Can Corey Crawford avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?

The last we saw of Corey Crawford, he was skating off the ice in Vancouver after Alex Burrows buried the series-clinching goal over his blocker in overtime of Game 7. The Canucks went on to get within 60 minutes of their first Stanley Cup in franchise history; while the Blackhawks were sent home trying to figure out what went wrong in the season they were supposed to defend Lord Stanley’s chalice. Slow starts, lack of motivation at the beginning of the season, or an injury in the playoffs. Plenty of people had plenty of answers. But one of the biggest question marks going into the season evolved into one of the team’s strengths by the end of the season.

The NHL was introduced to Corey Crawford.

With the early exit of 2010-11 in the rearview mirror, Crawford looks to build on the momentum he created for himself in the second half of last season. He came into camp as Marty Turco’s back-up—at best he hoped to platoon with the former Dallas Stars netminder. But it only took a couple of months to show the Hawks coaching staff that he gave the team the best opportunity to win on a nightly basis. By the end of the season, he had 33 wins, a .917 save percentage, 2.30 goals against, and was viewed by many to be a viable Calder Trophy candidate. But that was last year.

There’s a difference between competing for a place on the team and understanding that the starting job is already a done-deal. Last season, he was competing just to turn himself into an NHL goaltender on an NHL roster. Now that particular fuel is gone with the thirst for an NHL job freshly quenched. Will he be able to find the same drive while he tries to take the next step from pleasant surprise to the man that the entire organization is depending on this season? Crawford has already spoken about the difference this training camp:

“There is a little bit different feeling. It’s nice to know you have a three-year deal coming into camp, but at the same time I’m so focused to earn that ice time and show the guys – even the new guys – that you’re the guy to gain their confidence.”

He’s not the only one who has confidence that he’ll be able to put up a repeat performance this season. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville expects the same type of performance from his young netminder this season. In fact, he expects him to be even better.

“He really shouldered a lot for us last year,” Quenneville said. “He was consistent in big games and big settings. Nothing changes his approach and you’ve got to commend him for doing that. We see him only growing from those levels. He can continue to improve and hopefully elevate his game to become a top goaltender in our League.”

Surely the same thing was said about Steve Mason after his Calder Trophy winning rookie season in Columbus. The trick for Crawford will be to carry the same drive he had when he was trying to make the NHL this season. No longer is he simply trying to make the team—he has that part down. Now he’s trying to improve into a goaltender that will be around for years to come. For young players, and goaltenders in particular, it’s easier said than done.

Professional athletes aren’t trained to think about failure. If they put in the work, by and large they will succeed. That’s why they’re in the NHL to begin with. But sometimes younger players forget all of the hard work that it takes to get to the NHL and let the offseason training slip a bit in the offseason once they’ve accomplished themselves. We’ll see if Crawford can perform for the Hawks like he did last season. If he can improve upon his numbers last season, Chicago will be a dangerous team in the Western Conference. If not, they better figure that back-up goaltending role in a hurry.

Despite concussion history, Clarke MacArthur says ‘I’m going to play if I can’

Getty
Leave a comment

Ottawa Senators forward Clarke MacArthur has again emphasized his desire to continue his playing career, despite another regular season derailed by a concussion.

It will, however, depend on what doctors tell him.

MacArthur missed all but four games in the regular season because of a concussion suffered during training camp. In January, it was reported that this latest concussion would keep him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season — more bad news that followed a 2015-16 campaign in which he played only four games.

In a surprising development, MacArthur was cleared and returned to the Senators lineup late in the season, just before the playoffs started. During Ottawa’s impressive postseason run, which ended Thursday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final versus Pittsburgh, the 32-year-old forward had three goals and nine points in 19 games.

On Saturday, he revealed to the Ottawa Citizen that he had been dealing with discomfort in his neck during the playoffs. He was also adamant it was nothing else other than a neck ailment, and that he will get an MRI to see what it could be.

As for his playing future?

“I don’t know what the play is,” said MacArthur, per the Ottawa Citizen. “I just want to take a week or two and see how I feel. I still love playing the game. I’ve got to talk to the doctors and take a week or so and see where I go.”

Despite a history of concussions, MacArthur has in the past stated that he wants to continue playing. He is about to enter the third year of a five-year, $23.25 million contract.

“If everything works out, then I’m going to play if I can.”

David Poile finally rewarded with first trip to Stanley Cup Final in 35 years as a GM

Getty
Leave a comment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) David Poile thought he could squeeze in a quick day off after the exhilarating run by the Nashville Predators to their first Stanley Cup Final.

Wrong.

