Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trying to Reason With Rypien

There is a lot to be said about keeping one's emotions in check, especially in the public eye. Unfortunately, Rick Rypien of the Vancouver Canucks was not able to do this in the face of some Minnesota Wild fans and now Rypien will face the wrath of the league's disciplinarians and will sit with a suspension.

There is little argument against Rypien's contact with the fan in the stands, that sort of thing is definitely frowned upon when hundreds, thousands or millions are watching from just about anywhere in the world.

I can't defend Rypien for his actions, because he really shouldn't have done what he had done, but I can understand where he was coming from and try to find his own reasoning for what he did, which I think is only fair.

Obviously, Rypien wanted another piece of Brad Staubitz of the Wild, since they did tussle earlier in the game, to which I gave Staubitz the decision for a better quantity/quality of punches thrown and landed.  I could see how Rypien may have agreed with that and wanted round two.  Unfortunately, when he went to go take care of this, already hot under the collar, the officials were quick to step in and not allow a second bout.  Clearly, this made Rypien far angrier, leading to an ill-advised punch while being restrained by the linesman, which may also cost Rypien from the disciplinarians on Wednesday.

It's not very often that you see Rypien terribly hot under the collar like he was last night.  For the most part, he does come across very sporting with some of the other fighters in the league.  There is a lead-up, there is a good bout and it's left at that... for the most part.  I truly wonder what else happened in the exchange or time in the penalty box for Rypien to snap.  That's something we'll never know.

When Rypien was being escorted the ice, he had to be restrained even further, which really had me thinking that he didn't want this altercation to end, because there was really a grudge to be settled.

Now, what happens on the ice is all fine and dandy for sporting and entertainment purposes and we all have a general idea how emotional this sport can be on a regular basis.  As people, emotions run high for long stretches before a person is able to cool down and that kind of time differs from person to person.  Clearly, the time from stepping off the ice and starting into the tunnel back to the dressing room was not enough time for Rypien to cool down.

Now, as a fan, we all like to have a good time when we go to our favourite team's sporting events.  We get to cheer on our guys, scream and cheer when they score, win a fight, make a great defensive play and/or win the game.  We even get to taunt the opposition, raining down boos (of course, that doesn't just happen to the opposition some nights) and try to get into the opposition's heads with all sorts of taunts, be it gestures or chants.  Fortunately, in 99% of the cases where fans are taunting the participants of the sport, there is either glass, boards or some elevation that stands in the way of the fans and the players, which keeps everyone safe and happy and the game just goes on like any other game on any other night.

When we do chant and taunt the players, be it the opposition for the sake of being the opposition or our own players for having a stinker of a performance, we the fans want to get into their heads.  That is the whole purpose of doing what we do in the bleachers/stands.  If we see the opposition falter or make a mistake, we feel like we've done our jobs to help our team succeed.

Clearly, the guy in the stands that was clapping (unclear if he was yapping as well) towards Rypien, who was walking off the ice, wanted to get in his head and Rypien wanted to rip something a new something.  There's a lot to be said when there is a pane of glass in between the two in question, but when there is only a 3-inch railing and maybe 36 inches separating the two (clearly meaning an open shot), a testosterone-filled pugilist is going to take that shot.

The fan got what he wanted in the end, to get into Rypien's head and I truly believe he was lucky that he wasn't hurt to any sort of degree.  I could only imagine the shit storm that would have come down on the Canucks, Rypien and the league if more damage had been done.

Again, I don't support what Rypien did in this case, but I can at least reason with him a little bit.  As a Canucks fan myself, I will accept any punishment that the NHL hands down without question, be it three games, ten game or more.  That was an unacceptable action and should be punished.  It is not my place to say how severe the punishment should be, it is just my place to sit and take whatever the league hands out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Netcrashing: Are Monster Contracts Bad for the NHL?

Thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk, we now ask ourselves whether or not long-term, front-loaded contracts are bad for the league and my immediate answer is no.

Long-term contracts like these are good for the NHL, because it keeps the league's best players in the league guaranteed for much longer, the player gets his market value at the time and the team works it's way under the salary cap in a fashion that has not yet upset the league or its officials publicly, therefore I see no problem with these deals.

If teams are willing to commit to deals like these, paying players a lot of money, I don't see how this is really going to change the game.  As the years draw on, I don't think we are going to see many reductions in ticket prices, concession costs or beer charges; I believe all of those things are inevitable either every year or every other year, regardless of a team's budget or winning percentage.

In the salary cap era, there are still so many teams dealing with the salary cap ceiling with these long-term contracts on the books and teams are only fitting in depth players because of these deals.  The gain for many of these teams who are signing deals is that they are still able to sign three, four or five players at the league minimum to help out their rosters.  I don't think there are many deals built to fit in another superstar under the cap, unless these stars have decided to take less money for longer, which really isn't considered being front-loaded in a lot of cases.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Duncan Keith, Roberto Luongo, Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Rick DiPietro, Nicklas Backstrom, Vincent Lecavalier, Mike Richards and Johan Franzen all have deals with 10 or more full seasons left to be acknowledged and by star value, I can only see a couple of names that could be mistakes (DiPietro and Franzen).  So, it really isn't like any Tom, Dick or Harry is signing these deals, making life easier for any team or for any manager, it's only those managers that have decided that these guys are "franchise players" and should be part of said franchise for a long time to come... or until their no-trade clause can be lifted and/or disappears.

If the KHL threat is actually real and the NHL doesn't want to actually lose some of their best players, these could be the kind of deals that need to be given that doesn't allow for such players to disappear too quickly.  Sure, Keith, Luongo, DiPietro, Lecavalier and Richards are all North American and are all less of a flight-risk, but can the NHL really bank on that?  Maybe not.  For Kovalchuk, Ovechkin and other Europeans, they could be considered a flight risk on free agency, except for Evgeni Nabokov, whose reputation has been hurt by a few too many playoff disappointments and couldn't garner a deal.  I don't think anyone was too disappointed when he went back home for the money and to finish his career at home.

