Month: February 2014

Miller, Brodeur Top The NHL Rumor Mill

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres

The face of the Buffalo Sabres could soon be elsewhere.

by Drew Sarver

The NHL regular season resumed a couple of days ago, just a little over a week away from the March 5th league trade deadline.  While plenty of rumors are flying around, over the past few deadlines, the rumors have not seen the earth-shattering deals fans wait for.

Once again there are big names being bandied about, chief among them the  Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender Ryan Miller. The 11-year veteran has spent his entire career in Buffalo, but with the Sabres at the bottom of the NHL standings and Miller’s status as a pending unrestricted free agent, the feeling is the time is right to move the 33-year old.

Miller is the team’s all-time leader in a number of categories, including games played and wins, and is second or third behind Dominik Hasek in most of the other categories pertaining to the franchise’s goaltending records. Though he hasn’t had the best season, Miller’s still capable of playing top-tier hockey with a good team in front of him. He also played heroically for Team USA when they received the silver medal at the 2010 Olympics. (Miller played one game in a backup role at this year’s games in Sochi.)

The Sabres have a short window to try to re-sign Miller or deal him and move on to Jhonas Enroth as the #1 goalie. There’s also a #2 goalie in New Jersey who has some decisions to make about his immediate future. Sure-fire first ballot future Hall of Fame member Martin Brodeur, like Miller, has played his entire career in one uniform.

The veteran of parts of 17 seasons with the Devils, Brodeur could be playing his final season in the NHL. The three-time Stanley Cup champion has contemplated taking one final run at Lord Stanley’s Cup, but with a team that would have a better chance than the Devils. Though the team made it to the finals two seasons ago, Thursday morning found them five points behind the eighth and final seed (Detroit) in the Eastern Conference. Matters are compounded by the four teams tied or ahead of the Devils that are fighting for the final spots as well.

Then there’s the added issue of Brodeur no longer being the #1 guy between the pipes for New Jersey. This past off-season, the team brought in Corey Schneider, who has outplayed Brodeur and taken over the top spot. So, does Brodeur stay in NJ and finish a marvelous career in the same uniform or does he ask the team to move him to a team that has a better shot to make a deep run in the post-season? It’s a move that could help the Devils’ future, depending on what they get in return, however, the hunch here is that Brodeur stays put. There’s no guarantee he could take over the main goaltending duties for any playoff contender unless a team’s current goalie were to suffer a serious injury. If a deal was to be made to a borderline playoff team, he might as well stay put.

The Devils’ chief rival also has some major decisions to make. The New York Rangers were playing well when the league shut down for the Olympics and entered Wednesday’s play as the fifth seed in the East. Though they don’t appear to be a team that is currently built to win the Cup, any time you have a top-of-the-class goalie like Henrik Lunqvist, you have a legitimate shot to pull off a playoff series upset. But GM Glen Sather faces two difficult decisions regarding his captain, Ryan Callahan, and one of his top young defensemen, Dan Girardi.

Both players will be unrestricted free agents after the season, and Callahan in particular is looking for a lengthy contract and a big increase in pay (reportedly 7 years, $42MM). TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Tuesday that, due to the wide gap in negotiations, there’s a 99% chance Callahan will be dealt by the deadline. Sather, reportedly, refuses to lose Callahan for nothing.1

A member of Team USA in Sochi, Callahan is not counted on for scoring, but he is the heart and soul of the team and contributes with big hits, strong defensive skills, and penalty-killing duty. His departure could make a big dent in the team’s psyche at a crucial part of the season. The chief rumor has him being swapped for 38-year old Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In fact, St. Louis has supposedly asked General Manager Steve Yzerman to be dealt to the Rangers. Yzerman has said he would not trade a player of St. Louis’ caliber (56 pts in 58 games thus far this season), for a rental. The former Stanley Cup champ has one year remaining on his contract with a $5.25MM cap hit.2

The acquisition of a player of St. Louis’ caliber would help the Rangers fill the void left when Matt Zuccarello broke his hand during the Olympics. Zuccarello is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.

