Friday, December 5, 2008

Who does the NHLPA protect?

Will there ever be a day when this association has 2 sides to it. The PA becoming 3D is simply too much to dream about.

This whole Sean Avery thing has me wondering again who the NHLPA represents. As a dues paying member Avery is entitled to the union’s support and legal representation. They can attack the NHL even if they look foolish defending someone whose actions are repeatedly indefensible. They are required to do it. But how hard to they have to fight? They didn’t fight that hard to help Alexi Yashin when he tried to get out of a signed contract. Again in that case they are required to represent him, but to what extent?

This case is not much different. Few if any players support their union’s use of time, funds and efforts to fight for the rights of a player who has no problem in denigrating the rights and reputation of other association members. Is the NHLPA going to file suit against Avery on behalf of Dion Phaneuf for the public remarks made by Avery? I don’t think so. Does Phaneuf not have rights to a defense even if he requires defending from another member of the union? Do you really think Glenn Healy and the NHLPA lawyers really want to try and find a way to make this sound different than what it is? I am sure they are embarrassed to even be there arguing the case.

The greatest risk to an NHL player’s career is not the actions of the big bad league or the owners. The greatest risk to a player’s career is the actions of another player. Accidents happen but clearly there are certain players who are extremely dangerous to the health of others on skates. The NHL has supplementary discipline to deal with those people but is that enough?

For the repeat offenders who have clearly not been convinced by supplementary discipline to change the way they play, why is there no player-based disciplinary board at the NHLPA to internally sanction players who other players believe put their careers at risk?

Why is it the NHLPA lawyers are at the ready to grieve a dispute over a cloudy waiver issue, but one player getting his 7th suspension for almost killing another is not even a conversation?

Players are now involved in equipment, the rules, off site games, promotions, outdoor games and a whole host of other things. But they still can’t seem to understand that self discipline of its own membership for their actions on the ice might be the greatest single service they can do to help prolong the career of every NHL player. Is that not the union’s primary job? To protect the career of each paying member with passionate advocacy?

I just can’t figure it out. That’s now #18,996,087,438,227,877 on my list of stuff I can’t figure out.

See you at the rink.

Avery Who?

First my apologies. It has been some time since my last post. I have had some personal things going on and just have not had the time or the desire to do it. Again my apologies.

This is something that simply can’t be passed up though. The Sean Avery affair. Just too delicious, too “Entertainment Tonight”.

First the good. People who never talk about hockey or care about hockey are talking about this. Broadcast outlets which rarely have a hockey story like CNN have covered this. Even more amazing the BBC ran a story about it. Great! Or is it?

Now the bad. Well just about everything. This guy is simply a train wreck. A few teams will always want him because he is a very good player but the list is going to start dwindling because he comes with so much baggage and has found a way to embarrass everyone who believes in him and pays him or plays with him.

The commissioners 6 game suspension is neither too much or too little as far as I am concerned. The number of games will be debated by everyone. He gets 6 games for bad language and poor taste while Randy Jones from Philly got 3 games for almost killing Patrice Bergeron from Boston last year? You can’t compare apples and oranges and this is a completely different fruit so I am not going to even bother considering if Avery’s suspension is too much or too little. I am anxiously waiting to see what the Dallas Stars do and what the NHLPA does after that.

Here is the statement from the NHLPA following the announcement of the suspension.


TORONTO (December 5, 2008):
NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly’s statement regarding the suspension of Sean Avery for six regular season games: “While the NHLPA does not condone Sean’s comments, which were clearly inappropriate, the discipline imposed by the Commissioner is unprecedented both in its severity, as well as the process by which it was handed down. We have also seen signals from the Dallas Stars that Sean’s contractual rights might be challenged. We are monitoring the situation as it develops, and we will evaluate all legal options as the circumstances warrant. In the meantime, our first priority is supporting Sean’s efforts to learn from his mistake and move forward in a positive manner."

The juicy part is the contractual rights being challenged. In every NHL contract there is (what amounts to) a morality clause and there is talk the Stars may attempt to get rid of his contract by claiming he has violated it. There is also talk the Stars (who do not own their own AHL team) might send him to their East Coast League team and hope he won’t show up so they can suspend him. If he does show up, they will either pay him until the date rolls around when they can buy him out, or hope that someone else is willing to take a flyer on this wild card player. If they do, the Stars can recall him and that team can take him on re-entry waivers and Dallas would only have to pay for half of his remaining salary.

Avery has clearly had the spin doctors doing surgery on him. His apology was obviously not written by him and I doubt his offer to get psychological help was his idea. I would love to see that psychological report. I am no Dr.Phil but I don’t believe he has any clinical problems. His issues are ego and morality based with a huge dose of self entitlement mixed in with a healthy portion of showmanship and self love. I believe the clinical name for this is jerkitis.

I believe the cure is the end of his multi-million dollar paychecks combined with some anonymity and a little bit of in-your-face scorn for any working man who would be fired him his 30 thousand dollar a year job if he behaved this way. In other words a severe reality check.
I am all for 2nd chances. Avery is now on chance #17 and at this rate could soon be a team mate of Ray Emery’s.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Less won't happen.

Today in the Globe and Mail columnist William Houston polled a group of hockey people whose job it is to have an opinion. The question was the number of games that should make up an NHL season. The list of pundits included CBC’s Mike Milbury, Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sportsnet and TSN’s Ray Ferraro. All rightly suggested a reduction in the NHL schedule from 82 games to 72, 74 or 76 would increase practice time and rest thus improving the quality of hockey we watch and listen to. I can’t find anything in that logic which is wrong. I also have no faith it will happen.

The quality of hockey is on the list of concerns of the NHL and the NHLPA but it is not close to the top of the list. I mentioned both the league and the union because both have to agree to a reduction in the number of games. Both sides discussed this during the lock-out and both sides dismissed it after looking at the numbers. Those numbers had dollar signs. Reducing the number of games reduces revenues for the teams and salaries for the players. Neither party was interested enough in quality to reduce the quantity of the revenues they share.

For the NHL and its owners, they sell to the public rivalries and star players. The players rely on the fact that the hockey paying public and the media does not expect the very highest level of hockey each night simply because almost everyone understands that in an 82 game schedule it is impossible to practice enough and get enough rest and recuperation to play at the highest level each night. Attendance across the league has not declined thus its fair to assume the fans have accepted this reality and are still willing to pay for the quality of hockey they have become used to.

So can both masters be served? How do you reduce the number of games without decreasing the bottom line? Maybe the happy medium is not changing the current system, just modifying it or maybe even increasing the number of regular season games. That’s right I said increasing it. It could be accomplished without increasing the actual number of games a player must play.

Right now teams are allowed to play as many as 9 pre-season games. Teams don’t have to play that many but several do because they need the revenues. What if you made the maximum number of exhibition games 5. You could add 2 regular season games and make it an 84 game season, have the mathematical ease of being able to have a true conference cross-over schedule and have players still play 2 fewer games or more depending on how many exhibition games your owner or president wants.

Players all come to camp in shape now so conditioning is not a reason for a long pre-season. Some players have told me that if their team is basically set and there are no real jobs to compete for 3 pre-season games is plenty to get game ready for the season.

General managers would not favor this type of system though because pre-season games are often a chance for them to see prospects and juniors in NHL like competition and it’s a great help in evaluating their progress or their ability to make the jump to the NHL. But the fact is any system will have a certain group or groups against it. There is no perfect system including the one we have now

The one thing I do know is, if the system is ever changed it will be revenue sensitive first and a quality of play issue second because the league and players are driven to make more not less on the balance sheet despite how it might affect play on the sheet of ice.

See you at the rink.

Thank you

It is remembrance day. This is my thanksgiving.
My father taught me this is the day to make sure you give thanks.

To all those who have fought for this country I thank you.
I thank you for my life.
I thank you for the life me and my family enjoy.
I thank you for the freedom I have.
I thank you for the dreams I can chase.
I thank you for the dreams which have come true.

I can never repay the debt I owe you.
I can only promise that my children will always know of your sacrifice.
My children will always know you.
If I have done my job and fulfilled my promise they will tell their children.