In the Devils' case with Kovalchuk, they have themselves a player that has proven that he is a natural goal scorer, one of the best in recent memory, for a long time to come and at a cost that looks pretty good, if he can score 50 or more goals in only a few of the next 10 years.  Of course, they have to assume that his skills will diminish around the end of those 10 years and it will only be his hockey smarts and willingness to play more defense that will keep him playing at age 37 or longer.  Of course, the Devils are well within their rights to trade Kovalchuk away at that time or even lend a helping push to try and get him to retire, eliminating that cap hit from the books entirely and legally.  Since when is it illegal to retire?

In all honesty, if I was a GM of an NHL team, I might consider looking at these deals as a solution to a firepower issue, but the counterargument being that you will be stuck (unless some other team wants to get stuck with him via trade, assuming NTCs or NMCs don't come into question) for a very long time.  Players want security and teams want legal flexibility and until one team goes terribly overboard with a long-term deal, I don't think we'll see the end of these.  With only 11 contracts over 10 years remaining today, we're not over run with these huge deals, they just get a lot of press, because they are still taboo to some fragile minds.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Not Doing Enough with the Outdoor Games

First of all, I like to go on the record and say that I am a huge fan of the outdoor games the NHL has put on in recent memory.  From the Heritage Classic to the last Winter Classic in Boston, I think they are all great spectacles and are wonderful to watch. 

With the impending news that there is a 2nd outdoor game being added in Calgary for mid-February to the usual New Year's Day game, which will be in Pittsburgh, I did scratch my head and wonder if they were going to go with the same Winter Classsic moniker for the 2nd game before a couple of tweeps put the idea of possibly rehashing the Heritage Classic name, since it's another game between two Canadian clubs.  Okay, sounds fine, moving on.

Here's my concern, as I try not to follow the paths of so many and complain about the novelty of the game wearing thin because of too much exposure, rather if the NHL is so keen to sell hockey to other markets, then why are the sunbelt teams not getting any exposure in this grand hurrah of hockey?

Selling outdoor hockey to Canada and the Northeast portion of the USA is like selling steak to a Texan... they are going to buy it and wish they had more of it, because it tastes so good.  Why isn't the NHL selling this prime rib steak of a game to the vegetarians in California, Florida, Texas and Arizona by putting their teams in the game?  Of course they'll have to visit a cold city to maximize the Winter effect.  All of the players that play for club teams down in the South know what Winter is actually about, so it won't kill them to play in this game, plus you might be able to attract some new viewership by hockey friends inviting non-hockey friends over in Miami to watch the Panthers play the Maple Leafs at BMO Field in Toronto. 

"You mean, THAT is what hockey is?  That's so cool..."

The NHL is doing a good job of making the 2011 Winter Classic into a banner year, pitting their top two superstars together in a battle outside, which in all fairness needs to be done once and a while.  The fireworks and atmosphere will be great for Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin going head to head, while in Calgary, the Canadian tastebuds will be satisfied with a Heritage Classic between West and East with the Flames and Canadiens going head-to-head. 

I really hope that the NHL uses their current argument to keep hockey in the sunbelt to futher make gains with the outdoor specials they have.  I think that's a super idea.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Curious About Kovalchuk

I was actually thinking of doing a quick blurb on how I thought the Ilya Kovalchuk free agency situation may go down this Summer and I was kind of derailed by the word that a KHL club has come down adding fuel to the fire.  If there is any truth to the reports that SKA St. Petersburg has given Kovalchuk a 3-year/$30 million offer, it really blows the socks off a little bit, doesn't it?

SKA St. Petersburg doesn't have to wait until Kovalchuk's contract is officially up to start throwing numbers at him, unlike the rest of the NHL clubs, which gives them a full month of a head start to tempt the Russian superstar back home for the near future.  Of course, I don't think anyone will be putting any pens to paper until the current deal expires, since that would create a bit of a stir, even after a reported memorandum between the NHL and KHL, in regards to transfer agreements.

In the blurb I had half-prepared, I was going to go on about what kind of value Kovalchuk was going to get from clubs, if he makes it to unrestricted free agency and to his own benefit, I think he can really write his own meal ticket with a new deal.  There have been rumours that Kovalchuk was looking for somewhere near the salary cap maximum and there have also been reports that he'd take significantly less money if he can play for a winner, which does make a lot of sense, since a lot of those Cup favourites are already tightly wound to their budgets and pressing up against the cap ceiling.  I, personally, picture the whole situation more like a sliding scale, where you can lump a lot of the rebuilding teams together and call that a cap maximum for his services, while some of the better teams can have him at a reasonable discount of a long-term cap hit of $6.5 or $7 million.  I don't doubt there is something in between those numbers as well, but that's me just being creative.

This offer to Kovalchuk does open the door to all sorts of conclusions we can all jump to and read about over and over and over again.  If Kovalchuk takes the deal, we should be able to conclude that he went for the money, because he couldn't get the right combination of winning and money in the NHL or he's just plain greedy.  If he stays in the NHL and takes less money, we can turn our noses up on the KHL and all believe that we cheer for the best hockey league in the world.  Sure, there is plenty of in between in there, but I wanted to make sure we all know what we were up against, because what we read doesn't believe in the in-between.

Nevertheless, I could really care less about where Kovalchuk wants to play and I couldn't really be bothered either way if he stays or goes.  The NHL, on the other hand, should be greatly concerned with how Kovalchuk decides his own fate, because once the KHL poaches a former number one overall pick like Kovalchuk, despite being Russian and so forth, what's to say that the KHL doesn't start poaching more top end talent for their league... despite most of them also being Russian?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Netcrashing: Are the Lightning a Good Fit for Yzerman?

