Friday Flashback: 1993-1994 Florida Panthers

John-Vanbiesbrouck-panthersBefore the Vegas Golden Knights hit the ice for their first season in the National Hockey League (NHL), the 1993-1994 Florida Panthers had the best start in the NHL.   The Panthers entered the NHL when Blockbuster Video giant Wayne Huizenga was awarded a franchise for Miami in 1992.   In the 1993 expansion draft, Florida took former Vezina winning goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck with the top pick. He went on to post a solid 2.53 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in the Panthers’ first season.

Their first-year success has been largely thought by hockey experts to the trap defense that Panthers’ coach Roger Neilson used which is a defensive strategy to prevent an opposing team from proceeding through the neutral zone to force turnovers.

The Panthers played their first game on October 6, 1993 which was a 4-4 tie to the Chicago Blackhawks.  Scott Mellanby scored the first goal for the Panthers and went on to tally 30 goals to lead the team in their maiden season.  The Panthers got their first win on October 9th as Vanbiesbrouck made 36 saves in a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Panthers had a chance to make the playoffs in their first season; however, they faded into an 8-game winless streak at the end of the season and was eliminated from the playoffs when the New York Islanders grabbed the last slot.  The Panthers finished with a record of 33-34-17 for 83 points which, at the time, was an NHL record for points by an expansion team.  They missed the playoffs by one point.  Oddly enough, one single point in the standing kept them out of the playoffs again the next season.

After narrowly missing the playoffs in their first two seasons of existence, the Panthers finally broke threw in a big way as they made it to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals against the Colorado Avalanche.  They were swept by the Avalanche in four games.  They have not won a playoff series since that season.

The Florida Panthers had the best start of any NHL expansion team until this season when the Vegas Golden Knights took the ice for the first time.  The Golden Knights have exceeded what the Panthers had accomplished and currently preparing to play in the Western Conference final in their first season.

Best NHL Expansion teams:

  1. Vegas Golden Knights (2017-2018)
  2. Florida Panthers (1993-1994)
  3. Philadelphia Flyers (1967-68)
  4. Anaheim Ducks (1993-1994)
  5. Columbus Bluejackets (2000-2001)
  6. Nashville Predators (1998-1999)
  7. Hartford Whalers (1979-1980)
  8. Minnesota Wild (2000-2001)
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Nashville Predators Hit 100 Point Mark

preds02The Nashville Predators stormed out to a 3-0 lead in their Central Division showdown with the Winnipeg Jets and held on for a 3-1 lead.  They also reached the 100 point total in the standings and with Tampa Bay losing, they find themselves tied for the best record in the National Hockey League (NHL) at this point.  This is the sixth time in team history the Predators have notched 100 points in a season.

To quote the grouchy Sergeant from Stripes:  “Lighten up Francis”.

The Predators haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet.  There is still a month left in the regular season and then the grueling Stanley Cup playoffs where anything can happen. The Nashville Scene recently said that the Predators are making it look easy.  Have they even watched a Predators’ game this season?  The Predators have definitely NOT made it easy.  They have had a string of two-goal comebacks as well has taking big leads only to hold on at the end.  I wouldn’t call that easy.

The Predators are 9-0-1 in the last 10 games but that means nothing yet.  Anything can happen.  Injuries.  Scoring Droughts.  Goal keeping issues.  A hockey season is a very tentative thing which is prone to emotional ups and downs.  It is a game of streaks.  I’m always very worried about a team peaking too soon and I hope this isn’t the case with the Predators.  Sure, it would be nice to be the #1 seed in the playoffs and have home-ice advantage but what good did that do for the Chicago Blackhawks last year?  It’s all about the team that is hot when the playoffs start.

preds01Need scoring?  Nashville has a roster full of them.  On any given night any of them can light the lamp.  This is a team that really doesn’t have just one player to go to for scoring.  Sometimes the problem is that their aim is off.  In the recent shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils, the Predators hit the post NINE times.  At times their shot selection isn’t very good either.  Slap shots from the point are often blocked and easily turn into an offensive rush for the other team.    The defense is pretty solid but at times they tend to turn it over.  I am especially worried when P.K. Subban has the puck in the defensive zone.  While he is a good defender, he will often make poor choices on getting the puck out of the zone.  He needs to make better decisions.  Lately, he seems to be the weak link in the defense.

Goalkeeping is pretty solid as Pekka Rinne is having the best season of his career.   Rinne is currently 38-9-4 right now.  He is in the zone.  His backup, Juuse Saros isn’t too shabby either.  Saros, who is 7-5-6 is a rising star of the future but he is very capable when he has been called on to start.