Girardi is in a similar boat, though Dreger stated that there has been more back-and-forth in negotiations between Girardi’s representatives and the Rangers. However, if a deal isn’t made, Dreger says, “…there’s also a 99% chance that he (Girardi) gets traded.”1  The loss of Girardi could actually have a bigger impact on the ice than if the Rangers were to lose Callahan, due to the importance of a strong blue line.

Additional pending free agents that might be packing their bags include: Thomas Vanek (NYI), Jaromir Jagr (NJD), Milan Michalek (OTT), Henrik Tallinder and Matt Moulson (BUFF), and Mike Cammalleri (CAL).

1 – tsn.ca
2 – capgeek.com

Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

KC’s 2014 Goal: Baseball Royalty

yventura

Fireballer Yordano Ventura is ready to take on the AL

by Alli Baker

Key Acquisitions: Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante, Danny Valencia, Jason Vargas

Key Losses: Will Smith, Chris Getz, Ervin Santana, David Lough

For the past few decades, the Kansas City Royals haven’t exactly been regarded as the team to beat. They’ve tended to stay toward the bottom of the pack during the regular season and then remain quiet in the ensuing offseason. 2013, however, was a completely different year for the Royals, as the team had a legitimate chance to make the playoffs in the final month of the season. Although the postseason didn’t happen for the Royals, an 86-76 mark was their best record since 1989 and was good enough for a third place finish in the AL Central.

This past season put some faith back into the organization and gave Royals fans something to hope for. With young stars Eric Hosmer (.801 OPS-17  HR-76 RBI-Gold Glove)), Mike Moustakas (12 HR), Salvador Perez (.757 OPS-13 HR 79-RBI-Gold Glove), Alex Gordon (.749 OPS-20 HR-81 RBI-3rd straight Gold Glove) and veteran Billy Butler (.757 OPS-15 HR-82 RBI), the Royals have an offense and defense to build around. They’re also looking for a breakout year from center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

The organization made moves this offseason to keep that faith alive among the fans and the team’s progress moving forward. Two of the biggest problems faced by GM Dayton Moore were right field and second base. Both Chris Getz and David Lough left the club, leaving these spots vacant. The Royals did exactly what was needed, signing free agent second baseman Omar Infante and acquiring Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for pitcher Will Smith to take over the spot in right field.

Infante, considered to be one of the best second basemen in the league, should be able to help the Royals both defensively and offensively during the upcoming season.

With the departure of free agent starter Ervin Santana and ace James Shields entering the final season of his contract, the Royals were also faced with a pitching problem. They filled the void left by Santana when they signed veteran Jason Vargas, though he isn’t going to give the Royals the same type of performance that Santana did.2 Luckily for the Royals, not all players have to come from trades in the big leagues. The Royals minor league system is deep in starting pitchers, most notably Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura.

Zimmer, who is known for his strong fastball, pitched for the Royal last season, but had his season shortened by bicep tendinitis. However, the injury shouldn’t impact Zimmer’s chances of making it to the majors this season. The Royals still have high hopes for the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft. The right-hander is expected to join the team around mid-season and is being counted on to become a permanent part of the rotation.3

The 22-year-old Ventura is currently competing for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation, joining Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Vargas, and Bruce Chen. The native of the Dominican Republic, who made his major league debut last season with the Royals, is “ready for the major leagues,” according to  Moore. Throwing upwards of 100 mph, Ventura is likely to find a place in the bullpen if he doesn’t win the fifth spot in the rotation.

Zimmer and Ventura are at the top of the Royals promising future and both were ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List.1  Moore hopes they’ll be joined by talented prospects, including Raul Mondesi and Jorge Bonifacio, give the Kansas City Royals hope that their future is looking favorable.

After their best season in over 20 years, the Royals know that the team has a chance to do something amazing. With their offseason acquisitions and development of prospects, it appears the Royals now have the tools to make 2014 a defining season.

1 – Baseball America.com 

2 – si.com

3 – sbnation.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

Twins Hope To Stem The Tide in 2014

The Twins will need a healthy Joe Mauer to improve on last year’s 66 wins.

by Alli Baker

Key Offseason Acquisitions: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kurt Suzuki, Sean Gilmartin, Jason Kubel, Matt Garza, Matt Guerrier, Mike Pelfrey

Key Offseason Losses: Ryan Doumit

Minnesota Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire is one of the best in the business, but a lack of talent and a rash of injuries over the past three seasons resulted in an average of 65 wins per year.  After finishing the 2013 season in fourth place in the AL Central Division, the Twins knew they had work to do this offseason.

