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Wimbledon 2011 may be remembered as the shutting of the early grand slam window for some of the younger stars on the WTA tour.
It is entirely possible that world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, number 4 Vika Azarekna, and the rest of the WTA young guns continue to develop their games and become great champions with multiple majors. But it is also possible that they continue to dilly dally through grand slams, busting out in rounds of 16 or later to various opponents who were better on that day.

Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images via
Azarenka (L) and Wozniacki (R) might be discussing which player will win a single grand slam now.

The possibility of the latter is looking a lot greater after Wimbledon 2011 because of what the Woz-arenkas of the world may confuse for the WTA’s Dark Triad: the return of a physical superstar, the health of a lioness in her prime, and the rapid ascent of a huge hitter proving to be the real gem of her age group.

Indeed, it will be the 24 year-old Maria Sharapova who will go for her second Wimbledon title and fourth grand slam overall.  The Siberian-born former number one has publicly stated her intention to return to the top, and Saturday marks her first chance to reestablish herself as a potential favorite at every tournament.
Of course, there was a true “comeback” at Wimbledon, as Serena Williams played her first major in twelve months.  While she lost in the round of 16, I don’t think anyone should come away from this tournament thinking that Serena is anything less than a favorite against any of those in the Wozarenka class.
But perhaps it is Sharapova’s next opponent, Petra Kvitova, who will be the biggest antagonist of the Wozarenkas’ attempt to win major titles in the years to come. The Czech Republic native has progressed to her first major final now, and has shown steady nerves to add to her already overpowering game. It was a lethal combination today for Azarenka, who is used to being the more athletic and powerful player. During her semifinal against Kvitova, you could see Azarenka trying desperately to figure out how to win a different way. It is difficult for the bully to deal with being bullied, and Azerenka simply ran out of time to figure it out in her three-set loss to the bigger Kvitova. One could also point out that to double fault to lose the match is especially indicative of mental weakness, but I’ll grant Vika a pass due to the mental fatigue that she must have endured in getting pushed around the way she usually does to her own opponents.
The trio of Kvitova, 21, Sharapova, 24, and Williams, 29, may dominate the WTA for a while.

While the Williams sisters and their fellow elder statesmen Kim Clijsters, Li Na, and even Francesca Schiavone appear to be title contenders for a while longer, the general consensus was that this young class of players would eventually emerge to dominate the sport for a while. Although Wozniacki has taken a lot of flack for failing to yet win a major, the pressure hasn’t gotten too amped up yet because most people figure that it is a matter of eventuality.
But while Wozniacki, Azarenka and Kvitova are all within a year of each other age-wise, there is no doubt as to which one of them has the greatest potential. Kvitova, who just turned 21, is built like a brick shithouse. While fitness, speed and defense have become all the rage in men’s tennis (for one example, see Andy Roddick in 2007 v. Andy Roddick today), there is still no denying the fact that the women’s game is dominated by the biggest hitters. It’s why Serena has dominated the game for so long, and why Sharapova and Venus have gotten theirs over the years. Sure, the smaller-hitting, athletic defender can win any grand slam tournament, but the room for domination is not there like it is for the powerhouse who can determine when she wins and when she loses. Serena has that power. Maria, despite her seemingly lanky frame, has had that power her whole career, and she’s only growing stronger. And now it has become obvious that Kvitova also has that power. Regardless of what we decide to call these three bashers — the WTA Dark Triad, the Triforce, or any other pop culture reference to the number three — it’s clear that these three players most easily determine who wins and who loses. This extra gear of offense is a tool that Wozniacki and Azarenka lack at this time when it comes to facing either of these three superior offensive players, and it may turn out to cost them as time adds up and the grand slams do not.

Photo by Graham Denholm / Getty Images via
The Belarusian Beauty missed an opportunity today, but in reality it was never up to her.