You were, are and will always be the very best of us.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Simple win in Buffalo

The Ottawa Senators ended their 4 game losing streak in Buffalo last night with a 5-2 win over the Sabres.  What was the single biggest difference between this game and the 4 they lost previously?  Battle level.  Yes there were many other ingredients but the team's overall battle level by all 20 players for all 60 minutes was for me the biggest difference in the game.  They won battles for lose pucks, they won one-on-one fights for the puck, they won battles for position and they won the battle for emotional swings in the game.  There were many other things which were greatly improved from the last 4 games but those things happened because the team won more battles than Buffalo.

Often times we all try to make this game more complicated than it has to be.  People believe that tactics or system are at fault when things don't go well for their team.  Truth be told its most often the most simple things which turn games.  Battle level, energy, simple plays, and a defence first mindset are almost always more important than which team ran their trap the best.  Just like a golf swing though the simple stuff can be difficult to do at a high level every day in a very long and very tough season.  In golf the best instructors always tell you to relax and create a smooth and balanced swing.  When you are all tense thinking of the 70 things that make up a good swing its difficult to be relaxed and balanced.  That's why golf is such a tough game.  That's why those simple things in hockey are so difficult to do at a high level each day.  They are easy and simple to say and very difficult to achieve each night in the best league in the world where the other guys are trying to do exactly the same thing.

Last nights victory for Ottawa was based on simplicity but there is nothing simple about doing it over and over again.

See you at the rink

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Leafs (part 2)

The Globe and Mail has a story in the paper today about an un-named league executive talking about the murmurs about having another NHL franchise in Toronto. Other league executives have pointed out this has not been a topic at any of the Governors meetings thus it is all speculative. It has also been pointed out that if it were to ever happen it would have to be the move of an existing franchise. Adding new teams when several current teams are in financial distress is not generally regarded as a prudent move.

So let’s just play the pie in the sky game for a moment. Would it be a good idea and could it possibly happen?

Toronto is the biggest and most feverish hockey market on the planet. Despite the fact that this new team would always be the 2nd team in Toronto I am sure it could make money and more importantly make money for the league. I am told that right now the 6 Canadian teams account for over 30% of the NHL’s revenues. Another team in Toronto would only increase that. Is the market big enough? That isn’t even a question. If New York/New Jersey is big enough for 3 teams and the city of New York is big enough for 2 football teams and 2 baseball teams (as is Chicago), Toronto is certainly big enough to support 2 NHL teams. The building would overflow with all the average fans who have no chance of ever getting a ticket to see the Leafs in their lifetime.

What could stand in the way? The Leafs would stand in the way. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has a wonderful monopoly on the hearts and minds of the Toronto sports fans. Why would they allow any of that to be eroded to benefit another owner and the NHL? Toronto had the chance to have a rival on their doorstep when Hamilton bid for a team at the same time Ottawa did. The Leafs and Sabres both let the NHL know they would both exercise their right to veto as a Hamilton team would infringe on their territorial exemption. Yes the new owners could pay a fee to the Leafs, but only if they choose to accept it and they are not obliged to. I believe they won’t. If I were running MLSE I would not. Why allow someone come in and cut little chunks out of your huge pie if you have the ability to stop it before it starts?

There will always be the talk of a team relocating to the Kitchener/Waterloo area as long as RIM owner Jim Balsillie has a voice and reporters have microphones, but he is clearly not a partner the NHL governors want despite his bulging bank account.

Would another team in Toronto work? Of course it would.
Will it happen? I doubt it.

See you at the rink.

Hartsburg Hates Soft

Senators coach Craig Hartsburg was in a grizzly mood yesterday when he met with the media. You know the earlier meeting he had with his players was likely less cordial. He is not at all happy with the way his team has played in its first 3 regular season games in North America. Lines have been shifted, players have been challenged and the most important point he is making is the idea of changing the way this team plays. It has to be harder, nastier, faster, less polite and more determined.

The word “soft” in the hockey world is a swear word. Rarely does a coach use it when talking about his own team but Hartsburg did. He says players have to understand things are going to change around this team and they had better buy in. He wants to shake up all the comfortable things. That cozy blanket of knowing Heatley and Spezza will play together, that Chris Neil will play with Mike Fisher, that Vermette and Kelly are inseparable. My father used to say to me “change is not to be feared, it is to be expected”. The Senators had better start expecting more of this.

Fly by’s on opposing defenceman will not be ignored. When a hit is there and it’s not taken, questions will be asked. When a forward is not skating full out on the forecheck a spot at the end of the bench awaits. When a defenceman fails to punish an opposing forward harsh words will be spoken.

Hartsburg has seen enough to know that this is a very talented team which is simply too polite and too often waiting for the big boys to do their magic thing with the puck and then everything will work out. Those days are over with this coach.

Most of the focus has been on Jason Spezza and his realignment with Foligno and Winchester, but others might not be on the media’s radar but you know they are on the coach’s. Chris Neil thought by many to be a 2nd line kind of guy is now one of 2 forwards (Donovan is the other) skating on the 4th line. One of them might be a healthy scratch on Wednesday.

The defence corps was supposed to be inferior in moving the puck, but superior in nastiness compared to last years top 6. Hartsburg has not seen enough of the nasty. Those are not expectations placed on Kuba and Lee, but they are on Smith, Phillips, Volchenkov and Picard. Right now Smith and Volchenkov are the only ones making the coach's grade.

This is not an overnight thing. Changing the way a team plays and its on-ice attitude does not happen with a few practices and some video. It will take some time and it may require the movement of some disgruntled players who ultimately don’t want to buy in, but it will happen.

I will be very interested to see the way this team plays by Christmas. My bet is that the type of game Hartsburg wants will be under the tree before the 25th.

See you at the rink.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Solution: Mr. Hollweg meet Mr. Probert.

I just saw the hit Toronto’s Ryan Hollweg laid on Blues rookie defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. It got Hollweg a 5 minute boarding major and the 2 goals the Blues scored were the biggest part of their come from behind win over Toronto.

It also gives all of us who are not in favor the instigator rule more fuel for the fire. I am absolutely not in favor of more fighting in the NHL. Especially the hopelessly boring staged fights between enforcers who play 4 minutes a game and simply meet the other team’s enforcer, they fight, they go to the box and the game goes on. That is a huge waste of time.

I do believe that the natural emotion of this game will always bubble over into legitimate fights in the heat of the battle between 2 players who care deeply and compete with all their being. Those fights would happen even if fighting was completely banned because things do get that heated in hockey.

I know to many this will make me sound like a caveman, but I also believe in “visits”. I believe that player’s actions on the ice would again be tempered if they had any true fear that someone would come to visit them for their mis-deeds. That was part of the code of this game that helped protect star players and it’s a part of this game which the instigator rule has changed for the worse.

Ryan Hollweg is one of (but not the only) poster child for the ineffectiveness of the instigator rule and supplementary discipline. Thus far no sanctions the NHL has imposed on Hollweg in the past have caused him to change the truly dangerous and illegal way he plays. The price a team and player may pay to make him physically suffer for his actions is too high. The suspensions and possible lost games due to the penalties a player and team must take to track down and punish Hollweg are simply too high in a league where parity means a lost game in October really can mean you miss the playoffs in April.

Ryan Hollweg’s willingness to hit people from behind would be severely tested if he knew someone might try to break his jaw each time he tried to run someone from behind. As we all know there is no need for Hollweg to play with that fear in today’s game. Again no one will come to visit him because the price for those who come knocking is higher than the price Hollweg will pay for doing it in the first place. That is a very dangerous policy for the rest of the players in the league to live with.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Swedenpalooza 2.

It was tour day in Göteborg (Gothenburg). After Senators practice Daniel Alfredsson took some of the members of the media on a walking tour of some of the beautiful downtown portions of this port city. It was founded in 1621 and the history here is deep. Daniel’s love for this place is also obvious and he seems to love teaching us about where and how he grew up. A better cultural guide you could not find. We went to his high school which is right across the street from the rink. We poked our heads into the gym and there was Alfredsson’s old gym teacher Eva. A quick hug and hello and she was back to teaching the kids badminton.

Anyone who has traveled outside North America has already seen and noticed this, but one of the things you do see a lot of is cars we just don’t see at home. I don’t mean the exotic ones. I mean the everyday cars made by the big 3. They make some vehicles just for export and they are not sold in North America. Today I saw a Chev Kalos sub compact car and a Ford Galaxy micro van.