Most importantly, the Twins needed to focus on building up their starting rotation. In 2013, the Twins had a league-worst ERA of 5.26 as well as the lowest number of strikeouts per nine innings pitched.1

Obviously Twins management realized this was a problem that needed to be fixed. The team filled in some holes by picking up free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and also resigned Mike Pelfrey. With more pitchers available, the Minnesota Twins have more options to work with for the upcoming season. However, the Twins have more problems to solve this offseason than just putting together a starting staff.

With Joe Mauer’s permanent move to first base and the departure of free agent Ryan Doumit, the Twins also had to find a replacement catcher, which they did when they signed free agent Kurt Suzuki. As for Mauer, the Twins hope that the defensive shift will keep the oft-injured Minnesota native healthy. He’s still in recovery mode from a 2013 concussion that ended his season prematurely on August 19 and may not be ready for the start of the regular season.

With a need to bolster their offense, the team brought back former Twin Jason Kubel. Kubel, although only signed to a minor league deal thus far, could provide much needed offensive spark and could fill the Twins’ need for a DH or left fielder. Kubel was a regular contributor to the Twins’ offense during the 2008-2010 seasons (averaging 23 HR and 91 RBI) and hit 30 home runs for the Diamondbacks in 2012.

Exec VP/GM Terry Ryan also needs youngsters like Oscar Arcia and Brian Dozier to continue to blossom as well as continued production from third baseman Trevor Plouffe.

All of the aforementioned moves were made with the goal of making an immediate impact for the 2014 season, as well as serving as a stopgap measure until the Twins top prospects are ready.  The team’s farm system is ranked within the top five minor league organizations in Major League Baseball and includes talented prospects like Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano.

Meyer, a 6’9″ hard-throwing pitcher, was acquired in a trade with the Nationals for Denard Span prior to the 2013 season. Meyers had a strong first season in his first year in the organization (84 Ks in 70 IP at Double-A), and is known for his hard breaking ball and a fastballs that tops out at 98-99 mph.3  However, with the Twins’ recent pickups, Meyer probably isn’t likely to see time in the major leagues this year, but is definitely a player to watch out for in 2015.

Rosario, who is incredibly quick and defensively talented, could fill the Twins need for another outfielder in the near future. Rosario also has offensive potential, which the Twins need desperately. The 22-year-old, however, was recently suspended for 50 games for his second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment program, which will surely slow down his development and may impact his chances to play in the Majors.

Sano, just 20 years old, is already proving that he can be an offensive force. The third baseman hit 28 home runs for Beloit (‘A’) and continued his home run prowess in 2013 with 35 home runs between advanced ‘A’ Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain.2 The Twins see a future with Sano and he could potentially see playing time in the big leagues during the upcoming season.

Update 3/1 – Bad news for Miguel Sano; the #6 prospect in Baseball America’s Top 100, will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of the 2014 season and most of 2015.

Overall, the Twins have patched together a team that has some potential for this season, but the Twins’ real future lies with its minor league prospects.

1 – si.com
2 – startribune.com (2/13/2014)
3 – startribune.com (2/11/2014)

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

Nelson Cruz: How The Mighty Have Fallen

Nelson Cruz

Once you get the taint of performance enhancing drug (PED) user on your resume it can be very difficult to wipe it off. Nelson Cruz found that out the hard way when he had to settle for a reported one year, $8MM deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

The agreement, reported by ESPN Deportes’ Enrique Rojas, is dependent on a physical and contains incentives worth $750K. The 33-year old has been often injured, primarily hamstring and leg issues over parts of eight seasons with the Texas Rangers, and topped 128 games just once (2012). Over the last five seasons Cruz has averaged 27 home runs, 81 RBI, and an .831 OPS. He was near his average in home runs and RBI after just 109 games last season before he was named in the Biogenesis scandal and was suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games.

After initially considering fighting the penalty, Cruz decided to sit out the 50 games. He played his last regular season game on August 4, but returned for the one game playoff between wild card winners Texas and Tampa Bay. Cruz went 0-4 in the Rays 5-2 victory.