I thought this question, posted on, was kind of funny: "Are the Tampa Bay Lightning a good fit for new General Manager Steve Yzerman?" I mean, isn't the whole point of hiring a new GM for your professional sports team to have him take his philosophy and try to apply it to the team he is joining to try and achieve the best results possible? Unfortunately, you can't really ask the question, "is Steve Yzerman a good fit for the Tampa Bay Lightning and all the pieces they have in place?" because Yzerman has only put together all-star teams for international competitions and that is not a very good gauge of putting together an NHL club team.

I can take this from another direction though, Steve Yzerman will have the luxury of a good core group of players and salary cap flexibility, which should allow for Yzerman's vision of a good NHL hockey club rise to the top faster than in an organization having all sorts of cap issues and player troubles.  So in that way, yes, the Lightning are a great fit for Yzerman.

I had already laid out how the Lightning were going to look this Summer going into this new job in my Pool Outlook at the end of April and I thought that it would be a pretty good job for any prospective GM to take over, especially if the new ownership lets you work unfettered. 

Now that Yzerman is the big boss man in Tampa Bay, the name alone should have a lot of respect from the players in place, so any hockey decisions will be placed upon the merits of his reputation for the time being and likely taken as a pretty sound idea... until proven otherwise.  I only say this in regards to the situation with all of the seasoned (and expensive) veterans on the team that may or may not fit into the new manager's vision of the Tampa Bay Lightning going forward.  Vincent Lecavalier has been one of those players rumoured to be on the trading block because of his enormous contract and the 10 years still left on it.  But with the cap situation the way that it is going into the Entry Draft in June, I don't suspect that Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis will be heading anywhere anytime soon.

I like this move by the Lightning ownership group, I think it's sound and we finally get Steve Yzerman back in a central role in the NHL, which just adds a little bit more class to the whole league.

Friday, May 7, 2010

HodgeMail: Goalie Protection

This morning, I see there is a new question for the segment of HodgeMail, likely for tonight's broadcast of the Bruins and Flyers game.  The question to ponder over is "Does the NHL need to provide more protection for goalies, and if so, how?"

I did start this blog post with a bit of rant, but I then shook my head and thought, well, let's answer the question before we go all apeshit on the subject.

So, to answer the question, I say no.  The NHL does not need to provide anymore protection on the goaltenders, because there is plenty of protection written into the rules already, but the discretion of the officials on the ice is what seems to be the issue in question.  It may not be a level of protection, more than a level of enforcement or clarity of the rule to be more black and white to the officials on the ice.

I've always been a fan of the subjectivity of how the game is being played in the playoffs and how it relates to how penalties get called.  In the traditional sense, the smaller, chincy calls of tripping, holding and interference were often pushed aside for both teams in order to maintain a hard-fought game and/or series.  It's hard to say whether or not this is being taken into account for goaltender intereference, but I suppose it can be taken into account some times.  I don't think it's a rule that should be subjective, personally, but I'm also not an NHL official.

Possibly, it is just a matter of saying to the officials that it will not be tolerated at any point in the game, much like high-sticking, boarding and other types of major calls.  That's all I could really hope for, but remembering that we will likely never hear about what the actual result is, we'll just have to take what we can get and continue to yell at our televisions as if they can hear us.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Standing Up For Your Teammates

The Post-Olympic Syndrome of head shots and controversial hits in the game of hockey these days kind of make me sad. On Thursday night, Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks managed to tag Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks with a questionable hit and then was hit himself by Perry's teammate, James Wisniewski, in retaliation of the initial hit.

The way I saw it initially was that Perry got rocked pretty good with no penalty call, the play managed to continue with the puck staying in the Blackhawks defensive zone where the hit took place, and there was a charging call of a hit laid down to retaliate.

First of all, I don't think Wisniewski is in the wrong for wanting to take care of business, helping to police the situation on the ice, especially if the officials are not going to do it themselves. In a real time situation on the ice, I would have to imagine that the play looked pretty dirty from every angle conceivable, except for maybe the angles that the officials had on the play.

Without any justification from the officials, the fans and media are left to guess and speculate as to what happened on the ice there. I think this is one of the bigger issues at hand for the NHL, but really, everyone loves to have their guess and criticize based on that guess, that it really doesn't seem to be much of an issue in the end.

Sorry, I veered off a little bit there. A lot of the fights that happen after "clean hits" are easy to judge when we have the ability to replay it over and over again, while a lot of the players don't have that luxury and with the speed of the game the way it is, I would have to think that some of these players have to guess as to whether or not to stand up for their fallen teammates. This is really the reason why I'm okay with fights after clean hits, because I'm not sure if I'm able to judge the play when I'm concentrating on the play itself on the ice. So, saying that hits in real time on the ice are likely incredibly hard to judge and when a guy like Wisniewski sees Perry on the ice after a questionable hit, we probably shouldn't be surprised when he decides to hunt down Seabrook, either from comments from the bench or his own justification.

Now, the justification for the hit itself is very questionable, which leads to all sorts of different questions that are not likely asked of the players involved. My first question to Wisniewski would be something along the lines of "does the instigator penalty run through your mind when charging after Seabrook like you did?"

If Wisniewski was to have dropped his gloves and started to pummel Seabrook for his hit, he would have received a 2-minute minor for instigating, 5 minutes for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Instead, he received a 2-minute minor for charging, which was the correct call on the play and then was credited with a fight with Duncan Keith, without any misconduct penalty. Wisniewski also had to step-up and defend himself again near the end of the game, but at least he was around to do so, which he may not have had the option to do, which would have been at the discretion of the referees on the ice.

In some recent quotes, which have been echoed many times since the integration of the instigator rule in hockey, it's being blamed for some of these controversial incidents that involve headshots these days. I honestly believe that this is another one of those incidents, which may have been avoided if the instigator rule was dropped. A lot of the headhunting, like what Seabrook (in my opinion) was doing to Perry would have been avoided if there was players that could police themselves and patrol the ice on a regular basis. Furthermore, I would think that if Wisniewski could have solved the matter by dropping the gloves and starting to pummel Seabrook without fear of an extra 10-minute misconduct (or possibly a game misconduct), we wouldn't have seen the decision to charge at Seabrook, thus causing a high hit.

