News from the Hockey World: New Heroes in Goal, New Future for Backstrom and World Championships

Despite the last night's loss by the Sharks leaving us desperate or even hopeless, the players are moving on, and so shall we. It's the second half of May, and the Sharks are still playing. It's hard to imagine that the second best away team in the league in the regular season can't win two on the road and turn things around. Dan Boyle is pissed and wants to raise the middle finger. We all remember how it ended the last time he felt this way, as the Sharks were two games away from ending the season, and instead went on to win seven of the next eight. We'll write more on that before the series resumes on Friday, but let's take a look at what else is happening in the hockey world this week. 

  • The Eastern Conference final between Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens started in a rather surprising fashion. The Flyers 3rd string goalie Michael Leighton who has to play due to injury to Brian Bouche have yet to allow a goal in the series, after two games played. His 58 saves are impressive, but is anyone else surprised that defense led by Chris Pronger is still playing late in May and is two wins away in the next five games from still playing in June? 
  • One trend we're seeing once again this spring is how important goaltending have been for teams succeeding in these playoffs. What's surprising is which goalies are making the headlines. Take the four teams still playing hockey - Montreal made the Eastern Conference final due to an unbelievable play from Jaroslav Halak. Philadelphia could not be where they are today without a confident play of Brian Boucher in the backend, and now Michael Leighton. Chicago's situation in goal raised many questions during the regular season, until a rookie Antti Niemi became a starter. None of these goaltenders have been considered elite even two months ago, and yet they carry their clubs behind them. San Jose, of course, had to rely on Nabokov's confident play in the two rounds of playoffs, and with few exceptions, Nabokov have played his best post season hockey since the lockout. 
  • The only difference between Nabokov and the other goaltenders is his salary. Halak is making $775k this year. Boucher's salary is $925k and his teammate Leighton is making a wooping $300k. Niemi's salary is $826k. Nabokov's - $5.3M. It's something to think about as we consider the future of San Jose Sharks. What we may be seeing this spring is a change of guard when it comes to goaltenders in this league, as older, more experienced and more expensive goaltenders begin losing their jobs to younger and cheaper goaltenders. 
  • Washington Capitals resigned their top center Nicklas Backstrom to a new 10-year deal that averages $6.7M a season. With his future secured with that club, we'll never know how good of a center he is without Alex Ovechkin playing next to him, or what kind of a player Ovechkin is during the season he's not playing next to Backstrom, but either way, I see it a a good deal for both the club and the player. With numbers Backstrom put this season at the age of 22, the sky is still the limit for the young Swedish center. His salary is below that of other similar centers in the league, and Backstrom might have taken a discount from what he could sign for elsewhere. 
  • The IIHF World Championships in Germany are entering the knockout stage. At this point, there is only one clear favorite, and it is Team Russia that won every single game so far, and is riding a 25-game winning streak in this tournament, with the last loss dating all the way back to three years ago. None of the other teams can boast the same quality of roster as Russia that includes Ovechkin, Semin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Frolov, Afinogenov, Fedorov, Gonchar and Varlamov. 
  • Team USA did not make the quarter final stage, but did avoid relegation to a lower division. With Jack Johnson leading the troops as Team's captain, I can't say I'm surprised.  While the team roster is compromised primarily out of NHL players, they still lack the impact players, as the main heros of Vancouver Olympics Ryan Miller, Chris Drury, Zach Parise and Joe Pavelski all missing the tournament for various reasons. This kind of a turnout is to be expected in the Olympic year. 
  • Team Canada did not look that much better, but did make the knockout stage and as a result, will face Russia in the quarter final.  When asked whether the win over Canada will redeem the sins of the recent Winter Olympics, all Russian players responded that the redemption will have to happen in Sochi in four year's time. However, the very fact that all big stars showed up to the tournament when asked shows that they still care about this team, and Russia's coach Bykov in particular. Bykov is still on the hotseat, but will likely be retained should Russia go on and win the World Championship. Judging by the attendance at the tournament, this is how the Russian players want it. For some of them, such as Capitals or Penguins players, or Pavel Datsyuk, the win will also in a way be a somewhat happy finish to an otherwise disappointing season. 
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