At least 200 texts and emails congratulating him on the Western Conference title greeted him. Then Predators’ only general manager had to deal with logistics, tickets, hotel rooms and talk with league officials to prepare them for the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday night in Pittsburgh.

It’s Poile’s first Stanley Cup Final after 15 years as general manager of the Washington Capitals and nearly 20 years of building the Predators from scratch as an expansion franchise.

“After all these years I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and it’s different and it’s a challenge,” Poile said with a big smile. “But I’m ready for it.”

No general manager has been with his current team longer than Poile, whose father, Bud, won the Stanley Cup playing for Toronto in 1947 and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Next season, Poile will pass Jack Adams and Glen Sather as the NHL’s longest serving general manager, and only Sather has more games and wins (2,700 and 1,319) than Poile (2,622 and 1,280).

Read more:

The Predators built the NHL’s best defense, and it’s going to be around for a while

NHL GM of the Year finalists: Oilers’ Chiarelli, Sens’ Dorion, Preds’ Poile

Poile also was general manager of the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. But he never made it to Sochi after being struck by a puck in the right eye at a Predators’ morning skate, breaking his nose and costing him his vision.

Now, all across hockey, people are rooting for Poile to finally win a championship.

“The hockey community in general is elated for him,” said Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames. “He has performed at such a high level for so long in this league and not been rewarded like this. He’s got lots of people pulling for him to go all the way.”

New Jersey general manager Ray Shero, who was an assistant GM in Nashville, said his own wife was in tears so happy for Poile and his wife, Elizabeth.

“I was saying to David, ‘Yeah everybody’s saying it’s so great for David, patient David Poile,”‘ Shero said. “I’m like, ‘David, you’re the most impatient guy know.’ He used to boo the team from our box in Nashville like, ‘David, you’re so impatient.’ He’d boo the team and say, ‘He’s brutal, he’s brutal.”‘

Poile just missed Washington’ run to the Stanley Cup in 1998 after his contract wasn’t renewed in May 1997. He had gotten the Caps to the Eastern Conference finals only once – 1990. Offered the Toronto GM job, Poile turned down the franchise with 13 titles to put together his own franchise in Nashville like his father had in Philadelphia and Vancouver.

“I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Poile said. “I’ve never regretted it. There’s certainly been some ups and downs in this franchise whether it be on the ice or off the ice. But that’s never deterred me to want to go somewhere else or to do something different. Everybody’s treated me very, very well. I’m very comfortable, and it’s a legacy for David Poile.”

Poile and the Predators had to teach their fans hockey and grow the sport in a region dominated by college football and NASCAR.

In 2007, the Predators finished third in the NHL with 110 points. Poile’s big trade for Peter Forsberg netted only a first-round loss in the playoffs. Craig Leipold, who now owns the Minnesota Wild, put the Preds up for sale. Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie’s purchase might have gone through if not for news he already was taking season-ticket deposits in Hamilton, Ontario.

Fans rallied to keep their team, and local businessmen stepped up to keep the Predators in Nashville.

During the turmoil, Poile couldn’t re-sign Forsberg or Paul Kariya and unloaded defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell.

The man who loves to plan triggered this playoff run with a handful of trades. He swapped defensemen Seth Jones and captain Shea Weber for center Ryan Johansen and All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban, while bringing back veteran forward Vern Fiddler during the season along with trading for Cody McLeod.

“He’s made some of the biggest trades in the history of the league, which is just so contradictory to his personality,” Burke said. “He’s this cautious guy. I joke with him that I’d hate to watch him get dressed in the morning, trying to decide which tie and which pants. But when it comes time to make these deals, this guy, he’ll shove all the chips in and stand up and yell at you. He’s fearless.”

Poile took his wife outside the arena before Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games Monday night. He saw thousands of fans bringing lawn chairs just to sit outside the arena and watch on big-screen TVs and marveled.

“It’s fantastic, the whole thing, the whole experience,” Poile said. “I can’t think of anything that’s ever happened better to me in all my years in hockey.”

Well, maybe one more thing.

Nicholle Anderson, wife of Senators goalie Craig Anderson, declares she is cancer-free

Twitter
3 Comments

Their Stanley Cup playoff run is over, but the entire Ottawa Senators organization has received great — and far more important — news away from the ice.

Nicholle Anderson, wife of Senators goalie Craig Anderson, has declared that she is cancer-free after battling a rare form of throat cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, since October.

Anderson shared an update on her own personal blog, including a plan for follow-up tests over the next few years:

On May 25, 2017, I went to the doctors to hear the results of the pet scan.  He informed the scans were clear, however, they saw activity on C1 and C2 (cervical spine).  He was confident it wasn’t cancer/tumor, and ordered a STAT MRI on Friday to confirm the findings.  The MRI showed it is a side effect to radiation in my soft tissue around the c-spine.

