There's no need for a build-up. So let's get to it!
Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh Penguins
-The best player on the planet was born in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Yesss!!!
Jonathan Toews - Chicago Blackhawks
-The only question is will he, or will he not wear the 'C'?
Steven Stamkos - Tampa Bay Lightning
-Stamkos will be ready. And he will be one of the most exciting players in the tournament.
John Tavares - New York Islanders
-Surrounded by elite talents, who knows what he'll be capable of?
Ryan Getzlaf - Anaheim Ducks
-He's never disappointed when wearing the Maple Leaf. Just a beauty.
Corey Perry - Anaheim Ducks
-Scoring is a guaranteed. Perry will be a very important player for Team Canada.
Brent Burns - San Jose Sharks
-My dark horse. Big, with speed and skill. The type of player that separates Canada's team from the others.
Jamie Benn - Dallas Stars
-He can play every forward position. And he's been a dominating presence this season
Martin St. Louis - Tampa Bay Lightning
-He can skate, he can score, and he'll provide this team with a ton of leadership.
Matt Duchene - Colorado Avalanche
-Maybe the shiftiest player in the NHL. He'll be unstoppable on the big ice.
Patrice Bergeron - Boston Bruins
-Consistently responsible and dependable. A perfect player for a short tournament.
Logan Couture - San Jose Sharks
-A nasty player who can put up points. You need guys like this to win a gold medal.
Patrick Sharp - Chicago Blackhawks
-A player who can play on a checking line, or on the power-play. He'll play a big role.
James Neal - Pittsburgh Penguins
-Has quietly scored 34 points in 24 games this season. Those kind of numbers merit a spot on the team.
Shea Weber - Nashville Predators
-As far as I'm concerned, he's the best in the league. A rare breed who can do it all.
Drew Doughty - Los Angeles Kings
-A fantastic skater, with grittiness and swagger. He'll be a key component to Canada's success.
Duncan Keith - Chicago Blackhawks
-A warrior in every sense of the word. I can't imagine this team without him.
Brent Seabrook - Chicago Blackhawks
-Can play in every role imaginable. One of the NHL's most underrated players.
Alex Pietrangelo - St. Louis Blues
-Brings a little of everything. Could earn more responsibility as the tournament moves on.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - San Jose Sharks
-Skillfull, yet dependable. He'll serve as a key piece of the puzzle.
Jay Bouwmeester - St. Louis Blues
-He's having an excellent season, and has always performed well on the big ice.
PK Subban - Montreal Canadiens
-Will come in handy against a pesky team like the Finns or the Swiss. Subban deserves to be in Sochi.
Carey Price - Montreal Canadiens
-He's been excellent this season. And if he can handle the pressure in Montreal, he can handle this.
Roberto Luongo - Vancouver Canucks
-Luongo has been consistently solid this year. And he's always played well when representing Canada.
Corey Crawford - Chicago Blackhawks
-He knows how to win, and he's more than capable of making a big save.
Dan Boyle - San Jose Sharks
-He brings a lot. But too many guys bring more than he does.
Dan Hamhuis - Vancouver Canucks
-Had a poor start. And just not where the rest of the defense is.
Chris Kunitz - Pittsburgh Penguins
-I'd like to think that the players I picked would make it regardless of the teams they play for. So I'm not picking Kunitz simply because he's fortunate enough to play on the same line as Sidney Crosby.
Claude Giroux - Philadelphia Flyers
-His slow start to the season should cost him a spot.
-I love this player. But I just don't see him fitting in.
Andrew Ladd - Winnipeg Jets
-I would love to see him go to Sochi, but I just couldn't find a way to fit him in.
Taylor Hall - Edmonton Oilers
-Just not responsible enough to play for this country, at this level.
Joe Thornton - San Jose Sharks
-The NHL's assist leader can't get into the top six, so he can't be on the team.
-Does so many things right. But not intense enough to crack this line-up.
Mike Smith - Phoenix Coyotes
-If it's between him and Crawford for the third spot, I'll take the guy who's won the Cup.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Phil Kessel to an eight year/$64 million dollar contract extension, Leafs Nation rejoiced, as the team had locked up their star winger for, what should be, the prime years of his career.
But what would be the reaction of Maple Leafs fans if the organization did the same for its captain, Dion Phaneuf?
It seems as if Leafs' fans are separated when it comes to the former Norris Trophy candidate. Some see him as an integral piece of the organization that is as stable as it's been since the 1960s, while others see him as an overrated, overpaid, wrongfully labeled number one defenceman, who has no business being on the list of historic Maple Leafs captains.
So... What exactly should the Toronto Maple Leafs do with Dion Phaneuf?