I am not saying that I think either Wozniacki or Azarenka will go through their careers major-less.  I’m simply saying that if they do, look to Wimbledon 2011 as the beginning of the end of the short era in which the grand slam window was wide open.
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Following the Boston Bruins’ hoisting of the Stanley Cup last week, many in the media were using the old clichés about teams beating talent and will beating skill.  I understand what those phrases are supposed to mean, but I think it’s a little misleading to insinuate that the Vancouver Canucks were not united, or that the Bruins lacked skill or talent.  The better team won the series.  Boston won four of the seven games.  They won their four games by 7, 4, 3 and 4 goals, respectively.  They lost their three games by one goal apiece.
I read a lot of opinions that the Canucks blew a golden opportunity.  I know on the surface it sounds nuts, but I disagree.  In fact, had the Canucks won Game 7 at home like the -150 money line said they were supposed to, it would have been the Bruins who blew the opportunity.  You see, when teams take each other seven games, it’s the team that lost games that it could have won that really has the burden of a blown opportunity.  Vancouver lost exactly zero games that it could have won, if we agree that the 4.5 goal margin equates to no opportunities, which of course it must.  Boston is the team that twice blew stellar one goal allowed efforts from MVP Tim Thomas, and tacked on an overtime loss to boot.  People can misremember this series all they want, and talk about how Vancouver really let it slip away, but the facts show that the Canucks truly almost stole the series from the Bruins, who would have had a hard time dealing with their blown opportunity.
With this said, I want to look ahead to next season to see which, if either, team can be expected to get back to the Stanley Cup finals.

Vancouver Canucks


For some time now, people have been applauding the job that Vancouver has done to build such a great roster despite the limitations of the salary cap.  While I agree that the Canucks looked rather stacked, they were a team that was really built to win in 2011.  The pieces are in place for a smooth transition into next season, but the Canucks have ten roster spots to fill in the offseason and only about $13.7 million with which to do that.  This average of $1.37 million per roster opening ranks 24th in the league.
The biggest of the big names are all back for the Canucks.  The Sedins are signed for 3 more years; Ryan Kesler is locked up for 5 more campaigns.  Manny Malhotra and Alex Burrows are entering their penultimate seasons under contract, and Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond both have one more year left.  Whether or not the Canucks buy out Samuelsson’s $2.5 million contract remains to be seen, but they can probably expect some delays in production from Raymond, who is out at least four months from now after suffering that terrible injury to his back in Game 6.  The rest of Vancouver’s forwards — Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini and Tanner Glass — are all free agents on July 1.  It should be noted that Lapierre and Hansen are RFAs, which will make it much easier for the Canucks to retain them, should they want to do so.  Remember though, only $13.7 million to go around…
The situation on the blue line really makes it clear how important the 2011 championship was to this team.  Going into the free agency period, the Canucks have Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard and Alex Edler locked up past the upcoming season.  They have Aaron Rome on retainer for this upcoming season at a discount price of $750,000, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) if not signed to an extension beforehand.  The Canucks’ once-heralded stable of defensemen is now down to four, and one of those players is Ballard, who brings a $4.2 million cap hit for the next four seasons, and the Canucks refuse to use him in games that mean anything.
This leaves Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff and Andrew Alberts all as UFAs in eleven days, and again remember, there’s only $13.7 million to go around.  While the Canucks can bring some players up from the AHL at six-figure prices, there’s almost no way they can pay all of these defensemen the money that other teams will be able to offer.  I would assume that of the four listed above, the Canucks would soonest part ways with 36 year-old Salo, but just refusing to resign him doesn’t add money to that $13.7 M pool with which to pay the other three D men.  All three played well this season, but one would think that Alberts can be had at the lowest price.  The soon-to-be 30 year-old Alberts came with just over a million dollar price tag last year, and Vancouver seemed to get at least what they paid for out of him.
Bieksa and Ehrhoff, on the other hand, are coming off $3.5 and $3.4 million seasons, and at 30 and 28 years old, probably aren’t looking to make financial concessions.  Even if those two will sign for the same money, that’s 7 of the 13.7 in available funds.  Doesn’t seem likely, does it?
All the rumors are that Bieksa will be the one to leave, and while I understand that Ehrhoff is the better defenseman per se, I don’t particularly like the idea of a team known for being “soft” washing their hands of one of the few hard-nosed producers it has.  I mean all they would have to do at that point is trade Kesler for Ilya Kovalchuk, and the caricature would be complete.  But alas, the salary cap restrictions…
Even if Bieksa is allowed to walk and Vancouver brings back Ehrhoff and Alberts to add to the four blue liners under contract, there’s no denying that on its face the 2011-12 squad would be worse off just without Bieksa, let alone Salo.  The elder statesman from Finland wasn’t worth the money he got last year, but he was still an effective hockey player, usually.  Ehrhoff and Alberts would probably cost the team somewhere in the vicinity of $6 million next season, given that Ehrhoff is an outstanding player and Ballard makes $4.2 million.  This would leave $7.7 million for more defensemen and all forwards beyond the seven currently under contract.  What would solve Vancouver’s problem is finding a taker for Ballard’s contract.  While it would seem obvious that nobody could be that dumb, I assure you there always is that one moron who tilts the game in someone’s favor.  If Islanders’ owner Wang is serious about taking on more payroll, perhaps Vancouver should give Garth Snow a call.
The Canucks are set at goalie for next season, as Cory Schneider will turn in his 28 games with a 2.30 GAA, and all for less than a million bucks.  Roberto Luongo is entering his tenth-to-last year on his contract.  Gulp.
Boston Bruins


