Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Thoughts on the NHL trade deadline...

Well, as opposed to last year when I spent the whole day working on my computer with the Trade Tracker always visible in bottom right corner of my screen, this year I was out on the road all day, and so I arrived at home last night without a single clue about what had gone down.

Like in 2006, there were some pretty big trades that were made in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline. We already knew since Sunday that Craig Rivet was going to finish the year in a Sharks uniform. Peter Forsberg was already a Predator. We already knew Keith Tkachuk would be helping the Trashers reach the playoffs for the first time in their history. Brad Stuart had been a Flame for a while when Tuesday started, and Marc-Andre Bergeron had been with the Islanders for almost a week.

But Deadline Day did not disappoint when it comes to big trades. We saw Bill Guerin leave the Blues to join Craig Rivet in San Jose. The Penguins added some much needed grit and toughness with Gary Roberts from Calgary and Georges Laraque from Phoenix. Meanwhile, Toronto was adding Yanic Perreault, Detroit picked up Todd Bertuzzi and Dallas added Mattias Norstrom, the long time defenseman and captain of the L.A. Kings. F Jason Ward of the Kings took the direction of Tampa while D David Hale left New Jersey to become a depth defenseman for Darryl Sutter in Calgary. The Bruins lost faith in second-year center Brad Boyes (69 points as a rookie) and sent him to the Blues for defenseman Dennis Wideman. There were more trades, notably Martin Biron ending up in Philadelphia and Dainius Zubrus winding up in Buffalo.

But there is no doubt that the shocker of the day was Ryan Smyth leaving the team he cheered for as a youngster and the one he has embodied for the last 12 years, the Edmonton Oilers, for the shores of Long Island. Smyth was traded for 2 prospects and a draft pick. Now, as disappointed and frustrated as I felt last night, I understand that this is a business and that's how things work in the NHL. Smyth was asking for a 5-year/$5.5 million deal, and Kevin Lowe was not willing to go higher than 5-year/5.2 millions per year. Most Oiler fans will be mad at Lowe for not meeting Smyth's price, as I was yesterday, but there is also something a bit disgusting in seeing the heart and soul of a team, a guy who has been called "Captain Canada", decide he will not re-sign with the team he has played all his career for, and all that for $250,000 dollars. The reality is, both sides were thinking from a business standpoint... whatever that says about our favorite sport. I think more players should look at how Martin Brodeur has handled his own contract negotiations in his career. He is a great example of how these greedy bastards should conduct themselves. But anyway, it's done.

The fallout of this deal, however, is horrible, and on 2 fronts. First, losing Smyth means the Oilers will almost assuredly not make the playoffs (losing yesterday to Phoenix 3-0 won't help either). But it also means that by adding Smyth, as well as Bergeron last week and Richard Zednick too, the Islanders have just become a major player in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. With the Islanders getting much better, Atlanta adding Tkachuck, Toronto adding Perreault, you might wonder where that leaves our beloved Canadiens. I still have hope they will make it into the postseason, but it will be very hard.

Dwarf out.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The State of the Montreal Canadiens Address

Hey everyone!

So, here we are, Thursday, February 22, just about 2 hours before the Canadiens take the ice against the very dangerous Nashville Predators and their new acquisition: Peter Forsberg. As I am writing this, the Canadiens are sitting in 7th in the Eastern Conference, with 68 points and 20 games left, 1 point in front of the Carolina Hurricanes. But both these teams are in serious danger, because Toronto and the NY Islanders both have 66 points (only 2 back of Montreal) and 2 games in hand. So, with 20 games, what can we say about the Habs?

Well, the biggest word, as always, is 'Playoffs'. Will they make it to the postseason or won't they? We all know that if they make it, anything can happen. The Oilers proved that last year, taking the Carolina Hurricanes down to the wire.

The first thing I'm looking at here is the loss of Cristobal Huet. I've said it many times, I do not think Huet is among the best goaltenders in the league. I think he is prone to too many bad streaks, and he gives up too many soft goals to be mentioned alongside Brodeur, Kipprusoff, Luongo and Co. But losing him until the playoffs will no doubt hurt Montreal. I have not seen enough of Jaroslav Halak to pass judgement on him, but I doubt he can save this team. As for Aebischer, well, he's proven time and time again that when the pressure comes up, he usually cools down. I do not think that losing Huet is the proverbial 'final nail in the coffin' for Montreal, but there is no denying that it hurts their chances.

