more thoughts: with Blackberry/Research In Motion CEO Jim Balsillie pulling out of the Penguins sale this week due to some late-game stipulations by the NHL, a number of questions are still on the table:
1) the obvious: what was the tipping point in the deal? was it, as is strongly rumoured, that the NHL put into place a virtual ban on moving the franchise under nearly any circumstances, even if a new arena is not built in Pittsburgh? or something else?
2) i'm admittedly iconoclastic and suspicious by nature, but i have to think that the signs are pretty obvious where this is heading: Balsillie had stated a desire to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh as a first choice. For what it is worth, I believed him. However, due to various political issues a new arena is hardly likely and Balsillie's nationality and geographic location (Waterloo, Ontario - about an hour west of Toronto) made it seem likely that if the Pens were to move, Southern Ontario - or possibly elsewhere in Canada - would be the likely destination.
Which is exactly what Gary Bettman does not want.
23 December 2006
more thoughts: with Blackberry/Research In Motion CEO Jim Balsillie pulling out of the Penguins sale this week due to some late-game stipulations by the NHL, a number of questions are still on the table:
21 December 2006
"Hockey Hopes Lifted Here" - Kansas City Star, 21 December 2006
The notion that a traditional hockey market - PITTSBURGH - would get taken up the rear sideways by a Gary Bettman-stylized shattered composite Easton blade puts me in a rage.
I'm taking Bettman's supposed grand attempts to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh with a grain of shit - I don't buy it. Kansas City??? Didn't we go through this once before? Yay - meet the latest whore outpost for a franchise that will have invested little hockey time but will buy a preformed entertainment package all ready to *market* and *sell* to potential fans. Hey, instead how about someone local bumping off David Glass and restoring a once-proud franchise?
Pittsburgh was a member of the first expansion in nearly 30 years in 1967 and was a solid and longtime member of the AHL when that league was not far below the NHL in terms of talent (the ill-named and factually incorrect "Original Six" era was an incestuous sham of a league, with a few families owning shares in all six teams and intentionally shutting out any other ownership possibilities or for that matter anything that might make the league more viable. Stubborn bastards.).
Moving them and treating them like a fly-by-night outfit when they are on the precipice of potentially years of greatness is sickly reminiscent of the Quebec move in 1995. This is not to say Denver wasn't/isn't a good market for hockey - it has been. But that entire Marcel Aubut soap opera reeked for many reasons:
1) moving the team from Quebec was not at all due to lack of support - IIRC, Le Colisee packed 'em in to well over 90% capacity their final season, and the natural rivalry they had with the Canadiens was uglyand beautiful and made the NHL a better place. The NHL wanted out of a so-called "smaller" market and wanted rich American owners. See also wanna-be Hall of Famer Gil Stein and his offensive courting of Wayne Huizenga (Panthers) and Michael Eisner (Ducks).
2) Nearly any city will support a great team (see also Panthers, Florida circa 1996). The test is moving a wet shit-bomb organization like the Phoenix Coyotes and seeing if a new city will support them (although I know one in Southeastern Manitoba that would with no qualms).
Honestly - no offence to KC. My ire and offence is aimed squarely at the money-hungry non-fans that run the NHL. As much as I would love more teams in Canada (not more teams, move some of the wasted experiments back up north), even Pittsburgh is just wrong, very wrong.
If Bettman had been commissioner in ~1978 who's to say he wouldn't have moved the Red Wings to Houston? Detroit sucked a bag of rocks for ages and was playing in an old stadium (read: NO LUXURY BOXES!! WE NEED MORE CORPORATE SUITS PAYING OUR BILLS!!!). Time to move the franchise!
Team success is cyclical - you don't uproot decades of tradition for the quick dollar. You lose millions of fans (who will as a result want to kill you), you MIGHT gain a few fans in the new city but when that team inevitably sucks - as all teams eventually do - you have no generational backing for or love of hockey, so they'll spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere.
I sometimes feel like a curmudgeon railing against the last decade+ of poorly considered expansion, but it is absurd to have franchises in cities where it's just another night out rather than a borderline obsession. this boosts franchise values in the short-term (YAY! We're Anaheim/Florida/Atlanta!), causing salaries to go up everywhere, making the smaller (often also home to the more diehard fans) cities struggle to make ends meet. Then those novelty act teams suck for a few years and the shine is off the turd.