As far as the Bruins go, I was really impressed after looking at their roster entering next season.  I mean the bottom line here in Beantown is, damn near everyone is coming back!  The Bruins have five roster spots to fill, and just over $7 million to do it with.  Their average number, only one spot ahead of Vancouver’s, is $1.43 million per opening.  But the key difference is that the B’s don’t have a lot of big earners who need to be resigned.  Assuming Mark Recchi is serious about retiring, the only Boston forwards not under contract already for next season are Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder.  Marchand is due for something of a raise after his integral role in bringing home the Cup, but a raise is acceptable when the starting point was an $821k cap hit last year.  I expect the Bruins will do everything necessary to keep Marchand, and I also expect the price not to exceed $2.5 million.  Ryder is somewhat of a different story, as he banked $4 million in each of the last three seasons.  But I have a feeling he’s a guy that the Bruins will be alright parting ways with, since they must see Marchand as a more valuable piece in their efforts going forward.  Ryder is a very good talent, but he even still has lacked the consistency to justify such a large salary.  Ryder tallied 41 points in 79 regular season games.
On defense, Boston brings back five of its six Cup-winning regulars.  Only trade deadline acquisition Tomas Kaberle is a free agent, but the Bruins are likely to bring up Steven Kampfer before giving Kaberle close to half of their available offseason funds.  Whoever the sixth D man is, he will join the ring bearers Chara, Seidenberg, Ference, Boychuk and McQuaid.  To make matters better for the Bruins, only Boychuk and McQuaid are even entering their final seasons.
Like the Canucks, Boston is also bringing back its two goaltenders, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.  Also like the Canucks, the Bruins have around $1.4 million per player this offseason.  But unlike the western champs, Boston only has five spots to fill, and only one must-sign — Marchand.
In order to properly evaluate which team has a better chance to return to the SCF, one would have to do a similar accounting of each’s opponents, but for now, I must say that contrary to popular belief — Vancouver is an early 5 to 1 favorite to win next year’s Cup — it is the Bruins who are better set up to make it back next year.
Thanks for being patient with me over the past week.  Like my brother’s favorite, Craig Anderson, I had to avoid burnout.  I’m strongly looking forward to doing some more of these team offseason evaluations.  Feel free to join me via comments, Twitter or email.
What do you guys think?  Will either of these teams defend their conference crowns?  Will we have a rematch in 2012?  Or are we looking at new blood next year?

I want to add, I get all of these salary numbers from CapGeek.com, and I highly recommend it for anyone desiring to know anything about player salaries, team cap restrictions, or anything related.
I remember my Game 7 day like it was yesterday.  Friday, June 12, 2009 was one of the most optimistic days of my life.  I was unemployed at the time — a result of a combination of the terrible job market and my own apathy following another year of law school — and I couldn’t have been happier.  My Red Wings were about to do the deed on the Penguins for the second straight year, and we were in for an aggressively emotional parade that was going to feel like a defense of the Motor City, much like the Eminem Chrysler commercial did during the Super Bowl a year and a half later.

