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Morning Skate: Will Ovie Have Hart?

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci (@dpennucci)
Sent: Tuesday, April 9
Subject: Mrs. Kessel
I'm watching the gold medal game of the IIHF Women's World Championships and I have to say Amanda Kessel is better than her brother Phil. I might be cheering for Canada, but it's hard not to be impressed with Kessel's speed, dangle and nose for the net ... and the fact she can play both ends of the ice. Phil the Thrill still hasn't completely figured how to stay on the puck or consistently play in his own zone. But I digress.
We're getting close to the postseason and a few of the spots are starting to shake down. I've been impressed with Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals. Sixteen goals in 13 games? He's back. And in a big way. He doesn't throw himself around like he used to and he's finally adjusted to his new wing. He could win the Rocket Richard and the Hart if he stays as engaged as he is now. And the Caps haul butt into the postseason.
The Caps and the playoffs -- that's not something I thought I'd say this season after the start they had. It's funny living within earshot of Toronto. Leafs' fans are getting giddy. There's no parade planned ... yet. But the Leafs are looking better with each passing day, what with the panic that's setting in about the Jays LOL. Which teams -- other than the Leafs -- are overplaying their current talent level?
I've been thinking about underachievers, too. Is it fair to the Devils and the Rangers are underachieving or was last season just a major over achievement? Yes, the Devils' trap is boring, but so is the game the Rangers play. And is it fair to say the Oilers are underachieving or is this where they should be? And what happens to the Pens? Sidney Crosby is out and so is James Neal. Kris Letang is due back soon, but what happens in the postseason? Are they still the faves in the East? And who's the fave in the West?
Eagle out

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Wednesday, April 10
Subject: Ovechkin For Hart?

