes, but when the game is on the line, the Redwings have regularly paired these three together.  They're money on offense or as a shutdown line.  Holmstrom provides the traffic, the other two control the puck.  Hard to defend and just as hard to score against.

 

8. Thornton / Cheechoo / Pavelski

It can be argued that Pavelski was along for the ride, as several others have been with Thornton and Cheechoo, but for at least one full season, Pavelski filled the spot and the line was magic.  Cheechoo obviously hasn't shown anywhere near the scoring prowess that he demonstrated along big Joe.   And as good as Thornton is at making his teammates look better, he has yet to match the work he did with Cheechoo and Pavelski.

 

7. Kovalchuk / Savard / Hossa

Often times over the past decade, Kovalchuk was left to fend for himself in Atlanta, but for a time, he had the opportunity to be matched up with equal talent in the form of Marc Savard and Marian Hossa.  Had this line persisted, Kovalchuk would have been in the running for player of the decade.

 

6. Lecavalier / St. Louis / Prospal

The original 2004 version of this line led the Bolts to regularly season domination, and a Stanley Cup parade.  It even enabled St. Louis to finish 1st in scoring and win the Hart Trophy.  They tried to bring back the magic a few years later, but the line just didn’t click the way it had the first time around.

 

5. Forsberg / Hejduk / Tanguay

One of the best 2nd lines of all time.  Assuming, of course, you consider Sakic & Drury's line the #1.  Either way, it's hard to argue against this threesome's chemistry and dominance for the early half of the decade.  A huge reason for Colorado's 2nd Cup victory.

 

4. Getzlaf / Perry / Ryan

When Getzlaf and Perry came in, they were matched up with Penner to form a great 2nd line on the way to their Cup victory.  After Penner left and Ryan joined the big leagues, this line became the #1 in Anaheim and perhaps the best combination in the league today.  All three can score and it's impossible to pick one of the three to focus in on.  Anything good happening in Anaheim these days is coming from this line.

 

3. Bertuzzi / Naslund / Morrison

For years, this line was unstoppable.  The only thing that managed to end their reign of terror was the infamous Bertuzzi incident.  None of these players were the same after that.  It's hard to remember a line so dominant that left all three players to such a quick decline after being disassembled.

 

2. Yzerman / Hull / Shanahan

Really, you could pull names out of a hat from the 2002 Redwings lineup and you'd have an unbeatable line.  This one stuck for a while and featured 3 of the best players of all time.  Legendary.

 

1. Alfreddson / Spezza / Heatley

This line earns the number one spot because they were so good for a long time.  Aside from Alfreddson's injury problems, these three were almost always on the ice together and led the team to the finals in 2007.  Since Heatley's departure, Spezza and Alfreddson look like shadows of their former selves.  While it lasted, it was the best line of the decade.

10 Worst Contracts of the Decade

by chewy 25. November 2009 09:42
 

It's not hard to look up and down the rosters in the NHL and identify a handful of contracts that each team would like to take back.  This past decade saw a ridiculous jump in the amount of money and term being handed out to players as GMs try to woo the top free agents to their market.  While a number of these bad deals ran wild in the era of free spending, the salary cap didn't put an end to the madness by any means.  "Cost certainty" doesn't ensure sanity when it comes to individual deals, particularly handed to free agents in July.

 

As we continue to look back on the past 10 years, let's stop and tip our hat to the worst contracts of the decade.

 

10. David Legwand (NAS) - 2007 - 6yrs @ 4.5m

In December of 07, the Predators were worried about losing one of the faces of their franchise to free agency the following summer, so they dished out a 6 year deal, worth $4.5 million a year.  While the money isn't as ludicrous as others on this list, the Predators overpaid big-time for a guy who's best season (by far) saw him reach 63 points.  I recall when Lemieux first made this kind of money in the mid 90's, and now it's being handed out to a 2nd or 3rd line forward.  Legwand is on the books until 2014.

