Now that the Sharks first lengthy road trip (5 games) is over, what have we learned?
This year’s team is capable of beating top-notch opponents. The New York Islanders are a good hockey team and the New Jersey Devils won’t miss the playoffs this year. Those were solid road wins.
Logan Couture can still score. He might have failed to light the lamp in the first four games of the season but once Couture broke the seal in New Jersey he was on his way to a 5-point roadie.
The Sharks goaltending is solid. Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock are both playing well right now. Stalock might want a goal or two back from the New York Ranger tilt but stuff happens. The whole team was off their game that day.
Adjusting to the NHL at the age of 19 is tough. Mirco Mueller and Chris Tierney both spent part of the trip watching from the press box. It’s a big jump from junior to “the show”. It’s much better to be patient with young players and give them an opportunity to succeed than to thrown them to the wolves.
We learned that the New York Islanders are legit. They will be a tough team in the east all season.
We learned that Henrik Lundqvist is a really good goalie. But then we already knew that.
And we learned that while a 2-2-1 Sharks road trip (.500) is OK, there is still plenty of room for improvement
Most of all it’s great to be back in the rhythm of the regular season.
As the Sharks move through the young season on this East Coast road trip, I was thinking about something that we’re all witnessing that’s awfully rare at the National Hockey League level. However, in order to relate that properly, I have to venture back in time for a brief story.
Back in the halcyon years of my hockey youth, I used to listen to a lot of New York Rangers games on the radio, and in those days, the Broadway Blueshirts had a player on the roster named Ron “Harry” Harris. Harris, who also was a member of both the WHL’s San Francisco Seals and the NHL’s Oakland Seals earlier in his career, was a journeyman defenseman from Verdun, Quebec who had a mean streak and a rugged playing style that was appreciated by fans in Oakland, Detroit, Atlanta, and New York.
To counter the brusque, bullying style of the Philadelphia Flyers and other clubs in those days, Rangers’ legendary GM/coach Emile Francis decided one day to skate Harris on the right wing. If there was trouble, Harry would put a stop to it, and he often did. It was a rare experiment that worked.
But Harris was the equivalent of a sixth or seventh defenseman for the Rangers back in those days, and as a right wing, he was generally on the fourth line.
Back to the present.
Over the course of his career, Brent Burns has played both right wing and defense in the NHL, and regardless of what position he’s playing, he’s slotted in one of the top two forward lines or the top four defensemen. He is a physical specimen, with tremendous skating ability, great size, a physical presence, and the ability to score.
Whether Burns plays forward or defense, he’s an impact player for his team. While with the Minnesota Wild, Burnzie scored 17 goals as a defenseman in 2010-11. Last season, he scored 22 goals as a right wing, notching a career-high 48 points and finishing 5th on the team’s scoring list while playing on a line with Joe Thornton.
What’s interesting is how rare it really is to see a player excel at both forward and defense in the National Hockey League. On October 11th, we saw an even greater rarity: two such players competing against each other in the same game. At SAP Center on that date, Burns was opposed by Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien, who finished 3rd among defensemen in 2010-11 when he was with the Atlanta Thrashers and who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010. In this game, Byfuglien was back on the wing with the Jets, and as is the case with Burns, he cuts a large swath on the ice with a big presence.
Going back in NHL history, I can think of only two other instances of players who excelled at this high a level at both forward and defense:
When he began his professional career with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, Howe was a winger, and in 6 WHA seasons, he scored 30 or more goals 5 times while playing alongside his father, the legendary Gordie Howe. Moving to Hartford, Philadelphia, and Detroit in the NHL, he converted to defense and broke the 20 goal mark 3 times, scoring a career-best 82 points with the Flyers in 1985-86. Paired with the late Brad McCrimmon, he was regularly at the top of the plus-minus stats in the League.