So, how long will it be until the Leafs fans are clamoring for Amanda Kessel after Phil, who's in the midst of a productive season, fails to live up to their ridiculous expectations? I was listening to The Score's Backhand Shelf podcast this week, and they brought up an interesting point. Kessel seems to be criticized more considering what the Leafs gave up to get him, as if every time Tyler Seguin or Dougie Hamilton do something, it's a slap in the face to the Leafs. Kessel can score a hat trick every game and I think he still won't be able to win favor. Guy is an outstanding skater and has one of the quickest releases in the league and is playing close to a point-per-game. What more does he have to do? I watched the clips of his sister, she's got some great hands and, as you said, can move. Those must have been some competitive games of shinny, my money would be on Amanda. 
In response to your question last week about the Devils, I wonder how Jonathan Drouin will look in black and red? Devils were losing 3-0 after 10 minutes on Wednesday and finished the first period outshooting Boston 12-4, going 0-for-4 on the power play and surrendering two shorthanded goals...also, in the second period Anton Volchenkov saw something on Brad Marchand's helmet and offered to remove it with his elbow. I'm sure there were some in Montreal that cheered the hit. The Devils have been playing from behind all season and made a nice rally keep the game close - basically a microcosm of their season.
Apparently, according to Ilya Bryzgalov at least, the beaches in Florida and the Carribean are nice. He was in rare form after watching the Flyers lose to the Islanders, seeing Steve Mason play in his stead. (Also of note, the Flyers signed Mason to a contract extension). It's going to be hilarious seeing the Flyers buy out Bryzgalov this summer, bring in a player like Mason without changing the culture and system of the team around him, acquiring more goons like Zac Rinaldo and then wondering why their goalie isn't stealing them games. I digress...
I'm getting amused at the Canadian media citing every team against whom Alexander Ovechkin is scoring his goals and the Capitals playing in the Southeast as reasons why the Caps and Ovi are surging. It's always struck me that there's an inherent bias toward the Sun Belt teams (or the fact that Ovechkin is Russian) and they look to disparage the teams there whenever they can. True, Florida and Tampa Bay aren't great, even good teams. Carolina is enigmatic (especially without Cam Ward) and Winnipeg has been scrappy. Alex Ovechkin should be in the Hart discussion with him playing like it's 2009 again. It's just amusing to see him being bashed for not doing enough early in the season then having his accomplishments picked apart, such as combing through his stats to see against which teams his goals are scored. (Three of those goals scored by Ovi were against the Devils when New Jersey was firmly in the playoff hunt). John Tavares hasn't been great against playoff teams this season either.
The Islanders have been overachieving in the East, as have Ottawa and Toronto. As for the West, true there are some teams still within reach of the postseason, but I don't see the top 8 changing much. The Rangers are certainly underachieving and the Devils have just been woefully inconsistent this season, but injuries to Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk certainly hurt. Then again, Ottawa has done it this season without Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson and Jason Spezza.
Also, the trap, yea, I've been hearing that for the last decade plus; plenty of other teams played defense too. I found the Rangers-Caps shot blocking contest last season tedious while the Devils were reinventing themselves as an uptempo forechecking team. This year, I haven't a leg to stand on with the Devils, the greatest collection of third-line forwards in the NHL. Rangers are more of a disappointment, since the Devils were written off by many after losing Parise.
Edmonton - I'm not surprised where they are. I thought they would struggle this season defensively and teams would figure out how to stop their fireworks offensively. The Pens will be competitive and a favorite in the East, but with James Neal now out with brain pain (stealing that phrase from you) and Crosby out, who knows? I'm not convinced Fleury can be the man after seeing him in the playoffs last year.
Do you see any surprises out West? What do you make of teams like St. Louis and Los Angeles that had some bumps this season? Any chance for the darlings from Columbus? 
Is it just me, or is there a serious drop-off in talent for the East outside of the top teams?
Where will the Leafs parade start? Brookfield Place/Hockey Hall of Fame or over by Skydome?
From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Wednesday, April 10
Subject: The South-Least?
The parade will start at the ACC and wind up Yonge Street to Dundas Square. I'll stay home, thanks.
The Toronto hockey market is bizarre -- it tends to eat its own young. Fans in the Toronto marketplace are Leafs fans, not hockey fans. They idolize the hardscrabble types that epitomize "Canadian" hockey. Tie Domi and Wendel Clark will always get love when it should be directed at Mats Sundin. Pure skill is never loved. It needs to come with an abrasiveness and a fire that burns close to the surface all the time. Phil Kessel is too quiet and much too introverted for this market, and the comparisons to Seguin and Hamilton will never end. And I do mean never. Twenty years have passed and this marketplace still regularly curses Kerry Fraser for the Game 6 non-call on Wayne Gretzky in the Campbell Conference Finals. You know he's the reason the Leafs haven't won a Cup in my lifetime LOL.
Yes the South-least gets a bum rap, but there is remarkable weakness in that division. I pity the teams moving into the expanded Northeast -- that division might be the best in the NHL. There are a lot of performances this season that make me queasy, simply because of the within-division exclusivity. Nazem Kadri has been outstanding, but what happens to his game when he has to face the types of players and teams in the west? Would the Oilers be in the playoffs now if they'd played games against the South-least? I question everyone whose performance is a bit too high or too low -- I just don't know if it's real. And that's going to mess with every fantasy draft next fall. Am I wrong to think this way?
Out West, I think it's possible for Columbus to make it (odd, I know) and Detroit to slip out, but the Jackets will need to win just about every game they have left to do it. St. Louis' only shot to get through the first round is to play Vancouver -- the Orcas are the least of the four evils at the top of the Western Conference. And even then, that's a tough opponent. I wouldn't want to face the Ducks or the Kings, or even the Hawks, although I worry about my boys in Chicago. Are they tough enough to get through four rounds?
The East is funny. The Flyers aren't as bad as they've shown and the Leafs aren't as good. Neither are the Sens and the Habs are way ahead of where they should be at this point. I don't think the Bruins are as good without Tim Thomas -- his energy and fire were key differentiators when they won the Cup. And without Patrice Bergeron ...
Marc-Andre Fleury has never been forgiven for his gaffe at the World Juniors. According to Canadians, he lost our gold medal because that ill-thought play against the Americans. And those yellow pads, of course. I thought he'd shaken the curse when the Pens beat the Wings, but he has reverted to his former self. Canada is not the goaltending factory it once was, but we've already chewed that fat, haven't we.
So, who wins the Rocket Richard trophy? Steven Stamkos or Alexander Ovechkin. That picture was clearer three weeks ago than it is today. Ditto the Jack Adams -- Paul MacLean was a shoe-in, but the Sens' swoon could take him out of the picture. And Sergei Bobrovsky is going to get votes for the Vezina and win it if the Jackets get into the postseason.
Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Thursday, April 11
Subject: All Hail The Islanders

I honestly would love to see Sergei Bobrovsky even be nominated for the award as a metaphorical middle finger to Philadelphia. The team that complains that they can't get any decent goaltending, yet the player they cast off helps guide a team thought to be one of the league's worst within sniffing distance of the playoff. 
For the Richard, I have to say it's going to Ovechkin with the way the Caps are careening toward the postseason, although he didn't score against Carolina on Thursday night (what a bum). The average 8 is headed toward the playoffs and Tampa Bay and Stamkos have been too hot and cold this season, despite the elite talent of Stamkos.
Jack Adams Award: I'm going to go with Jack Capuano of the Islanders. With the Devils all but assured to miss the playoffs, I'm going to have to pick a team to pull for and I've enjoyed the Islanders' story. They're a team with an elite talent in John Tavares, a solid No. 2 scorer in Matt Moulson and a supporting cast that really shouldn't be near playoff hockey. Think of how many of those players were picked off waivers...Grabner, Hickey, Strait, Nabokov. Frans Nielsen is an underrated two-way center and Evgeni Nabokov must think it's 2004 again with this recent stretch. It's always seemed the qualifications for the Jack Adams are doing the most with the least, and I think we can agree the Isles have a hodgepodge of players, dare I say an Island of Misfit Toys.
The Oilers definitely would be in the playoff hunt had they an Eastern Conference schedule, look at what Winnipeg, Toronto, the Isles are doing? The Leafs continue to amaze me with how they play above their talent level, seems the confidence is just oozing forward from James Reimer. Speaking of the Leafs, great assessment of Leaf fans. Also, Ottawa was in a swoon, but apparently playing Philadelphia will help cure it.
Chicago's a great team but your speaking of their lack of physicality has me wondering how they'll fare against a team that likes to throw its body around more. I love the Hawks' D, guys that can skate the puck out of the zone (specifically Johnny Oduya, never was a big scorer in Jersey, but an amazing skater). Seems like Vancouver is being discounted this year, as much of the 'Nucks coverage has centered on the goaltending "controversy," not noticing the team's steady play.
In the East, I'm not ready to anoint Pittsburgh just yet, and concussions to Bergeron and Marchand do cloud their chances. I'm liking how Montreal is playing.
What do you see Minnesota doing in the West? Montreal in the East? The East just strikes me as mediocre in many ways. I still say the Rangers get in because of Lundqvist, but not much further.

