Hockey Notes – 9/10

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Friday, September 10, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment



- The Hockey News Puck Panel takes a look at the upcoming 2010-11 season for the San Jose Sharks. Ryan Dixon, John Grigg and Ryan Kennedy weigh the scales on the departure of Evgeni Nabokov and the addition of goaltenders Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki. Kennedy also takes a look at the loss of Rob Blake and Manny Malhotra, and whether the Sharks can replace their contributions internally.

- Key upcoming dates via the NHL and the San Jose Sharks:

UPCOMING DATES:

Sept. 10: Rookie camps open
Sept. 10: Sharks Rookie Practice 2PM
Sept. 11: Sharks Rookie Practice 12PM
Sept. 12: Sharks Rookie Practice 10AM
Sept. 12: VAN Rookie Tournament 4PM (VAN-EDM)
Sept. 12: VAN Rookie Tournament 7:30PM (SJ-ANA)
Sept. 13: VAN Rookie Tournament 4PM (ANA-CAL)
Sept. 13: VAN Rookie Tournament 7:30PM (SJ-VAN)
Sept. 14: VAN Rookie Tournament 7:30PM (CAL-EDM)
Sept. 15: VAN Rookie Tournament 4PM (ANA-VAN)
Sept. 15: VAN Rookie Tournament 7:30PM (EDM-SJ)
Sept. 16: VAN Rookie Tournament 12PM (CAL-VAN)

Sept. 17: Training camps open
Sept. 18: Sharks Training Camp 9AM-1:15PM
Sept. 19: Sharks Training Camp 9AM-12PM
Sept. 20: Sharks Training Camp 9AM-12PM
Sept. 21: Sharks Teal and White Game 7PM
Sept. 21: Pre-season schedule begins
Sept. 22: Pre-season Sharks @Anaheim 7:05PM
Sept. 23: Sharks Training Camp 10AM-1:30PM
Sept. 24: Pre-season Sharks vs. Anaheim 7:30
Sept. 25: Pre-season Sharks @Phoenix (split squad) 7PM
Sept. 25: Pre-season Sharks vs. Phoenix (split squad) 7:30PM
Sept. 26: Sharks Training Camp 11AM-1PM
Sept. 27: Sharks Training Camp 11AM-1PM
Sept. 28: Pre-season Sharks @Vancouver 7PM
Sept. 29: Pre-season Sharks vs. Vancouver 7:30PM

Oct. 2: Exhbition vs. Alder Mannheim (Germany) 10:30AM
Oct. 7: Regular-season schedule begins
Oct. 7-10: Compuware NHL Premiere Games (Helsinki, Prague, Stockholm)
Oct. 8: Compuware NHL Premiere Sharks vs. Columbus (Sweden) 12PM
Oct. 9: Compuware NHL Premiere Sharks vs. Columbus (Sweden) 12PM
Nov. 6: Hall of Fame Game (Buffalo at Toronto)
Dec. 26 – Jan. 5: 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships (Buffalo)
Jan. 1: Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (Washington at Pittsburgh, Heinz Field)
Jan. 30: NHL All-Star Game (Raleigh)
Feb. 20: 2011 NHL Heritage Classic (Montreal at Calgary, McMahon Stadium)
Feb. 28: Trade deadline (3 p.m., ET)
Apr. 10: Regular-season schedule ends

- San Jose Sharks EVP/GM Doug Wilson was interviewed earlier this week by Fitz and Brooks on KNBR 680AM. Wilson expanded on comments he made after signing Antti Niemi:

I think we are pleased this is where it ended up. We treated Nabby with the respect he deserved. He was able to go get the contract he wanted in Russia. The goaltenders we ended up with, both Antti (Niemi) and Antero (Niittymaki), are going to give us argueably the best tandem in the league. They are two guys who are team-first guys, really have had to compete for their net and earn it on performance. We think them coming in here really gives us an outstanding goaltending unit, and that doesn’t exclude Thomas Greiss, who we think is a very good goalie. Unfortunately he did not get to play too many games being behind Nabber the last few years. We like our goaltending situation, and we are pretty excited heading into camp.