Howe was selected as an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
When the family of the late Red Wings owner-president James Norris presented a trophy in his memory to be given to the NHL’s best defenseman, its first winner in 1954 was Leonard “Red” Kelly, who happened to play for Detroit at the time. Kelly distinguished himself for many years as a top blue liner, finishing as Norris Trophy runner up on two more occasions. He may very well have won another one, had Doug Harvey not have been playing at the same time in history.
But when he moved to Toronto in the 1960’s, GM/Coach Punch Imlach decided to convert Kelly into a center. Easily making the transition, Kelly had three 20-goal seasons with the Leafs playing up front.
Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969. He won a total of 8 Stanley Cups, 4 with Detroit and 4 with Toronto.
Burns is back on defense this season, but he’s also at or near the top of his team’s scoring list. He’s on the ice for more minutes, playing 22:02 and 25:08 in the recent back-to-back set of contests at New Jersey and at Madison Square Garden. He’s looking good alongside the promising Mirco Mueller, which bodes well for the Sharks as they skate forward.
Remember, when you watch or listen to Brent Burns’ exploits this season, you’re witnessing some history, but you’re also seeing a unique level of excellence in the National Hockey League. That’s the case, whether he happens to play defense, as he is now, or forward, which he certainly can do with elan.
|Even an "old school" hockey player like Todd believes in a new way of thinking.|
As a person who is fortunate enough to host baseball and hockey shows on CSN, there is one major difference in covering the two sports: available numbers.
For baseball, there are dozens of universally accepted statistics that easily quantify the performance of an individual hitter or pitcher. Batting average, earned run average, fielding percentage... it's quite easy to reference stats, and say one player had a good game, or not.
But in hockey, judging success by basic numbers alone doesn't always do players proper justice. It's just the nature of the game. For example: last week in New York, Logan Couture goes out front of the crease and screens Jaroslav Halak, resulting in a Patrick Marleau power play goal. What does Logan get on the stat sheet? Nothing! On television, what more can we say than... "Nice job there, by Couture"? Not much. Beyond the video of it happening, it's almost like Logan's effort doesn't exist in hockey history.
Enter advanced stats. Things like "Corsi,” which measures puck possession. "PDO" which values even strength shooting/save percentages. And "Zone starts,” charting which players are selected to be on the ice for faceoffs in all three zones. These have all been emerging and maturing in the last few years, and have captured the attention of hockey's top minds.
"I firmly believe in analytics”, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan recently shared.
"I think the most precious analytics that I have, are my eyeballs to begin with. Then we've got four more sets of them in assistant coaches. Then we turn to the paper and the pen. When we look at the stuff that is presented to us, it should support what we're seeing. If it doesn't then, we've got to ask the questions,” explained McLellan.
In the same way that baseball purists initially resisted "sabermetrics,” it's not surprising "advanced stats" are finding their way to hockey... with a cautious optimism.
Said McLellan: "Analytics can't become the be-all and end-all. It can't be the lazy way of doing things, it still has to be the work. Watching and feeling."
I'm positive advanced stats will continue to expand in the hockey world, if they can (at minimum) do the following things:
1) Explain trends which were previously unexplainable
2) Put a value on players who do the intangible things to win
3) Remain easy enough to comprehend, and accurately track
I wrote this blog as the Sharks prepared to play their last regular season game at Nassau Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders. Being here is nostalgic for me because when I was younger my favorite team was the Islanders, and yes my high school years were fun as they pumped out 4 Stanley Cups.
So why were the Islanders so good? And at the same time, what makes the current version of the San Francisco Giants so good when it comes to playoff time?
No question you have to have the right ingredients of speed, skill and toughness but lots of teams have that and don’t rise to the occasion when it matters most. The last piece to the Championship puzzle is the mental side of playing the game and this next part is important, the ability to over-achieve as an individual and a team.
The Giants know they just need to make the playoffs and then it’s time for everyone to rise to the occasion. That’s what the great Islanders team did, and that’s what the LA Kings did last year.