One of the other things you really notice if you come from Ottawa is how bi-lingualism is handled here. It isn’t. It just happens by itself. Swedish students start taking English in grade 4 and thus most everyone here can speak both Swedish and English. I have run across only 2 or 3 people who could not speak English. Signs on business’s are Swedish or English or both. There are no laws to force a business to use any language. I don’t want to get into a French/English debate but Swedish TV is filled with North American shows in English and our language and culture is all around them yet none of their culture seems to have been lost or diluted nor do they see it as a possibility. Maybe that’s what we need in Canada. Get rid of sign laws and institute mandatory French in all of our schools. If all Canadians are bi-lingual then cultural protectionism seems to take care of itself.

Just more observations from Sweden. Oh and yes it is still raining. It has been raining off and on since the moment we arrived.

Tomorrow is game day and I can’t wait. The atmosphere in that building is going to be wild and Gord and I get to broadcast the game from the stands with the fans so it should be wild.

See you at the rink.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Swedenpalooza 1.

The Senators great Swedish adventure is underway. The plane ride over was uneventful although I envy those who can fall fast asleep on planes. It makes a 6 hour time change so much easier to take.

The first surprise when we landed in Göteborg (Gothenburg) was the smiling immigration officers. The ones in Ottawa are very good and very polite but our policies require filling out forms. Not a big deal but I have never landed in a country where they simply look at your passport; stamp and it welcome you to Sweden. Not forms to fill out at all.

The first thing we noticed when driving from the airport to the hotel was the landscape. We could have been on a trip to Sudbury. Pine trees lined the highway which was often cut through rock that looked exactly like the chunks of the Canadian Shield which were blasted out to make the highway into Sudbury.

The city is about the same size as Ottawa and in many ways is very similar. I now understand why Daniel Alfredsson often says Ottawa reminds him of his home. The weather is apparently standard Göteborg fall weather. Cool (about 12 degrees during the day), cloudy and periods of rain forecast for each day we are here.

The Senators had a light practice in the afternoon just to get the players legs moving after the long flight. The local media was out in full force to see Alfredsson. He is like a rock star here. His old club team Frölunda was playing tonight against a club called Rögle BK (the team Kenny Jonsson plays on). During the first intermission they unveiled Frölunda’s first Pillar of fame. They don’t really have a wall of fame. Alfredsson is the first to have a pillar on the concourse adorned with his image, story, signed stick and action shots. The 2nd player to be honored will be Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who is also a Frölunda alum. This is a rare thing. Swedish hockey reflects Swedish life which is to rarely accentuate the individual over the team.

I have to say the Frölunda game was lots of fun to watch. The Euro fans bring drums and sing and clap through most of the game. Fireworks and flags that cover an entire section of seats are rolled out after each goal. Things you just don’t see at North American games.

The other thing you really don’t see much of in North America is the type of logo the Frolunda Indians have. It’s the head of an Indian chief in full head dress. We all know on our continent the political correctness debate about the logo’s of the Chicago Blackhawk’s and the Atlanta Braves.

The final thing for today is our hotel. The rooms are just like they were taken out of the displays at Ikea. They really do use this stuff over here in everyday life.

Tomorrow the agenda features something very interesting. After Senators practice Alfredsson is going to take the media on a walking tour of his home town. It is heartwarming to see how proud Daniel is of his home and how much of it he wants us all to see. This might be the first and last time this will happen during his career and he is clearly enjoying all of it.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Senator questions??????

The Senator's training camp is now in full swing. There isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about what I think of this year’s team. It is no different from any other year. Everyone asks the people they meet the same questions. They want to debate the changes, they want to hope, they want to dream, they want to worry, they want to keep caring. That is one of the most wonderful things about living in a Canadian NHL city. There are very few people you meet who do not care about hockey and who don’t care about this team.

I have to say I have a very good feeling about the forwards on this team. Lots of skill, lots of size, lots of speed. Proven scorers and proven checkers. Ottawa like every other team in the NHL except Detroit would love to have another affordable, veteran scorer who is proven and playoff tested. No small task in finding that without blowing the budget.

I also don’t have any great issues with goaltending and I believe that puts me in the minority after having daily discussions with friends in the stands and hockey fans at the supermarket. I think Gerber will be what he has always been. A very good, steady veteran goaltender. Not an all-star but a solid hard working pro. Alex Auld is the wild card. The book on him everywhere he has been is that he is great until he realizes he is the number #1 guy and then the pressure gets to him. A little older, a little more experience and maybe now he is ready to take the heat if he ever gets a real shot at the #1 job in Ottawa.

My questions are on defence. I think this new group will be bigger, tougher and harder to play against but I still wonder about their ability to move the puck. You can say what you want about Wade Redden and Andrej Mezaros but they were both better puck movers than anyone left on this Ottawa roster from last years team. If you look over his career Filip Kuba should help a great deal in that regard and Brian Lee showed some promise in that area as well but I an still interested to see how it works overall. Bryan Murray has made no secret about his on-going search for an affordable, veteran puck moving defenceman but again, get in line with just about every other team in the league. Anaheim seems to be the only team that doesn’t need more. They simply can’t sign forward Teemu Selanne until they free up cap space by moving Mathieu Schneider. You have to think Bryan Murray would love to get him, but it would have to be at half price and the problem for Murray is there will be several teams in line ahead of him.

We will know more as training camp continues and the exhibition games begin, but right now looking at it on paper, the Senators look to be a team that will still score more than their fair share and likely be a lot nastier in their own end, but might have some problems developing a lot of their offence off the rush without a solid first-pass defenceman unless Kuba is that guy. We will have a good idea about that in short order with the pre-season close at hand.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Do us all a favor and just quit Mats

Mats Sundin told a Toronto radio station this week that he has not yet decided “IF” he wants to play hockey anymore let alone where he wants to play. The former Leaf Captain continues to struggle with that heavy decision.

It really isn’t a decision at all then is it. If you are in September and you still cant decide if you even want to play hockey anymore doesn’t that mean that you don’t. If you get to September and that burn to get on the ice and compete isn’t there then maybe the question has been answered already.

Fans are waiting, teams are waiting and other players are waiting and Mats it appears could care less. Several NHL teams have been saving a roster spot and a big hunk of cash in case Mats wants to play and he wants to play for them. Other players will be moved to accommodate that. They would love to know what is happening with their careers too, but that's no concern to Mats.

Last season when Sundin turned down several requests from Toronto to waive his no trade clause one of his reasons was the full season issue. He believes players should finish the season with the team they started with and anything less is simply a rental and he didn't want to be a rental. OK, so a full season includes a training camp and exhibition games. Camps open in less than 2 weeks and Mats is still deciding if he wants to play? If he decides he does but not until December was last years reasoning a smoke screen for something else?

Mats has no money issues in his life. Over his career he has earned over 74 million dollars plus endorsements and investments. Mats and generations of his family will never have to worry about money. So the issue is really desire and he seems to have a complete lack of it.

For that reason should NHL teams be lining up to try and lure him back? Just like the teams which were wary of his drive to win when he refused to waive his no trade clause in Toronto last year, he seems to be completely lacking in the kind of push you need to play in the NHL at the highest level.

Mats has never been a dog player. He has never mailed it in and maybe that’s his biggest fear. Maybe he is scared that with this lack of excited anticipation for the start of the season he see’s himself as a player who might not be able to push himself to be the player he has always been. No shame in that. The shame is waiting for some epiphany or some magic voice inside Sundin’s head to tell him that he does or doesn’t want to be an NHL player anymore.

This waffling is not only infuriating for those teams who have set aside money to sign the big Swede should he return and pick them as the winners of the Mats lottery. It is an insult to every hockey lover who would give anything for one day of his gifted life. When the fans watching the game care more about Mats playing than he does there is something very wrong with the wires that spark his hockey DNA. Maybe those wires are no longer connected.

Come back or go away I don’t much care anymore. Just stop the waffling. Retire and fade away and then if you decide in a year (or maybe by Christmas) you do want to play again just un-retire. The NFL has the Brett Favre flip-flop Mats can be ours.

See you at the rink.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sex in sports.

I got into trouble several years ago during a talk show when I said in jest that women’s beach volleyball was more soft core porn than sport. That didn’t go over well with many of the sports fans and I was joking….sort of.