It was glorious and heartbreaking last year for me to attend 2 QMJHL games (Patrick Roy-coached Quebec Remparts, led by now-Nashville Predator Alex Radulov) in Le Colisse in Quebec. Awesome arena which will never be built again because there weren't luxury suites. Sightlines are amazing (like Boston Garden, Buffalo Memorial Aud, Maple Leaf Gardens) and steep, Nordiques banners still hung from the rafters above. Marc Tardif. Peter Stastny. Jimmy Mann (kidding). A beautiful thing.
Oh yeah - there were 9500 people there. For junior hockey. But they weren't supportive hockey fans, no.
Jets, Nordiques, Whalers...now the Penguins? What can you do? "They've all gone, we'll go too" I suppose is the thinking. It can't be Nashville every night, Mr. Bettman. Think long-term. Pittsburgh needs the Penguins. And the NHL needs Pittsburgh.
God, I truly miss the John Ziegler days.
Posted by Ricig at 7:34 AM
19 December 2006
18 December 2006
By now you're probably familiar with the online campaign to write in Vancouver Canucks' defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick to the All-Star game. There's been such a swell of support that Fitzpatrick has approached the leaders and still has somewhat of a shot of making it.
At first I thought it was amusing but didn't pay much attention to it, or really care either way. Then some creative negative advertising swayed me:
What finally made me break down and actually throw a bunch of votes Rory's way was the obnoxious tone delivered by numerous talking heads in saying that voting for Fitzpatrick was a travesty, "...ballot-stuffing..." "...takes honour away from the more deserving players..." blahblah. Yeah, Nick Kypreos should be complaining about the integrity of hockey.
I fail to see much - if any - difference between this and major [...cough...] "legitimate" ballot-stuffing campaigns going on around the league. If you happen to catch any Florida Panthers home telecasts, there is a fairly prominent ad to vote in Jay Bouwmeester (whom I really like, but to be fair, isn't really deserving this year). I'm also aware that they have a heavy promotion at home games with flyers and buttons urging fans to vote for Jay and Oli Jokinen. Even in Buffalo, where at least you could make the convincing argument that there are four or five players deserving of a starting nod, there's a coordinated effort to get out the vote (which is working as of last week's reported tallies: they have Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, and Chris Drury all in the top eight forwards - with write-in Thomas Vanek even at a strong 14th spot, the top goalie in Ryan Miller, and Brian Campbell second on defence).
To me it seems quite simple: either it's all ok, or none of it is. It reeks of arrogance when certain media members speak out and are apparently incensed by fun grass-roots efforts like this. The All-Star game isn't supposed to be what hockey is all about. And that's fine - obviously nobody wants their star player getting injured in an exhibition, but that's just it: the same people who tout that it is an exhibition then will talk about integrity. You think if Owen Nolan ever did this in an actual game he wouldn't be bleeding at some point during his next shift? The game is a joke but we all know it's a joke; it's supposed to be fun. On the flip side, those of you who remember Mike Ramsey's fantastic hipcheck on Wayne Gretzky in an early-80s All-Star game may also recall it being reacted to with shock. I don't recall more than a single handful of actual checks since then.
It's just an All-Star game. It would be one of the coolest stories of the year if journeyman Rory Fitzpatrick gets to line up for the national anthems alongside players like Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton. I know I'll be much more likely to watch if Rory gets in, and I suspect I wouldn't be alone in that regard. Vote Rory and vote often.
Posted by Ricig at 7:03 AM
13 December 2006
Seems to me that not a lot of players skate/stickhandle like this anymore. Not just in terms of how good he was (may have been the best stickhandler and skater of his era) but the way he kept his head up - the long stick. I wonder if he ever got blindsided by a hit in his career.
Aside: I'm not sure there was ever a better place to see an NHL game than The Aud.
Posted by Ricig at 7:20 PM
Lost in history except amongst us hockey nerds, Gil Stein was NHL President for the shortest of times: post-Ziegler and pre-Bettman. 1992-1993. I'm not invoking his name because of his attempt to somehow get himself into the Hall of Fame (which worked, albeit briefly, until investigation uncovered the fact that he got in through shady tactics, not to mention the fact that he didn't really do enough to actually QUALIFY).
Nor will I allow him to be pilloried for forcing through the expansion of the NHL to Florida and Anaheim, strictly based on ownership...for today, at least (I'll attack you for that another day, you bastard).