I thought that our mission to find the answer should start off by taking a look at what each team is paying their 'number one' defenceman.This will allow us to classify what is considered 'standard' for a team to pay their most important blue-liner.
Weber - Predators - $7.86M
Suter - Wild - $7.54M
Letang - Penguins - $7.25M
Cambell - Panthers - $7.14M
Doughty - Kings - $7.00M
Chara - Bruins - $6.91M
Boyle - Sharks - $6.66M
Karlsson - Senators - $6.50M
Pietrangelo - Blues - $6.50M
Green - Capitals -$6.10M
Timonen - Flyers - $6.00M
Markov - Canadiens - $5.75M
Enstrom - Jets - $5.75M
Keith - Blackhawks - $5.54
E-Larsson - Coyotes - $5.50M
Wisniewski - Blue Jackets - $5.50M
Myers - Sabres -$5.50M
Carle - Lightning - $5.50M
Wideman - $5.25M
Gonchar - Stars - $5.00M
Edler - Canucks $5.00M
Visnovsky - Islanders $4.75M
Kronwall - Red Wings - $4.75M
McDonough - $4.70M
Pitkanen - Hurricanes - $4.50M
Volchenkov - Devils - $4.25M
Fowler - Ducks -$4.00M
Johnson - Avalanche - $3.75M
Schultz - Oilers $3.50M
The average salary among 'number one' defencemen in the NHL is an amazing $5.65 million! But when you take a glance down the list, you learn that even that's not a fair representation of the going rate...Duncan Keith, for example, is unquestionably worth far more than $5.54 million per season.But his contract was signed before he won his Norris Trophy, and when star players were worth between five and six million dollars annually.
It should also be considered that PK Subban will surely surpass Andrei Markov as the highest paid defenceman on the Canadiens, and be paid far more than $5.65 million per season, boosting the average...
I'm sure that the immediate reaction of some was, 'Well, Dion doesn't deserve to be on that list!He's not a TRUE number one d-man!'
Really? Is he not...?If you take a look at the statistics from the past three seasons, he proves that he's not only a very good defenceman, but he also proved that he is unquestionably a 'number one'.
I pulled up Phaneuf's point totals, as well as average ice-time since 2011-12, in an effort to see how he measures against others in the NHL.I chose these categories, as they have seemed to be the catalysts of big-money contracts.This is what I found...
Since 2011-12, Dion has averaged out as the 23rd highest scoring defenceman in the NHL(He finished TWELFTH in 2012 and TENTH in 2013).He sits at 48th this season, but there are 46 games to go, and he is only six points out of being in the top 20.
Since that same mark, Phaneuf's average time-on-ice has been just under 25 minutes per game, which ranks him 15th in the league.
I can hear the voices saying, 'What about his plus/minus!?Where did he rank in that category?'Phaneuf's plus/minus hasn't been spectacular, nor has it been terrible.But, I myself, consider plus/minus as a statistic that is very weak in attempting to portray a player's abilities(and worth).Disagree with me?Last season, Mark Fraser of the Maple Leafs finished with a plus/minus of +18, which was the THIRD best in the NHL :-P
If statistics aren't your thing, take a look back at the list...It's, of course, a matter of opinion, but I think that there are AT LEAST a dozen players on that list that I wouldn't even consider REPLACING Dion Phaneuf with...
So... Is Dion Phaneuf overpaid?
As it stands now, Dion is on the books as a $6.5 million cap-hit.And it is assumed that his next contract will have him earn closer to $7 million per season.Is this too much...?If you were to base your answer on what other teams are paying their highest paid D-man, and how he measures up statistically to those players, the answer is 'no'.Some(myself included) will argue that he doesn't deserve a raise, or that he should be earning somewhere around the $6 million per season range.But when you take into consideration that he's the team's captain, he's playing in the biggest hockey market on the planet, and that he would surely fetch $7 million per season on the open market, a slight overpay is going to have to be swallowed.
With the solid young talent in the organization, Toronto fans could argue that there in no need for a true 'number one' defenceman, as Phaneuf's minutes and production could be spread around nicely.And there is also a chance that one of their youngsters develops into something very special.But if that, in fact, was the plan, it would take some time to mobilize and management would be making a huge gamble.
Both Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson have demonstrated that can serve as key pieces to 'the puzzle', but both have been inconsistent at times, and if their responsibilities were to be raised because of a departure by Phaneuf, much would be in question.
Morgan Rielly has had a very nice rookie season.But if he really is the 'number one' defenceman that he was touted to be when he was drafted, it won't be for several years.