 

9. Wade Redden (NYR) - 2008 - 6 yrs @ 6.5m

$6.5 million dollars per year.  That's what the Rangers owe Wade Redden, who is just 2 years into this colossal deal and currently sits about 3rd or 4th on their depth chart for defensemen.  It's a good thing the players ahead of him are working on entry level deals, otherwise, the Rangers would be completely out of luck.  Redden is still a good defenseman, but the Rangers were desperate to make a splash that summer, and choose the wrong way to go about it.  He's actually being paid $8 million this season (more than Gaborik and more than Lundqvist.)  They'll be paying on this deal until 2014.

 

8. Ryan Malone (TAM) - 2008 - 7 yrs @ 4.5m

While the Penguins were sad to see Malone go after he helped get the team to the finals in 2008, there was no way they were coming near matching the silly deal that Tampa threw his way when free agency struck.  This was just one of about 10 stooge moves put on the books by the Lightning that summer, but it was by far the worst.  Currently, Malone is doing his best to justify the deal, with 14 goals in 21 games.  If he can keep this up, he'll work his way off this list.  I'm not convinced he will.  As Stamkos and Hedman grow out of their entry level deals, and the Lightning are still stuck with Lecavalier's beastly contract, this one will come back to bite them.

 

7. Michael Handzus (LA) - 2007 - 4 yrs @ 4m

While he didn't break the bank, particularly for a team that isn't paying to the salary cap yet, four million a year is a buttload of cash to pay a guy who is best characterized as a checking center who can occasionally contribute on offense.  In 11 NHL seasons, he's averaged about 1/2 point a game.  That's too much money for the offensive numbers a decent defenseman can provide.

 

6. Bobby Holik (NYR) - 2002 - 5 yrs @ 9m

Five years at nine million per year.  Holik's contract was the poster child for what was wrong with the NHL, pre salary cap.  Throughout his tenure in New York, Sather was infamous for writing blank checks to the best free agents on the market.  Fortunately for the Rangers, they were able to buy out the last two seasons on this deal before the salary cap came into play.  Had this deal been struck today, it would be one of the worst of all time.  Since it happened pre-lock out and had little consequence for the Rangers, we'll settle it in at 6th.

 

5. Danny Briere (PHI) - 2007 - 8 yrs @ 6.5m

Some deals look worse in retrospect.  This one stunk at the time and hasn't gotten any better.  Particularly with the talent already occupying the top 3 lines in Philly, the Briere contract has been a burden since the day it was done.  Briere has yet to rise above being a 3rd line center in Philly and he's being paid way too much for what he brings.  If the deal were shorter, he could have been dealt, but as it is, the Flyers are stuck with this lousy deal for another 5 years.

 

4. Brian Campbell (CHI) - 2008 - 6 yrs @ 7m

In the summer of 2008, the Blackhawks were a team on the rise.  They patiently built up a quality roster of up and coming stars, and were poised to become a power once again in the NHL.  Then, out of nowhere, they jumped into the Brian Campbell sweepstakes in an attempt to create some noise.  In the process, they all but ensured the collapse of the team before they even arrived.  The Hawks already boast one of the best defenses in the league and really don't need Campbell on their roster to win.  Nonetheless, they're stuck with it until this monster contract runs out in 2016.

 

3. Brian Gionta (MON) - 2009 - 5 yrs @ 5m

It's hard to imagine anything Bob Gainey did last summer working out for the good in Montreal, but this deal will be his calling card.  5 years at $5 million a year for Brian Gionta.  Most (sane) observers saw Gionta's worth pushing $3m a season, at best last summer.  Gainey was so bent on rebuilding his team from the ground up that he was throwing money at whomever was available.  Gionta has one good season on his resume.  Aside from that, he has the point totals of a third line winger.  This deal was dumb.

 

2. Rick DiPietro (NYI) - 2006 - 15 yrs @ 4.5m

This deal was laughed at even before DiPietro's injury problems started to strike.  Wang and Milbury seemed more concerned with reinventing the system and making headlines than with building a successful team in New York.  The good news is, they only have to pay on this deal until 2022, about the time DiPietro is celebrating his 10th year in retirement.

 

1. Alexei Yashin (NYI) - 2001 - 10 yrs @8.7m

This was really a no-brainer for worst contract of all time.  It's a shame for Yashin's sake that he was saddled with crazy expectations, but I doubt you'll find many sympathizers.  To highlight how bad this deal is, the Islanders will still be taking a cap hit on his contract through 2015.  There's a reason Milbury is providing commentary and not running another organization right now.