Now we are sending my scans and reports to Sloane Kettering to get a second opinion.  Nothing better than hearing CANCER FREE two times!  I will be continuously monitored for the next couple of years with followed-up pet scans, ENT visits, and tests.  We pray this beast doesn’t return.

I truly believe hockey helped me through all of this with the playoff run.  I couldn’t have asked for a better year and memories.  My advice to everyone, everyday we are given, we are blessed. Don’t put off what you can do today!  Live life to the fullest because in a blink of an eye it can and will change.

Craig Anderson, who took personal leave on more than one occasion this season to be with his wife while she went through treatment, also shared the news on Saturday, two days after the Senators were defeated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“It was a huge relief,” Anderson told Postmedia. “It was just weight off the shoulders knowing things are going in the right direction. The message (from Nicholle) was just go out there, play and have fun.”

Revisiting the Patric Hornqvist-James Neal trade three years later

Getty
5 Comments

When Jim Rutherford took over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 2014 he was inheriting a team that was coming off of one of its more disappointing postseason exits, having blown a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers in the second-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Even though the roster contained a trio of superstars in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, it was still a badly flawed team that was short on depth (it had absolutely none), had little salary cap room to maneuver with, and had a lot of work to do before it could again be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

To begin re-tooling his roster Rutherford’s first major trade was to ship James Neal to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

With the Penguins and Predators meeting in the Stanley Cup Final beginning on Monday, and with Hornqvist and Neal still playing prominent roles on their respective teams, we should take a quick look back at that trade to see how it has all shaped out.

I want to start with this: I will be the first to admit that when the trade was initially completed I thought the Penguins were going to come out on the short end of it because the return just didn’t seem to make a ton of sense. But hey, we all make mistakes.

It wasn’t that Hornqvist wasn’t any good or didn’t have any value, it just didn’t seem to be the type of return that was going to change much. Not only was Neal one of the NHL’s elite goal-scorers at the time (his 0.49 goals per game average in his three full seasons with Pittsburgh was tied with Evgeni Malkin for third best in the NHL during that stretch) but the return itself did not really seem to fix any of their issues. They were not getting any meaningful salary cap savings (it actually cost them more money after Spaling’s contract extension), they were not getting any younger, they were not doing anything to increase their depth. It just seemed like they should have been able to get more, or at least accomplish more, given the type of player they were trading. Goal scorers like Neal had proven to be during his time in Pittsburgh are not exactly easy to find.

It simply seemed to be a trade that was going to be, at best, a lateral move for a different type of player.

Hornqvist is a human wrecking ball that does most of his work around the front of the net, while Neal is a pure sniper with one of the NHL’s most lethal shots that is capable of scoring from anywhere in the offensive zone.

When you look at their production since the trade, there is almost no difference in what they have done for their new teams in both the regular season and playoffs.

Offensively, they have been virtually the same player. Neal has been a slightly better goal scoring (which is to be expected given the skill set of the two players)

But sometimes a “lateral” move for a different type of player is exactly what a team needs.

In this case, both teams.

From a Pittsburgh perspective, Hornqvist has given them the type of net-front presence they previously lacked before the trade. Even though his style of play is loathed by opposing goaltenders and fans, it is more of an organized, controlled chaos. He is not prone to taking the type of retaliatory nonsense that used to plague the Penguins toward the end of the Dan Bylsma era, making almost any game they were losing devolve into madness. Neal could at times be lured into that sort of game by opponents. That trade, and several of the roster changes (as well as the promotion of Mike Sullivan and his “just play” mantra) that followed over the past two years have all but eliminated that from their game. It has helped. A lot.

But that isn’t to say that Nashville didn’t get a lot out of this, too. While Pittsburgh ended up getting a Holmstrom-like presence to cause havoc around the net, the Predators were able to pick up the type of top-line goal-scoring threat they had been lacking for years. Before acquiring Neal the Predators had only ever had four different players top 30-goals in a single season. Only one scored more than 31. Remember, this trade was before Filip Forsberg turned into the goal-scoring force that he is now. While Neal’s goal-scoring has dropped a bit since the move away from Pittsburgh he is still scoring goals at close to a 30-goal pace over an 82-game season. His 0.35 goals per game average with the Predators is still among the top-25 players in the league and that is nothing to overlook.

When looking at it strictly from a numbers perspective neither team really comes out that far ahead three years later. It has turned out to be a deal that for different reasons has benefited each team equally.

Sometimes that is all you are looking for in a trade.