What was going to stop us from having this three-month celebration, anyway?  Sure, it was Game 7, and in the past I would have been a nervous wreck over the possibility of losing, but the two teams had shown nothing to suggest a Pittsburgh win on that Friday night.  Aside from dispatching of the Penguins in six games the summer before, Detroit had won its first three home games of the series by a total score of 11-2, with no one-goal games in that stretch.  This was the scene at the end of Game 5.  The Red Wings had shown that they ran the best puck possession system in the league.  If anything, the Penguins were just a junior varsity version of the Red Wings.  That argument held up in 2008, so why not in ’09?
It was a hot and sunny day, and I felt obliged to amp up my strangely calm heart rate with about seven cups of coffee over the course of the afternoon.  I made the obligatory Sour Patch Kids run, my lone superstition applying to Red Wings home playoff games.  I made the mistake of buying them from the package, instead of hitting up a candy shop and getting my magic candies in a stock white bag, but what could that hurt?  We had this thing on lock.
At that time I was lucky enough to live far enough north to get CBC, and I will never forget Don Cherry’s intro to Game 7.  Click the link, and do not go away from it if you have not yet reached the 2:45 mark of the video.  “Nine months of war for one game.”
Then the actual game happened.  The Wings looked flat early, and found themselves trailing 2-0 after 40 minutes thanks to a pair of Max Talbot goals.  It was around that point that I realized this thing was getting away.  Sure, the Penguins lost Crosby earlier in the game, but the Red Wings were doing nothing to convince anyone that they planned on scoring any goals that night, let alone three.  All I remember are a lot of blank stares, trying to get a head start on processing the devastation that was headed my way.  This was it.  My team was going out like suckers.  Not like the defending champions that they were, but like overmatched weenies afraid to push back.
Then the third period unfolded, and the Wings outshot the Pens 8-1.  Jonathan Ericsson cut the deficit in half with just over six minutes to play, and the Wings proceeded to throw everything they could at Pittsburgh.  They decided that if they were going out, they were going out like champions.  The dream for the repeat finally collapsed when Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Nick Lidstrom from point blank range with about a second to play.  What I remember next was a mixture of pain, shock and a quickly developing sense of appreciation for what the Penguins had just done to my team.  They came into a building in which they had been beaten down three times to conclude a series that, for the second straight year, they had never led.  And they won the game without their best player.
Fleury saves. Internal crying commences. It hasn’t stopped yet.

It didn’t seem at that time that the loss was the end of the Red Wings, and until Lidstrom retires it won’t be, but we Detroit fans have spent the past two years hoping desperately for a return to that very spot.  We haven’t come close, and there appears to be a two-week window now in which Lidstrom might lock up that era of glory that ended on a Friday night in June of 2009, and throw away the key.
My advice for Canucks and Bruins fans is this:  relax, remember this moment, and enjoy the lead up and the game.  When it’s over, it’s over.  Even if your team wins, attention will soon turn to offseason moves and trying to defend what you already have.  If you lose, it will be hard to take.  But life will go on, and all the losing team can do is attempt to get right back to where they are today — on the brink.
“It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” – Mithrandir

But that’s what makes today so fun.  Everything is on a knife’s edge.  History is hanging in the balance.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it will soon, and we know it will soon.  It is very possible that as fans, your team will never get to this point again.  And even if they do, there’s no telling how you’ll feel about it as compared to this 2011 campaign.  So don’t fret about losing, and don’t pray for a win to come and go as quickly as possible.  Enjoy the game tonight, and go get your Stanley Cup.
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live on NBC, CBC and RDS.
On Wednesday night the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will stage one game for the Stanley Cup, and will give all hockey fans all we could ask for: a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals.
This is even funnier now.
In this 21st century world of saturated media (I offer as evidence that I have a blog, and you’re reading it!) we seem to have become obsessed with assigning blame to teams or athletes that lose.  The word “choke” is thrown around by hate mongers to describe each and every time someone comes up a little short, even when that loser was the underdog to begin with.  Everyone’s loving Tiger Woods’ life implosion, and he is talked about more now than he was when he was winning at an incredible rate.  America rejoiced the other night when the Miami Heat had to eat the platter of excrement that they prepared for themselves when they talked about winning seven or more championships before they had ever ran a drill together (going out of your way to stick it to an entire franchise on national television didn’t garner any sympathy points either).  And as great as Roger Federer is and was, he got more chatter relating to his decline (which lasted all of 16 months, by the way) than any of his amazingly dominant grand slam runs.