 

 

There were plenty of deals to choose from, and here are a few that get the dis-honorable mention:

 

Brad Richards (TAM) - 5 yrs @ 8m

Jeff Finger (TOR) - 4 yrs @ 3.5m

Jason Blake (TOR) - 5 yrs @ 4m

Pavel Kubina (TOR) - 4 yrs @ 5m

Vincent Lecavalier (TAM) - 11 yrs @ 7.7m

Michael Nylander (WAS) - 4 yrs @ 5m

Best of the Decade Awards: Vezina, Norris, and Hart

by chewy 16. November 2009 11:56
 

Each year, the experts get together and vote on the best players in the game.  As part of my decade in review, I'd like to look back at the last 10 years and award the Vezina, Norris, and Hart Trophies to best candidates, covering their play over the entire decade.  Some worthy candidates were passed over in these categories, because they only played a handful of seasons, either at the start or the end of the decade. 

 

Vezina Trophy

 

Martin Brodeur

This one is basically a no-brainer.  Brodeur won 4 of the 9 Vezinas awarded this decade, and was the runner up once.  No other goaltender won more than 1.  Choosing a runner up is a much harder task. 

 

Runners-up

 

Because Brodeur was so dominant, it makes it hard to rank the rest.  For the most part, the other goalies to win the Vezina weren't much of a factor outside of a couple of seasons this decade (Thomas, Theodore, Hasek,  Kolzig).

 

1. Evgeni Nabokov

Yes, he still has yet to win a single Vezina, but he was one of the few goalies who were consistently great for the whole decade.  He was finally honored as the runner up in 2008.  Only twice did his GAA exceed 2.5 in those nine seasons.  In terms of consistency, he's the next best thing to Brodeur.

 

2. Marty Turco

Much like Nabokov, Turco didn't claim the trophy, but was amazingly consistent.  His worst GAA was 2.81 last season.  He finished below 2.00 three times.  He also amassed 36 shutouts over the past 10 years.

 

3. Miikka Kiprusoff

Kiprusoff is just a step behind Nabokov in his body of work, as he was when he backed up Nabokov in the early third of the decade.  He has the advantage of having won a Vezina in 2006, but his numbers aren't quite up to Nabokov's standard. 

 

 

Norris Trophy

 

Niklas Lidstrom

This is another no-brainer category.  Lidstrom was by far the best defenseman of the past 10 years, collecting 6 of the 9 trophies awarded.  Nobody even comes close. 

 

Runners-up

 

Once again, settling on a runner up is more of a challenge.  There were 3 other players to receive the Norris this past decade, and all 3 are worthy of consideration for their performance throughout the decade.

 

1. Scott Niedermeyer

Niedermeyer won his hardware in 2004 and was runner up to Lidstrom in 06 and 07.  Had there been a season in 2005, it's a fair bet that he and Lidstrom would have battled it out that year, too.   Both in New Jersey and in Anaheim, the teams he has played on have been quite successful, particularly defensively.   He was consistently one of the best for the past 10 years.

 

2. Zdeno Chara

From the day he left New York and joined the Senators in 2001, Chara has been a giant force on the ice.  Defensively, he's  been one of toughest players to compete against.  He's physical and has average more than 10 goals a season.  In addition to his trophy in 2009, he was runner up in 2004.

 

3. Chris Pronger

Though not a fan favorite in most towns (including those he formerly played in), it's hard to ignore the impact Pronger has had on his teams over the past decade.  He led an otherwise forgettable Edmonton team to the finals in 2006, and won a Cup with Anaheim in 2007.  He won the Norris in 2000, along with the Hart.  He hasn't been in the Norris running in last few years, but he's still one of the top defensemen in the game.