Watching some Olympic women’s beach volleyball I was struck by the same notion again. They are wonderfully skilled athletes and play a difficult sport at a very high level. But why are most of the better players former full court volleyball players? Why are they no longer full court elite volleyball players? Why do experts in the sport still consider the best players to be those who play the indoor game? If the indoor game has the better players then why is there next to no TV coverage of the full court game while there is tons of coverage for the beach game and in fact a full pro circuit? Could the bodies and the “uniforms” be part of that reason?

Is there some competitive advantage to wearing a bikini or less while playing? Would the full court indoor players get this advantage if they started wearing less while they played? Or is it just the fact that it’s on a beach, bikinis naturally go with beach activities and all the TV coverage is based solely on the fact that beach volleyball is a far better game than full court indoor volleyball?

Who are we kidding here? TV coverage is based on what the people playing wear and often how little people in the stands wear. This is a sex appeal sport plain and simple. Start putting the players in the same uniforms that the indoor players wear and watch the ratings drop.

I guess I just got myself in trouble with those same beach volleyball people again.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No gaurantees

Gord Wilson and I did the afternoon show on the Team 1200 yesterday because all the normal talk show hosts wanted to attend the funeral of Buzz in Georgetown, Ontario. Gord and I both wanted to go but someone had to do the show and we felt the people who worked with Tim Kilpatrick everyday should have that chance.

While the show wasn’t nearly as difficult as the tribute morning show on Monday carried out perfectly by Steve Warne, Stuntman Stu and Kenny Walls, it was still very difficult because we agreed not to talk about it until the very end of the show. All the while emails were coming in asking us to talk about Buzz. We never read any of them on the air as we tried to do a show that was fun, irreverent and upbeat and reading those emails and giving our thoughts and feelings would have made that impossible.

There is nothing new I can tell you about the emotions of this loss. It just strikes me that this is another in a long line of examples that we as humans have no guarantees in life. Tim was just 41 years old when he passed away of complications from a chest infection. I think we all have an underlying belief that with the exception of catastrophic accidents, today’s doctors can fix or treat almost anything. The massive cancer increases prove that is not true, but the strides doctors and researchers make everyday make us all feel a little safer until something like the death of Tim hits you square in the head.

I remember vividly when my father passed away due to bone cancer. We had 2 years to prepare for it and he never suffered. Our family and my father were very lucky compared to many. After that experience I often tell people when faced with the same type of situation to say everything. Tell the people you love everything you feel. The funny, the embarrassing, the criminal, the impressive, tell them everything. I was very fortunate with my father that we did not have any lingering awkward domestic turbulence which had to be settled and said before he died so my conversations with my dad were all about what he was thinking and feeling as a father when I was a boy when different things came up in my life. I remember them as the kid while he remembers them as the father. I understood why he did the things he did and said the things he said at the time better because I understood more about how I was as a kid. Now as a father myself I understand completely and everyday I try to think of what my father would say to Connor and Maya if he were here.

I don’t want to get into a complicated religious debate, but I do believe in God or an entity greater than us. The fact is when my daughter was born she nearly died at birth. I sat in a room they put me in all by myself while the doctors worked to save my little girls life and at that time I didn’t pray, at least not to God. I found myself having a mental conversation with my father. I am not a theologian or a psychologist so I can’t tell you if my father was my subconscious symbol for God, but I can tell you it helped me. It made me calm and hopeful. When the doctor finally came in to tell me that my wife was fine and Maya was not out of the woods, but had rebounded and things were looking positive, I thanked my father. I guess I expected he would pass along my thanks to God when next he saw him/her/it.

There are no guarantees of when and how long each life will last. The only thing we can do for the people we love is be an open book while we are living. Hug them everyday and tell them you love them everyday. That is the only way to guarantee they know the true you when that time comes for all of us.

I’ll miss you Buzz.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"I don't have a drug problem"

Former Senators goaltender Ray Emery appeared on TSN’s Off The Record this week and among many things was asked if he had a drug problem to which he responded “no”. The tougher question would have been “did you take illegal drugs while an Ottawa Senator”.

There are drug rehab centres jammed with people who for years honestly did not believe they had a drug “problem” but did take drugs regularly. The OTR interview left you with more questions than answers’ relating to Ray’s rumored drug use. That is not the fault of the show’s host Michael Landsberg knowing full well it was not a topic Ray would be willing to entertain in full and open discussion. If he walks off the set, the show is over and that is not good for TSN or its viewers. For all we know Ray may have agreed to be on the show only if the question was posed in that specific manor.

I do not know if Ray did or did not take illegal drugs during his time in Ottawa. I like most others have had many people repeat the many rumors to me. Many ask why the Ottawa media refused to speak openly about the rumors in print or on TV and radio. The reason is a simple one. In this country the laws covering libel, slander and defamation are far different from those in the USA. Down south as long as you slap the word "alledgedly" in front of a sentance you can say almost anything. It does not work that way in Canada. Also in both countries when you get sued you can’t tell the judge “well your honor everyone has heard it”. That is not a defence. Unless you know absolutely and can prove it with presentable, verifiable evidence, the reporter is the one headed to jail not the rumored drug user. I can speak of it now, because Ray himself has spoken of it and my observations are directed at his comments and those alone.

The very positive sign from the interview was that Emery wasn’t using his air time to blame other people. He seems to now at least be willing to consider the possibility that he was the author of his own demise. There was no “Ray Conspiracy” to be mean or unfair to Ray. I still got the sense from his body language and the tone of some answers that he doesn’t believe some of the things he did or didn’t do are that big a deal. That tells me he still believes he should not have to abide by the code of conduct almost every other athlete in a team sport lives by. His new Russian club mates will find out soon enough if that is true or not.

Lastly Ray spoke of some of things he will miss about playing in Ottawa. Saturday night games at Scotiabank Place and the love of hockey in this city. He won’t miss the Ottawa media he says. Ray should be careful what he wishes for. There are many who contend he got a far easier ride here than he would have received in several other NHL cities. I guess he will find that out if or when he ever returns to the NHL. Ray may also learn some valuable lessons about ethnicity while in Russia. Just ask Fred Brathwaite how some Russians treat non-Caucasians. Utterances which could bring out the hate crimes police in Ottawa, I am told can barley raise an eyebrow in some parts of Russia.

I believe Ray has learned many things about himself in the last few months. I believe his time in Russia will teach him many more things about what one misses being in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, Canadian city in the NHL.

See you at the rink.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Garry please send them to bed without supper

It is now time for NHL Commissioner Garry Bettman to step in and stop the stupidity. Anaheim GM Brian Burke and Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe continue their name calling and spitting match over Lowe’s signing of Ducks RFA Dustin Penner last year. Yes that’s right last year. The most recent volley from Lowe was in the form of a radio interview where, among other things, he called Burke a moron and a media junkie. This came after Burke continued to blame Lowe for almost every contract in the NHL which he believes is higher than it should be. His belief is that Lowe changed the salary structure in the league with his offer sheet to Penner.

A gag order should be placed on both with fines for both and the guarantee of heavier fines if the war of words continues. Burke should get the higher of the two fines since he is the one who started the public smear campaign and he is the one who refuses to let it go.

The NHL is often annoyed with the media for what it believes is a propensity for dwelling or searching out the negatives to report on. The NHL can not control the media but it can control the juvenile behavior of its executives. When Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban runs his mouth, the fine is almost immediate. In the NHL it is ignored.

While it is great theatre for newspapers and radio talk shows, it’s a sad method to garner attention for the NHL. Since the Ducks won the cup, this is one of few things to get them any space in their local newspapers, so maybe Burke has a method to this childishness, but again its a sad way to get newspaper space.

Sad also in a different way is the departure of Jaromir Jagr from the NHL. Poor Jaromir was forced to leave for Russia because no one wanted to offer him a contract longer than one year. I feel bad for Jaromir having to endure making millions in Russia after pocketing over 98 million dollars during his career in the NHL.

Do you think that Jaromir will ever consider the possibility that no one was willing to offer him more than a 1 year deal not because of a clause in the CBA putting the team’s salary cap on the hook for his entire contract even if he retires before the expiration of a new long term deal, but rather too many teams have finally figured out that he is simply too much trouble and too much of a gamble to invest in him for more than a year at a time.