Tigers Look To Come Out Roaring

scherzerverlander

The Tigers will go as far as Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will take them.                                                 

By Brandon Karsten

Key acquisitions: RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Joba Chamberlain, 2B Ian Kinsler.

Key losses: 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Jose Veras

Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox was staring down at Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Jose Veras. It was in the seventh inning of Game Six of the American League Championship Series with the score 2-1 in favor of the Tigers. On a 1-2 count, Victorino ripped into Veras’ hanging curveball for a grand slam and the lead. In the top of the ninth, with Boston up 5-2, BoSox closer Koji Uehara struck out Jose Iglesias as Boston won the pennant four games to two. It was back to the drawing board for Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski to try to bring that long awaited World Series Championship back to the Motor City.

The winter of 2013-14 was a busy one for the Tigers. One of the first things the Tigers had to do was look for a new manager. After the ALCS loss, Jim Leyland announced his retirement as the Tigers’ skipper and took a job as a special assistant to Dombrowski. The Tigers named former big league catcher Brad Ausmus as the new skipper. Ausmus played from 1993 to 2010 with Houston, San Diego, Detroit and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has had managerial experience with Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying pool in Jupiter, Fla. Israel came up short of moving on to the March tournament after losing in the pool final to Spain 9-7.

Once the calendar flipped to November, the Tigers started a series of moves to help shore up their inconsistent bullpen. The Tigers let Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras leave via free agency. Veras signed with the Chicago Cubs and Benoit went west to San Diego. The Tigers lost another arm when the Houston Astros claimed lefty Darin Downs off waivers.

On Dec. 4, Detroit finished their two years search to replace ineffective closer Jose Valverde when they signed veteran Joe Nathan. Playing for the Texas Rangers last season, Nathan nailed down 43 saves. It was the fourth time in his 13-year career he surpassed the 40 save mark in a season. Then after the winter meetings, the Tigers announced the signing of former New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain for one year and $2.5 million.

The Tigers also made some changes to their starting rotation. Detroit traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals in exchange for infielder Steve Lombardozzi, pitchers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray. The Fister trade did open a door for lefty Drew Smyly to go from the bullpen to the starting rotation for the upcoming season.1 The Tigers could also lose AL CY Young Award winner Max Scherzer after the coming season. He and the Tigers agreed to a one-year, $15.5 million contract to avoid arbitration, but Scherzer may test the free agent market after 2014.

A key to the season will be the performance, of course, of their number one starter, Justin Verlander. The former AL CY Young and MVP winner is coming off a rough season in which he posted his highest ERA since 2009 and finished 2013. He also didn’t lead the league in any major pitching category.

Detroit also shook up the lineup during the offseason. The Tigers swapped first baseman Prince Fielder for Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler and let second baseman Omar Infante sign with Kansas City.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias came over to the Tigers last year in a mid-season trade from Boston and made an immediate impact at the plate and on defense while Jhonny Peralta was serving a 50-game suspension for his part in the Biogenesis scandal. The Tigers put Peralta in the outfield in the postseason to allow Iglesias, the stronger defender, to remain at shortstop. Shortly after the World Series, Peralta signed a long term deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Iglesias will stay with Detroit after putting his signature on a one-year, $1.65 million deal Jan. 8. 2

Also acquired via free agency was outfielder Rajai Davis, who throughout his career has been a base stealing threat. Davis played three years in Toronto, and though he averaged a below .700 OPS, he stole 32 bags as a season.

There are a number of prospects in the Tigers’ organization that are looking forward to getting called up sometime during the 2014 campaign. After coming up to the big club as a September call-up, Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos, who came up as an outfielder, may get a chance to play third base as Miguel Cabrera will back across the diamond to first base to replace Fielder. Castellanos was named the 15th best prospect for 2014 by MLB.com.1

Last year, Right-handed relief pitcher Bruce Rondon found himself splitting time between Detroit and AAA Toledo, but Dombrowski has high expectations for the young Venezuelan hurler for 2014.1

All early indications point to the Tigers remaining as contenders in the American League Central. However, the four other teams in the division are looking to make it a very competitive divisional race. Minnesota added free agent starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban defector Jose Abreu.