 

 

Hart Trophy

 

The Hart is a much tougher trophy to award, in part because it's hard to compare the value of players across the three positions.  In addition, only Ovechkin has won the Hart more than once, and he didn't play in the first half of the decade.  So, after much deliberation, the Hart Trophy for this past decade belongs to…

 

Niklas Lidstrom

True, he's never won the Hart for a single season, but that's mostly due to bias.  More often than not, the trophy goes to the leading scorer each season, regardless of circumstance.  No team was more successful this decade than the Redwings, and no player was more important to that team than Lidstrom.  It's not even close on that front.  Just look at the few times that Lidstrom was out for extended periods this decade.  The Wings struggled mightily without him.  He's the undisputed best defenseman of the decade, and in my book, the League MVP over that time.

 

Runners-up

 

1. Martin Brodeur

Again, like Lidstrom, it's hard to believe that he has never taken home the Hart Trophy, or even been runner up; however, like Lidstrom, he was clearly the most dominant at his position.  Years from now, when hockey fans and experts look back on this decade, Brodeur's name should be one of the first to come to mind.  No goalie and few other players have been as consistently good during the past 10 years.

 

2. Jaromir Jagr

Only two players finished in the top 10 scorers on 5 occasions during the past decade, and Jagr was one of them.  He led the league in scoring in 2000 and 2001 and was runner up for the Hart on 2 occasions.  He's one of the few players to be in the scoring race both before and after the lockout.  Had he not left for Europe, he may have made a more definitive case for the decade's MVP.  As it stands, he was the best offensive player over the past 10 years.

 

3. Joe Sakic

Sakic was the other player to crack the top 10 in 5 seasons.  He did it in 00, 01, 02 and 04, and again post-lockout in 2007.  Sakic also captained his team to a Stanley Cup during the past decade, which gives him an edge over other possible contenders for the title, such as Iginla, Ovechkin, and Thornton.  It's hard to find a more respected leader and player over the past 10 years than Sakic.

Best and Worst Rule Changes of the Decade

by chewy 12. November 2009 10:13
 

As we continue to look back at the past decade in the NHL, there were a number of rule changes that have significantly affected the state of the game today.  Many of these were positive changes, but a few were downright awful.  Most of the changes in the last 10 years happened as a direct result of the lockout.  Here's a look at the 4 best and 4 worst rule changes over the past decade.

 

BEST

 

4) The Shootout (2005)

Some may argue this belongs in the worst column, but there's no doubt it has added excitement to many otherwise forgettable regular season games.  After all, when's the last time you changed the channel when the game was tied at the end of O.T.?  While the shootout has generally been a good thing, it could be improved.  3 shooters isn't enough.  The NHL should really consider extending it to 4 or 5 rounds.  What's the harm?  The other downside to the shootout is that it's taken some of the excitement out of the overtime period.  It used to be that a team desperate for points would go all out in O.T.  Now, they're just as content to play it safe and take their chances in the shootout.  All told, this was a positive change for the NHL.

 

3)  "Zero Tolerance" on Interference (2005)

It took several tries, and it's still a work in process that slips as the season goes on, but there's no arguing it's much, much better than it was pre-lockout.  The game is much more exciting to watch now that teams with less talent can't just climb on your back and pin you down. 

 

2) Eliminating the 2-line Pass Rule (2005)

Breakaways are back in the NHL thanks in large part to eliminating the stupid 2-line pass rule.  All that rule ever did was clog up the neutral zone and reduce scoring chances.  You'd be hard pressed to find a player, fan, or GM who would argue to put this back in place.  Let's pray it stays that way.

 

1) Eliminating the Skate in Crease Rule (2000)

So, it's borderline on the decade thing, but think back to the agony of the late 90's.  After every goal, you had to hold your breath and wait 2 minutes before celebrating to make sure the tip of the left winger's skate didn't edge across into the crease, even though it had nothing to do with play.  Fans can once again leave their seats and exchange high-fives when they see the red light go on, with relative confidence that the goals will actually count.  (My apologizes to Sabres fans for even bringing up the whole crease topic).

 

 

WORST

 

4) Younger Free Agency (2005)

As part of the new Collective Bargaining agreement in 2005, the rules for free agency were relaxed to allow players to become free agents at age 27, or after 7 pro seasons.  While this was a major victory for players looking to cash in sooner, it's a loss for GM's, owners, and thus, fans.  Ask Panthers fans how they feel about  Jay Bouwmeester leaving free at the ripe old age of 25 when he had just reached his prime.  A few years back, the Penguins had to wrestle with the decision of "wasting" one of Jordan Staal's years at age 18, despite the fact that he clearly belonged in the big league.  Seeing your best young stars leave town just when you've gotten attached to them is bad for fans in every town.