Jagr has always been a player with unquestionable talent and the ability of change a game in a few seconds. He is also a player who has divided locker rooms, sulked for seasons at a time and on too many occasions was just not willing to try very hard. He is coming off a very strong season with the Rangers, but lets also remember this is the same player the Capitals were willing to eat millions and millions of dollars in salary just to get him out of their locker room.

A player in Washington once told me they knew which games he was going to give effort. If he put on his shoulder pads for the warm up, he was going to try. For at least 2 years in Washington he didn’t put them on very often. Its also sad when his team mates know almost to a certainty before the game starts that they cant count on their best player because that night he just doesn’t feel like it. The last franchise player Washington had was Jagr before their current franchise player in Ovechkin. The difference in the marquis player and his impact on the team is hard to dispute.

There are so many good stories in the NHL and so many uplifting tales to tell, I wish both of these stories would just go away. Mudslinging managers and forlorn enigmas hold little interest for me.

See you at the rink.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Good bye Ray, hope you find Ray.

The Ray Emery era is over in Ottawa. With the Senators unable to trade the explosive goaltender and then Ray clearing waivers, the path ahead is uncertain. The team will buy him out and he will become an unrestricted free agent available for any team to sign.

Contrary to what some people believe, I think there will be a market out there for Ray but it will be a market drastically different from the deal he is currently losing. Instead of making over 3 million per year on a one-way contract, I think there will be teams which offer him 7 or 8 hundred thousand a year on a 2-way deal. That way if Ray has a melt down or becomes a distraction he can be banished to the minors and his salary will drop to 70 or 80 thousand dollars. He is a good enough player that a few teams will roll the dice on him in the 2-way contract world.

As the Ray era ends I am struck by just how sad all this is. Sad that an athlete with such great promise and ability could have lost his way so badly that his team would rather pay to have him not be with them than pay to have him stay. Sad that his personal off ice issues have so negatively impacted what looked like a blossoming career. Sad that the Senators will lose the first top flight goalie they have ever developed from draft to starter. Sad that a goaltender could lead his team to the final and 1 year later there is no team in the league which will take him at anything but a bargain basement price because they fear his act may corrupt their dressing room.

I am not Dr.Phil but for those of us who are around the team day in day out are convinced that Ray is suffering from a massive identity crisis among other things. Ray grew up on a farm outside of Hamilton listening to country music. Ray’s fashion choices and body language leave most people (who do not know his background) believing he grew up in a large urban American centre listening to rap music. A great many people grow up to lead lifestyles very different from their parents, siblings and friends but Ray routinely put himself under the media and public microscope causing people to wonder what Ray really wanted. He always publicly stated he didn’t want or appreciate attention for anything other than his hockey but Ray found ways each week to put himself in the spotlight.

Note to self. Ways to not remain under the radar:
1-Drive big white Hummer.
3-Eat bugs for cash
4-Fist fight with team mates
5-Get in yelling matches with senior citizens on the highway.
6-Miss team flights
7-Miss team practices.
8-Stand around in practice like a pouting pylon
9-Leave practice early
10-Snarl at media for asking questions about any of the above.

I sincerely hope that Ray finds a way to retrieve his career and find himself as a person. I believe the latter will have the greatest affect on the career reconstruction. As a young, eager player trying to crack the NHL I liked Ray and liked his attitude and competitiveness in the times we spoke. I did not particularly like the angry, brooding malcontent he became and I have no clue how that happened since he stopped speaking to most people who covered the team except in a very superficial, Q&A type of setting. Sitting and chatting with Ray in a hotel lobby just stopped happening and I believe it also stopped happening with many of his team mates. That distance was not a good thing for anyone.

I am not saying Ray needs to make friends with the media or even his new team mates, but Ray I think has to find a way to make friends with himself and his personal demons and worry about hockey after that.

Best of luck Ray and I mean that sincerely.

See you at the rink.

Now sit on the egg for 10 years

NHL entry draft week is over in Ottawa. Ask any team and they believe they got nothing but future stars and diamonds in the rough. That’s the wonderful thing about the draft; there is no way of knowing for 5 or 10 years whether it was a good draft for your team or a bad one. Every team believes it now has great potential which will evolve into promise and eventually production and ultimately a proven winner.

A couple of random thoughts about draft week in the Capital. A record 13 deals in the first round with 12 defencemen selected and 8 of them are right handed shots. It is rare that this many blue liners are good enough in one draft year to all go in the first round. Rarer still is this many right handed shots. It is one of the toughest things to find in the NHL with some teams unable to find even one good right handed shot for their team. To have this many in one draft in one round is unbelievable.

On Wednesday and Thursday the NHL staged its yearly broadcast meetings. These are for the on-air people along with all the producers and directors in TV and radio who broadcast NHL hockey. A wide range of topics are discussed over 2 days including content related issues and technical stuff which I don’t pretend to understand. We also get to have direct question and answer sessions with director of officiating Steven Walkom, Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell and Commissioner Gary Bettman. These are very frank and open debates about things where the broadcasters and the league must co-operate and there are some where the broadcasters and the league clash. Sometimes the discussions get very heated and that’s a good thing.

The one topic that drew the most debate and some of the more heated exchanges was about developing some system to get explanations of video reviews in a timely fashion. Broadcasters (as we always do) want a system that is immediate and there was even talk about having live cameras’ and microphones in the NHL’s War Room in Toronto where these calls are made. That will not happen, nor should it, but the league understands complete explanations are required as quickly as possible for the viewers and listeners but I am not sure they can ever be delivered as quickly as broadcasters want those answers.

I must say the one presentation that blew me away was from the people who run the NHL’s broadband department. When you see what the league is going to start rolling out on their website and the NHL on the Fly website you won’t believe it. It will be the best, most interactive and complete website of any of the major pro sports. If you want to see a goal that Daniel Alfredsson scored in a game 5 years ago it will be just a few clicks of the mouse.

All in all it was a great week in the Capital. There were a few glitches as there will always be with events of this size, but Ottawa looked pretty good on the NHL stage. Now all we have to do is wait for 2018 to figure out which team got the best picks of the 2008 draft.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I have questions.

Just some things I am having a hard time figuring out. Maybe you can help me. I saw the on ice picture of Detroit after winning the cup in Pittsburgh. You know the traditional shot with the entire team lying on the ice with the cup at centre ice. Everyone is holding up 1 finger, you know the “we’re number one” gesture and almost everyone is wearing a ball cap which says Stanley Cup champs. Look on the bottom right of that picture and you will see Dominic Hasek. He is holding up 2 fingers making the peace sign, or I’m now number two, or maybe I’ve won 2 cups , or maybe I’ll take 2 vodka and soda’s please. I am not quite sure. Also he is the only one wearing a teuk in a building which was about 90 degrees or at least I think its a teuk. The Dominator has always been a different kind of guy. This is a portrait of just that. He is not trying to be different to make a point. He just is a different kind of cat and maybe the most interesting thing is, he has no clue he’s different.

Tampa fires a Stanley Cup winning coach (John Tortorella) who also was named coach of the year. According to reports new ownership plans to replace him with ESPN’s Barry Melrose who has not coached in the NHL in 13 years? One of the reasons speculated by the media is that the new ownership wants a high profile guy. A high profile coach would be Scotty Bowman or Mike Babcock or maybe a Stanley Cup winner like, oh maybe John Tortorella. Barry is only high profile as a hockey analyst on TV. Most believe poor coaching has not been Tampa’s problem, but rather the fact that they have so much money tied up in 4 players and have no goalie since they couldn’t not afford to keep Nikolai Khabibulin. I don’t see Barry Melrose changing that reality.

Ron Wilson is the new coach of the Leafs with a 4 year deal. Didn’t Cliff Fletcher say quite a while ago that a coach would not be hired before a new GM.? That the new GM should have the right to pick his own man. What changed? It couldn’t be that Brian Burke has let the Leafs know through indirect back channels that he would take the GM’s post next year when his Anaheim deal is up. Ron Wilson would likely be Burke’s man because of their long hockey and personal relationship. But that can’t be true. That would be tampering and that’s against the rules. No, that can’t be it.