2014 should be an interesting and exciting year as the Tigers look to defend their AL Central division title.

1 –  detroit.tigers.mlb.com

2 –  mlive.com

Brandon Karsten is a contributor to Designated Four Assignment. He can be found on Facebook or contacted by email at bkarsten2009@hotmail.com

Roberts Handed Second Base

robertsny

Originally written for My Pinstripes

I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Cashman held a lucky rabbit’s foot, wore a four leaf clover around his neck, and said a novena or Hail Mary or two when Brian Roberts put ink to paper and signed his contract with the New York Yankees.

With Kelly Johnson also in camp, manager Joe Girardi announced that Roberts would be his starting second baseman when the team heads north (actually west to play the Houston Astros) to start the regular season. Roberts isn’t expected to replace the production that the Yankees will miss from Robinson Cano, but they hope Roberts and others can collectively make up some of that ground.

A once quick-as-a-rabbit youngster, Roberts joins a team of older, injured players. Well, most of them were injured last year anyway. For Roberts it’s been a myriad of injuries over the last several years.

Roberts suffered an abdominal strain in 2010 that kept him out  of the lineup from April to July and limited him to 59 games. (He also suffered from a herniated disc in his back during Spring Training in 2010.)

In May of 2011, Roberts hit the back of his head sliding into first base and suffered a serious concussion. He missed the rest of the 2011 season and didn’t return to the Majors until June, 2012.  But he wasn’t active for long.

Roberts hurt his groin in early July and was placed back on the DL. At the end of the month he opted for season ending hip surgery. During the off-season he also had surgery to repair a sports hernia. He played in 17 games, the lowest number of his career and the same number his new double play partner, Derek Jeter, played in his own injury plagued 2013 season.

In April, 2013 Roberts made another trip to the DL after he ruptured a tendon in a portion of hamstring behind his right knee and underwent surgery. It kept him out of an Orioles uniform until June 30. His 77 games played was the most action he saw over a four year stretch of injuries and surgeries, but his production was far below his norm. (.249/.312/.392 slash line)

The Yankees hope to see a glimpse of the former first round pick (50th overall out of U. of South Carolina in 1999). Roberts was a two-time All-Star who combined some pop with speed (90 stolen bases 2007-2008) and was often a Yankees killer. A typical season for Roberts saw 13 home runs, 64 RBI, 36 steals, 45 doubles, and 99 runs scored. 

In attempt to keep him healthy, Girardi may very well put the reins on Roberts when it comes to stolen base attempts and it will be interesting to see where he bats in the lineup with a pair of lead off men – Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner – already in the lineup.

The Yankees and Roberts don’t care where he bats as long as he can stay healthy and productive.

Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Oshie Gives Russians The Blues

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“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” – William Shakespeare

Some rules are made to be broken, while others are made to be changed. After Team USA beat Team Russia in a shootout Saturday afternoon, you can’t blame the Russian squad for wanting the shootout rules changed. The St. Louis Blues’ T.J. Oshie scored in the 8th round of sudden death one on one with the opposing goaltender for a 3-2 US victory.

Unlike the NHL, once you pass the third round of the shootout you can use the same player as many times as you would like. US coach Dan Bylsma stuck with Oshie for every shot from the fourth round on. Twice Oshie beat Russian (and Columbus Blue Jacket) goalie Sergei Bobrovski in a do or die situation and then finished off the game when a goal would win it in the eighth round.

The game was an exciting match that evoked memories of the “Miracle on Ice” that occurred when the two teams met in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. The current US squad, made up exclusively from NHL players, is nothing like that team though. While the college kids of 1980 weren’t expected to medal, this US team is one of the favorites with Canada, Sweden, and Russia.

The game was scoreless through the first period with Bobrovski turning aside 10 shots while US goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped all 13 pucks he faced. Pavel Datsyuk broke the scoreless tie at 9:15 of the second period when he took a long outlet pass from Andrei Markov,  burst through the US defense and slam dunked the puck past Quick for 1-0 Russian lead.  Team USA tied it with Alexander Radulov in the penalty box for a cross check later in the period. Defenseman Cam Fowler pinched in from the right point to bang home a loose puck in front to even things up at one apiece.