Instead, he was the architect of the "instigator penalty" that I finally have come around to realizing is a huge blight on the NHL. There's no way for players to police themselves on the ice and thus no repercussions for on-ice transgressions. Take the most recent example, of Alexander Ovechkin hitting Daniel Briere from behind:
I'm not going to rip Ovechkin specifically here, although I did and do think the hit was a cheap shot. Even though it's not ok, it is done by many players - who otherwise may play dirty or not. But in this specific case Paul Gaustad and Adam Mair both got instigator penalties (as well as a shitload of additional PIMs) and game misconducts for essentially sticking up for their teammate Briere.
Ovechkin barely felt a ripple of punishment unless you count the fact that he was thrown out of the game. If he had delivered this hit at the 18 minute mark of the third period, he'd essentially have missed no time. Oh yeah, he was also fined $100.00.
Why is the instigator penalty even there? Presumably to prevent the type of brawls that were such a stain on the league in the 70s and 80s (but that we all reminisce about, of course), and to if not eliminate fighting then to curtail it severely.
Violence and serious injury are up in the NHL over the past decade - yeah, yeah, you can point to specific instances in the past where serious injuries occurred but how much garbage stickwork goes on today compared to say, 20 or 30 years ago? And how much punishment is there for errant sticks that carve up an opponent's face? Four minutes in the box? If players - especially those not wanting to drop the gloves - knew that waving their blades in the air carelessly was going to bring a rain of hellfire upon them in the form of about four or five guys in opposing sweaters he might be a little more careful with the stick.
I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Don Cherry may have been right all along about helmets and face shields actually encouraging worse behaviour on the ice.
I'll admit to being somewhat of a fighting hypocrite - I've never been a fan of fighting, or at least I've always pretended to be anti-fighting. But upon reflection the spontaneous brawl that occurs as a result of honest on-ice emotion is something that few fans don't love - me included. Ironically the instigator penalty is a deterrent to those types of fights but the idiotic staged side-show fights that feature the rarified goon (Laraque, Peters, Ivanans, etc.) can happen at anytime and - in my opinion - have jack shit to do with the game. I can't stand those freak-shows - I heard Barry Melrose discussing fighters the other day and he said "a good fighter never gets mad" - which to me is idiotic (but I still do like Melrose). I disagree with the momentum theory, in that a staged fight gets you back in the game - it might get the crowd back in the game, but I fail to see any evidence whatsoever that a team suddenly "gets it" following a toe-to-toe battle between competing 230-lb knuckledraggers from Wawa, Ontario (no offence to the good folks on Lake Gitche Gumee).
A return to bench-clearing brawls is not what I'm looking for, but sensible punishment and a return to letting players do more honest on-ice policing. By eliminating the instigator penalty you may have more fights, but I'm also betting that you'll ironically eventually have less serious injuries.
Posted by Ricig at 4:19 PM
12 December 2006
Over the past two months I’ve spent a fair time looking at some of the more impressive teams this season, most notably
What could I have been thinking? Actually I can still defend at least some of my reasoning behind the picks…to a point. Some things just haven’t worked out as hoped, and of course some injuries along the way haven’t helped. There’s even still a shot at the playoffs for both – despite their bad starts, Florida is only six points out of eighth and L.A. five points back (of course they each have to climb over numerous teams…) and at least in the East I’m hardly convinced that the Islanders and Capitals will retain their positions for the year.
In my season preview I had called out Olli Jokinen and Nathan Horton as being the emerging leaders of the team, but overall neither has performed up to expectations (although Horton has been hot of late). Jokinen has been ok, but his 13 goals and 29 points are still well behind his 38-goal and 89-point pace of last year, and his -3 is well off his +14 pace of last season. This was also to be Todd Bertuzzi’s big comeback opportunity but a chronic back problem led to surgery and his missing all but seven games so far – at this point he may miss up to another two months, making this season nearly a complete bust. Jay Bouwmeester has also suffered from inconsistency in his fourth year, which I expected to be his break out season. I still believe in Bouwmeester as having the skills and leadership to be a top-five defenceman in the league, and his team-leading 25-plus minutes per game is at least some evidence that the Panthers’ brass believes in him as well.
Back to goaltending, it appears that coach Jacques Martin has finally arrived at the decision to make Alex Auld their guy, as Auld has started the majority of games lately; overall he’s been in 20 while Ed Belfour has been in 16. I’m not sure anyone expects the 41-year old Belfour to be more than a backup at this point so it would seem to be imperative to let Auld establish himself at the number one option.
