NHL: Friday Five For 22 February

THE LAST TASTE OF THE NHL: With nine years remaining on his 15-year contract, Rick DiPietro has been put on waivers by the NY Islanders


In today’s instalment of the Friday Five, I take a look at Kevin Bieksa’s recent scoring exploits, why Lindy Ruff was a scapegoat in Buffalo, the best hockey movies of all time, and much more.

Phoenix Coyotes at Edmonton Oilers (-120, 5)
2013 started with so much promise for the young Oilers. They were supposed to be one of the most exciting teams in the NHL. And things started really well – Nail Yakupov made an immediate impact with some huge early-season goals. But Edmonton didn’t win early on because of their offense; it was because of the rock solid play from goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk has struggled in February, and the offense has dried up. Yakupov has no goals in eight games, and only one point in his last six contests. Justin Schultz’s offense has disappeared too, and he is still a work-in-progress in the defensive zone. Taylor Hall is facing a suspension for a reckless hit on Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has only one goal this season. After scoring 34 goals last season and 25 in 34 AHL games during the lockout, Jordan Eberle “only” has five in 16 games this season.

Edmonton will still very likely emerge as a force in the NHL at some point in the near future. However, their struggles in 2013 show once again the dangers of relying on young players on a consistent basis.

New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres (-138, 5.5)
What is Ruff supposed to do with a team that is awful at faceoffs? Buffalo simply can’t compete with most other Eastern Conference teams up the middle. Cody Hodgson is great offensively and on the PP, but he is a major defensive liability at even strength (especially against top six centers). Tyler Ennis isn’t strong enough defensively to play a regular top six role right now, either. Steve Ott is great on the draw, but he isn’t a top six forward.

The Sabres miss Paul Gaustad, who they traded to Nashville last year. They also miss Derek Roy, but I think both sides needed a fresh start from that relationship. Ruff’s defensive core has also really struggled – Tyler Myers has really regressed since a great rookie year, and he doesn’t even look like an NHL defenseman on many nights. Christian Ehrhoff is a great defenseman, but he isn’t a 27-28-minute-a-night defenseman who can shut down top opposing players (and that is the role he has to currently play for the Sabres).

It was probably time to get a fresh voice in the Buffalo locker room, but I’d place more of the blame upstairs than with Ruff. Poor player personnel decisions (Ville Leino, to name one), and a lack of a true team identity have crippled the Sabres. Buffalo used to have the speed/skill thing going for them, but they have tried to toughen up in recent years. That has led to a team without much of an identity, and as we have seen with Washington, a lack of an identity is an absolute killer for a hockey team.

New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres (-138, 5.5)
If they choose to buy him out (assuming no other team wants to put a claim in on an injury-prone backup who is owed money for eternity), they will have to pay him until 2029. Think that’s bad? The New York Mets are paying former player Bobby Bonilla until 2035. And Bonilla retired in 2001. Now that is a nice retirement package. DiPietro has been brutal ever since getting his face caved in by Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson a few years ago.

Over the last two seasons, DiPietro has finished one game with a save percentage above .900. One game. His days as an NHL goaltender are over. It has been an unfortunate and unlucky career for the guy brought in to save Long Island – former GM Mike Milbury moved a young Roberto Luongo to make room for DiPietro after drafting him 1st overall back in 2000.

Vancouver Canucks at Nashville Predators (-120, 5)
Kevin Bieksa has five goals in his last eight games. He scored a beauty on the rush against Dallas on Thursday night. Bieksa is an interesting and unique defenseman to analyze because he plays such a non-traditional game. I have always compared his game to Chris Chelios’. Both were/are undersized and tenacious defensemen who rely mostly on instincts and active sticks to make defensive plays. Both are also very aggressive offensively, and this leads to chances for (and sometimes chances against).

When Bieksa is playing well, he is making great reads, quick passes, and smart pinches up the ice. When he isn’t, he is sliding out of position, going out of his way to throw hits, and taking dumb penalties. Bieksa looks worse than most defensemen when he is struggling because he doesn’t play like most defensemen. But he has carved out a pretty nice career as a very good top pairing defenseman, and Canucks fans know that his slumps never last too long.

What is your favourite hockey movie? Slapshot is an obvious classic, as is Youngblood. I really enjoyed Goon, and am looking forward to Goon 2. Miracle was also a great movie, as they did a tremendous job capturing the moment of the 1980 Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid.

My top five:

1. Slapshot (impossible to go against this classic – I mean, its Paul Newman!)

2. Miracle (great movie, great acting, great hockey scenes)

3. Goon (much better/funnier than anticipated, does a good job capturing the life of a depth/fringe player on a hockey team)

4. Mighty Ducks: D2 (the first one was great, the second one was a classic. Knuckle Puck time!)

5. Mighty Ducks (a classic that introduced us to Gordon Bombay, quite possibly the most revolutionary coach in hockey history).