I don't know how much more you can say about this, its really becoming quite tiresome. I couldn't honestly say if this new headshot rule is going to solve anything, because there is still going to be a lot of players taking exception to all sorts of different hits out there, but in my mind, I'll side with the players that are defending their guys and standing up for them.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

The Blind Side

Ahhh yes, the head shot debate rages on in all of its glorious forms today. All thanks to Matt Cooke and his crushing blow on Marc Savard on the weekend, which has now left Savard's season in doubt. Now, I've attached the video below to try and have a review of what actually happened, in order to encapsulate the whole issue.

PhotobucketIt's a pretty brutal looking video, without a doubt, but I would like to go back on my look at how suspensions are governed to also kick start the point.

The first point, which I believe is a very important jumping off point, is the player in question a first time or repeat offender? This is important, from how I read how suspensions are levied is that a player in question will get less benefit of the doubt and a more severe penalty for his action, solely on the basis that he's been there before. In Cooke's case, according to his player bio here, he's been suspended three times in the past. Okay, so this doesn't look good on him to start and it's taken into account.

Secondly, the circumstance of the hockey play beforehand. There was nothing to suggest that this hit was in relation to another clean check or payback for another incident in the game, it was in a tight, competitive one-goal hockey game with under six minutes to go in the game, where everyone should still be playing hard and to win.

Next, the incident's relation to an actual hockey play. In this case, I believe its safe to deem this play as finishing an open-ice check on a player that has gotten rid of the puck by passing or shooting. In this case, there is very little time in between Savard letting go of the puck and Cooke hitting him, so it can't be deemed a 'late hit' and these sort of hits happen all the time, so it's definitely not a rare hockey play that hasn't been governed on much before.

The incident in question comes into play next, as we try to look at what happened. As you can see from the first picture, Savard has just let go of the puck and Cooke is about to hit him in the open-ice. Cooke's arm is down and his shoulder is poised ready for a hit not unlike a normal one. The extenuating circumstance of this hit from Savard's standpoint is that he is not expecting the body contact to come, because Cooke was not in his field of vision when taking the shot, but in the open ice, players are going to come from all 360 degrees and when a player is backing himself up with all that ice surrounding him, he cannot be 100% sure as to what is coming from all 360 degrees.

PhotobucketFor argument's sake, Cooke is listed at 5'11" and Savard is 5'10" standing up, but in taking the shot from Cooke, his head would have been lower, which I think is a valid point in the argument. If Savard's head is down around the height of Cooke's shoulder, then it's hard to govern at break-neck speeds (sorry for the terminology) where a player is going to make contact with a player in a split second. Cooke committed to the hit once the puck was going into the direction of Savard, which is legal from the interference standpoint, and only hit Savard after he had possession of the puck, which is still legal. Cooke skated through Savard without lifting his elbow, so contact wasn't make with the joint in his arm with Savard's head intentionally and the play was deemed to be a good check on the ice, no penalty was called.

The fifth and final point, which will carry a good portion of the weight, amplified by point number one, is the result of the play in question, which in this case is Marc Savard's likely severe concussion. This will likely have the biggest impact on the decision of Cooke's supplementary discipline, because he rocked Savard, for a lack of a better term. In the three middle points, there really wasn't enough there to warrant a suspension, but in the case of a major head injury, some extra consideration is going to be laid down in this decision.

Combining points number one and five, I can easily say that four games will come down on Matt Cooke and that's fair from the perspective on he's been here before and it was a huge hit. Without a doubt though, Marc Savard took his safety for granted coming over the blueline on a rush, skating backwards and not acknowledging that Cooke, who is a very physical player, is on the ice.

Without question, its a horrible thing when a player becomes injured for a substantial length of time, but at what point does the game decides to change itself vastly to curb long-term injuries? If this hit was deemed legal by the letter of the law on the ice and if it was a player with no priors on his record hitting Savard, there would be a good chance that this play would have gone unpunished and the debate would centre around whether or not these open-ice hits should be legal, from a player who is or isn't expecting it at all.

It may not be "right" to blame Marc Savard for allowing himself to be blindsided, but in this case, awareness is half the battle. It's a very fast game and mistakes are going to be made. Some result in the player making the mistake getting hurt and others in a player hurting another with a mistake in judgment. In a physical sport, the line of questioning has to start from a better point than singling out a certain incident and making it right. If you try and fix one incident from the standpoint that its the know-all and end-all of incidents, you will find that you are wrong and you've likely affected the rest of the game in some way, which was likely not your intention in the first place.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Trade Deadline Day 2010

I am up ridiculously early today, just in anticipation of an interesting NHL Trade Deadline Day. Not only for the league, but I have this strange feeling that the Canucks will be a part of the whole scheme, especially after a few of these years where there has been some posturing for future moves.

Nevertheless, I love the deadline for all the interesting news and transactions that set-up the stretch run of the regular season up and we can really start separating the teams who want to be in and figure they're out (the buyers and sellers), making predictions at how the rest of the season will come to pass and then get ourselves ready (especially if our team is in the playoffs) for a long playoff run into June.

Being a guy who runs hockey pools for his friends & family, I like to be in the middle of all the news, so I enjoy keeping up with all the deals and posting them on the hockey pool blog for all to see. I especially like all the trades that have some sort of effect on my pools, just for the sake of conversation and a different angle to approach these deals with. This year, the pools have gotten a bit tighter, in terms of competitiveness, so it will be interesting to see if any of these deals are to play a role in the final results for the money. I have a stake for some money in one of my pools, so I'm really interested again this year.

The television isn't quite on yet, I still have some time to kill before the TradeCentre coverage on TSN begins. That has proven to be the better of the two major sports network shows, I don't find Sportsnet to be all that thorough with their stuff, but they do like to play the rumours a whole lot more, which is also interesting.