Having a great regular season gets you good contracts that set you up for life. Having a great playoff is what your legacy will be remembered for. As I looked at the 4 Stanley Cup banners hanging in the rafters I didn’t think about how the Islanders team did in the regular season, but how they dismantled other teams in the playoffs with their; tenacity, grit, speed, toughness, skill, goaltending and an willing desire to refuse to lose and be mentally stronger than their opponents. Their legacies are cemented in Islander and NHL history!
That’s what this season is about for the San Jose Sharks. Can they, as individuals and a group, over-achieve when it matters most. It’s been a long time since a Sharks team has over-achieved.
The regular season is about getting invited to the party. Like the Islanders, Kings and the San Francisco Giants, it’s then about peaking at the right time and taking your game to a new, and much higher level. That’s the opportunity and challenge that lies ahead for the 2014/15 version of the San Jose Sharks.
It’s a small world isn’t it?
On March 28, 1989 Bernadette Devorski was a nurse working at the maternity ward of the main hospital in Guelph, Ontario. That day an expectant mother came into the hospital to give birth. Her doctor was summoned but didn’t arrive in time. Nurse Devorski delivered the baby. That child was Logan Couture. Thursday night on Long Island, Couture will line up at center for the San Jose Sharks. Also lining up and wearing stripes as one of the referee’s for the game will be 25 year NHL veteran official Paul Devorski. Bernadette is his mother. Chet Couture, Logan’s father, who lives in Southern Ontario will also be there to watch his son. He’s never met Paul Devorski but perhaps that will happen after the game. Devorski lives in Hershey, New York but his wife…is originally from San Jose.
It’s a small word.
Thought: When it first starts to rain on a mountain, the rain runs everywhere. But if it continues to rain, the rain will make deeps cuts into the earth where it continues to flow, and those cuts become valleys.
Sitting here in Washington, and reminiscing on all the games I played in this city, the times we spent at the famous hotel The Mayflower, and I can’t tell you what a nice feeling I have right now being able to call this one from the booth. Don’t get me wrong, I miss playing the game, but coming into this building for 10 years within the division (Florida, Carolina) I knew it was going to be a war and had to be ready mentally and physically. You never walked out of this building NOT knowing you played in a hockey game.
With Scott Hannan playing in his 1000th NHL Regular Season game on Tuesday, it also helps me reflect on my 1000 games and knowing how hard that number is to achieve and the level of mental toughness it takes to accomplish. Reading a quote from the head coach Barry Trotz of the Capitals, it speaks to what Scott Hannan has accomplished, and what it takes some nights when your body says no I can’t go out and play tonight because my body can’t do it, but your mind convinces you it can. Trotz speaks on the importance of being mentally strong,
“The bigger lessons form after that was how you responded after some adversity. Your mind says 'I can’t do this,' or ‘It’s going to be too hard, I can’t do this.’ And what you find out is that your mind is lot stronger. Your body is strong, but your mind controls everything. You’ve got to talk yourself through it.”
There were many of nights getting to my 1000 games that I had to talk myself into it, and what I realized after those nights that I went out and played when my body was saying no, is that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. Those tough nights when you go out and play well, makes you realize that your mind is strong, and that sometimes the only thing in your way is your own inability to think positive.
Today’s blog is a great reminder to be positive in what you do every day. Tell yourself positive thoughts, because you deserve it. Not everyone has the ability or the skill to play 1000 games in the NHL, but we all have the ability to accomplish things we didn’t think we could do through the repetition of positive thoughts. The times Scott Hannan said, “I can do this” would dwarf his 1000 games, but that’s what it takes. It’s the belief that you can and the repetition of positive thoughts is what gives us great strength to accomplish great goals.
Thought: Make your thoughts valleys, and let the positive rain fall on you every day!