As for special teams, the Predators are fifth in the NHL in the Power Play.  They have been really streaky.  They will go long streaks without converting and then suddenly strike.  The Power Play is very unpredictable.  When they have the puck in the offensive zone they tend to make too many passes and take very poor shots.  This area could really come back to bite them.  As far as their penalty killing, it is pretty good.  In fact, the Predators are tied with Florida in leading the league with 10 shorthanded goals.   Viktor Arvidsson is especially exciting to watch when he is in there because he looks for any opportunity to make an offensive surge.

So with all that said, I’m still not comfortable with the Predators at the top of the Western Conference standings.  In spite of what the Nashville Scene thinks, it has not come easy.  No lead has been safe.  They have only had 14 games where they have won by at least three goals so in the rest of the games, it has been anything but easy.   But, maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe those close games and games when they have had to overcome adversity will get them battle tested and ready for playing in April, May and June.  All they will need is 16 wins for the Stanley Cup.

Reaching 100 points is awesome.  Being the top team in the Western Conference is great.  Tied for the top team in the NHL is amazing.  Winning the Stanley Cup will make it all worth it.

 

If We Could Change The NHL’s Overtime Rules…

NHL overtimeMy wife and I have become hockey fans over the last few years.  One of the parts of the game that we both dread are the overtime and shootout rules for National Hockey League (NHL) games when they are tied after regulation.  We hate it.

The current rules for overtime are:

1. Teams play an additional overtime period of not more than five (5) minutes with the team scoring first declared the winner and being awarded an additional point.

2. The overtime period will be played with each team at 3-on-3 manpower (plus goaltender) for the full five-minute period.

3. Manpowers during overtime will be adjusted to reflect the situation in the game, but at no time will a team have fewer than three (3) skaters on the ice during the overtime period. For example, if a team enters the overtime period on a power play, manpower would be adjusted from 5 on 4 at the end of regulation to 4 on 3 at the start of overtime. If a minor penalty is assessed during overtime, the teams will play 4 on 3. If a second minor penalty is assessed to the same team during overtime, the teams will play 5 on 3.

4. If the game remains tied at the end of the five (5) minute overtime period, the teams will proceed to a three-round shootout. After each team has taken three shots, if the score remains tied, the shootout will proceed to a “sudden death” format.

The main reason we don’t like it is that the 3-on-3 overtime is too gimmicky and the shootout takes away the team aspect of settling a tie game.  I have thought about different changes to the overtime and I have come up with the following proposal to change overtime in the NHL.

When teams are tied at the end of regulation time, teams will alternate being on the power play.  Here’s how it would work:

  • A coin toss would determine choice of who goes on offense or defense first.
  • The team on offense would get two minutes to score.  The overtime power play would end when (A) the defense cleared the puck out of their zone or (B) when two minutes have expired if the puck has not been cleared.
  • Teams would alternate overtime power plays until a winner was determined.

I have played this overtime scenario in my head and here’s an example of how it could work:

  • Team A wins the coin toss and decides to go on defense first.
  • Team B is on offense.  Team A immediately clears the puck out of the zone.
  • Team A goes on offense.  Team B does not clear the puck out of the zone.  Time expires.
  • The next round is flipped with Team A on offense first
  • Team A goes on offense.  Team A scores a goal.
  • Team B goes on offense.  Team A clears the puck out of the zone.  Team A wins.

Penalties would be the same as it normally is in regulation.

This version of overtime would keep the game more closely to a team game instead of the 3-on-3 or shootout format as it is now.

My wife and I talk a lot of hockey these days and we both think this method would be a better team overtime.  Otherwise, we would just prefer the teams to tie and only have overtime games in the playoffs.  If we went back to allowing regular season tie games, the point system could be changed to award the winning team with three (3) points instead of two (2) points and teams getting one (1) point for a tie.

 

 

 

My Thoughts On Mike Fisher’s Retirement

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators

I had a feeling this was going to happen.   This morning I turned on the news to see that Nashville Predators’ team captain, Mike Fisher, announced his retirement.   Fisher, who is sometimes affectionately referred to as “Mr. Underwood” as the husband of Country Music Superstar, Carrie Underwood, has decided to hang up the skates after 17 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Fisher started his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators in 1999.  In 2010 he was traded to the Nashville Predators.

Fisher was named the team captain to start the 2016-17 season and led the team to their first Stanley Cup finals where they came up short to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

The reason I said I had a feeling this was coming could have been when Fisher sustained an injury in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks.  He did not complete that series and when he came on the ice to accept the Western Conference trophy, he didn’t look good.  It seemed that the injury was more serious than they reported.  He also struggled to score in the playoffs as he went scoreless and only recorded four assists but those four assists were huge and at pivotal points in the game.

