Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A terrible day.

There is nothing good on a day when 2 good men lose their jobs. Today at the club’s hotel in Philadelphia Senators GM Bryan Murray flew into town, met with Coach John Paddock and assistant coach Ron Low and fired them both. These are the times when I wish the average fan could spend a day in this world. I listen to the radio shows talking about this and it is so antiseptic. It is distant and anonymous in the way people talk about those who lost their jobs and those who had to relieve them of their jobs like it was a board game and not people’s lives.

We all often say that its “just part of the business” and it is. But just because these are dream jobs and the wage is far higher than that of the average worker, it does not extract the sickening emotion from it.

John Paddock is a wonderful guy. He is a great hockey man and he knows that he might never be the head coach of an NHL team again. His dream died today. There is nothing good about that. Ron Low is exactly the same. Good man. Good hockey man. I hate people talking about these moves as if it were a game of checkers.

This would all be a lot easier if you could dislike either of the 2 main participants. But how do you dislike Paddock or Murray. Its just one of those painful things that sometimes happens in pro sports. For Bryan Murray you could see during his media conference how shaken he was. This was something he never wanted added to his to-do list. He and John are friends. They believed in each other and the way they viewed how this game should be played. But in a sport where winning is the only job security, Bryan knew a change had to come and he knew how badly he would feel about doing it.

It is human nature to try and find one villain or one fall guy in these situations to make it easy on ourselves. Just point at one guy or one thing and its nice and easy and all wrapped up in a bow for our little minds to make sense of. Is Bryan Murray to blame because he hired a great hockey man who just couldn’t get his message through to the players? Is John Paddock to blame because he isn’t a better communicator or disciplinarian? Are the players to blame because they took advantage of the good nature of Paddock and became an emotionless group more concerned with their individual peeves than the good of the entire team? I can honestly say I don’t know. It may be one, two, all 3 or a combination of all 3 or a combination of all 3 and 15 more reasons.

The bottom line is, something happened today that nobody wanted to have happen. The only way to have it not happen to someone else is win and play up to potential. I just wish that people would remember that these individuals are real people who have to call their wives and tell them about the sorrow you feel about what you had to do. The phone call to children to tell them the news trying to make them not feel bad for you and explain that sometimes these things happen and life goes on. These are real people who had to make real phone calls today to talk about the real pain that they feel because of something that is “just part of the game.”

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

D-Day is done!

The deadline is done! The annual trade deadline has come and gone. Like all of the others over the last 5 years, there were 41 thousand trade rumors leading up to the deadline and just 25 deals actually done. There is nothing including the NHL’s entry draft which is hyped as much as the deadline and yet the results are ridiculously predictable. The names may change each year but the volume of player movement in the last 5 years is remarkably similar year over year and always less than a sliver of what is predicted.

That being said you rarely find people who feel dissatisfied with the day. They stew for weeks to theorize which deals will happen and which ones should happen. Then weeks afterward fans dissect the ones which actually happened. There is a reason why the Team 1200 and all other sports talk radio stations have followed the lead of TSN and Sportsnet in having long form “Deadline Day” shows tracking and analyzing all the deals both done and those which fizzle and die. It gives fans a chance to play along with a live board game of “Be the GM”.

It also gives those of us on the air the chance to let you know exactly how many people we know. The guy who’s Blackberry goes off the most is the most powerful person on the air. The guy who has to continuously leave the set to respond to calls and emails surely is the most connected man in hockey. It seems like everyone is dying to give them their secrets and their deals. I have to get one of those Blackberry’s from Bell so that NHL big wigs can buzz me with their every thought. I jest of course. The likes of Pierre Maguire, Bob Mackenzie, Darren Dregger and Bruce Garrioch really are that connected. They really do get that many calls and they really do know that many high powered agents and managers. That’s why they are on TV on deadline day. It is also the only time when they ask people to call them while they are on the air. It gives the shows that true sense of immediate information and immediate contact with decision makers. Any other time we all ask people NOT to call us because we are on the air. The deadline day is the exception where calls which happen while you are off the air are like props in a magic show which the audience never gets to see.

We can all poke fun at the huge gap between rumored deals and actual deals but let’s be completely honest. I watch and listen to every second of it. I love it! It’s like being at the stock market the day everyone is trying to become a fortune 500 company all at the same time and all on the same day. We were in Boston for deadline day and on the internet I could not link up with the Sportsnet broadband feed but could get the TSN feed and while doing my afternoon homework for the Senators/Bruins game it was a buzz to think of all the ramifications of all the deals as they came in.