Speaking of rumours... I love them. They are the best part of the lead up to Deadline Day, because it gets people talking about trades and transactions, not to mention some of the other bits of nitty-gritty that keeps people interested in hockey. I don't expect any of these rumours to be 100% true, some of them I believe are 0% true, but at least it gets people talking. Granted, getting people to start talking about trades in hockey, does get to be somewhat counter-productive, since most people are just spouting off and seem to lack one side (a lot of times both sides) of thinking when it comes to making up trades, but I suppose I gotta let that slide for the most part.

Twitter has now been a huge part of being an informed hockey fan these days, I've found. It's an important tool for a lot of news, especially since some of the NHL's best writers and journalists are on there now and are posting quite regularly. Of course, some of the league's worst are also on there, but I suppose its up to you to determine which is the best and which is the worst, because that seems to boil down to personal opinion. I have some favourites that I like to depend on for news, no matter what their general opinion of the game actually is and then I have a good number of people I follow for interesting insight into the game, especially from the perspective of being a fan of another team in the league.

If hockey was a religion, the deadline would have to be a holiday that should be observed by the hockey faithful. It should be a time where friends gather around and speak of the divine game and how the different churches change their philosophies in their hunt for the holy grail. I'm mostly kidding about the religious stuff, what a load... but really, for us hockey fanatics, I think there are quite a few that would prefer to have today off to be right in the middle of it all than to be working and find out about it during the day, from friends via text or catch-up when you get home. I've been fortunate to be able to cover the deadline for the most part on my blog without too much trouble in recent years. This year being no exception, as I can spend 100% of my day working on it, hoping that someone might look at my little bits of effort and think, "hey, I can pay this guy to take his good work and put it on my ________ (fill in the blank) and make money." That'd be nice.

Well, here's to hoping that your team (or my team) pleases us with their decisions to trade, not to trade or trade away some assets in the strategy for winning somewhere along the line, which eventually leads to a Stanley Cup. With only one Cup and 30 teams in the league, its always going to be difficult to reach the end goal, but this is a good time to renew hope or settle in for an early summer. The latter only being a difficult subject if your team does really poorly at the Entry Draft or the Free Agent Frenzy.

I wish everyone luck with their teams, except for maybe the Flames... let the trading commence!

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Can Live Without Jagr

There are quite a few storylines to choose from in Vancouver during these Winter Olympics, especially in the hockey tournament. The rivalries, the expectations and of course, the return of admired European players to the North American stage. I think the story that kind of irks me the most is Jaromir Jagr's, as he is doing a fine job for the Czech Republic, having a pair of goals and an assist in the first two games of the tournament. With three points in two games, there is a definite cry for his return to the NHL, which frankly, I could live without.

I have a lot of respect for the numbers that Jagr has put up in his NHL career (1,599 points in 1,273 games), those are fantastic, but without some high-flying talent playing alongside him, he's practically useless on a team that wants to win a championship and that's where a good portion of my disdain comes from when it comes to Jagr.

His work ethic on the ice is really what separates him from a lot of players that I respect and love to watch on a nightly basis. Now that the NHL is spoiled with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the floating style of Jagr just seems so weak to watch and if he's going to try and win a Stanley Cup upon his return, teams are going to want a level of effort that is up there with some of the younger players that are making names for themselves now. There is no question that Jagr still has good hands and an accurate shot, his goal against Latvia on Friday night was a beauty over the shoulder goal, but is that going to be enough, especially if an NHL team doesn't have enough room to give him a top-flight centre.

If Jagr finds a team that doesn't have the top-flight centre he needs, but gets a boatload of money, how long will it be before he just floats on his skill again and the complaints about the money spent to points scored ratio get to be too much? I'm sure there are a few NHL clubs that would love to experiment with Jagr on their team, he's certainly shown a burning desire for the game, but as Washington and New York had found, the honeymoons have not lasted terribly long.

I'm sure my favourite team, the Canucks, won't be in any sort of sweepstakes for Jagr, so I really shouldn't have much for concerns about his return, but with the price tag he would have around his neck, even at age 38, he would be changing the face of the game, in terms of how he'll fit in this already-tightly packed salary cap era that we're watching.

Without a doubt, Jagr will be a curiosity for all of us to behold, but I really do feel like he's going to be a bigger headache to the NHL then he's going to be a benefit to the game. I hope he takes his star power back to Russia and keeps it there. They need it more than we do.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Olympic Hockey Tournament

Now that the Olympics are underway, it's hard to be enthralled with the hockey tournament, especially being a Canadian, hoping that the boys in red can recapture the gold medal after their disappointment in Turin four years ago. I'm going to do my best to watch every minute of every game, like most of us will and why not, this tournament only has the best players in the world, arguably... but is it the best tournament in the world? No, I don't think it is.

The gold medal in Olympic hockey is without a doubt important, but as a tournament for the best players in the world to play in, I don't think it lives up to the bill. When there is supposedly so much on the line, like the gold medal, I would really like to think it should be a harder tournament to play in and win for these guys. There is plenty of pride between all the players and teams that they are going to play hard for the small schedule that they have, but to me, there is a reason why you see a lot of North American players say that when they were growing up, they dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup. They only seem to throw in the gold medal into the conversation in Olympic years, which says to me, "promos." The Stanley Cup playoffs is a far more hardcore tournament than the Olympics, that really tests the mettle of players and the best players do succeed in the end.

But by no means do I have the Stanley Cup playoffs as my favourite tournament in the world. No, my favourite tournament in the world has to be the Under-20's, the World Juniors. The annual showcase of up & coming talent from the major hockey nations, that takes place after Christmas and through the New Year celebrations. It has the best developing players, in a development tournament, which gives the world and the pros a bunch of names to remember for years to come. There is just as much pride in the World Juniors in Canada, if not more, than the Olympics and I think the 2-week format for this tournament is a bit more grueling for these players, which is appropriate for both their age and for their development.