Remember when Federer was “done?”



The list of examples of our obsession with piling on losers rather than celebrating winners goes on and on, but it should not see a single entry from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs on it.  Up to this point, I believe the playoffs have played out exactly as they should have.  Obviously, there was Ilya Bryzgalov quitting on the Phoenix Coyotes, and the much maligned Sharks doing what they do, but nothing has really happened in these playoffs that loosely resembles a choke.  Even the Capitals did what they always do, which is lose early to a team that nobody foresaw beating them.  And even then, the story was predominantly Washington, not Tampa Bay.
We’ve already laid the foundation for the Roberto Luongo “choke” in Game 7, and everyone rooting against him is ready to invalidate his entire career with any loss Wednesday night.  The jokes are locked and loaded — Monday night saw the term “Roberto LeBrongo” trending worldwide on Twitter (see paragraph 2).


Today is the biggest game of Luongo’s career, again.

But as hockey people, we’ve always held ourselves to a higher standard than fans of the other big sports, so let’s do what we should do, and focus on how wonderful it is that we have this series of moments that is a Game 7 in the season’s final series.  Someone will win, and let’s focus on celebrating them, before turning our attention to next season.  Oh, and our next season will be played in a few months, unlike those other leagues.  So absorbing yourself in Game 7 won’t go without value — you’ll get to carry that backstory into this fall and pick up where you left off.





As far as who will win Game 7, nobody knows.  But Canucks MVP candidate Daniel Sedin thinks he does.  Sedin said that Vancouver will win Game 7, just as they’ve won every home game in the series so far.  Most people are doing what we do these days and calling it a guarantee just to get eyeballs and clicks, but Sedin never used that word.  All he did was say that he believes his team is going to win, and really, there’s nothing to criticize about that.  If he’s right, then maybe he will elevate his and his brother’s status in the eyes of North American hockey fans, who have long been slammed for being “soft.”  But I don’t think Daniel making these comments have anything to do with the aftermath of a Canucks win.  For one, a Canucks win make all talk and former panic irrelevant.  Also, Sedin probably feels more free to go out and make things happen knowing that he quipped the talk early and said that the team will just win the game.  It sounds obvious that he should go out and play freely and create and score goals in the biggest game of his career, but it’s not always that easy to feel free in these games.  The magnitude of big moments has restricted the weak of heart for as long as mankind has existed.  This is Sedin saying “screw it, let’s just play.”

Luongo scared? That’s not true! Come after me, I’m a man! I’m 30!



Another possible motivation for Daniel to speak out and “guarantee” a Game 7 win is that it will lead people to talk about his statement, and not Luongo’s state of mind.  This is a tactic that has been used by coaches for a while, but it’s not something we’ve seen come from the quiet Swede before.  To me, this is proof of Sedin’s continuing evolution as a hockey player and as a man.  It takes guts to make declarations prior to do-or-die games, despite the obvious reality that these statements do not really matter.  We’ve been asking for heart and grit out of the Sedin twins for a long time.  Here’s a start.  Wednesday can be something of a finish.
Regarding Luongo’s state of mind entering Game 7, there are conflicting schools of thought, and either could prove to be right.  The conventional thinking seems to be that Luongo has been money at home, and therefore should continue to be.  A dissenting opinion is that a man can only be beaten down so many times, and Game 6 solidified that the earlier beatings in Boston were no fluke.  Luongo has been pulled twice now in the finals.  Perhaps the 19-8 overall score line has Luongo shaken in the lead up to what is close to a 50/50 game for all the marbles.
But Luongo has prevailed in this situation before.  Granted, he had an amazing team in front of him for the 2010 Olympic gold medal game, but he also had exponentially more pressure on him.  This Stanley Cup run has been very important to all Vancouver Canuck fans for the last few months.  The Olympics were an all-or-nothing proposition for the host country for four years.  Luongo managed that game well, despite allowing a game-tying goal with under a minute left in regulation.  On top of that, he fared just fine in Game 5 after two shellings, and was superb in Game 7 against Chicago in the ultimate panicked negativity situation around the team.  I wouldn’t expect another yanking of Luongo in Game 7.
A better reason that Luongo and the Canucks won’t bring home the Cup is the man in the other crease.  Tim Thomas has had one of the most outstanding goaltending seasons in recent memory, and he only upped his game for the Stanley Cup finals.  By all accounts, Thomas already has the Conn Smythe Trophy wrapped up.  There’s no reason he shouldn’t, as both teams are 15-9 through 24 postseason games thus far.  If Thomas is the unanimous MVP through 24 games, what could happen in the 25th to turn that on its head?  Nothing, and Thomas should bring home the hardware tomorrow.  The only question is whether he will do it Giguere style.  He, and Bruins nation, hopes not.