The second impactful factor, in my opinion, is the schedule. The Canadiens still have to face Boston 4times, Toronto and the NY Rangers 3 times, and the Islanders twice. This means that in 12 of their last 20 games, Montreal will be playing teams chasing them for a playoff spot. In other words, if they can get their act together, they control their own destiny. Literally. If they can come up with more wins than losses in these 12 games, then their chances of making the postseason are excellent. Go under .500 against these teams, and they'll likely be watching the playoffs on TV.

The big wild-card, of course, is the trade deadline. When I look at the Canadiens, I do not see the stellar goaltending I saw from Mikko Kipprusoff in 2004 for the Flames or the desperate abandon which the Oiler players played with game in and game out last year. What I see is a seven-or-eight-seeded team that will likely bow out after 1 or 2 rounds of postseason play. I think it would be ludicrous of Bob Gainey to mortgage the bright future of this team to salvage a season that is not destined to amount to anything substantial anyway. Luckily, the rumors we are hearing right now do not include any of the really good prospects. One rumor has Adrien Aucoin coming to Montreal, which i think would be a mistake. Think about it, he still has 2 years left on his over-inflated 4 million/year contract. Bad choice if it happens, but I don't think it will anyway.

Another rumor that popped out of Montreal today had Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov (who will be an unrestricted free agent and will test the market) for Pierre-marc Bouchard and Benoit Pouliot. Another had Marian Gaborik heading the Canadiens'way. I'll tell you, the guys in Montreal really do invent the craziest rumors in the world. That's just nonsense. Clear-cut idiotic. Whoever started that rumor obviously had no way to validate it (probably because he doesn't speak english).

One rumor that did get some traction is Sheldon Souray heading to San Jose. This does make sense, as the Sharks would probably be on Souray's radar as a free agent anyway, as he wants to move to California to be closer to his daughter. The rumor says that should the Sharks be able to come to an agreement with Souray on a new contract, then they would send D Matt Carle to Montreal. Some of you may not know who Matt Carle is, but he is an excellent defenseman. He is also very young. This year, as a second year player, he has amassed 26 points, while being a very respectable +4. He is a big kid who's got a good shot from the point and, at 205 lbs., he's much more physical than Souray. Plus, he's only 22, so he's got all the upside in the world. Last year, he really opened some eyes with his savvy performance in the playoffs. Personally, I don't understand why the Sharks would ever part ways with him, but then again, they are shooting for the Cup, and it'sscary to think what Souray could do on a power play where Joe Thornton is feeding him the puck.

Montreal is also rumored to be in the running for Bill Guerin and Bryan Smolinski, and of the two, I think Smolinski is a possiblity, but Guerin will be going to either Detroit of to the Rangers.

Whatever happens from now until Tuesday, I like the Habs' chances of playing hockey past April 7th. Common sense would say that a team that has gone 9-14-1 in 2007 and 3-7-1 in their last 11 doesn't have much chance of making it. But I believe that somehow, someway, they will get out of their funk and muster enough points to just get in. And I believe they can achieve this with the team they have now. I do. And so, I write it now, the Canadiens will get into the 2007 Postseason Tournament.

Still, if I was Bob Gainey, and I too was looking at losing Sheldon Souray, Andrei Markov and Craig Rivet as unrestricted free agents, I would trade both Rivet and Souray for young players that could help me next year, and I would try to re-sign Markov. I would also make Kovalev and Koivu available on the market. I would basically put my destiny in the hands of the team's youth and start building for next year. This has been too many years in a row of barely making the playoffs (or not making them) and not having a real shot at taking it all the way. Sometimes, the only way to truly go foward is to first take a step back. I believe this is the time to do it. But that's just me.

Check back this weekend for further analysis on the trade rumors around the league as we get near the deadline.

Dwarf out.

Monday, February 19, 2007

CD Reviews

Hey all...

It's been a really long while, and I'm sorry for not posting more often. Now, let's see... since my last post, the Colts were crowned NFL Champions, Tiger won his first tournament, Chelsea has played alright and are still within a reasonable distance from a 3rd English Premiership title in a row, the Montreal Canadiens have fallen from grace and are now on the outside looking in in regards to the playoffs, and finally, a couple of really good rock records have started the year in a pretty good way.

Check back with me on Thursday for my 'State of the Montreal Canadiens Address'. Tomorrow, Chelsea faces off against Porto in the Champions League, so next week I will discuss Chelsea's chances in both the Premiership and the Champions League in 2007. Also, the 27th at 4pm (next Tuesday) marks the NHL Trade Deadline. I will have a full outlook on the rumors (good and bad) that surround what should be now known as 'Canada Day 2'. But first, let's take a quick look at 2 very, very good music albums that came out in the last couple of weeks.