Fisher played seven seasons with the Predators, scoring 237 points on 109 goals and 128 assists.  In 11 seasons with the Senators, he recorded 167 goals along with 181 assists.

In the past few seasons, Fisher was the diplomat of the Predators and one of the stable figures of the franchise as the Predators continued to rise as one of the top teams in the NHL.

Fisher was a competitor but he always had the right perspective on life.

“Everyone wants to win in this game, no one probably more than me.  But there’s other things.  At the end of the day, this is a game.  It’s an important part of my life, but it’s not everything.”

For me, the most exciting goal by Fisher was the triple-overtime winner in Game 4 against the San Jose Sharks in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.   You can see the goal here: Mike Fisher Game Winner.

Mike Fisher is one of the classiest players in the NHL.  The game will miss his presence.  He’s a man of integrity, family and faith.

 

 

 

Friday Flashback:  Father-Son Sports Teams

Silhouette of Father and Son Playing Baseball Outside

With Father’s Day happening this weekend, let’s take a look at some of the most famous father-son sports duos.  This list isn’t ranked in any way.

Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning

It is rare enough that a father and one son make it big in sports but to have two sons to do well in professional sports is a rarity.  The Mannings have been one of the few to accomplish this feat.  Archie played most of his career when the New Orleans Saints were frequent losers in the National Football League (NFL).  He started 139 games and finished with a record of 35-101-3.  Archie was never fortunate to participate in the postseason.   On the other hand, his two sons exceeded that by both winning Super Bowls.  Peyton won with Indianapolis and Denver while Eli won with the New York Giants.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. was known as “The Intimidator” with his driving. He won 76 races in his career, achieving perhaps his most elusive victory at the 1998 Daytona 500.  Tragically, he perished on the final-lap wreck at Daytona in 2001. Dale Earnhardt Jr., then age 26, finished second in that race. In the traumatic aftermath of his father’s passing, Earnhardt Jr. won the Pepsi 400 that year in the first race held on the Daytona track since the tragedy.  A visible and charismatic figure, Earnhardt Jr. was named NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 11 consecutive seasons. After winning the Daytona 500 in 2004, he thrilled fans by taking the checkered flag there in 2014 at age 39, his 20th career win.  They are the only father and son who ever competed directly against each other.  Dale was still racing at a high level when his son came onto the scene.  Junior was unfortunately in the race where his father was fatally killed in a crash.

Bobby and Brett Hull

Bobby Hull—nicknamed “The Golden Jet”—collected the Hart Trophy twice as the league’s MVP and led in points three times. His statue now stands outside the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks.  Brett Hull had a very high standard to aim for, and he drastically outperformed his two brothers to earn the honorific of “The Golden Brett.” He joined dad in the Hall of Fame in 2009, the first father-son duo ever enshrined. While Brett won “only” one MVP award, he doubled up his father in Stanley Cups and scored more often; they tallied 1,351 career goals between them.  Brett currently serves in the front office for the St. Louis Blues.

Bobby and Barry Bonds

They are the greatest father-son duo in baseball history. Bobby hit 332 career home runs and stole 461 bases.  He played for eight teams in 14 seasons with three All-Star appearances. Barry’s career is questioned amid the BALCO scandal, but his on-field production is legendary. The infamous steroid allegations has meant four years of Hall of Fame voting and no entrance for Bonds, but he finished his career with the records for home runs in a season (73) and career (763).

Other notable father-son teams:

  • Buddy, Rex and Rob Ryan (football)
  • Prince and Cecil Fielder (baseball)
  • Felipe and Moises Alou (baseball)
  • Cal Ripken, Sr. and Cal Ripken, Jr. (baseball)
  • Kellen Winslow, Sr. and Kellen Winslow, Jr. (football)
  • Clay Matthews, Sr. and Clay Matthews, Jr. (football)
  • Ken Norton, Sr. (boxing) and Ken Norton, Jr. (football)
  • Calvin Hill (football) and Grant Hill (basketball)
  • Brett and Bob Boone (baseball)

 

Hockey Tonk Hangover

perds loss

This is not the post I wanted to make this morning.   This is the morning after the Nashville Predators lost Game Six of the Stanley Cup final, giving the Penguins another title.  It was a heartbreaking defeat as the game was scoreless until the final few minutes of regulation.   As we were assuming overtime might decide it, Patric Hornqvist slipped the puck in off of Predators’ goalie Pekka Rhinne for the game winner.  Carl Hagelin ended all hope of a comeback with an empty net goal with 14 seconds left.

I won’t lie.  It hurts.

