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.