If you move even further down the list, you'll find the 2011, 25th overall pick Stuart Percy and the 2012, 35th overall pick Matt Finn.Both have had excellent junior careers, but Maple Leafs fans will have to wait years to find out if they are NHL caliber defencemen.
So... Should the Toronto Maple Leafs offer Dion Phaneuf a contract extension?
Yes, they should...
I consider Dion's current situation in Toronto to be very similar to that of Jason Spezza's in Ottawa.As Spezza should never be compared to centres with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews or Ryan Getzlaf... Phaneuf should never be placed in the same category as Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith or Ryan Suter.But that is not to say that the two players cannot nicely fill the roles of being a team's 'number one' in their respected positions, and be a part of a winning formula.
It should also be acknowledged that to lose a player of Dion Phaneuf's status, and receive NOTHING in return, would be tough to swallow.Even if it is felt that Dion is not the guy who will accept the Stanley Cup at centre-ice at the Air Canada Centre one day, it may very well benefit you later if he is signed now.As long as the contract if not of ludicrous amount, and/or for a ludicrous term, he will be always be a possession who can be traded for other assets.
So... What exactly should the Toronto Maple Leafs do with Dion Phaneuf?
Seven seasons. $7 million cap hit.With the NHL salary cap set at $71.1 million next season, and only forecasted to go up in the coming years, the price-tag works nicely for both sides.As for the term, Phaneuf would be 36 years-old when this contract expires, which shouldn't put the Maple Leafs in a position where he should ever be untradeable.In my view, it would a very reasonable contract for a 'number one' defenceman.
With the NFL regular season now approaching its home stretch, the media and fans can't help but decide who the elite teams are, and which should be labelled as serious contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Teams like the Broncos, with their unstoppable offense, and the Seahawks, with their wall of a defense, are catching our eyes because of their great potential to win it all. But do the regular seasons that these teams are having mirror those of champions' past? I thought that it would be interesting to look back at past seasons in the NFL, and examine the types of regular seasons that the eventual Super Bowl Champions put up, before going on to win the big game. What did I find? -Over the past eight seasons, only the 2008 Steelers(12-4) had a very clean regular season, and would have been considered a contender from start to finish(You could argue that the Saints took their foot off of the gas after starting 13-0 in 2009, as they already had clinched a first-round bye). 2005- The Steelers went 11-5, but at one point during the season had lost three in a row. 2006- The Colts went 12-4, but lost four of their last seven games, including a crushing at the hands of Jaguars. YES, the Jaguars... 2007- The Giants went 10-6, and started 0-2. Hasn't every NFL panel in the history of television told us that 0-2 was insurmountable? Hmm... 2009- The Saints went 13-3, but lost their last three before going into the play-offs. I thought that you want to go into the play-offs on a hot streak? 2010- The Packers went 10-6, and started 3-3. 2011- The Giants went 9-7, and were 6-6 after their first twelve games. Isn't the old saying in the NFL, 'Get at least TEN wins...'? 2012- The Ravens went 10-6, and lost four of their last five regular season games.
Some interesting notes about the past eight Super Bowl Champions:
-The most common regular season record among the Super Bowl Champions over the last eight seasons is 10-6.
-Only three of the last eight Super Bowl Champions were division winners.
-Only nine of the 16 teams that played in the Super Bowl over the past eight seasons earned a first-round bye... And only TWO of those nine went on to win the Super Bowl.
-Over the past eight seasons, only five of the sixteen teams that have made the Super Bowl, had the best regular season record in their conference.
...And maybe the most noteworthy fact of them all...
-NOT ONCE did the team with the best regular season record in the NFL go on to win the Super Bowl.
So, why is it that the 'best' teams never seem to take the title?
The truth is, a team's 16-game record may not always represent how good(or bad) they really are. At the end of the day, how big of a gap is there between a division-winner that finishes 12-4, or a wild-card team that sneaks in at 10-6? Two wins. Two MEASLY wins. How often do games in the NFL come down to the last possession? One special teams play? Or a single turnover? In reality, the team that goes 10-6, or even 9-7 was most likely only a few plays away from posting a 12-4 record, themselves.
In 2012, the Atlanta Falcons finished 13-3, which was the best record in the NFL. But seven of those thirteen wins were by seven points or less. The Baltimore Ravens, who went on to win the Super Bowl, posted a record of 10-6. But four of those losses were by less than a single score. From the outside looking in, the Falcons looked far better than the Ravens going into the play-offs. But were they actually...? Or was it just a matter of Atlanta having more final possessions, and more 'bounces' go their way? (See also the 2010 Packers who went 10-6, but ALL of their losses were by four points, or less).