Yes, I know the Predators had an amazing run and played in their first Stanley Cup final but at the moment it means nothing.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are grueling.   Two months of playoff hockey.  It takes its toll on players, coaches and fans.  I’m tired and emotionally spent.  I’ve always said that the playoffs should all be best-of-five series instead of seven game marathons.

preds fansYes, the Predators did the unthinkable.  They swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six games and out-hustled the Anaheim Ducks in six to advance to the Stanley Cup final.   Music City was absolutely crazy and a town painted in gold.  Fans packed viewing locations on Broadway, Hall of Fame Park and other designated viewing areas to support the team.   It was an amazing experience.

As far as the final thoughts about the Stanley Cup final, I think the Predators missed Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala.  It might have been a different series had they remained healthy.  I read some comments on social media where Predator fans are posted memes about the refs but as Predators’ captain Mike Fisher said, “It’s just sports”.   Yes, the refs were horrible in this series.  The NHL needs to do something about that but the fact remains that the Predators still had power play opportunities and were still shutout – even with a 5-on-3 advantage – so you can’t pin that one on the refs.  Another thing I have noticed is the poor sportsmanship from Penguin fans.  One went back and commented on my post on a Predators’ site that was unnecessary.  I’m just surprised on their reactions.  I even saw a Penguins fan and I wished them good luck before the game.  He did the same.  There was no “Penguins suck” or any other trash talk.

I also wish Predator fans would get rid of the ridiculous chant after our team scores.  So the sportsmanship works both ways.

P.K. Subban already predicts that the Predators will be back.  I guess he means the Stanley Cup final.  Honestly, I wish he would stop talking.  I’m really not sure he’s that good on the ice.  I have not been a fan.

In every postseason there is always a goaltender that gets hot and leads his team.   Pekka Rinne did that but he really had problems on the road in the final.  He was as bad as he could have been.  He wasn’t particularly great during the regular season.  I’m just wondering if the Predators might need to get another goalie ready.  I don’t think Saros is the answer.

Another area the Predators need to get better is on the power play.  The team has not been much of a threat on power play opportunities.  When the Predators start on a power play I have not gotten my hopes up because it hasn’t been an advantage.

The most frustrating part of the play of the Predators is shot selection.  When the puck is in the offensive zone the team passes too many times in an attempt to get a perfect shot.  It seems very indecisive and then when they take a shot it is a poor choice.   With the goal scorers the team has on offense, this shouldn’t be happening.

Yes, I’m a little bitter right now.  If you get this far you should win it because you never know if you will ever get back here or not.  It’s a long season.   In fact, training camp starts again in September.

With that said, it was a season that no one expected.  Not even myself.  If you look back at my past blog posts you will see that I did not pick the Predators to win any of their playoff series so they surprised me and exceeded any expectations anyone had.  For the first time, I watched more hockey this season than any other.  My wife and I were doubtful how good the Predators would be after the regular season.

Losing always hurts but I’m sure it will hurt less in the days and weeks ahead.  It has been a fun season.

Friday Flashback: 2012 Los Angeles Kings

NHL-STANLEY/

In this season’s Stanley Cup finals, the Nashville Predators are the lowest seed to make it to the final since the Los Angeles Kings won it in 2012.   Like the Predators, the Kings entered the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as the number eight seed in the Western Conference.  The Los Angeles Kings historically had not fared well in the postseason, having only advanced beyond second round of the playoffs once in franchise history.  They were the first eighth seed in North American professional sports history to win a championship. They are also one of the few teams to win a championship after never benefitting from home-venue advantage in the post-season. Los Angeles would start every series by winning the first three games, only sweeping the St. Louis Blues.

The Kings finished 40-27-15 during the regular season for third place in the Pacific Division.

In 2012, the Kings took a 3-0 lead in the finals against the New Jersey Devils then won in six games for their first Stanley Cup.  The Kings upset the #1 seed Vancouver Canucks in the first round with a 4-1 win, swept the Blues in four straight then easily eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes in five games.

The Kings’ road dominance in the playoffs was probably the most impressive part of their championship run. Their Game 5 loss in the finals was the only road defeat in the postseason, the Kings were a stunning 10-1 away from Staples Center.

There are several different reasons for the Kings’ success on the road.

Most obvious is the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick.   Quick, who was voted the Most Valuable Player, was 16-4 in the playoffs with a 1.41 Goals Against Average and recorded three shutouts.  Another reason for their road success was their phenomenal penalty kill. The Kings finished the playoffs with the second-best penalty-killing percentage in the playoffs, and also scored five short-handed goals.

Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter led the Kings with eight goals during their playoff run.

Darryl Sutter was the head coach for the Kings.   Sutter led the Kings to another Stanley Cup in 2014.  On April 10, 2017, the Kings relieved Sutter of his coaching duties after the team missed the playoffs for the second season in three years.