Saturday, March 14, 2009

A career night for Martin Brodeur

In a sick sort of way, I suppose I've been dreading ever writing on this topic. However, this evening, New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur (career stats here) will be attempting to reach his 551st victory as a goalie, to match the record set by Patrick Roy. Then in the near future, he will hit 552. In many circles, this will mean Brodeur will be henceforth referred to as “The Greatest Goaltender of All Time.”

And my first instinct would be to say, "Well, mathematically, anyway."

Full disclosure, folks: I spent my late teens and early 20s as a Québec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche fan. Thus, as much as I hated Patrick Roy when his Montréal Canadiens knocked out my first "my team" --- Ray Bourque and the Boston Bruins --- en route to the 1993 Stanley Cup, I was stoked beyond belief when the Avalanche traded for Roy in the 1995-96 season. In fact, I still root for the Avalanche as long as they are not playing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But, I digress.

Right now as I'm typing this, Patrick Roy (career stats here) is the Greatest Goaltender Of All Time, sitting on the all-time wins record for goaltender at 551. When Roy passed Terry Sawchuk during the 2000-01 season, the record at the time was 447. I was rooting against him on the night he tied, because he tied it against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A couple nights later, Roy got his 448th win in an overtime game against the Washington Capitals. Even then, that was only the beginning. What went on to win a Stanley Cup that year, and continue to pile up the wins for another two seasons after setting that mark. As much as I may not be crazy about it, Martin Brodeur is about to do the same thing. When Brodeur retires -- and God only knows when that will be, looking at how he's playing at 36 -- Patrick Roy is probably going to be more than a hundred wins behind him on the all-time list much like Terry Sawchuk is to Roy right now.

I suppose the main reason I never had a beef with Martin Brodeur is that wasn't unusual to see him playing 70 games or more in an 82-game season. But often I would ask myself "what is his deal? You can't keep starting the same goaltender. Shouldn't New Jersey be playing someone else in goal? Prep for the future?" In a way, the fact that Brodeur was constantly trying to break his own record for minutes played in the season seemed... I don't know, greedy. Unsportsmanlike. He just wants to break Roy's record, and simply wants the glory of being the Greatest Goaltender of All Time.

So, obviously, with age comes wisdom and perspective, in my case. Duh. Who doesn't want to win? In another attack of perspective one also has to look at the facts that, as Brodeur eclipses Roy's record, he's doing it at a younger age and he's doing it in 40-something fewer games. Sure, it seems easy to rack up great statistics when you're starting 70 to 75 games a season. But you have to recognize the achievements of being able to play that many games in a season physically. Brodeur is a butterfly-style goaltender. When you look along the ice, his ready stance looks pretty funky. More importantly, that style is very hard on the hips, knees and ankles. Patrick Roy pioneered that style of goaltending, and when you think about his last few years in the NHL, that style took its toll on him. I remember I certainly read more than one story about a hip flexor injury or a knee strain in the same sentence as Patrick Roy. Now, look at what Martin Brodeur has done -- that many games in a season playing in the butterfly style -- and suddenly his achievement seems that much more amazing.

So, while I’m not necessarily ready to embrace Martin Brodeur as the Greatest Goaltender Of All Time, you can bet money that I’ll accept it. And there should no doubt in anyone's mind that he deserves it.

Brodeur will try match the record tonight against Montréal, the city in which Patrick Roy began his illustrious career. It's hard to be too begrudging about it, when the man whose record he's about to eclipse and eventually bury is 100% behind him. The Newark Star-Ledger talked to Roy a few days ago, (article here) and the reigning Greatest Goaltender Of All Time told them: "I always knew Martin was going to do it, and I'm happy for him it really is amazing that he could play so many games year after year." Roy also told the paper he planned to be in attendance when Brodeur was on the verge of matching the record.

It's (probably) going to happen in Montréal, of all places, and the game starts in about 15 minutes from this post. Talk about a situation that has to bring mixed emotions for Roy. However, if that doesn't represent some type of torch passing, I'm not sure what does. I’m not sure it could be any more perfect for Brodeur. He'll probably get 551 tonight. Given that win, the first shot at 552 is Tuesday against Chicago.

Whenever it happens... we'll see you at 552, Martin.

Bon chance.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Here Come The Boston Bruins...

So, the Blue Jackets split their first two games after the trade deadline, falling 4-2 in Nashville, and then handing an 8-2 thrashing to Detroit. The loss in Nashville was obviously not a great start, but man, it is hard to get too upset about that when a team pulls what the Blue Jackets did in Detroit. What the hell was that?!? Rick Nash with his second hat trick against Detroit this year?

However, as much as just about any Blue Jackets fan would want to just sit back and rejoice, there is still a lot of hockey to be played, starting tonight. The best team in the NHL takes ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight in Nationwide Arena. The Boston Bruins have had a hell of a year, sitting on top of the Eastern Conference, and one point ahead of San Jose and Detroit for the annual President’s Trophy. However Boston has not been so hot lately. Since trouncing Florida and Anaheim by 6-1 and 6-0 scores in late February, Boston has managed only a 1-3-1 record in their last five games. It doesn't necessarily mean anything, but things have trended downward of late.