I still like aspects of the Panthers’ team – for one thing, they seem to have the Buffalo Sabres’ number having defeated them soundly at home last week and giving them troubles all of last season. I may have overestimated the depth on the team, and since the aforementioned top players have all played at least somewhat below expectations, there has been nobody to fill the gap. Unless Bertuzzi comes back early and unexpectedly returns to his former fearsome point-per-game pace, this team looks like they have some tweaking to do in the offseason and are not yet ready for the step up to the playoffs.
So how about the
Yet all is not grim for the Kings – despite their woes, close to the surface there are the makings of a strong young team emerging. General Manager Dean Lombardi essentially made no bones about this being a longer-term project, and is building to compete in two or three years. The Pavol Demitra for Patrick O’Sullivan deal with
As opposed to
TalentedMrRoto.com ICE Experts League - update
It’s been a while since I’ve updated how the experts league is going…and with good reason. I fell from what I thought was a safe ninth place to 12th (last) quite dramatically about three weeks ago and I’ve remained there. In the +/- category I took a huge hit and went from 12 points (first) to six in just a few days. My otherwise-acceptable offense was dormant and with my beyond-horrible goaltending all season (thank you Dan Cloutier), it all added up to a deep cellar showing. It was time to make a big move, and finally made a deal for Roberto Luongo. It cost me, though, as I sent Evgeni Malkin to Ray Flowers at Fantasyhockey.com (with incidentals Vinny Prospal also coming my way and me eagerly unloading Martin Gerber, ending my pitiful expectations of him coming around this season).
As much as I love my controversial first-round pick, Malkin for Luongo was a no-brainer for me, as I had been trying desperately to get results from the likes of Gerber and Auld. Last in wins and goals-against, and second-last in save percentage, I have nowhere to go but up as my goalies now consist of Luongo and Kolzig as starters, with Auld and Garon on my bench. I don’t need four goalies, but finally feel comfortable with my starting two, and I’ll wait a few weeks to see if Garon gets healthy or Auld starts winning before letting the odd man go. Now if I can just get Mark Bell to contribute something during this season (and justify my sixth round selection of him) I might have a shot. At eleventh place.
Posted by Ricig at 3:43 PM
11 December 2006
January 21, 2010 – It’s great to be here at the NHL All-Star festivities in Quebec City, with this year’s successful return of the NHL to this beautiful and unique Canadian city. Taking a look at tonight’s all-star game, we can see an intriguing matchup of young teams, with the Wales Conference being led by superstar Nordiques’ rookie and local fan-favourite John Tavares, league scoring leader Bryan Little of the Thrashers, and the man every Eastern fan outside of Philadelphia loves to hate: Flyers’ center Steve Downie. They’ll face off against a strong Campbell Conference squad led by the remarkable Columbus teammates Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner who together joined the Blue Jackets last year straight out of junior after appearing in their third consecutive Memorial Cup…
We’re looking into the crystal ball at the Penalty Box this week – it’s time for our first Ontario Hockey League report of the season; the OHL being one of the three major junior leagues in Canada and the main feeder of amateur talent to the NHL. The NHL draft doesn’t get nearly as much press in the United States as other drafts but to me is the most fascinating of all the “major” sports’ drafts. Even in this age of unprecedented informational access, there is still intrigue in the NHL draft due to the fact that there are so many sources to draw talent from all over the world, most notably the major junior leagues in Canada (Canadian Hockey League, comprised of three leagues: the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Western Hockey League (WHL) – comprising 55 teams overall), United States Collegiate (NCAA), and top European leagues. Gems can also be found in lower junior leagues in the USA and Canada, Canadian University (CIS), and even directly out of high school, but the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) has produced the most draft picks since the NHL draft was instituted in its present form in 1969, with roughly 51% of all NHL Entry Draft picks being CHL alumni (and 42% of those being from the OHL).
The annual World Junior Championship (which I wrote about last year) starts later this month, on December 26th in Sweden, and features the best players in the world under the age of 20 – some already drafted, some not. The tournament barely makes a ripple in the United States but in other hockey playing nations, especially Canada, it is one of the biggest sporting tournaments of the year. Many of the players on the Team Canada and Team USA squads are made up of players from the CHL – today I’m focusing on the OHL and specifically the scoring race thus far, which features the names in my “Smooth Jimmy Apollo Lock of the Decade Prediction” above.