I’m often asked what the best part of my job as a Sharks broadcaster is. My answer is always the same. I love the unpredictability. Every time I step into the broadcast booth I’m never sure what I’m going to see. It could be a thrilling game or a dud. I might see something I’ve never seen before or it could just be one game among many that is soon forgotten. This season is only 3 games old and I’ve already witnessed an NHL first. The back-to-back shutouts by Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock to start the season had never been done before in the 97-year history of the league. On Tuesday night in Washington it was jaw-dropping time again. Todd McLellan decided to shake up the defence a little bit by replacing rookie Mirco Mueller with Matt Irwin. Irwin then not only scores the first goal of the game but he scores the second one too. This is a guy who scored only twice all of last season in 62 games. And Irwin made franchise history scoring those two goals in the first 4:26 of the game. No Sharks player has ever done that before. And then there’s John Scott. Going into the Washington game he had scored 2 goals in his 236 game career with Minnesota, Chicago, the Rangers and Buffalo. With Mike Brown down with an injury, McLellan opted to give Scott the nod to make his Sharks debut. Scott proceeded to score a beauty of a goal on one of his first few shifts! You just can’t make this stuff up.
The best part of my job? I never know what’s going to happen next!
Winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for every National Hockey League player, but being selected in the NHL Draft is the first dream that comes true en route to that unforgettable achievement. Such a selection is a tremendous honor, and it’s the first sign that a player has a chance to make it to the greatest hockey league in the world.
But the Draft has not always been the main way that players arrived on the scene. In fact, the original draft that was held in 1963, then called the “NHL Amateur Draft,” held the position that today’s free agency holds in one sense: it produced some NHL players, but was not the primary method of procuring the future stars of the world’s fastest game.
For instance, if the San Jose Sharks were in business back in the 1960’s as one of the “Original Six,” the media guide would not have had the following phrase next to Logan Couture’s name: “Selected by San Jose in the NHL Draft (1st round, 9th overall).” Instead, the more likely phrase would have been, “Product of San Jose Sharks organization.”
Now, even though one could use that phrase about many current Sharks, it had a slightly different meaning back in those halcyon years. By the mid-1940’s, NHL clubs were directly subsidizing what are now called “major junior” teams, and had either outright ownership or working agreements with affiliated American Hockey League clubs, and that gave them exclusive playing rights for the players who played on these teams and who had signed a “C-Form” commitment. Once a player signed such a form, he became an apprentice in the trade of professional hockey, and his entire existence was in the control of the NHL team that had signed him.
Transporting a modern player into that era, a young Logan Couture would have likely signed a C-Form after being watched as a bantam and perhaps a midget by Sharks super-scouts. The Sharks would have subsidized a team in, say, the Ontario Hockey League, and Logan would have automatically become property of that club. Invited to an NHL training camp, he would have likely progressed through a team’s system, first to the American Hockey League, and then to the Sharks.
As is the case today, the rare exception would jump directly to the NHL, and that’s essentially how it all happened for one of the greatest players of all time, Bobby Orr. Signed to a commitment by scout Wren Blair and the Boston Bruins when he was just 14 years of age, Orr played junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals, the Bruins-subsidized organization in the OHL. Then, at 18, in 1966-67, he cracked the Bruins roster, and the rest was history.
While this system certainly vacuumed up most of the burgeoning young talent and provided them a competitive place to play, there were always those who developed later or whom the scouts missed. The NHL Amateur Draft was developed as a way to distribute those talented players around the League.
So it was on a quiet summer day in 1963, at a non-public event at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, that the first NHL Amateur Draft was conducted. The first player ever selected was Garry Monahan, a winger who wound up playing in 748 NHL games for Montreal, Detroit, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto.
After the 1969-70 season, the last vestiges of this system slipped into the modern format of what is now the NHL Draft, which today is a hugely public event that is conducted with much pomp and circumstance over two days, including prime national television coverage. It is in this system that the San Jose Sharks will select their future stars, and in which they possess three picks in the top 60.
The Sharks will select 20th this year, based on their ending position in the standings. Over the course of their history, they have selected with the 20th pick only once. It was 2001, at what is now known as the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, and the Sharks stepped to the podium to select center Marcel Goc.
