NHL.com lists Ovechkin, Datsyuk among its most exciting players of all-time

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If the Sidney Crosby-free but highly successful 2011 playoffs proved anything, it’s that there is plenty of star power to go around in the NHL. That being said, there’s a difference between watching the star of the moment and a witnessing a force of sheer entertainment. We’re talking about the kind of player whose over-the-top skills won’t be forgotten and whose abilities make them worth the price of admission.

To some extent, a player can often be memorable for being ahead of his time or for utilizing methods that simply should not work. Bobby Orr captivated hockey fans in Massachusetts and beyond with the kind of skating skills and two-way abilities that made others pale in comparison. It’s tough not to least ask if he would be as special in the modern NHL, though. In retrospect, it’s almost as if he traveled back in time to revolutionize his position.

However you explain exactly why those players are or were so special, NHL.com’s John Kreiser compiled an interesting list of the most exciting players of all-time. It’s pretty tough to argue with his list, but let’s look at (and expand upon) his arguments. We’ll begin with two active players who should be on the tip of any unbiased hockey fan’s tongue.

Alex Ovechkin (2005-06 – present)

… But it wasn’t just how many goals Ovechkin scored — it was the way he scored them. A spectacular goal against Phoenix in his rookie season, scored falling down on his back, told the hockey world he was something special, and he’s added to his library of “how did he do that” moments with each passing year.

Pavel Datsyuk (2001-02 – present)

The 1980s had the “Savardian Spin-o-rama.” The 2000s had the “Datsyukian Deke.”

Pavel Datsyuk’s offensive numbers with the Detroit Red Wings won’t match his countryman Ovechkin’s totals with Washington — they are different types of players. But while Datsyuk may not ring up 50 goals, he doesn’t have to take a backseat to anyone when it comes to highlight-reel moments.

Describing what makes Ovechkin and Datsyuk special is the hockey equivalent to a music critic trying to contextualize the impact of the Beatles or Bob Dylan’s most famous works; after a while you run out of ways to skin that cat. One could argue that Ovechkin is the choice of casual fans while “connoisseurs” might prefer Datsyuk, but in the grand scheme of things they’re both able to ply their on-ice art in a time in which teams are better prepared to stop scorers than ever before. (Although defenses were certainly given more freedom to impede scorers in the Dead Puck Era.)

Kreiser provides some bullet-proof great choices from earlier eras, tabbing Orr, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Denis Savard and Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.

Maurice Richard (1942-43 – 1959-60)

Maurice Richard did one thing better than any player of his generation — put the puck in the net. He was as unstoppable from the blue line to the net as any player in NHL history. The sight of Richard, eyes ablaze as he attacked the goal, was enough to send a shiver down the spine of any NHL goaltender.

Two semi-recent stars Kreiser mentioned were Pavel Bure and Dominik Hasek. “The Dominator” was such a unique goaltending presence that Kreiser lead off his article by discussing the one of a kind Czech goalie.

By the time Hasek arrived in the NHL, with Chicago in 1990, the butterfly was in full vogue. But Hasek was more than just a butterfly goalie — he would do anything, use anything, to keep the puck out of the net. That could mean flopping, rolling onto his back, doing a snow angel, leaving his stick on the ice or gloving the puck with his blocker — he never gave up on a shot, and found ways to keep pucks from entering the net that other goaltenders hadn’t even dreamed of. His unorthodox style may have driven his coaches crazy, but it drove opposing shooters to distraction while earning him the nickname “The Dominator.”

Hasek’s excitement quota was off the charts — you never knew what new move he’d come up with to keep the puck out of the net.

Tim Thomas might be our closest answer to Hasek, but he admitted that he couldn’t use a Hasek-type sprawling move after a few years at the NHL Awards in June. Thomas said players have gotten too adept at lifting the puck for him to use the type of spinning save that Hasek used in the past (see No. 6 and No. 2 in this countdown for a solid example of what Thomas was talking about).

Hasek might be a solid example of what I was talking about earlier, then: a force ahead of his time. Maybe Hasek’s slinky-spine tactics wouldn’t work quite as well – and maybe Orr’s innovative game wouldn’t have been so impossible to match – in a higher skill league today, but perhaps that’s part of what made them such sites to see in their primes?

Either way, hockey fans should enjoy every chance they get to watch Ovechkin and Datsyuk. Players with their jaw-dropping skills don’t come along every day.

Francis hopes Hurricanes live up to hype

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t been able to make the jump that some have been anticipating for a while, but that hasn’t shaken GM Ron Francis’ confidence in head coach Bill Peters. At least not yet.

Francis had high praise for Peters and other facets of this Hurricanes team in a detailed interview with Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer.

And, oh yeah, Francis also doesn’t have an issue with the Hurricanes being a dark horse candidate in many eyes.

“It all starts with us and we have a lot of belief in our players and we think we’re capable of having a good year and doing some good things,” Francis said. “I have no problem with people talking about that and putting those kind of expectations on us. Hopefully, they’re right.”

Even so, Francis had some interesting things to say about the makeup of the team, including the fact that while he’s comfortable with where Carolina stands, he’s also open to making a move if an opportunity comes up.

Don’t expect him to bash what they have, though.

Take the team’s set of centers, for instance.

“If you look around the league and you say ‘This guy is a legitimate No. 1, top-line center,’ there’s probably 16 of those guys in the entire league,” Francis said. “They are not easy to find, and a lot of time you have to draft those guys and develop them. We’re hoping we have that kind of guy in our system already, but I certainly feel the guys we have in the middle are elite center men.”

Francis reasonably views Jordan Staal as a sturdy “horse” for the team, and doesn’t seem too concerned by Victor Rask‘s uneven 2016-17 season. Even in also flattering depth options, those two will indeed play a role in Carolina taking the next step, as long as some big changes – Scott Darling getting a significant contract, Justin Williams coming back – end up working out.