Team USA took the lead in the third period with another power play goal after Radulov got sent to the box once again, this time for hooking. Patrick Kane took a pass on the far boards and threaded the needle between two Russian defenders to get the puck to the bottom of the right side circle where Joe Pavelski one timed the it past “Bob” for a 2-1 US lead.  Datsyuk and Markov teamed up again though when Dustin Brown was sent off for kneeing with under eight minutes to play. With the man advantage. Datsyuk took a pass from Markov at the right point, skated to the right circle and whipped a wrister to the glove side past a screened Quick.

With the game tied at two apiece the US got a huge break when it appeared Team Russia had gone ahead. Defenseman Fedor Tuytin took a snapped one from the left point that eluded Quick with 4:40 left in regulation. But the US goaltender quickly pointed out to the referee that the net was off its moorings when the puck entered it. A video replay agreed – Quick thought the net had to be set in place for a goal to count and he was right – the go ahead goal was disallowed and the game went into overtime.

Kane had the best chance to win it when he had a breakaway midway through the extra session, but Bobrovski stood his ground and made the save. With the shots on goal 33-31 in the US’ favor, the game went to the decisive shootout.

Oshie, known in the NHL for his shootout skills, went first and beat Bobrovski for the only goal through 2 1/2 rounds. Down to their last chance, Ilya Kovalchuk fired a forehand shot past Quick on the glove side to send the game to extra rounds. Oshie and Kovalchuk were both stymied, but Daystuk scored again in the fifth round to put the pressure back on Oshie. He came through, beating Bobrovski to keep things going.

Kovalchuk beat Quick in the sixth round, which meant the US, or Oshie specifically, had to score again to go to the next round. He did just that; the centerman skated slowly towards the crease and at the last moment broke right to beat Bobrovski.

After Datsyuk and Oshie were both stymied in the seventh round, Quick came up big with a last second glove/arm save on Kovalchuk at the right post. Then it was all Oshie time; the 27-year old put the past Bobrovski for the fourth time in the shootout to end the contest, 3-2 Team USA.

The game winner

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It’s not the medal round, but it was a huge win for the US since it could mean a bye later on in the tournament. Now Oshie, the one man wrecking team, and the rest of the US squad must not get caught in a trap game with feisty Slovenia Sunday morning.

 

Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Meet Your US Olympic Hockey Team

miracleonice

Team USA hopes to join the 1980 squad in reaching the top of the medal stand.

33 years ago in the small village of Lake Placid, N,Y the United States hockey team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in amateur hockey history when they downed the vaunted, powerful Russian team. Announcer Al Michaels shouted “Do you believe in miracles?” as the clock wound down on  Team USA’s 4-3 victory that set them up to win the gold medal. They did just that with a come from behind 4-2 win over Finland two days later. That was the last time the United States won the men’s hockey gold medal. They came close in 2010 when they lost a heart breaker in overtime to Canada 3-2 in the gold medal game, but the squad has won the gold just twice since 1960. A determined, interesting mix of players traveled to Sochi, Russia to compete against top international competition comprised mostly of NHL players.

The Goaltenders

Four years ago  Ryan Miller practically stole the Gold Medal from Canada all by himself. He produced a 1.35 Goals Against Average (second only to Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden’s 1.34) and stopped a tournament best 94.5% of the pucks directed towards him. Pittsburgh Penguins and US head coach Dan Bylsma and his staff have a big decision to make regarding who gets the bulk of the playing time, Miller or LA Kings goaltender and 2012 Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

The 28-year old netminder got off to a slow start and then missed a month and a half with a groin injury. Upon his return, Quick held opponents to 1.85 goals per game through 13 January contests. (His 2.68 GAA in three February is skewed by the five goals he allowed in one contest vs. the Blackhawks.) Miller has had the unenviable task of trying to keep a terrible Buffalo Sabres team – 14 wins in 51 games – from completely imploding. Miller has also been the subject of trade rumors as the Sabres look to rebuild for the future.

Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings returned to action on Jan. 28 after a week out with a hip flexor injury. He backed up Jonas Gustavsson against the Philadelphia Flyers, but started three games thereafter and combined on a shutout with Gustavsson after the latter had to leave the game after one period. Howard is number three on the depth chart and may see little or no playing time at all.