Nevertheless, I still like the Olympics, but I don't think you can convince me to make it my favourite tournament in the world.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's No Goal...

A night doesn't seem to go by in the NHL anymore, where we can have a slate of games and have zero controversy. It's pretty crazy, if you ask me. On Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals appeared to have scored on a broken play, which resulted in a massive pile-up in front of Carey Price and the Montreal crease. The signal was initially called a goal, but after a consultation with all of the officials, the goal was called back and no penalty was assessed on the play, leading to the cries for some justification as to why the goal was called back.

Now, my initial thought was tweeted as soon as the goal was scored, saying "How was that legal," and thankfully, I thought, it wasn't counted in the end. I honestly thought it was the right call to wave off, just for general sake that Carey Price had no way of making a play for the puck after the initial save, regardless of whether or not Ovechkin was the one who hit him or if he pushed Hal Gill in. Upon further looks at the YouTube clip above, I still stand by that and the rules do back that up, in a roundabout way.

Thanks to Kyle R. on Twitter for having the rule up on his feed this morning to help back-up the referee's decision.

Rule 69.1, within the first paragraph reads:

Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease.

See how the second point was italicized? That's because it's important to the argument.

After the puck had been initially stopped by Carey Price, the puck was loose in front of the net and Hal Gill was about to play the puck. Alex Ovechkin took notice of Gill's intent to play the puck and chose to play the body instead of the puck, which is fair game. Unfortunately, the contact initiated by Ovechkin, sent Gill into Price, making contact with the goalkeeper and when the puck went with the collision, it would then be deemed unstoppable.

Frankly, I don't see how there could be much of an argument, because that's pretty straight-forward and kudos to the officials for getting the call right.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Another Huge Hit in Philly

Well, the NHL comes right back at the debate machine with yet another questionable hit, this time Flyers forward, Jeff Carter destroys Anssi Salmela of the Devils.

Well, instead of trying to describe the hit myself, I thought I would include the YouTube clip for you below, just to get a quick refresher in. It's a pretty big hit... consider that your warning.

The first thought that crept into my head was, "oh man, that's brutal!" It truly is quite brutal and it doesn't help that Salmela's face hit the ice unopposed, which sucks the most and likely did the most damage, bodily harm wise. Salmela has been reported to have a fractured nose and has lost some teeth, on top of what is suspected to be a concussion.

Now, I'm not going to be surprised if the NHL comes down on this hit with some authority, which is likely going to be a game or two at best. With video that backs up the shoulder on shoulder contact, there was very little malicious intent to really hurt him, like you would consider a charge or an elbow to the head, but it is going to raise the discussion of blindside hit again, much like Mike Richards' hit on David Booth earlier this season.

In the Richards case, I would contend, much like the NHL probably did in not suspending him, that Richards was finishing his check on a player that had just given up the puck. Frankly, there isn't anything wrong with that, but the disaster strikes when Booth gets caught admiring the pass, not keeping himself aware of defenders coming across the blueline.

In this Carter case, it does appear that Richards loses Salmela defensively and Carter realizes that and goes down to assist his teammate in containing the shooter, which is helpful if a rebound was to have happened. In this case, Salmela actually puts the puck past Michael Leighton, the goal counts and Salmela, not anticipating help for Richards, who is having to let him go, obviously lowers his guard and Carter gets him. This does look to me like a hockey play, with shoulder on shoulder contact, so its hard to punish on that merit.

What does bring this whole thing back into question is the idea of the blindside hit on an unsuspecting player. Does this come into effect here? Is this something the NHL has taken note of and wanted to make illegal through suspensions? Well, this is really one point, because if the NHL has taken note, it would come into effect. I don't think it has, if we were to go back to my checklist on assessing discipline on a controversial play, I think the biggest one on the list is whether or not this is a hockey play, which I believe it is.

The only points left on my checklist that would have any merit going forward would be #1 (first or repeat offender) and #5, (injury). For Carter, this would be his first suspension, if one was to be levied. Usually, there is a grace on a first time, so that saves him, almost to the point of a trump card. The injury to Salmela does seem to be fairly severe, but listening to the broadcast team on Versus during the third period of the game, Salmela was said to be up and walking around and should be okay. Of course, the word concussion will mean that he's on the shelf for at least a week, which puts him through the Olympics.

Unless the NHL is going to take a stand on blindside hits, Carter will escape this without punishment, in my opinion.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Let's Talk Kovalchuk, Shall We?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is Sutter Trying to Get Fired?

I'm really beginning to wonder if Darryl Sutter even wants his job as Flames GM anymore. This isn't a passing thought either. He's been trying to answer to his own ideals, but seems to end up bowing down to the fans' voice, which the conflict between the two is hardly constructive in a town begging to be entertained. Between the style of play, the dealing with the players and now the subsequent trades, I'm not sure if he's lost his nut or what here.

Around the time that Darryl hired his brother Brent to be the head coach of the team, there was somewhat of an ideal laid out that between the two brothers, they would re-institute the defensive play system, which led them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, despite the city's cries for more offense and a more exciting game to watch.

First things first: it's ridiculous to me to cry about a boring game when my favourite team is winning and comes one goal or one "missed call" away from winning the big prize at the end of the long & winding tunnel. Sadly, I blame this on the fans not wanting to learn the game and rather just desire to be entertained like they are when they watch their terrible reality TV shows and listen to their terrible pop music. There is a general lack of appreciation for the game of hockey by the general masses, but this is definitely not unique to Calgary. As I've learned on Twitter over the past calendar year, every team has fans that don't appreciate the game and its hard to deal with sometimes, you know?