There is a school of thought that the deadline should be moved up by a month so that teams are forced to make decisions about their teams earlier and it would become less of a frenzied flee market as teams get closer to the playoffs. It would certainly make managers think long and hard about how much they like their roster if they have to make those final decisions in late January instead of late February. It would also make it tough for teams to overcome late season injuries and it would send messages in certain cities as to what the manager really thinks his team’s chances are of making the playoffs. That is the biggest single reason why the deadline will never be pushed back into January. In some markets it would destroy ticket sales for the last 2 months of the season.

For Ottawa, Bryan Murray did about as much as he could I believe. He got a veteran in Martin Lapointe who plays a gritty style and has won 2 Stanley Cups and he got him for a very good price. Everyone wanted the home run in Marian Hossa or Brian Campbell or Peter Forsberg but that just never happened. In Hossa the price paid by Pittsburgh for a rental player (even as good as Hossa) was ridiculous. Buffalo made it clear to most everyone they would not trade Campbell within the eastern conference. Forsberg would have been a huge medical crap shoot and will be for Colorado. Any or all of the above would have been nice to have, but sometimes no matter how badly you want to make a deal it just doesn’t happen. No matter how motivated you are as a manager, you are always dependant on other managers to be just as motivated to take what you are offering. Rarely do both sides have the same level of motivation. That is why in most cases managers settle for the third of fourth names on their wish list. The top name on that list is usually the top name on about 25 other manager’s lists and only 1 gets that name.

All in all, Bryan Murray made significant improvements to this team in experience, size and talent. Mike Commodor is a big, physical defenceman. Cory Stillman is a veteran, playmaking forward who can play anywhere in your top 6. Lapointe is that extra bit of sandpaper. All three have won Cups and all 3 want another.

Now the only problem is to get this team close to its potential again. Right now we are flying from Boston to Philly after the Senators suffered another shut out loss. To say this team is out of synch right now would be a massive understatement and March is upon us.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where are the Blue Jackets?

The Senators host Columbus tonight at Scotiabank Place. On game day the routine is time honored. The home team has a 45 minute morning skate starting at 10:30am and afterward the media gets its chance to talk and interview the players and coaches. The visiting team has their skate at 11:30am followed by the same media access. I’d like to tell you what coach Ken Hitchcock has to say, but I can’t because the Jackets were not at Scotiabank Place this morning. They are staying at a downtown hotel and decided to hold their morning skate at the University of Ottawa instead. Problem is the media can’t be in two places at one time. The Blue Jackets must make their players and coach available at about 5pm at the rink but it just isn’t the same because you don’t have the same amount of time.

In talking with other members of the media this is an age old pet peeve with the NHL. MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the CFL can not force teams to practice, but if they do, they must have it in the same building where the game will be played later that night. The NHL has no such bylaw and thus there are several teams who choose this route. In fact there are many teams like the Caps, Rangers and Flyers where they don’t even skate in the game rink when they are the home team. They have practice rinks and don’t come to the game rink until the evening of the game.

It is difficult to understand how a league which is dying for media attention in many markets can’t seem to get some of its member clubs to play along. It goes hand in hand with comments made this morning on the Team 1200 by TSN’s Pierre Maguire. He was noting how all other major professional sports leagues have mandatory, truthful, injury disclosure rules. That is still but a fantasy in the NHL. At least with the new trend of generalized reporting we can narrow things down to upper body and lower body, but it really is quite foolish. Often time’s reporters actually know what the injury is and the players know that they know. So when the player is asked a direct question he is forced to either lie or be ridiculously vague so as not to break a team policy on injury disclosure.

I understand completely the idea that fully disclosing injuries, especially in the playoffs, can lead to players being targeted by the opposition. When the other team knows a guy has a sore hand, you think they won’t try and slash that hand? Of course they will. If I were a coach or a player I would do the same thing. But the league has to have the bigger picture in mind just like the NFL does. It leads to a greater distrust between the media and the teams when reporters know they are being lied to about injuries. They wonder how many other things they have been lied to about. The circle of frustration and animosity is complete when coaches and players develop a tense relationship with some members of the media because they take offense to being portrayed in some cases as interview subjects who are less than honest with their answers.

All the other major sports leagues have made this step in eliminating secrecy in areas where it is not needed, but only continued in the NHL because its an old habits. I don’t know if it ultimately will improve relations with the media, but it’s a great first step in eliminating one piece of sandpaper that grates on both parties.

See you at the rink.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Let the trades begin !