A good example of Boston's rough times would be Sunday's game against the New York Rangers. I had a chance to watch it on NBC, although I joined the game late in the second period. Boston went into the third period trailing 3-1, and started the third with a four-minute power play. Although a penalty led to some four-on-four time, Boston captain Zdeno Chara fired a hard slap shot to get the game within one, and then Michael Ryder took advantage of the remaining power-play time to tie up the game. Then Manny Fernandez got schooled on an odd-man rush, and former Blue Jacket Nikolai Zherdev took a puck that bounced off the board and shot it over the goaltender's shoulder.

However, the Blue Jackets will probably not be so lucky as to have Manny Fernandez between the pipes... unless, of course, they chase Tim Thomas from the net. Obviously, I wouldn't mind if the Jackets scored eight goals against Boston like they did against Detroit on Saturday. I think it would do all of our hearts some good... while at least all of our hearts living in Columbus. Now would be a good time for Columbus to pick it up on the power play, which is the league's worst. Let's face it: Columbus’ power-play could very well continue to be (and finish) last by season's end. They still have to get better if they are going to win enough of these last 16 games to make the playoffs. There are three teams tied with 70 points -- 2 points behind Columbus -- and they all play tonight. No pressure, but every game is crucial. Columbus needs to keep a solid penalty kill tonight, while taking on the NHL's fourth-best power play.

Columbus is played well against the East this year. That trend needs to continue, because the Eastern teams remaining on the schedule are no pushovers. Then there are the 10 remaining games against Central Division opponents. Blue Jackets fans will hear this for the next few weeks, obviously, but I will officially say again that every game is now the most important game of the season. Hell, every game is now the most important game in franchise history.

Again, no pressure.

Go Jackets!

Friday, March 6, 2009

"It Ain’t Hockey Friends, It’s the Hockey Business..."

Alright, so I did something really stupid Wednesday. I got upset when I read about the Pascal Leclaire-for-Antoine Vermette trade. I may have even uttered a couple expletives to myself. I think I probably speak for a lot of fans when I talk about how awesome it was to watch Pascal Leclaire play, especially during the 2007-08 season. I caught about 35 games last year when I had season tickets. Obviously we saw some tough moments, especially toward the end. However, there were also some moments while sitting in the "attack twice" end that you can see some absolute artistry in Leclaire's work during the second period. (For his awesome saves in the first and third we had to wait until we could watch on the Jumbotron).

But anyway, I was very disappointed, mostly for the reasons that I've already discussed in my Tuesday post/rant about why the Jackets should not even consider trading Leclaire. I temporarily lost sight of the fact that hockey is a business. I'm only human.

Anyway, I'm over it now. He is now (or at least will be in October) playing in a market that does not have to compete with Ohio State football; and, playing in the East, Ottawa probably has a more favorable schedule, in terms of rarely having to travel outside of its time zone, and I personally don't feel the East is as tough to play in, with the exception of a few obvious teams. It's not as easy as Ohio State football's nonconference schedule, but it's considerably easier than playing in the Western Conference.

So, apparently because of immigration issues, Vermette could not join the Jackets in Nashville, so we did get to see him in action last night. It is a little weird that between Vermette and Dick Tarnstrom, that is twice in the past year that the Jackets have acquired somebody from a Canadian team, only to have him delayed by immigration issues. I think I read in the Columbus Dispatch or on NHL.com or something, that three other players that move from Canadian teams to American teams made it to their first game with their new team. Are we cursed or something? And I thought the on-ice officiating was bad.

So, will have to wait until tomorrow's game against Detroit to see if Vermette is going to be a topline center, and how well he is going to work with Rick Nash. I'm looking forward to seeing what the lines look like on Saturday. Last night's game against Nashville was not a good start to the final 18 games of the season. It also continued the trend of poor play against Central Division opponents. That has to turn around, and quickly, against Detroit. I would call it “Hell Week,” except were talking about some five weeks here. After Detroit, there is Boston Tuesday, Pittsburgh Thursday, Chicago on Friday, and then destroy it home next Sunday. If you take a good look at the Jackets' schedule, there is not one "gimme" game on it. Two weeks ago, I would've said Tampa Bay was one, but that was before the Jackets lost to Toronto.

17 games to go... gotta win at least twelve. That will make 94 points. That should be enough... but that sure as hell is no guarantee in the West.

Go Jackets!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

So long. Pazzy... it has been fun...

I am somewhat amazed that they actually did it, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have traded Pascal Leclaire and a second-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Antoine Vermette.

I don't really have time to talk about this further right now, but a couple headlines I've seen are saying at the Jackets are not done. I feel bad for Leclaire --- after all that hard work building the Columbus franchise over the last couple years, he now has to help rebuild the mess that is the Ottawa Senators. And he's probably going to have to wait until October to do it.

It's a damn shame.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Okay, NOW I'm a little worried about a Pazzy trade...

So the NHL trade deadline is less than 24 hours away. What it basically means is that teams have to file the paperwork with the league by 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4. That is why the news about trades at the deadline can still break within a couple hours after that deadline.