For a West Coast team in particular, there is a lot of travel, both of the goalies are familiar with us. Todd (McLellan) will make the decision (on playing time), a lot of it will be dictated by their play but both goalies were included in this process, about going this route (a tandem in goal). That is what is good about them, both said it would make this team better. That is the bottom line, putting the best team on the ice with the best chance to win later in the year.

We have always liked (Antti Niemi), how he plays. We like his size and his style, much like Niittymaki. They way he played last year, we certainly saw it first-hand. We watched a lot of his games, a lot of his growth. To put these two guys in our nets, we are pretty excited about it.

Wilson also noted that two of the Sharks defensive representatives at the Olympics, Dan Boyle (Canada) and Douglas Murray (Sweden), will have increased roles next season, and that defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic stepped it up to another level in the playoffs against Detroit and Chicago. On Jason Demers (“fearless kid who moves the puck”). Wilson also noted questions about his defense in the wake of Rob Blake’s retirement, and what he believes is the unwarranted criticism Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins have received:

We have got two veteran guys who have won Stanley Cups. They often don’t get the respect they deserve. Kent Huskins and Nick Wallin have both won Stanley Cups for a reason. Both have had to bounce back from injuries, Kent two years ago. Nick Wallin unfortunately got hurt in the last regular season game of the year when he hurt his ankle. These guys are veterans, they have won Stanley Cups in this league. They are big players who know how to play the game. You put all the components together, and that is not even touching on the fact that we have a group of young guys, whether it be Derek Joslin or Nick Petrecki, or Matt Irwin or Justin Braun, or Nick Shaus that can come in and make this team. We have high expectations for them. We have Jay Leach, who is a really good veteran, team guy who did a really good job for us too. That is where we sit today. We have all of our picks in next year’s draft, and we have a lot of things that other teams like too. If we decide we need to add a piece, we have all the assets to be able to do that. It is a long way away from the trading deadline, and a long way away from playoff time next year. We really like where our team is at. Competition is a tremendous motivator for all of these guys coming in. We like where we sit today.

Doug Wilson also talked about the window of opportunity this team has to win a championship with the current pieces in place:

We look at it now like we have a 4 year window with this group of players. The ages they are at, the experiences they have. In sports it is experiential learning. Sometimes you need to be kicked in the butt a little bit… This team left it on the ice last year. That was the difference from the year prior. They had the Olympics last year, you throw that in the mix and the players are coming back feeling … you can build upon it. This group is coming in very mature, very excited, and knowing what it takes.

- Sharks GM Doug Wilson: ‘We Like Our Goaltending Now’ – Susan Slusser for AOL Fanhouse.

- Interesting notes on Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki from the latest issue of The Hockey News. After the starting goaltender went down with a career ending concussion, Antti Niemi got his first big break with the Lahti Pelicans of the Finnish SM-liiga. Integral to his development was former NHL goaltender, and current owner/coach Pasi Nurminen. As a player, Nurminen was well known for his focus and intensity. “He’s a great guy, but he likes to work hard,” Niemi said of Nurminen to THN. “On the ice he has good tips, but people who know him know he’s a special guy mentally. I learned a lot.”

After the departure of Evgeni Nabokov, the only NHL goaltender to score a power play goal, THN noted that Antero Niittymaki was credited with a game winning shorthanded goal against Hershey in the AHL. He also has a sparkling 17-0-0 career record against the Atlanta Thrashers. The Sharks host Atlanta in the first non-Sweden regular season game of the season on October 16th. It is the only time the two teams will meet in 2010-11.

The Hockey News also reported that since NHL teams started carrying two goaltenders (officially mandated in 1965), no Stanley Cup Champion has seen both of its goaltenders depart before the start of the following season. With Antti Niemi signing a one-year, $2 million contract with the San Jose Sharks, and Cristobal Huet reportedly being loaned to Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss National League, neither of the Blackhawks starting goaltenders in 2009-10 will return.

- Boston Bruins beat writer Fluto Shinzawa touched on Antti Niemi and former Boston University and current Worcester Sharks forward John McCarthy in his weekend notes column – Getting from the crease into the fold is tough.

The late-blooming McCarthy, San Jose’s seventh-round pick in 2006, has been informed that coach Todd McLellan will give him a good look in camp as the Sharks seek to balance out their top-heavy forward crew of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, and Devin Setoguchi.