After nearly 30 games have been played this season, the top of the OHL scoring race is headed by two rookies both tied with an amazing 60 points. The fact that both are on the same team is remarkable – amazing seasons indeed for the two scoring stars and quite a bright future for both of them, as well as their squad – a league powerhouse. The two rookies are Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. Kane and Gagner both joined the Knights for their first junior seasons this year and have been lighting up the league since week one, joining a team that has finished first in their division three years running, and only two years off a Memorial Cup championship (and once again are comfortably in first place). Kane and Gagner – from Buffalo, NY and Oakville, ON respectively - were both expected to contribute to the continuing success of the London Knights but even coach Dale Hunter has to be surprised at just how quickly they’ve arrived at stardom. Both are moving up the list of potential high draftees for the 2007 NHL draft and Gagner, the son of former Minnesota North Stars scoring center Dave Gagner, is currently ranked both number one in the current OHL rankings (as ranked by the official NHL Central Scouting Bureau) and number seven overall.
Here’s a handful of reasons why you – the diehard NHL fan - should care at least a little bit about the OHL’s scoring race: Jonathan Cheechoo, Raffi Torres, Derek Roy, Brad Boyes, Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Richards, Joe Thornton, Marc Savard, Wojtek Wolski – a random list of names who finished in the top ten of OHL scoring within the past ten years, which doesn’t even include other OHL notables like Rick Nash, Nathan Horton, and Dustin Brown – all superstars at the junior level and subsequent high NHL draft choices. This year’s list as of early December is intriguing as behind the pair of young Knights’ phenoms comes the Atlanta Thrashers prospect Bryan Little of the Barrie Colts, who is also currently second in the league in goals with 23 in 28 games. Back at the start of the season I wrote about the Thrashers’ lack of scoring depth and that since the team’s centers were woefully thin at the NHL level they should sign Little for this season. With Bobby Holik, Glen Metropolit, and Steve Rucchin as the top three centers on a thus-far successful team that is outrageously top-heavy in terms of scoring (with Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Slava Kozlov scoring 48% of the team’s goals thus far), they certainly could use a scoring center if they wish to make any noise in the playoffs this year – Little could have been in the mix for NHL rookie of the year instead of CHL player of the year.
By far the most intriguing player comes in at the number four slot in John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals. Those of you outside of Canada need to know this kid, as strictly by his age alone he has already made an historic impact in junior hockey history. Tavares was drafted into the OHL as a 14 year old, after being granted official “Exceptional Player status” by the league (amidst some controversy, being at such a dramatically young age). Yet he proved himself worthy of the “title” - as a 15 year old rookie last year, he managed to finish ninth in the entire league in goals with 45 in 65 games (for a lousy team), and this year he’s leading the entire league in goals with 29 on a mediocre (12-12-3) Generals squad. The scary thing about Tavares is how good he is against players three and four years older than he is…and theoretically how much better he can become. Tavares is not even eligible for the NHL draft until 2009 but just yesterday was offered an invite to the Canadian World Junior selection camp, an incredible honour at any age but he could be just the sixth 16-year old to ever suit up for Team Canada (joining Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, and Sidney Crosby). I’ll be seeing a few Generals games this January on my annual amateur scouting trip to the CHL – we’ll check back in on Tavares then and see how his progress has been and just how good he looks in person.
The defending OHL champion Peterborough Petes field the next two scorers, in centers Daniel Ryder and Steve Downie – Ryder is the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens’ forward Michael Ryder and is a top prospect of the Calgary Flames, drafted 74th overall in 2005. With 30 assists in 27 games and in his last year of junior eligibility, he might be a nice option to center Jarome Iginla in Calgary next year. Downie, a Philadelphia Flyers first round pick in 2005, is in the right NHL system – he’s a high scoring center with a very nasty streak (as evidenced by his 86 penalty minutes, good for third in the OHL) and is no stranger to playing against top talent – en route to last year’s Canadian Junior gold medal he drew the assignment to shadow (or frustrate) top Russian junior Evgeni Malkin and Downie was wildly successful in the 5-0 victory to clinch the gold.
The upcoming World Junior tournament will likely feature most of the players featured here (just yesterday Gagner, Little, and Tavares were invited to the Canadian camp while Ryder was a surprising – and disappointing - omission. Team USA was announced late last night.). The OHL has generally produced the most talent and looking at this year’s top scorers can give a generally good idea of who you might be talking about at the NHL level within four or five years.Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Ricig at 1:05 PM