Tim Thomas wants no part of a J.S. Giguere dichotomy tonight.

Besides the goaltenders, one key for both teams is to be aggressive and not find themselves trying to counterpunch.  I think both teams will come out assertive, but Boston probably has the bodies to do it a little bit better.  While the Bruins don’t have Nathan Horton up front, they still have Chara, Lucic and the rest of the lumberjacks to bend some wills.  And speaking of Horton, how cool was it to see him at the glass swinging a towel and rooting on his teammates?  

Thank the Lord I’m somewhere that cares.
You think that guy loves finally being on a competitive hockey team after wasting the first six years of his career in South Beach?
But the Canucks won’t let the B’s come into their own building and shove them around.  I expect Vancouver to bang as much as Boston, and that’s another reason I have no problem with Daniel Sedin saying the Canucks will win.  If anything, it should galvanize the team.  Makes you wonder if the right Sedin is looking to become the second european captain to ever win the Stanley Cup (Lidstrom ’08).
I don’t think Boston has to do much differently to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7.  They’ve been in every game this series, dropping all three losses by one goal.  We know Thomas and the rest of the Bruins’ vets are going to show up.  It just comes down to who executes better and gets some breaks.  One positive thing the Bruins have going for them is the power play disparity in the series.  Vancouver, who brought a 28.8% power play success rate into the finals, is sputtering at 6.5% in the finals.  Boston, on the other hand, couldn’t throw in a power play goal leading up to the finals.  But the Bruins have bucked the trend and rolled at a 19.2% clip against the Canucks.
Moving onto strategy, one thing I would do if I was Vancouver is roll out Dan Hamhuis.  I know he’s probably very hurt, and it seems unlikely that the defenseman will play in Game 7.  But if he can skate, he needs to play.  Ryan Kesler has been doing it the whole series.  The only question really is, who gives you more, Hamhuis or rookie Chris Tanev?  That’s a rhetorical question, and therefore I just can’t see how Hamhuis would be held out of this one if he can give the Canucks even 12 minutes of pain-impaired but responsible hockey.  What do they have to worry about, next year, when they might not have a home game to win the ultimate prize?