Goc, of course, would have a memorable first run in the NHL during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. After spending a full season in the AHL with the Cleveland Barons, he found himself in the lineup for his first NHL game of any kind in Game 5 of the first round against St. Louis, and he picked up an assist on the series-winning goal by Mark Smith. Then, in round two against Colorado, he scored his first-ever NHL goal of any kind in Game 6, on a play that turned out to be the series-winning goal.
Some other notable 20th-overall selections in the history of the NHL Draft include Larry Robinson (Montreal, 1971), Brian Sutter (St. Louis, 1976), Michel Goulet (Quebec, 1979), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 1990), Scott Parker (Colorado, 1998), Brent Burns (Minnesota, 2003), Travis Zajac (New Jersey, 2004), and Michael Del Zotto (N.Y. Rangers, 2008).
Who could the Sharks get with the 51st and 53rd selections? Historically speaking, here are a few names for you: Butch Goring (LA, 51st, 1969), Nicklas Lidstrom (DET, 53rd, 1989), Patrick Elias (NJ, 51st, 1994), David Booth (FLA, 53rd, 2004), Mason Raymond (VAN, 51st, 2005), and Derek Stepan (NYR, 51st, 2008), to name a few.
But in every draft, there is always the hidden gem who turns up, and these players are prime examples of that in Sharks history: Marcus Ragnarsson (99th, 1992), Alexander Korolyuk (141st, 1994), Evgeni Nabokov (219th, 1994), Vesa Toskala (90th, 1995), Miikka Kiprusoff (116th, 1995), Matt Bradley (102nd, 1996), Mark Smith (219th, 1997), Mikael Samuelsson (145th, 1998), Douglas Murray (241st, 1999), Ryane Clowe (175th, 2001), Joe Pavelski (205th, 2003), Alex Stalock (112th, 2005), Justin Braun (201st, 2007), Tommy Wingels (177th, 2008), and Jason Demers (186th, 2008).
Beyond that, there are the free agent players who are also scouted, signed, and developed alongside all those who had the “head start” of being selected in the draft. An outstanding example is Andrew Desjardins, who played in the OHL for four years and was neither drafted, nor signed immediately, by an NHL team. His path to the League went through Laredo, Texas (CHL), Phoenix, Arizona (ECHL), and Worcester, Massachusetts (AHL), before getting to the NHL here in San Jose for the first time in 2010.
As is the case with all of the draftees, past and present, “Desi” has worked his way up through the system, and has earned the right to be identified as the earlier players used to be: “Product of the San Jose Sharks organization.”
It is a designation that all home-grown Sharks players have the right to be proud of, and it is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of these players, and that of the staff that discovered them, that deserves to be celebrated this week. Whether they’re drafted, acquired in trades, or signed as free agents, they all become products of the organization that developed them.
Make sure that you pay close attention to each and every selection that is made at this week’s draft. You’ll be reviewing some household names of the future, and some Stanley Cup champions in years to come. But on Friday and Saturday, you’ll also see the first dream of young players coming true, with the chance to achieve the ultimate goal.
See you at Stanley’s on Friday at Sharks Ice at San Jose, for the NHL Draft Viewing Party, presented by Coors Light. For more information on that event, click here.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
The FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, an event that occurs every four years, is now underway for the United States, and sports fans from around the world will be following the exploits of their respective nations in what is sure to be a dramatic scene in Brazil. As is the case in international hockey, there are favorites, underdogs, upsets, strange bedfellows, and tremendous competition.
From a hockey fan perspective, it’s interesting to contrast our sport’s premier event, the Stanley Cup playoffs, with what’s happening now in cities like Sao Paolo, Belo Horizonte, and Recife. There is nothing like the World Cup every four years for soccer fans, but there is nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs every year for a hockey fan.