So far, all is quiet on the Blue Jackets front, at least on the surface. The beat writers at the Columbus Dispatch say GM Scott Howson has been on the phone a lot today, and that he scouted the Ottawa-Toronto game on Saturday night (article here). The name the Dispatch is floating from the Senators is Antoine Vermette, and their names are floating in exchange for him is none other than our own Pascal Leclaire.

Obviously, this bothers me a little. It's not just because I disputed another blogger named Dr. Hockey a few weeks ago (see post from January 19th), saying it was quite premature to assume Leclaire would be on the trading block when the Jackets put him on the IR. Now, obviously I hate to be wrong... who doesn't?

I now have to back off a little bit, and admit it may not be premature to talk about it. However, I do still think it is a bad idea. Bring a healthy Leclaire back to training camp in the fall, and let him and Mason compete for the starting job. Obviously, any fool can see that Steve Mason is a really good goaltender, and at a freakishly young age to boot. And pretty much everyone agrees that Steve Mason is indeed the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender of the future. However, I don't think it's wise to put everything on Mason's shoulders just yet. You are not going to build an entire career on one season.

The Montréal Canadiens made that mistake when they threw about $6 million a year at José Theodore. In the two years and change after his MVP season in 2001-02 (he somehow beat out Patrick Roy for the Hart and Vezina trophies), he crapped out in Montréal, winning only 70 games in 162 games played. Then Montréal traded him to Colorado, where he also crapped out. A week or so ago, I read an interview Theodore did with the Denver Post, as the Avs were getting ready to play Washington (article here). During the course of this interview, Theodore expressed that she was puzzled by the "substandard" offer he received, after he felt his game had improved from when he first started there. True, a 28-21-0 record isn't terrible, but overall, Theodore managed just 42 wins in 91 games played with the Avalanche. José Theodore can bask in the great season the Capitals are having this year all he wants. Let's see him win 16 games in the playoffs.

Heck, let’s see him win eight. (Hint: It hasn't happened yet)

Is Steve Mason a José Theodore-style flash in the pan? I personally don't think so.

However, this is the lesson: You cannot put all the proverbial eggs in one goalie's glove hand. That is why I don't think Scott Howson will do it. More importantly, that is why I hope to the hockey gods that Scott Howson won't. For one thing, it was only a couple weeks ago that the beat writers were talking about the lack of NHL-ready depth in goal for the Blue Jackets --- that was when questions were swirling because Mason came down with mono.

Plus, I'm not sure a playoff contender seeking help in goal would take a chance on a guy that may not even be ready by the end of the season. The Dispatch reported Monday Leclaire could be ready by mid-April. The Senators are not even a playoff contender. Vermette's name has popped up in the paper a few times over the past year, as the Jackets have been looking for a top-line center. Although I understand that need, and I want the Jackets to do whatever it takes to get better, sending Leclaire to such a horrid mess as the Ottawa Senators just seems... well... cruel.

Well, on to current events. The boys are on in a minute. Go Jackets!

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Return of Sean Avery (?)

For some strange reason I cannot seem to keep my mouth shut about Sean Avery and how much I can't stand his antics. However, the fact that he is now on NHL Re-Entry Waivers (according to and NHL.com article on Monday) two days before the trade deadline makes me think that this is going to be somewhat interesting. I am still very much in disbelief in how Avery and the Stars parted company with the Stars still on the hook for a massive salary for a guy who at best is an overrated clown with so-so talent and a severe attitude problem, and at worst... well, I've been on my soapbox enough.

However, this could be an interesting couple of days. Is any team in its right mind going to take a guy like Avery? True, he can score some goals. I have never said that he is necessarily a bad player; he's just not worth nearly the $4 million a year that the Stars spent on him in free agency. His off-ice demeanor and behavior (and let's face it, some of his on-ice behavior) is a freaking PR nightmare.

I think just about any team that would take him would be a surprise; however, that is just my personal opinion. One would have to consider, however, if he could actually come in handy during the playoffs, or during the playoff push. Obviously, he won't be able to screen goaltenders this time around. However, his presence on the ice is sure to get under the skin of more than one player on any given night --- perhaps an entire team. So perhaps a top team in either conference might suck up the bad PR and take a chance on him. As far as I know, the San Jose Sharks still have Claude Lemieux on their roster, so they probably don't need Avery. I don't think Detroit has any salary-cap room to take on any fraction of Avery's salary. The NHL.com article says anyone who picks up the Avery would be responsible for half his salary under the terms of his current contract. The article said the Rangers might be interested, which is interesting, because that is where he was when the NHL created the "Sean Avery Rule" not even a year ago (for a demonstration of the "Sean Avery Rule," see the YouTube link in my January 16 post).

I'm not sure. This is a tough call. I would like to think that any NHL team has more class than to pick up Sean Avery. I think I'll just leave it at that; I've wasted enough space on him.

I hope to post some thoughts on the trade deadline tonight or tomorrow. Obviously most of what I have read in the Dispatch involves the Jackets needing a top-line center, and possibly a right-handed offensive defenseman. Who knows? The Jackets may even do the deal before Wednesday. The big question is, if the Jackets go for an elite rental player, what will they have to give up.