I've always said that football is the sport that is the most analyzed, but deserves very little analyzing. NFL games are typically decided by two or three huge plays. So in the post-season, one bad decision by a quarterback, one missed field-goal or one dropped pass, and a team could be eliminated.
In the 2012 Divisional Play-offs, Denver was eliminated by Baltimore after Joe Flacco threw a 70-yard bomb to Jacoby Jones with thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter that forced the game into overtime. The Broncos had won their final eleven games of the regular season, and Peyton Manning's offence looked nothing short of spectacular going into the play-offs. I still can't figure out what the Broncos' secondary was doing... And how Jones got open...
In the 2011 NFC Championship Game, Kyle Williams of the 49ers fumbled while returning a punt in overtime, which put the Giants in a position to kick the game-winning field goal. The Niners posted thirteen wins in the regular season, defeated a strong Saints team in an EPIC Divisional Play-Off game, and earned home-field advantage for the NFC Championship. But it all came crashing down when their back-up punt returner couldn't secure the ball.
In the 2010 NFC Wild Card Game, the Eagles were down 21-16 to the Packers with a minute to go, but were driving for the game-winning score. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Michael Vick made a poor decision and threw a pass that was intercepted in the end-zone. Vick had another receiver WIDE OPEN on that play, and there was a full 40 seconds left on the clock. I'm sure that Eagles fans have asked themselves, 'What if Vick had seen that free receiver?'
These are three examples from the past three seasons of how a SINGLE play cost one team their season, and allowed another team to advance and eventually win the Super Bowl. We spend so much time discussing how teams in the NFL match-up against one-another, but a the end of it all, when two above average teams meet, it is more likely that the game will come down to something that cannot be explained, could not have been pre-determined, or had nothing to do with how the teams matched up, at all.
There is also the matter of how significant officiating decisions can be in the NFL. Maybe more than in any other professional league, a single call in the NFL can greatly determine the outcome of a game. I am not trying to say that the NFL zebras are constantly making mistakes, and ultimately deciding the results. But the fact of the matter is that referees in the NFL often have to make quick, subjective decisions that will greatly affect a game's outcome.
We need to look no further than this past week to find two examples of how a decision by an official significantly impacted the final result. In the game between the 49ers and the Saints, the score was 20-17 for San Francisco with three minutes left in the fourth quarter when Ahmad Brooks sacked Drew Brees. The ball was fumbled, and the 49ers quickly pounced on it. Unfortunately for Brooks, he was charged with a questionable 'unnecessary roughness' penalty for his hit, and the Saints were awarded a free 15 yards and a 1st down. The Saints tied the game on that possession and won it on their next drive. Some are arguing that the penalty call was justified, while others are saying that it was not... In this situation, the official was forced to quickly decide to throw a flag or not, regarding a call that really could have gone either way. The decision would in turn greatly affect the result of this game, as San Francisco almost certainly would have won if the flag was not thrown.
In Monday night's game between the Patriots and the Panthers, Carolina led 24-20 late in the 4th quarter, but New England had possession, and was in the red zone. On the last play of the game, Tom Brady threw a pass over the middle that was intercepted, but a penalty flag was thrown as it was decided that tight-end, Rob Gronkowski was interfered with. The officials quickly huddled, and determined that there was no foul on the play, as the pass was deemed, 'uncatchable'. Fans and media have debated all week whether or not Gronkowski would have had a shot at catching that pass if he had not been interfered with. Could Gronk have caught that ball...? We'll never really know... But we do know that the Patriots would have ran a play from the one yard-line, with a chance to win the game, if the penalty had held up.
So what's the moral of this story?
Once the regular season is complete, we should all pay very little attention to the regular seasons of those who have made the play-offs. Recent history has shown that a team's success during their first sixteen games is in no way a foreshadowing of their next three or four. The saying, 'Anyone can win on any given Sunday' really does hold true.
So if your favourite team is having an incredible season, don't get too excited... You should, in actuality, be praying that they don't finish with the best record in the league.
Oh... And if your favourite team is not quite meeting their potential, don't fret. They may be fortunate enough to sneak in to the play-offs, and be forced to win three straight road games, before playing a division-winning team in the Super Bowl(See the 2012 Ravens, 2010 Packers and 2007 Giants).
If you can take one thing from this post, it should be this... The next time you're getting set for an NFL play-off week-end, don't waste your time comparing offences, defenses and coaching staffs. The difference between winning and losing in the NFL post-season is so razor thin, that one team's win over another will most likely not come down to something that can be analyzed or explained, but who makes one single play(or mistake for that matter) that determines the outcome of the game. Or the refs...