So, saying that, Sutter ends up bowing down to the masses that buy the tickets and changes up the game, with good regular season results, but nowhere near the height of their Cup run. It's not hard to realize why, in my opinion. Sutter can't judge a player without thinking about the defensive style of play that he's come to know and cherish and trying to build a offensive team with some more defensively sound players isn't all that easy. I honestly believe he knew that going into this change of heart, which is why he stepped away from the bench and went up to the press box as full-time General Manager, because he didn't know how to coach the system that would entertain the Saddledome. Poor Jim Playfair was the guy who got held accountable for the switch in styles, as management cranked the dial in the opposite direction to what won them so many games.

Sure, Jarome Iginla enjoyed some pretty good scoring regular seasons in the change of style, but that couldn't be translated into the same game in the playoffs where teams buckled down and got the job done. Dion Phaneuf also enjoyed the offensive system, getting the okay to bomb pucks at the net, because that was what he was good at, next to knocking opposing players into next week.

So, when the fans and media called for Playfair's head, Sutter decided to take the offensive knob and put it back a couple notches with the hiring of Mike Keenan. A little bit more defense, but the Flames will still try to put some pucks in the net. Sutter kept bringing in players that would suit the system, but he wasn't able to stray too far from his own ideals and when he did, a la Kristian Huselius, there was a lot of confusion as to what his role was with the team. When everyone started to get confused, it really didn't look good on Darryl, Keenan or anyone on the team. Needless to say, when Huselius put points up on the board on a good night, everyone would forget why they were confused until he was a minus-3 a few nights later.

Then comes the Olli Jokinen saga. Of course, this had to be the make-or-break card that Darryl had to play to try and turn things around. Now, in all fairness, I truly believe that the fans of the Flames are somewhat scared of Darryl Sutter or just have him on too high of a pedestal, because of 2004's run. Darryl really wanted Jokinen for years and when Jokinen was made available to him from Phoenix, of course he was going to jump at the chance to acquire him. This was going to be it... the Flames are on their way to the promising land.

Please enter your foghorn sound here.

From what I read around the Jokinen deal, the Flames fans were excited to see a new number one centre for Iginla arrive and everything was okay, because Darryl really wanted him and "if he wanted him, so did we." Jokinen ended up scoring some goals and putting up some points, but the Flames didn't win many games, ending up losing the division title to the Canucks and then flopping out of the first round of the playoffs again. It looked so bad, that Keenan lost the job in Calgary and there was a call for Darryl to come down from the press box and coach again.

"Wait, what?" I know I heard on several occasions that some Flames fans wanted Darryl to come back down and coach again, meaning that the Flames would go back to playing boring old Sutter hockey. That blew me away to say the least. It's amazing what people forget when they just want their team to win. The 1-0 wins, the lack of goals, shots and chances. Sure the defense is fine and Kiprusoff is putting up some great numbers, but it's boring. How long would it have been before that cry emerged again?

Out of the Eastern Conference there was a little bit of scuttlebutt that brother Brent was getting homesick and that he would prefer to go home to the ranch and work his WHL team, the Red Deer Rebels. "But wait, if Brent is getting homesick, why doesn't he just come and coach the Flames? Then we'd have two Sutters and then we can't lose!" The mood lightens a bit when Brent and the Devils come to terms with an amicable split and then the coaching decision in Calgary becomes one of the most obvious rumours and worst-kept secrets in the past few years.

Sadly, the tale hasn't gotten any better. A rocking start again, a fresh defensive system, more accountability to the players in post-game interviews and it just went sour. All of this effort to rebuild the old system is seemingly going to waste. The team currently has lost 10 of their last 11 games, Olli Jokinen's numbers are not those of a number one centre with a cap hit over $5 million and no one seems particularly happy with being on the team full-stop. It couldn't be a coincidence that the private locker room blowout with Dion Phaneuf had much to do with the start of the slide down the Northwest Division standings, could it? Of course, it still remains speculative that it happened, but the Sutter-denial system usually means its Opposite Day in Calgary.

Now, after all these seasons, coaches, players, systems and nothing to show for it... how would you feel if your team wasn't performing like the team that they should be on paper? I'd be pretty pissed off too and likely pretty fed up. It's crazy to think of any manager nowadays putting dynamite in the kitty's ears and blowing the whole kit & kaboodle up (in the same vein as Itchy & Scratchy), but it has begun.

I can just picture Darryl Sutter on the side of the road looking holding a sign that reads, "Kovalchuk or Bust!" Rumours are abound about Sutter landing the top prize at the trade deadline and it doesn't seem to be out of the question that he is going for the Thrashers sniper. It also seems likely, which is the general idea of this blog post, that he is trying to bust his way out of the job.

Look at these two deals he's made. He's shipped Dion, which is a good thing for the room, and brought in four players from Toronto. Sure, you can bring in two of the four top scorers on a team... but is that really what you want from a team that is last in the Eastern Conference? Next, he finally gets around to dealing Olli Jokinen away. Fantastic! He was a big lump on the ice that wasn't helping anyone. But in return, Sutter managed to get a selfish player in Ales Kotalik and another underachiever in Christopher Higgins.

Now, there is a good chance that Sutter has been chatting with Don Waddell in Atlanta on what the best way to go about landing Ilya Kovalchuk would be, but if flipping Kotalik in this deal is what's going to do it, then the Thrashers organization better have a second mental assessment on Waddell to see if they want him going working for the team going forward.

I truly think that Sutter is making these deals in spite of everything that he knows to be true about winning in the NHL. He's gotta be fed up with the team, the city, the fans and the media, which has made his life a living hell since he raised the bar of expectations after his Cup Finals appearance six years ago. Even if he can land Kovalchuk, that will be his last straw... I have to believe that. How much longer can he go?

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who Doesn't Love HDIC?

PhotobucketAs if Hockey Day In Canada isn't the best thing to happen in Canada since Hockey Night In Canada.

I know, it really isn't a far stretch from one to the other, but there is so much more meaning when you talk about an entire day devoted to the game of hockey and then have a broadcast of three games with all six Canadian teams.