From a San Jose Sharks perspective, of course, there are no smiles over what occurred this past spring, and it seemed appropriate that the final day was Friday, the 13th of June. On that evening, the Los Angeles Kings overcame a 2-1 deficit, tied the game on a power play in the third, and won the Stanley Cup in front of their fan base at the Staples Center. It was the second Stanley Cup championship for the Sharks’ arch rivals, and it capped a spring of disappointment and soul-searching for the Men in Teal.
But beyond the too-early end for the Sharks, the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs were truly a remarkable showcase of the greatest game on earth, and unlike the World Cup or the Olympics, it happens every year, not every four years. Aside from the many remarkable, albeit painful stories that led to the Kings’ championship, there were so many others.
The New York Rangers made it back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, and that was quite an accomplishment for the Broadway Blueshirts, an excellent and improving team over the course of the season. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 7 games, fell behind Pittsburgh 3 games to 1 in round 2, and roared back to take Game Seven at Burgh Hockey in a comeback that rivaled any in this post-season. Then, in a traditional Original Six matchup, they took the Montreal Canadiens in six games, setting things up for the Final against the Kings.
The Chicago Blackhawks, like the Sharks , saw their season end too soon, and as was the case with San Jose, they were defeated in Game Seven at home by the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Chicago trailed its series 3 games to 1 before fighting back to force Game Seven. But as was the case for three great teams, they dropped Game Seven at home to the Kings.
One of the most interesting aspects, of course, of the Stanley Cup playoffs is how grueling it is over the span of years. Consider the path of the two Finalists. The Kings have played an NHL record 64 playoff games in the past three seasons, which gives them a grand total of 276 games played. But the Rangers, with 57 playoff contests in the last three years, are not far behind, with 269 games played. By comparison, the Sharks have played in 23 playoff contests in the last three seasons, ranking them 8th among all teams. That’s a total of 235 games overall for the Sharks in that span.
The new season officially kicks off with the NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, with the first round scheduled for Friday, June 27th. The future stars of the world’s fastest game will be selected, and the Sharks will begin their long journey to training camp, looking forward with excitement. The coaches, players, and hockey staff are already doing so.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky for sjsharks.com.
It’s hard not to be inspired watching the 2014 NHL playoffs, which many consider to be the best playoffs in years, many years meaning in decades. The passion and parity of this year's playoffs has been off the charts amazing and another reason why hockey is the ultimate team sport.
I decided to look up the meaning of inspiration and here is the definition from the World English Dictionary:
Inspiration -- noun
- stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc, to do special or unusual activity
- the state or quality of being so stimulated or aroused
- someone or something that causes this state
- an idea or action resulting from such a state
So let’s talk about inspiration from a leadership standpoint because great leaders inspire others to be stimulated, aroused and do special things, like go above and beyond when it matters most.
Here are examples from the four teams that played the Conference Finals.
PK Subban is all about inspiration and was the emotional leader for Montreal as they beat the top-seeded Bruins in the 2nd round before falling to the Rangers in the Conference Finals.
How about Toews and Kane from the Blackhawks? They are all about inspiring others. The Blackhawks have won 2 Stanley Cups in the last 4 seasons and a lot of the reason has to do with their inspirational leaders. The way the Hawks battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to the Kings and taking game 7 to overtime was beyond impressive and it started with the inspiration from its leaders.
The LA Kings get inspiration from the likes of Doughty, Williams, Quick, Kopitar and Brown as they have an unrelenting ability to inspire and a ‘refuse to lose’ attitude. The Kings have won three straight game 7’s on the road, for the first time in NHL history, and have done so against great teams; San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago. Their leaders inspire others to be better and it’s why they are in the Stanley Cup Finals.
And last but not least the NY Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is all about inspiring his teammates to be better, but the circumstances that have followed Dominic Moore and Marty St. Louis are taking inspirational leading to a higher power. Could the Rangers be a team of destiny because of the inspiration from their leaders?
The NHL playoffs are all about passion and inspiration. It’s been great theater so far and the Stanley Cup Finals promises to continue the trend of amazing hockey.
What a treat it is to be a hockey fan right now!