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Friday, April 12

I liked Minny's chances until Ryan Suter got hurt Thursday night. Did you see what happened? I have him on my Norris short list and he's become more critical to the Wild than my boy Shea Weber is to the Preds. Jonas Brodin is a mini-me of Suter (and at a very young age, I might add). But it's like imagining the Bruins without Zdeno Chara. The complexion of the team -- and its potential -- becomes pock-marked with acne without a pillar like [Suter].
No one in the East is overly impressive. Yes, the Pens are good and Evgeni Malkin is every bit a leading man. But can Marc-Andre Fleury be insulated enough without the overpowering presence of both Malkin and Sidney Crosby? I just don't know. Douglas Murray isn't Hal Gill (not that Hal Gill is any hell). It's just that Gill understood his role and rarely overextended his game -- no exploding missed hits along the boards, just sticks in lanes and big ol' angling guys out of the play. Washington intrigues me, if only because pretty much everyone will discount their chances and we both know that's gold come playoff time.
Montreal is ahead of its development curve much like Ottawa was last year. And so many other teams before them. There are many flaws in all of the teams. So in those situations, I always turn to goaltending -- which tender has the ability to steal games and a series? Carey Price stands out. Tuukka Rask might. Henrik Lundqvist does, but he comes with a big BUT -- his entire team. He hasn't stolen them much until now and has shown real emotional distress at that. His resiliency is already low. And look at what Braden Holtby did last year. What happens if he pulls that same rabbit out of the hat at the same time that Mike Green AND Alexander Ovechkin rediscover some type of dominance?
The West? I like Vancouver, but the match ups worry me. Henrik and Daniel Sedin remain elite, but are outclassed by speed. If they get up against a quick team, those two won't be able to set up shop quite as easily as they often do. The Ducks frighten -- they are flying in a rabid V right now. Wait, that's geese, but still. The Hawks have the best goal differential in the league. The Kings "might" repeat. But no-one is talking about the Sharks -- is this the year they figure something out? They could win a series (or two) if they were able to get home ice advantage. Their splits are scary.
It all boils down to one thing for me. Some people call it parity, but I call it dilution. The individual skill levels have never been better -- a number five defender today might have been a top-paring guy a couple decades ago. But the salary cap hasn't eliminated the haves and have nots -- it's just forced that concept onto individual rosters. There are almost always the top-heavy contracts and then there's the patchwork quilt of mediocrity using polyester fabrics instead of the 100 percent cotton you need. Toss that in the wash and you pull out a pile of thread that's no good to anyone.
My quilter mom will be proud I worked that reference into a hockey article. LOL.
Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Saturday, April 13
Subject: Licking Helmets

Regarding Henrik Lundqvist, if any goalie is capable of overcoming a porous team in front of him, it'd have to be King Henrik. I do like Carey Price heading into this postseason and I'd be all for a Vancouver-San Jose Western Conference Final again.

A few interesting notes before signing off:

-Steve Ott licked Jeff Halpern of Montreal on Thursday night while the two were awaiting a dropped puck at the dot. Ott's always been one of those "love him if he's on your team" guys and I had to laugh/cringe when I saw this the other night.

-The Devils have lost nine straight games after Friday's 2-0 shutout by Ottawa, but it was the Sens' second goal, scored by Milan Michalek in his first game back, that was the most comical. Travis Zajac cleanly won a faceoff when Marek Zidlicky and Henrik Tallinder collided while going for the puck, thus setting up a 2-on-0 for Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson. (The collision is shown on the replay). (It's worth noting the Devils outshot Ottawa 33-11).

-Apparently folks in Vancouver are still bitter about Brad Marchand and the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Northlands Golf Course in Vancouver apparently offered New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov a free round of golf following his elbowing of Marchand's head in Boston's win over New Jersey on Wednesday. (Volchenkov was suspended four games for the incident).

Until next week, keep your head up and feet moving


Check out Janet Eagleson's Frozen Fantasy on Rotowire.

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