That said, file this under “Easier said than done,” as the Hurricanes must navigate the brutal Metropolitan Division to get a “foot in the playoffs.” For all we know, that might not work out even if this group makes some big strides in 2017-18.

Either way, it’s enjoyable to get Francis’ perspective on the team, being that he was one of the most cerebral players of his era. Read the full article here.

Looking to make the leap: Haydn Fleury

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes have built an impressive stockpile of young defensemen, arguably the best in the NHL.

Looking at their current NHL roster there isn’t one defensemen under contract for this season that is over the age of 26, while three of their best — and youngest — are all signed to long-term deals. Not only are they young, they are also already really, really good and just need a more stable goaltending situation behind them to help the Hurricanes take a big leap forward this season.

For as good and promising as that group already is, there is another young player in the pipeline that hasn’t even had a chance to make an impact yet in 2014 first-round pick (No. 7 overall) Haydn Fleury.

The 21-year-old Fleury is coming off of his first year of pro hockey, spending the 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Other than missing part of the season due to injury it was mostly a successful pro debut for the young rearguard, appearing in 69 games and scoring seven goals to go with 19 assists and showing considerable improvement down the stretch following a slow start.

The logjam of young defensemen already in Carolina is going to make it tough for Fleury to crack the lineup, but the No. 6 spot on the blue line does seem to be up for grabs between him and Klas Dahlbeck. Even if he doesn’t grab that spot at the start of the season it seems reasonable to assume that at some point during the season — whether it be due to injury, a trade, or just a lack of performance from somebody else — that he is going to make his NHL debut.

When he does it will be just another promising young player added to a defensive core that already boasts Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Given the contracts Faulk, Slavin and Pesce are signed to, and the fact Hanifin and Fleury are still on their entry level deals it gives the Hurricanes a ton of flexibility when it comes to constructing their roster. Any of them would be attractive pieces in trade talks to make improvements elsewhere, or they can be the foundation of the defense — and the team itself — for the next six or seven years for a remarkably affordable price.

Scott Darling will be the key to the Hurricanes’ season

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

A few numbers to keep in mind about the Carolina Hurricanes as they prepare to enter the 2017-18 season:

  • Over the past three seasons only one team in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings — has allowed fewer shots on goal per game than the 27.3 allowed by the Hurricanes. An impressive number, especially given how young their defense has been during that stretch.
  • Despite those low shot totals the Hurricanes are only 19th in the NHL in goals against. The are the only team in the top-eight in shots against that finished outside of the top-12 in goals against and the only one that has not made the playoffs at least once. Two of those teams have made the Stanley Cup Final at least once. Four have made the the Conference Finals at least once.

So how is a team that is so good at suppressing shots so bad at preventing goals and winning games?

Goaltending.

They are hoping that newly acquired goalie Scott Darling, getting what will be his first chance at a full-time starting job, will be able to help fix that issue.

Over that same three-year stretch mentioned above, Hurricanes goalies — a revolving door made up of Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, and Anton Khudobin — have not managed a save percentage that placed them higher than 26th in the entire league in any one season. That is a pretty significant problem and it has been, perhaps, the single biggest factor in the team’s lack of success on the ice. No one position in hockey can impact the fortunes of a team more than a goalie. Carey Price has taken an average Canadiens team and made them a contender. The opposite has been happening in Carolina.

Let’s just look at this past season as an example, when the duo of Ward and Lack finished with a .904 mark, with Ward (playing in 61 of the games) leading the way at .905.

If the Hurricanes had been able to replace Ward’s performance with a league average number (in the .912 range) in his 61 starts the Hurricanes would have allowed 12-14 fewer goals right off the bat. A league average duo across the board would have cut close to 20 goals off the board over 82 games. That is a potentially significant swing and Darling is the newest goalie that will get a chance to make it happen.

Darling spent the past three seasons serving as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago and playing at a level that made him one of the league’s best No. 2 goalies. Among the 58 goalies that have appeared in at least 60 games over the past three seasons Darling’s .923 save percentage has him sixth in the NHL behind only Carey Price, Matt Murray, Antti Raanta (another backup getting a chance to start this season), Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby.

The test for him is whether or not he can maintain that level of play — or anything close to it — when he is counted on to be the No. 1 goalie that gets the top teams every night.

If he can be, the Hurricanes are going to have a great shot to end that eight-year playoff drought given how good their defense already is and how many young, talented forwards they have in their lineup.

If he is not, it will probably be more of the same — a promising young team that just seems to keep falling short in the regular season.

Poll: Will the Hurricanes be a playoff team this season?

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

It has been eight years since the Carolina Hurricanes qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since then they have gone through three coaches, numerous roster constructions and a still ongoing rebuilding effort.

For the past three or four years it seems as if the Hurricanes have entered the new season as a popular sleeper pick to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and things never quite seem to work out for one reason or another (recently goaltending has been a big reason). Those expectations are back once again this season.

They had a pretty strong finish to the 2016-17 season with an 11-5-5 mark down the stretch and have an impressive young core of players in place, mostly on their defense that is stacked with a ton of already good — and very underrated — players all under the age of 24, with several of them now locked in to long-term contracts. Up front Jeff Skinner is one of the NHL’s best goal scorers, while Sebastian Aho and Victor Rask are looking like two of the best young forwards in the league. They attempted to complement that young core this summer with some pretty significant veteran additions, including Justin Williams, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Marcus Kruger and Scott Darling.

Their young players are still at an age where they have room to improve, and they made some significant additions around them (and do not forget Jordan Staal, who is still a really good player even if he carries a huge contract). Will those improvements be enough to help the Hurricanes make up eight points in the standings and get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season?