Despite the play of Miller four years ago, the gut feeling here is that Quick will be the #1 man between the pipes. He’s already been selected by Bylsma to start the first game of the tournament Thursday morning.

The Forwards

Number 88 of the Chicago Blackhawks has been tearing up opponents in the NHL , so it’s good timing for Patrick Kane to be suiting up for Team USA. Kane, who missed the Blackhawks last game prior to the break due to the death of his grandfather, has wracked up 63 points in 59 games. After a lackluster January, Kane found out that his grandfather died on Feb. 3 and took his out grief on the LA Kings with two goals and an assist. He’s the key forward to Team USA’s success.

The leading US scoring entering Olympic play was the Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel. The 26-year old got off to terrible start in last season’s strike shortened campaign, but burst out of the gate this season with 10 goals and 9 assists in the first 20 games.  His 65 points (31 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games is the fourth best overall total in the league. Team USA will also be looking to Toronto Maple Leaf winger James van Riemsdyk to add some scoring punch as well. The New Jersey Native is having a career year with 24 goals and 47 points in 58 games.

Team captain Zach Parise and right wing Ryan Callahan will bring their hard nosed NHL play to the larger international rink. Parise led the US with four goals in the 2010 games and sent the gold medal game with Canada to overtime with a late game tying goal. (Click here to check out Alli Baker’s profile of the US captain and Minnesota Wild star.) Callahan’s penalty killing ability and fiery play will be a huge asset to the US squad.

The Defensemen

Among those manning the blue line for the Americans will be assistant captain Ryan Suter, who played on the silver medal winning team in Vancouver four years ago. The Minnesota native is sixth in points among US born defensemen and 14th overall with 33 points. More than his point scoring ability, Bylsma will be counting on Suter for his leadership on the ice and in the locker room.

At 29, Suter is only the third oldest blue liner on the team. Pittsburgh Penguin teammates Paul Martin (32) and Brooks Orpik (33) lend more experience to Bylsma’s roster, even though this is Martin’s first Olympic experience.

Youngsters Ryan McDonaugh (NYR), John Carlson (WASH), and Cam Fowler (ANA) have combined for 35 power play points this season and are the key point men when Team USA has the man advantage.

Outlook

It won’t take a miracle on ice to capture the gold medal, but it will be a monumental task with the likes of powerhouse teams from Canada, Sweden, and Russia.  It’s the reason Vegas odds-makers have the US as the fourth favorite behind the aforementioned three teams.

Team USA’s goal for the gold gets underway Thursday morning, 7:30 EDT time against Slovakia. The team will be led by captain Zdeno Chara and assistants Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus. Coach Vladimir Vujtek will choose between Montreal’s Peter Budaj and St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak to be the main man between the pipes. (The team also has KHL goalie Jan Laco.)

Drop the puck.

Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Men’s Olympic Hockey Wednesday – Czech This Out

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Henrik Lundqvist celebrates the 2006 Gold Medal

 

Men’s Olympic hockey gets underway Wednesday with a pair of Noon EDT games.  The Czech Republic skates against one of the favorites, Team Sweden, and Latvia goes up against Switzerland.

In a surprising twist, Czech coach Alois Hadamczik has chosen KHL goalie Jakub Kovar over the Winnipeg Jets’ Ondraj Pavelec. Then again, if you saw Pavelec’s performance in the NHL this season, maybe it’s not such a big surprise. The team is captained by Montreal Canadians center Tomas Plekanec, while a pair of New Jersey Devils teammates, Patrick Elias and Jaromir Jagr, will don the assistant captain ‘A’ on their uniforms. (Elias captained the 2010 Olympic squad)

Jagr will turn 42 on Saturday, but he’s not the oldest player on the team. That honor belongs to former NHLer Peter Nedved who celebrated his 42nd birthday in December. The team will count heavily on its younger players though to make it to the medal round. In addition to Plekanec, Team Czech is counting on the Flyers’ Jakub Varocek, the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat, Ottawa’s Milan Michalek, Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal, and Boston’s David Krejci to put the puck in the net. 