The CBC doesn't need me to say it again, but this is my soapbox, so I'll do so, but the Hockey Day In Canada broadcast really shows us all how the game of hockey isn't just a sport, but its a real community from coast to coast, as in so many cases, the game has had some sort of impact on all Canadians.

Big fans, players, coaches and families of the game can feel proud to be Canadian on a day like today, because the game, the sportsmanship and the competition has really shaped our psyche and moulded our nation into what it is today.

I really enjoy watching the coverage, the stories and especially the games... or as much as I can pack in to the day. Today, I'll watch as much as I can, but I know I'll have to pull away for a little while... but the doubleheader tonight is definitely on my agenda.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fistric's Fine or... How I Learned to Love the NHL System of Discipline

Well, this decision is going to bring some real debate, as the NHL has decided to fine Mark Fistric $2,500 for taking the helmet off of Eric Nystrom and having it make contact with Nystrom's head in the fight.

I thought that the match penalty that was assessed to Fistric was a good call on the ice, the helmet was either held onto or caught by the hand of Fistric as he motioned towards Nystrom and in real-time, I'm sure it looked as bad as it does in the replays.

Personally, I thought Fistric was going to get suspended for this and rightfully so. The way I saw it was when Fistric had the helmet in his possession, he actually made more of a clubbing motion to use the helmet as a weapon, instead of throwing a jab or an uppercut, which would have made the contact seem a little more incidental.

Over time, I, much like a lot of media outlets and other fans, have been gathering criteria, which is not official, by any means, on how the NHL (and other large competitive hockey leagues) likes to dole out their disciplinary actions.
  1. First-time versus repeat offender
  2. Circumstance of the hockey play beforehand
  3. Relation to a hockey play
  4. The offense itself
  5. Result of the controversial action (injury)
Those are the five that immediately come to mind and really stick out to me and I would be eager to compare these five with other major suspension or disciplinary handouts that have previously happened. Of course, this is a very slippery and sliding scale to work with, because it all comes down to personal judgment and it's not us fans to decide what punishment a player is to receive. All the fans can do is try and reason why... or in most cases complain about what actually transpired.

So, saying that... I personally expected Fistric to be suspended. Despite his reputation of not being a generally dirty player, the fight happened after a clean hit, a fight is considered to be a hockey play of sorts and there was no injury relating to the incident itself. That's four of the five right there, which would say to me that a fine is okay, but the incident of swinging a helmet, with what looked to me to be an intentional swing, does trump the other four points, because of the nature of the action. Fistric, although it's only one swing, still seemed to have used the helmet as a weapon to get an advantage in the fight. I would have at least upheld the minimum automatic suspension in this case, because I believe there was intent there, but the video evidence does not do the grip of the helmet any justice, so the four other points really come into play.

I honestly believe that Colin Campbell does do a good job of keeping his integrity of the players, being a former player himself and it isn't going to change until the NHLPA or just a large group of players within the league say otherwise. I can't honestly say that I know that Campbell does a good job of drawing up memos that are sent to teams when he tries to justify his disciplinary actions, because they certainly are not public if they exist, but if there was one thing that I wish for on a regular basis is a public justification release.

Of course, if we had news releases justifying why players, coaches & management received fines or suspensions, the public would just have more cannon fodder to play with and debate about. Although most of the time, there isn't much for debate, rather just plain name-calling.

What I would like to see, now that judgment has passed from the Head Office of the NHL, is what players now have to say about it or even former players who are in the media on a regular basis. Only then do I have more of an understanding of what transpired, because players (both past and present) have been a part of the culture and should have some of the best opinions on the matter.

But until there are changes with the major hockey leagues of North America (and maybe to a lesser extent, Europe), we will battle on with what comes down the pipe. There doesn't seem to be any shortage of instances to talk about.

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Somewhat of a Mission Statement

I really love the internet for hockey purposes, I think its just the greatest tool in the world. You have the flexibility of people in every place where hockey in prominent and they do very well to keep everyone updated, if they so choose, of what's going on in their market, city or broad area (state, province or country).

I like to look at a lot of places for just generalized hockey news, just to collect for my Hockey Pool Domain blog, which is meant to service the people who are taking part in my hockey pools, combing out some of the usual information you might see in a regular news blog. Why should my poolies have to worry about players that don't necessarily impact their fantasy teams, which they may or may not have invested money in?

I also really like to collect rumours from the rumour mill, a few different websites that collect thoughts and quotes from "contacts" or "sources" around the league. Working the Rumour Mill takes some of the more complete rumours that I've seen around the blogosphere and turn them into a bit more of a discussion. It does really frustrate me when people assume that these rumours are meant to be the "sure thing" and they get all pissed off when they don't happen. Who cares, frankly? I like the idea of discussing the possibility that a certain player might be scouted by a certain team and then possibly building something around it. It's fun and it fills the bulk of the time that there isn't a game being played.

The invention of Twitter has been a wonderful tool as well, especially for short bursts of information and links to broader bits of hockey information, which is useful, fantastical or downright absurd. It's fun though. From Twitter, I like to gauge the reactions of controversial plays, trades and quotes and get a feeling of what the hockey world thinks. Granted, its a shaded microcosm of what the "whole" hockey world thinks, but it can give a rough idea. My Twitter feed does a lot more work surrounding the Canucks, but that's because I'm a huge Canucks fan. Let's face it though, you can't talk about one team the whole time or else you're just going to become stale and repetitive. So, I like to talk about other teams, taking the vantage point of the objective hockey fan... hell, I'll even respect the Flames and Oilers a little bit from time to time. It happens.

Overall, my goal with this blog site is to be a bit more of an objective hockey fan, just throwing thoughts and ideas out into the blogosphere, just for the sake of using more than 140 characters to do so. I do want to get some good hockey discussion going on this site, maybe even try to host a couple live blogs with friends, just so we can debate some more hockey in its more general form.

I don't want to be a hater, I just want to be a well-informed and well-rounded fan. Anyone care to join me?

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