Guess who’s feeling better Wednesday morning

Another question for Vancouver is who will replace winger Mason Raymond, who fractured a vertebra in Game 6.  By all reports, Raymond’s injury is a vicious one, and I hope he can get through his time of pain.  He is listed as out for at least four months.  It seems that CCHA product Jeff Tambellini would be the most likely replacement, although coach Vigneault has not indicated his Game 7 roster at this moment.
With all of this said, let’s realize again that these two teams have given us everything that we ask for as sports fans.  Both teams have given it everything in taking it to the final game, all while playing as collectively hurt as they’ve been in their hockey careers.  Wednesday will be the 107th game for each team this season, and it will be that magical seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals.
In many ways, we’ve become spoiled with these Game 7s in the Cup finals.  This will be the sixth Game 7 in the finals since the turn of the millennium.  The home team won the first four, before the Penguins prevailed in Joe Louis Arena in 2009 in the single most painful loss of my adult sports life.  But these games are a treat.  Just ask anyone who watched hockey from 1966 to 2000, only to see three such spectacles in those 35 seasons.  And so the moral of the story is this: enjoy the hell out of this Game 7 between the two most deserving teams in the league, and don’t pile on the loser; instead, celebrate the winner.  Not much more to say, good luck to all parties, and let’s have a great game.  Can’t wait to look ahead to the offseason.
The Stanley Cup will be in Boston tonight, but the Bruins intentions are to keep it in its case and next day air it back to Vancouver.
The Vancouver Canucks are looking to win the first road game in these Stanley Cup finals in Game 6 tonight.  If they are successful, the Stanley Cup will be theirs.  We’ve seen this same situation in Game 6 of the finals the past three years, with Detroit and Chicago clinching the Cup on the road in 2008 and ’10.  If the same result happens tonight, the Canucks will win the game’s biggest prize for the first time in the franchise’s 40 seasons.  Conversely, the Penguins stayed alive at home in 2009 before hitting the road and winning the Cup in Detroit in Game 7.  Boston will want to channel that black and yellow home ice success tonight.
Everybody has an opinion, but nobody knows what will happen tonight.  Here’s one thing I’m thankful for: that Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title last night.  Before my hockey readers get upset, here’s two reasons why.  First, and most obviously, they beat the jerks that are Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  But second, and more importantly for the NHL, the NBA finals are over.  Tonight, the sports world gets to fully turn its attention to Boston for what could be the last game of the season.  There’s no “superfight” of a Miami Heat game 7 to worry about (yes, NBA playoff games are “games;” NHL playoff games are “Games”).  All of the casual fans will be locked into Game 6 tonight, and if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday night in Vancouver.  There’s no quantifying how important it is for the NHL that the biggest and most polarizing story in the NBA in decades is now over, or at least on hold for a while.


Photo courtesy broraz.com
Dirk Nowitski is excited to bring you an uninterrupted game or two of the Stanley Cup Finals. You’re welcome, world.
As far as tonight’s game goes, anybody can point to any stat they want to make their case for which team will win.  For Boston, there’s the fact that they outscored Vancouver 12-1 in their two home games, and have won nine of ten games at home since dropping the first two games of the playoffs to Montreal.  There’s the resiliency that the Bruins have shown with their backs against the wall in two Game 7s just to get to this point.  But, then there’s the fact that the man who scored the game-winning goals in both of those Game 7s, Nathan Horton, is not walking through that door, at least not this season.
Photo courtesy nhl-red-light.si.com
Nathan Horton: Not Walking Through That Door

For Vancouver, there’s no reason not to be confident tonight.  Sure, they fared terribly in Boston last week, but it’s a new day, and funny things happen when championship trophies are in the building.  I mean honestly, did anybody think Miami wasn’t winning that game last night?  As far as actual on-ice results go, the Canucks can look to the fact that they finally may have figured out their post-Hamhuis/Rome defensive lineup, as rookie Chris Tanev joined the lineup as the sixth D man, relegating Keith Ballard back to the bench.  The result was Roberto Luongo’s second 1-0 home shutout of the series, and thus we can probably expect the same six on the blue line tonight for Vancouver.  Hamhuis travelled with the team, but that was a foregone conclusion, seeing as they might be skating with the Cup tonight.  He is listed as out for tonight’s Game 6.
Photo courtesy sportsofboston.com
Luongo won’t win the Vezina this year,
but he hopes to raise the Stanley Cup.

















Photo courtesy Getty Images
Thomas will win his second Vezina, but
hopes to avoid being awarded the Conn
Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP — at least
not tonight.







What do you guys think will happen tonight?  Will Vancouver finally win the most coveted prize in hockey, or is this thing going back west for a Game 7?  And in the event of a Canuck win tonight, is Tim Thomas still the Conn Smythe winner?  I would have to say yes.
After making his first career NHL start on January 1 of this year, James Reimer impressed Toronto Maple Leafs brass enough to earn a three-year contract reportedly worth $1.8 million per season.

I believe some congratulations are in order, so, congrats James.  A few months ago I dogged Reimer and said that Toronto should have been playing Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere during the latter stages of the regular season in order to increase their chances of qualifying for the playoffs.  I stand by what I wrote in March because it was based on recent form, and while we’ll never know what Giguere would have done, we do know that Reimer did not lead the Leafs to the eight seed.