The Shins - Wincing the night away
With their first 2 releases, 'The Shins' established themselves as one of the best indie-rock outfits with excellent, albeit somewhat unsual, melodies and lyrics. Just as important, if not more, was the inclusion of 2 of their songs, 'New Slang' and 'Caring is Creepy', on the award-winning Soundtrack to the movie 'Garden State'. As was the case with 'Death Cab for Cutie' and 'The Decemberists' latest releases, most indie-rock pundits were a little worried, thinking 'The Shins' might "sellout". But, as is usual with bands of a certain integrity, it is not the case at all here.

Instead of "selling out", the band expands on its sound. Where 'Oh, Inverted World' and 'Chutes Too Narrow' sounded like they were pulled straight out of the sixties, 'Wincing the Night Away' features a wider palette of sounds, some still pulled out of the sixties, others from the eighties and some even sounding somewhat current. This is perhaps due to a lusher production. Indeed, while the band's 2 previous efforts were minimaly produced, a lot more effects are introduced here: the sound is a lot more textured. Also, the songwriting is better and a lot more constant. While there is nothing as good and catchy as 'New Slang' here, 'Sleeping Lessons', 'Phantom Limb' (the first single), 'Turn on Me', 'Black Wave', 'Spilt Needles' and 'A Comet Appears' are all excellent compositions. These 6 cuts constitute the meat of the album, and it makes for a very solid core. 'Black Wave', in particular, is a haunting and beautiful ballad. On 'A Comet Appears', the band sounds as direct and naked as they ever have. That being said, 'Turn on Me' just might be the best track here, with its Echo & The Bunnymen-like guitars and extremely addictive harmonies.

All in all, this is a very solid outing by one of the bands rock music has to offer today. While I have yet to hear them put out a great album, they continuously write great songs. And if this album has a bit of filler, it also features six awesome songs, all listed above. As far as I'm concerned, that's quite good.

Rating: 8/10

Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City
Bloc Party is, in my opinion, one of the best bands to come out of London in the last few years. Their first record, 'Silent Alarm', was an excellent mix of furious beats, crunchy guitars, punk-infused lyrics and The Cure-ish or U2-ish ballads. On 'A Weekend in the City', Bloc Party deliver the logical next step in their musical journey, and it works to near perfection.

After a intro lasting a little more than a minute, 'Song for Clay (Disappear Here)' starts the album off with a bang. The song is fast-paced, giving it an immediacy few bands are capable of getting to. In a way, it reminds us a little bit of 'Banquet' (the lead-off single of 'Silent Alarm'), but the melody is stronger here, as is the lyrical content. 'Hunting for Witches' starts with an interesting collage of voices that set the tone for the song, just before the amazing and very original main riff kicks in. The whole song is centered on this guitar riff, which is worth many, many, many listens. With pounding beats and Kele Okereke's soothing voice supporting the guitars, the song is a pure pleasure.

Then, the band turns the volume down a notch, but they keep the intensity level high. On 'Waiting for the 7.18', Okereke's voice is at its best, and the guitars sound as rich and as Cure-ish as ever, painting a beautiful sonic landscape that is beaten and battered by Matt Tong's ferocious drumming. On 'The Prayer', a song that deals with the coldness and emptiness than exists on club dance floors, Tong introduces a very unusual drumming pattern that fuels the verses, while keyboards and beautiful melodies dominate the chorus. 'I Still Remember' sounds like a cross between U2 (circa 'War') and a 'Kiss me, Kiss me, Kiss me, Kiss me'-era The Cure. The guitars are all U2, but the song is joyous and infected with poppy hooks. It's very simply a very fun song. Then, the London group follows with one of the bst songs I have heard in years. 'Sunday' is again driven by an inventive and original drum pattern, but here Okereke's voice is as soothing and relaxing as ever. Somehow, it floats over beautiful melody delivered by Russell Lissack's gentle guitar. And through this, the song builds towards a huge climax that features multiple guitar and vocal overdubs and, of course, Tong's great drumming. Love songs can sometimes be very cheesy, but when Okereke sings "You see giant proclaimations are all very well/But our love is louder than words", you somehow believe him.

While these 6 songs are the best of the bunch, 'On', 'Kreuzberg' and the album-closing 'SRXT' are all very good. It is a shame that 'Bloc Party' are not better known outside of the UK, but this might be their breakthrough album in the US. Even this early in the year, I know this one will be in my Top Ten 2007 in December. Pick it up. It's well worth it.

Rating: 9/10

See you Thursday!

Dwarf out.