The Czech blue line will be anchored by veterans Michael Roszival (Blackhawks), Marek Zidlicky (Devils), and former NHL defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

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Team Sweden has won the gold medal twice in the last 20 years. They captured the 1994 top spot when Peter Forsberg pulled a remarkable move out of his bag of tricks to defeat Canada in a shootout and captured the 2006 medal behind the goaltending of then 24-year old Henrik Lundqvist.

The team, coached by Pars Marts is chock full of NHL talent. In addition to the Rangers’ Lundqvist, the team has goalies Jhonas Enroth from the Sabres, and the Red Wings’ Jonas Gustavsson. The squad is captained by Detroit Red Wings’ standout Henrik Zetteberg, while his teammates – defenseman Niklas Kronwall and right winger Daniel Alfredsson – will sport the assistant captain jerseys.

You should remember the name Jimmie Ericsson. Why? The 33-year old Swedish Hockey League player is the only non-NHL player on the roster. Though standouts Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin will miss the games due to injuries, the team still has plenty of NHL firepower in Daniel Sedin, Alexander Steen (28 goals, 6th best in the NHL), and Henrik Sedin’s replacement Nicklas Backstrom (NHL 3rd best 45 assists). Manning the defense are Johnny Oduya, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Henrik Tallinder, and Alexander Edler.

It’s no wonder that team Sweden sits at 9/2 odds, behind Canada and Russia and ahead of the US, to capture the 2014 Gold Medal. Let the games begin.

 

Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Sid the Kid Seeks Back to Back Gold

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Whether you watch hockey or not, you’ve probably heard the name Sidney Crosby and you probably know it belongs to the NHL’s poster child. Sidney Crosby is just about as good as it gets when it comes to hockey players these days. He’s been considered by many to be the next Wayne Gretzky and for the last eight years he has gotten as close to meeting to those expectations as anyone could when compared to “The Great One”. It’s no wonder that Team Canada selected the hero of the 2010 Games to be their captain at this year’s Olympics.

Crosby’s goal is to lead Team Canada to back to back Gold Medals, something that has not been accomplished in the Olympics since Russia captured the Gold in 1984 and 1988. “Sid the Kid” is used to coming through in the clutch. He emerged as a top notch prospect at 15 when he skated for Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Fairbault, Minnesota. In one season alone, Crosby scored 72 goals and led the school to a U18 AAA national championship. From there on, he only got better.

The 26-year old was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005 and quickly became the face of the franchise. In his first six seasons in the NHL, Crosby won the Stanley Cup (2009), the Hart Trophy for league MVP, the Art Ross Trophy for points leader (first teenager since Gretzky in 1980), and twice garnered the Ted Lindsay Award for most outstanding player as voted on by the players’ association. He also captured the Rocket Richard and Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2010.  If not for a concussion that affected parts of two seasons and the strike shortened 2012-2013 campaign, Crosby career numbers would be even greater. (266 goals, 477 assists in 528 games.)

Crosby is no stranger to winning medals in international competition either. He won gold and silver in 2004 representing Canada at the World Junior Championships.1 To say the least, at twenty two years old, Sidney Crosby was already an extremely accomplished hockey player.

Outside of winning the Stanley Cup, Crosby’s finest moment was, arguably, the goal he scored goal in overtime of the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal game vs. the US. With Vancouver, British Columbia playing host to the international contest, there was extra pressure on Team Canada to succeed. Team USA’s Zach Parise sent the game to OT with a late third period goal, but Crosby beat goalie Ryan Miller seven minutes and 40 seconds into the extra session to set off a wild countrywide celebration.3

After being held pointless in the semi- and quarterfinal rounds Crosby, an assistant captain in his first Olympic appearance, scored four goals against Switzerland, Germany, and Team USA. His “Golden Goal” brought the Gold medal back to Canada for the first time since 2004. For most of Canada, the goal was almost too good to be true. For Sidney Crosby, it was just another goal. The always-humble Crosby later commented that “I don’t think about it that much.”4

After his performance in 2010, hockey fans around the world are watching closely to see what Captain Crosby has in store for Sochi in 2014. There’s no doubt that he’ll have an impact as the leader of the Canadian hockey squad; it’s only a matter of how memorable he’ll make the games for his home country and hockey team.

1. Penguins NHL site
2. sports-reference.com
3. Sports Illustrated
4. nbcsports.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23