McCarthy earned his audition by turning in a rock-solid first professional season in Worcester. In 74 AHL games last year, he had 15 goals and 27 assists. Even more impressive was McCarthy’s plus-36 rating (heavily influenced by the first-place Sharks’ overall strength) while playing on an energy line with Dan DaSilva and Andrew Desjardins.

“That was good, too, especially because we were, a lot of the time, matched up against the other teams’ top lines, trying to shut them down,’’ McCarthy said. “To have all three of us with really good plus-minuses was a good sign.’’

- Hockey Independent blogger Al Cimaglia takes a look at Chicago Blackhawk recriminations after not being able to re-sign Antti Niemi – The Niemi Blame Game. Cimaglia believes the Blackhawks front office did not value him enough, that Niemi’s agent Bill Zito may have overplayed his hand, that the Sharks may have doubled what Chicago initially intended to pay defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, and that Niemi’s fate was sealed when the decision to keep forward Patrick Sharp was made public earlier this summer. This blog speculated in July that the Hawks may opt to keep Niemi over Sharp.

One item left out of a lot of the discussion. The Sharks opted to bring in Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi to offer more of a consistent, high percentage down low butterfly style. Niemi and Niittymaki are going to offer more of a route performance, as well as more size on a night-in and night-out basis. It will be easier for the Sharks defense to adapt to their playing style. One of the strengths, and one of the weaknesses, of former goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was his unpredictable nature in goal.

Late San Jose Sharks goaltending coach Warren Strelow described Nabokov’s style to me as a hybrid style, able to perform whatever type of save was needed given the situation. Other goaltending coaches and experts have described Nabokov’s style as more of a throwback stand-up style. One opposing player noted a scouting report where they were directed to snap a quick shot off at his feet to produce rebounds. At times, Nabokov could be extremely agressive, challenging shooters far out on top of his crease and using a poke check to upset their rythmn.

The Sharks will have adjustments to make with the more traditional butterfly styles of Niemi and Niittymaki, but there is the possibility of a defensive upside. Clearing bodies and pucks from in front of the crease is easier when you have a better expectation for where they will be on a more consistent basis. Antero has already been in San Jose for a few weeks participating in informal scrimmages with many of his teammates. Niemi shutdown the Sharks in four games during the Western Conference Finals in May, and consistent play was one of his strengths. His Blackhawks teammates noted that Niemi carried over that intensity and focus into practices.

The maverick goaltender label now will be on the Chicago Blackhawks. Turco is more than capable of turning in a top-5 or top-10 season talent-wise. Behind the strong Chicago defense and two-way forward corps, he could have one of his best years in 2010-11. But Turco is not Antti Niemi, Turco is not a Nikolai Khabibulin. In this 2008 photo a caught out of position Turco performed a half barrel roll, a front flip to narrowly make a save. Extremely agressive and athletic, at times his desire to play the puck and become a seventh defenseman can work against him.

It can be said, even with the loss of Nabokov and his 43+/wins a year average over the last 3 seasons, that the Sharks may have added a measure of stability in goal. The Blackhawks, adding Turco for the bargain basement price of $1.3 million, are going to have a mesure of instability they did not have en route to their Stanley Cup run last season.

- Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province believes the Detroit Red Wings are the only clear cut favorite in the Western Conference this season: Veteran Detroit Red Wings the ones to beat in West this season.

- As noted by this blog on twitter, Evgeni Nabokov’s KHL debut with SKA St. Petersburg was not a great one. Nabokov allowed 5 goals against as SKA lost to the Latvian Dinamo Riga club 5-4 in overtime in front of 11,902 fans. A rough translation of the game recap is available from Sports Express. ESPN3.com begins its season of KHL broadcasts Sep. 13th with Salavat Yulaev vs. Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

[Update] A look at which players are likely to be getting the closest look as rookie camp opens today – David Pollak’s Working the Corners blog.

[Update2] The Sharks released their new Dany Heatley commercial today. The tag line, Dany Heatley is a lousy pitcher but a great hockey player, continues the theme from last season and included his epic first pitch fail at a Giants game.

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