But it was hardly the rookie goalie’s fault, and I want to say that I’m happy for the young guy getting a big boy contract.  I will be rooting for him to do well, as I do for almost every player in the league.  Reimer has his shot to stick now, and the Leafs have potentially signed a long-term starting goaltender for dimes on the dollar.  If Reimer doesn’t work out, it’s still only $1.8 million per year and the contract is up in the summer of 2014.  If he does work out, then the Leafs will improve while carrying one of the cheapest starting goalies in the league.  Well done to both sides.
By now you’ve probably heard, but the Phoenix Coyotes traded the negotiating rights for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia in exchange for a minor league winger and two future draft picks.

There are a lot of reasons this doesn’t make sense for the Flyers, and only one reason it does.  First, we’ll look at why it doesn’t.


Bryzgalov is an unrestricted free agent on July 1.  This means that if the Flyers do not sign the goalie to an extension before that date, then the trade brought them no value.  Sure, they could sign him on July 10, but they could have done that anyway, without dealing away anything at all.

So the Flyers must feel pretty confident that they can sign Bryz, or they wouldn’t have made the trade just for the right to negotiate terms with him.  This means they are confident that they will come to financial terms with a man who reportedly is asking for $7 – 8 million a year for eight to ten years.  You didn’t have to watch him quit in the playoffs against Detroit to know that these terms are ridiculous on their face.  And yet, Philly wanted to be able to negotiate with the guy.  Maybe Bryzgalov was setting outrageous prices just to get himself out of Phoenix, but that doesn’t really make sense, because he was free to leave on July 1 anyway.  All of this leads to the strong possibility that Bryzgalov actually believes he is worth being paid as one of the top players in the league.

One end-all reason that the Flyers should not have traded anything for the right to attempt to be rational with an irrational person is that in today’s world of a hard salary cap in the NHL, teams must always be looking for value.  How in the world is there any value at all in shelling out even $6 million a year to a goaltender who has never won anything?  Sure, he led two mediocre Phoenix teams to playoff appearances, but he went 3-7 in those games and twice was eliminated on home ice.  The much more valuable idea would be to find a cheaper goaltender that is worth more per dollar in terms of likelihood to bring a Stanley Cup.  Maybe someone like Semyon Varlamov, who despite being in the top five in the NHL in both GAA and Save %, earned less than a million dollars last year.  Varlamov is a restricted free agent on July 1, and it seems has run out of time in Washington.  I get the idea that if you add a very talented goaltender like Bryzgalov to a team that seems to have its only weakness between the pipes, the product could be a Stanley Cup championship.  But anything shy of the Cup would make any contract in the area code of what Bryzgalov is looking for a terrible one.

But that is, of course, the rub.  If the Flyers don’t figure out their goaltending situation, it’s nearly certain that they will not win a Stanley Cup with this excellent group of skaters that they have locked up through next year and beyond.  Therefore, a Cup championship to success-starved Philadelphia would almost justify any amount of money that would be paid to Bryzgalov, and the goalie and his agent know that.  They are undoubtedly using the fact that Bryzgalov fills a glaring need to their advantage at the bargaining table.  But if the Flyers cave and pay the man anything remotely close to what he’s asking for, everyone better understand that 2nd through 30th places are completely unacceptable.

Beyond the question of whether the Flyers want Bryzgalov at such a high price is the question of how they are going to manage to stay under the cap.  Per CapGeek.com, the Flyers have less than half a million dollars of cap space for next season, and this with only 18 players signed.  Eleven of those players are scheduled to make over $3 million in 2011-12, and not all of them are worth that.  It is without question that in order to sign Bryzgalov, or anyone else to fill out the roster, some of these big contracts are going to have to either be moved or bought out.  Jeff Carter, with his $5.27 million number, is the one that comes up in all the trade rumors, but I can’t understand why any other team would take the center on at anywhere near full price.  Believe it or not, Carter has eleven more years on his contract.  Again, the value just isn’t there.  Philly would have the same problem trying to move Daniel Briere and his $6.5 million deal, which has four more seasons left on it.  There are lesser players to move, like Kris Versteeg ($3 million) or Andrej Meszaros ($4 million), but in the end I’m not sure I see the salary dump happening — at least not enough of one to free up the amount Bryzgalov requires.

We’ll see what happens, but I wouldn’t blame the Flyers for letting Bryzgalov walk away from the table on July 1.  I’d only blame them for giving anything up to find out what everyone already knew.