CTV now owns the rights to the HNIC theme composed by Delores Claman and used by Hockey Night since 1968. According to media reports she has an on-going law suit for 2.5 million against the CBC for its overuse of the song. Also according to media reports CTV paid 2.5 million for the rights to the song. Could it be that this was more about hurt feelings and money?

I love the hockey song and it will be a great addition to the TSN and RDS broadcasts next season. But this contention that HNIC will never be the same is ridiculous? There was theme music on HNIC before 1968 and the country’s national fabric didn’t fray when that song was replaced. I seem to remember a world famous (not just Canadian famous) song and visual opening to ABC’s Wide World of Sports that was replaced, brought back and replaced again. I don’t see the United States, ABC Sports or that unfortunate ski jumper going to the federal government to complain like some of us.

Again it’s a great song, a great jingle but no greater or more widely listened to than the one that opened and closed Front Page Challenge. I think we’ve all gotten along just fine without that show and its jingle.

TSN’s broadcasts will sound great with that familiar tune, but TSN’s hockey broadcasts are about the hockey and they are excellent at it. Hockey Night in Canada ultimately is also an exceptionally good hockey show and that will not change.

Hey, I’ve got an idea! Since some say Delores’s song is like a 2nd National Anthem, why doesn’t CBC just use the first National Anthem to open their shows? I don’t believe you have to pay any rights fee to do that and those who believe #2 is a part of our national identity can’t complain when song #1 is nothing but our national identity. You could get different school kids to sing it each Saturday to open the show. Every Canadian born celebrity could take a crack at it and you never have to worry about Delores Claman again.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Lidstrom now semi-Canadian

So are we now finally done with the Euro Captain thing?
Detroit won the cup and Nick Lidstrom becomes the first Euro to captain a team to the win. For years there has been a debate based on the fact that until now no team had won the cup with a Euro captain. They just didn’t have the right stuff. They just didn’t care as much as Canadian born players.

Well that has been wrong for sometime now, but just by coincidence a Euro had not worn the “C” on a championship team. The fact is this Detroit team is more team Sweden and team Euro than it is team Canada. Add to that the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in Henrik Zetterberg is also a Swede. He becomes just the 3rd non-Canadian to win. The other 2 were Brian Leetch and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Should we as Canadian hockey fans be fearful that we have lost our passion advantage? No! Absolutely not! There is no country in the world which cares more about hockey than ours and there is no country in the world which produces more high level players than Canada. That may change, but I doubt it and certainly not in our lifetime.

I love the fact that the non-Euro captain thing has finally been snapped. I love it because I love this game and if you love this game, you want others to love it as much as you do. The fact that other countries now have a passion for this game is a testament to how much we have impacted them not the other way around. Euro players and Euro hockey programs are trying to be more like us for a reason. We create more players, better players and more passionate players than anyone else. Lidstrom snapping the captain’s jinx will never diminish that but it will lessen the ridiculous notion that nobody can care as much as a Canadian. We just have more players who deeply care than any other country.

Congratulations Nick Lidstrom. You now qualify for Canadian citizenship. You need not write any other exam. You have already passed the only test we truly care about.

See you at the rink. wins!

The Detroit Red Wings are the Stanley Cup Champions. There will be celebrations, a great deal of back slapping and the conversations which always start with “I told you in November…..”

In Pittsburgh the conversations will be about what happened. How the fairy tale could have ended without kissing the cup. There will be questions about coaching and the choice to not use Crosby on the penalty kill which led to reduced ice time for the kid when compared to the ice time of Detroit’s star forwards. There will be conversations about Malkin and his pressure/illness based collapse. There will also be conversations about puck luck, timing, one save here, one momentum swing there.

You can look for all the tiny indicators but the simple truth is Detroit was the better team and Pittsburgh is just not ready to win yet. Not yet mature enough, not yet experienced enough, not yet Stanley Cup ready.

Detroit had a marvelous season and capped it with a Cup victory. As I have said before, the only question I still have is (and will always be) unanswerable. Dallas in my estimation did all the heavy lifting for the Wings. Detroit never had to face the physical challenge of playing either Anaheim or San Jose. When they did play Dallas the Stars didn’t have much left in the tank. We will all just have to wonder if they could have met that physical challenge. The reality is Detroit played and beat every team put in front of them so second guessing the “what ifs” is a fools game left to us fools with Blogs and radio shows to chew on over and over again.

In only a few weeks we will all be forced by the inevitable hockey clock to ease up on our Cup reminiscences and start looking at what these 2 teams will look like next year. The RFA’s, the UFA’s, the draft picks and the surprise finds. The coaching vacancies, the GM vacancies and the health of the NHL.

Our league is now a 24/7/12 talking point. It is a discussion topic 365 days a year. Tedious to some, but I think a great sign that this league is now at the stage where there is rarely a time when fans don’t talk about it. That tells you it’s a part of their every day emotions. It has been that way through most of Canada for the better part of 100 years, but now it’s the same in many American markets too.

Congratulations Detroit!

Have a great summer….talking about hockey every day.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stick to toe loops Elvis.

Former Canadian figure skater Elvis Stojko and current Canadian Olympic paddler Adam Van Koeverden are having a disagreement. Elvis says Canadian Olympic athletes should make a political stand and boycott the Beijing games because of China’s human rights record. Van Koeverden says Stojko should keep his nose out of it. The Olympics are not supposed to be a political event. In fact the point is that in the past, countries which have been at war with each other still sent athletes who competed with honor and resolve on a world stage. Oh ya, those Berlin games had a lot of political meaning, but the athletes still went.

I don’t have a problem at all with Elvis having a point of view and a conviction. But telling other people what to do about his point of view and conviction is a little much. I would much rather hear about what Elvis himself plans to do to make a point about China. Elvis said if he were competing today he would “consider” boycotting. WOW Elvis you are really making a stand here! You can’t even be definitive about a hypothetic? Maybe Elvis will make a strong move to show how much he cares by banning himself from ever using the music from Dragon (the Bruce Lee story) in his routines again? That will teach them!

Funny thing though. Maybe I just missed it, but since it started in 2003 the Cup of China has been on the Grand Prix Figure skating tour and I cant remember Elvis telling Jeffrey Buttle, Joannie Rochette or Emanuel Sandhu to stay home as Canadians of good conscience. See that’s the problem. Once you start telling someone else what their moral code should be, people start looking at yours and nobody can stand up to that scrutiny.

In 1991 Elvis was 6th in the games in Albertville, France and he was 8th in 2002 in Salt Lake. Let’s skip those Olympics and look at the ones where he won something.

Elvis won a silver medal in the Lillehammer Olympics in Norway in 1994. Let’s just think back to some of the things he could have boycotted the games over to make a political statement. War in Sarajevo, massacres in Rwanda, the U.S. sent troops into the Persian Gulf, The Russians attacked the Republic of Chechnya, fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked, Bill Clinton was accused of sexual harassment, Kurt Cobain killed himself, OJ was arrested for allegedly killing his wife and a friend, a MLB players strike and no World Series, Dallas beat Buffalo in the Superbowl, the Rangers beat Vancouver in the Stanley cup and Canadian icon John Candy died. Clearly many, many important things to make a stand over. Elvis went to the games. Guess he didn’t know or care about the other stuff.

In 1998 Elvis went to Nagano, Japan and won a silver medal and I guess he didn’t feel there was anything happening in the world worth making a political statement over. Let’s see what was happening in 1998. There was that Serb/Albanian blood fest in Kosovo, India had 3 atomic bomb tests, Pakistan had 5, Bill Clinton ordered air strikes on Iraq, embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, the Russian economy collapsed, Bill Clinton was accused of doing naughty things in his office, Monica Lewinsky bought a new dress, the Unabomber was sentenced to 4 life sentences, impeachment proceedings began against Clinton and he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, a gay student in Wyoming was beaten to death in a hate crime, Dow Corning Corporation agreed to a $3.2 billion settlement for tens of thousands of women claiming injury from silicone breast implants. Gene Autry, Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra all died that year. Plenty to protest there for sure.

It’s like going to a nice restaurant for dinner and complaining to the piano player about your meal. He didn’t cook it or serve it. His job is to play the piano. Adam Van Koeverden’s job is to paddle. If Elvis feels this strongly about it call the IOC. I am sure they’d take the call after all he’s a former Olympian. Maybe stage a hunger protest outside the IOC’s offices or…oops…there I go telling someone what to do. Isn’t that rude of me.