It looks like Bryan Murray has started the party. With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching on February 26th, this deal could start others as teams try to fill needs heading towards the playoffs.

Corvo and Eaves for Stillman and Commodore. Ottawa gets the big physical defenseman to play with Wade Redden they have been looking for since the final last year against Anaheim. That’s when the Senators really found out that size matters. If you remember back to that series Tom Preissing and Joe Corvo played very little in the final few games because they just could not handle the big Duck forwards. Stillman gives Ottawa that 2nd line forward they have been looking for and really it’s the first time since Magnus Arvedsson they have had a guy who can play regularly on the 2nd line's left side and produce. Peter Schaefer was supposed to be that guy, Antoine Vermette was given every chance and others along the way have never really laid claim to that spot. Stillman also can play centre and the point on the powerplay. What both Stillman and Commodore also have are Stanley Cup rings and that experience is key.

Joe Corvo gives the Canes something they need badly right now and that is a big right shot on the point and a guy who can play the powerplay. Carolina has one of the lowest point producing back ends in the NHL and Corvo will definitely help. It’s probably a good move for him personally. He has admitted that he’s had a tough time playing under the microscope which is just the way it is in a Canadian NHL city. Patrick Eaves is a guy that everyone will be very sad to see leave. Patrick is a wonderful young man who is a solid citizen and a player who will do whatever a coach asks. The Senators did not want to give him up, but sometimes you have to make decisions to make a deal.

All in all I am surprised that Murray was able to make a deal like this in the current NHL. Its not often you take care of 2 major needs and reduce the cap hit at the same time. Now all that is left to see is if the 2 newest Senators can mesh with their new team mates. It looks very good on paper, now we have to see if it looks as good on the ice.

Next up? Who knows? Bryan Murray says he may be able to swing another deal or two before the deadline. After closing this kind of deal, I can’t imagine what the encore will be.

See you at the rink.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Snow fun for the Senators

For most kids Friday was a day off school because of all the snow. For the kids who wear skates and play at ScotiaBank Place it was a travel day. For those of you who had to drive home from work you know how bad it was. The hockey team however does not have the option of not going to Toronto for Saturday night’s game against the Leafs. So for the players, coaches and media it was a slow white knuckle drive to the airport, then a flight to Toronto and then a hellish drive through GTA traffic to the hotel. We couldn’t see anything out of the windows of our Air Canada jet either taking off or landing, but the outstanding crew and captain Murray Garrison got us here safely.

Some would ask “why bother”. Wait until Saturday and fly-in the morning of the game. The problem is that the NHL has rules about this stuff. To make sure that teams make every effort to get to cities, there are substantial fines for the franchise if they can’t prove that they made every effort and exhausted every travel option to get there on time for the game. If you miss a game and the league deems that you didn’t do everything possible to get there the fine can be as much as a million dollars. The other thing that many people do not know is the NHL requires a team to be in the city they are playing in 24 hours before game time, unless the team is playing the night before in another city. We got here safe and sound and now the only thing left to do is play.

The Senators have a tough task with Heatley and Alfredsson still out of the lineup, but they can't complain too much. The Leafs have 8 regulars out of their lineup because of injury or suspension. It will be a very different experience hearing Daniel Alfredsson boo'd only once at the ACC. That will come when he is announced as a scratch.

See you at the rink.

The kids thank Ray

The kids at CHEO (the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) are very thankful that Ray Emery has been misbehaving. Emery is donating one day’s pay or almost 15 thousand dollars to CHEO. That was to be the amount he would be fined by the Senators after showing up late for practice in Long Island. The latest of many missteps in his pro career.

Had the team actually gone through with its plan to fine Emery, and even though he said he would not challenge the fine, the NHLPA would have filed a grievance anyway. From the NHLPA perspective they would be fighting over the validity of their interpretation of certain clauses in the CBA. The union would want to make sure that for the good of all players, a precedent be set for possible future challenges by other players if they are in the same situation. So to avoid the club having to defend its case, and the league having to defend the Senators right to fine a player, and the NHLPA’s desire to set precedent, this would all swirl into another circus which is exactly what Ray Emery does not want right now or in the summer.

So this move gives the Senators what they want which is a tangible penalty for on going poor behavior and tardiness. It gives Ray what he wants which is to show the team and fans that he is truly sorry and wants to make amends. It also is the first step for Emery to try to shore up his public image.

I am sure the kids at CHEO could care less about all the above legalese. They will just be happy that their lives are a little better because Ray got into a little trouble.

See you at the rink.