 

3) Salary Cap (2005)

This one is tough to classify.  There's good and bad that has come from the Cap and this could merit a page or more of discussion.  All told, the "promises" made to fans have fallen through (as expected).  The league tried to argue that a cap would help with the ticket prices.  Is anybody paying less for a seat these days?  The cap was supposed to level the playing field for all teams.  All it's really done is frustrate big market teams who have to subsidize teams in smaller markets who can't sell tickets on their own.  Every season, there are a few teams who have to sign a high-priced player that they don't want or need, just to reach the cap floor.  Maybe I'm still bitter at missing a whole season, but to me as a fan, it certainly wasn't worth the sacrifice for "cost certainty".

 

2) Increased Divisional Play (2005)

Thankfully, the GM's realized their mistake and rolled this back last year.  In 2005, some geniuses thought fans would rather see their teams play their neighbors every other game at the cost of not seeing teams on the other side of the country but once every 3 years.  For fans in the West who were anxious to get a glimpse at Crosby, Ovechkin, and Malkin, this was a disaster.   I know there were plenty of people who argued in favor of it at the time, but I never understood why.  Let's hope we never go back.

 

1) The Trapezoid (2005)

First off, making a rule primarily to punish one of the greatest goalies of all time was unjustified.  Brodeur, and then several others, developed an enviable skill of handling the puck as well as any defenseman, and the league felt the need to punish him for it.  It's ridiculous to see a goalie skate out into the corner to play the puck and dance delicately around an arbitrarily shaped line as he plays the puck.  Please, please, admit your mistake and no more silly rules pushed by GMs who couldn't field a team with an effective forecheck.

Top 10 Unforgettable Playoff Moments of the Decade

by chewy 3. November 2009 19:13
 

As we continue with the decade in review, it's time to look back at most memorable moments from the Stanley Cup playoffs over the past 10 years.  Here are the plays and incidents that will be remembered for years to come.

 

10. (2006) - In game 1 of the Cup finals between the Hurricanes and Oilers, the Canes overcame a 3 goal deficit to win the game.  Towards the end of the 3rd period, Roloson was injured and was replaced by Conklin.  Conklin proceeded to turn the puck over and allowed Brind'Amour to score the game winner into an empty net.

 

9. (2003) - Andrew Brunette scores the game 7 OT game winner on a breakaway for the Wild against Colorado.  It was the last play of Patrick Roy's career.

 

8. (2007) - The Sharks were up 2-1 in the series against Detroit.  They had a 2-1 lead in game 4 with about a minute to play.  They proceeded to lose the game and lose the series in one of their more memorable playoff chokes of the decade.

 

7. (2000) - Keith Primeau scores the game winner 92 minutes into overtime against the Penguins.  It was the longest game of the decade.

 

6. (2008) - In game 3 of the New Jersey / Rangers series, a new rule had to be invented when Sean Avery stood in front of Martin Brodeur and furiously waved his stick in his face to distract the goalie.  Memorable for all the wrong reasons.

 

5. (2004) - In the finals between Tampa Bay and Calgary, Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier square off in memorable fight.  It's not often that two superstars do battle like this in the finals.

 

4. (2009) - In game 7 of the Hurricanes / Devils series, New Jersey held the lead with about 90 seconds left to play.  The Canes proceeded to score 2 goals in the next minute to win the game and the series.

 

3. (2009) - In one of the most memorable games of the decade, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin both record hat tricks during their round 2 matchup.

 

2. (2003) - In game 7 of the finals between New Jersey and Anaheim, Scott Stevens knocks Paul Kariya out of the game with one of his patented head crushing checks.  Kariya returns in the 3rd period to score a goal.

 

1. (2000) - Game 6 of the 2000 finals was the only Cup decided in overtime this decade.  Jason Arnott scored the OT Cup winner in the second overtime for New Jersey.

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