How about this for a deal. Politics and making political or moral stands are very personal things. What is right and true for you may be meaningless to someone else. It doesn’t make them a bad person; it just makes them a person who doesn’t care as deeply about that cause as you do. I have a huge problem personally with China’s human rights record, but I am not going to tell someone else what they should do about it.

So why don’t former Olympians refrain from telling current Olympians how to live their lives and what they are supposed to care about. Elvis is currently still skating, acting, singing, and involved in martial arts and dirt biking according to his website. We will all assume none of those activities will occur in China and I am sure Chinese culture will be the poorer for it.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wings owe the Stars

The Detroit Red Wings are now headed to the Stanley Cup final after beating the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final 4 games to 2. When the final game ended and the players lined up to shake hands, the Wings were likely more grateful than they let on. Not because the series went longer than the apparent 4 game sweep it looked to be early on, but rather because Dallas had done the Wings a great service before this series even started.

Despite winning the Presidents Trophy and having the best record in the NHL almost wire-to-wire, the Wings were not chosen by many to win the cup. Nagging concerns about Detroit’s ability to play a physical series and win it. Uncertainty about the legitimacy of the Wings regular season point totals based on the fact they play in the worst or second worst division in hockey depending on your assessment of the Central and Southeast divisions and which one was weaker. Add to that the historical fact that few teams which win the Presidents Trophy actually win the Stanley Cup and Detroit was missing from the top of many experts’ prognostication lists.

But in comes Dallas and takes care of Anaheim and San Jose for the Wings and in the process drains themselves of the kind of gas you need to win this marathon. We will never know if this Detroit team would have survived a grinding, physical series with the larger and meaner Sharks and/or Ducks. My thought is no. But that is how the playoffs work. You don’t get to pick your opponent and the only thing you can do is play the team in front of you. It’s not the Wings fault, but it certainly was to their advantage and it’s the Dallas Stars who provided that advantage.

In Detroit they will not be wondering or worrying about these questions as they head to the final nor should they. Debates about how easy or tough a run to the final are, happen in the cities where their team didn’t get to make that run. In Dallas it will be a debate. How would the Stars have fared had they been afforded the opportunity to play Nashville and Colorado instead of Anaheim and San Jose?

Everyone who has won the cup says (amongst many things) that you have to have some luck and you have to have at least one easy series. Detroit must thank the hockey gods for the luck, and Dallas for taking care of the Ducks and Sharks for them.

See you at the rink.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Too much too soon?

The Penguins are on their way to the Stanley Cup final. The 3 to 5 year building plan has suddenly become a 2 year plan. The Kid Crew was bounced in the first round last year by Ottawa and obviously learned some valuable lessons. The next year they skip the normal 3 or 4 years of almost getting there, with now, a legitimate shot at the cup.

Based on their age, experience and Detroit’s age and experience the Wings have to be considered the favorites, when they finally get around to finishing off the Stars and officially advance to meet the Penguins. Pittsburgh may be the underdog but you just don’t know until you play the games.

Both these teams will want to play a puck possession game, but Detroit is the better team in that regard. Detroit has the edge in both performance and experience in goal. We can run down all the columns and compare them all. That will happen over and over again until the series begins, but the one factor I am looking at the most is the “free pass” factor.

One of the things I was told about and realized last year in the final is the fact that there are certain players because of their age or reputation or star status who are allowed to do things which other players are not, they often get a “free pass”. Last year in the final Scott Neidermayer and Chris Pronger were allowed to do things which no Ottawa player could get away with on a regular basis. If you go through the Stanley Cup winning teams of years past the winning team usually has 1 or 2 of those kinds of players. Tampa had Vince Lecavalier and Dave Andreychuck and try to remember back to some of the things Messier, Stevens, Brind’Amour and others were allowed to do. It’s one of the reasons those players are so valuable. They are not only great players, but in the biggest games, they get a wider berth than most others.

In this all important area the Wings are the heavy favorites. Pittsburgh has Crosby and after that nobody who fits into the “free pass” category. Detroit has a list of guys who will get more leeway. Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Chris Draper, Thomas Holmstrom, along with Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

There are always complaints about officiating in the final. My prediction is the heaviest complaints will come from Pittsburgh and they may well have a case. They won’t be the first or last to discover reputation, vintage and star status do play a big part in the final like it or not.

See you at the rink.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Negative Canada.

The San Jose Sharks were bounced from the NHL playoffs last night, falling in quadruple overtime in Dallas. A very impressive comeback after being down 3-0 in the series, they did not give up and nearly became only the third team in NHL history to come back from 3-0 to win a series.

Now that it is over, what if anything will become of Sharks head coach Ron Wilson. There was speculation prior to the playoffs starting that his job was on the line if the Sharks didn’t go deep into the post season. Is the 2nd round deep enough? That will be an interesting situation to watch as most hockey observers put San Jose and Ottawa in the same boat. Both have so much talent on paper, but for some reason can’t get over the hump.

What happens if Wilson is fired? There is no question he will get another coaching job, but he may have reduced the marketplace for himself by six teams.

As I am sure you have seen or heard his little snit fit while doing an in-game interview with TSN reporter Jermain Franklin, who asked Wilson last Sunday whether he needed more out of his captain Patrick Marleau. Wilson’s face was blank and then he said, no, and then walked away, muttering: "It's always freaking negative. That's TSN, that's Canada."

Poor Jermain has been skewered by almost everyone for his question which Don Cherry called “stupid”. I would not go that far, but rarely will a coach respond when you are essentially asking him to criticize his player during a playoff series. So Jermain learned a lesson and Wilson confirmed what many people in the business believe about him. That he is arrogant and has nothing but disdain for the media and especially the Canadian media.

I do not know Ron Wilson other than the few times I have been on hand for media scrums and interviews. I have never had a one-on-one conversation with him nor have I covered the team on a daily basis the way the San Jose reporters do, as few of them as there are. But when you have listened to others who talk about Wilson and then see a display like this, it does make you wonder if the rumors are true. I have had coaches tell me that Wilson is the type of guy who believes he invented hockey or at least re-invented it.

So why does Wilson believe TSN and in fact all of the Canadian media are negative? Could it be that as a control freak he hates the fact he can not manipulate them the way he does some others? Is it because he lives in a world where very little media, especially national media, covers his team thus he believes anything that is not complimentary is automatically negative reporting? Maybe Ron just thinks everyone is dumb compared to him.

I watch TSN everyday as I am sure you do also. They do some of the best sports programming in the world and the talent and resources they put into hockey are second to none. I do not find TSN to be constantly negative but rather constantly opinionated and some of those opinions are not positive. I believe viewers want to hear those opinions thus TSN is servicing its client base even if Ron Wilson isn’t one of them. But clearly he is. You have to watch something more than once or twice to believe that as a broadcaster they are negative across the board.

If Coach Wilson is fired and is looking for another job, it will have to be in his own country. If he cant handle TSN’s, and in fact our national negativity, while in the hockey cocoon in San Jose, just imagine what he would say each day being questioned by dozens of reporters in a Canadian city.

This also means the rumors about Wilson can not be true. He could not have invented hockey or even re-invented it. If he had, the game would have no media, no TSN and no Canada. Oh, hold on a minute there, if none of those things existed there wouldn’t be an NHL and there would be no Sharks, and they wouldn’t need a coach and Ron would be….well….I don’t know where he would be, but where ever it is, he would be the smartest guy there.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Impossible Perfection

The biggest single problem in the NHL today is officiating. Everyone except the NHL head office agrees on that. What is the solution? There isn’t one and everybody knows it.

The problem is the expectation level is now so high there is no human being or group of human beings who could ever officiate the fastest non-motorized team sport in the world and call each foul and make the correct call on each play. A perfectly officiated game has never occurred and will never occur. Just like a perfect game has never been played and never will.

The NHL wants the fans and media to stop talking about it because the league believes it distracts everyone from the high level of play and diminishes the excitement that the best players in the world create. In reality the excitement level can be highest when officiating is a central part of the game. It’s one of those unpredictable components of live sports which make it exciting in both good and bad was, but it is exciting.

The NHL would most like the media to stop talking about officiating because it believes the media incites the fans into their displeasure by repeatedly showing blown or missed calls and then using their expertise to explain to the common fan how bad a call it was and why. Second guessing and critiquing officiating is now almost a secondary sport unto itself but is the media, especially the broadcast media, really doing the fans a dis-service when they don’t call and or comment on all facets of the game. Especially when some of these calls or non-calls directly result in goals, wins and losses? Sometimes a bad call or a non-call really does cost someone a game and the media should not comment on that? I agree that a never ending preoccupation with officiating during a broadcast is not productive, but a fearful aversion to any negative officiating analysis is cheating the fans of the coverage they deserve.

Network TV doesn’t help in this regard. While there has never been a perfect broadcast, the level of expertise and technology in network TV has never been higher. There is very little which is missed by the cameras and often it’s in beautiful high definition where something the size of the head of a pin can be microscopically analyzed. This time of year the production trucks are filled with the most experienced and very best producers and directors in hockey and their talents bring everything to the surface for both appreciation and exasperation by the fans.

Let’s look at last night’s controversial call in the San Jose/Dallas game. Marty Turco is down and we can see clearly he did not have the puck covered and it was poked into the net. The goal was waived off by the official because he had lost sight of the puck. This morning I was listening to the debates on radio. One of them was that the official was in the wrong place on the ice. The fact is, he was in the right place and made the right call but TV is right there to magnify the fallibility of human referees. Media and the fans now have come to expect technology can fix everything. Every play should be reviewable, every foul should be called, every game should be perfect. It is both impractical and impossible.

Officials try each game to call things fair and equal. At least that’s what they say. It’s a great goal to work towards, but it’s ultimately impossible. Officials are human beings and as such are prone to the same things the rest of us are. Why do some players get away with things others do not? Why do some teams seem to get an unfair shake from certain officials? How can a coach or player expect to get a completely unbiased call from an official when those same players and coaches often scream at and berate certain officials?

If I were an official I would have grudges and historical bias towards certain players, coaches and teams based on the way I had been treated by them in the past. I like the officials in the NHL would never admit it publicly but let’s face it, it is human nature. Pretending it doesn’t exist is naive.

So there it is. The bottom line in officiating is “S___T Happens” and that will never change no matter how much technology is added to the process. Technology has only increased the fodder for our debates not decreased their likelihood.

Here is another undeniable truth. Everyone except the NHL believes officiating is the leagues single biggest problem yet the officials we have are the best in the world. It can not be called by someone else who is better. We already have the best.

Technology has shown us all the warts. We knew they were there before, but now they are shoved in our faces in high definition and everyone knows a wart under a microscope is not pretty. But when that wart is on the chin of your loving grand mother, you choose not to focus on it because everything else in that dress and sensible shoes you love so much more. Try to think of that when next you want to dump on this game and its officials. If you can look for what you really love about the NHL without focusing so much on a wart that can never and will never go away. If you can’t, just keep on bitching about things you can’t change. It’s a useless waste of emotion but its everyone’s right to waste it if they choose to.

See you at the rink.

Coach of the Year

Who picks the coach of the year in the NHL? Who picks the other award winners? When do they do the voting? Does playoff performance have an impact? These are the questions often asked at this time of year when the 3 finalists are named in each of the NHL’s individual award categories are named.

For most of the individual player awards the voting is done by the NHL writers. Each NHL city is given a certain number of writer votes. Every NHL writer does not get a vote. It prevents certain cities from have voting dominance based solely on the fact they live in a city where there are more writers like Toronto, Montreal and New York.

The Jack Adams trophy for the coach of the year is voted on by the NHLBA. That’s the NHL broadcasters association. Only play-by-play and color announcers who a dues paying members are entitled to vote. The ballot has 3 positions on it for first, second and third place. Points are given to each position. 5 points for a first place vote, 3 for a second place vote and 1 point for a third place vote. So technically it is possible to win the coach of the year and yet not have received any first place votes as long as the coach receives enough points through second and third place nominations. To my knowledge it has never actually happened.

For both the player awards and the coach of the year award, the ballots must be in by the end of the regular season. Thus playoff success or failure has no impact on who wins the awards with the obvious exception being the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP.

As I mentioned the Writers do most of the voting with the exception of the Jennings, Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophy’s which are awarded based on simple mathematical performance. The GMs’ vote on the Vezina, the Governors vote on the King Clancy.

Often we get asked why playoff performance is not taken into account for many of these awards especially the Jack Adams and the Hart Trophy as the league MVP. It is true that often coaches and special players separate themselves from the pack in the playoffs and when the awards ultimately don’t reflect that it does seem uneven when the hardware is handed out. The problem is logistics. With writers and broadcasters all over North America, the ballots are still done manually. That means a piece of paper, a pen, an envelope and a stamp. With the awards being handed out in June shortly after the Stanley Cup is awarded, there would be no way to get the votes in, counted and then arrangements made to try and get as many of the award winners at the cerimony as possible.

It is not a perfect system, but it’s the only one which works for now. I can see a day in the very near future where it will all be done electronically so there is a possibility of having playoff performance included in the decision making process. But that still would not make it all completely without controversy. Firstly this league has so many great players you could argue for 3 or 4 or 5 guys for almost every award and none of the answers would be wrong. Second you can’t take a personal proclivity out of the voting process.

I will use the Hart Trophy as the example. This is supposed to be awarded to the player who is most valuable to his team. It is not necessarily the best player in the league. If Sydney Crosby is the best player in the NHL is he the MVP even though his team didn’t miss a beat when he was injured? Is Martin Brodeur the MVP since most hockey people believe that the Devils would be average or below average as a team if they didn’t have him. He clearly is a player who is hugely important to his team. The reality is many writers don’t bother to weigh team importance because it’s impossible to judge in any non subjective way. So they just pick who they think is the best player in the league.

Another example is the Lady Bing. Nobody really wants to win this award as the most gentlemanly player but for some reason writers don’t believe a defenceman can win it. I had a discussion with a writer friend of mine years ago and I used Igor Kravchuck as an example. In the 1997-1998 season he played 81 games, had 35 points, was a plus player on a winning team in a position where you can not avoid body contact and he had only 8 penalty minutes playing about 23 minutes per game. Even though he probably would not want to win it, but how can a guy like that be overlooked. I was told he is a defenceman and they don’t win the Lady. I checked the criteria and nothing says the writers can’t vote for a defenceman, but for some reason over time, it’s been decided nobody does.

See you at the rink.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My week with Harry and the Kids in the Prior.

I arrived back home in Ottawa on Monday after flying all day from Nashville, through Washington and finally into Ottawa. Doing the play-by-play of the Detroit/Nashville series on Hockey Night in Canada was a great experience for me because of Harry. I had worked with Harry Neale before in single games, but on a playoff series the whole crew pretty much stays together til its over. I spent most of the week with Harry, producer Larry Issac, director Jacques Primeau and host Scott Oake. The best part of all the time I spent was with Harry. When you get that much time you get a chance to prompt him on all the hundreds of stories he has from a life in hockey. Coaching Gordie Howe. His time in Vancouver and Detroit and the years of broadcasting with hall of famer Bob Cole. I must say I am shocked that Harry is not in the Hall of Fame. He should be and I believe will be and if I had a vote it would already be cast.

When I got home on Monday one of my oldest friends Cam Baldwin arrived from Winnipeg. His son Corbin was playing in the Telus Cup National Midget Championship in Arnprior for the Winnipeg Thrashers. The kid is 16 years old and already 6’5” and drafted by Spokane in the Western League. His team is unbelievable. The Thrashers lost one tournament game early in the season, did not lose a regular season game in Manitoba and lost just once in the regional round robin to the Notre Dame Hounds who they beat in the regional final to get to Arnprior.

After watching the games in Arnprior I found myself with a very settled feeling about where we are going as a nation with our developmental programs. The hockey at the Telus cup from these 15 and 16 year olds was amazing. The Ottawa Valley Titans are a hell of a team and had a great season and they couldn't win a game in this tournament. It tells you how good the best midget players in Canada really are.

If you want to see the kids that are coming down the hockey pipe in the next few years, you may want to check it out today in Arnprior for the semi’s and the bronze medal game tomorrow at 10am and the gold medal game at 4pm with the delayed broadcast at 6pm on TSN. These kids are fantastic and well worth the watch.

See you at the rink.